The Eagle Has Reanimated is a short story that takes a look at the world Romero created with Night of the Living Dead and takes one of history’s most famous moments from that time period and puts them on a crash course. What if zombies had been real back in the late sixties? What if the world was just beginning to fall into the grips of the undead as NASA planned its launch of Apollo 11, putting the first man on the moon?
This is a short story, so I won’t elaborate on the plot too much. I will say that the author did some research here and gives us some interesting tidbits about each of the astronauts and other details surrounding the real elements of Apollo 11, while embellishing things with zombies in a fun and creative way that had me entertained from start to finish of this brief tale. I particularly liked some of added touches, which includes references to two characters from the movie Day of the Dead, as well as how a zombie and a breathing human would actually react to the vacuum of space.
If you are a fan of the classic Romero zombie, and especially his first trilogy of movies, this story fits in perfectly with that world…and beyond!
The Eagle Has Reanimated can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Eagle-Has-Reanimated-Zombie-ebook/dp/B004KSPX00/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=digital-text&qid=1296487842&sr=1-1
Apocalypse of the Dead is technically a sequel to Dead City, Joe McKinney’s story about the initial night of outbreak as the dead take over San Antonio and one police officer must fight to survive his night in hell. This novel actually takes place two years after Dead City, and the main character in that book is only briefly mentioned as the author of a novel on how he survived that night. What AotD is all about is the bigger picture-the aftermath of the dead rising up due to a new virus coming into existence after several hurricanes hit the gulf coast of Texas. Much of that coastline is now walled in by the government and the infected, along with those who survived the initial outbreak, are hidden behind those walls. The government’s long term response to the outbreak has been to set up the Coast Guard and a new organization (Homeland Security/Border Patrol) to man the walls and the water, and prevent anyone (living or dead) from escaping. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before some of the desperate scavengers and survivors who have been forced to live inside the wastelands behind the walls found a way to escape, and unfortunately, the boatload of refugees who end up washing ashore in Florida has infection running rampant amongst them. Thus begins the worldwide spread of the virus that had been contained in a vast swath of coastal Texas for two years prior, and so begins this story, which is told from the perspective of a wide assortment of survivors attempting to make their way up north, where sanctuary is promised by the leader of a church who has led his flock to the Grasslands of North Dakota.
This is a stand alone book for all intents and purposes. While I enjoyed Dead City and would recommend it, you don’t have to feel the need to read that first, although it does provide a fine introduction as to what has brought us to this point. Dead City has all the makings of a zombie movie-one night, a police officer trying to survive, and non-stop action along the way. AotD is more of a long term saga, and it does a good job of explaining everything as needed for the reader who doesn’t choose to pick up Dead City. The story follows the path of several different groups and individual survivors and of course, their stories all intersect as things progress. We have survivors all across the south lands: Florida, Mississippi, Texas, and California, all converging as their purposes and desire to find their way through the apocalyptic wasteland converge. There are plenty of characters that I enjoyed getting to know, gradually, as they revealed more and more about themselves and how they cope with the pressures of this impossible situation. There are plenty to like and dislike as I got to know them better, and the background environment-how the military, police, and civilians handle this madness, provides a believable atmosphere for the story. I was fond of more than one of the characters, and I felt that they developed and morphed along the way, often in ways that demonstrated their human vulnerability quite well. Ed, the retired Marshall, and Billy, the young convict he takes under his wing, were two particular favorites of mine. Their bond is a reluctant one at first, but grows with time and lends strength to each character’s development. Of course, there is a sizable volume of characters here, so a few don’t get as much attention as I would have liked to see-some of the female characters in particular didn’t spend as much time in the spotlight as I would have liked: Robin and Kyra in particular were compelling characters with obvious flaws who stood out for me and I would have liked to gotten to know in more detail. I think that is the challenge of creating a cast of this size for a story-you can never delve deep enough into all of them and keep the story moving aggressively forward. The author did just that: he moved this 500 page story forward at every step, keeping me focused on it page after page.
As I always try to do, I attempt to point out where I have concerns with a particular story, and I think here my complaints all revolve around Jasper, the head of The Family, which is the church that has set up a safe haven in North Dakota for his flock. I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, so this might be a bit vague, but I just felt there were a few things that were “off” about this preacher. One of which is an amazing ability he displays early on in the story that is left unexplained to the reader there, or anywhere else in the story. Suffice it to say, it was startling enough to have me raise an eyebrow, and I really want to understand the “why” behind this remarkable ability. Another aspect of Jasper is more down to earth, and really has more to do with his ability to compel certain people than anything else. While I certainly can understand the power that someone with charisma and a ironclad belief system have in convincing others to join with them, a particular character who displays a strong sense of independence and unlimited conviction throughout the book seems to dismiss all of that and embraces Jasper’s message without question after a very brief discussion with the preacher. It’s as if everything about him before was turned upside down within a few minutes by a few well placed turns of phrase. None of this is outside the realm of possibility, but those two elements and a few other details about Jasper were perhaps the only significant concerns I had about this book.
Overall, this is an excellent read, with a real handle on a practical, functional infection that could cause such mayhem. These people are not dead, they are infected, and that infection progresses with the story. I would be interested to see some of the later stages of infection detailed out more in the next book in this series-the stage 3 zombies sound quite chilling with their possibilities and predatory instincts. AotD has a sense of realism to it (as much as can be expected from a zombie book, naturally) with Mr. McKinney’s knowledge of both police procedure, armed and unarmed combat, and disaster recovery on full display here. I would rate this one up there with many of the most memorable zombie apocalypse tales I have read.
Apocalypse of the Dead can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Apocalypse-Dead-Joe-McKinney/dp/0786023597/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1296420561&sr=1-1
Shades of Green tells the story of a small town in England, Holburn, where the world has been turned upside down. A flashback to an experience two brothers had in the woods with more than one mysterious creature before the main story begins introduces us to this tale. After that, the sense of normality we see on the page lasts only a short while before we are exposed to people within the town becoming irrationally violent and several seemingly hallucinogenic trips or dreams intervening in the normal experiences of a few of the different key characters. Soon, it becomes clear that these trippy visions are actually the new state of affairs in Holburn, with a strange mix of science and magic boiling out of the ground and causing the populous to change, to morph into new biological creations. They are changing genetically, with strange creatures and demons being the results of the transitions. A few select people, including Damien and his girlfriend Jen, appear to be immune to these changes, or at least transitioning at a slower rate than everyone else, who are either being sacrificed to the evil forces at work or are working for them. The few survivors are the ones that must get to the bottom of this mystery, which unravels rapidly as the story surges toward its conclusion.
I liked the idea behind this story. It was a strange series of events that often left me puzzled, but intrigued enough to forge ahead to see what might happen next and what might happen at the end of the tale. In all honesty, I’m not sure I quite understood the explanations near the end, or what all happened along the way and the reasons behind them, but once again, this is a hallucinogenic, trippy tale that really would defy a simple explanation no matter how well I tried. The story is gore laced, gooey (a word I use because of the biological emphasis put on the reformation of both the human and animal elements of this town), and eerie, to say the least. I don’t want to spoil things for the readers, but I will say that this story shared elements of some of King’s works laced with a healthy dose of Lovecraftian flavor thrown in for good measure.
The issue I had with Shades of Green was with the editing. Now I will state very clearly that I am not a person who gets upset at typos and even a few contextual errors that show up. I expect that to occur with a self-published work. My belief is that if I can understand what the author was trying to say for the most part, I am good with that. With that said, I feel strongly that Shades of Green could have done with another editing run, because some of the errors left me confused as to the intention of the author at certain points in the book. The errors made this a more challenging read for me. Now this isn’t to say that I didn’t figure things out in the end, or throughout the story, but it slowed things down a bit. I will cite one example of the confusion I faced with the story, and it comes from the very first chapter: Damien and his brother Paul appear to be swapped in the first chapter. If this was the author’s intention as part of a dream sequence, it still left me puzzled and believing that after I had read the next few chapters that it was an error on his part: it was Paul who was having the vision from his past, or a dream, and not Damien. Then again, perhaps that was the author’s intention: to confuse the issue, because that would go along with the rest of the trippy nature of the story. Even so, another editing run through this book would serve it tremendously.
Overall, I enjoyed the concept of this book and I think the author has some wild and disturbing ideas. The editing was where it stumbled for me, but given that this is Ian Woodhead’s first book, I think he has a promising future in writing ahead of him.
Shades of Green can be found at: http://www.amazon.com/Shades-of-Green-ebook/dp/B004E10WCC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1296155046&sr=8-1
Here is the second half of the story of the two teenage boys. This one is devoted to Teddy’s tale of his first exposure to the undead, and reveals some details about his family. Not much more of an introduction is needed for this one, so without further ado:
Ray and Teddy, Part II
Teddy’s story was quite a bit different than Ray’s, but he had no interest in sharing it or anything else about his family with the other boy, or anyone else for that matter. It just didn’t seem necessary. His life had been altered permanently, like everyone else’s, and just like them he had a sad story to tell. But it seemed like almost a violation of his privacy to share it with someone.
Teddy was an only child and his parents were much younger than Ray’s, but he had always been surrounded by cousins, aunts, and uncles his entire life. His father and mother were born and lived in Ellington, Ohio. Like the rest of his relatives, they stuck close the area, which was a small town not all that far from Manchester, where the RV’s were parked.
Teddy, like his father, had always been short but athletic. His father was an outdoorsman who loved to hunt and fish and had tried extremely hard to pass that interest along to his son. As many times as Teddy had been pushed out the door at four AM on cold fall mornings or was dragged along to sit all Saturday in a little boat out on a lake, he never gained much of an interest in either sport. Instead, he discovered soccer. His mother decided early on that he should be able to choose for himself what sports he could play and despite the fact that his father said no son of his was going to play a “queer” sport like soccer, his mother, who was usually quite passive, stood her ground.
Joe Schmidts never went to any of Teddy’s soccer games when he was little and even when his boy took up wrestling in the seventh grade, he didn’t think much of the sports his son had chosen. By that time, Teddy’s parents were divorced and he was only with his father every other weekend. They shared even less time than that together since all Joe ever wanted to do was go out on his fishing boat and get drunk on the weekends. Teddy was old enough take care of himself, so he was left behind by his grumbling dad in the rickety shack he’d moved into after the divorce.
It was one of those weekends when things started getting strange.
It was about five PM on Saturday; at least three hours later than Joe usually got back from one of his typical fishing expeditions. Usually his trips landed him no fish, but a case of empty Bud cans rattling around in the bottom of the ten foot aluminum Crestliner. The boat was dented and beat up, but was the pride and joy of Ray’s father. That and his collection of hunting rifles.
When his father finally did stumble into the house, he was drunk as a skunk, as Teddy’s mother used to say, and in a foul mood to boot.
Joe never hit his son, despite what Vicky believed. He pushed Teddy around a bit to toughen him up, but never abused him. At least not physically. Usually he rambled on about Teddy being a wuss and that he should try out for the football team. He was fast and could be a running back if he bulked up like his daddy. Joe was all of five foot six himself, but weighed over two hundred pounds. He claimed it had been all muscle in his day and perhaps that had been true when he had been a star player on the local high school baseball team. But now his beer gut was the most impressive part of Joe’s physique.
Upon Joe’s return from his latest fishing expedition, he tripped through the door griping and growling, like he normally did. But that wasn’t the first thing Teddy noticed about his dad. It was the blood on his shirt sleeve and his sloppily bandaged hand. It was wrapped with gauze from the first aid kit his father kept on the boat. All the teen could get out of Joe was that some bastard had bitten him when he pulled his boat to shore. After that, Joe proceeded to knock the man flat, kicking and punching him until he went down for the count. After regaling his son with the brief story, Joe threw up and collapsed to the floor.
After checking to make sure he was still breathing, Teddy dragged his father to the couch and with a Herculean effort, got him up on it. His father didn’t wake up the entire time his son manhandled him. Teddy then managed to clean up the vomit, which had left a foul trail from the spot where his father fell all the way to the couch. It bothered the teen that there was blood in his father’s puke, but he didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t the first time that had happened.
Teddy glanced at the bandages on his father’s hand and dismissed them as well. The gauze looked gross, but not too bad-the wound underneath had stopped bleeding. He doubted the validity of the story his father had told, but had heard stories on the television about all sorts of the freaky stuff going on all over the place. Teddy wasn’t much for TV so he didn’t pay much attention to those stories, figuring it was more of the same over blown crap newscasters were always babbling about.
Regardless, he made no connection between the news and what happened to his dad. More than likely his father had done something stupid like get one of his fishing lures stuck in the webbing between his fingers where the cut was and in his drunken state ripped it out with some pliers. Making up a ridiculous excuse about some nut job biting him just went with the territory with pops.
Teddy didn’t bother trying to take the bandages off or even looking too closely at the wound. His father looked green around the gills and was probably going to throw up a few more times before it even got dark out. Instead, Teddy grabbed a bucket from under the sink in the kitchen and set it on the floor close to his father’s mouth.
Teddy decided to go for a run to clear his head. Exercise had always been like that for Teddy; it allowed him to think when all his thoughts seemed to be zooming by at a hundred miles an hour. None of his friends liked running, even the ones he knew on the soccer and wrestling teams. So he was typically in far better shape than nearly everyone else at the start of the new seasons of his two chosen sports. In less than one month, soccer practice would begin and he wanted to make the varsity squad. He would be the only sophomore if he made it, and his coach told him that he had a great chance this season. There were enough seniors who had graduated the prior year that there would be room for one sophomore and he was hoping that Teddy would put in the effort to be that one.
Teddy couldn’t imagine not going full bore with every sport he tried. Despite their differences, he knew that his father and he had persistence in common. His father was a talented athlete, but said time and again that no one had given him a God damned thing—he worked his ass off for it all. He claimed he got a scholarship to play baseball in college and did so for one year before he jacked up his knee. And that, according to Teddy’s mother, was when the drinking started. He and Vicky were married by then and Teddy came along a year later, but Joe was already on the path to oblivion well before his son was born.
Vicky had spotted Teddy’s natural abilities early on, as well as his endless energy, and got him into the peewee soccer leagues. Wrestling was discovered later. He excelled at it as well, but soccer was the boy’s first love. Teddy dreamed of getting a scholarship like his father and leaving his small hometown for good. The conditioning he put his body through would insure that he didn’t “jack up his knee” like dad, and maybe someday he would have the chance to play professionally.
So Teddy ran out of his dad’s dingy, broken down house out in the sticks and down his gravel road so he could clear his mind and focus on all his big goals for the future.
The other houses in the neighborhood were as cheap and shitty as his dad’s, and were populated mainly by Joe’s lame ass drinking buddies. Buddies dad had made after the divorce. All of them seemed as hateful and bitter as Teddy’s father toward women, and the world in general. At least he would not have to put up with them tonight, since his father probably wouldn’t be awake to call them over. Hopefully he would he would stay passed out all damn night and Teddy could head back to mom’s by noon the following day. It wasn’t like dad wanted him around when he had a hangover anyway.
After about an hour of running, things started to look strange out on the road. Teddy had followed his typical route of five miles down the road and back again. He was about a mile from his father’s when he noticed a few people in their overgrown yards stumbling around nearby.
Must be Miller time. It seemed a bit early, but who was he to judge? His father was already passed out on the couch and Teddy hadn’t seen anyone who lived along this back road that ever met a beer they didn’t like. Still, it was only six o’clock. Usually they were just getting started at this point and wouldn’t be fall-on-their-faces drunk until ten if they decided to stay home or a bit later if they headed to the local tavern Joe frequented with many of them.
What was stranger still was the fact that Teddy was seeing at least six or seven people out on their lawns all looking exactly the same-stoned out of their gourds. His best guess was that someone had a booze picnic-he had to chuckle at the fact that his dad hadn’t been invited. If he wasn’t passed out, Joe would’ve been pissed at the snub.
Teddy kept his eyes trained on the road, setting one foot in front of another, watching his feet kick up dust on the gravel road. And yet, he couldn’t help but notice the people stumbling around.
It wasn’t just how they walked. That would have been enough for Teddy to think it somewhat funny. But as he glanced even closer he realized they looked messed up. Really messed up. Every last one looked like they had thrown up all over themselves, and not just with normal vomit—there was blood and other gunk all over their clothes.
After a few more moments of jogging, Teddy dared to look at one of the drunks head on. He figured he could divert his eyes just as quickly if need be; if the person saw him staring and took offense. Teddy learned that keeping his eyes diverted from some of his father’s “friends” was the best thing he could do most of the time. They wouldn’t necessarily leave you alone because of that, but for the most part it kept them from pushing too hard when they were three sheets to the wind.
When he glanced at Missus Chilton, it was the first time that Teddy suspected that these people weren’t just drunk.
Marge Chilton was a widower who was probably ten years older than Teddy’s father, and Teddy unfortunately also knew from his dad that she was easy, which was grosser than just about anything. Most of the men in the area had taken a “whack” at ‘ol Marge, and if what dad said was true he had ridden her a time or two as well. That was far more than what Teddy needed or wanted to know about his father’s sex life, though Joe thought it was hilarious when his uptight son turned beet red and ran out of the room after several graphic descriptions of his conquests.
When Teddy worked up the courage to take a look at Missus Chilton, he stumbled and fell hard to his hands and knees on the gravel. The pain was intense, though he barely noticed it as his eyes never left the woman stumbling toward him.
Marge Chilton’s left cheek was gone. Teddy’s eyes were glued to the hole where he saw her jaw working underneath. It was a bloody mess, with the white of her teeth and pale gums clearly outlined. Part of the skin that had either been torn or ripped free remained behind and jiggled as she opened her mouth and moaned. It was like nothing Teddy had ever heard before. A ball of what looked like phlegm landed with an audible plop in front of her as her jaws split wide.
She was in a house coat, exposing a small and tight fitting nightgown beneath. In the lunacy of the moment, Teddy could tell it was silk and that his mother had one just like it. It clung tightly to the middle aged woman’s body.
Missus Chilton had been an attractive, if rather trashy, woman and her forty five year old figure still garnered its share of looks. Teddy was not sure how trashy she really was, but she had been at his father’s house with all the guys and a few other women on occasion, and was hanging on a different man each time. She smoked like a chimney and even tried flirting with Teddy once, which had ended with a horrified look on his face and her cackling like some insane witch at how funny she thought she was being.
The silk nightgown was covered in a brown fluid that Teddy guessed was a mixture of blood and something else he didn’t want to know anything about. More importantly, she was shambling toward him across her small front yard.
“Missus Chilton? Are you okay?” Teddy winced as he tried to get back up and pushed up on hands that had a thousand shards of gravel jammed into them. There were no cuts, at least.
She responded with another moan and if anything, it seemed even higher pitched than the one before, as if his voice excited her. Teddy’s gut clenched as he got to his feet and inched backward. He was afraid he was going to throw up as he imagined this horny old bag wanting to screw him, ripped up cheek and all, right here on the gravel road that ran in front of her house. It was insane, but no more so than any of the other thoughts running through the boy’s mind at the moment.
As he continued to move backward and repeated “Missus Chilton?” one more time, Teddy spied something out of the corner of his eye.
There were several other people moving toward him. The same ones who’d been stumbling around their yards like Missus Chilton.
They were walking just as slowly as the woman who was now only about ten feet from where the teenager stood. As Teddy looked a bit closer at the one nearest, two houses down, he recognized Phil Gomez. Phil was one of the few people who Teddy liked in his father’s neighborhood. He drank like all the rest, and yet never acted drunk. While he hung out with the other folks when they got together, he seemed to be the only one with a level head. He always had something nice to say to the boy and didn’t mock him for playing soccer like his father encouraged everyone to do.
Phil looked just as screwed up as Marge. Even more so. There was a big chunk of meat missing from his right arm and a great deal of dried blood around the wound. Teddy couldn’t see Phil’s eyes all that well but he thought they looked more cloudy than usual. But what really stood out about the man was the fact that his midsection was a ragged mess.
Phil’s t-shirt was shredded, as if someone had tried to tear it off him like he was some sort of rock star. The collar and sleeves were still intact, but the lower half was completely gone. So were most of his internal organs below the rib cage. Bits of gristle and whatever dark tubing that was supposed to be inside him were dangling down to his jeans. Thankfully the denim was holding up, along with his spine.
When he moaned like the woman closing in on Teddy, the boy nearly fell again. He felt woozy, but managed to stay on his feet. His knees were weak, though the pain from where he’d fallen on them was already forgotten. Behind Phil were at least three other people who looked as messed up as him.
Marge was getting closer.
Teddy panicked, not sure what to do. He turned to face the direction he had been running, figuring he was faster than any of these people even when they had been … been what? Normal? What the hell is wrong with these people? What did this to them?
It still didn’t occur to Teddy that the things he heard on the television were somehow correlated to this. That was the kind of crap you saw in the one of those sensational magazines his mother got a kick out of at the checkout stands in supermarkets. This was real. It was here and now. This was happening to people he knew.
When he turned back to the road, Teddy realized what a predicament he was in. There were even more of them coming.
He didn’t bother counting. There was more than he could slumping toward him. If he didn’t move soon, he would be surrounded.
The teen took off running.
He didn’t remember the rest of the roughly three quarters of a mile to his father’s house, except when dodging a few grasping hands. Teddy thought he had felt some fingers swipe the back of his shirt, but wasn’t quite sure. He didn’t bother trying to speak to anyone after Missus Chilton, although he thought he saw Rodney Williams, the African American guy who lived two doors down from his dad. Teddy always remembered that Rodney seemed blacker than black, his skin almost charcoal in color. All his father could think to say about the man was something nonsensical like “he sure as hell ain’t high yella,” before laughing like a loon. Teddy had no idea what it meant, but was sure it was offensive.
Rodney was the only black man in the area and some of the other neighbors didn’t seem to like him all that much for that reason, but Joe Schmidts had no issues with anyone as long as they brought beer with them when they visited, and Rodney always did. He was as much of a lush as the rest of them.
Teddy got to the door without a scratch, although he was drenched in sweat and panting. He opened the front door and slammed it shut behind him, locking it.
Teddy saw that the couch situated next to the front door was empty before he even got the door locked. Screaming for his father, Teddy’s heart nearly exploded when Joe stumbled out of the kitchen.
He didn’t look as bad as the others outside, but it was clear that whatever had gotten a hold of them had gotten to him as well. Joe’s skin had a grayish hue to it, and his eyes looked strange in the thin slivers of light trickling through the broken blinds on the front window. But it was the sound emanating from Joe’s mouth that confirmed it for Teddy. It was the same haunted, keening noise that he’d heard outside; as if some great sadness had gripped his father.
“Dad?” was all that Teddy managed to ask before Joe lunged at him. Perhaps it was the adrenaline, or the realization that it was pointless trying to break through whatever fever had a hold of his father’s mind, but Teddy managed to dodge the sloppy attack and make a run for the bedroom before Joe could do much more than growl in frustration.
Teddy rushed into his father’s bedroom and locked the door. It didn’t take long for him to hear banging on the front door over the sound of his own heavy breathing. But it wasn’t until his father’s fists slammed into the bedroom door that a startled yelp burst from Teddy’s lips.
Looking around the room, Teddy moved to the small window that faced the backside of the house. He could see several people moving toward the house across the acre-sized back lawn. It took only a moment to confirm that they were in the same shape as the others. Tugging on the pull cord, Teddy let the blinds drop across the window so they wouldn’t spot him.
Hearing glass shatter from across the house, Teddy knew that it was the back door being broken into. The pounding on the front door continued, but he could already hear footsteps moving through the kitchen. It didn’t take much to deduce that whichever neighbors were inside the house would be joining his father at the bedroom door within seconds.
Teddy rushed to the beat up dresser near the door and pushed against it. It didn’t budge at first, but as he let out a grunt of frustration, he felt it slide an inch or two across the ratty carpet. The sound of the effort acted as an incentive to his father, who increased his pounding on the door. The cheap wood of the door wouldn’t hold up long and that was all the motivation Teddy needed to continue straining until he managed to slide the dresser in front of it. The frame continued to rattle, but the heavy piece of furniture would at least give him a few minutes to think of an escape plan.
Scanning the sparsely decorated room, Teddy stepped to his father’s closet. That was where the rifles were kept. When Joe and Vicky were still married, he had a nice display case in the basement for all his weapons. It was locked, but had a glass front. All the rifles had trigger locks as well, which was something Teddy’s mom had insisted on. Since he’d moved, Joe was forced to sell the display case to a friend and had taken each rifle and blasted the trigger locks to pieces. Teddy supposed it was his father’s way of getting back at his mother for everything she had ever done to him.
Now the few rifles that remained in his collection were buried on the bottom of the closet. The only admonishment that Joe ever gave his son anymore was “don’t touch them or I’ll break your neck.” Teddy never had, until now. He sifted through the pile of dirty clothes on the floor and grabbed the Springfield Model 70. It was his father’s favorite. He had been forced to sell most of the others to pay child support and alimony. He couldn’t find steady work in construction so the collection, which had originally consisted of upwards of thirty different weapons, had diminished to about five rifles. He’d handed over the shotguns and other rifles to some dealers and collectors, but held on to the old Springfield, even though it was probably was worth more than any of the other weapons he had. It was Joe’s baby and when he’d bought it at a gun auction ten years before he swore up and down he would never part with it. His father, Teddy’s grandfather, had one just like it and Joe grew up using it.
Teddy held the rifle awkwardly. He had never fired it and had never really wanted to. Guns held no fascination for him.
He grabbed a box of .30 caliber rounds and noticed that several other boxes said 7.62mm on them and knew that he could grab them as well—his father had taught him that much, at least. He loaded the rifle as he had seen his dad do and poured as many bullets as he could into his pockets without feeling weighed down. Moving out of the closet, Teddy glanced over at the dresser and opened one of the drawers. He grabbed a pair of balled up socks and poured more of the stray cartridges into one of them. He wasn’t quite sure what he was doing, but filled it about half way up and then tied the opening of the sock off into a thick knot. Swinging it around a couple of times to test its weight, he hoped it would do the job of knocking someone silly if they got too close.
Staring at the dresser, Teddy watched it vibrate as several fists pounded on the door behind it. There were at least three people out there with his father now, and he was sure more would be joining them.
What the hell is wrong with everyone? It was the thought racing through Teddy’s mind as he stood, stunned and panting inside his father’s bedroom. They were in varied states of messed up, with his own father the least so. He remembered his father saying that someone had bitten him and that was starting to make more sense. Perhaps that was what caused this. Someone with rabies or hepatitis was out there attacking everyone, turning them into homicidal maniacs.
The more his mind raced, the stranger Teddy thought it was that no one out there appeared to be attacking anyone else. They were all bloodied and messed up from some type of assault, but they were all after him, not one another. Watching the door, Teddy held the rifle in front of him as he glanced furtively over to the window. No one had attacked his dad-he couldn’t hear any brawling going on outside the bedroom door, and yet they all wanted to get at him. Why?
Taking one last look around the room, Teddy cursed. No phone. His father had one phone and it was next to the couch. The man refused to get a cell phone and it damn near took a court order to get him to buy an answering machine. There weren’t too many people that Joe was interested in talking to anyway, and that left Teddy in a bind. What the hell was he going to do? In answer to his silent query, the sound of the bedroom door cracking made Teddy take a step back deeper into the room.
The truck! His father’s truck was parked next to the house. The beat up old shack didn’t have a garage. Just a cheap sheet metal cover that counted as a car port. The old beat up Chevy S-10 was underneath it with the boat attached behind. Teddy had always shaken his head at the amazing luck his father displayed in driving back from the small lake where he fished. They were out in the country, so he was almost always able to avoid the cops on his drunken returns home. He was not quite as good with trees and fence posts though. The truck had suffered some pretty nice dings and dents and Joe spent some plenty of his free time fixing a few neighbor’s split rail fences. Fortunately for him, they were as apt to get ripped and do the exact same thing, so they were more or less forgiving of his indiscretions.
But where were the keys?
He thought back to his father’s return. The old man didn’t carry the damn things in his pocket like a normal person. If Joe remembered to get them out of the truck, he would usually toss them on a counter somewhere or underneath a pile of trash he had not cleaned up in months. “My cleaning lady will get to it, but this is her year off.” Some lame joke like that was always his excuse. When Teddy tried to clean up once, his father told him to leave it. He’d left the boy’s mother so he could get away from dealing with crap like that.
As the bedroom door splintered and the dresser shuttered, Teddy thought hard. He couldn’t remember his father doing much more than throwing up and passing out when he got home. That and talking about getting bitten. No keys. Were they still in the truck?
The question was rendered moot as the dresser moved and the door behind it gave way. The moaning outside grew louder and it sounded like a lot more fists were pounding on the front door as well.
Teddy moved to the window and peaked through the blinds outside. Nothing. Just the weedy back yard that seemed to stretch for a mile. No more shambling forms. Anyone moving toward the house were probably already inside and trying to get at him through the bedroom door.
The window was fairly small and was at chest height. Outside of the dresser and the bed there was not much to climb on in the room. It would take too long to move the bed underneath the window. Being short sometimes was a real disadvantage. Teddy couldn’t remember how he managed, but he was able to slide the window open and pull himself up just as the dresser toppled over and crashed to the floor. He tossed the rifle outside as the sock full of cartridges swung like a pendulum from where he had tied it to his sweatpants.
Before sliding through the window, Teddy took one last glance back into the room, which was a big mistake. He froze halfway out the window as he stared into his father’s eyes.
The man was dead. Looking at Marge Chilton had not convinced Teddy of that, nor had seeing Phil, even with his guts ripped out. But looking into his father’s eyes as the man climbed over the toppled dresser made Teddy realize they were dead. Every last one of them.
Teddy almost died alongside them right then and there. He continued staring at his father, stunned by his revelation. His father was dead, but somehow moving toward him. The teen was frozen in place as his father crept closer, just a couple of feet away. Joe would grab him by the legs and pull his son back inside where everyone in the neighborhood would do unspeakable things to him. Then he would become one of them.
That was when Teddy felt the hand yanking him out the window.
He screamed as he fell to the ground, knocking down whoever had pulled him outside. His legs had been scrapped up in the fall and the bag of bullets had landed on his back, knocking the air out of him and leaving some nice gouges there as well.
Teddy rolled away, trying hard to catch his breath as the other person climbed to their feet. He rolled to his back so he could see what was going on. As he looked up, he discovered that his savior was one of them.
He didn’t recognize this person. It was man dressed in denim overalls with one of the straps missing. So was the man’s right arm.
Teddy gaped at the man and once again felt as if he couldn’t move. The rifle was behind the ghoul, out of the reach. Not that he could manage his first shot with the weapon anyway. There was no way in hell. The only thing he could do was run.
Teddy tried to scoot backwards, but the man was moving faster than he could scoot. When he did scoot, he heard the bag of bullets making noise as the cartridges clicked together in the sock. He reached and tugged at it. He had tied it to the pull string of his sweats and it had tried to break loose when he fell, but remained where he’d put it. Teddy had tied it tight, wanting it to remain snug to his body. Now he cursed as he struggled to get it loose.
The memory of how long it took to fumble the sock free played over and over in Teddy’s dreams for days. In reality, it took less than a couple of seconds and then he was able to launch the makeshift sling at the man well before he could lunge for him. But in his dreams, it was always one second too late …
Teddy watched as the weighted sock traveled upward and smacked the stiffening corpse in the nose. It caused the man to stumble. After a moment the monster regained control of his erstwhile feet and moved toward Teddy again. By then the boy had snapped out of his trance and was on his feet, slipping backwards, away from the man. The truck was on the side of the house, past the pus bag in front of him. But that wasn’t the only problem: someone was stepping out the back door of his dad’s house and others were following.
A voice inside Teddy’s head managed to cut through all the static and noise racing around in there. It whispered that he already knew that he was faster than any of these people. All he had to do was move, and move quickly and there was no way in hell they could catch him.
He took the voice at its word and decided to run straight at the man. This seemed to take the slug off guard a bit and it nearly toppled over. Teddy feigned another move and the klutz did fall over this time. Moving past the wriggling form, he snatched up his father’s rifle and then darted around the other dead figures pouring from the house as he ran to the truck.
The keys weren’t in the ignition.
Teddy slammed his fist against the window and was tempted to shoot the damn thing out of frustration. That was when he saw the keys. They were on the floorboards beside a discarded fast food bag. Yelping with glee, Teddy tugged on the door handle and got into the truck. He crammed the key in the ignition and tried to start it. The engine wouldn’t turn over.
The wretched thing was fifteen years old and holding on for dear life. It had some hard miles on it and had been a good truck for many years, but it was well past its expiration date. Teddy, who had never driven before, was winging it. Thankfully it was not a standard transmission or he would have been forced to run instead. He was reasonably sure he could handle an automatic.
When the first fist slammed against the glass, Teddy nearly wet himself. He stomped on the gas pedal and twisted the key again. Nothing. He remembered his father cursing the old beast a time or two and bitching about having flooded it. About how temperamental she was, almost as bad as his mother. Teddy cursed himself and brought the rifle up. There were more monsters coming.
He saw the first one moving its fist down toward the door handle and he locked it, wondering in amazement why he hadn’t done that in the first place. After another few moments of staring at the man close up, he blinked and leaned over to click the passenger side lock down as well.
For the next few minutes, Teddy Schmidts felt like he had been condemned to hell as punishment for not playing football as his father wished. Joe Schmidts became a drunken loser because his son was a great disappointment, but that wasn’t punishment enough for Teddy. No, he was going to be surrounded by his father’s disgusting neighbors so they could drag him down to the fiery pits, kicking and screaming.
That was when Teddy saw his father again. The old man came through the back door after somehow managing to realize he couldn’t follow his son through the window. The other neighbors in the room had followed and were out on the lawn coming toward the truck. There were at least ten of them and Teddy was certain he recognized at least half of them.
Teddy spent a great deal of time later wondering about the seemingly endless time he spent behind the wheel of the idle truck. Perhaps he should have died then. Maybe it would have been easier. He considered putting the rifle in his mouth and pulling the trigger. Contemplated it, but never took the idea seriously. It was no more a viable option to his way of thinking than shooting out the window and trying to blow away all those dead people. Maybe shooting one would scare the others off, but Teddy had a sneaking suspicion they wouldn’t be bothered by such an effort. Half already looked like they had been mauled by wild dogs or worse. A little old rifle blast would probably just get them more excited.
After forcing himself to wait the necessary amount of time (based on the amount of his father’s curses when he dealt with the flooded engine), Teddy was able to get the engine to turn over. When it started up, the rotters got even more agitated and slapped their fists into the truck even harder. Teddy flipped it into drive and lurched out of the car port. The boat tagged along for the ride, at least until he turned his first corner and it flipped off its carrier. Apparently his father hadn’t done a good job of securing it on his return trip from the lake, so the ten foot long fishing boat ended up in a ditch.
Teddy, who had been bound and determined to make it home to his mother’s after fleeing his father’s place, ended up crashing into a tree a couple of miles down the road when he attempted to avoid hitting an elderly man who he recognized from town. The old codger had been infected like all the rest. Fortunately, Teddy was able to escape the truck before Russell Torrance could attack him. Russell was the oldest citizen in Ellington and had a gold plated plaque to prove it. It had even been signed by the Mayor. Now he was just the oldest ghoul in town.
Teddy spent the entire night trying to find a way past the infected so he could get to his mother’s, but had no luck. After a sleepless night hiding out in woods near town, he realized he had to leave Ellington. The area was swarming with those bastards. There had to be someone, somewhere, who would know what to do. Teddy hoped that his mom had escaped, but it was hard to believe that she had gotten out past the mess their town had become. She lived near the center of town and the entire area was toast. Several fires had been started, and he could hear gunfire and sirens off in the distance. He prayed for her, but was already beginning to accept that she was gone for good.
The next few days were a nightmare of hiding and hoping. When he was finally discovered by Michael’s group, Teddy had traveled nearly twenty miles away from Ellington and had only vague recollections of what he had ate and drank to stay alive.
Teddy glanced over at Ray. He was his only friend now. His father was dead and so was his mother. Of that he was certain. Unlike George, he’d seen the devastation wrought upon his hometown and knew there was no chance she had made it out alive. He spoke to her on the phone just a couple of hours before his father got back to the house on that fateful Saturday and she told him she was going to stay inside the rest of the day. There were strange reports on the news that were freaking her out. It probably no big deal, but she asked him to be careful and not do anything foolish, at which Teddy had rolled his eyes. Like what mom? Get drunk with dad? He didn’t say it, but felt mild contempt for her concern, like any teenager would.
Thinking back on that conversation, Teddy was filled with tremendous guilt at the disdain he had for his mother. She told him she loved him and he’d mumbled a response, like he always did, before hanging up. That was the last time he ever spoke to her; ignoring her warnings and grunting at her like some sort of animal. I’m so sorry mom. I DO love you and I should have listened … not only then, but every time you tried to tell me something.
It took some time, but Teddy also realized soon enough that he loved his father too. Despite the man’s flaws and contempt he showed for his son’s choice of sports, it was clear that his father cared for him.
Joe had revealed himself on occasion, when he was sober, as a man who actually cared about his boy. It was clear to Teddy that his father was embarrassed about his failings and what his life had become-not that he would ever admit it. Joe might not be the greatest dad in the world, but he didn’t deserve what had happened to him.
None of them did.
This is essentially a flashback for Ray and Teddy that I had originally put in Into The Dark as they waited for Jeff and George outside the convenience store. Naturally, after realizing how big of a departure it was from the main story, I had to remove it, even thought it allowed these two characters, which up to that point had been extremely minor, to have more of a sense of existence to the reader. I’ve broken it into two parts, and this one primarily deals with Ray, but also provides some more details on Teddy as well. The second part focuses on Teddy and is a bit longer, and I plan on posting that in the next few days as well.
As always, I do my best to catch the glitches in editing, but I am sure there are some left behind here.
Ray and Teddy, Part I
The two boys took a little time making a connection after they met. Certainly, there were some significant differences between them, but after a while, they took comfort in having each other to lean on. Ray was a year older than Teddy, but given the fact that the other children in the group were significantly younger and the rest of the survivors were made up of adults, a minor difference in age and their distinctly different personalities didn’t seem to matter all that much to Ray and Teddy.
They were excited when Jason showed up, though the younger boy seemed to take more of a liking to Michael than them. It only served to reinforce their belief that they were a team and they weren’t going to let anyone get in their way.
Ray was a self proclaimed computer nerd and was very proud of that fact. His claims were, of course, untested since computers, like so many other things these days, were historical artifacts. He jokingly introduced himself to Teddy as a “Nerd without a cause”. Ray had been into video games and blogging, which was something that he had to explain to more than one person in their group. He shook his head in amazement at the lack of awareness some people had of the wonders of the internet world.
He had felt strange and totally out of place within the group of survivors until Teddy showed up. Even then, it took them a while to understand one another. Ray wanted to talk about all the video games he missed and the website he had been creating with some online friends dedicated to Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show that had been off the air for years but lived on thanks to You Tube and Netflix. Teddy, sadly, had never even heard of the show and sadder still, according to Ray, didn’t really care. When Ray tried to explain the wonder of it all, Teddy interrupted him almost immediately with “It doesn’t really matter anymore, does it?”
From that moment forward Ray decided he would never speak of the show or any other useless hobbies he had ever again. He never told Teddy how much the deadpan comment hurt, and that was partially because he had to admit that what the other boy had said was true: none of that stuff did matter anymore. Not in the world they lived in. He tried to get angry about that fact, but failed. Everyone Ray had known who loved MST3K was dead, and so were all the other geeks he linked up with on Xbox Live to play Halo. His world of computer screens and game controllers was officially dead and buried.
Even with Teddy’s brush off, the two boys worked hard to find common ground, in particular after they witnessed the deaths of several members of the group and even more so when they had to flee the factory. Teddy was somewhat reserved and aloof with Ray at first, but with nothing much else to do when the survivors weren’t running or hiding, he began sharing more and more about himself with Ray.
Teddy Schmidts was a small kid, a few inches above five foot tall and weighing in at 100 pounds. He was a freshman in high school and remarkably, at least to Ray, he had been quite popular with his classmates despite his diminutive stature. Teddy didn’t speak of his popularity as if he was bragging. Like everything he said, the words sounded genuine and honest. There was no embellishment in anything Teddy stated or did. He played soccer and wrestled and was good at both. Despite not having the size to play football or basketball, he was strong and fast, which landed him on the varsity wrestling squad. He had a good chance to make varsity in soccer as well by his sophomore year, according to his coach, if he stayed focused and kept improving his footwork.
Teddy had energy to burn, but athletics calmed him down. He told Ray that when he was little, doctors advised his parents to get him into sports year round to help with his focus and concentration. He had been diagnosed hyperactive, but did well with a lot of exercise. As he got older, the hyperactivity dissipated and his grades improved. Ray had wondered why Teddy felt the need to run around all the time and do pushups and sit ups like his life depended on it. He still didn’t understand after Teddy’s explanation, since Ray loathed physical activity, but shrugged it off. If it made his newfound friend happy, it was cool with him.
When Ray had asked about the Springfield rifle that Teddy had with him when they first met, Teddy stated that his father had been a hunter, though he refused to say much else about either of his parents beyond that. He did let it slip that this particular weapon had been his father’s favorite, and Ray suspected that was a pretty important detail about Teddy’s life, and a good reason why he wasn’t so chatty about his family. No one had any pleasant stories to tell about what had happened to their loved ones, so if someone didn’t want to talk about them, they were left alone.
Ray, on the other hand, didn’t mind speaking about such things and Teddy was good enough to listen.
He was the youngest of three, and as his mother described it, he had been a happy “accident” when he had come along in her early forties. Ray’s older sisters were well into their twenties and he didn’t see them all that often anymore-he had no idea what had happened to them when the world had fallen apart. They both lived in other parts of the country.
His father was an electrical engineer and his mother a librarian. “Thus, I got my card as a charter member of the nerd society while still in the womb.” They raised him to be proficient on the computer and a voracious reader, but had not graced him with many social skills. Outside of an almost obsessive focus on his grades, Herman and Bess Jordan had little interest in their son’s social development.
When the first reports came on the air about the dead beginning to walk, Ray’s parents, like so many other people, dismissed it as mass hysteria. It was only when local reports about riots and attacks in the streets of Cincinnati started showing up on the TV that they showed even the most remote interest. It still took them a couple days before they came to the conclusion that they should do more than quibble with each other and take some action. They piled into their car with the idea of driving out to a campground they had spent a single weekend at several years earlier. The idea of heading to one of the National Guard shelters or remaining at their house seemed foolish. From the campground, they would figure out where they could best sit tight to wait out this whole ridiculous mess.
They did not even get five miles from their house.
Caught in one of the many never ending traffic jams on the interstate, they sat waiting, like everyone else. About an hour after getting stuck and watching other motorists leave their cars, Ray’s parents bickered and debated yet again about what they should do. Since Ray’s mother had severe rheumatoid arthritis and his father was not in tip top shape either, it didn’t seem like such a good idea for them to grab what they could and hoof it. The mini-debate was settled twenty minutes later when they saw people running and screaming in both directions along the median and breakdown lanes of the highway.
Ray, who was a nervous wreck at that point, watched as his father got out of the car despite the fact that his mother was pleading for him not to. He told them to wait for him, and that he would be right back. Herman moved off from them and for the next five minutes the two people he had deserted in the Volvo Station Wagon sat and wept. Ray tried to comfort his mother by putting his hand on her shoulder, but she swatted it away, crying and screaming unintelligibly at him. After that he balled up in the back seat and whimpered, imagining what was happening to his father and wondering what he should be doing. His mother was hysterical, which was something entirely new to Ray. It felt like his world had collapsed.
Things got worse from there. His father finally came back to the car and opened his door. Bess Jordan pled with him to get in and lock the doors. After nearly thirty seconds of screaming, her voice elevating higher and higher with panic, Herman pushed her frantic hands away, hard. He leaned into the car and the look on his face was one Ray would never forget.
It must have had the same impact on his mother because she went silent. The last words Ray recalled his father saying were so quiet he was not quite sure he heard them correctly, but what he believed they were remained etched in his mind.
“We have to leave. If we stay here, we’ll die.”
His father grabbed his mother by the arm and pulled her out of the car. She resisted at first, most likely thinking Herman mad. The look on his face was like nothing Ray had ever seen before. His father had always been steady, composed, and dispassionate. Ray found it nearly impossible to describe what had become of his dad to Teddy, except to say it looked like someone had scraped all the color out of his skin and replaced it with the same texture and color as milk. It was as if his father’s blood flow had stopped. His eyes were wide and bulging and he looked like some sort of side show freak as he gaped at Ray and his mother.
It took a couple of minutes for Herman to finally pry Bess free of the car. As Ray opened his door and stepped out, he tried asking his father if they should take anything with them. His inquiry was ignored for the most part as his father dragged his mother down the road.
Less than a minute later Ray understood what had caused his father to act as he did.
Their car had been stuck on the inside lane of the highway. The cars had been moving at first, slowly inching forward, but then came to a halt. Besides having bumper to bumper traffic, the median was clogged with more cars trying to sneak past everyone. Overpasses with huge cement pylons had served as blockades to traffic along the grassy center strip every few miles or so.
The Jordan’s ran forward, limping along with the scattered crowds of other desperate people. The obstacle course of cars required them to adjust their path continuously as other people plowed past them, bumping and shoving them with an equal amount of desperation.
Ray remembered hearing a noise behind him mixed in with the screams. At first it sounded like a swarm of locusts and he remembered that being odd because he recalled locust only came out once every few years. Maybe cicadas? He had no idea if there was any difference between cicadas and locusts and dismissed the line of thought as useless.
Only in hindsight did the sound have any real meaning.
The Jordan family were buffeted and pushed around by most everyone rushing past faster than Ray’s parents were capable of moving. As hundreds of people streamed by, Ray spared a moment to look back in the direction they had come from. They were on a straight ribbon of highway that stretched for several miles off into the distance, and he could see everything behind them very clearly.
What Ray saw, and later told Teddy about, confirmed everything the news reports had been saying that his parents had found so hard to believe. The dead had come back to life and were attacking the living. Ray had remembered all the postings on the net spewing out rumor after rumor, and dissecting every sordid detail being reported from around the globe. Some were absolutely ridiculous while others, especially the ones displaying extremely graphic photographs or grainy cell phone videos, were hard to dismiss. Now he was bearing witness to everything he’d laughed about as the random ravings of internet sensationalists just a day or two earlier. Nothing even the most artful fear monger on the web had tried to relay to the rest of the world could compare to what Ray was seeing with his own eyes.
People were being pulled out of their cars by other human beings who weren’t even waiting for them to clear the shattered windows and windshields before tearing into exposed flesh. Some ganged up on the people in particular vehicles while others stood alone, smashing their bloody fists against windshields. It all looked like some slow motion movie being played out frame by bloody frame.
Ray stopped running and watched the unholy scene unfolding off in the distance.
It wasn’t just those stuck in their cars being attacked. Everyone on the road was fair game. The slowest and weakest were being dragged to the ground, along with anyone who had the misfortune of being trampled in the mad rush to escape the claws of the rotting army marching toward them. The old, the infirm, and those carrying small children were the easiest for the horde to overwhelm, while a brave few who chose to fight wielding an assortment of weapons such as golf clubs and hand guns were obliterated just as quickly as the horde of maddened cannibals poured in around them.
Ray gauged the distance to the closest fighting at about a half a mile. There the feeders were still sparse, a recon force leading the way for a much larger mass of infected out beyond the horizon. Ray’s eyes scanned further back and saw that their numbers were endless; they were a great consuming machine destroying everything within their reach.
Ray had looked up at Teddy at that point in his story and gave him a meek smile.
“I remember sitting on my porch when I was a little kid, watching an ant hill off in the dirt in my front yard. I was always fascinated by the worker ants, when they carried all those little pebbles of dirt and bits of leaves down into their underground bunker. I must have watched that ant hill for thirty minutes one day,” he laughed as his eyes grew distant.
“But then something happened. Another ant, obviously not from that colony, because it was larger and red, wandered by and was attacked by all those smaller black ants. It didn’t have a prayer. It must have taken just a few seconds for it to be swarmed over. The black ant army came in huge numbers and annihilated their enemy, dragging its carcass off down that same hole they used to carry all those pebbles and leaves. I’m not sure if they ate it, and I really didn’t want to know, but that’s what those dead people reminded me of: those black ants, climbing all over their enemies and tearing them to pieces within seconds.”
Ray swallowed hard and paused before continuing his story.
Like the ants, the undead attacked as a unit, swarming over their victims mercilessly. Ray remembered that all the black ants looked just like the bigger red ant except for the color and size, but the black ants sure had recognized the difference in species.
He watched the ghouls attacking the living with that same sense of fascinated dread as he’d had watching that insignificant skirmish on his front lawn years earlier.
The tide of the undead plodded along, excited yet systematic in their assault. Some would stop and focus on a car where they thought someone was hiding, while the rest forged ahead, pursing the huge crowd of the living that had gone mad with fear. A great sea of humanity was being pushed and prodded toward where Ray stood.
He realized he’d seen enough and turned to follow his parents. It was only then that he realized that they were already gone. They had not waited for their son to figure out what was happening and had left him behind. Ray ran forward a few car lengths and then reversed his course and went back to his family’s car to glance inside; irrationally believing his parents might have returned to wait for him there. He climbed on the hood and screamed for them, scanning the highway to the south, away from the slowly encroaching doom. He couldn’t pick them out amongst the hundreds, if not thousands, of people surging away from his position.
Ray screamed for his parents once again, although his voice was drowned out by the screams and the sound of locusts he’d heard before.
Much like what George had discovered a few days later when he fled the high school gymnasium with Jason, it dawned on Ray that it was the song of the dead he was hearing, not some harmless insects. They were crying out to him and the desperate refugees trying to flee from their inevitable grasp. From his vantage point he could see thousands of the dead marching forward. Those not busy biting or tearing into those frantic souls in their path were moaning. They were moaning and as the sound emanating from their ragged, rotten vocal chords joined together, it sounded like some sort of deranged chorus. It was so loud that it vibrated the car roof beneath his feet.
Ray could feel his grip on reality slipping away, but was coherent enough to realize that the screams of the living weren’t just coming from behind the car. He turned around again and made one last futile attempt at a search for his parents. There were people being trampled everywhere and he feared that given their physical condition, his mother and father might be injured. As he looked further in that direction, thoughts and concerns for his parents evaporated.
The dead were coming from the other end of the highway as well.
They were further off in the distance, but still surging toward the living caught in the middle of the two groups of surging corpses. They moved with a purpose, opening their arms and mouths to the crowd that appeared oblivious to their existence as they ran from the threat coming at them from the opposite direction.
Ray glanced around the immediate area and noticed that while most people were following the path of the highway in some blind attempt at escape, more people were taking off toward the trees surrounding the areas on both sides of the road. There were sound barriers off in the distance that helped shield the neighborhoods abutting the interstate from excessive noise, but in the immediate area, the woods provided a natural barricade, and a fortunate exit route for those stuck on the highway.
There was no hint that any ghouls were hiding in those woods, but it was almost impossible to tell from Ray’s current vantage point.
He stayed on top of the car for a few more moments and screamed as he did. This time, it wasn’t for his parents, but for anyone who would be willing to help him, to tell him what to do, or to take him away from this place. He shouted at the people running by, warning them of what was up ahead, but either they couldn’t hear him or more likely, chose to ignore the pimply faced kid raving like a lunatic from on top of the Volvo.
Even in his state of growing hysteria, Ray knew what he was doing was pointless. Everyone around him was already dead. They just didn’t realize it yet.
He wasn’t ashamed to admit to Teddy it was at that point where he broke down crying. It was easy to tell the other boy because Teddy had wept openly more than once during their escape from the factory. It was a heck of a lot easier to admit you cried these days and only Frank and Marcus seemed to get upset if you did.
Teddy listened, fascinated as Ray completed his tale. After another bout of crippling fear, Ray was able to give up on the idea of ever finding his parents again. There was poorly hidden guilt on his face as he talked about sliding off the roof of the Volvo and making for the woods to the east of the highway. When Teddy patted Ray on the back and smiled at him, the older boy felt a tremendous relief, as if a great burden had been lifted from his soul by revealing what was his darkest secret.
Not long after that, Ray managed to make his way to where Michael and his band of survivors were hiding out. It had been a harrowing adventure for him, but most of it had consisted of hiding in dark corners and staying as still as he possibly could as the song of the dead haunted his every waking moment for the next few days.
After his story was finished, Ray never brought up the subject of his parents again. Teddy was smart enough not to ask anything further, knowing that the guilt his friend felt was probably mixed in with a sense of betrayal and confusion at what they had done to him. They had left him behind and that was almost impossible for Teddy to imagine being forced to cope with.
Predators and Editors has a readers poll for Print/Electronic Horror Novel Published in 2010, and Comes The Dark is one of the books on this list. I was thrilled to find that I was a part of the list, and there are some pretty impressive names up there, many of which are friends of mine. So I would ask you if you would be so kind as to vote on this readers poll. If not for Comes The Dark, for one of the many fine offerings listed. The voting for Predators and Editors is kind of unique. You go to this link: http://www.critters.org/predpoll/novelh.shtml, then click on your choice from a very extensive list of books, then scroll to the bottom of the screen. There it asks you for your full name, email address, and then has you fill out a small box to prove you aren’t a robot.
I will ask for you to consider voting for Comes The Dark, but again, please vote for one of the many great books listed there. I know this sounds trite, but it is indeed an honor to be nominated for this award at all, and I am flattered to be in such great company.
Horrornews.net posted their review of Comes The Dark, and my hope is that they will be reviewing Into The Dark fairly soon as well. This one is a fairly detailed review, giving some insight into the storyline without presenting any spoilers, which is terrific. Check it out here: http://horrornews.net/28367/book-revew-comes-the-dark-author-patrick-d%E2%80%99orazio/.