Dark Stories: Ray and Teddy, Part I
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.