I was notified with the pleasant news that I am the featured author over at the Zombie Authors Blog for the next couple of weeks. So while you may have found me here on my own slice of the blogosphere, please go check out what they have to say about me over at Zombie Authors: http://zombie-authors.blogspot.com/
Thanks to Jule Romans for giving me the heads up on this nice bit of news.
Well it is Friday the 13th and while many folks consider that bad luck, I think it is a great day…and the start of a great weekend. Especially for fans of great apocalyptic fiction. Permuted Press, my publisher, has decided that this would be a great weekend to promote the heck out of virtually every one of the books they offer on Kindle by having a sale that runs through Sunday. So go on over to Amazon to check things out. Just click on the picture below and you’ll be sent to the list of books for sale, including all three books in my trilogy: Comes The Dark, Into The Dark, and Beyond The Dark. Plenty of other fantastic books can be found on sale, including plenty of ones that I’ve reviewed here. So here is your chance to pick them up for either 99 cents or $2.99 when they’re regularly around $7.99. So check it out, and as they say over at Permuted, Enjoy the Apocalypse!
Permuted Press has completed the release process for Beyond The Dark with paper, ebook, and audio versions all now available. This finishes off the new version of the trilogy, and as I mentioned when the ebook version was released, this version of Beyond The Dark has the Dark Stories that were included in the original ebook trilogy release, plus some new additions, including a short story originally seen in “Eyewitness: Zombie”, an anthology produced by May December Publications. This is a tale of a National Guardsman told in first person which takes place in the early days of battle to fight the undead plague. There is also a brief appearance by two of the characters that appear in the trilogy toward the end of the story and hints at their future plans. A brand new Dark story makes its debut in this novel. Lydia, one of the characters introduced in Into The Dark was one of the few key secondary characters who didn’t get the flashback treatment. One of the reviewers of the original Dark Stories was disappointed she didn’t get the same treatment as everyone else did. I agreed, and since I always knew what Lydia’s history, I was able to craft her story for the release of this book in short order. I have a great fondness of Lydia and I hope that you enjoy the tale of her first exposure to having her world turned upside down by the undead plague. When people ask me what my favorite book of the trilogy is, its sort of like being asked to to choose between your children. I sort of feel awkward answering that question. But, since I have always thought of the trilogy as one saga, I do feel that Beyond The Dark does comprise the parts of the tale that are the most compelling, the ones that wrung the most emotions out of me in writing it. It is also the book that gets the highest praise-a lot of ‘he saved the best for last’. There is more stories to be told in this world and I plan on revisiting it, but the Dark Trilogy stands on its own, and Beyond The Dark is my favorite part of the trilogy. There, I said it. I still love Comes The Dark and Into The Dark, but this is the piece of the puzzle I’m most proud of…and I hope you enjoy it. Just click on the cover and you’ll be taken to a page that lets you choose which version of the book you want. Thanks!
Permuted Press has released the final chapter in the Dark trilogy, Beyond The Dark, in ebook format. Soon to be followed by audio book and paper formats, this completes the updated and revised version of the trilogy, with Dark Stories included-two of which even those folks who read all the Dark Stories I had to share in the previous electronic version have missed out on. One of which is a story told in first person, called “A Soldier’s Lament” which is tied into the world of Jeff and company-with a couple of characters from the books showing up. This particular story, which also appears in “Eyewitness Zombie” from May December Publications, an anthology of first person accounts of the apocalypse, is a bit different, and is definitely one I’m proud to have in this tome. The other story was written specifically for this book, and tells the back story of Lydia, one of the key secondary characters introduced in Into The Dark. In many ways, it is my favorite, because Lydia is a character who has grown to mean more to me in the past couple of years-she has elements of my late mother and sister in her, and she is a strong character who I love dearly.
And while everyone will assume something about the new cover of this third book…as in, the girl on it is a zombie, I will say this: don’t be so sure. You’ll have to read the story to find out more. 😉
So please, check it out, and stay tuned for further updates for the paperback and audio formats of the book, coming soon.
Here is the press release from Permuted Press:
The 3rd and final book in Patrick D’Orazio‘s Dark Trilogy, BEYOND THE DARK, is out now in eBook!
“Grabs you by the ears and does not let go. We’ve heard the phrase save the best for last … well, that is exactly what happened with this trilogy.”
—Heather Headshot Faville, Doubleshot Reviews
Things move quickly around here. It wasn’t too long ago that I was touting the re-release of Comes The Dark from Permuted Press. Suddenly, it’s time for the release of the second book, Into The Dark, in ebook format! As with the first book, the Dark Stories I originally created to be a part of the books are back in each individual release, added to the end of the main story. So the reader has the opportunity to delve deeper into the lives of the secondary characters introduced in each book in a short story format. Check it out…and if you don’t mind, leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or at Barnes and Noble if you have the time. Thanks!
Six weeks ago, the mysterious virus came out of nowhere and engulfed the world.
Jeff Blaine did his best to hold his family together and to protect them from the horrors scratching at their door, but in the end, they were ripped away from him like everything else that ever mattered.
Lost and alone, Jeff’s only option is to destroy as many of the monsters as he can. But when he discovers Megan, George, and Jason, three other survivors not interested in giving up just yet, he reluctantly accepts that there might still be a reason to fight and live to see another day.
Traveling through the blasted landscape of their new fallen world, the quartet discovers that the living dead aren’t the only danger with which they must cope. Even other survivors who promise safety and security from the hordes of ghouls roaming the wastelands will test loyalties and their faith in humankind.
Jeff and his small band of newfound friends must forge a semblance of life in the newly blighted world. And they will have only the light of their own humanity by which to navigate as everything around them descends into the dark.
Stay tuned for a full selection of links to all versions of the book, but for now here are the links for both the Kindle and Nook:
When I moved my trilogy over to Permuted Press, I had the privilege of getting to work with Felicia Sullivan, editor extraordinaire. She had actually taken a look at the original version of Into the Dark before it went to print and helped me out with some advice about it, which I appreciated a great deal. This was after we met at Horror Realm in September of 2010-shortly after the original release of Comes the Dark. But when she was assigned to edit my trilogy by Permuted, she dove into the novels and helped to polish them up to a greater extent than ever before. And she knows my secret-my kryptonite as it were-when it comes to my writing. No, I’m not going to tell you what that is! But it is something I have worked hard at correcting ever since she lent me this insight and I am far better for having realized this particular failing of mine.
Felicia has her own Facebook page and not too long ago she asked me if I would like to be interviewed by her. So we discussed my work, my perspective on writing, and what my plan is for the zombie apocalypse. (To bug out, or not to bug out…). It was a fun little interview, and I appreciated the chance to once again plug my work. That interview was posted on her page today.
So if you would be so kind, take a few minutes and head on over to her page, “like” it, and check out my interview with the lovely Felicia Sullivan.
Just a quick post for all those folks wondering when my trilogy will be re-released by Permuted Press. It is going to happen faster than expected, which is great. While these dates are tentative, they should give you a good idea of when things will come to pass.
Comes The Dark-February of 2013
Into The Dark-March of 2013
Beyond The Dark-April of 2013
I was surprised at how rapid fire the trilogy will be coming out. Again, each of these versions of the books will be expanded well beyond the original versions, with quite a few additional stories included within each book. More details to come as I have them on other covers, editing updates, specific release dates, etc.
Hello folks. I figure it has been a while since I shared any information with you on the re-release of Comes The Dark as well the other two books in the trilogy by Permuted Press. After all, they won’t be available until 2013, right? So there is some time before that happens. But of course, things are always happening behind the scenes. Comes The Dark has already been re-edited for the new version and is in the publisher’s hands. More to come on a release date-for paperback, ebook, and hopefully even an audible version (which will make some people I know very happy).
Well, I wanted to share a bit of recent news with you which made me as giddy as a school girl. Well, maybe not THAT giddy, but I thought it was pretty cool. I was just show the new artists rendition of the cover for the book and it was, in a word, AWESOME! Nope, I can’t share any significant details with you at this time, mainly because it is still a work in progress, but suffice it to say that it will look completely different than the original cover…as will the covers for Into The Dark and Beyond The Dark. Now let me state very clearly that I absolutely love what Philip R. Rogers did with the original covers. He took my vision for the first cover and transformed it into something wonderful, and then did the same with the second and third books as well. He is an incredible artist and I love not only my covers, but just about everything else he has ever done for the anthologies I’ve been in and the other writers he’s worked with. His stuff has a distinctive air to it that is instantly recognizable to me. He tells a tremendous story with his images that draw the eye.
The new covers have gone in a completely different direction. I’ll just say that there will likely not be a zombie in sight on any of the three, but for anyone who has read my books, they’ll see some things from the stories that they’ll recognize right away with what is on display.
Just as a refresher, the new books will have a significant volume of new material-they’ve jumped from being three books at each roughly 60,000 words to each being anywhere from 80,000 to over 100,000 words each. Since much of that is the Dark Stories that I have posted on my website, but with even more additions, I will likely be pulling those stories down prior to the release of the books next year. I figure, if you haven’t read the rough versions of them already, you can check them out all polished up and shiny for the new books.
In other news, I continue to work on the fourth book in this saga, which, as I have stated before, isn’t the fourth book in the trilogy (and I know saying a phrase like that sounds like a bad joke) but the start of a new two-book saga. A duology, if you will. The trilogy will stand on its own and these two new books will as well, though they will be tied together by characters and a shared world. The book has been outlined for a long time, but what I truly love about writing is how the story changes and morphs as I write it, so even I don’t know what to expect from page to page. It is a heck of a journey, and I look forward to sharing with you on down the line. I apologize that I don’t share more of what I write on a daily or weekly basis, but I’m a bit shy with that. I do have a plan though, to start sharing some of my zombie short stories, or some tidbits of them, that have either been previously released, or yet to be, just to keep you folks entertained a bit when you come to my blog. I know my reviews are just fascinating (har har!) but I hope some of my own work might be of interest as well.
Until next time…which I hope will be in the next few days…see ya!
Not too long ago, I mentioned that my trilogy, Comes The Dark, Into The Dark, and Beyond The Dark were being re-released by Permuted Press in 2013. Since I had agreed to do this, I have been working to reconfigure the manuscripts of each book. Each will be much larger than the books released by The Library of the Living Dead Press, with the Dark Stories I originally removed returning to their rightful place in each volume. There will be revisions and some new stories, in particular in the final book of the trilogy. One story comes from an anthology called Eye Witness: Zombie from May December Publications that stands alone, but happens in the same world as the rest of the saga. Another story will be about Lydia, a character that appears in the second and third books and is one of my favorites. At the suggestion of one of the folks who reviewed the trilogy, along with the Dark Stories that appeared in the e-book omnibus (you know who you are!), Lydia is getting her day, and the story I am relating takes place several weeks before the events of the trilogy. Lydia is someone who was influenced by my mother and sister, who both passed away in 2011. Much like Megan, she is a strong, loving character who will do anything for those she cares for. I think this new story will demonstrate that even more than what occurs in the trilogy.
Since it is all in the hands of Permuted and my new editor, I will be focusing my writing efforts on the fourth book. The initial chapter is a tricky one, and I have been over thinking it for some time, but it, along with the rest of the story, is coming together and I look forward to sharing bits and pieces of it with you as time goes on. More to come, so stay tuned!
I wanted to make a brief announcement at this time, which will be a prologue to a more important answer coming up in the not so distant future. Instead of having some sort of big build up, I’m just going to come out and say it. I have acquired the rights back to my three novels from the publisher, Library of the Living Dead. This decision was made with a great deal of careful consideration on my part, and is based more on where I feel things are going for me in the future rather than anything that has happened recently, or in the past. Let me put it another way. Michael West, aka Dr. Pus, the owner of the Library of the Living Dead Press has been a spectacular partner for me over the past few years. He is a man who genuinely cares for the authors who work for him and have aligned themselves with the Library. The Library is, and always will be, a home away from home for me. The people who have been involved with the Library’s message boards over the years, as well as the other authors, editors, and artists are all fantastic people. So this departure is only for my books, not for me, and it will not change anything else. It is mostly due to the fact that at present, Doc is not moving forward to publish new books as he takes a break from that for a time. Unfortunately, time stands still for no man, and since my plan is to produce two more novels in this series, I needed to regain control of them so I can be sure they are in a home where the opportunity exists to publish the new chapters in this saga.
So for everyone out there who has purchased my books in either paper or electronic form, I thank you, as does Doc. All three books were top sellers for the Library, which makes me very proud and sort of stunned at how well they have done. If you have the paper versions of the three books, or want the first editions, my suggestion would be to grab them fairly soon, as they will no longer be available (at least new copies) very much longer. The ebook version of the trilogy has already been taken down and is no longer available on Amazon. The next time you see them, it will be very likely they will look a bit different than they do now.
As I mentioned, I will likely have another announcement to make about these books in the not so distant future, as well as where I go from here with my work. So stayed tuned for that.
Good things come to those that wait. Or at least that is the cliche. Apparently that is true in the case of a review of The Dark Trilogy for The Aussie Zombie, who doesn’t like Cliffhangers. Of course, the first two of my books end on a cliffhanger note, so given that they had the chance to read the entire trilogy, plus the background stories that appear here on my blog, all at once, was a good thing. The review is quite detailed and I’m thrilled they enjoyed my little tale of zombie mayhem. Check it out here: http://theaussiezombie.blogspot.com/2011/11/dark-trilogy-by-patrick-dorazio-full.html
Oh and one more thing…my favorite line from the review: Are these books perfect? No – there’s no such thing (unless you are a Twilight fanatic *runs and hides*) That made me chuckle.
Kevin Walsh over at Buyzombie.com spent some time recently coming up with some pretty good questions for me in an interview after he’d written the final review for my trilogy. I want to thank him for the time and effort. It was a lot of fun. So check it out here: http://www.buyzombie.com/2011/07/14/undead-news/patrick-dorazio-interview/
I just mentioned in my prior post that Rebecca Besser had reviewed Comes The Dark and also that she had interviewed me as well. Well, Rebecca is a busy blogger today, because she just posted my interview after posting her review earlier today. You can check it out here: http://blog.rebeccabesser.com/2011/07/06/interview-with-patrick-dorazio-author-of-comes-the-dark-the-first-book-of-the-dark-trilogy.aspx
Thanks once again to Rebecca for taking the time to do the interview. It was a lot of fun!
Monique-Cherie Snyman has been so kind as to review my first two books and then interview me. Well, she actually came back for more, which rates her as really cool in my book. Er, well, not the book this post is referring to, because it would be mean to put her into The Dark Trilogy, since there is a lot of carnage there. Let’s just say she is pretty damn cool, and leave it at that. And you can check out her review of the trilogy on her website, here: http://www.killeraphrodite.com/2011/06/book-review-dark-trilogy-patrick-dorazio/. Thanks again, Monique, for being as supportive as you have been. I can’t wait to share more books with you, once I get off my duff and get another one done!
Monique-Cherie Snyman has taken the time to review both of the first two books of my trilogy, and her review of Beyond The Dark should be appearing quite soon. I’m really excited to see what she thinks of it as well as the Dark Stories that appear in the ebook format of the trilogy. The interview was a lot of fun, and appears on her website, Killer Aphrodite (don’t you just love that name?). So check it out here: http://networkedblogs.com/jC0eT. I’ll post here when her review of Beyond The Dark shows up there as well. And of course, I want to thank Monique for taking the time to interview me. It was my pleasure!
Ursula K. Raphael has reviewed all three of the books in my trilogy for Zombiephiles. When I asked her to check out the kindle version of The Dark Trilogy because of the addition of the fourth book of short stories (aka Dark Stories) she was more than happy to do so, and now she has taken the time to give a review of that book as well over on Zombiephiles. But she didn’t stop there. She also asked me a few questions about the trilogy and my writing experiences in general and posted it over on the site as well. It was fun answering her questions and I can’t thank her enough for taking the time to read not only the trilogy but a book of extra stories about that universe I created for these characters. So give it a looksee here: http://www.zombiephiles.com/zombies-ate-my-brains/beyond-the-dark-end-of-the-dark-trilogy-by-dorazio-interview and once again, think about checking out The Dark Trilogy for the kindle, or if you have a different e-reader, head on over to smashwords to check it out. Of course, all three paperbacks are available as well for you folks that don’t like e-readers, so check those out as well!
Just a brief while after it hit smashwords, my trilogy is now on the kindle! I am pretty thrilled about this one because it is FINALLY on the kindle, without the errors that the faced the original release of Comes The Dark that led to my publisher and I agreeing not to do any more kindle releases until the entire trilogy was ready to go. And now, it is ready to go!
Here is the description:
Patrick D’Orazio’s Dark Zombie Trilogy (Comes The Dark, Into The Dark, and Beyond The Dark), was originally released on the Kindle in an unedited form under the first book’s title, Comes The Dark. It is being re-released with the entire trilogy as it was meant to be read: edited and expanded, with additional chapters not appearing in the original Kindle version, along with the Dark Stories that have appeared in the author’s blog that provide a full fourth book of additional stories about many of the secondary characters appearing in the trilogy, including Megan, George, Jason, Michael, and Ben. The Dark Trilogy, Revised, Expanded, and with Additional Stories is over 250,000 words of an intense saga of the zombie apocalypse.
The end came with a whimper, not a bang. The mysterious virus came out of nowhere and engulfed the world in a matter of days. Everyone who was infected seemed to die…and rise again. Governments collapsed, armies disappeared, and entire civilizations turned to dust as the human race tore itself to pieces. Jeff Blaine had a good life: a beautiful wife, adorable children, and a nice house in the suburbs. He liked his job, loved his family, and spent his lazy suburban Sundays out on the deck, barbecuing with the neighbors. Things were perfect until everything fell apart. And no matter how hard Jeff tried, he could not spare his family from the horrors scratching at the door. Now, with his family gone, his life in ruins, the only thing left is raw anger and pain. As the world continues to sink into darkness, Jeff does as well. So he ventures out into the desolation with no better plan than to destroy as many of the monsters that stole his life away before they destroy him as well. But soon Jeff will discover other survivors unwilling to give up. They will force him to decide whether or not to give in to the venom that gnaws at his soul. Should he continue to fight to survive, or succumb to the things in the darkness?
Just click on the picture below and it will send you on over to Amazon so you can pick up a copy:
I am happy to announce that the single download of my entire trilogy, plus all the Dark Stories that I wrote which are associated with the trilogy, is now available for download from Smashwords.
Here is the full description:
Together in one massive tome, Patrick D’Orazio’s Dark Zombie Trilogy: Comes The Dark, Into The Dark, and Beyond The Dark are all contained in this release, along with a fourth book full of additional stories about many of the secondary characters that appear in the trilogy, including Megan, George, Jason, Michael, and Ben. The Dark Trilogy, Revised, Expanded, and with Additional Stories is well over 250,000 words of an intense saga of the zombie apocalypse.
The end came with a whimper, not a bang. The mysterious virus came out of nowhere and engulfed the world in a matter of days. Everyone who was infected seemed to die…and rise again. Governments collapsed, armies disappeared, and entire civilizations turned to dust as the human race tore itself to pieces. Jeff Blaine had a good life: a beautiful wife, adorable children, and a nice house in the suburbs. He liked his job, loved his family, and spent his lazy summer Sundays out on the deck, barbecuing with the neighbors. Things were perfect until everything fell apart. And no matter how hard Jeff tried, he could not spare his family from the horrors scratching at the door. Now, with his family gone, his life in ruins, the only thing left is raw anger and pain. As the world continues to sink into darkness, Jeff does as well. So he ventures out into the desolation with no better plan than to destroy as many of the monsters that stole his life away before they destroy him as well. But soon Jeff will discover other survivors unwilling to give up. They will force him to decide whether or not to give in to the venom that gnaws at his soul. Should he continue to fight to survive, or succumb to the things in the darkness?
So for those of you who haven’t checked my trilogy as of yet for your e-book reader or just want the story all in one place, this is a great value. I think it would be about the equivalent of 800-850 pages in length in one paperback, and for $4.99, that is a great deal.
Just click on the cover below to be sent on over to the smashwords link!
Well folks, the short delay on Beyond The Dark is almost at an end, with the formatting being completed tonight on the book, there is very little else to do but to put the cover and back cover together and wrap it around a proof, make sure it looks like it should, and then get it out there!
In addition to the final book of my trilogy being released very soon, the Kindle and other ebook form of the entire trilogy will also be released. It will be entitled The Dark Trilogy: Revised, Expanded, and with Additional Stories. I know it is a mouthful, but just call it The Dark Trilogy, for short, heh. My publisher and I have discussed price points for this electronic release and agreed upon $4.99, which will be for over 250,000 words, including the three books plus every last story that appears in the Dark Stories page of this blog…and another little one that doesn’t appear here as well. 250,000 words is a hefty sum, so that price should be a pretty decent one for the zombie fans out there who have e-readers.
I would say that Beyond The Dark should be ready for createspace within the next couple of weeks (and I think perhaps sooner), and then amazon maybe a week or so later. The kindle version should also be available very soon.
For any of you good folks reading this who haven’t checked out any of my trilogy, check out the first three chapters of Comes The Dark, which I have moved to its own separate page for easy access. It will give you a taste before you buy. And then, feel free to hit up my bio page and you can click on the links showing both Comes The Dark and Into The Dark, with Beyond The Dark to soon be joining them.
For now, here are copies of the front cover of Beyond The Dark and a rough up of the back cover as well. Stay tuned, more will be coming soon as the release happens!
Well, this is the last of them. At least the last one that I am posting here. The final one takes place deep into the last book, and is quite brief. It will be appearing on the kindle and smashwords version of the trilogy, but I can’t put it out here, because it reveals a bit too much of a book that has yet to be released. So I will leave it with this little back story on Sadie, the little girl in the RV camp from Into The Dark. I realize she has a very minor role in that story, although it increases with the last book. This particular flashback was originally written into the third book, and just gives us a glimpse into the reality of a small child during the zombie apocalypse, or so I hope.
It has been fun posting these, and I hope you’ve enjoyed them. I will have to figure out some other stuff to start posting soon! Bits and pieces of some of the short stories I have out there in some of the anthologies I’m in, just to give you a taste of them. Well, that’s a topic for another day. I hope you enjoy this tale of Sadie.
Sadie was a good little girl. A little angel. She knew that because her daddy had told her so time and time again. Now, after all this time, she could barely remember much else about him. He was just a shadow in her mind. There were no pictures, no recordings of his voice to refer back to and so she had begun making up new details about him. Little things about his hair and his kind and handsome face. For a time he looked like Ben, though there was a little spot in her brain that remembered that he looked nothing like the big burly bear. She had forgotten so much about her dad that she was starting to replace those lose memories with new ones. She recalled how brave and strong he was, how kind and gentle he had always been …
All she knew for sure anymore was that he had left their little two bedroom apartment one day and never came back. She could remember him and mommy arguing over his decision to leave, but even that was hard to recall clearly. It seemed so long ago to Sadie, even though it had only been a few weeks. When he did not return after a few hours, momma took it pretty badly for a couple of days, barely speaking or doing much of anything. She would still hold Sadie close and let her get what little food they had left in the kitchen to eat when she was hungry. Sadie remembered the first time momma smiled after daddy left. That was when she told her what had happened to him.
Sadie knew her daddy had gone up to heaven to be with grandma and grandpa, who were taken away from them a year before. Momma told her they would see him again real soon and that she should not worry about daddy anymore. She cried as she said it but at the same time, she told Sadie there was no more room for tears. They had to move on because that was what daddy would have wanted them to do.
Momma had already taught Little Sissy, as she called Sadie, how to be real quiet all the time. It was a game they played, to see who could last the longest without speaking or making any noise. Sadie remembered momma telling her about a little girl named Anne Frank who had lived in an attic for years with her entire family without making so much as a single peep. Anne had to be quiet because of the bad people who were outside, just like the ones that were outside now.
Sadie could hear the bad people outside and pretended they were Nazis like the ones who wanted to get the little girl in a faraway land called Amsterdam. She even began to scribble in a notebook that her momma gave her, pretending it was her diary.
After a couple of days pretending to be Anne it got really boring, but momma was so proud of her little girl that Sadie did her best to continue playing the game. The two of them slept a lot and played boards games in the dark with a flashlight. Sadie missed the outside world, she missed her daddy, and she missed the friends she had made in their little apartment complex, but momma told her everyone had left, just like daddy, and were up in heaven now. They only had each other now and that was what was important. Somehow, Sadie understood that it was true. No matter how hard things got she still had momma and that was good enough.
Until they ran out of water.
Sadie knew the water was getting low and had been for several days. Momma had stopped drinking and had insisted that Sadie still drink a full cup of the warm, stale tasting tap water that they had collected in a couple of plastic milk jugs and several glasses. As their supply diminished Sadie had whispered, asking what they would do when it was all gone. Momma gave her a look that scared the curiosity away and then walked to her bedroom, shutting the door behind her. Sadie couldn’t hear her crying, but as the tears rolled down her own face she imagined it was exactly what momma was doing.
For a day after the last drop of water was drank momma stood by the front door, still as a statue as she listened carefully, for over an hour. The noises had died down a couple of days before, going silent for long stretches. It had been nearly a week since Sadie had heard the last scream and sat shivering in momma’s arms as she cradled her and covered up her ears, rocking her back and forth.
Mandy Wharton had never been quick to make many decisions during her lifetime. It had taken getting pregnant with Sadie before she would finally accept Paul’s proposal of marriage. She had debated getting an elementary education degree up until her little girl was born, which meant she would have to put that off for several years, at least.
Paul had always been the one who made all the decisions for them, for better or for worse. So when he had decided to leave their little apartment, she had pleaded with him to stay, even though the walls had already started to close in. He insisted he would not be gone long. Enough time to either get them some more supplies so they could hunker down for a couple of months, until this entire thing blew over, or to find them a better place to hide out.
When he didn’t return, Mandy was forced to figure out what the hell to do for her and Sadie. Even that decision was put off until the last moment. She knew they could survive for a few more days with no water, but then they would be far too weak to escape. Besides, she had heard nothing outside for a long time. It was probably safe enough to make a break for it.
Mandy knew that her beat up old VW Bug would still be sitting in the parking lot where she’d left it. She had stared at it several times through the closed blinds earlier on, desperately wishing that it was closer to her front door. Their unit faced the parking lot and her old beat up car was on the far side of the lot. The last time she parked it, the lot was full.
Everyone had been home then, glued to their televisions as they watched the world falling apart before their eyes. Soon after that, many of the residents of their little community began taking off, ‘heading for the hills’ as Henry Chu, one of their upstairs neighbors, had put it. Big chunks of the parking lot became barren over night, but several cars still remained. Other folks had made the same decision Paul and Mandy did: to stick it out even with warnings that the National Guard was conducting house to house and apartment to apartment searches for anyone who had been infected. They were also carting off anyone else they came across and tossing them into the closest shelters.
There were enough horror stories about the shelters and the how clogged the highways were for them to decide that they would take their chances in their modest little home, where they would hole up and try to hide out until the military came knocking. But they never did. A couple of days later, Paul decided to head out on his journey, leaving his wife and child behind to fend for themselves. Mandy was still not sure if she was more angry or sad that he had abandoned them, leaving her alone to make all the decisions for her and Sadie.
When Mandy finally broke out of her stupor and decided they had to leave to avoid an agonizingly slow death, she did her best, as she had been doing all along, to make it into a game for Sadie. Something that both of them could play so they could make believe the world was not filled with hungry monsters like the TV had been saying before it had gone on the fritz like everything else. The two of them would be spies, sneaking around outside doing their best not to be seen by anyone.
Mandy knelt down in front of her little girl and told her that she had all the faith in the world that Sadie would do great with this new game. She told her that daddy would be looking down from heaven and expecting her to do her very best. Sadie nodded excitedly at that, ready to prove that she was as good at sneaking as she was at remaining silent.
But when they opened the front door it was clear that it would not matter how good Sadie was at sneaking around. Mandy had her fingers wrapped tightly around the car key that she was prepared to jam into the lock as quickly as possible so she could get Sadie inside. The car had remained dormant for over two weeks, but despite its rusted out and banged up exterior, it had always proven to be a warhorse that started on the first turn of the key. It had been her most trusted ally since she had bought it with some help from her mom and dad five months after her sixteenth birthday. Her dad had nicknamed it ‘The Beast’, but she ignored all the jibes from him and her friends. It was her pride and joy and had carted her all over the place for the past ten years.
So as they passed through the threshold of their apartment out onto the concrete path, Mandy’s eyes were locked on her car, their salvation. That was why she missed the movement off to her left, in the overgrown bushes, as they strode forward. It was only a short term mistake. Mandy had every intention of scanning the area before she had opened the door, but once she did her eyes were drawn to her car like magnets.
She got no more than a couple of steps out the door with Sadie running ahead when the smelly old cat lady who lived two doors down stepped out of the shadows and grabbed Mandy’s arm.
The elderly woman had been behind the bush, where she had stood for several days with the hot sun beating down upon her weathered and befouled body. She hadn’t had a meal since she had caught one of her older, lame cats and devoured the old tom, fur and all. Despite her nearly catatonic state she had reacted quickly to the sound of the opening door and the scent of human sweat.
Sadie turned as she heard her mother cry out in surprise. Seeing what was happening, she started running back, totally prepared to kick the mean old woman right in the shin. The cat lady had always scared her, even when she smiled. Her yellowed teeth, those that remained in her gingivitis infected mouth, and her taunt and leathery skin, made her look like a jack-o-lantern to Sadie.
Sadie was no longer afraid of her, just angry that she was grabbing her mother. She was going to save momma from the horrible witch.
It was then that Mandy looked up and screamed at Sadie as she tried wrestling her arm away from the old crone.
“Don’t get any closer Sadie! Get away from here now!”
Sadie was confused by the command. Her mother had cried out, which was enough of a shock, but now she was yelling for her to run away. It was the first time she had heard her speak above a whisper in a very long time and the raspy croak coming out of her lips did not sound a thing like momma anymore.
Sadie stood stock still, trying to comprehend what was going on. She was mesmerized by the contortions of the two women battling in front of her. It was not until the crusty old biddy leaned over and bit deep into her mother’s arm that Sadie reacted again. She screamed long and loud, louder than the voice her mother had used to reprimand her. She watched as mommy gasped with pain and stumbled backwards, her feet getting tangled with the other woman, whose teeth were still lodged in mommy’s arm.
Sadie started moving forward once again, her mother’s command to leave forgotten. That was when her momma got really angry. Mandy turned and twisted, wrestling desperately until her eyes locked onto Sadie’s one last time.
“GET OUT OF HERE YOUNG LADY BEFORE I SPANK YOUR BUTT!”
Sadie still hesitated and her mother’s words were cut off for a few seconds as she rolled around on the ground with the old bag of maggots on top of her. She wanted to help her mother, protect her from the mean old woman, but the fear of a spanking was like an electric jolt to her senses. Momma almost never spanked her. She had in fact only done so once before. The memory of that whipping was still fresh in Sadie’s mind and had come after she decided to play with a fork near an electrical in her bedroom.
“SADIE, DO AS I SAY! RUN AWAY FROM HERE AND FIND SOME PLACE TO HIDE. DO IT NOW!”
Sadie turned slowly, still hesitating, unsure of what to do. It was then that she noticed some of the other neighbors opening up their doors and stumbling out of their doorways. At first she thought they were coming to help. She opened her mouth to plead with them to get the crazy old lady off momma, but instead she found that she couldn’t speak as she looked closer at each of them.
They all looked funny. Sadie had not gotten that close a look at the old woman, but she could see all these other people quite clearly. A couple of the neighbors looked like they had been bashed over the head with a giant hammer, like the ones they always used in the old cartoons they showed on the Boomerang network. They looked like they should have stars and little birds flying around their heads, but instead they just had a lot of blood all over them. It was like they had all decided to dress up for Halloween and chose the same costume.
That was when the smell hit Sadie’s nostrils. The mean old lady smelled bad, but she had been out in the fresh air for days. The miasma that crawled out of the steamy hot apartments where numerous corpses had been festering for days and weeks was overpowering. To Sadie it reminded her of the smell of manure she had seen piles of at the farm she’d visited with her preschool class. The teacher had called it manure but she knew what it really was. It was like all her neighbors had decided to roll around in a big giant pile of poo.
Sadie noticed one person in particular. Someone who she had always liked. Unlike the others, he was shuffling toward her instead of towards her mother and the old witch. It was Mr. Gonzales, the building superintendent. He had always been nice to her. He always had a quarter or a dime in his pocket and gave her one of the shiny coins every time he saw her. His thick black mustache that drooped down over his upper lip always made her laugh. That and the neat little tricks he could do, like the one where he made it look like his thumb was detachable.
Sadie took a couple of tentative steps towards him, calling out for him to help mommy. He was in charge of all the buildings in the complex and was always there to help them when they had any trouble. She cried out again to him, repeating his name. If anyone could take care of the crazy old cat lady, it was Mr. Gonzales.
But he kept moving towards little Sadie, totally oblivious to her plea. Even when she started screaming at him, he ignored her desperate cries. He was certainly interested in the little girl, but not in anything she had to say. It was not until he was fairly close (in Sadie’s mind, he had been right above her and that was how she remembered things every night when she had nightmares about Mr. Gonzalez) that she realized his shirt was bloody and ripped in several different places. His brown skin beneath looked dipped in blood as well, most of it dried to a tacky consistency.
Mr. Gonzales was the superintendent, but it seemed like no matter what job he had to do, no matter how messy it got, he always had a clean shirt on. That was something Sadie knew for sure. He liked to tell the kids his shirts were magical and dirt was afraid to stick to them. Sadie always giggled at that, especially when he winked at her and gave her his best fuzzy mustache wiggle and great big grin.
Mr. Gonzales always had a smile for Sadie. But not today. His shirt was almost black with blood and though she could see his teeth underneath his thick black mustache, there was no smile there. As he reached out for her, she finally turned and ran; her mother’s screams fading in the distance.
The little girl didn’t look back, no matter how badly she had wanted. Past the little playground and down the hill that ran out back of the small huddle of buildings that made up the Pleasant Pines Apartment Complex. She kept running, making sure she never stumbled. She kept running until she couldn’t run any longer.
Sadie knew that her mommy was dead. Just like her daddy, she was up in heaven now. Because Sadie had screamed. Her mommy had taught her how to stay quiet and Sadie had been good at that, but once they had left the apartment she had screamed and mommy had died because of that.
It was then that she decided she would never scream out loud again. She would keep all her screams on the inside so that the bad people would never find her again.
For two days Sadie hid in an empty drain pipe beneath a road that had been under construction. She heard noises up above sometimes. Ones like she had heard outside their apartment day after day with momma by her side. She remained still and thought about her parents. Wondered what they were doing right at that moment up in heaven with grandma and grandpa.
She dipped her hand in the little trickle of water than ran through the pipe and though her stomach rebelled at the taste of it, she was able to keep the water down and not get sick. It was only when she became too hungry to remain in the dirt encrusted tube any longer that she finally climbed out, desperate to find something, anything to eat so she could crawl back down into the dark confined space that she accepted as her new home.
That was when Ben found her, an hour later, wandering in a small stand of trees, rooting around on the ground for acorns. He had been watching a group of about twenty biters for the past couple of hours when he saw the little girl stumbling around in the trees not a hundred yards from their position. She looked as dirty and pathetic as the ghouls, but it did not take Ben long to figure out that she was still amongst the living. Once he did he immediately swooped in, abandoning his hiding place and snatching her up before she could even react.
He had expected her to scream out and was surprised when she didn’t make a single noise. Instead, she only tried to struggle, beating uselessly against his chest as he carried her away from danger. Even at full strength, nothing she could have done would have bothered him, but she was as weak as a newborn kitten and after ten minutes of urgent, but futile attempts to squirm free of Ben’s iron grasp she was fast asleep in his arms.
He raced her back to the others, handing her over to Lydia before he returned to his scouting mission. From that moment on she became Lydia’s responsibility, joining the two little boys Ben had found only a couple of days before.
Sadie adapted as well as could be expected to her new environment. No matter how scared she got, she never raised her voice or cried out. Over the next few weeks she set an example for the two boys to follow as they moved forward with the group of adults that expanded and contracted as they fought to survive.
Even as the group was attacked everyone was amazed at how little Sadie did not utter a peep. Over time she grew closer and closer to Lydia and Ben; curling herself up around the two adults she trusted the most. But she never forgot her momma and daddy who were up in heaven, or what her momma had taught her.
But there were nightmares of the old cat woman and Mr. Gonzalez that haunted her dreams. Those two ghouls chased Sadie endlessly, night after night, as she raced to get back to her mommy. Sooner or later, they would catch up with her, but so far, she had eluded them.
I am closing in on finishing up with my Dark Stories that I will be posting on the blog. I wish they could go on and on, just because I have enjoyed embellishing on the characters that I created for my trilogy, but I have tapped into most of the characters with these stories, with a few minor exceptions.
One of my favorite characters is Ben, or Big Ben, as he is fondly known as to those who know him. He is sort of an enigma, or at least I tried to make him out to be that for the most part. He doesn’t say much-he is a giant of a man who doesn’t seem interested in much of anything except being left alone to do what he does best, for the most part. At least that is how he starts out, but it becomes more clear where his heart, and intentions lie as Into The Dark moves forward. He plays even a larger, more crucial role in Beyond The Dark, and once again, he is probably one of my favorite characters.
For better or for worse, the little story that appears below pulls the covers back on Ben and makes him less of a mystery. I believe after reading this, you will probably agree that he is the most unique of all the characters in the trilogy. In his own way, he stands out from everyone else more than Michael or even Cindy does.
This story takes place, like many of the others, predominantly in flashback, though it begins and ends after Ben has rescued Jeff and Ray from the deathtrap they were facing in Manchester. As always, there are probably some missed typos, and I ask for your forgiveness for those. I hope they don’t detract from your reading of this brief story about Big Ben.
Ben didn’t bother looking back at Jeff. It was wasted effort and efficiency was the hallmark of everything Ben did out in the open these days. Pausing to make a decision about what to do could be fatal. He knew the path he was running on, so it wasn’t as if he had to make any random choices anyway. The route he had taken was one that would distract and frustrate, then confuse and baffle the simple minded stiffs following him and Jeff. It was a piece of cake.
Once the group had decided that RVs were their best bet for staying alive, it had been Ben’s job to find a place to park them. And once he’d found a home for them at the edge of Manchester, he’d focused on committing the streets, buildings, and neighborhoods of the small town to memory so he would know all the threats and dangers that he would be forced to face in the future.
There would be no accidental dead ends and no second chances needed for his trip back to the RV camp. Even with a hundred and sixty pound kid on his back and a wheezing, out of shape man trudging along behind him, there was nothing in the town of Manchester capable of stopping Big Ben from making his way back to safety.
Before today it had always been quiet in the small town. A few wretched figures tucked away here and there, oblivious to his movements throughout the area. Once they realized one of the living was amongst them, it was always too late for them. Ben didn’t waste arrows or bother pulling his knife out. If he spotted a single ghoul, almost without fail he would move in and drive their head into the pavement before any synapses fired in their messed up brains. One quick, fluid movement. Once you learned how to do it, it was hard to forget. The results of his assaults were generally all the same: they were rarely noticed by the other infected nearby and there was only a limited amount of mess.
Most of the bodies were dry. Blood and other fluids that were a part of the normal human body had often already evaporated or leaked out of the stiffs Ben put out of commission. So when their heads met the pavement, if he did it correctly, there was no splash back, no gory splatter. No muss, no fuss.
Most of the shadow people, as Ben liked calling them, were not restless enough to investigate another decommissioned ghoul after it hit the pavement. They mostly hid in the dark, perhaps to avoid the detrimental effects of the sun on their deteriorating physiques. He had no real idea what the reason was for them hiding, but was appreciative that they didn’t bother investigating the corpses of their own kind after he executed them. Dealing with singles limited his headaches.
If there was more than one, it was best to hide and wait for them to depart. Only a small percentage could sniff the big man out and if Ben did not want to be heard, they simply did not hear him. Of course, when he was discovered, it tended to be over before they knew it.
If it wasn’t so sad, it might be comical in a dark and twisted way: he could swear he saw the surprise on their faces when he crushed their throats. That first little maneuver was so they couldn’t alert their buddies with excited moans that came with their discovery of warm flesh. Sometimes there was enough time to see what might pass for fear on their faces just before he crushed their heads beneath a giant work boot or cracked their skulls with whatever blunt object might be handy. It was almost enough to make him feel sorry for those tormented beings. Almost, but not quite enough to give him pause in his duties. Because if he slipped up he might get bitten, so there was no room in Ben’s heart for sympathy for the already dead.
Spending time out in the wilderness of the world was therapeutic for Ben. A thousand times better than that shrink he had paid to try and unscramble his brain a couple years back. Back then, it had all been about trying to forget; forget the life he had led, in all its lurid glory. It had been hard to do, nearly impossible at times. So it seemed amazing that something as simple as a name change, to Ben, did such wonders for his soul.
None of the people he was with now knew his real name. None of them recognize him, so when he was dubbed “Big Ben” he latched on to the name change like he had been thrown a life preserver. It was not as if anyone would recognize his real name, Shawn Horton, anyway, but Ben just felt right. The world had shifted on its axis once again and so Shawn Horton, who had also been known as Bloodthirsty Rick Roberts, was again changing his name to suit his new existence.
No one in Cincinnati had recognized him when he returned home from Atlanta, outside of his family and friends. Being one of the masked bad guys helped insure that was the case. When he stepped out of the ring and more importantly, out of the spotlight, it was the first step in abolishing all the old and ugly things that permeated his existence for years: the botched marriage to Becky, all the broken bones, and the part where he had sold his soul for a little bit of glory.
The final step, or so it seemed, was becoming Ben: just some big dumb guy who knew how to handle himself in a world where the dead decided to get up and start walking around again.
When Ben thought back on things, he knew it all began and ended with Isaiah. Isaiah Ezekiel Jones, head of IEJ Wrestling Enterprises, promoter extraordinaire and manager of one of the largest stables of professional wrestlers in the United Wrestling Federation. Isaiah was a retired wrestler and was slick and smart enough to have grabbed a share of the profits made with his body back in the sixties and seventies, when he was in his prime. There was not nearly as much money in it back then, but Isaiah was smart enough to invest and stake his claim with a chain of fast food restaurants that had a presence throughout the southeast. Isaiah was the one who discovered Shawn Horton, an ex-marine and wanna-be body builder, and turned him into one of the best paid bad guys in the sport of professional wrestling.
Shawn had been just too damn big for his own good when he had been in the Marine Corps. He had seen some action in Desert Storm and had been dubbed “mountain” by the other jar heads. Not just because of his size, but because he was an immovable rock that was as quiet and immutable as stone. He obeyed orders, was surprisingly light on his feet, but had little interest in showing off his exceptional strength to everyone around him, which left him isolated for most of his tour of duty. So when his four years were up, Shawn was glad to be done with it.
He returned to the states and decided to make a go of things in Atlanta. One of the few guys he had made friends with in the corps told him how great a place it was to live, so he thought he would give it a shot. Not knowing what to really do with himself, he got work in a gym as a personal trainer, bluffing his way into the job mostly. That was where he was discovered by Isaiah.
Shawn cut a pretty impressive figure and despite his shyness, Isaiah saw potential in the big lug. He wasn’t “pretty”, so a mask took care of that. Later would come tattoos, a bald head, and a devilish goatee. Isaiah dazzled Shawn with promises of easy money and a lot of fun along the way. He introduced him to several other wrestlers who did a good job luring him and coaxing him to take a shot at life inside the ring.
Six months later, he was Bloodthirsty Rick Roberts, one of the masked superstars of the UWF. He signed a lifetime contract with Isaiah and was taught the ropes in the business. He dyed his beard pitch black, learned all of the dirty moves he could, and created a few trademark catch phrases for the fans. He was on his way.
Becky was one of Isaiah’s stable of hot girls that were a part of his traveling road show. She got paid to be one of the good guy’s girlfriends and to maybe have the occasional catfight with one of the other girls up in the ring during introductions. It stirred up the crowd and gave the wrestlers ample reason to display what appeared to be real hatred for each other. She was a statuesque platinum blond, and had a surgically enhanced body that could make a Playboy Playmate weep with envy. Ben was a hooked on her before he even realized it, but Becky ignored him for the most part. Being shy, at least outside of the ring, he could barely talk to her unless it was a part of the script, when he was trying to “steal” her away from her onstage boyfriend. It was not until he got to be a popular attraction that she took notice of him. Even then, it took him becoming one of the star attractions facing off against the other big named talent every night before she actually deigned to speak to him.
Perhaps it was how naïve he was, or maybe it was just how opportunistic Becky was that Shawn’s timid efforts to court her turned into a whirlwind affair in no time flat. Three months after their first date they were married. Isaiah, ever the opportunist, turned something he was originally opposed to into something he could promote inside the ring. Becky became a cold deceiver, stabbing her ring good guy boyfriend in the back by becoming Bloodthirsty’s main squeeze.
All Shawn knew was that he was happy and had found the girl he would spend the rest of his life with. Becky was brash and bold, exactly his opposite. The mask gave him enough courage to stand up in front of thousands of fans and growl at them, but Becky gave him confidence to believe in himself outside the ring. Together they grew in popularity on the circuit as one of the elite couples on the wrestling scene. Shawn knew they would be together forever.
Forever lasted exactly one year.
Much later, it was obvious to Ben that the affair had been going on the whole time he and Becky had been together. But at the time he caught her and Isaiah in bed, he it was as if he’d been sucker punched by the deceit. For better or for worse, Shawn had trusted his little lady and her deception had been complete. When he discovered them together, Becky tried to convince him that it was all some sort of big mistake, and when Shawn didn’t buy that, she told him she was sleeping with the boss for the both of them, to help advance their careers.
Shawn, who had become Bloodthirsty Rick but had yet to turn into Big Ben, didn’t listen to a word she said and nearly killed Isaiah that night. The old man had been a pretty good wrestler in his day, and was still in good shape, but he was no match for the massive ex-Marine, who broke five of the promoter’s ribs, three of his fingers, his nose, and his right arm.
When Shawn finally calmed down, the police took him into custody and his face, his real face, was smeared all over the local and regional papers for the next couple of days.
Becky divorced him and Isaiah sued. In the end, Shawn was banned from wrestling for life and lost his three homes and all his other possessions to Becky. Most of his wealth, which Isaiah convinced him to reinvest in the wrestling operation, was gone as well. Shawn paid off his lawyers and washed his hands of it all. He took what little of what remained of his fortune and moved back to his hometown of Cincinnati, where no one had any clue who he had once been.
That had been almost two years ago. There was still a little money left over, and he didn’t have to scrounge for an existence and could even afford a shrink who he went to every week for almost a year, until the doctor told him that he had to do the talking if he wanted to get better.
He bought a small, secluded cabin in Kentucky down on Cave Run Lake, which gave him a chance to learn how to hunt and fish. It was comforting, being down there alone. Bow hunting became Shawn’s favorite new pastime. He split his time between there and Cincinnati, where he took on a job hoisting boxes in a factory. The money was crap, but it kept him busy and physically active. Shawn’s ripped physique was beginning to turn more toward a more pear shape. It was age and the lack of a desire to go to the gym anymore. That was how his father had been, barrel-chested and big armed. Even with his diminished physicality, Shawn still cast an imposing shadow and was still just as light on his feet as ever.
After a while, he got comfortable with this new existence, almost happy.
When Shawn heard the first reports about the contagion sweeping the world that might spell the end of everything, his plan was to make his way down to his cabin, but things got hairy way too quick. So instead he planned on ways of getting away from the city on foot, away from the thick knot of the dead that was growing larger every day.
Military training mixed with his wrestling experience became a pretty useful combination when it was made clear that there were a lot more of the infected than living out on the streets of Cincinnati.
Though Shawn was sure he could do okay on his own, he decided hooking up with some other people might enhanced his chances for long term survival. That was when he met Michael and the small band of people traveling with him. That was when he became Ben, the stoic giant who didn’t ask questions and did just about anything and everything everyone else needed to stay alive.
Ben had no inclination to become a leader, so he and Michael got along just fine. For Michael, it was clear that having this huge ally around was going to come in very handy. For Ben, it was easy to accept his role in this new little society. While he wasn’t sure he wanted to stick around with the group forever, he did like the idea of being needed. The cabin could wait. He would make his way there when he helped the others to find a permanent safe haven and they became self sufficient.
It was rough at first. The factory had been a really bad idea, and not one that Ben had been in favor of, but he let that go because Michael had believed it would work. After they fled from that nightmare, it was easy to see that the volume of infected anywhere near the city was going to overwhelm them no matter where they hid. They needed to migrate further east, toward the countryside.
Ben never made any unsolicited suggestions but the others, including Michael, were beginning to rely on him more and more for almost everything. The combination of his military training and the time he spent learning how to hunt and live off the land down at his cabin was invaluable to the group of city and suburban dwellers. He was the only one in the group not afraid to stalk the wilderness, to forge ahead and find the group new and safe places to go. The world at large was a fairly quiet place now, with no loud wrestling promoters or deceitful wives to mess with him. Just the shadow people. They might not like him, but he always knew where he stood with them.
So when Michael brought up the idea of getting an RV to just drive off in, Ben suggested they get several of them, and that they find a place where they could hide them away from the rest of the world. It would be better than hiding out in some building they had to fortify and barricade to the point where they could never leave. They could circle the RVs up to offer a walled in fortress and then flee in them if needed. Michael was skeptical at first; at least until Ben assured him that he could find the perfect place for them to put the RVs that would give them a chance to live unmolested.
And that is exactly what he did.
It felt good to be appreciated. Ben knew he was being used, just like he had been in the marines and as a wrestler, but this was different. Michael was, for all intents and purposes, his boss, but he didn’t push. The others? Well, they just needed him, and they appeared to be grateful that he was willing to do everything they were unwilling or incapable of doing for themselves. They didn’t beg or wheedle, but smiled and were friendly, despite the small amount of talking he was willing to do with them. Mostly, they were good people. Mostly.
Amongst the adults, Lydia was his favorite. The sweet woman treated him with respect and appreciated everything he did. She didn’t have to thank him for everything, but she did—every chance she got.
The little children she watched out for were angels. Especially Sadie, who Ben adored. Making them little wooden dolls and toy soldiers was one of the few pleasures he could provide them, and the fact that they were ecstatic with the results, despite how amateurish his efforts were, made him feel all the more protective over them.
The two teenage boys were good kids and Ben liked them well enough. They left him alone for the most part and even when they moved into his RV, they understood that he needed his space.
The new people were okay too, despite Michael and his two stooges instant dislike of Jeff. Ben was tempted to actually suggest that Jeff just go with the flow and not push Michael’s buttons so much, but why bother? It was clear that both of them were pigheaded, so nothing he said was likely to make much difference. Instead, it was easier to just sit back and watch what happened. Things would likely settle down within a few days between those two.
At least that was what Ben thought before Michael’s screwed up expedition.
Ben wasn’t afraid of the stiffs. Not on a physical level at least. He was careful to wear a thick coverall when he went out on his little forays, and for the most part the undead were weak and incapable of doing much to threaten him. What strength they had lied in their numbers and boundless determination to devour everyone in sight. He could accept that challenge. Even though he was not fearful of them, he was no fool. He never assumed anything with the shadow people. They were dangerous despite how pathetic they were.
Taking them out had always been easy … at least after he got past the queasy feeling that came with his first execution, which had been one of his neighbors. Ben still felt a vague sense of regret as he was eliminating the undead, but his priorities were always clear. He estimated he had “killed” several hundred ghouls, though he did his best not to keep track of the number. It was just a morbid statistic he had come to accept as a fact of this new life he found himself living.
Ben respected Michael. The man had some good ideas, though perhaps he was weak on his execution of some of them and needed a bit of assistance now and then. He kept everyone organized and focused, and was a natural leader. Ben didn’t feel compelled to follow him, but it was clear that almost everyone still alive needed someone to take charge and assure them that it would all work out in the end. Michael was more than willing to do just that.
Unfortunately, there were some annoying side effects that went along with having the young man as a leader. Michael seemed obsessed with testing those around him; testing their loyalty in particular. It was as if he believed he was destined to build some sort of society that would somehow take back the world from the undead, and he needed faithful subjects willing to do whatever he asked of them to insure his victory.
So when Jeff came along, someone who was a bit too independent minded, Michael felt obligated to put him in his crosshairs. That had to be the reason for the screwy food run. Ben knew there was no other reason for sending everyone out; he could more effectively take care of getting food and other supplies for the camp alone than a whole group of clumsy people following in his wake. Sending them all out was a power trip for Michael, pure and simple.
Ben almost said something about it to Michael, questioning him on the wisdom of his decision, but after seeing the confrontations in the camp before they left, he decided not get in the middle of things.
Now he was dealing with the unfortunate results of that hesitancy.
Ben was angry. Angry he had not spoken up and suggested an alternative to this snafu and angry he had not kept a closer watch on the little expedition as it moved into town. Instead, he had gone deeper into Manchester, surveying the various buildings and streets to convince himself things were as quiet as they had been for the past few weeks.
That was when he realized there was going to be trouble.
The ghouls he saw as he slinked from building to building were agitated, aroused like they hadn’t been since they’d first come to the town, rolling the RVs down the road and pulling them off into the woods. They were bouncing off one another, wandering the streets when before, they had been content to bury themselves in the deepest shadows they could find.
Perhaps it had been the minivan when it had driven into the area the day before, and once again, when it had been driven onto the road earlier, when the group going on the supply run had piled out of it and walked down the street toward town.
After seeing how many were stiffs were wandering the streets of Manchester, Ben knew he needed to get the group out of there before the ghouls could pinpoint their position. But by then it was already too late. He signaled to Michael over the walkie-talkie, but by that time the rest of the group had already left the van and were on their idiotic scavenger hunt.
When he heard the first shots, Ben was already running at top speed, trying to get back to the group before it was too late, though he suspected it had been too late the minute the others had driven out of the camp on this fool’s errand.
Finding Ray and Jeff as they were about to be overwhelmed had only reinforced that belief. He managed to save them, but given Ray’s condition and the shit storm that had been stirred up already, things were ugly and were about to get uglier still.
Ben broke free of the last building and took off at a sprint across the road. He had chosen an alternative path back to the camp; a route he had mapped out a couple of weeks earlier just in case something bad like this happened.
Ray’s dead weight in his arms slowed him down only a little bit. He’d dealt with packs that were just as heavy under equally tense situations. No situation quite as perilous as this one, though. Ray’s lolling head and quiet whimpers as he bounced up and down were far worse to cope with for Ben than the challenge of having to carry the boy’s weight on his shoulder.
Ben could hear heavy breathing behind him. He slowed to a fast trot to allow Jeff to catch up, knowing that if the other man fell behind, he might give away their position. The moaning was far too loud, but was still quite a ways behind them. The dead would continue to seek them out, but if they lost sight of them and couldn’t smell them, they wouldn’t know where to go.
Still, it was risky heading directly back to camp. Finding a place to dig in and cover up for the night probably would have been the best thing to do. Ben had done that on a couple of different occasions, even when he only suspected he’d garnered unwanted attention on one of his journey’s into Manchester. On both occasions, the coast was clear by morning and he never knew for sure if his ploy had been necessary. Still, waiting things out guaranteed the camp would remain safe. So it was tempting to pull off into one the buildings he knew for certain was clear and wait things out with Jeff and the teenager.
But if he did that, Ray would die out here.
The kid was dying. Ben was no fool and had no delusions about getting him back to camp being the way to save him. The teen was getting weaker every second and in a few hours, maybe even sooner, he would stop breathing. Soon after that, perhaps within moments, he would turn into one of the shadow people, and Ben would be forced to smash his skull into the pavement, or at the very least, slip his hunting knife into the back of the boy’s skull. But if it was Ray’s destiny to die, he was going to die amongst friends, not in some dusty abandoned storefront.
Ben had heard the van when it had departed without Ray and Jeff. The others, or at least everyone beside Marcus, had made it out of that mess alive. Ben hadn’t seen that bastard Marcus’s corpse, but could put two and two together. Jeff had been wielding the dumb S.O.B.’s shotgun and as the old saying went, the only way something like that happen was if he had pried it from Marcus cold dead hands. As far as Ben was concerned, Marcus’s death was nothing to be sad about. But that wasn’t how Frank or Michael would see things. They would be out for blood once they knew what had happened … even if the dipshit had gone and gotten himself bitten and the others had been forced to brain him to protect themselves.
Nope, things were about to get very messy back at camp, and not just because an entire town filled with undead were all riled up.
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.
This is the last of the Michael and Cindy Dark Stories, and this one takes place immediately after the argument that takes place between Michael, Jeff, and George about Jason leaving with them to go to Manchester to collect supplies. I thought this one would give you one last look into the twisted relationship these two have, as well as Michael’s paranoia about those around him.
There are a few more stories to tell, including one about Ben, the teens, and even Sadie, the little girl in the camp. So stay tuned for those.
Michael and Cindy Part II
“What a bunch of pathetic wussies. They make me sick.”
“Tsk, tsk dear. Such harsh language.”
Cindy shifted her gaze from the curtain and focused on Michael as he sat at the table reassembling the M16 he’d decided to clean yet again before going on the hunt.
“Ya know, you keep rubbing that gun like that and you’ll go blind.” She slinked over to him, her body lithe and sinewy. She was a predator, a jungle cat on the prowl. She treated most men, including Michael, like prey. They were either food or sex, nothing more. That was why when most men caught Cindy’s attention they usually did their best to divert their eyes and look away. They seemed to know that to her they were just meat, pure and simple.
“And if you keep wishing such ill will on others you won’t get into heaven.”
Cindy almost laughed, but instead continued creeping up on her boyfriend. Michael was definitely sex to her, but also food. She craved him like meat, like a meal that could never completely sate her hunger, so she had to continue to hunt and devour him, over and over again. She slithered to the floor and moved her hand over his combat boot, sliding it underneath his camouflaged pants. Blocked at the bend in the knee, her hand hovered just below it scratching at his calf with her ragged fingernails.
Michael ignored Cindy as he finished reassembling the weapon. After a second he admired his work and nodded in satisfaction. He was getting more proficient at taking care of the rifle. He’d searched around and managed to find a manual covering the how-to’s of field stripping and maintaining it in a bookstore he’d come across during the group’s travels.
As much as he had every intention of keeping it operational, the fact that he’d acquired only two thirty round clips with it, one of which was only partially full, meant that he had very little desire to use the M16. It was more a symbol of his authority than anything.
He’d squeezed off a few rounds in automatic mode a while back, just to convince himself that it did indeed work and when the time came he could put it to use. Other than that all he did was keep it clean and ready to go. There would be time to acquire more rounds. After all, there had to be tons of munitions floating around these days, it was just a matter of venturing into an area where soldiers had been stationed that wasn’t currently overrun by the undead. Until then, the rifle would continue to serve its purpose as his staff of office.
He grinned as he flashed back to how he had acquired it. It had been a shame, a real shame, that the soldier had been unwilling to surrender the weapon. The boy had been brave, but he was injured, and in a bit of a jam. He had required a bit of extreme persuasion, as Michael liked to think of it, to finally relinquish his rifle and sidearm. Desperate times called for desperate measures …
Michael’s daydream was shattered by the sensation of sharp fingernails digging into his lower leg and a warm trickle of blood running down his calf.
Cindy was looking up at him, her head leaning against his leg. Michael glanced at her, but despite the pain she was inflicting, he continued smiling at the M16. Yes, it had taken quite a bit to get the damn thing, but it had been worth it.
“If you don’t ravage me soon, I am going to take that thing away from you and use it to get off.”
“Well that would be something to see. It’d be even better if you let me pull the trigger while you did it.”
Michael caught Cindy’s fist before it could connect with his crotch. He had no doubt that she would have hit him so hard he wouldn’t be able to stand up straight for a week. He twisted her wrist until she gasped in pain. As usual, it sounded more like a moan of pleasure coming from her lips.
He gritted his teeth as she dug the nails even deeper into the meat of his lower leg. Michael knew no matter how much he twisted Cindy’s wrist, she would keep digging, even if he went so far as to snap the slender bones in her arm. It was a tempting proposition, but with no doctors around he couldn’t take things that that far. Still, the idea of putting the certifiably insane girl out of commission for a while was tempting.
Standing up abruptly, Michael flung her arm away with a sharp kick of his leg. Before she could react he brought his knee up and slammed it against Cindy’s chest, forcing her to the ground.
Gasping for air, her eyes widened in surprise. When she was able to breathe again, a knowing smiled appeared on Cindy’s lips.
“Maybe now I’ll finally get some attention.”
Michael glared down at her, angry again. After what had happened outside with George and Jeff, he needed an outlet for the rage building up inside of him. How convenient for him that Cindy was always available, willing to scratch any itch he might have.
Perhaps what had happened outside should be considered a moral victory. At least on the surface, it appeared that way. Everyone had been watching as Jeff had gotten flustered when he couldn’t persuade Michael to let Jason stay in the camp. He’d been forced to demand that the boy be left behind when they went into town, which would have ended very badly for Jeff if he had remained obstinate. That is, if George hadn’t butted in.
The final result, though unexpected, was a pleasant surprise. George had committed to staying with them, which wasn’t what Michael had expected to get out of him. Not in a million years, and certainly not voluntarily. The deal George offered was one Michael was more than willing to make.
The plan had been to dress down Jeff, make him sweat a bit, and make it abundantly clear who was in charge so there wouldn’t be any more opportunities for them to butt heads. Jeff would know his place and would be content from then on in following orders. Backing him into a corner should have been easy, with just a little bit of help from his friends. Megan was never going to allow Jason to leave the camp and it was Jeff’s duty to enforce her wishes. In the end, Jeff was backed into a corner, but George’s little outburst had pulled his bacon out of the fire.
Looking back on the spat was amusing. Michael could care less about whether or not Jason went with them. When the conversation first started even Frank seemed to question the value of having a twelve year old going out with them, but even someone as dense as that fat hick was able to pick up on what Michael was trying to do after a few minutes and kept his big yap shut, except to tease George and Megan.
Jason was just another pawn to Michael. It appeared that Jeff was really the only other person who picked up on that little detail. Perhaps George and Megan had suspected, but they let their emotions get in the way, which was exactly what Michael had hoped for. The kid liked Michael, and that made him pretty damn easy to manipulate. Since none of the adult newcomers seemed to have much fondness for the camp’s leader, resorting to using the kid was the natural choice for sorting things out and clearing the air as to who was in charge.
Jason would be useful again later on. He was probably mad at everyone at the moment, including Michael, but he would get over it. Kids were resilient like that. All it would take would be a few more gentle reminders that he had to stand on his own two feet and needed to act like a man. He couldn’t allow the adults in the group to coddle him like a little baby anymore. With a few well placed words, Jason would ditch the others entirely and be as loyal to Michael as Frank and Marcus.
Jason’s destiny was to drive a wedge between Megan and the two other men. The subject of the boy would be a hot topic amongst them from now on and sooner or later they would not see eye to eye on how to deal with the rebellious preteen. As they argued, it would be easy to chip away at their loyalty to one another. In time, one of them would decide they were better off offering up their loyalties to Michael, who was the one providing them with shelter and food, rather than the other two troublemakers, who were just stirring up shit and doing little else that was productive. It was just a matter of letting them fall apart on their own, with a few well placed nudges, of course.
It would all work out, but there was still something that bothered Michael. Something about what had happened outside that tasted foul on his tongue—like fruit that had started to ferment a little too quickly. Something was not right.
George had shown some backbone, which was far more than Michael thought the dumb bastard was capable of. George was supposed to be some miserable wimp pining away for his family, so it came as a big surprise when he agreed to stay at the camp to avoid putting Jason in any sort of danger. Even more surprising were the threats he’d uttered. Michael had to admit that it had unnerved him—not because George was so big and scary. Michael had taken down bigger foes in the past. Instead, it was what he had seen in the big man’s eyes: there was no bluffing there. George had every intention of killing Michael if he continued pushing him.
Despite that, there was a simple answer to the George dilemma: he would have to be watched and watched carefully. The old man would fly the coup if he was certain the boy was safe and secure here and the opportunity to escape presented itself. But more important than making sure he stayed put was getting him to behave. That might require poking and prodding him into a fight. It would give Michael a chance to break the old man down and sap his will to rebel just a little bit. And if that did not work, more drastic measures might be in order …
But as much as George might end up being a headache, he would be easy to deal with—he was a minor nuisance at most. George was not the one bothering him. Jeff was.
Michael had seen his type before: the reluctant leader. Jeff did not crave power, at least not in the form of authority over others. He was the type that preferred staying behind the scenes, doing his own thing, and would only step up when he was forced to. He wasn’t fearless, but like so many other people, he had probably lost everything and figured he didn’t have any real reasons left to be afraid anymore.
So the trick, as Michael saw it, was to give Jeff a few reasons to be afraid once again.
Jason had told Michael a bit about the group. About how he and George had spent most of their time stuck in some church, and then all the excitement that had occurred over the past couple of days, ever since Jeff and Megan had shown up in their minivan. Michael had gotten a few juicy tidbits from the stories the boy had told, enough to use against Jeff and George when they’d argued earlier, but he needed more information on the newcomers. Lydia was the one who’d spent the most amount of time with Megan and Jeff since they’d gotten here. Michael would need to have a long discussion with her about what they’d shared with her after they returned from the supply run. If anyone in the camp was non-threatening enough to open up to, it was Lydia. She was good at keeping secrets, but with a little sweet talk there was no doubt she would reveal things to Michael about her new friends.
Getting to know Jeff better would allow Michael to know what made him tick. There was no doubt he’d lost his family over the past few weeks. The thousand-yard stare confirmed that much. And when he’d stood up for himself outside, and given the ultimatum about Jason staying inside the camp … well, that had been a bit of surprise.
He would have never thought the other man had it in him. Jeff was soft, not a brawler of any sort. Unless he was hiding some sort of ex-military commando existence behind his bland exterior, Michael knew he could easily take Jeff down in a fight. More importantly, Jeff knew that as well. People like him avoided physical confrontations like the plague. Jeff was just an average dude who had been a family man once upon a time. Michael did his best to try to understand it. Jeff had to know that Michael was younger, faster, and stronger than him, plus he had all the weapons. So why risk getting his nuts squashed? The whole idea went against the grain. Jeff had probably lived his whole existence going with the flow, not rocking the boat. He lived a dull, unexceptional life, kept his nose clean, and obeyed all the laws … just like 99.9% of the other slobs out there.
As Michael continued to mull Jeff over, another possibility occurred to him. Maybe Jeff was willing to get a few teeth knocked in, just to show everyone he wasn’t a coward, and that Michael needed brute force to maintain control over the camp. Jeff would have been beaten, but Michael would have lost the respect of some of the camp members.
Oh you son of a bitch. You sly, sly son of a bitch. You almost had me, you cock sucker.
There was a small sense of satisfaction at having rooted out the trickster’s plan, but it was surrounded by doubt. Was that really Jeff’s intention? Was he willing to get bloodied to prove a point? George had stepped in and changed things with his declaration, which left Jeff’s real intention a mystery. All Michael knew was that there was no way that motherfucker was going to undermine his authority. No way in hell. Others had tried before and he had dealt with them—it was one of those ugly responsibilities that came with the burden of leadership. His father had taught him that. “Make a good enough example out of a troublemaker and the others will think twice before they cross you.”
Jeff was just another liability that would be dealt with soon enough. Michael just needed to get a better fix on him, so he could find out the best way to make him behave.
Perhaps if Michael had bothered looking out the window of the Winnebago at that moment, he would have seen Jeff and Megan consoling one another, which might have given him some ideas of how he could keep Jeff in line. Instead, his thoughts shifted back to Cindy as he stared down at her, his knee still on her chest. In that moment he felt the closest thing to love for her that he could possibly could. She had allowed him to see things in ways he had never seen them before. Everything was … easier now.
Without her he was a good leader, but with her he was a leader that understood that he always needed to be consolidating his power and eliminating elements that would seek to undermine him. He knew the sensation he felt was not really love; it was more like gratitude. An appreciation for the woman who had unearthed in him the feelings and passion that drove him. He grew more excited as he continued gazing at her.
The resentment and regret that always seemed to creep up on him when he thought too much about her had dissipated, as it always did. It seemed foolish not to embrace the power he felt because of what Cindy had done for him, what she had shown him.
He slapped her across her jaw as a grin surfaced on his face. He watched as the side of his girlfriend’s face slammed into the carpeted floor of the RV.
Cindy felt dazed, but knew once again that Michael was just getting warmed up. It made her shiver with excitement. He was getting closer to losing control with the others like he did with her. He’d nearly gotten into a fight with both George and Jeff instead of trying to be diplomatic, which was how he used to handle things like that. Not anymore. He’d used that brat Jason to get his way, and it had stirred up shit with that bitch Megan, as well Jeff and George. What had happened outside was a tantalizing tease and there was a good chance that Michael would come to blows with one or both of the new men in the next couple of days.
The idea of it nearly sent Cindy over the edge with excitement. She loved seeing the hate boil up behind her man’s eyes. It wouldn’t be long before he stopped trying to restrain himself and let go. It would be a beautiful sight to see when he did.
She licked at the small trickle of blood that came from her split lip and returned Michael’s smile.