Writer of Horror Fiction

Into The Dark

The Dark Trilogy is on Smashwords!

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!


Review of “Into The Dark” over at Doubleshot reviews.

Heather Faville was kind enough to keep on checking out my trilogy with her review of the second book (and she referenced her review of Comes The Dark as well on it), when she posted a review of Into The Dark last night.  I am definitely happy with the review and can’t wait to see what she thinks of Beyond The Dark as well.

Thanks again to Heather and Doubleshot reviews for checking out my trilogy.  You can find the review here:  http://doubleshotreviews.com/2011/04/26/into-the-dark-by-patrick-dorazio/


My interview over at the Monkey Faced Demon Blog!

Mr. Moon interviews Patrick D’Orazio.  Yep, the infamous Mr. Jonathan Moon, horror and bizarro writer (and editor) of epic magnitude, took the time out to ask me a few questions.  Some of them were pretty normal, but a few…well, you’ll just have to see for yourself.  I love the Deathmatch question.  What?  You don’t know what the Deathmatch question is?  Well find out for yourself here:  http://mrmoonblogs.blogspot.com/2011/04/mr-moon-interviews-patrick-dorazio.html.  We talked about not only my books, but my short stories, my influences, and some other righteous topics.

It was a lot of fun checking in with Mr. Moon and I want to thank him for taking the time to do an interview with me that is coinciding with the release of Beyond the Dark.  So please, check it out!


It slithers towards the light, from Beyond The Darkness…it is almost here!

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!


HorrorHound Indianapolis 2011 review

This past weekend, I took part in HorrorHound Indianapolis.  Like the event in Cincinnati, it is three days of organized chaos, with tons of horror fans running around in costumes and makeup checking out vendor booths and getting autographs from some of the more famous (and infamous) stars of the horror genre.  This was their tenth anniversary show and it was jam packed all weekend long.  I got to sit between Tony Schaab of G.O.R.E. Score fame and Dr. Pus’s (aka The Library of the Living Dead) table, which had Doc, Michelle Linhart, and Rich Dalzotto manning the stations.  Also in attendance from the Library of the Living Dead crew were Rob and Laura Best.  We got to see plenty of folks we know from the facebook and the industry, which was a blast, including the folks from Night of the Living Podcast, who were kind enough to post a review of Into The Dark on one of their recent episodes after reviewing Comes The Dark after HorrorHound Cincinnati back in November.

I sold a few books, got to talk about the third book of my trilogy, Beyond The Dark, hung out with some great folks, and took a few pictures of the event.  This was truly a great con and a lot of fun.  I definitely hope I have the opportunity to attend next year as well!

Here are a few of the pics I took at the show.  Forgive the blur-they were taken with my cellphone camera.

Tony Schaab and his brother-in-law Tom, who is also the graphic designer for the covers of his G.O.R.E. Score books.

Rob and Laura Best

Dr. Pus, my publisher, sitting alongside Michelle Linhart and Rich Dalzotto (sorry you can’t see much of them!)

Just a sample of one of the more wild costumes at HorrorHound this year.

…and another wild costume.

In this picture is the famous “Kitty Zombie”, who has his back to the camera.  He is the one with the goggles, armor, and the bald head.  He is a pretty remarkable character, and funny as hell without saying a single intelligible word.

 

Well, that’s about it for now.  The rest of the pictures I took were sort of blurry or didn’t show anything specifically of interest.  Again, the convention was a lot of fun, and I only wish I could attend more of them after the fun I’ve had at the one in Indy as well as Cinci.


Night of the Living Podcast reviews Into The Dark

The great folks over at Night of the Living Podcast recently reviewed Into The Dark on a recent episode.  The beauty of their audio review is that they rap about their own perspective on the zombie apocalypse and what they would do if it happened to them as they chat about the book.  So it sort of goes from the review, to them joking and asking each other questions about what they would and wouldn’t do if their world ended due to zombies.  It is pretty much a riot of a review.  These guys are very fun to listen to.

Check out Night of the Living Podcast at http://www.notlp.com/.  The review is on episode 219 and starts around thirty six minute mark.  You can download it on itunes and or just listen to it directly from the web if that is your preference.  You should definitely check these guys out, because they are hilarious and make their horror commentary a lot of fun.


My interview with Shells Walter on Walter Rhein’s Blog

A little while back, author Shells Walter took the time out to do an interview with me for Walter Rhein’s blog.  She asked me questions about my writing and the Dark trilogy.  I enjoyed chatting with her and I hope you’ll check it out here:  http://walterrhein.blogspot.com/2011/03/shells-chats-with-author-patrick.html.  I want to thank Shells for the opportunity.  It was a lot of fun!


Review of “Into The Dark” on Horrornews.net

Another review of Into The Dark has appeared, this one on Horrornews.net.  With the release of Beyond The Dark coming up soon, I am happy to see such positive reactions to the second chapter in the trilogy.  It is building toward the final act, and I hope you folks get the chance to check it out soon.  For now, give a look at the review here:  http://horrornews.net/31084/book-reveiew-into-the-dark-author-patrick-d%E2%80%99orazio/


Dark Stories: Sadie

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

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.

 


Review of Into The Dark on Pissed Off Geek!

Hey folks, another review is in on Into The Dark.  I think thus far, the majority of folks like this book more than they did Comes The Dark, though I leave that up to anyone who checks them both out, and then checks out the third and final book, Beyond The Dark, next month.  Perhaps that one will be the tiebreaker.  In all honesty, I feel like the third book is the best part of it all, but again, I leave that to be judged by anyone who reads it.  So for now, check out this great review of Into The Darkhttp://www.pissedoffgeek.com/wordpress/?p=1020


Dark Stories: Ben

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

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.

 


I get interviewed by Joe McKinney!

I wanted to post a link to an interview I did, along with two other young guns in the zombie genre, with Joe McKinney, author of such books as Dead City and Apocalypse of the Dead.  It was a real honor getting the chance to answer a few questions Mr. McKinney posed of me.  He and Wayne Simmons, author of Drop Dead Gorgeous and Flu, have swapped blogs for the week, and so this interview appears on Wayne’s blog, which is doubly cool, since I really dig both these authors.  So check out the Q & A I had with Joe, along with Lincoln Crisler and Lyle Perez, who he also interviewed.  I am flattered to be in their company.  Check it out here:  http://waynesimmons.org/blog/?p=250


Dark Stories: Ray and Teddy, Part II

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.

 


Dark Stories: Ray and Teddy, Part I

This is essentially a flashback for Ray and Teddy that I had originally put in Into The Dark as they waited for Jeff and George outside the convenience store.  Naturally, after realizing how big of a departure it was from the main story, I had to remove it, even thought it allowed these two characters, which up to that point had been extremely minor, to have more of a sense of existence to the reader.  I’ve broken it into two parts, and this one primarily deals with Ray, but also provides some more details on Teddy as well.  The second part focuses on Teddy and is a bit longer, and I plan on posting that in the next few days as well.

As always, I do my best to catch the glitches in editing, but I am sure there are some left behind here.

 

Ray and Teddy, Part I

The two boys took a little time making a connection after they met.  Certainly, there were some significant differences between them, but after a while, they took comfort in having each other to lean on.  Ray was a year older than Teddy, but given the fact that the other children in the group were significantly younger and the rest of the survivors were made up of adults, a minor difference in age and their distinctly different personalities didn’t seem to matter all that much to Ray and Teddy.

They were excited when Jason showed up, though the younger boy seemed to take more of a liking to Michael than them.  It only served to reinforce their belief that they were a team and they weren’t going to let anyone get in their way.

Ray was a self proclaimed computer nerd and was very proud of that fact.  His claims were, of course, untested since computers, like so many other things these days, were historical artifacts.  He jokingly introduced himself to Teddy as a “Nerd without a cause”.  Ray had been into video games and blogging, which was something that he had to explain to more than one person in their group.  He shook his head in amazement at the lack of awareness some people had of the wonders of the internet world.

He had felt strange and totally out of place within the group of survivors until Teddy showed up.  Even then, it took them a while to understand one another.  Ray wanted to talk about all the video games he missed and the website he had been creating with some online friends dedicated to Mystery Science Theater 3000, a show that had been off the air for years but lived on thanks to You Tube and Netflix.  Teddy, sadly, had never even heard of the show and sadder still, according to Ray, didn’t really care.  When Ray tried to explain the wonder of it all, Teddy interrupted him almost immediately with “It doesn’t really matter anymore, does it?”

From that moment forward Ray decided he would never speak of the show or any other useless hobbies he had ever again.  He never told Teddy how much the deadpan comment hurt, and that was partially because he had to admit that what the other boy had said was true: none of that stuff did matter anymore.  Not in the world they lived in.  He tried to get angry about that fact, but failed.  Everyone Ray had known who loved MST3K was dead, and so were all the other geeks he linked up with on Xbox Live to play Halo.  His world of computer screens and game controllers was officially dead and buried.

Even with Teddy’s brush off, the two boys worked hard to find common ground, in particular after they witnessed the deaths of several members of the group and even more so when they had to flee the factory.  Teddy was somewhat reserved and aloof with Ray at first, but with nothing much else to do when the survivors weren’t running or hiding, he began sharing more and more about himself with Ray.

Teddy Schmidts was a small kid, a few inches above five foot tall and weighing in at 100 pounds.  He was a freshman in high school and remarkably, at least to Ray, he had been quite popular with his classmates despite his diminutive stature.  Teddy didn’t speak of his popularity as if he was bragging.  Like everything he said, the words sounded genuine and honest.  There was no embellishment in anything Teddy stated or did.  He played soccer and wrestled and was good at both.  Despite not having the size to play football or basketball, he was strong and fast, which landed him on the varsity wrestling squad.  He had a good chance to make varsity in soccer as well by his sophomore year, according to his coach, if he stayed focused and kept improving his footwork.

Teddy had energy to burn, but athletics calmed him down.  He told Ray that when he was little, doctors advised his parents to get him into sports year round to help with his focus and concentration.  He had been diagnosed hyperactive, but did well with a lot of exercise.  As he got older, the hyperactivity dissipated and his grades improved.  Ray had wondered why Teddy felt the need to run around all the time and do pushups and sit ups like his life depended on it.  He still didn’t understand after Teddy’s explanation, since Ray loathed physical activity, but shrugged it off.  If it made his newfound friend happy, it was cool with him.

When Ray had asked about the Springfield rifle that Teddy had with him when they first met, Teddy stated that his father had been a hunter, though he refused to say much else about either of his parents beyond that.  He did let it slip that this particular weapon had been his father’s favorite, and Ray suspected that was a pretty important detail about Teddy’s life, and a good reason why he wasn’t so chatty about his family.  No one had any pleasant stories to tell about what had happened to their loved ones, so if someone didn’t want to talk about them, they were left alone.

Ray, on the other hand, didn’t mind speaking about such things and Teddy was good enough to listen.

He was the youngest of three, and as his mother described it, he had been a happy “accident” when he had come along in her early forties.  Ray’s older sisters were well into their twenties and he didn’t see them all that often anymore-he had no idea what had happened to them when the world had fallen apart.  They both lived in other parts of the country.

His father was an electrical engineer and his mother a librarian.  “Thus, I got my card as a charter member of the nerd society while still in the womb.”  They raised him to be proficient on the computer and a voracious reader, but had not graced him with many social skills.  Outside of an almost obsessive focus on his grades, Herman and Bess Jordan had little interest in their son’s social development.

When the first reports came on the air about the dead beginning to walk, Ray’s parents, like so many other people, dismissed it as mass hysteria.  It was only when local reports about riots and attacks in the streets of Cincinnati started showing up on the TV that they showed even the most remote interest.  It still took them a couple days before they came to the conclusion that they should do more than quibble with each other and take some action.  They piled into their car with the idea of driving out to a campground they had spent a single weekend at several years earlier.  The idea of heading to one of the National Guard shelters or remaining at their house seemed foolish.  From the campground, they would figure out where they could best sit tight to wait out this whole ridiculous mess.

They did not even get five miles from their house.

Caught in one of the many never ending traffic jams on the interstate, they sat waiting, like everyone else.  About an hour after getting stuck and watching other motorists leave their cars, Ray’s parents bickered and debated yet again about what they should do.  Since Ray’s mother had severe rheumatoid arthritis and his father was not in tip top shape either, it didn’t seem like such a good idea for them to grab what they could and hoof it.  The mini-debate was settled twenty minutes later when they saw people running and screaming in both directions along the median and breakdown lanes of the highway.

Ray, who was a nervous wreck at that point, watched as his father got out of the car despite the fact that his mother was pleading for him not to.  He told them to wait for him, and that he would be right back.  Herman moved off from them and for the next five minutes the two people he had deserted in the Volvo Station Wagon sat and wept.  Ray tried to comfort his mother by putting his hand on her shoulder, but she swatted it away, crying and screaming unintelligibly at him.  After that he balled up in the back seat and whimpered, imagining what was happening to his father and wondering what he should be doing.  His mother was hysterical, which was something entirely new to Ray.  It felt like his world had collapsed.

Things got worse from there.  His father finally came back to the car and opened his door.  Bess Jordan pled with him to get in and lock the doors.  After nearly thirty seconds of screaming, her voice elevating higher and higher with panic, Herman pushed her frantic hands away, hard.  He leaned into the car and the look on his face was one Ray would never forget.

It must have had the same impact on his mother because she went silent.  The last words Ray recalled his father saying were so quiet he was not quite sure he heard them correctly, but what he believed they were remained etched in his mind.

“We have to leave.  If we stay here, we’ll die.”

His father grabbed his mother by the arm and pulled her out of the car.  She resisted at first, most likely thinking Herman mad.  The look on his face was like nothing Ray had ever seen before.  His father had always been steady, composed, and dispassionate.  Ray found it nearly impossible to describe what had become of his dad to Teddy, except to say it looked like someone had scraped all the color out of his skin and replaced it with the same texture and color as milk.  It was as if his father’s blood flow had stopped.  His eyes were wide and bulging and he looked like some sort of side show freak as he gaped at Ray and his mother.

It took a couple of minutes for Herman to finally pry Bess free of the car.  As Ray opened his door and stepped out, he tried asking his father if they should take anything with them.  His inquiry was ignored for the most part as his father dragged his mother down the road.

Less than a minute later Ray understood what had caused his father to act as he did.

Their car had been stuck on the inside lane of the highway.  The cars had been moving at first, slowly inching forward, but then came to a halt.  Besides having bumper to bumper traffic, the median was clogged with more cars trying to sneak past everyone.  Overpasses with huge cement pylons had served as blockades to traffic along the grassy center strip every few miles or so.

The Jordan’s ran forward, limping along with the scattered crowds of other desperate people.  The obstacle course of cars required them to adjust their path continuously as other people plowed past them, bumping and shoving them with an equal amount of desperation.

Ray remembered hearing a noise behind him mixed in with the screams.  At first it sounded like a swarm of locusts and he remembered that being odd because he recalled locust only came out once every few years.  Maybe cicadas?  He had no idea if there was any difference between cicadas and locusts and dismissed the line of thought as useless.

Only in hindsight did the sound have any real meaning.

The Jordan family were buffeted and pushed around by most everyone rushing past faster than Ray’s parents were capable of moving.  As hundreds of people streamed by, Ray spared a moment to look back in the direction they had come from.  They were on a straight ribbon of highway that stretched for several miles off into the distance, and he could see everything behind them very clearly.

What Ray saw, and later told Teddy about, confirmed everything the news reports had been saying that his parents had found so hard to believe.  The dead had come back to life and were attacking the living.  Ray had remembered all the postings on the net spewing out rumor after rumor, and dissecting every sordid detail being reported from around the globe.  Some were absolutely ridiculous while others, especially the ones displaying extremely graphic photographs or grainy cell phone videos, were hard to dismiss.  Now he was bearing witness to everything he’d laughed about as the random ravings of internet sensationalists just a day or two earlier.  Nothing even the most artful fear monger on the web had tried to relay to the rest of the world could compare to what Ray was seeing with his own eyes.

People were being pulled out of their cars by other human beings who weren’t even waiting for them to clear the shattered windows and windshields before tearing into exposed flesh.  Some ganged up on the people in particular vehicles while others stood alone, smashing their bloody fists against windshields.  It all looked like some slow motion movie being played out frame by bloody frame.

Ray stopped running and watched the unholy scene unfolding off in the distance.

It wasn’t just those stuck in their cars being attacked.  Everyone on the road was fair game.  The slowest and weakest were being dragged to the ground, along with anyone who had the misfortune of being trampled in the mad rush to escape the claws of the rotting army marching toward them.  The old, the infirm, and those carrying small children were the easiest for the horde to overwhelm, while a brave few who chose to fight wielding an assortment of weapons such as golf clubs and hand guns were obliterated just as quickly as the horde of maddened cannibals poured in around them.

Ray gauged the distance to the closest fighting at about a half a mile.  There the feeders were still sparse, a recon force leading the way for a much larger mass of infected out beyond the horizon.  Ray’s eyes scanned further back and saw that their numbers were endless; they were a great consuming machine destroying everything within their reach.

Ray had looked up at Teddy at that point in his story and gave him a meek smile.

“I remember sitting on my porch when I was a little kid, watching an ant hill off in the dirt in my front yard.  I was always fascinated by the worker ants, when they carried all those little pebbles of dirt and bits of leaves down into their underground bunker.  I must have watched that ant hill for thirty minutes one day,” he laughed as his eyes grew distant.

“But then something happened.  Another ant, obviously not from that colony, because it was larger and red, wandered by and was attacked by all those smaller black ants.  It didn’t have a prayer.  It must have taken just a few seconds for it to be swarmed over.  The black ant army came in huge numbers and annihilated their enemy, dragging its carcass off down that same hole they used to carry all those pebbles and leaves.  I’m not sure if they ate it, and I really didn’t want to know, but that’s what those dead people reminded me of: those black ants, climbing all over their enemies and tearing them to pieces within seconds.”

Ray swallowed hard and paused before continuing his story.

Like the ants, the undead attacked as a unit, swarming over their victims mercilessly.  Ray remembered that all the black ants looked just like the bigger red ant except for the color and size, but the black ants sure had recognized the difference in species.

He watched the ghouls attacking the living with that same sense of fascinated dread as he’d had watching that insignificant skirmish on his front lawn years earlier.

The tide of the undead plodded along, excited yet systematic in their assault.  Some would stop and focus on a car where they thought someone was hiding, while the rest forged ahead, pursing the huge crowd of the living that had gone mad with fear.  A great sea of humanity was being pushed and prodded toward where Ray stood.

He realized he’d seen enough and turned to follow his parents.  It was only then that he realized that they were already gone.  They had not waited for their son to figure out what was happening and had left him behind.  Ray ran forward a few car lengths and then reversed his course and went back to his family’s car to glance inside; irrationally believing his parents might have returned to wait for him there.  He climbed on the hood and screamed for them, scanning the highway to the south, away from the slowly encroaching doom.  He couldn’t pick them out amongst the hundreds, if not thousands, of people surging away from his position.

Ray screamed for his parents once again, although his voice was drowned out by the screams and the sound of locusts he’d heard before.

Much like what George had discovered a few days later when he fled the high school gymnasium with Jason, it dawned on Ray that it was the song of the dead he was hearing, not some harmless insects.  They were crying out to him and the desperate refugees trying to flee from their inevitable grasp.  From his vantage point he could see thousands of the dead marching forward.  Those not busy biting or tearing into those frantic souls in their path were moaning.  They were moaning and as the sound emanating from their ragged, rotten vocal chords joined together, it sounded like some sort of deranged chorus.  It was so loud that it vibrated the car roof beneath his feet.

Ray could feel his grip on reality slipping away, but was coherent enough to realize that the screams of the living weren’t just coming from behind the car.  He turned around again and made one last futile attempt at a search for his parents.  There were people being trampled everywhere and he feared that given their physical condition, his mother and father might be injured.  As he looked further in that direction, thoughts and concerns for his parents evaporated.

The dead were coming from the other end of the highway as well.

They were further off in the distance, but still surging toward the living caught in the middle of the two groups of surging corpses.  They moved with a purpose, opening their arms and mouths to the crowd that appeared oblivious to their existence as they ran from the threat coming at them from the opposite direction.

Ray glanced around the immediate area and noticed that while most people were following the path of the highway in some blind attempt at escape, more people were taking off toward the trees surrounding the areas on both sides of the road.  There were sound barriers off in the distance that helped shield the neighborhoods abutting the interstate from excessive noise, but in the immediate area, the woods provided a natural barricade, and a fortunate exit route for those stuck on the highway.

There was no hint that any ghouls were hiding in those woods, but it was almost impossible to tell from Ray’s current vantage point.

He stayed on top of the car for a few more moments and screamed as he did.  This time, it wasn’t for his parents, but for anyone who would be willing to help him, to tell him what to do, or to take him away from this place.  He shouted at the people running by, warning them of what was up ahead, but either they couldn’t hear him or more likely, chose to ignore the pimply faced kid raving like a lunatic from on top of the Volvo.

Even in his state of growing hysteria, Ray knew what he was doing was pointless.  Everyone around him was already dead.  They just didn’t realize it yet.

He wasn’t ashamed to admit to Teddy it was at that point where he broke down crying.  It was easy to tell the other boy because Teddy had wept openly more than once during their escape from the factory.  It was a heck of a lot easier to admit you cried these days and only Frank and Marcus seemed to get upset if you did.

Teddy listened, fascinated as Ray completed his tale.  After another bout of crippling fear, Ray was able to give up on the idea of ever finding his parents again.  There was poorly hidden guilt on his face as he talked about sliding off the roof of the Volvo and making for the woods to the east of the highway.  When Teddy patted Ray on the back and smiled at him, the older boy felt a tremendous relief, as if a great burden had been lifted from his soul by revealing what was his darkest secret.

Not long after that, Ray managed to make his way to where Michael and his band of survivors were hiding out.  It had been a harrowing adventure for him, but most of it had consisted of hiding in dark corners and staying as still as he possibly could as the song of the dead haunted his every waking moment for the next few days.

After his story was finished, Ray never brought up the subject of his parents again.  Teddy was smart enough not to ask anything further, knowing that the guilt his friend felt was probably mixed in with a sense of betrayal and confusion at what they had done to him.  They had left him behind and that was almost impossible for Teddy to imagine being forced to cope with.

 


Dark Stories: Michael and Cindy, Part II

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.

 


Dark Stories: Michael and Cindy, Part I

This little vignette, which takes place in Michael and Cindy’s RV on the first night after Jeff and company’s arrival in the camp, mainly takes place in the minds of the two characters, though there is some dialog surrounding it.  I discarded this mainly because the story was able to move forward without knowing these two and their hidden agendas, but of course, this serves as a way to better know about the twisted relationship between these two.  Once again, Michael didn’t seem the type that would willingly fall in with a girl like Cindy, despite the lack of other women his age surrounding him.  This, and the next story I will post should provide more depth to their relationship, and how screwed up they really are.  Again, for those of you who haven’t read Into The Dark, this might not make much sense, so you might save checking this out until after you’ve had the chance to read that.

Again, as always, this is a rough cut, with my own meager editing efforts.  So forgive me the typos and other errors as you read.  Thanks.

 

Michael and Cindy

He grabbed her coarse blond hair and pulled her head back.  Biting at her neck, he listened as she moaned in pleasure.

“You like it rough, don’t you, bitch?”  It was a harsh whisper as his lips traveled up her neck and towards her earlobe.

“You know it baby.”  The voice was unstable, shaky.  If you didn’t know her you might think she was afraid.  But for the few who truly knew Cindy, of which Michael was the only one still alive, it was obvious there was no fear in the woman.  She was pure adrenaline and rage bottled up in a healthy young female package.  At twenty three she was already savvy enough to understand how things worked in the world (even this particular variation of it) and vicious enough to achieve any objective that she set her mind to.

The tattoos on her neck covered up the hickeys and bite marks that Michael gave her.  The scabs might be noticed, but no one would say anything.  It was odd enough that Michael, a graduate of the Michigan School of Business and the son of extremely wealthy and prestigious parents, was shacked up with her in the first place.  The additional ‘wounds’ that adorned her seemed to stretch comprehension levels to the breaking point.  Who would ever believe that the prototypical ‘boy next door’ was the culprit responsible for those?

When Cindy had wandered into his little clan, it was clear to her that since Michael was in charge, he was the only person for her.  He was far from her type, but her type was all dead, and that was just fine with her.  He bit and scratched in bed, but only because she had taught him so well.  She had unleashed his kinky side.  Michael in turn had shown her that all men have one, it just took a strong and harsh enough woman to pull it out of them, kicking and screaming if need be.

Michael was all the power in the universe now.  It was the only drug left to her after the last hit of ecstasy was gone well over a month ago.  Cindy had been an addict at one point or another in her illustrious career to nearly every drug and intoxicating substance known to mankind.  In essence, she was addicted to addiction.

Michael was just as addicting to her as anything she had sniffed, drank, or injected into her veins in the past.  He was a royal prick under his nice guy persona and it tripped her trigger that she knew it and had known it from the moment she laid eyes on him.  At first, she had repulsed him.  It made no difference to her and in no time she was able wear him down.  After all, geography might be the only thing they had in common in their relationship, but that was all she needed.

But some bony bitch had arrived in the camp and threatened to change the landscape drastically.  She was sweet, she was demure, and she was everything that Michael would have found appealing in the past, before Cindy had corrupted him.      Certainly the woman had the whole anorexia theme going, but beyond that she was perfectly “normal.”  Attractive even.  The jealously Cindy felt didn’t extend to any desire to be like that woman at all.  It was strictly raw rage at a potential threat to her existence as the Queen Bee.

That was not all of it.  Not by a long shot.  None of it would have bothered her (or so she had herself convinced) except that it was very clear that Michael had been eyeing the other woman.  Within the first five seconds the battle lines were drawn in Cindy’s mind.   She knew her man well enough to know that when he fixated on something, it would not be long before he went after it.  Michael was not one to take no for an answer.  He had little inclination to deny his own base needs either.  So far he had been satisfying them with Cindy, but now that Megan was here, she would be the new candy for him.

It was obvious.  He did not hide it very well.  She knew that sooner or later he would go after Megan and kick Cindy’s skanky ass to the curb.  Even if that other bitch did not return his interest, it would make no difference to him.  He would dump Cindy just to prove himself worthy of Megan.  What a lousy piece of shit name: Megan. Everything about the other woman was something to despise.

Cindy had felt hatred from the moment she saw her.  That was nothing big, she hated Lydia too.  Most men pissed her off pretty fiercely as well.  The teenagers had looked at her with lust in their eyes at first and that was amusing.  She had joked with Michael how she was going to break Ray and Teddy’s cherries at the same time.  She asked him if he wanted to watch while she did it.  In response, Michael had smacked her in the jaw so hard that she had been knocked unconscious.  When she came to, he was wringing his hands over her, in a panic, worried that he had killed her.  When she smiled up at him and licked at the trickle of blood on her chin demurely, he nearly fainted.  Then, when she insisted they have sex right then and there he almost had a nervous breakdown.  Still, he complied and it gave her a sense of power over Michael that nothing else could.  She owned him.  That bitch Megan could never have that sort of a control over a man.  Never.

The sex was interesting and Michael was willing to experiment, though he was amazed at how depraved Cindy’s mind could become.  It was all boring to her though.  She gave thought to cheating on him with that filthy scumbag Frank.  Or maybe Frank and Marcus together.  They were disgusting and they leered at her when they did not think she was looking.  She knew it would be a hell of a challenge to get them into bed though.  They were scared shitless of Michael and the idea of crossing him like that was probably the equivalent of committing suicide to their pea brains.  That turned her on even more.  Imagining having Michael walk in on something like that was delicious to think about.  He would beat the living shit out of her but he would kill them, just as they feared.  She knew she could get him to do it, especially if the look on her face when he burst in was of pure ecstasy.  Those two slime buckets couldn’t turn her on if they slapped an electric motor to her ass, but she would play it up for all it was worth if it did a number on Michael.

Later, as they lay side by side, panting, with their sweat soaking through the sheets, Cindy jumped on top of Michael, knocking the air out of him.  Anything that made him feel uncomfortable was a good thing.

“So what are you going to do about those new people?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean.”

Michael looked up at her in disgust.  “Bah, screw you tramp.  I do know what you mean.  You’re asking about Megan.”

A wicked grin creased her face.  In the darkness and shadows it was disconcerting, but Michael knew it was no better in daylight and was grateful that he could only see part of it now.

“Of course I am.”

The smile disappeared as she moved her hand up his hairless, muscular chest and grabbed at his nipple, squeezing it.  She moved her face directly in front of his, less than an inch away, and pinched his nipple as hard as she could as she hissed at him.

“So are you going to screw that whore?”

Cindy went flying, hitting the wall opposite the bed where she slumped to the floor.

“Bitch!  You might be into fucking pain but I’m not!”  Michael screamed as he stood before her.  She stared up at him, her eyes gliding down his naked torso.  She smiled.

She reached up and grabbed at him as he swatted her hand away.  Grabbing a hold of her other wrist, he wrestled her up on the bed again, jumping on top of her and holding her down.

Cindy purred like a kitten and Michael stared down at her, exasperated, but unable to deny that she had him aroused once again.

Michael hated Cindy.

But as much as he hated her he hated himself even more for ever having hooked up with the psycho bitch in the first place.  She was a piece of trash, pure and simple.  Somehow, as much as she appalled him, her trashiness was the root of everything that turned him on about her.  There was absolutely nothing he couldn’t do to her.  He could beat her to within an inch of her life and she would come crawling back for more.  When she had first provoked him he had resisted the temptation to smack her, but she cried out for it.  She dared him, taunted him, and did her best to humiliate him.

Michael had not been that violent of a man before he met her.  He’d never laid a finger on a woman in his entire life, and thought anyone who did was scum.  He’d beaten the crap out of a few losers, true enough.  A drunken brawl back at college had sent a guy to the hospital, but Michael’s father, with his many connections, was insurance that a little problem like that never became a big problem.

Michael had taken martial arts training to teach him balance and patience, but all it had done was allow him to bury the anger he felt a little deeper.  It didn’t rear its ugly head as much.  Still, he could be cool and calm one moment and explode violently the next, as it suited his needs.

His temper had all been well under control.  There was some rage inside of him, but that was fairly normal for most red-blooded American guys, wasn’t it?  Except these days there were plenty of excuses for rage to shine through and no one to question it anymore.  In fact, rage was an excellent motivator.  It drove Michael in his quest to survive and thrive in these dark times.  He had refused to yield to the undead, refused to believe that everything was over and done with just because some virus had torn the human race to shreds.  This was a new beginning.  Whoever was strong enough to stay alive and adapt would reap the rewards.

Cindy had just … amped things a little bit.  It was okay to unleash all that pent up rage in front of her, around her, and upon her.  Every impetuous desire he had been repressing his entire life could see the light of day.  In fact, he could use those impulses to help his followers to survive and prosper.

It frustrated him that Cindy had been the only piece of ass in his age range for miles around, possibly anywhere anymore.  So her aggressive tactics when they first met wasn’t a total turnoff.  What other options did he have, anyway?

Cindy was a tattooed and pierced freak that he would not have given the time of day to when he’d been wearing his Canali business suits and was climbing the corporate ladder.  The bleach in her hair was erratic and left her hair a mess of black and white scattered across her head.  It had originally been shaved on one side and spiky on the other, but as time went on she let it grow out and got rid of the dye.  Not that she had much of a choice.  Supplies they had collected did not include much in the way of hair care products outside of shampoo.

They made an odd pair and everyone knew it.  He made it clear from the moment they fell in bed together that he would tolerate no crass acts from her in front of the others.  Whatever she wanted to do with him, or more specifically to him, was to be limited to when they were in private … at the factory at first, and then in his RV when they had set up the camp in the woods.

Soon after they had gotten together she began provoking him.  At first it was simple taunting, but it turned into getting rough in bed.  Punching, kicking, and biting.  Part of him wanted to kick her to the curb right away.  But every time she would do something to him, she would pretend to be sorry.  She would promise him she would never do it again if he would forgive her.  Then she would blow his mind in the sack and he would be left trying to convince himself that the pain was worth it.

But finally, after a while, something happened.  In a fit of anger after one of her mocking abuse sessions, he hit her.  It was a slap, hard, across her face.  A little trickle of blood from the corner of her mouth was the result, plus a welt that would be hard to imagine makeup hiding like it did the hickeys he’d already given her.  After realizing what he had done, he lost his mind.  He begged forgiveness and apologized profusely, swearing he would never do something like that again.  For all the minor abuse she had heaped on him, hitting her had never crossed his mind.  But when she grinned and asked him to do it again, he was speechless.  He refused, so instead she jumped on him and practically raped him, which only served to confuse Michael even more.

But not for long.

The hit that knocked her unconscious was next.  From there it became easier for him to do whatever Cindy wanted.  The guilt was fading into the background he let the rage inside of him come to the surface.  After that, they learned to keep the bruised and welts hidden to avoid any questions from the others.

Over time, Michael began to dread the encounters he had with Cindy.  But it was dread drenched in an undeniable craving for what she offered.  Because she had unleashed a part of him that he didn’t know existed, a part that wanted to cause pain.  Specifically, pain to Cindy, which he could rationalize as okay—she wanted it, so he gave it to her.  But it was how that desire to administer pain was spilling over to everything else he did that was disturbing him.

And now, as he sat above her in what was supposed to be a position of complete control, she was the one in charge and deep down, Michael knew it.

Cindy’s purring stopped.  “So, you gonna screw the whore or am I going to slit the bitches’ throat?”  She smiled up at Michael, taunting him, prodding him onward.

The fist crashed down on her stomach.  Cindy gasped in surprise as the air whooshed out of her.  Her vision blurred and a thousand stars appeared before her eyes.  When her eyes were able to focus again, Michael was already laying next to her, pretending not to care about how badly he had hurt her this time.  She had taught him well.

Cindy was a masochist and enjoyed the pain, partly because after years of abusing her body with drugs and anything else she could get her hands on, her nerve endings had dulled to the point where excruciating pain was about the only thing she could feel anymore.  But even that was a fleeting sensation.

As the pain faded, her mind fixated on Megan once again.  So what does he see in that bitch anyway?

Megan looked pretty hideous to Cindy.  Although run down and so thin she was almost transparent, there was an aura of confidence and toughness about her.  She was ‘normal’ on top of that.  That more than anything drove Cindy bat shit crazy.  Megan was someone Michael could be seen with by the others and not be embarrassed.  She was the antithesis of everything that Cindy was or believed in.

And there were the others that had come into the camp with Megan.  Two men and a black kid.  The kid was nothing, just like those other little brats that Lydia dealt with.  The bigger man looked like some sort of whiney wimp.  That was obvious to Cindy almost immediately.  He moped around like he was already dead and in general irritated her.

The other, Jeff, was more interesting.  He appeared to be with the woman.  Not that it would stop Michael.  If he wanted Megan, not much would stand in his way.  In a twisted way that was yet another thing that turned Cindy on about him.  Society may have dulled that caveman edge out of him, but society was dead and Michael was the one making the rules these days, so he could take what he wanted.

Cindy didn’t so much care if he got his rocks off with the bitch once or twice, as long as that was all there was to it.  Hell, she would hold Megan down and get off watching him rape her if that was something that could be arranged.  Screwing meant nothing to Cindy.  It was all about control.  Being controlled and controlling the other person.

No one else seemed to understand the level of control you had over another person when you forced them to willfully inflict pain on you.  Michael beat her because she willed him to do it.  He did not want to, but she did.  Now, only after a few weeks, he couldn’t stop himself.  And because of all the guilt and trauma that it caused inside his head, she was able to manipulate him in other ways.  Michael was a good little puppet.

But that weasel, Marcus, had mentioned how Megan had slapped Michael when they first met.  That was something she could not tolerate.  Cindy knew the stupid bitch had no idea what a slap meant to Michael, the meaning attached to such a violent physical act, but she bet that if Megan had been looking deep into his eyes at the time her hand crossed his face she would have realized what it had done to him.  The fact that he had to let off some steam by putting a knife to Frank’s throat right after that confirmed how excited Megan had made him.  Cindy had corrupted Michael enough that the violence was the only thing that really turned him on any more.

There was no doubt in Cindy’s mind that her boyfriend was already fantasizing about that pathetic tramp.  But tackling that subject head on wasn’t going to give her any answers she wanted, so instead, Cindy knew to come at it sideways.

“Okay, so forget about Megan.  What are you going to do to put these newcomers in their place?”

Michael rolled over to face Cindy.  There was weakly hidden guilt tracing his features from the latest assault he had perpetrated on her.  It was always there, no matter how well he tried to hide it.  It made Cindy smile inside, though she was careful not to show it.  The guilt was a tease.  Everything forbidden had guilt associated with it.  Guilt was one of the strongest stimulants there was in the world.  As long as it kept showing up on his face, that meant whatever caused that guilt was still tantalizing and forbidden.  It was simply too much to for him to resist.

“What do you mean?”

He was tired and past getting angry or aroused anymore that night.  In other words, he was getting boring.  But it also meant that his defenses were down and she could easily get him to divulge the truth and perhaps even agree to do something she really wanted just to get her off his back.

“I mean, you dragged them in here and treated them like your best buddies.  Then you brought Jeff in the RV and had a nice little chat with him.  Now I hear that you and the rest of the guys are going into town tomorrow on some sort of supply run.  What the hell is the point of that?”

Michael closed his eyes and put his hand over them in hopes of blotting out all traces of light trickling through their window.

“So you’re asking what the hell I have planned.”  He paused.  She did not respond and he sighed heavily.  “Well my dear, that is very simple.  I am going to test their loyalty to me and see if they can obey orders like good little soldiers.”

“Loyalty?  From people you kidnapped off the fucking road?  Are you nuts?”

Michael opened his eyes and glared at Cindy.  “I must be if I’m with your psycho ass.”  She gave him a finger and he ignored it.  He propped a pillow up beneath him and put his hands behind his head.  “It shouldn’t be too difficult, actually.  The only one that will be a problem is Jeff.  He is too damn smart for his own good.”

“What about George?  Doesn’t he miss his ‘widdle famawy’?  He looks like he could tear your head off if he was motivated enough.  If you make him stay here against his will sooner or later he is going to try.”

Michael smiled at his girlfriend.  “Quite the contrary.  He is going to be a good little boy and do just as I tell him to.”

“How do you propose getting that to happen?”

“Nothing too technical.  I’ll just hold Megan and Jason hostage.  Once Jeff messes up and I have to ‘deal’ with him, George will realize that he is the only one that can protect them.  A few well placed words here and there along with a few delicate hints and he will decide for himself that staying is the best possible idea.  Momma and the kiddies are dead already and sooner or later he will realize that.  And then, he will come to love it here with us.  He’ll be just another big, dumb, malleable grunt like Ben.”

“If Ben heard you say that he would twist you into a pretzel.”

“Indeed.  He might just do that.  If he knew I said it.  But that is how things work around here.  The pawns do not realize what they are.  I am the king and I control the board.  They are expendable pieces, but valuable.  I move them into harm’s way as I see fit.  If there is a rogue piece, I simply get rid of it, sacrifice it to my opponent, and keep on moving.”

Cindy looked over at her man and saw a look on his face that was reminiscent of the cat after eating the canary.  He was just too damn self-satisfied.  But she decided to let it go.  He had his little plans and she had hers.  She knew a little bit about chess as well and while the King was the piece that ruled the board, the queen was the one who took care of business.

That Jason brat should be enough leverage to keep George in line.  He doesn’t need Megan as well.

With their conversation finished, Michael drifted off to sleep.  Cindy stayed awake a while longer, shaping and reshaping her own plans so that they merged and fit with her lover’s.  She smiled down at him as she did so.  He was a beautiful man, nearly perfect on the outside.  But it was his insides, his guts, which were getting black and ugly.  She had initiated the process, but it had taken hold and was flourishing without constant nurturing anymore.

She laid her finger on his jugular vein and felt it pulse.  She moved her mouth close and gently flicked her tongue out at it, like a snake.  It would be so easy. She grazed her teeth against it and Michael stirred, but sleep already had him in its grasp.  It was tantalizing: the idea of wrecking everything with one simple effort.  She could tear out his throat and even slip out the window with very little fuss and muss.  All they would discover was his bloodied carcass and the signs that she was responsible for his death all over the bed.  But they would never find her.

As tempting as it was, she knew that Michael was far more exciting alive than dead; powerful and yet powerless at the same time.  She had weakened him.  Before they met he was probably a good man with a penchant for anger now and again.  He could hide it then and he still could now, but that façade was chip away.  The violence was bubbling to the surface more often and more readily.  It was wondrous to behold.

She shivered in the bed next to him.  Whether in excitement or fear, it was hard to tell.  She laid back and planned the death of Megan LeValley.  It would be a simple thing, not too complicated.  It couldn’t be blatant though.  The others could never know what really happened.  She imagined the pain and agony Megan would experience when she did it.  But what would be the kicker was when Cindy got to tell Michael what she had done and the supreme pleasure she would get out of watching him react.

A few minutes later, Cindy wrapped her arms and legs around her man like a spider and fell asleep, content in knowing how things were going to play out over the next few days.

 


Some updates on the trilogy, meandering thoughts and whatnot

It’s been a while since I posted just some random thoughts, or even some updates on my experiences in writing.  Most of my blog posts have been book reviews and updates on stuff being released, Dark Stories, etc.  So I thought I would post some comments based on how things are looking these days.  It’s been around six months now since Comes The Dark came out, and this whole process of writing, promoting, editing, and all that wonderful stuff has changed for me since the book’s release.  It used to be that I was always preparing for something to happen, and it seemed like a distant dream.  For several years, when I meandered down the path of writing the manuscript that became my trilogy, it almost seemed theoretical that it would ever be published and that this whole effort was being done for nothing more than a “see, I told you I could do it!” perspective.  But then it became real, and the first book was released.

Things went great with that, and have been great, no doubt about it.  Sure, there have been a few negative reviews, which are almost like a badge of honor for a writer.  Having someone tell you that you suck and please stop writing is sort of a tough one to handle at first blush, but you can either ignore it, or try to extract something from that which motivates you to do better.  You can’t respond in kind, by lashing out, because it does no one any good, especially me.  Even trying to explain why you did something in your book that someone really didn’t like is pointless, because the inevitable truth that you have to embrace as a writer (especially of genre stuff, and in particular, sub-genre stuff as this zombie stuff has been called) is that there will always be people for who your work does not resonate, and in fact, they do truly hate it, because something you said, did, or didn’t do really rubs them the wrong way.  And if you try to absorb all that criticism and validate it in your mind, it will drive you crazy.  You will have one person who sights that you poured on the emotions far too heavily in one scene, and then someone else will come along and point out that your characters seemed emotionally withdrawn in that exact same scene.  I would never say that you can’t extract something out of the critiques you get, but you have to be true to yourself in the end, and let the chips fall where they may.  And trying to get everyone to like your stuff is a tough way to go through life, and there will be a LOT of disappointments along the way.  I want people to enjoy my work…otherwise, I wouldn’t have tried to get any of it published.  But knowing that you have done your best, no matter what, has to stand for something.

I will be the first one to admit that I have a lot to learn about writing, and a lot to learn about the editing process.  I know that there is always room for improvement, but at the same time, sooner or later, you have to step back and tell yourself that all that can be done has been done.  I’m not sure when that point is, but I think sooner or later I will find it.  It probably has something to do with being a bit OCD now and then, and not having the ability to walk away from a story and just leave it be, knowing that I’ve done all I can with it.

With all that said, I am taking another swipe at having some edits done to my trilogy.  The third book, Beyond The Dark, is complete and I am satisfied that it is the best it can be, with no further tampering from me.  I have had several edits done to it, and I know well enough to leave it be after that, because better editing minds than mine have worked it over and slapped it on the grill.  If it keeps cooking it will be overcooked and no one wants that.  But in conjunction with the edits being completed on that book, I have had an editor have another go at Comes The Dark and Into The Dark, and those edits will be implemented with the paperback and electronic versions of the book that are sold after the release of Beyond The Dark.   In fact, there will be several releases in March  for the grand finale of the trilogy.  Here they are, briefly:

Beyond The Dark is being released as a paperback and on Smashwords, naturally.  The edits, as I mentioned, are complete, and I am very happy with them.  I honestly think that this is the most compelling of the three books, for many reasons I won’t divulge here.

Future versions of the paperback and smashwords versions of Comes The Dark and Into The Dark will be the revised versions, though we won’t be advertising that.  The new copies sold will just have some new editing touches that won’t change anything with the stories, but will do a bit to get rid of some of the typos and grammatical errors that were in the original releases.

The Dark Trilogy, Revised, Expanded, and with Additional Stories will be released for both the Kindle and smashwords.  As I mention here: https://patrickdorazio.com/2010/11/22/announcement-about-the-kindle-version-of-comes-the-dark/, there was a snafu with the kindle release of Comes The Dark.  It was the raw, unedited version of the entire manuscript for the trilogy.  We pulled that version off the market, but not before a substantial number had been sold, and as you can guess, many of those kindle readers assumed that Into The Dark would end up being an entirely new story, not one that had appeared already in the version they had (mind you, there were some new chapters added and it was edited, which the raw manuscript was not), so we did not release Into The Dark on the kindle, nor are we releasing Beyond The Dark as a stand alone on the kindle either. Instead, we are releasing, as the title describes it, the entire trilogy, plus all the stories that appear here, on my blog, under the page heading “Dark Stories”.  It will be around 250,000 words and include a lot of stuff that didn’t show up in that raw and unedited kindle version that went out.

 

Maybe that will allow my OCD to relinquish control of me and let this trilogy rest for a bit after all that is said and done in March.  And that is the key, I think.  I need to focus 100% of my efforts on new stuff, and not on revising, editing, messing with, or otherwise tweaking stuff I have already done.  Granted, I have written my fair share of short stories and have outlined and even started writing new novels over the past few months, but the focus has been splintered with a LOT of it devoted to the trilogy.  I will continue to promote the Dark trilogy via the net and in other places, but it has been crazy for the past year, with so much effort put into something I had already written, and re-written, several times.  But that is what it takes to get a novel out there, and ready to go for public consumption.  I will even mention that another publisher came along and chatted about buying the rights to the trilogy and doing a re-release, which was very flattering, but a very daunting prospect.  The idea of once again diving into this trilogy of books, which has consumed so much of my time, effort, and energy over the past few years, was terrifying.  I just couldn’t do that.  I love these books-they will always hold a special place in my heart, and I love talking about them, promoting them, and doing whatever is needed to make them appear more polished and professional, etc.  but as far as writing, editing, etc…that all needs to be in the rear view mirror for me.  I need to focus on other projects and throw myself into them like I did this one.

With that in mind, I though I might give some vague ideas of what the future holds.  Because regardless of the guy on Amazon who pleaded with me to stop writing, I plan on doing some more…and I hope to get better at it-perhaps enough, someday, that he might change his mind, or might be able to brag to his friends that his comments were the ones that motivated me to get better and I actually did!  I guess there are crazier dreams out there.

I will finish off the Dark Stories.  I still have a handful of these stories to offer up to you, and I intend on finishing them before the release of Beyond The Dark.

There are about 15 submission calls for short stories that I would love to tackle.  Realistically, I will probably go after no more than 5-10 of them, but I will give it my best shot.  Another stab at keeping my writing diverse and not just tackling zombies, but other horror stories, sci fi, fantasy, and other genres as well.

I have two novels outlined, and I will admit that one is a fourth book in the same universe that the Dark Trilogy takes place in.  In all, the plan would be for five books total, with the fifth book being the final chapter in the tale.  The other novel is another horror tale that includes both our dear friends, the zombies, as well as their arch nemesis (well, at least I think so), the vampires.  And no, neither side are made to look like the good guys.  This one will hopefully be a very dark, very grim tale.

I have at least two or three other novels floating around in my head, including an overhaul of a book I wrote back in college.  High fantasy, as it was originally written.  Granted, the book was bad, really, really, bad.  But my new slant would be to do an overhaul with a few winks, a nudge here and there, and not try to take it so seriously.  Would it be outright comedy?  That remains to be seen, but I think I would like to take a swipe at doing my best to overhaul this sucker.  Another would be a YA adventure story, which is one that got into my head over the past few months and I really want to run with it.  It would be something very personal because of the elements of the story and the main characters, but unfortunately, I really don’t want to divulge much else because again, I haven’t done much with it yet.  But one of my longterm goals is to write YA fiction, and this would be my first step into that arena, perhaps beyond a few short stories I plan on doing before the novel would get done.  The final book floating around in my mind, and that I have created a description that would fit nicely on the back cover of the book, would be a futuristic novel.  It would actually have noir elements, would be at its heart a mystery, and takes place a decade after the zombie apocalypse has come and went-the humans won, and the zombies were wiped out…but someone out there knows the secret to creating zombies, and wants to bring them back…the main character’s job would be to stop them, and discover why they want to do such a crazy thing.

Again, this is all just ideas floating around in my head.  It is always fun to come up with ideas that you believe can be turned into novels, and then doing your best to putting them down on paper and get rolling with them.  They don’t always continue to speak to you after you start the writing process, and you realize that a good idea was actually only that-an idea.  But the ideas can morph and change into something completely different, which is also part of the fun.  You have the opportunity to change a story mid-stride and make it into something you never expected, but really gives you the juice to go the distance with it.

I guess that is it for now.  Sorry for the long explanation of things, but a lot on my mind lately, and a lot of things going on.  And for better or worse, I wanted to share it all with you. 😉


Living Dead Media’s review of Into The Dark

Living Dead Media’s review of Into The Dark has been posted and once again, I am pretty happy at the reception the second book in my trilogy has been receiving.  My biggest concern was how all the new characters that I introduce in this book would be received.  Thus far, most of the comments at the introduction of a bigger community of people that have given Jeff, Megan, George, and Jason new challenges to face has been positive, which I am thrilled with.

Check out the review here:  http://www.livingdeadmedia.com/zombie-books-and-fiction/208-dark2.html and keep looking for more of my Dark Stories that I will continue to post here on my blog-the new characters found in Into The Dark are now the focus of what will be posted from now on.  So check out the book, and then my Dark Stories page of this blog for more details on characters like Michael, Cindy, Frank, Ben, and the others.


Dollar Bin Horror reviews “Into The Dark”

The reviews are starting to really roll in for Into The Dark and I am happy to add Rhonny Reaper’s to the list.   When someone says ‘the second book of the Dark trilogy is even better than its predecessor in both content and pacing’ I think I can safely say I am pretty pleased and flattered by this review.  Check out the whole review here:   http://dollarbinhorror.blogspot.com/2011/01/dollar-bin-horror-spotlight-into-dark.html.  And of course, go ahead and check out Into the Dark!

 


Dark Stories: Michael, Frank, and Cindy

This is the first of the stories I originally wrote that would have appeared in Into The Dark had they made the cut.  Of course, I have revised this one a bit due to the fact that it is no longer integrated into the actual book.  This particular story is primarily flashback, with Michael being the main focus, but it also provides an introduction to both Frank as well as Cindy, explaining how he got mixed up with both of them.  Michael was always someone who was different than the people who were closest to him in the story, and this brief vignette hopefully explains why he was with them.

While this is primarily a flashback, it is mainly a story about Michael’s reflections on why and how he ended up with Cindy, and it is while he is sitting down at one of the tables in the RV camp on the morning after Jeff, Megan, George, and Jason have joined his group.

If you haven’t read Into The Dark as of yet, I won’t suggest that you don’t read this, but it might not make as much sense until you do have the chance to check it out.  The same applies to the rest of the stories that I will be posting from here on out.  I will do my best to avoid revealing anything that may come as a major surprise to anyone who hasn’t read further than Comes The Dark, but since none of these characters are even introduced until the second book in the trilogy, all of this is probably a surprise anyway.

As always, I must state that I have tried my best to catch all the typos and glitches that are in this story, but I am sure there are some still in there.  So forgive me for that.

Michael, Frank, and Cindy

He knew being with her was all wrong.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  Everything up to this point in his life had been regimented and controlled, structured to allow for the greatest amount of success.  Even when civilization crumbled, he had adapted and maintained control over the situation.  Now he was the leader of a small, but growing tribe of people.  The bloody lines on the map he looked at every day spoke of his triumphs: where he had come from (where they all had come from) and where they were heading.  They would continue heading east, away from large population centers, and find even more people to join them.  His power would grow as more people relied on him and trusted his leadership.  It was all working out as planned.

But all those visions, all those dreams, had been disrupted.  He still wanted the power, but there were other, darker things crossing his mind these days.  They hadn’t been there before.  They had been planted there recently.

Perhaps that was an excuse.  Maybe they had always been there, and it took the right, or more accurately, the wrong person to trudge them up.  So maybe if that person was out of the picture, maybe all those dark, hideous desires inside his head would disappear along with her.

Either way, he was sure that Cindy had to go.

*

Michael had been groomed for greatness by his parents from early on in life.  Private boarding schools, Princeton, and then Michigan for his MBA.  Business first, then politics.    There had been a stint in a corporate training program for Proctor and Gamble.  That was after they had wooed him and offered him the best compensation package amongst a slew of elite employers.  There were several rapid promotions leading to the executive level.  He was the youngest Vice President in the company and was expected to go much further with them … if he chose to stay.  The plan was to build relationships with various lobbyists, business leaders, and politicians, working those connections to his advantage.  His father was highly respected not only in Connecticut, where Michael had grown up, but had politicians in his back pocket from all across the country.  Between his own burgeoning relationships and those of his father, Michael would be ready to run for office either in Connecticut or Ohio shortly after turning thirty.  From there the sky was the limit.

He was to marry first, of course.  There had been a few respectable girls in Cincinnati he’d dated, but they were of the disposable variety.  Most were young and attractive, but interspersed with them were a few women of more … experience, who had helped him along his career path at P&G and with his political desires.  But he was from old money and the expectations were that he would marry old money.  There just was not enough of it in Cincinnati for his or his father’s liking.  So he had been shuttling back and forth between Cincinnati and New York on weekends for the past few months so he could court Ms. Penelope Warden.  Her father was a business associate of Michael’s father.  More importantly, Penelope’s family had political connections that ran up and down the east coast and it certainly didn’t hurt that as an only child, she was due to inherit substantial holdings in several Fortune 500 companies when dear old dad kicked the bucket.

That was about the time when things went haywire and the blasted virus came into play.  At first Michael reacted like everyone else, in a complete panic.  His world came crashing down around him.  His downtown Cincinnati condo was in jeopardy almost immediately and he found himself barricaded inside it as the city tore itself apart thirty stories below.  He tried to contact his parents and younger brother, but they were out of the country, somewhere in the Mediterranean on the family yacht.  When he couldn’t get a hold of anyone else back home or even any of the other P & G executives to see if he could snag a ride out of town on one of the corporate jets, he realized he was on his own.  He didn’t bother trying to contact Penelope.  Despite claims of undying love for him, she wasn’t going to be much help from over six hundred miles away.  In a way, it was a relief.  She was an insufferable bore and a hypochondriac that complained incessantly.  Michael could tolerate a lot to achieve his objectives in life, but having her at his side during the apocalypse terrified him.

As the world crumbled around him and he was certain his demise was eminent, Michael recalled something his father had said to him repeatedly as a young boy.  “Life is what you make of it.  When things go bad and you get knocked down, dust yourself off and get back up.  You were born with my blood running through your veins and I’ve never been a quitter.  So don’t bother with the excuses, because I’m not interested in them.”

Thinking back on it those words, they seemed trite and unimaginative to Michael as an adult.  But to a child of ten, they sounded far more impressive and scary.  It really was not the words anyway – it was how his father had backed them up.  He pushed Michael into every activity the private schools he’d attended had to offer.  Every sport, every extra-curricular activity.  He was never allowed to quit or perform at a subpar or average level.  He was expected to have stellar grades, leadership roles, and top notch girlfriends from well to do families.  Of course, nothing was ever good enough for dear old dad, and Michael spent much of his early life sniffing at his father’s feet for any sort of praise he could get.

There was no sob story attached to his upbringing.  Michael did not freak out, rebel, or ever climb onto a therapist’s couch.  Sure, dad had his mistresses and because of that, mom was a functional alcoholic and pill popper, but none of that ever played out in public or really caused any uproar.  It was simply par for the course for a well to do family.

Instead, he grew up knowing he was better and stronger than everyone else.  If for no other reason, because of all the sweat he had to pour into all he did.  His childhood had been hard, but he knew anything worth having in life was hard.  His father’s philosophy had carried him this far and he knew it would carry him further still.

The sense of helplessness he felt while watching the city burn evaporated as he concocted a plan.  Once the fear left him, things became clear.  He grabbed the camouflage outfit he’d bought for some retreat he’d gone on with other executives at P&G.  For three days Michael had played paintball, got drunk out in the woods, and howled at the moon.  It had been an absolutely worthless experience, but at least he got some useful duds out of it.  He also grabbed the rather large knife he’d bought out of a catalog after training with edged weapons in his martial arts classes.  Tai Kwan Do had been studied more for keeping in shape than for self-defense, but now it appeared that he would have the chance to put that training and the knife to good use.

For one last time he scanned his place; all the expensive decorating touches he had spent top dollar for.  He glanced over at his wine collection and the few pieces of artwork he’d bought at auction.  The accoutrements of wealth and success.  It was all kindling for the bonfire that humanity was being tossed into now, nothing more.

Being able to accept that was what made Michael stronger than his peers, and he knew it.  So many of them would be desperate to save the trappings of their prior lives, believing that somehow that would make a difference.  They would all die clutching at scraps of that old world.  He could relinquish it all – the wealth, the prestige, the potential power … and recognize that in this new world there would be other types of power which would allow only few to stand out from the crowd.  And that power would not come from possessions or connections, but from the strength of one’s determination and ability to adapt.  Michael vowed to embrace this new world order and show his father and every other ghost living inside his head that he was up to the challenge.

The next couple of days were a blur of furious movement and hiding in any hole he could find.  He managed to escape the tower he lived in with a couple of other tenants, though neither of them made it too far.  They were convinced the police or military would save them, or that they would find a safe haven within the city.  Michael didn’t spare much regret when they were torn to pieces within blocks of their former home.

The running seemed endless, as did the uncomfortable and cramped spaces he found himself in to avoid detection.  He slept in a broom closet in the bowels of an office building at one point, with the mop bucket and several large containers of cleaning solution pushed up against the door.  He swiped bottles of water and smashed in vending machines to get food.  He avoided confrontations with both the living and the undead while moving steadily in the direction that appeared to be the safest: east.

The city was not only in flames, it a war zone.  The trick, Michael learned, was to be counterintuitive.  Other refugees migrated toward the shelters and where the National Guard was located.  They headed to the hospitals, police, and fire stations.  They were idiots.  Because not only were the living moving in that direction, so were the dead.

Michael listened to a portable radio he had taken with him from his condo, and every report about a shelter that had been set up in the city told him exactly where not to go.  And when the reports stopped, he continued listening for gunfire, and steered clear of that as well.  He slipped into areas that had already been overrun by the dead, because the stiffs had a pack mentality and followed their prey where ever they could sense them.  That meant that only the stragglers and those too feeble to walk were usually left behind once all the living had fled or been devoured.  Those few ghouls were far easier to manage than the large hordes attacking the National Guard troops and the frightened sheep the general population had become.

By the time Michael met Frank, the endless hiding and running had taken its toll on him.  He was wearing down and feeling dispirited, questioning whether his brilliant plans for the future were all just a bunch of crap he’d made up to keep him motivated to stay alive when there wasn’t much sense in doing so.

Michael almost killed the other man by accident, thinking Frank was a rotter.  He was beating the brains in of a woman with his bare hands out on the street, and it was hard to tell which of the two was alive.

Michael tried avoiding situations where things might get out of control on him.  He had no interest in playing the hero or drawing a crowd, but this was in a quiet residential neighborhood that he was walking through – there was no one in sight beside the two people a dozen yards in front of him.  It was, in fact, one of the first streets he’d been on that didn’t have at least a half dozen stiffs wandering aimlessly on it.

He’d come down this road because he saw several cars and even a work van that appeared to be in working condition out in plain sight.  Looking for a vehicle he could drive out of the area had preoccupied Michael’s mind during much of his journey.  Walking was getting old, and being out in the open and vulnerable was making him a nervous wreck.

As he came up on the two struggling figures, Michael wondered if the man, or maybe the woman he was beating on, might have a set of keys to one of the vehicles nearby.  Looking around, he spotted a heavy tree branch that had snapped and fallen to the ground.  There was, in fact, plenty of debris all over the street to choose from.  Shattered door frames, discarded house wares, and even a few broken road signs.  The area, an old, rundown neighborhood filled with dilapidated row houses, looked like a tornado had hit it.  The two people doing battle appeared to be the last remnants of whatever madness had passed through the area.

Michael crept up behind the man and raised his weapon, ready to strike.  Frank chose that moment to turn his head, perhaps having spied Michael’s shadow from the corner of his eye.  That probably ended up saving his life.  He turned white as a sheet and raised an arm to ward off the blow as he scrambled backwards.  He stumbled over the woman he’d been pummeling and fell on his ass beside her.

The woman, no longer pinned to the ground, turned over in an effort to reach Frank, who scrabbled away from her.  Her face was an open wound.  A flap of skin that contained most of her facial features slapped at her skull with every jarring movement she made.  She was a heavy set, matronly woman with thick arms and legs.  She was trying to hiss out something through her lips, though nothing intelligible.  With it, there was a shower of spittle and blood that came from the depths of her throat.

Frank was babbling as well as he pressed up against one of the cars parked at the curb.  Reaching behind his back, he made an effort to hook his hand onto the bumper to help elevate his corpulent frame to a standing position.

Michael slammed his booted foot down on the small of the woman’s back and drove her chest toward the pavement.  One of the hands she had used to elevate her body skidded out from underneath her, leaving most of the skin from her palm on the asphalt.  Her other arm snapped, braking below the elbow, which caused her to collapse.  Swinging the tree branch, Michael landed several blows as the ghoul struggled to get back up.  A scattering of teeth sprayed from her mouth as the abuse rained down on the back of her skull.  After a minute or so, the matronly woman’s movements stilled.

Michael studied the corpse for a moment before looking back at Frank.  The expression on the filthy man’s face would have been amusing, if it weren’t so pathetic.  Frank looked about as terrified of Michael as the monster he’d been brawling with.

The fear turned into nervous appreciation as the two men traded introductions.  After that, Frank’s story came out in a tumble, as if he was relieved to have the chance to speak to a live human being.  He’d been stuck in his basement for several days, and had been forced to “deal” with his wife, who’d been bitten early on.  They had no children, so he had been all alone ever since.  After a while, the itch to see what was going on outside as well as a chance to grab something beside the pork n’ beans he’d been living on caused him to climb the stairs, pry open the door he’d nailed shut, and take a look around.  Most of the stiffs out of the street had migrated elsewhere by then, since a lot of Frank’s neighbors fled in the first couple of days of the madness that had gripped the city.  So he went on the hunt for food in his neighbor’s houses.  That was when he happened upon Lila, the woman he’d been attacking when Michael wandered by.  She lived a couple doors down from Frank.  He had entered her home and found her in the kitchen, snacking on Stanley, her husband.  “I guess she wanted fresher meat, ‘cause ol’ Stan smelled a mite sour, so she went after me,” Frank said with a crooked grin.

He rushed to leave the house, but Lila followed, smashing through the front door he’d slammed shut behind him, forcing him to deal with her out on the street.

“I never liked that bitch much anyway,” Frank said with a nervous chuckle as his story came to an end.

Michael patiently listened to the sweaty, smelly man’s tale and tried to ignore the fact that Frank looked like the type of person he wouldn’t have spoken to on a bet just a week prior, unless it was to pay him to do plumbing work or some other menial task … not that someone in Frank’s condition (even if he had showered and had on clean clothes) would have ever made it past the doorman of Michael’s building.  But things had changed, and the need to adapt to this new environment, and to the people who remained in it, was imperative.  There would be a need for men like Frank, like there always had been.  He was the type who took orders and was willing to get his hands dirty … very dirty, if necessary.

Nodding politely, Michael did his best to seem interested in what Frank had to say as his eyes kept gravitating to the work truck sitting in the driveway nearby.

Frank invited Michael into his house and they shared a sparse meal of the beans remaining in Frank’s stash and a few of the candy bars Michael was carrying.  He did his best not to cringe at the smell of the decrepit house, noticing all the while that Frank didn’t seem to mind the foul odor emanating from his basement.  Michael’s guess was that Frank’s wife was still down there, and his new acquaintance had grown used to the smell of her rotten corpse.

It didn’t take more than an hour with Frank for Michael to make up his mind.  Frank wasn’t too sharp, but he was malleable and appeared willing to do just about anything to get out of the stink trap he’d been living in for the past week.  The idle promise of some booze and the assurance that together they could forge a new existence for themselves and anyone else they found sounded pretty good to Frank.  He was a pig, but Michael knew he would be a loyal pig, as long as he was given some mud to root around in on occasion.

Before the day was over, they were on the road in the truck, which happened to be Frank’s, maneuvering past the most of the wrecks and areas crawling with mobile corpses as they headed east, away from the city.

Frank was just another piece of the puzzle Michael had been working on in his head.  Getting used to the filthy, disgusting man would be easy, since he was willing to follow orders and grew excited at the prospects of a lawless world that would need men like them to set things straight.  They might have to do a few questionable things along the way, but that would be okay – in the end, those living under their protection would thank them for what the two men were willing to do for them, with no questions asked.

As they avoided the hordes of undead and the few clots of National Guardsmen still alive and still willing to fight, they passed their time capturing a few of the individual ghouls they came across.  Michael felt it was important to understand the enemy, to see if anything could be done to salvage these inhuman wrecks.  He tried to see if they would respond to any stimulus besides warm flesh, and if, given enough time, they could be turned into some sort of slave labor or mindless work force.

They would lure a single stiff into the back of the van.  A dead dog or cat carcass was usually enough to get them moving in the right direction.  The truck had a wire-reinforced barrier between the driver’s area and the back, which made it easy to collect specimens without fear of getting bit.  A couple of hockey sticks, a fishing net, and some padded gloves acquired from an abandoned sporting goods store were the only equipment they needed to manage the task, along with some stout rope.

When every experiment Michael did failed, he turned the monsters over to Frank, who enjoyed torturing the creatures.  Michael suspected it wasn’t because of some twisted desire for revenge that the small-minded man had, but because Frank got his rocks off that way.  Michael tolerated the behavior, though it repulsed him, because it gave his partner a little bit of joy in an otherwise dreary existence.

Over the next few days, they had run-ins with both the living and the dead, and managed to come out on top in each situation, adding to their level of confidence as well as their arsenal.  Frank laid claim to a double barreled shotgun while Michael got an M16 and 9mm pistol from some stubborn soldier who took a little bit of prodding before he gave them up.  Not long after that, they were also gathering people; stragglers more than happy to let Michael take the lead in their efforts to survive.  They ditched the van as their contingent grew in size, finding a small plastics factory that they could fortify until they could find more adequate transportation.

The battle to survive was a daily grind.  The group spent their time foraging for food, water, and other supplies that would help them make a go of it.  Everyone who joined Michael’s group was thrilled to be with other survivors and asked few questions about his methods, which was just how he liked things.  He doled out the responsibilities and Frank made sure everyone did as they were told.  It seemed that everyone was more than happy to be following orders – it gave their existence meaning and the confidence Michael exuded gave them hope.

Then Cindy came along.

Michael couldn’t say that she ruined everything.  To say that she had even changed his plans would be an exaggeration and a lie.  He knew Cindy didn’t change one single thing about his vision for the future.  They would still find a permanent home for the living that Michael preached about, and he would continue shaping everyone’s vision of the future.  Each step they took as a group was still as he dictated.

It wasn’t his vision that had changed with Cindy.  It was him who had changed.  After spending just a little time with her, he knew what she was.  She was a succubus, taking great pleasure sucking the life force out of him bit by bit.  But that wasn’t all.  She was not so indifferent to his suffering that she wanted to take everything away until he withered and died.  Instead, for every bit of him she took, she gave back piece of herself.  It was her gift.  For every rational thought, for every piece of compassion he tried to maintain a grip on but lost, there was something new put in its place.  Something that was dark and squirmed beneath his skin.  It burned in his gut and made it feel like his bones were turning to ash.

Cindy’s gift to Michael was her pure and unadulterated hatred for everyone and everything in the world.  And as much as he wanted to deny it, he had to admit that a part of him liked the gift she had given him.

Cindy had stumbled into the factory a couple of days after they’d set up camp and told a muddled story about a boyfriend who she’d shared a camper with until he was bitten.  The story was vague, but it didn’t bother Cindy that no one seemed to buy it – she stumbled over what her boyfriend’s name was and she was even vaguer about her existence before the virus had hit.  It was easy for Michael to dismiss; several of the people with them found it hard to talk about their past.  What was clear to him was that Cindy enjoyed the rough, harsh existence brought on by the plague, and didn’t have any problem killing infected.  She was good at it.  She was a strong, remorseless killer, and that appealed to him.  Most of the people he was surrounded by had an almost crippling fear of the undead, but not Cindy.

Almost immediately after being welcomed into the group, Cindy began the process of insinuating herself into Michael’s life.

Despite her outward appearance as a tattooed, rebellious free-spirit, Cindy was, in her own way, even more power hungry than Michael.  She recognized him as the person in charge and did everything she could to learn what made him tick.  Michael, who had rubbed elbows with politicians and the well to do his entire life, realized too late that he had no built in defense mechanisms to hold off the advances of someone so … raw, for lack of a better term.  Cindy had no fears, no boundaries, and a depraved, lusty nature that attracted Michael like a moth to the flame.

She was his girlfriend before he even realized it.  And from the first moment he did realize it, he understood that he needed to figure out a way to be free of her clutches.

Cindy scared Michael.  She could see right through him and knew from the get go that there was a repressed knot of rage buried deep inside that he rarely displayed.  She massaged that rage to the surface, prodding him into directing his anger toward her.  What scared Michael the most was that Cindy enjoyed it when he was mad at her.  She didn’t stop there, and pushed him into getting violent with her when no one else was around.  It was a sick trip, but the desire that burned in her eyes when she provoked him made it all the more frightening and appealing.  When he tried to restrain himself, she would push harder.  Lacing the violence with sex made it all the more confusing.  It was exhilarating and terrifying, and felt like they were in some sort of sick, symbiotic relationship; Cindy fed on his anger while at the same time encouraging more of it to grow inside of him so the supply she craved would be never ending.

The urge to resist Cindy weakened in time, though never disappeared.  There were far too many other things going on for Michael to worry about their relationship and what it was becoming.  About a week and a half after they claimed the factory as their own, it was overrun and several members of the group died as they escaped.

Michael’s group was once again out in the open and that was when the idea of getting a hold of an RV or two popped into his head.  Ben, one of the newcomers and a massive giant of a man, suggested they get more than just a couple, and set out to find a place they could bring them which would keep the group hidden away from danger.  He alluded at the fact that getting diesel to fuel those beasts would be tough, and become next to impossible in the upcoming months, but they would be incredibly useful even if they weren’t able to go that far.  They needed to find a place to hunker down that was defensible, and if they had enough RVs, they could create a barrier that would be difficult for the undead to penetrate.

It took several days, but they found an RV dealership not too far away while Ben found an ideal place to move the motor homes to near a small town called Manchester.  Things got messy and a few more members of the group perished during the process of moving and transplanting the RVs, but afterwards they were safe again, hidden behind massive metal walls and buried in a wooded area that would keep prying eyes, both living and dead, from seeing their new home.

As things settled down, Michael found himself with more free time, and more time to reflect on his existence than he’d had since he left his condo in downtown Cincinnati.  Marcus, who’d joined the group after they fled the factory, became Frank’s drinking buddy, which kept the lout preoccupied most of the time.  Ben volunteered to collect the supplies they needed and spent much of his time beyond the walls of the RV fortress hunting and scavenging around Manchester.  Lydia, one of the more recent additions to the group, was more than willing to take responsibility of managing the food and water and tending to the children.  All of this meant that Michael had more time to spend thinking … thinking about the future of the little civilization he was trying to create … and about how imperative it had become that he sever his ties with Cindy.

It couldn’t happen yet, not with the batch of newcomers that had just arrived, but soon enough.  No reason to give any of them any doubts about the stability of the pecking order in the camp.  Even if he did find Megan intriguing.

She wasn’t attractive … at least not at first glance.  She was physically weak and sickly looking, with dark circles beneath sunken eyes and pallor that was the norm for those who had spent the past few weeks either hiding or running in fear.  And yet, there was a sparkle in her eyes which was hard not to notice and traces of what she might have looked like before her world had been shattered haunted her face.  There was beauty hidden there, and given time and nurturing, it would return.  And for Michael, more important than any physical potential she possessed, she was a normal human being.  Megan was feisty, no doubt about it, but she wasn’t a sociopath, which elevated her status dramatically in his eyes.  She was a suitable match for him, and he doubted that anyone except Cindy would disagree with that.

But that could wait.  He could woo Megan after she, Jeff, and George understood their place in his little world.  It wouldn’t take long for them to realize they were better off doing things his way, rather than resisting the inevitable, or they would suffer the consequences.

Given enough time, Megan would regain the weight she’d lost and a healthy glow would return to her skin.  She would also come to her senses.  Life was a struggle, but it would be much easier with Michael at her side.  No amount of animosity she felt for him now would keep her from seeing the truth in the coming weeks.

The only thing standing in the way of that vision was Cindy.  She would have to be dealt with.  It had to happen soon.  Their relationship had grown more and more twisted with every day and night they spent together.

Michael knew that “dealing” with her wouldn’t just be a matter of kicking her out of the RV they shared or telling her it was over between them.  No.  It would require something a bit more drastic than that.

Perhaps a trip beyond the walls of their little fortress for just the two of them might be in order.  A trip she wouldn’t return from.  It wasn’t as if anyone would miss her anyway.

As he ran his finger along the razor sharp edge of the knife he kept strapped to his wrist, a nervous smile twitched at his lips.  He could deal with her.  He just had to work up the courage.

Then everything would return to normal inside of Michael’s head.  All the sinister urges Cindy had put in there would evaporate, disappear.  The dark cravings would be gone, and he would become the leader he had always wanted to be; the one everyone admired and respected, and not just feared.  All he had to do was get rid of her vile influence on him and everything would be just fine.

Soon.  He would do it soon.


Check out my interview with Heather over at Doubleshot Reviews.

Heather over at Doubleshot Reviews was kind enough to interview me after reviewing Comes The Dark recently.  So give it a looksee here:  http://doubleshotreviews.com/2011/01/03/interview-with-patrick-dorazio/


Review of “Into The Dark” from Buy Zombie

Buy Zombie posted their review of Into The Dark today.  While the reviewer had some issues with parts of the story, overall, I think this was a positive review.  I appreciated the opportunity to have them read it and hope you will do the same.  Check out the review at:  http://www.buyzombie.com/2011/01/03/reviews-of-zombie-related-things/into-the-dark-review/.


“A Soldier’s Lament” now in e-book form!

I am happy to announce that my short story, A Soldier’s Lament, has been published as an individual story available for sale for your e-book reader.  May December, who originally published the story in their first person zombie anthology, Eyewitness: Zombie, has made it available via Smashwords.  You can check out Fangoria’s review of Eyewitness: Zombie, which specifically mentions A Soldier’s Lament in it, here:  https://patrickdorazio.com/2010/12/04/great-review-of-eye-witness-zombie-on-fangoria/.

I am quite excited about this, and part of the reason I am is because this particular story takes place in the same world as my Dark Trilogy of novels.  Without ruining anything, if you have read Into The Dark, you might recognize a couple of the characters when you check out this short story.

At $2.99, this is a pretty cheap price as well.  So check it out!

There is no specific cover art work for this short story, but the publisher did commission this killer drawing that ties into the story quite well for Eyewitness: Zombie.  Just click on the image to head over to the link at Smashwords.


Dark Stories: Jason, Alone

I hope everyone out there is having a great holiday season!  I wanted to post this little stand alone introduction to Jason that actually takes place before he meets George.  I probably could have posted this before the prior string of stories about the two of them together, but I guess this will work since it does relate to only Jason.  This is fairly brief, but was my introduction of him as a character and delves a little deeper into his relationship with his mother and what happened to her.

There will be more Dark Stories to come, but this finishes the stories that introduce the initial characters that Jeff meets in the first book.  Now that the second book is released, I will probably focus on stories about the characters introduced there from now on.  Stay tuned.

Again, as always, forgive me for any editing misses-I try to clean these up, but I know I will end up missing  a few bits and pieces here and there.

Without further ado, here you go:

 

Jason, Alone

Everything had been screwed up since momma dragged him out of school up in Detroit and moved him down to this white bread hillbilly paradise.  They sure as heck hadn’t been rich up in Dearborn, but he’d gotten to see his father every now and then and they had a nice apartment.  Jason didn’t want a house, even if momma insisted that they needed a place where they weren’t crammed in next to twenty other families.  He didn’t want to leave his school either.  It wasn’t like he had lots of friends there, but he was comfortable with his teachers and knew what was expected of him.  Here, he stood out like a sore thumb.  They had gotten a house like momma had always wanted, but there were even more trailer parks in the town they lived in than he’d ever seen back home.  That momma somehow thought moving to Gallatin, Ohio was a step up from Dearborn, Michigan was beyond Jason’s ability to understand.

After living in the small town for a while, things leveled out, though they still sucked.  The kids in Gallatin more or less ignored him.  There was a good share of white trash, but most of the kids were nice enough.  There were only a few black families in town so it was almost like most of the white kids had no idea of how to act around him.  He could tell that they’d been taught that racism was bad and yet they were still uncomfortable being around someone who wasn’t the same color as they were.  The school was okay.  Jason had always been smart and adjusting academically wasn’t too challenging.  His mother insisted he was getting a better education here, though he kind of doubted it.

He was getting used to things in Ohio, even though his father hadn’t called or written since the move.  He didn’t like the nasty things momma said about dad, but didn’t argue with her about it.  With as many times as she called him worthless, it didn’t seem all that surprising that Jason’s father chose to forget about his son once they moved away.

Momma never accepted any blame for anything in regards to Jason’s father, even after deciding to pick up and move almost three hundred miles away from him.  She insisted that it was her ex-husband’s fault he couldn’t pick up a phone or try to arrange to have Jason go back up to Detroit for a week during the holidays or in the summer.  She didn’t accept any blame, but Jason silently affixed much of it on her.  But as with everything else, he suffered quietly and didn’t act out or complain.  He was her good son, well behaved and shy.  He loved his momma and even if he wished she wouldn’t have made some of the choices she did, he was smart enough to know that she was the one person in the world who would always be there for him, no matter what.  He still loved his dad, but he’d known for years that the man was unreliable.  That was just the way it was.  Momma could always be counted on.

That was, until the world fell apart.

Jason was watching TV that morning, the morning when everything changed.  He already knew things had been getting bad over the past few days, but with all the special reports breaking in on every channel, things had boiled over.

Yvonne, his mother, had been concerned about what was going on around the country and around town, but that concern didn’t mean she was interested in skipping out on work.

“They need me down there, especially now.  You stay home today-no playing outside.  Lock the doors and don’t answer the phone.  I’ll be home after my shift.”

She hugged him tight and left.  Jason wasn’t concerned for himself.  Things had been quiet in their neighborhood, but there were some terrible stories on the news about what was happening in the cities, like where momma worked.

As the day wore on, Jason found himself glued to the TV, watching news reports that were getting harder to believe by the second.  Every program he switched to was talking about the same thing.  The virus had gone global and there were reports of infection everywhere.  Doctors were baffled, despite the government’s reassurance that they were working on coming up with a vaccination or cure.

People were dying everywhere, and the televised attacks by the infected were hard to watch.  Still, Jason was mesmerized by the violent images as they rolled by on the screen.

More than once, he was tempted to call the hospital where momma worked, but resisted the urge.  He was only supposed to call in case of an emergency.  This was a worldwide emergency, no doubt about it, but it wasn’t as if someone was banging on the front door, trying to get inside the house to attack him.  So instead, he continued watching the stories about the virus spreading, maps with containment vectors discussed by Army Generals, and the riots breaking out in towns and cities across the country and across the globe.

Jason was still in front of the TV when Yvonne, his mother, came home five hours before her shift was supposed to end.  He was thrilled she’d returned early, until he saw the bandage on her arm.  She had been scratched by a patient at the hospital.

She had been plain unlucky.  That was how she described it.  Jason’s mother was a nurse a big downtown Cincinnati medical center and was taking the vital signs of a patient who’d come into the emergency room after claiming to have been bitten.  The man was delirious and he freaked out when she put a stethoscope against his chest.  He’d been lying on a gurney in one of the hallways off the ER, because people were jammed to the rafters in the place and the nurses and doctors had to deal with patients where they sat or stood.  Yvonne had been commandeered from her post on the Cardiac ward to help with the overflow.

The man had reached up to grab her wrist as he babbled unintelligibly at her.  When she tried to remove his hand, he raked his fingernails across her forearm as he spit up blood and frothed at the mouth.  With the help of a couple of orderlies she got the man under control and sedated, but not before his spittle and blood and gotten all over her, including into her brand new wound.

Yvonne Samuels told her son that she’d had the suspicion that things were going to hell the moment she had walked into the hospital six hours earlier.  It’d taken less than an hour before she’d been called into the emergency room.  The rumor mill among the nurses had gained a full head of steam, and while much of what she was told sounded ridiculous, it was getting easier to buy into the various stories they were feeding her as the day went on.

A particular one stuck with her.  One of the regular ER nurses indicated that she’d heard that the National Guard was planning on shutting down most of the hospitals in the area and not letting any more patients into them.  In addition to that measure, rumor also had it that any of the people already in the hospitals, including staff, were to be quarantined.

It had sounded like an unlikely possibility the first time she heard it, but by the time she was scratched a few hours later and the emergency room had turned into an utter madhouse, it was getting hard to deny that something was about to happen.  Fear, like the virus, was spreading across the hospital at an exponential rate.

No one really knew for sure how the virus spread.  Bites without a doubt, but no one knew if it was also airborne, could be transmitted through drinking water, or if there was some other route to getting sick.

Paranoia and panic were engulfing the hospital.  Both the patients and staff were rapidly losing their minds.  Yvonne suspected that whatever plan the National Guard had in mind to restore control would be acted on far too late to do any good.  The situation had deteriorated far too fast.

There had been several attacks when bitten patients died on operating tables or while waiting to be checked out in the ER.  Far too late, someone in a position of authority decided that anyone who came in bitten was to be restrained.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t before several nurses, doctors, and other patients were attacked.

Jason’s mom had never been one to pull her punches and she didn’t do so as she relayed her tale to him.  She had a pretty good idea how much trouble she was in after bandaging her scratched arm.  The wound had felt like it was on fire mere seconds after the attack.  Since it wasn’t a bite, no one paid the wound much attention, but there was no doubt in her mind that she would be getting curious glances in no time.  She was already running a fever.  She had to get the hell out of there before she ended up tied to some bed while she waited to die.

Taking one last look around, Yvonne decided to make a beeline to the garage where her car was parked.  There was no way she was going to let them quarantine her or tie her up; not with her boy waiting for her to get back home.  She had been prepared to do anything, up to and including blasting through the gate at the edge of the employee lot with her beat up old Buick Skylark.  It didn’t matter that there were two police cruisers parked on the street outside the garage-nothing was going to stop her from leaving that place.

Fortune smiled on her.  The attendant waved her through without even looking up from the portable TV he had in the booth with him.

On the drive home, Yvonne listened to traffic reports that indicated every highway in and out of the city was either clogged or blockaded by the military.  Even many of the major roads were backed up, but Yvonne had been driving in the city long enough to have learned about several lesser known routes that would get her home without all the traffic headaches the main routes tended to provide.  It was clear as she headed east out of Cincinnati that the city was shutting down, and soon there wouldn’t be any roads open to traffic anymore.  There was unchecked chaos and destruction everywhere she looked.  People running in the streets, gunfire, and the sounds of screams she heard through the rolled up windows.  She didn’t see any of them, but suspected they were there, nonetheless.

Perhaps it was a miracle, or just dumb luck, but she managed to get back home without incident.

She told Jason her story in a breathless rush.  By the time she was done, her skin had gone an ashy color and she was drenched in sweat.  When he suggested they find a doctor in Gallatin to check her out, she waved him off.

“What we need to do,” she replied, “is find someone to take you in while I deal with this.”

Jason had learned over the years that there was no use arguing with momma, especially when she gave him the “look”.  The woman could be downright scary when she wanted to be.  So when she picked up the phone and tried to reach out to some of her friends in the area, he remained silent, even as he felt terrified about what was happening to his mother.  She was still in charge, and until she said different, there was nothing her twelve-year-old boy could say about it.

After the final call, when Yvonne was unable to reach a single other person, she sat in a chair in the living room and took a deep breath.  A few seconds later, she slapped her hands on her knees, announcing to Jason that she had come to a decision.

“There’s just one thing left we can do.”

Jason would never forget when his mother directed him to tie her arms and feet to her bed.  She told him that if she got delirious, like the man at the hospital, she didn’t want him to be in any danger of getting scratched or bit.  She also joked that it was ironic that she had been desperate to avoid that fate at the hospital, but now felt it was the only solution she had remaining at home.

“If I turn into one of those monsters, and I doubt I will, I don’t want to be able to hurt you.  I don’t want to bite you like all those people you’ve seen on TV.”

Once again, Jason had the urge to argue with his momma, but even with her eyes getting cloudy with infection, she wielded an authority that bucked no debate from her son.

So he helped get her into bed, taking several extension cords and wrapping them around her wrists and ankles and then the bedposts.  When he tried to be gentle with the knots he made, Yvonne chastised him, insisting he make sure she couldn’t break free.

“I plan on fighting like crazy against this virus, baby, but I’m not taking any chances with your safety.  If I turn, I need to know you’ll be safe.”

After the knots were tied and before the tears could come, Jason’s momma told him to sit down next to her on the bed.

“Jason, you’re a stronger boy than you realize.  I’ve always known that about you.  I also know you resent me for taking you away from your father, but I think, deep down, you understand why I had to do it.  He could never take care of you, even if he thought that what he was doing was good enough.

“I didn’t bring you to Ohio to make your life miserable, I brought you here to make you stronger.  You needed to get away from that place and learn to stand on your own.  I didn’t realize how quickly you would need to be able to do that, but God gives us challenges we think we aren’t prepared for because he knows better than us how strong we are, and how much we can handle.

“I’ve done the best I could for you.  It wasn’t enough, but there isn’t any time left for me to do any more.  Now I don’t want you crying for me.  Instead, I want you to do exactly as I tell you.”

Jason’s mother tolerated no back talk, even as she grew weaker by the second.  So he listened to every word she had to say, and despite his reservations, he did as she asked.  He collected what he could into his backpack-clothes, food, a pocket knife, and the spare cash she had hidden in a shoebox at the back of her closet.  She told him that money probably wouldn’t mean anything for much longer, but it might help him out of a tight jam with someone he came across.

Yvonne didn’t want her son going to one of those shelters, but knew there were few other options available to a twelve-year-old on their own.  The scroll at the bottom of the television screen listed the different shelters in the Cincinnati area, and Gallatin high school, which was just a few miles away, was the closest one.  He was to try and go to the neighbors first, and see if any of them would take him in, but if that didn’t work, or if he came across anyone acting suspicious, he was to run to that high school as fast as he could.

She told him the some people might not think twice about taking advantage of a young boy without any guardians, so he would have to stand tall and fend for himself.  And once things calmed down and the world got back to normal, he would have to try to reach out to any family they had up north that was still alive.  Yvonne hadn’t been able to reach any of them for a couple of days, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t make it through this.  And when they did, he needed to find them.  They would take care of him.

Jason wondered if his mother actually believed that things would ever go back to normal.  A cure sounded next to impossible from what he’d heard, and the military didn’t seem to be having any lucky anywhere as far as containing the spread of the contagion.  After watching the news all day, and having heard horror stories coming in from across the globe for the last few days, the chances of the world ever being sane again was about as likely as momma being able to avoid succumbing to the virus.

She was the strongest person Jason had ever known, but no amount of determination to resist the rapid creep of the plague was going to keep her from changing.  The doctors on TV had bickered back and forth on just about every minute detail related to the virus, but one thing they all agreed on was its 100% mortality and reanimation rate.  If you were infected, you died, and then you came back.

After momma gave Jason her instructions and was certain he would carry them out, her voice became soft as she reminisced with him about their lives together.  She told him stories about her youth she’d never revealed before and managed to get a few laughs out of him, even as the tears flowed despite her stern command he not weep for her.

On more than one occasion, Jason hinted that he wanted to remove the cords that bound her, but she would chastise him every time he tried, even when she grew delirious and her words were slurred.

Near the end she told him to leave, to get out of the house and go to the neighbors.  He needed to find someone who could take him to the shelter, or away from this place.  There was no more pretending.   She was going to die and she had accepted that.  He refused until she had to yell at him, telling him through her own tears that he needed to go, that she did not want him seeing her like this.

Jason pretended to leave, hiding at the front door after he slammed it shut.  He slumped against it, crying silent tears while his mother lay dying down the hall.  He wanted to untie her, cut her free and hold her tight one last time.  And when he heard her loudly weeping, that desire became almost unbearable.

After the crying stopped about an hour later, Jason strained to hear anything coming from his mother’s bedroom.  It didn’t take long for him to hear the wheezing as her struggles to breath became more pronounced.  As he did, he laid his head on his knees.  At that point, he’d been awake for nearly twenty four hours straight.  His mother’s struggles with the virus had lasted through the night.  So as he sat and listened to the ragged rhythm of her breathing, his eyelids continued to droop lower no matter how hard he fought against it.

One of Jason’s uncles had died of cancer, and he’d watched him gradually lose weight and hair from chemotherapy.  It took several months, and the changes were gradual, but hard not to notice.  When the man was brought home to be with his family for the last few days of his life, after the doctors had done everything they could for him, Jason was forced to go into his uncle’s bedroom one last time.  The man’s eyes had sunken into their sockets and his skin was gray.  The smell of illness in the room terrified the boy almost more than how his uncle’s looks had changed.  There was a cloying scent of despair that hung heavy in the room.  Even the reassuring grin his uncle gave him scared Jason.  It made him look like one of the demonic creatures in a horror comic Jason’s dad had given him.  His uncle’s eyes had gone from white to a jaundiced yellow, which added to the devilish effect.

What had happened to his mother was like a time lapse recording of the illness his uncle had suffered through.  Several nightmarish months of agony jammed into a few hours of living hell, with the same terrible sights and smells that had given Jason nightmares for a year after his uncle died.

Jason woke with a start.  He had been dreaming of his uncle, smiling up at him from his deathbed, telling him that his momma would be with him soon.  As he spoke, he reached out with his hand, as if asking the boy to join them.

While he’d slept, the wheezing in the other room had stopped.  The house was silent.  Jason stood, fearful he’d missed the chance to rush back to his mother’s side to see her face and hold her hand one last time before she died.  He couldn’t come to grips with the idea of his mother being taken away from him.  How could some minor scratch undo such a larger than life person?

Jason listened for a few minutes, peering at the walls that separated his mother’s bed from where he was stood.  Nothing.  No sound at all.  Had she passed?  He had to know even though part of him was screaming that he needed to run away and not look back.  He could pretend she was still alive if he wanted to.  All he had to do was leave.

“Momma?”

His voice sounded timid, almost embarrassed.  He half expected her to come bursting through the doorway, yelling at him to do as he’d been told and leave the house.

It didn’t happen.  Nothing did.

Fear mingled with a sliver of courage that resided deep within the twelve-year-old; courage that came from realizing he had nothing left to lose.

“MOMMA!”

He waited.  Sweat dripped down his face, rolling onto his upper lip.  Droplets quivered there before falling to the floor.  Jason moved his right foot forward with care, somehow afraid that the noise from a squeaky floorboard might upset momma even more than the fact that he’d yelled her name.

His foot was still hovering above the floor when he heard it.

The bed was making a creaking sound, but there was also another sound.  One that was almost human.

The sweat pouring down his face and back turned to ice on his skin.  An involuntary shiver wracked Jason’s body as he brought his foot down.  Hairs on his arms and legs stood at attention and were almost painfully stiff as goose bumps covered every exposed inch of skin.  His foot retreated to its original position and he remained locked in place at the front door.

It sounded like a moan coming from the bedroom, but not like any he’d ever heard before.  He doubted that a human being in a normal state of mind could make a sound like that.

“Momma?”

It was the terrified little boy inside of him reaching out for her now.  Tears mixed with the cold sweat and Jason’s vision became blurred.  He thought he saw his mother in her nightgown, the one she had worn when she had gotten into bed.  It was her favorite.  She was walking out of the room, coming toward him, angry at him for not leaving as he’d been told to do.  He slammed his back into the front door and gave a wailing cry of his own that didn’t sound quite as bad as the moaning, but had the effect of making the inhuman sound grow louder.  Frantically wiping at his eyes, he blinked and saw there was nothing in front of him.  Momma was still in her bedroom, tied down.

She needs you.  Go to her.

Jason slid to the floor, hugging himself as he wept.  No longer concerned about the amount of noise he made, the sound of his crying echoed through the small house.  After a couple of minutes, his sense of loss turned to anger as the moaning increased in volume, as if his mother was mocking him.

“Shut up!  You’re not my mother anymore!  Just leave me alone!”

It’s your mother in there, how dare you yell at her?  Go in there and apologize!

The moaning didn’t stop and his anger gradually changed, morphing into something closer to regret.  He begged and pleaded, yet knowing somehow, on a coldly logical level, that the monster his mother had become would never listen to him again.  At the same time, the voice inside his head, the one that knew nothing of logic or sanity, kept whispering to him that he should go to his mother, that she needed him.

Jason knew it wouldn’t stop until it drove him mad.

That was about all the twelve-year-old was sure of anymore.  That and the fact that there was no way he could face his mother ever again.  Not with what she had become.

He turned away from the noises and stared at the front door of the house.  This was no longer his home, and even as the strange voice inside tugged at him, he could feel the house pushing him away.

You are no longer welcome here.  This is a place for the dead.

Jason leaned his forehead against the cold, unforgiving wood of the door and banged it against the pine gently, but repeatedly.

“I’m sorry momma.  I love you, but I’m sorry.  I can’t stay here anymore.  Goodbye.”

It was a lousy eulogy, but was all he could think to say.  The maniacal voice inside his head screamed at him to turn around and go to her, but he blotted it out, screaming and cursing at it.

Momma was gone.

Walking out the door, Jason didn’t look back as it slammed behind him.  He stepped out onto the grass, unconcerned with where he was going.  The world around him was in panic and upheaval.  Several of the neighbors had fled, their front doors flung open while others had already in the process of barricading their homes.  He didn’t concern himself with any of them, even as several called out to him, screaming his name.  The blare of sirens and the sound of gunfire in the background also didn’t distract him.

He picked up his feet and ran, moving swiftly past his neighborhood.  His only plan was to keep on running, perhaps all the way to Detroit, if he could.  He would run until his legs gave out, his heart exploded inside his chest, or one of those things caught him and tore him to pieces.  That was the only thought he had left in his head.  He would run until he died.

*

By the time the soldiers caught up with him twenty minutes later, all the tears had dried and the stony visage that George knew so well had taken their place.