A Storm before Dawn, Prologue -Dealing with the Devil

“By the lakes that thus outspread
Their lone waters, lone and dead,-
Their sad waters, sad and chilly
With the snows of the lolling lily,-
By the mountains- near the river
Murmuring lowly, murmuring ever,-
By the grey woods,- by the swamp
Where the toad and the newt encamp-
By the dismal tarns and pools
Where dwell the Ghouls,-
By each spot the most unholy-
In each nook most melancholy-
There the traveller meets aghast
Sheeted Memories of the Past-
Shrouded forms that start and sigh
As they pass the wanderer by-
White-robed forms of friends long given,
In agony, to the Earth- and Heaven.”
~ AEPoe Dreamland

Sullivan Island, October 30th, 2011

The island lay under a lead gray sky, lashed by a cold October wind that left no doubt winter if not here already was on it heels. A single boat rode the choppy white-capped waters off shore, dragging a fishing net as one or two gulls swooped and dived overheard.

Sullivan Island finally cleared completely of undead, groups of men and women worked to strip everything of value from buildings. The salvage was loaded into dump trucks and onto trailers then hauled to buildings and parking lots that had been chosen to serve as warehouses and supply yards.

Huge swaths of buildings had been demolished to clear land for planting crops in the spring and for an airstrip on the eastern side of the island. The bricks, beams, plywood, even rubble had been hauled off and was being used to build a defensive wall from the barricade across 19th all along the land just above the beach on the western end of the island.

With the mid section of the Ben sawyer bridge across the inter coastal rotated opened, no undead could cross that bridge with out flying or walking on water. The barricade at the breech inlet bridge, otherwise known as the Thompson Memorial bridge had, like the barricade on 19th station, been reinforced with concrete, and a proper boxed double gate flanked by wooden watchtowers to allow easy access to and from Sullivan Island from the Isle of Palms

Across the breech inlet on the Isle of Palms, clearing teams were finally entering and clearing the buildings along both Palm Blvd and Ocean blvd, all the way up to R 517, or the Clyde Moultrie Dangerfield highway. Yet two more barricades blocked by ends of the bridge to the mainland.

the bulk of the undead that had once freely roamed the streets of the Isle of Palms had been whittled down to almost nothing over the last few months by the fortified positions already in place on the Isle of Palms and by the convoys that had passed through to reach the mainland before the undead had grown so thick on the H 517 bridge that the Islanders no longer risked driving across but instead used a ferry to move to various points along the northern coastline to drop off Teams and Vehicles.

Sullivan Island was as far as the inhabitants knew of the one place free of the undead in the world and they were going to fight to keep it that way.

Ellen Stakely, climbed out of the back of the Dump truck and dropped to the ground tired after a long day of clearing buildings. All she really wanted was a shot at the showers before the hot water was gone.

She trudged across the quad, the newly enclosed area, in front of Fort Moultrie and passed through the gate glancing at the two graves before entering the fort. It still felt like a miracle to be here surrounded by people instead of being out there on the run from the undead suffering through the constant fear of being caught and eaten.

She waved to the few people she had gotten to know, having friends again was odd too. Amazing how much you miss the little things, she thought as she entered the changing room. She barely even paid attention anymore to the other people around her as she stripped down grabbed a towel and headed into the showers.

God bless who ever had set this up with hot water she thought as she stood on the spray, the pressure wasn’t as strong as her shower back home before, but it was strong enough and the hot water felt incredible.

She soaped up and began to scrub the grime off, it had been a long and very dirty day pay little attention to the people around her.

“hey Ellen want me to soap up your back”

Hearing Greg Little’s voice. She turned her head and say the Blond nineteen year old under the shower beside her. She resisted the urge to sigh seeing him, He wasn’t a bad guy he was just young and followed her around like a puppy.

“No thanks Greg” She said tilting her head back under the spray, who cares if it arched her back and showed off her chest to good effect. He could stand a little frustration.

“so uh, are you going to that big shin dig that Mary and the others are having here tomorrow night” he asked.

“Probably, its not like there’s a bar or night club to go to.” Ellen said knowing he was trying to find a way to ask if she wanted company.

She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye and had to admit he was a good looking guy with a great body, though he was nineteen to her twenty eight years. She gazed at his ripped abs again, these days having a ripped and toned body wasn’t all that impressive, every one that survived was either in excellent shape or dying of starvation there wasn’t much in between.

And there’s one of the major exceptions she thought looking towards the door as the conversations around her paused. Jared Stone and one of his Friends entered the already crowded shower.

She had only seen him a few times, but good god, was he built. She thought eyeing the Muscled body, the scars and healing wounds on his arms, legs, and torso just made him more manly, sexier. She smiled at how things had changed, today those kind of scars marked a man as some one who did what needed to be done, some one who had faced the fires of combat and walked out alive and deserved respect. They just added to his sex appeal. Before the dead, scars were few and far between on men who weren’t Soldiers, and usually the result of accidents. And rarely considered sexy. No back then the smooth unmarked skin of the inexperienced in real life had been sexy.

“guess I cant compete with him” Greg said beside her.

Ellen heard him and shook her head, way to go the kid is good looking and you go all mental over a married man, who yes is good looking, and gifted she thought flicking her down. And manly and … well all the other things that she liked but still Married, and deeply in love from what she had heard and she wasn’t the type to ever cheat with a married man. So stop looking

She turned to face Gregg, who oogled only for a moment. “why would you say that, your good looking, you’re a nice guy. You have a good build, your honest and yes you annoy me some, but that’s because you’re a little to persistent.” She said, thinking Okay admit it, you’ve been flattered at the attention he has been giving you, and nine years difference is nothing theres a few married couples around here where a couple of husbands and wives are barely 16 compared to the mid and late thirties of their spouses.

He isn’t a slacker, you know he has some balls. .no not those stop looking at them, she chided herself. he is brave she corrected, you’ve cleared what ten buildings with him. just give him a chance. Hell the undead showed up and wiped out the world when he was what 17 almost eighteen. He never really even got to date much before the world died.

“yes I will go with you to the party tomorrow night.” She said accepting the unspoken question, then laughed. She saw the look on his face and realized he thought she might be toying with him and waved a hand as if to dismiss the idea.

“Sorry I just realized this is the first time, I have ever been asked on a date while taking a shower.” She said, several people overheard and started laughing too.

“Technically I didn’t get a chance to ask you out” he said with a grin, “but thanks, how I about I meet you at the house your sharing with Bridget and the others at six…”

Jared had seen the attractive brown haired woman eyeing him, then overheard her comment to the Blond guy beside her. he shook his head grinning enjoying seeing people starting to actually do things like asking some one out on a date. As the new couple worked out details, he smiled to himself thinking about how people had changed.

“you know before Beth I would have asked her out” Ori said suddenly, tilting his head towards the woman.

“no you wouldn’t, I doubt she was a stripper” Jared replied as he cleaned up. he hated sand, it tended to get into ever crack and crevice.

“I didn’t date just strippers” Ori protested.

“Name one” Jared said smugly. “You said once, you dated strippers because that way you didn’t get any surprises the first time you got naked with a date. Like a third arm or finding out she was a man.”

“Well come on, that could happen, not the third arm thing, but the other, it happened to Ronny in Frankfurt.” Ori pointed out.

Jared gave a deep belly laugh for a moment, drawing attention to them, when it passed he was still smiling. “ I had forgotten about that one. That was Funnier than hell, he, she.. what ever did make a good looking woman, fooled me, but the shriek from Ronnys hotel room when she dropped her dress…” Jared stopped talking as the laughter came again. “I have to Tell Mary that story.” He gasped.

“I remember him constantly spitting and brushing his teeth for a week, ‘I cant believe I kissed him,’” Ori quoted laughing.

“if I remember right, you kept adding. ‘you didn’t just kiss him, you tongue wrestled with him for an hour at the table.’” Jared said, both men started laughing again.

“Wasn’t that his second indecent exposure Charge.” Ori asked a moment later when the laughter had dropped.

“yeah but they dropped that one too, remember his first was the one where he and four hookers jumped out a window into the garden at that hotel and landed in the middle of a wedding..” Jared replied.

“oh yeah, the one with the goat.” Ori said laughing again.

“you two have the weirdest and wildest stories of any one Ive ever met” A man showering beside Jared commented with a laugh.

“Don’t look at me, I’ve led a fairly quiet life” Jared said, “ I just have weird friends”

“I am not weird.” Ori protested.

“Compared to Ronny, no your as normal as they come” Jared agreed.

“Sorry to break on a private conversation, but what was he doing with a goat, or do I really want to know” the man said still chuckling.

“Ronny, was… oh hell, he was a man whore back in the day, I mean really a man whore. If a woman was at least cute by his standards and able to breath with out a machine he wanted to sleep with her.

So we ended up with a lot of Ronny stories. Anyway” Jared said grinning. “ he had picked up four hookers in the hotel bar, they already had a room there. So he pays up and they go up to the Room, he is doing his thing, when one of the hookers gets up and goes to the bathroom,” Jared paused. “Remember this is second hand I wasn’t there, but this is what Ronny said and the Politzi confirmed…,”

He laughed for a second then continued; realizing every one in the shower was listening. “so this hooker, opens the bathroom door and out comes this enraged goat. Bleating and baaing. It butts Ronny right in the ass knocking him off the bed and starts charging around the room, breaking furniture and putting holes in the walls. Ronny supposedly tried to catch it once then realized naked goat herding wasn’t a smart move.

Any way, this goat is chasing the hookers, chasing Ronny but all the while keeping them from the door to the hotel room. So one of the hookers opens the window, and jumps out, Ronny looks up in time to see the last hooker clutching her clothes to her chest leaping out the window leaving him alone with the goat, so he just follows the hookers out the window, lands on top of the last hooker out the window, looks up to see about two hundred wedding guests staring at him and an enraged goat bleating from the second floor window, Ronny springs to his feet, in all his questionable glory and goes, ‘sorry we have no objection to this union, Carry on.’.

Ori gets a call around 0300 and wakes me up so we can go bail him out of Jail. For indecent exposure, theft of a farm animal, destruction of private property etc. we woke every one in the barracks to collect money to bail his ass out.

Apparently all four of the hookers were from a small town and came into the city to work. A guy from their town owed them money for services rendered so they took his goat when he wouldn’t pay, fearing he would just take the goat back if they left it in their house, they took it with them and smuggled it up to their hotel room in a trunk. All the charges but the destruction of private property were dropped, the bride and groom, once they heard the whole story thought the whole thing was funny as hell even if it did wreck their perfect wedding. So Ronny got a Letter of counseling, had to pay the damages and go to the shrink for counseling for Sex addiction for a couple of months.”

Jill sat her tray down on the table, wishing Jared would hurry up and get out of the shower, they had a lot to do before tomorrow and she had to make sure he didn’t go on a killing spree when he found out there was an honest to god clown on the island. No one knew exactly how he might respond to this invasion of happy faced horrors, but the clown, man, in question had been told to keep a low profile till they could talk with Jared. She looked up as laughter erupted from the showers wondering what in the hell was so funny. It went on for a minute or two then finally faded.

People still damp from the showers streamed into the Cafeteria, as Jill was finishing up. she heard several comments about Goats, Hookers, and Ronny and shook her head. Poor Ronny he was probably the most infamous man on the island. No he was the only infamous man on the island.

“You need to stop spreading stories about Ronny” Jill said as Jared slid into the seat beside her. “And your not healed up yet so stop acting like your fine” she said seeing him wince with pain .

“Im fine, your hot, and life is good” Jared replied, surprising her. Something had changed in him after Pappy had died. No after you saw, the ghost of little Billy that night, she still didn’t like to think about the fact that ghosts were real. But why should it be surprising there were zombies out there. Who knows maybe there are werewolves, vampires and ghouls too?

“Aren’t you going to eat” she asked pointedly. He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead brushing a lock of dark hair back into place then leaned back in his chair.

“Already ate,” Jared replied, “we don’t have food to waste for me to eat dinner twice. Especially if you women insist on having that Halloween Carnival tomorrow.”

“Jared it’s not a party with food, just candy and games for the kids. Some kind of normalcy for them, like Christmas last year. Remember the big Christmas eve Party, you suggested.”

“I remember we ended up in a pitched battle the next day against Raiders which kind of ruined Santa’s visit.” Jared said, the survivors of that Raiding party, those who hadn’t joined up with Simms, now lived on the island much to the surprise of many people who had thought Jared would have sent them packing with lots of bullets after encountering them again at the Terminal.

“Besides the kids are excited about this Jared, and like you keep saying anything that brings a little hope and stability is a welcome thing.” Jill reminded him.

“Your obviously leading up to something, and as much as I love you. I wish you would just cut to the chase instead of trying to lead me by the nose to what ever it is im not going to like.” Jared said eyeing his wife suspiciously. She had even worn those tight jeans and shirt he liked, knowing it would distract him

“What isn’t he going to Like?” Ori asked as he sat down, hiding a grin. Thanks to Beth he knew exactly what was up and for once not managed to give away the fact he knew a secret.

Jill sighed and took the plunge, hopefully they wouldn’t need the fast Reaction team Ashton had promised to put on call just in case Jared took the news badly..”Promise me, you will not do anything but sit there”

Jared was silent for a moment, a long moment as he considered what she might be about to tell him. “okay I promise” he said after a moment.

“There’s a clown on the island” Jill said deciding to just get it out in the open. She didn’t have to tell him who the man was, as long as he wasn’t in make up Jared would never be able to find him.

“a what?” Jared asked incredulously, like Jill had just told him Satan was riding around in a go Cart on Middle street singing Lady gaga songs, Ori almost choked on a cookie trying not to laugh. .

“A clown” Jill said again.

“Here?” Jared asked calmly. Oh no Jill thought recognizing the signs.“on my island”

“our island” Jill reminded him.

“ a clown” He repeated as if trying to wrap his mind around how something so evil could have slipped in with out being seen.

“you know a make up wearing freak, that rides around in a small car with dozens of his closest buddies crammed in behind him. Beep Beep richy, we all float down here kind of clown.” Ori added helpfully then grunted in pain as Jill kicked him under the table.

“You knew about this” Jared asked Ori who seemed totally unsurprised by the news.

“Um… well.. yeah Beth mentioned it last night.” Ori admitted.

Jared held out a hand “ you had better have that flask on you” he said, Ori half stood and pulled the silver hip flask from his back pocket and passed it to Jared.

After taking two shots of the incredibly smooth shine, Jared sat the flask on the table. “Okay so there’s a clown on the island” he said “Im good with that”

Jill gazed at him suspiciously till he shrugged. “look, I hate clowns I admit it. and I have good reason too. But I know.. as much as it pains me to admit, they are not all servants of Evil. As long as I don’t see him in his clown make up I don’t care. I don’t mindlessly hate them Jill you know that.”

“Its hard to tell sometimes Jared” she replied.

“You did blow up at least two blocks of a town to kill a couple of clowns.” Ori pointed out.

“Ori” Jared warned, thought his lips quirked as if he were about to smile.

“guess we don’t need that team Ashton had on Stand by to protect the clown” Ori remarked with a grin. Then grunted in pain again as Jill once more kicked him under the table.

“Your kidding me” Jared replied. “Im not that bad.”

“ Remember Stuttgart, and I quote ‘ I would strangle his ass with his balloon animals if the damn things wouldn’t pop’ end quote” Ori said laughing.

“Ori shut up for gods sake” Jill said laughing herself. “ the man, and I wont tell you his name till Im sure you wont do anything, wanted to entertain the kids for the carny. Which is how we found out, thank god he came and asked, instead of just showing up.” Jill replied. Jared couldn’t argue that, just seeing a clown was enough to set him off, and if they knew the story they would understand. It wasn’t a story he shared, it had scarred him for life and he knew it. he wasn’t scared of clowns, well maybe in a way, but he damn sure hated them with a passion that was almost primal.

“Listen, I have nothing against the man, not a thing. But Clowns,, well they set me off and you both know it. and if he wants to cheer up the kids and you think it will cheer them up, tell him to do it early and give him a cut off time and Ill find something to do on the other side of the island like find zombies to kill if there are any left. But ask yourself this, and Im being serious. After all the dreams of Bowler hat those kids and others had, do you really think a clown is something they are going to like seeing.”

Jill frowned slightly, many of the dreams about that freak had been clown like in the beginning, with him capering around and pantomiming just before it turned dark and bloody. Before he was dancing and clicking knife blades together and cocking his freakish head to one side and asking them if they were ready to die.

“I don’t honestly know Jared.” She said thoughtfully. As much as he hated clowns he had a point

“Ask around and find out, if every one else wants a clown, fine I have weapons to clean, zombies to kill or that first batch of Ori’s new shine to drink. When he is done I can come and watch the kids be just kids again.” Jared said.

“there’s one thing about that plan I want to change” Jill said, “I don’t want you near weapons”

*************************

October 31st evening.

The quad in front of Fort Moultrie, safely enclosed in Motor homes and its new wall, was fill with people wandering between the small game booths. Children dressed in all sorts of costumes, but no monster costumes this year, were screeching and running around in packs, searching for more candy like little ravenous black holes. A few Parents were suddenly remembering the dreaded sugar highs, and knew they were in for a night of giggling and playing children who should be sleeping.

Jared walked past the new rolling gate, and wooden watch tower into the quad with nibbler trotting at his side already smiling as he saw the kids enjoying life. What ever you may do to me, please do not let these kids have to deal with the horrors out there on the mainland again Jared prayed silently.

He frowned slightly Seeing Clark Lane, Council member kissing kids and shaking hands, the man was as slimy as they come Jared thought. He pushed aside his distaste tonight he was going to just enjoy the kids having fun, and … oh my god he thought as he saw Jill, her dark hair pulled back in a pony tail, dressed in a skin tight black leather cat woman suit, every sensual curve displayed to full affect. The knee high stiletto boots only made the outfit even sexier. He had no idea where she had gotten that outfit, but Oh man.

Jared, you son got really lucky he told himself, she is the smartest, sexiest, Goddess amongst women you have ever met and the only dumb thing she has done was to marry you. He thought as she looked up and smiled as she saw him.

He swept her into his arms and kissed her ignoring the giggling and comments from the kids who were watching, like little voyeur pervs. “You had better wear that to bed tonight” he whispered in her ear then let her go and stepped back. “ looks like your party is a hit” He commented looking down at the kids who had been waiting for Candy, but noticing Nibbler the kids were trying to slip the dog sweets, which nibbler refused to decline out of politeness.

“Kids don’t give her candy she turns into little furry candy monster when she eats the stuff, then youll wake up tonight and find her in your candy bag, as fat as tick and no candy left.”

“nu huh” A boy dressed as Bat man said giving that I know better than that look. “she couldn’t fit in my bag”

“She can when she eats candy, she can shrink down to fit into any place candy might be in, even in your pocket.” Jared assured him.

“nu uh” the boy said again eyeing Nibbler who was doing her best to look cute and innocent to get treats.

“don’t you have a bed time” Ronny said to Jared as he wheeled up in his wheel chair. His eyes lingered on Jill for a moment.

“yes right after I drown you” Jared said looking at his watch “ about five minutes from now” his eyes widened as he saw Mary walk up behind Ronny her dark hair in pig tails, she wore a checkered shirt and jean shorts, and some how managed to look both innocent and Sexy at the same time and she had to be cold Jared thought

“Oh gilligan stop staring” Mary said with a laugh.

“Okay why are you women wearing costumes, and you do make a great mary ann I might add” Jared said.

“Because we wanted to and the kids asked us too. In fact Tommy picked out who I was supposed to be” Jill said.

“I think I need to have a talk with Tommy” Jared muttered then grinned. “thank him then lecture the little perv.”

“you just want to find out how he charmed Jill into wearing that. You know that kid is going to end up just like I used to be” Ronny said with a proud smile.

“God I hope not” Mary, Jill and Jared Chorused then burst out laughing.

“By the way, thanks for spreading the goat story, all I have heard all day was bleating and… damn it” he said pointing to Daws who was walking up with a blow up goat of all things.

“the men and I would like to present this to you. And tell you that your honorary team name is goat man.” Daws said as he handed Ronny the goat. “found it in some Novelty shop kind of place” Daws said grinning.

“so Goat man you were saying” Jared prompted as Daws laughed.

“oh god I’m marked for life now” Ronny moaned. “ I Swear Jared I will get you for this.”

“Look out world the Goat man is about to bleat in outrage” Jared laughed. “thankfully I have lived a clean and pristine life, with no dirt for you to spread around to besmirch my character” Jared said with a haughty sniff and then smiled.

“oh really, what was her name, the German Girl, the one that came to visit.” Ronny said then yelled in outrage as Jared turned the wheel chair and started pushing Ronny away from jill, as the others laughed.

An hour later Jared was pushing Ronny around the quad, drinking some of Ori’s latest attempts at shine, Chris had joined them and the three men were talking quietly about the upcoming supply run to Green briar and reminiscing a little.

They paused for a few minutes to listen to Beth who sat in large booth lit by oil lamps, telling ghost stories and other tales to the small crowd of children that sat before her. acting out the parts to the kids delight.

She was going to make a great mother, Jared thought, watching her. his thoughts drifted to Linda, and her secret. And felt his good mood slip away. Soon he was going to have to do something to get Eric and his team back here, Between Blaine and Doc Winston they should be able to help Linda survive her pregnancy. God knew Jared couldn’t stand the thought of losing her, she and Jason had become close friends of his and Jills, and her death would leave a hole in their life.

He forced himself to smile, this was supposed to be a fun night for the kids, they didn’t need to seem him getting all emotional and sad. But Damn it, he was tired of losing people. and on the selfish front, Linda and Doc Winston had kept disease at bay too. New comers to the island sometimes balked at first about showering with a bunch of strangers. But Linda would whip out pictures from Medical books and magazines and sit them down and show them the pictures let them read the descriptions of the diseases. That always seemed to solve the problem.

Linda had pointed out to Jared, that the ones who had survived this long had to have practiced some sort of regular hygiene to have escaped the majority of the really nasty diseases before they had reached the island so their reluctance was probably from being Shy or uncomfortable with nudity in public.

He mentally laughed realizing he had switched topics to distract himself from becoming depressed at the situation with Linda.

“Damn” Ronny muttered turning his chair to get a better look a woman who was walking by with a blond guy. It took Jared a moment but he finally recognized her, Ellen something, she had been the one that got asked out in the showers yesterday.

He had to agree with Ronny, she had apparently decided she was tired of dressing for the end of the world because tonight she was wearing one of those skin tight dress, that had been popular for both work and nightclubs before the dead, stiletto heels, she had styled her hair, and wore Make up. in fact it was honestly the first time Jared could remember since this shit had started that he had seen a woman dress up just to dress up.

“Id say between Her, Jill, and Mary, theres a lot of Rising Morale tonight” Chris said then grunted as Jared punched him hard in the shoulder. “asshole”

finally the kids were hustled off to bed, the children from Sumter would be staying in Moultrie for tonight. Jared had to laugh seeing a group of complaining kids tromp by covered in cotton candy and one wore a candied apple on his head like a hat.

“You can bet Beth will be chasing naked kids in about ten minutes as she trys to get them cleaned up. “ Ronny said laughing.

“That’s why we moved the showers into the fort it wasn’t the temperature, it so they can shut the gate and trapped the kids.” Jared said looking around at the still large crowd of adults who were enjoying their own version of Halloween.

The quad was lit by strings of rope lights on the RVs and Mobile shelters, the Paths across the quad lined by Solar powered walk way lights, and just for tonight Oil lanterns that hung from poles.

“almost makes me want to put up a big white screen and show a movie. Something Halloween like but not gore filled, seen enough gore to last me two life times” Ronny said suddenly echoing Jared’s thoughts. “Like the Changeling or legend of hell house”

the conversation turned to old horror movies that were good and wouldn’t really remind people of what lay just across the water,

Sal had been waiting for days for this chance, and now Jared Stone was right there, talking about movies and totally relaxed not paying any attention to the people around him, he was just waiting to be cut down.

Sal couldn’t really explain the hatred that boiled in his heart at the name of Jared Stone, it was so many little things that just built up over time. He had even dreamed of them so often for a while it almost drove him nuts. He was glad his moment had come once the kids were gone, he really had not liked the idea of doing this in front of them. His hand closed on his pistol, something clicked in his mind, and with a cold mocking smile on his face as he drew.

“ Hey Jared” Jared started to turn hearing his name, time seemed to slow down as he saw a man pulling a pistol out of his jacket. Jareds hand dropped but he wasn’t carrying his pistol tonight, at jills urging. And there was no way he could draw his Khurkri and reach the man before the trigger was pulled. “Jasper says HI”

Nibbler the docile dog, every one knew suddenly growled and leaped her mouth engulfing the mans hand and bit down crushing bone and ripping skin, the balding man screamed in pain, the pistol falling from his hand. Sal ripped his hand free eyes daring around trying to locate the dropped pistol.

Jared had the Khurkri out and was just moving to take the man down when something flashing past him, reflecting lantern light. His attacker stopped in his tracks as a circular silver serving tray struck him in the forehead with a crack like a rifle shot. the mans eyes rolled up in his head and he toppled over backwards as Nibbler crashed into him once more.

Nibbler straddled the unconscious figure, growling deeply for a moment then stepped off the man and stood beside Jared who looked back and saw Ori, standing by a table eating a carmel coated apple that had been sitting on a silver tray that had been sitting beside him just seconds ago.

“some people just cant party with out trying to kill someone” Ori joked poking the half eaten candied apple on a stick at the unconscious man.

Ronny groaned, then said“Ori, we really need to work on your damn humor”

“What, that was funny” Ori protested.

“Did you two idiots happen to hear what he said” Chris asked quietly Ori shook his head, Ronny just shrugged not having heard either, he glanced at Jared who looked angry maybe upset. Maybe both. “he said Jasper says hi” Chris said softly.

***************************

“ How many jaspers can there be that wants me Dead” Jared asked the room at large. It wasn’t that any doubted Jared, but no one wanted to believe it was the one and only Jasper they all knew about.

Jill sat in one of the green plastic government chairs that were definitely not designed for humans to sit in. she looked around the chamber at the small group of people. Ed and Dean were there, looking upset. All of the Dirty Dozen, Ashton, Daw’s and Jeremy Frost and Cole from the council.

The fairly large gray painted chamber seemed cramped with the number of people in it, she thought, Ori was pacing silent along the walls, mostly looking at the Pictures of the fort that showed almost a century of growth.

Ed who was still recovering from his show down at the terminal with the infamous Bowler hat, shook his head slowly, his thinning blond hair cut into a flat top. He was by far the largest heavily muscled man on the island, somehow he had managed to keep the build he had worked so hard to gain before the dead rose.

“its not possible I killed that Son of Bitch” Ed finally said angrily. He had spent so long dealing with the serial killer/rapist and child molester. That even the thought that somehow the undead thing called bowler hat that Jasper had become, was still Alive, semi dead or what ever made him furious.

“he doesn’t have to be alive, or what ever to be responsible” Ori said suddenly, all eyes turned towards. “ look we all know he was warping and twisting as many people as he could get to. Look at the guy that was working with him at the terminal, that sick SOB even tried to eat Ed like he was a zombie or something. Or what he did with Carrie, who knows what she might have ended up doing if She hadn’t been killed by Amy. So maybe this is just another one of those people he screwed with then sent out after Jared. There might be another on his or her way that wants to blow up the island or something.” Ori said then fell silent, having spoken more than he usually did.

“Ori has a point” Jared said thought fully. “we know about Allen, Seth and others he used to try and kill us or people around us, and who knows how many others.” Jared said. “how much do you want to bet this guy, when he wakes up, starts ranting about humanity is doomed or has no clue why he did what he did.”

No one took his bet, they all believed he was probably right. The real question was what to do about it. “ spies from this warlord asshole, killers sent by a dead man, dead people wanting to eat us. Im about tired of all this, where are the priests with glowing crosses or the action hero’s with magic swords or guns.” Ronny muttered rubbing his leg.

“there’s just us Ronny, Jill has the magic sword.” Jared commented with a slight smile flickered across his face.

“Okay look, even if that asshole is back, or this is some plan he set in motion way back, theres not crap we can do about it. “ Chris stated. “other than stay frosty and try not to get taken by surprise.”

Jared nodded, in agreement. The meeting broke up shortly after that, Chris was right, ultimately there was nothing they could either way other than to stay on guard.

*******************************

Jared Stone, stood in front of Allens Gym and Dojo, confused not remembering how he had gotten there. The sun was shining overhead in a crystal clear blue sky, the trees regularly spaced every fifteen feet along the edge of the parking lot swayed for a moment as if a wind had stirred them.

The Parking lot, the street beyond was empty, not a car or person in sight. The City of Nashville was silent as a tomb. He turned and stepped into the Gym as found it as empty as the parking lot. No one was at the front desk, or anywhere else he could see, it felt empty like a long abandoned house.

He walked slowly across the gym and through the doors at the back that led into the Dojo. “Allen” He called out hoping the owner, his Sensei and Friend was here. His voice was jarring in the silence, he could almost feel the words reverberate out beyond the building and he felt a knot of fear that something else might hear them.

The office off the Dojo was empty, the same old tattered books still lined the bookshelf, there were still stacks of bills and invoice in the in box, the old Tv set that was normally on the old wooden desk, lay shattered on the floor. He checked the small Apartment beside the office that Allen had moved into after his wifes death but it too was empty.

Returning to the parking lot, he walked out into the middle of large expanse of asphalt and looked around. Something was poking and prodding a memory that refused to come when called. He started walking till he ended up on Broadway and headed towards downtown.

Everywhere he looked were empty streets, empty parking lots, not a sign of a car or people, not even a stray animal. Fear clutched at him as he found himself passing the Ryman auditorium a Museum where a sign proclaimed an exhibition of Egyptian funeral artifacts were on display. It was like a model of a city, it had the air of emptiness, and the shiny odd lighting and a material of a Computer generated image that was just a hair shy of being realistic, that odd something you couldn’t really put your finger on but that made it seem unreal.

The road sloped down towards the river, and he could see all the bars and tourist shops, the Bell tower looming over the downtown area. He passed the glass and steel Bridgestone arena were Kenny Chesney was supposed to be playing, he could see the top of the country music hall of fame to his right, and down almost to the river was the hard rock Café,

He stopped abruptly as he saw a figure step into a side street and vanish from view. There was something familiar and deeply disturbing about that figure but nothing he could really remember.

Not able to control himself he ran after the figure, wanting, needing to see another person to relieve the emptiness around him. Turning onto the tree-lined street, he saw an Irish pub he remembered, Coyote Uglies was just down the road on the right and so was the Charley Daniels museum. There was the Gyro shop he had used to love eating at.

The street suddenly lay in shadows as storm clouds rolled in and cold lightening flickered over head. A a cold fetid wind blew through the streets setting the trees to shivering and the smell of rain filled the air.

Jared stepped into the pub to escape the coming rain. Bottles glittered in the racks behind the bar, a glass half full of golden liquid sat on a coaster with the Red horse label on it, beads of sweat still shone on the tall glass. He touched the glass, it was still cold, then looked around the hair on the back of his neck rising. His heart beating like a trip hammer in his chest.

A soft click from the room on the other side of the wall caught his attention; slowly he moved to the doorway and peered into the dark paneled room filled with tables. And chairs. A barrel full of peanuts by the door, pictures from turn of the century Ireland covered the wall. Shadows filled the nooks and corners, spilling out under chairs and tables like it was slowly eating the room.

His gaze fixed on the middle of the room where a bowler hat sat on a table. He froze, as memories suddenly cascaded through his mind. He is dead, Jared thought as he slowly walked to the table knowing he shouldn’t, but it was a dream he knew that now and there was no escape other than waking.

He picked up the musty smelling hat, a slight scent of corruption and sweat hung about it. it felt….cold in his hand.

The dazzling light filled the room as lightening struck a tree outside then the building shook as thunder rumbled.

He stumbled back his vision clearing and saw a man sitting in the chair at the table. The bowler hat fell from Jared’s hands as he reached for his pistol, dream of no dream he wanted to shoot it. his hand closed on empty air, he had no weapons, he cursed silently as his chest threatened to burst from his chest.

Skinny almost skeletal, dressed in turn of the century clothing, wispy thin white hair hung around the oversized oddly shaped triangular head. Cloudy dead eyes in deep dark sockets gazed at him. The lips under the incredibly hooked nose quivered and spread into nightmare smile of sharp teeth that had been filed down to resemble those of a shark.

It hissed a cold laugh as it leaned down and picked the bowler hat up from the floor and placed it on its head, adjusting for second till it got the angle just right. It cocked its head gazing at him, its cloudy dead eyes fixed on Jared and a dark intelligence glittered in their depths.

“do you want to know when you die Jared, did the light tell you. Did that boy tell you, I so loved watching as he was tortured to death, Mikhail was not an artist like I was, but it was still pleasing to see man who enjoyed his work.” Jasper brown said, in that cold dead voice that crawled up into a mans brain and chilled his blood.

“Your dead” Jared got out past vocal chords that really wanted to lock.

“Yes, But Ive been dead since june 23rd haven’t I.” Jasper said, as he rose to his feet.

“You will die alone Jared, alone and hated. Abandoned by your friends, and your wife… oooh your wife, so lovely, to strip the skin from her to lay bare the art beneath would have been a masterpiece, more so if she had a son. Madonna and child as it were, that was my inspiration did you know that.” Jasper gazed at him, and Jared tried not to gag on the stench of death that rolled off the figure.

“you cant come back” Jared protested, not even sure why. It was a dream anything was possible.

“oh but I can, I was the dream walker wasn’t I, and do not the spirits of the dear dead and departed come to visit on occasion like .. ah yes Billie thornton was his name, such a lovely boy, he screamed the loudest for you before he died Jared.” Jasper, no Bowler hat said with a chuckle like grating broken glass.

Jared felt the knife turn and dig in his heart but he knew the truth and there was nothing this thing could say that would change that. “Fuck you” Jared snarled.

“oh cursing the refuge of the unintelligent and the boorish, it is beneath you Jared.” Jasper said. And then he was suddenly beside Jared, “did you know I saw your parents die” it whispered in his ear and vanished again.

“your mother was gutted like a pig in the wreck and bled out, she was pregnant you know, I bet you were never told that were you. Yes spare the boy, he has his brother to take care of now.”

“shut up” Jared growled.

“your father lost his head, so sad really, his suffering from a crushed chest would have been exquisite.” The voice came from every where and nowhere. Something large and dark scuttled across the ceiling like some huge insect, vanishing into a pool of shadows

The fear was gone, replaced by pure rage ,barely held in check. Dream or no Dream Jared wanted to kill it, drag it back to life and rips its spine out.

Something else had entered the room, or maybe it had been there all along, something dark and ancient. Something that might have been drawn by the darkness of Jareds thoughts. Something that reeked of old blood and rotting flesh.

Jared suddenly found himself standing in the middle of a crowd before a circus tent, he turned and saw Brown capering around behind him. “ do you remember this day Jared,”

It was the day his life had changed the first time something unexplained had ever happened to him. “it was the day the dark noticed you, saw you were marked as a .. what was the common puerile phrase “ a mover and a shaker, yes, a Solider for the light. The day your life changed.

No! Jared thought knowing what was coming.

It had all started with the coming of the circus to town, setting up in the old pastures below the Mason place, abandoned for years after the murders. The Circus had arrived and Julie Siems had vanished off the face of the planet.

He and Jeff Sloan had snuck off to the Circus against Pappy and Jared’s parents warnings, where Jared met Megan who had dragged along Vicky her best friend and the future wife of Jeff, who at the time claimed he couldn’t stand her.

He could see the midway now, the rows of tents housing sideshows, the crowds, the games that weren’t normal for a circus, Jeff winning a gumbi doll for Vicky who hung on his arm happy just thrilled to be with him. and Megan, oh god Megan his first love,

But there at the end of the midway had been the Big top and looming over the circus, The Mason house with its dead empty windows gazing down at the people waiting for the blood to flow. It was like some sentinel of darkness, it always had been for as long as Jared could remember, death was attracted to the place, a hitchhiker found dead in the pastures, a man who had driven a hundred miles to hang himself in the foyer, a little girl who had entered on a dare and then leaped to her death out of the second floor window. And more so many more over the years that house had sat there.

Suddenly he could smell cotton candy, and hot popcorn. Smell of the hay and the distinct smell of tigers and elephants. He was fifteen again, and about to see the thing that had haunted him for all the years after.

Jared sat and watched the show, enjoying Megan leaning against him. the smell of her hair, and perfume enough to super charge a teenaged boys body. But slowly he began to get that feeling that some one was watching him. At first he tried to ignore it but the feeling only grew stronger.

He looked around but saw no one staring at him, or even paying him much attention. Finally he looked behind him and up the rows of bleacher seats but still saw no one paying him attention, then as he started to look back to the front, he saw a face peering out from under the bleacher seat, between the legs of the man sitting directly behind him.

Stripes of light fell across the narrow white triangular face, the lips were painted a blood red, the eyes peered out from large dark sockets. A smile spread across the clowns face, the dark and hungry smile of a predator. It lifted one gloved hand and adjusted the ruffled collar around its neck. Its head cocked to one side, it pouted for a second then it pointed at him and silently laughed bobbing its head with each silent guffaw.

“ hey kid you okay” the man behind Jared asked, seeing the blood drain from Jared’s face, totally oblivious to the clown that stared out from between his calves. Then suddenly the clowns face vanished into the darkness under the bleacher. .

“uh, uh.. yeah sorry, I uh..” Jared couldn’t even begin to figure out what to say. he turned back to the ring, wanting to run but he couldn’t there was megan to think of and he had to have imagined it, that couldn’t really have just happened. He forced himself to sit and watch the act not really seeing it. his heart beating fast, terrified to look back and wanting nothing more than to run but Megan’s touch kept him welded to his seat.

“damn weird kids” the man behind him muttered.

Jared had never liked clowns ever, but usually he could deal with it. but this was to much, to weird. And all he could think about now was that it was under the bleachers.
Something brushed his ankle, Jared already scared with visions of a clown under the bleachers, shouted leaping to his feet, looking down in time to see a white gloved hand vanish under the bleachers. Its fingers wiggling as if waving at him.

He found himself back outside to big top, shaking with the fear that had wracked his fifteen year old body, he knew Megan was coming after him. and Sheriff Hagan appeared right on cue, asking Jared what had happened,.

“Always the police intrude when business is being done, did you like the test Jared, The dark was testing you wondering if you were to be part of the trinity, or one of the … soldiers who would help the trinity. “ Jasper voice said from behind him.

Jared found himself in a barn, Pappys barn, where he and Jeff had ended up staying after Hagan had found them camping by the circus and sent them home.

He had woken to a white glove beside his head and megans school ID on top of the glove. he sat up and found himself in his bedroom at home in his parents house, moonlight spilling in the window, a slight scent of cinnamon and cotton candy in the air. His skin prickled so badly it hurt as he saw the clown again, staring in the window at him, a cone like hat on its head, a wig of hair that looked silver and black in the moonlight jutted out to either side like two fluffy cones. A frilly collar around its neck, the collar was so big it was like the head sat on a plate..

It smiled and waved happily, then pantomimed stabbing a stuffed bear it produced from the air. Jared sat there his bed frozen with fear, trying to make himself run, scream anything but just sit here. The clown stopped suddenly and then cocked its head and wrote something on the window with a finger then breathed on the glass, where words appeared, Mason house, alone. It smiled again, cold eyes boring into him then blew him a kiss before it vanished from sight.

No no he thought as he found himself standing in the old hallway of the Mason house the old ornate door at his back, dust hung in the air. He had only come here because he knew if he didn’t Megan would die. But god he was scared. He should have called the Sheriff, should have told his dad, or Pappy. But he hadn’t.

strips of wallpaper dangling from the walls, the smell of mold and wet wood in his nose, upstairs he heard a door creak open and then the sound of mincing footsteps approaching the grand stair case, where the body of Odiela Mason had found gutted and skinned back in 30s.

He had looked up and…..

“Fuck you” He shouted and some how found himself adult again and back in the pub. “my dream my life” Jared snarled somehow taking back control.

“ah yes you did react rather strongly to clowns after that didn’t you Jared not that I blame you. But as entertaining as this has been, reliving old times. I must end my torment to get to the point of our little business tonight, we have only Halloween night and even dead I have a schedule to keep it is important to keep busy you know.”

A cold wind filled the room and the dark presence was more evident now than ever Jared remembered it from the night Ed had kill Jasper browns reanimated corpse. And it scared the hell out of him.

“oh yes Edward, unfinished business.” Jasper said regretfully. “You have a choice Jared, the light wont tell you that, but you can avoid your death and live to see your child grow up, all you have to do is stand aside, your wife, you friends, your island will be spared till the very end.”

He had known he was going to die before his child became an adult ever since he had seen Billy Thornton in what he had hope would be the last dream of the dead he would have. And yes, God yes to see his child grow up, to spend those years with his family, His! family would be incredible. To spend those years living and loving would be a gift. But not with the price. He had no idea if his stepping aside would help the Dark win, but if it did, all his bargain would earn was his family his friends, their children and all the other people and children on this island he had vowed to protect would be the last to die, his child or children or maybe even grandchildren would die under blood stained teeth and ripping hands. And he would have forsaken every thing he ever believed in, to give them that time.

Victory was never assured in any war, and all he could do was fight and if he had to die it was going to be defending what he believed in and for those he loved. He lifted his head, unshed tears burning his eyes at the cost of Defiance but he was who he was.

“No” Jared said, his voice ringing like Iron in the darkness that drew close around him.

“ Kronnen cant be stopped Jared, not by you, not by anyone. Not even the trinity can stop him. and in the end You will die, and after you die, your wife and child will die, but not before she betrays you. And then this world of humanity will die. And then, aaah and then we will be together and such a glorious time it will be” Jasper cackled.

Jared found himself standing in a street the buildings around him burning, he could hear screaming in the distance as the last of the human race was dragged for their hiding places, and eaten. The hot coppery smell of blood filled the night, and he knew around the world every city and every town, every hiding place was burning as mankind died.

Something moved in a shadowy doorway, then a man stepped out and walked towards Jared. Walking wasn’t the right word, he flowed forward as if his feet didn’t really touch the ground. The man, things, skin was pale even in the fire light, almost glowing like sickly moonlight. There was a palapable dark aura flowing of the fox faced man, whose hair had sharp widows peak and was slicked back on his head.

But it was the eyes that struck Terror in Jared, they were black, jet black with no whites. Eyes that looked into his soul. Jared stood his ground wanting to run but refusing. And then he felt a cool hand on his shoulder it pulled gently and Jared found himself falling, the world twisting and swirling around him, , and a Dark Siblant voice chasing him down into the darkness.

Jared woke, rolling out of bed and reaching for his pistol before he stopped himself and knelt there shivering. He hadn’t seen who ever had been behind him, and they had never spoken but he knew Steve had once again save him. Once he calmed down he climbed back into the bed and wrapped his arms around Jill holding her close and lay awake till the sun came up.

Jill held her coffee cup, listening as Jared told her about his dream, she was stunned to be honest. ‘do you really think bowler hat is back” she asked. Jared shook his head.

“ no not really I got the impression he couldn’t come back more than once or at least was severely limited in when and how he can walk dreams. Or maybe it was all in my mind, a nightmare.” Jared replied.

“and that part about the circus and the clown, that’s why you hate clowns” She asked knowing it wasn’t the whole story but it was more than he had ever hinted at before.

He nodded as he rolled his coffee cup between two hands, his red gold hair shining in the light from the window. “part of it yes, a lot happened that week.” Jared said softly trying to the memories locked up safely in the vault of his mind.

“that.. how horrible” she finally said. “what Happened to Megan?” she asked, “ and the missing Girl”

“ no one ever saw Julie again, and no body was ever found.” Jared said, “Megan didn’t remember much, lucky her. we dated through high school, then I joined the army at 17 only to come back to raise Eric after our folks were killed in a car crash with a semi truck. Bowler hat was just yanking my chain for his own amusement dragging all that up.” Jared said, wondering if he should tell Jill the whole thing, about his dying before their child was grown, a child they didn’t even have yet.

But why tell her now he hadn’t told her about it when he dreamed about Billy no reason to know. She would worry and risk herself to try and save him if she did and maybe end up dying because of it.

Truth was if it was fated to happen it was going to happen, if there was no fate, death would still find him sooner or later considering how often he jumped into the heart of the fire. And maybe somehow he might live through it all and die of old age just keep that thought in mind Jared old buddy, he told himself.

Jill watched him closely knowing he was hiding something, but she wasn’t going to push, Jared would either tell her or not, and if he didn’t she knew he had reasons to keep it to himself. “Who do you think that guy was at the end of your dream and did he say anything”

“I think …” Jared paused, suppressing a shiver. “ I think it was the Thing in the Dark, Bowler hats friend, the thing responsible for all of this. Just looking at it scared the hell out of me.” How in the hell could he describe the sensations just looking at the thing spawned, say it felt like a thousand roaches were scuttling around inside his head while raced through his nevous system was close, but close in this case was as close as say Denver was to Moscow.

He took a sip of the coffee, which calling this concoction coffee was like calling a rock an M&M no matter what Mattie said, this did not taste like Coffee, hell even chicory tasted better, and at least chicory was related to coffee.

“as I was falling or really waking up, I heard it speak, it sounded dead, cold and emotionless. It told me I was standing in its way for the last time, and if I went to Green briar I would lose the choice to stand aside and save everyone I loved and cared about.” Jared said not exactly lying “ I figure if that thing wants me far away from the Green Briar then Im going to pay the Green Briar a visit.”

“ You realize its probably a trap right” Jill said frowning with worry. Jared felt horrible for not telling her the rest, but she would never let him out of her sight if she knew the truth.

“of course it is a trap, but we were already planning on going there to recover the cache and nothings changed in that regard we need that stuff.” He replied. He sat drumming his fingers on the table for a moment. “Its started again Jill, the same feeling I had back in Nashville just before the dead rose. There’s a clock out there ticking down, and when it stops things are going to change. I just don’t know if its going to be good or bad.”

chapter One

8 thoughts on “A Storm before Dawn, Prologue -Dealing with the Devil

  1. Awesome! You should post more this weekend. I just welcomed a new member of the family into the world and it is rather borish at the hospital lol. Glad to see you continuing the story though.

    Like

  2. I’m late to the party but I love your story, mate. Finished Books 1 and 2 on the AUD site and was quite gutted when I thought it had ended…. and then I saw your forum signature with a link to this website. Can’t wait to see what’s in store!

    Like

    • Glad you found the site and thanks for Reading Paul, I hope you enjoy the new stuff as much as the old stuff.

      I had a friend point out to me how long Ive been writing this stuff LOL and I have to say I didn’t realize its been so many years.

      Thanks again, enjoy.

      Like

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