“The grave, the ghastly charnel-house of death,
In vaults, in cloisters, and in gloomy piles,
Long corridors and towers and solitary aisles I
Thy joy is in obscurity, and plain
Is naught with thee; and on thy steps attend
Shadows but half distinguished; the thin train
Of hovering spirits round thy pathway bend.
With their low tremulous voice and airy tread,
What time the tomb above them yawns and
For thou dost hold communion with the dead
Phantoms and phantasies and grisly shapes;
And shades and headless specters of St. Mark,
Seen by a lurid light, formless and still and dark “
Darkness clung like a second skin to Lee who sat with his back pressed against the back wall of the closet unable to relax. It had been silent outside the closet for a long while now but the hammering of his heart had yet to ease.
Adam was quiet either having fallen asleep or was to scared to risk speaking and drawing her down on them again.
Lee strained to see into the darkness fearing that any second he would see her face, corpse white, floating in front of him, mouth yawning open in a horrible screaming rictus of hate and pain, oh he could imagine the pain as her cold dead hands grasped his legs and dragging him out of the closet and into the land of the death. His entire body shook as the shivers rippled over him at the thought that wouldn’t go away.
He could still hear that voice calling him to join her, and it sent his nerves to jangling. The silence after that had been broken by a shriek that rattled the walls in the closet and it sounded like someone was tearing the house apart. Glass shattering, doors banging, booms and thumps as if furniture was being knocked over.
Adding to the fear he felt, was that the front door might be thrown open or the windows shattered and the undead would be drawn to the house by the noise, finding nothing between them and the living inside. Then as if her fury had been spent, the tempest of noise had ended abruptly the silence deafening after the barrage of noise.
It had never been this bad, never, but it hadn’t started badly either he thought. No it had started so quietly it went almost unnoticed and had grown steadily in violence, pushing his fear ever higher. A glimpse of a face here, an imagined voice whispering his name in the darkness as he tried to sleep, all of it easily dismissed at first. He sat there trying not to remember the last year. He just wanted it to end, to fade away and leave him in peace.
And worst of all, he was scared that come moring Adam would leave, no run as far and as fast from Lee as he could and Lee would not blame him.
Emotionally and physically exhausted he wrapped his arms around his knees staring into the darkness at where the closet door was.
Abruptly something changed, his eyes widened as light shimmered in the darkness like a curtain of sparkling golden drops that flowed outwards spreading out and washing away the walls of the closet revealing a familiar bedroom, sunlight was slanting in through the wide windows giving the tastefully decorated bedroom a golden glow.
It was silent outside, but Lee didn’t really notice that at first. It was Emma who took all his attention and held it. Emma, naked, sat on the bed combing her long dark hair and looking out the window watching the light shimmer and dance on the rippling lake water.
He remembered the day well, this was the day he had proposed to her. They had made love afterwards then had spent the rest of the day fishing. Emma curled up against his side more interested in being close to him than in catching anything. Neither of them knew that in a few short months their lives would be destroyed.
“Emma?” he said stepped towards the bed, wondering if maybe all the rest, zombies, the world ending, Adam all of it, had been a dream. It was that real to him.
“Lee” Emma replied. Lee didn’t have to see her face to know she was smiling.
He stopped beside the bed and touched the sheets; he could feel the cloth and smell the fabric softener. He didn’t know what was reality at this point. He was in a closet hiding, wasn’t he?
“You’re not wanting round three are you, I thought you wanted to do some fishing now that its warm outside.” she said, her back still towards him.
“Fishing? Sure fishing, I guess so” He said his mind reeling trying to figure out which world was reality. Both couldn’t be real, could they?
“What’s the matter Lee, something bothering you?” she asked, as she stopped brushing her hair. She lay the brush on the vanity with out turning to look at him, then placed her hands in her lap. Silence filled the room. A cold uncomfortable silence.
She sat rigid, unmoving more like a statue than a person. It was not the way she normally would have sat with her legs curled up under her, like a cat lazing in the sun. Her hair fell in waves down her tanned back.
Touch her, it’s the only way you’re going to know if she is real, he told himself as he reached out a hand, trying to ignore the trembling. A spark shot through him as he placed his hand on her shoulder, her flesh was cool to the touch, growing colder, like the room itself. Frost formed on the window and her skin. He stared his eyes wide, as something entered the room. It was a darkness that was only felt, never seen, which was a good thing he thought certain that if he could glimpse it, he would go insane.
From somewhere in the house, he could hear a steady dripping sound that grew louder filling the silence with its drum beat. Drip, Drip, Drip, Drip. It was maddening. It was then her head began to turn. Slowly ratcheting around like clockwork, Lee yanked his hand away, and stumbled back from the bed, his back slamming into the wall.
Drip… He could see the curve of her jaw line, her cheek bone
“oh god no” he moaned knowing what was coming but couldn’t make himself move.
Drip… Her profile completely revealed.
His breathing grew ragged from fear, his hands shook.
Drip… His blood surged as fear raced through him as three quarters of her face was revealed, a scream bubbled up from the depths of his heart that felt like it was going to burst. But he couldn’t tear his gaze away, from the horror that was being revealed.
Drip… Her pallid face stared back at him, the lips peeling back from blood stained teeth, her eyes black orbs that soaked up the light around them.
She opened her mouth and Lee was finally able to turn and run, he burst out of the bedroom, pounding down the stairs blindly heading for the front door.
Drip… He reached the front door and fumbled at the lock, his hands shaking badly making him clumsy as she whispered his name.
Drip… He could hear her coming down the upstairs hall now a slow steady thump of bare feet on the hardwood floor.
Drip… The lock disengaged; in slow motion he tried to turn the handle.
Drip… He could hear her on the stairs now, a wave of cold like the fury of the damned sweeping before her, his heart slammed in his chest; his breath came in hitching gasps.
The sound of the dripping water boomed out shaking the house as she reached the ground floor. It was so cold now it hurt. Lee could feel her drawing closer, in his mind’s eye he could see her gliding towards him, hands outstretched, reaching, reaching for him.
The door suddenly flew open, Lee didn’t look back he dove outside and into a dense mist as a final boom sounded behind him. The mist billowed around him cutting off his vision and swallowing all sound.
He stumbled blindly onward, there was nothing, no land marks, no sound, nothing to show him which way to go, he was lost in the land of the dead. He knew that any second now a hand would close on his shoulder and he would die screaming in this white hell.
“Lee” the voice was close by, it was man’s voice, and he turned and saw a shadow in the mist. “Don’t have much time boy, have to get you out of here and back home, so follow me” Wild Bill said.
“She’s at home” Lee said terrified at the thought of returning to the house that he had just ran from.
“That’s not your home, it’s something else, like a roach motel, and what lives there isn’t something you want to visit again” Wild Bill said, holding out a hand. “Take my hand Lee, I’ll get you home. You’re a third of the way to winning this, it hasn’t made you give up yet, don’t let it win now”
Lee hesitated there with the fog of the land of the dead swirling around him, its touch cool as a corpse. He could feel a warmth radiating off Wild Bill, not the soul crushing cold of the other. He hesitated no longer.
“Bill, how do I stop this, what is she?” Lee said taking the hand, feeling warmth flow into him driving the ice from his veins.
“Can’t answer that Lee, rules and all, but your moving in the right direction and you’ll get answers soon enough. You just hang on and things will work out, you’ve already gotten a little bit better just from meeting Adam haven’t you?” Bill said as they moved through the mist so fast that Lee stumbled several times, but he didn’t complain, he could feel her out there closing in on him. A cold presence full of hatred that was drawing ever closer.
Bill was right he realized, with Adam around he felt more centered, the deep crushing loneliness that had consumed him for so long was lifting “Yeah, it has gotten better” he replied. Bill nodded, and Lee could feel approval from him.
“Just find the other two and you can find the way to beat it Lee.” Wild Bill said as a door set in a white wall appeared ahead of them. Bill opened the door beyond was a deep profound darkness. “I can’t go any further, but if I can I’ll help you when you need it.” Bill said pushing Lee through the door.
Lee’s eyes snapped open, panicked he looked around and heard Adam breathing slowly and regularly, obviously asleep. Dim light filtered under the closet door, it was a new day, Lee thought as he rose and reached for the knob. He froze, what if this was just another dream, what if he opened that door and found only the mist again or worse, Emma sitting on the bed brushing her hair. Do it you coward, he told himself and turned the knob.
He stared around the untouched bedroom; nothing was out of place, not a single thing. After the sounds of destruction he couldn’t believe his eyes, again he was struck by the feeling of unreality. No this is the real world, ugly as hell but real he told himself.
But the ever present, blood chilling fear he had lived with for so long, was muted, not as intense, dream or not Wild Bill had been right, just being around Adam had helped him.
Until yesterday, he hadn’t really cared if he lived or died, his survival had just been going through the motions, knowing that sooner or later he was going to die from either zombies or her. But Adam had changed all that, and his presence had not only seemed to help Lee, but seemed to drive her into more aggressive action too. What would happen when he found the other two people, what would she be capable of then?
Had she keeping him from meeting or talking to people, that somehow being isolated and alone made him more vulnerable? Why would having another person around cause her to get worse, what was the whole point, to scare him, to kill him, or was last night an attempt to get Adam to leave so that Lee would be alone again?
That had to be it, she could have done this to him a long time ago but she hadn’t. He felt certain that he was correct, Adam had been the target of that rampage.
The light spilling through the windows downstairs wasn’t really enough he thought as he pulled the blankets down from the upstairs windows, letting the sunlight spill directly into the loft.
“Okay, what the hell was that last night?” Adam, his hair sticking up wildly, asked as he stepped out of the closet amazed that he had survived the night. Then his eyes widened seeing the intact room. “what the -?” He asked slowly looking around in complete surprise.
In the warm light of day, last night seemed distant and unreal. But how much of what happened was in our minds Adam wondered. Okay yes I saw something, a woman we both did. But the rest of it, there’s no damage. There was not a single sign that she had ever been here, none, not a door or drawer stood open that had been closed, no broken glass, no shattered cups or even ghostly residue.
While they had sat huddled in the closet, it had sounded like the house was being torn apart around them. That had gone on for what seemed like hours. And yet not a thing was out of place. He had half expected to find the front door had been ripped open and the undead had filled the house. But it looked the same as it had yesterday afternoon and there were no undead in or outside the house.
Lee didn’t respond at first, instead he stripped off his dirty clothes, wiped himself down with wet wipes then dressed in fresh clothing, giving himself time to think about how to answer that. He was delaying of course, scared that Adam would head right out the door as soon as he explained. Of course he would probably head out the door if he didn’t get an answer and then Lee would be alone with her again.
“I don’t know what you’re thinking, but since I got caught up in that last night, that makes it my business.” Adam said glowering at Lee tired of waiting for an answer.
“I don’t know exactly.” Lee replied as he finished dressing. Not pointing out that Adam was the one who had stowed away in Lee’s truck and Lee had tried to warn him.
“Well it damn sure seems to know you” Adam said, as he pulled a can of Ravioli’s and a can opener out of the box.
“I mean I don’t know exactly what or who it is. It looks kinda of like my fiancé, but…” his voice trailed off as a memory flashed through his mind. Emma was sitting on the floor in a strange garage, crying as they listened to screams from outside. His niece and nephew were huddled next to her, and all of them looked to him to save them. What a damn joke he thought bitterly tears leaking from the corners of his eyes he might not know what had happened to them but they were not with him and that meant they were dead.
“You must have really pissed her off in life then” Adam replied as he pulled a plastic spoon from his pocket and dug into the canned food with a passion.
“I…” Lee said then stopped not really able to put his thoughts into words. “It’s not her, I know it’s not, she never owned a dress like that, and she wouldn’t turn into some evil bitch in death. It just isn’t her.” Lee said. as he fixed himself a quick breakfast of chicken noodle soup in a can and some fresh peppers he had found in a garden. If he sounded half as lame to Adam as he did to himself the other man would head out on his own as soon as he finished his breakfast.
Lee stuck his spoon into the cold soup then paused as he gazed steadily at Adam. “So are you staying or going? I wouldn’t blame you for running for the hills after last night” Lee said his face blank of all emotion. He didn’t need to be a mind reader for Adam to know Lee was almost as scared of being alone again, as he was having to deal with that thing from last night. Assuming it was real of course, he thought then snorted at his own determination to disbelieve no matter what his gut said.
“I don’t know” Adam admitted. “It was scary as hell, I should run, that’s what I told all those idiots in horror movies. But the idiots in horror movies were not four and half feet tall, and having to face a world full of zombies by themselves if they run from the haunted guy.” And I have the oddest feeling I am exactly where I need to be, Adam thought. Not that the idea makes me happy either, Adam thought.
Lee didn’t respond he just ate his breakfast giving Adam time to think it over.
Undead he could deal with, more or less. The truth was he had been lucky, especially since his truck had broken down and left him stranded here. One or two zombies were no problem usually, but larger groups and the danger level went up by a lot. Two people could achieve far more than one, especially one his size and do it far more safely.
But that ‘Ghost’ shaken him, something that the undead had never really done. He glanced at Lee whose face showed nothing, but fear filled the other mans eyes.
I don’t want to be alone again, Adam admitted to himself. But at what price? Could that thing hurt or kill him. could it be beaten or driven off? Did Lee have a plan, did he know the answers to Adams questions. And why do I feel like I am right where I am supposed to be? . Adam picked at his food, knowing what his final decision was going to be. I wish I could be happy about it, he thought.
“I think I will stay on for a couple of days” Adam said. Lee sighed with relief but said nothing. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anxious to be back on the road with just me covering my own ass. But I will if I have to.” Adam said. Lee nodded then rose and tossed his empty soup can into a trashcan by the vanity as he moved towards the windows.
Lee looked more relaxed as he removed the remaining blankets from over the windows and folded them carefully placing them on the bed. His ragged brown hair looked like it had a sprinkling of silver through it that Adam didn’t remember from yesterday. Hell I probably have more grey in my hair after last night, Adam thought.
But there was something different about Lee this morning. Adam mulled that over for a while trying to figure it out. Lee finished with the blankets then sat down and started checking his weapons, carefully inspecting the sling, then the bolo. He oiled the leather thongs of both weapons then sat them aside. He moved on to sharpening his machete then the throwing axes and the short sword he had found yesterday.
Confidence, that was what was different, Adam realized as Lee finished with the edged weapons and set to work cutting strips of leather from a cow hide. Lee hadn’t been extraordinarily brave yesterday when he calmly stood there with Adam pointing a pistol at him, Lee just hadn’t cared if he lived or died and that fatalism and acceptance of death wasn’t there now, or wasn’t as strong as it had been.
“How long have you been alone?” Adam asked suddenly curious.
Lee, looked up from the wide belt he was making, thankful his voice seemed to be recovering. “Since the end of the first week” he replied, shrugging slightly as if it were no big deal. Good god, Adam thought that long.
“Tried to link up with other survivors at first, but it was always the same, they were more interested in taking my gear and killing me.” Lee continued “Ran into a woman a couple of days ago, she acted friendly at first, she ended up trying to kill me over fuel and probably my gear. She was the first person I’ve seen in months. Then you showed up in the back of my truck.”
“And all this time that ghost, or whatever has been haunting you?” Adam asked, now that he had Lee talking he wanted to get as much info out of the man as he could. It might honestly be safer to be on foot and on his own than to deal with another night like last night.
“Mostly yeah, that started last October, I was down near Smyrna when she first showed up.” Lee said shivering as he remembered waking up to a cold room and realizing someone was lying in bed with him. Terrified he had rolled over and found himself face to face with her for the first time. “I think she won’t be back for a while though.” Lee added as he worked quickly.
“Why, you think the salt stopped her?” Adam asked dubiously.
“No, or maybe, but no that’s not why I think she won’t show up.” Lee said turning his attention back to the belt he was making as he attached the buckle, and started punching holes for the rivets.
Adam let him finish in silence, watching as Lee set the rivets using a small hammer and an anvil. It wasn’t a fancy looking belt Adam thought, as Lee attached a couple of metal rings to the belt using leather loops and rivets.
“So why do you think she won’t be back?” Adam pressed as Lee strapped the short sword to rings on the belt using leather thongs
“Because I have never seen her move shit around until last night”Lee said then shook his head, realizing that wasn’t really answering Adams question. Part of the problem of having real people to talk to is they didn’t know his thoughts. “Most of the time, she shows ups for a week or longer, each time she’s a bit worse, then nothing for a few days, almost like she gets tired of fucking with me and takes a break. But she has been steadily screwing with me since I got here, to this area. Except for the night before last, when I had some weird dream about a friend of mine.” He paused for a moment studying his handiwork then satisfied set to work attaching the machete to the belt. “So last night she goes over the top, first time I have ever seen things move. I think it wore her out.”
“What was different about last night?” Adam asked, “Did you do anything different, other than the salt?”
“The only real changes are the salt and you.” Lee said, looking thoughtful for a moment as if debating on something. “I think last night was to scare you off not me.”
She almost succeeded, still might. Adam thought.
“It was saying your name” Adam pointed out, not liking the idea that a ghost might have him in its sights.
Lee debated on what to tell Adam, he wanted Adam to stay, god how he wanted him to stay, but he also wanted Adam to know why it would be dangerous for him to stay even if it meant being alone again.
“Yeah she was.” Lee admitted “There is another difference, the dreams, one a couple of nights ago, the other last night after she left. Dreams that were so real, that I had to wonder which world was real, this one or the one I dreamed of. It was more real than reality, can’t really describe it. Hell it wasn’t until after that I realized I can’t remember dreaming at all since this started. Not once until the night before last.” Lee said then forced himself back on topic. “I was told two things in the first dream one, that it doesn’t want me talking to other people or the dead, which I’m not sure I want to know what that last part means. And that there were three people still alive in this town and that I needed to find them because they can help me fight this thing and then you show up in my truck yesterday, like a small demented jack in the box.”
“I am not demented nor have I been a Jack in the Box” Adam bristled then chuckled softly calming himself down. He thought over what Lee had said, while Lee finished the belt then set to work making something else out of leather. “I haven’t been alone the entire time, just since last Christmas,” Adam said deciding he might as well share some of his story with Lee. “I worked in a circus before the dead. Yeah I know little person circus pretty stereotypicalt. But I was born and raised in the circus life, so I have an excuse.” Adam said with a sad smile as he remembered better times. “I did a strong man act, acrobatics and a bit of high wire.”
“Never saw a midget do high wire or a strong man act” Lee commented absently as he worked.
“Little person thanks,” Adam said wondering why he should even care anymore. He had never really met anyone who used the word as an insult. And the word didn’t bother him personally, but some people had always thought the word meant they weren’t normal like tall people and that had been his main objection to the words use. He was just as normal as anyone else, just smaller in size.
“Some of us do the high wire act, but I suppose that quite a few did clown acts, not me, I liked working out, I loved the rush doing wire and some of the acrobatic stuff,” Adam said wishing he had something to do to occupy his hands while he talke.d “ I enjoyed putting on a good show for the townies. All in all it was a damn good life. I had a Fiance too, she worked the Trapeze.”He said. “Somewhere out there, a traveling circus probably still lives just waiting for things to settle down before they start appearing in whatever towns spring up after this is over, to put on a show”
“You dated a trapeze artist?” Lee asked looking up at Adam “You are one lucky man, always found them hot.”
“She was” Adam said as he eyed the six pack of Coke in the box. “Mind if I have a coke, I haven’t had one in a year”
Lee shook his head. “Not yet sorry when I finish with this, we can both sit back and drink one each. I want them to last.” Adam nodded satisfied, his mouth already watering at the thought of drinking a Coke.
“Thanks, anyways. Things went down as hard with us as it did for the rest of the world, we had set up in a small town, the undead showed up. We lost a lot of our road crew and some of the performers before we could get the hell out of dodge stayed. After that we stayed mobile sticking to the back roads. Hiding out in old plants, hotels even an old prison at one point. That was down south of here, some prison the state had closed up. We never stayed in one place for real long, once we had twenty or so undead show up outside, we cleared them off then left knowing that larger groups were on the way. Annabel, my girlfriend died last November, got a fever and a cough and went downhill from there.
Lost a bunch of folks to that bug. Once the bug had run its course her brothers and about forty others decided at that point to head to Circus City down in Florida where they had family. Every one was hoping that people were alive there. Me, I figured everyone in Circus City were all dead like everywhere else, but you can’t argue with hope and I didn’t try. Maybe I should have gone with them; I wouldn’t have been stuck here if I had.”
“I wondered about disease, when I saw a lot of fresh undead this last spring” Lee commented.
“Yeah I figure about half the initial survivors died of starvation and disease over the fall and winter” Adam said as he tossed his can into the trash and climbed to his feet. “So what’s on the agenda for today?” Adam asked. Work would get his mind off the memories he had shared.
“Find water, food and anything else we can use” Lee said, enjoying using the word we and silently thankful that Adam appeared to be staying.
“Sounds like a plan, and maybe I can find some clothes” Adam commented looking down at his faded, filthy clothing. “Kind of hard to find my size”
“I’m not surprised, but I doubt the time bandits had a house around here” Lee said, flashing his first real smile in months. Adam gave him the finger then chuckled.
“You are an asshole” Adam said, finding that he liked this man. Despite the whole being haunted thing.
“Let’s get geared up and ready to roll” Lee said sounding almost upbeat. At least he was trying which was a change of pace.
They spent most of the day checking out the houses outside of town and found every one of them had been locked up tight, no cars in the driveways and no sign of forced entry. Like everyone had just picked up and left one day.
All the homes out here were modern log cabin designs, some had barns, or large metal buildings used as workshops. Several had gardens that had gone wild but mixed amongst the weeds and brush were tomatoes, beets, lettuce, peppers, celery, garlic, onions and all manner of herbs.
The lack of undead bothered both of them. Where could they be, there should hundreds of them around the town, or more. Neither of them was going to complain about that lack, but they also couldn’t shake the fear that a horde of undead was slowly moving through the woods converging on them.
Water was easy to collect and Adam proved his worth the first house by stripping out a Brita water filter and cobbled up a system to drain the toilet tanks into a bucket, where the water ran through a hose which fed the water into the filter, the now filtered water poured out the bottom into the jugs and bottles they had scrounged. Lee was still going to boil it, but that was just being cautious.
Many of the homes had mostly empty pantries, but whatever food that had been left, they took. Clothes were a problem at least for Adam; Lee found several good pairs of jeans, shirts, even a good pair of hiking boots.
It was early afternoon when they rolled down a gravel road that curved around the side of a ridge under thick oaks and hemlocks, occasional breaks in the brush and trees on the driver’s side gave them a spectacular view of a hazy valley and another distant hill.
Seeing Adam stand on the seat to get a better view, Lee said. “Should we find you a booster seat, or some phone books or something” his tone was as serious as any man could be, but Adam suspected he was joking.
“Would you like my boot up your ass?” Adam replied. Dropping back into the seat and buckling up again.
“Just checking” Lee said without a trace of a smile. As they reached the top of the ridge, the home they had come up here hunting sat in the middle of a weed choked lawn. A silver SUV sat in the driveway next to the burned out home.
“Well that’s disappointing” Adam said peering over the dashboard as Lee turned down the driveway and parked behind the SUV.
Lee slipped out of the truck waiting until Adam joined him then walked slowly up to the SUV, keeping his eyes peeled for any undead.
Trying the handle on the driver’s door, he found it unlocked. Opening the door, he peered inside and saw several soft sided carry on bags and suitcases loaded in the backseats and the storage area in the back.
“Think it runs?” Adam asked as Lee opened the doors and began to pull bags out.
“Doubt it, and with all the electronics on board I wouldn’t even bother with it, too much battery strain.” Lee said as he opened the first bag and frowned. Pulling out picture albums, personal papers, passports, birth certificates and insurance papers he stacked them on the seat.
It was truly amazing he thought gazing at stuff that had once been considered so important and the reality stared back at him. It had all been worthless; it wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. He looked past the SUV to the burned out home and wondering if they had survived the fire only to die at the teeth of the undead or had they been trapped inside and cooked alive.
He refused to look at the pictures, but the toys and other things he found in different bags told him that there had been children. Faces flashed in his mind, Bryce and Samantha, his niece and Nephew, huddling beside Emma, their white terrified faces turned up to him trusting him to save them. He shook his head hoping that the entire memory would come back but it didn’t, it just hovered there out of reach. Maybe it was better that it doesn’t’come back, he thought. If I remember it might drive me right over the edge.
“Let’s go” he said pushing the bags back into the SUV, what small amount of humor he’d had during the day gone now. “No food, just clothes, toys and personal effects.” He really did not want to touch anything else that had belonged to the dead family.
With the day dragging down, they decided to return to the house they had claimed. Lee wanted to do something to improve the defensibility of the place in case the undead showed up before they left for good.
Returning to the house, they hauled up half the water, the fresh veggies taken from the gardens and some other things. Then Lee go to work on making something out of leather, Adam bored, worked out using gallon jugs of water and doing push-ups and calisthenics.
Both trying to ignore the growing fear and dread they felt as night drew nearer. Wondering what horrors might come tonight after the sun had set.
They ate dinner, watching the light begin to fade from the world, until fire, rose and amethyst glowed on the horizon, silhouetting the trees and hillsides. As soon as they finished with dinner Adam got the lantern in the closet going while Lee placed the blankets back over the windows.
Once the last window was covered Lee retreated into the closet, shutting the door behind him. He sat on his sleeping bag, hands shaking as he waited for her to show up, so then the torment she loved to inflict on him could begin. Adam lay on his bedding, eyes closed hands behind his head trying to make himself sleep. Neither man talked they were too wrapped in their own thoughts and fears but as time rolled by with nothing happening they slowly drifted off to sleep.
Lee woke feeling relaxed, unable to even remember the last time he had felt like this, he rose and cracked the closet door, checking to make sure the room was clear of the undead then stepped out into the bedroom. By the time he had the blankets pulled down, Adam had awakened, dressed in only a pair of boxers Adam got the small camp stove burning and put soup on for breakfast.
Lee walked over to his pack and pulled out a small plastic jar and tossed it to Adam. “Don’t go crazy with it, but there’s some coffee.” Lee said almost laughing as Adam’s eyes almost bugged out and the look on his face was comical.
“I take back all the nasty thoughts, you are a saint amongst men” Adam said, as he dug out the old battered camping coffee pot and filled it with water.
They ate in silence, with Adam occasionally sighing with pleasure as he sipped at his coffee.
Lee finished with his breakfast, rose and strapped on the belt he had made, slipping the throwing axes into the rings he had installed for them.
Adam watched not sure whether to laugh or be impressed with all the weapons the man had strapped on his person.
“Can you actually use all those?” Adam finally asked.
“I’m not that great of a shot with a shotgun but don’t need to be if their close. With the sling, axes and the sword, I’m better than your average person. Not that I think I’ll end up getting into sword fights with zombies.”
“Are you willing to share some of that ammo? Because I could really use some” Adam said.
“I have some, haven’t really worried about ammo, the noise draws the zombies and I couldn’t carry enough ammo to fight off a few million. Anyway, yeah if you need some I’ll share with you” Lee said as he picked up the wide brimmed felt hat and put it on his head.
“You look like a semi medieval, gun fighting, Indiana Jones” Adam said.
Lee smiled crookedly, “Never was good with a bull whip, but I guess I can learn” He said. Adam wasn’t sure if he was joking or not. “To be honest I feel more like Ash from Army of Darkness, minus the chainsaw hand.” Lee replied, it wasn’t much of a joke but by god it was an improvement after the last year.
“Figure first thing we need to do is find you some spare clothes and some gear” Lee said suddenly surprising Adam who had expected very little help. Especially since he had no plans to stay past a couple of days. “If we have a few days I could make you some, yes I can sew, do not make jokes. But I think at this point there’s enough stuff lying around we ought to scrounge while we can.”
“What about… well you know, her?” Adam asked.
“No matter where I go, or how far, she shows up. So might as well deal with it here as anywhere.” Lee replied, his good mood slipping for a moment. Then with an effort he smiled again. “At least she wasn’t around yesterday or last night, so let’s hope luck holds and she doesn’t come back for another day or so.”
Half an hour later they climbing out of the truck in front of the resale shop in town, not having seen a single zombie on the trip in. Adam carried the walking stick with the spike on the top, and a Berretta 92F holstered on his hip. He felt decidedly under armed these days, but something was better than nothing.
The resale shop was locked tight, like many of the shops in town. But Lee had an answer for that, using the pry bars he had picked up at the flea market they pried at the door frame until the wood splintered and broke away from the latches. Pushing the door open, Lee entered the musty smelling store, the sunlight that streamed in through the window lit the front up brightly but further back it was dim. Eyeing the dimly lit section Lee felt apprehensive but said nothing. If she came, she came and all he could do was run and throw salt, which he wasn’t sure really did a thing.
Together he and Adam moved to the clothing racks, where Adam searched the kids clothing for shirts and pants, Lee insisted he pick up some adult jeans, offering to hem them for the man. They found only one pair that would fit Adam in the waist.
Lee rumaged through the store and found a old military mess kit, some old L shaped military flashlights and other camping gear, including a kids sleeping bag which he tossed to Adam. “Unless you really want to get a full sized one, in fact…” Lee’s voice trailed off, and then with a smile he grabbed a ratty looking adult sleeping bag. “We can cut this one open and add the stuffing from this one to yours so it’s more comfortable and warmer.”
Adam tilted his head in approval of the idea and the two men carried the gear they had found out to the truck there wasn’t a lot but what they had was better than nothing.
They moved on to the sporting goods store Lee had seen listed in the phone book. It had taken longer then either of them had liked to find it. Located on a side road next to a church on the other side of the small town, housed in a metal building with two other shops.
The door stood open, which wasn’t a good sign in Lee’s book but they had spent this much time looking for it, might as well give it a shot. He entered quietly with short sword in hand. The walls were covered in peg boards, most of the rods that had held packages were empty. Between the shelves, most of the items they held were strewn across the floor. The majority of the shelves were still standing but a few at some point in the past some had been knocked over.
The place had been sacked, it was the only word that fit, Lee thought as he squatted and picked up a package contained colored rubber worms. It wasn’t really a sporting goods store, Lee thought, more like a hunting fishing supply barn.
“Doesn’t look like there will be a lot we can use in here” Adam commented, as he came to a stop beside Lee and looked around.
“Never can tell” Lee replied as he moved forward, eyes sweeping the store looking for threats.
“Got one” Adam said, pointing with his spike tipped walking staff. Lee nodded as he saw the zombie stagger out of the door at the back of the room. The zombie had been an older man dressed in faded jeans and a button down shirt, both blood stained. A ragged hole gaped in the side of the man’s neck.
Lee strode forward, feeling braver than usual, only to jump back in alarm as the zombie did something unusual, it ran at him arms out stretched. “Holy Shit!” Lee shouted. Running might be a slight exaggeration; it was more like a jog but still faster than he had seen one move before. He thrust with his short sword, missing the head but the point struck the thing in the chest, slipping between ribs. The zombie didn’t stop until the cross guard struck flesh and bone. Lee strained to hold the zombie in place, trying to twist and throw it to the side, but it took all his strength just to hold it there impaled on his blade.
Adam leaped forward and thrust his staff up over Lee’s shoulder like it was spear, taking the zombie in the eye, fluids splattered Lee in the face as the eyeball popped. The thing jerked upright, twitching for a second as the foot long steel spike punctured the brain, then it crumbled to the ground sliding off the short sword.
“Thanks.” Lee said wiping at his face grimacing in distaste. “Thank god I had my mouth closed”
“Aint nothing but a thing” Adam replied, spotting the holster clipped to the dead man’s belt. “Got another pistol, a Colt 1911A1” he said as he took the holstered weapon from the dead man’s belt and clipped it to his own belt on the opposite side of his original pistol. The holster had a pouch that contained two extra magazines, which were both loaded.
Adam took a moment to check the magazine in the butt of the .45 and found that it had been fired five times. Must have been taken by surprise afterwards, can’t see him holstering his weapon after being bitten, Adam thought.
They checked the office finding only one other zombie, this one a woman with long dark hair. Her legs looked to be broken; she was crawling towards the door when they entered. Adam stepped past Lee and calmly pushed the spike into her eye when she had looked up at him gnashing her teeth and shredding her lips as she saw living meat so close.
After that it took them ten minutes to search the store and get a small pile of goods together they could use. Adam contemplated throwing knives until Lee asked him if he could hit the eye of a moving man consistently enough to make it worthwhile. “Got a point” Adam had admitted.
Their haul wasn’t too bad, three freeze dried meals that had been missed by the looters, a decent pack, child’s hiking boots that fit Adam, two boxes of aluminum arrow shafts, a variety of arrow heads, extra bow strings, tarps, a couple of folding handsaws, fire starters, some glow sticks and several other items. All of it worthwhile for Adam who had nothing but what he wore.
Finished for the day, they loaded up and headed back to the house. As they turned onto the rough gravel road that was becoming a victim of wash out, Adam looked down at something then up at Lee. “Do you ever put it into four wheel drive?” he asked. Lee looked puzzled for a moment.
“What do you mean? It’s always in four wheel drive.” He replied. Adam rolled his eyes.
“You don’t know much about old vehicles do you?” Adam asked.
Lee shook his head, apparently he didn’t. “I’m not a big car guy, what I know I picked up from friends or watching videos on you tube.”
“Well you have to lock the hubs and engage the four wheel drive on this thing, the all-time four wheel drive is a new invention and it sucks.” Adam said, “We had a lot of old four wheel drive trucks the circus used. I’ll show you how when we reach the house” Adam added.
Lee felt like a total idiot, but was thankful he hadn’t ended up becoming stuck somewhere, thinking he had four wheel drive. True to his word, as soon as they parked beside the porch, Adam showed him how to put the truck into four wheel drive, then they carried the new gear and extra supplies upstairs.
Lee got right down to work assembling arrows, while Adam stripped off his old stained clothing and scrubbed himself down with a body wash and then wet wipes. He finished and dressed in the new clothes they had picked up and sighed in real pleasure as he slipped on the new socks straight from a package.
He caught Lee watching him and smiled, “Thanks those socks hit the damn spot”
“No problem.” Lee said as he started marking out a pattern on a piece of leather. He grinned in amusement as Adam wiggled his toes and rubbed his feet on the carpet sighing with pleasure.
“What are you making?” Adam asked as he finally pulled on the new hiking boots.
“A quiver and a scabbard for the shot gun, so I don’t have to use the sling. The Evil Dead movie got me to thinking.” Lee replied, as he picked up a slightly curved short knife and began to cut along the lines he had drawn.
“Where did you learn all this?” Adam asked, having spent his life in and around the circus he really wasn’t up on what other people did for fun or hobbies, and this one, back before the zombies, he would have though was pointless.
“Well the axe throwing I learned in the scouts, way back in the day, and got my start at leather working, archery and outdoors skills in the scouts too” Lee said, “But once I got out of school, other than some camping trips once or twice a year I didn’t used any of that.” He paused as he switched tools and began to punch holes for rivets.
“Anyway, always liked history, especially the late 1700’s to the early 1900’s, and discovered Buck Skinning and mountain man reenactments, started going to the Rendezvous and got back into all the old skills, improved them and learned new ones too. I even entered various contests like archery, axe throwing and other stuff. That led me to Civil War reenactments and learning all new skills, which now that the world has ended, have turned out to be more valuable than gold.” Lee explained almost absently as he worked on the quiver. While he worked his face smoothed of all worry, there was no real sign of apprehension. He was like a completely different person Adam thought.
“I would think something like that would involve traps and black powder weapons, not a lot of Native American weapons and such.” Adam said, glancing out the window and checking the yard, which was still empty of undead.
“It does and I’ve fired them many times, but historically some mountain men married into tribes and adopted their ways, at least to a point. And that’s why my persona was a man from out east, who married into one of the tribes, picked up their ways to fit in and to survive in the mountains, and…” He paused; a rueful grin flashed across his face. “Doesn’t really matter now, I like primitive weapons, and since noise draws the undead bastards, this stuff is much better to use until you don’t have a choice.” Lee said.
That’s where he met Emma, petite and supple Emma in her calico dress, sun shining in her hair as she fished on the bank of the Frio River. He pushed the memory away, not wanting to dwell on the past, to be honest he couldn’t dwell on the past or he would end up eating a bullet one night.
It was late afternoon when Lee finished the quiver, with Adam in tow, stepped outside to practice with the bow. Adam had to admit Lee was pretty good with the bow, but he wasn’t so sure that it would put an arrow into a zombies head.
Afterwards they sat on the steps of the wrap around porch under the clear blue sky watching the area for any sign of the undead.
“Why haven’t you done all this before?” Adam asked suddenly keeping his voice down. “You know scavenging, making stuff; why not settle down some place safe?”
Lee opened his mouth to answer, and then stopped for a moment looking thoughtful. “I’ve been on the run for months, haven’t had the time. And what little gear I had managed to collect, kept being stolen by scum bags who wanted my stuff but not me or I left it behind trying to escape her and the undead kept me from getting it back”
“We ran into groups like that on occasion, most of the time they left us alone, we were a pretty big group, and those that didn’t leave us alone we put them down like rabid dogs.” Adam commented as he stretched out his legs and leaned back on his elbows. All he needed was a piece of straw in his mouth and he would look like the typical handsome redneck in miniature.
Lee suddenly felt a case of nerves steal over him, like someone was watching them. He rose to his feet and dusted his hands off on his jeans. “Let’s get inside, we’re pushing our luck sitting out here like this.” He said heading for the door. Adam grunted in annoyance, then grinned as he climbed to his feet and followed Lee inside.
Lee finished the modifications on the shotgun scabbard and the quiver so they could be attached to his pack or to the harness that attached to the wide belt he had made. He was half watching Adam who had stripped down to his boxers, to keep from damaging his new clothes, and was doing hand stands, rolls, flips and walking around on his hands in an attempt to keep in shape.
“What was working in a circus like?” Lee asked half an hour later from where he sat on the floor beside the bed.
“It’s a different life than what you are used to.” Adam said, as he flipped upright and stretched, “Well it was,” He amended, “We were on the road almost constantly. Two days in one town, a week in another, three days at yet another, setting up breaking down almost constantly. We enjoy the show, being on the road was our life and in our blood.”
Lee listened as Adam talked about circus life and how townies misunderstood them or created outright lies about how animals were treated and trained, as well as a slew of other things.
By the time he finished the sun was sinking into the west once more. For a little while they had both managed not think about the coming night, but now they regretted the moment as they rushed to prepare.
Adam woke not sure why at first, he lay there listening trying to figure it out. The feeling of someone lying beside him came to him suddenly, and then came the cold breath on the back of his neck. He lay there, shivering, wanting to roll over, but knowing that if he did he would be face to face with her; he couldn’t make himself look, not for anything. After a moment the feeling passed and the closet grew warm again. He lay there until the sun rose, too scared to go back to sleep.
Lee woke to the smell of coffee, sitting up; he turned blurry eyes to the open door of the closet to see sunlight falling into the room, the blankets already having been removed from the windows. Adam sat with a cup of coffee cradled in his hands, looking tense.
“What’s up?” Lee asked as he pulled on his boots.
“I can tell you that salt does nothing to stop her from coming into the closet” Adam replied.
“What? What happened?” Lee asked as he stepped out of the closet and fixed himself a cup of coffee listening as Adam explained what happened.
“I hate to tell you this, but I didn’t put any salt down last night” Lee said “I don’t have a lot of it and thought I would save it till I knew she was coming.” He paused then said “Are you sure you weren’t dreaming? I mean, I slept like a log last night and I’m sure she wouldn’t miss a chance to screw me six ways from Sunday if she could.”
“I’m sure of it Lee.” Adam said “I was wide awake the whole time.” Lee didn’t argue with him, but it was possible that Adam had been asleep without even knowing he was asleep and dreaming. Maybe you’re grasping at straws, hoping he was dreaming so you don’t have to face those memories again. Lee shivered despite himself.
They packed up enough gear to stay away for a couple of days, just in case something happened that kept them from returning for a short period of time, then loaded up and headed into town. Today Lee had plans on checking out the Sheriff’s station, the volunteer fire station and the Co-Op on the edge of town. There should be all sorts of stuff they could use in those places.
Adam curious had asked Lee why he didn’t just move on, sooner or later the absent undead would reappear and he wasn’t looking forward to waking up one morning and finding a sea of undead outside the house. In his book anyone that locked themselves in a building was stupid enough to deserve to starve to death or be eaten when the undead finally got inside. Being on the move was the best option.
“You’re not going to believe this but it’s because of that dream I told you about, the only way to beat her and get rid of her for good is to stay here.” Lee replied as he carried his pack out to the truck. “As soon as she’s gone I’m out of here” Lee promised.
Lee parked the truck in front of the red brick building that had served as a Sheriff’s substation for the town. A star had been acid etched into the glass door that stood ajar. A years’ worth of leaves had piled up in the gap. Lee took a moment to steady his nerves, yes he felt more confident with Adam along but the deep seated fear wasn’t gone, just more controlled.
Lee entered carefully, shotgun ready. There wasn’t much in the place just a counter, two desks and a door at the back. Papers lay scattered on the floor, where they had been knocked off the desks and counter.
The place stank of the undead, Lee thought taking a sniff. He moved deeper into the room, his nerves on edge, a light tremor in his hands. Nothing behind the counter and nowhere for a zombie to hide in the main room Lee noted as he moved to the rear door and peer through the slit in the metal door. The hall on the other side was full of shadows barely lit by the narrow wire mesh covered windows high up in the wall. Two holding cells were at the end of the short hall and he saw something moving in one of them.
“Some poor bastard got left in a cell” Lee whispered to Adam, he tried the door and found it locked. “Guess we can’t put him down”
Adam only nodded as he looked through the desk drawers. Finding nothing there he turned towards the front door and froze as he saw a zombie standing in the doorway silhouetted by the sunlight.
“Got a visitor” Adam called out as the zombie stepped towards him, papers crackling and rustling under its feet. Its arms reaching out towards the small man who stood behind the desk.
Lee held the shotgun with his left hand and drew the short sword, the zombies attention was fixed on Adam, who hadn’t moved, feeling safer with the desk between him and the undead.
Lee ran at the zombie, leaping a chair that lay on the floor, he brought the sword down on its neck. Rotted skin parted like cheese cloth and a foul odor filled the room as blackish goo oozed out of the cut.
He pulled the blade free, slinging gore across the room. The zombie still in the fight turned, quicker than Lee anticipated. He stepped back trying to evade the grasping hands and tripped on the chair that he had leaped over. He fell to the ground, nearly knocking the breath out of himself.
“Hey” Adam shouted, leaping up on to the deck top, “You, yes you stink ass” he shouted, to draw its attention as he leaped into the air holding his walking stick over his head like a spear acting like he was in some movie. With his body weight behind it, the spike drove into the zombies shoulder pushing it down to the ground as Lee scrambled to his feet.
Adam leaned on the staff holding the zombie in place, “Wanna help here” He asked almost conversationally, Lee rushed up and thrust his short sword into the things face, bones shattered and goo oozed out as it fell still.
“Thanks” Lee said as he looked towards the front door to make sure another zombie hadn’t entered. “Let’s get out of here”
Outside they found five other zombies spread out in a semicircle staggering towards the building. They must have been nearby and heard the truck, Lee thought as he and Adam climbed into the truck. A moment later they were leaving the building to the dead. It was only then that Lee noticed the tremor in his hands.
The volunteer fire station sat on a gravel covered lot between an old school building and an empty building that had once been a beauty salon many years ago.
They didn’t even have to shut down the motor at the fire station which was a single cinderblock building with a bay door that stood open. There were no vehicles inside, just a covering of decaying leaves on the cement floor that had been blown in over the last year, nothing they could see looked like it was worth retrieving.
Lee put the truck into reverse, as he started to look behind them he saw someone standing in the corner of the bay, just a shape in the shadows. He stopped and peered closer at the spot, but saw nothing. Damn it I’m getting spooked again he thought, his good mood at not have seen her for two nights evaporating like fog before sunlight.
It was a beautiful day in the days before the undead a red tail hawk might have lazily circled up there in the clear blue sky. But for all the brightness, there was a feeling of encroaching darkness, as if something hovered just out of sight over the horizon and could at any moment sweep in and cover the sun, a modern Fenris late for the apocalypse.
Lee drove slowly back into the center of town, as he approached the intersection he slowed then stopped twenty feet from the abandoned Sheriff’s car. His eyes sweeping the street, as his fingers drummed on the steering wheel.
“What is it?” Adam asked unhooking his seat belt to stand in the seat and look.
“Bodies” Lee said pointing, “Bodies that were not here yesterday.” He added a note of tense excitement in his voice. “Someone else is in town”
Adam shook his head, “You think it’s the two other people that you were told about in your dream?” Adam asked, still not sure what to think about prophetic dreams. But then again a few days ago he wouldn’t have believe in ghosts either.
Lee started to ask who else it might be, but realized just how stupid a comment that was. “Maybe, probably, who knows” he said.
“Decisive much?” Adam asked as he scanned he streets, something bothered him, setting his nerves to jumping at every shadow.
Lee put the truck into gear, and drove around the car and the new corpses, driving slow keeping an eye out for whoever might have killed the undead. Other than a scattering of undead, he saw no sign of a living person.
“I have a bad feeling about this” Adam said as Lee stopped again, almost to the edge of downtown, his hands shaking on the wheel of the truck, a shadow moved across the sun for a moment chilling his blood. She was coming he could feel it, a cold furious presence in the distance.
“Me too” Lee replied, “I think maybe we should go back to the house load everything up and move to that house built into the side of the hill.” Lee said, thinking of the garage that had been built into the hill as well, where they could reach the truck without having to go outside.
Adam nodded in agreement even as Lee put the truck back in gear and did a U turn in the middle of the street and headed back to the house they had been staying in, a sense of urgency driving them on.
The house was just as empty as when they had left this morning; they packed quickly not even questioning the premonition of danger. Lee did his best to keep it together, but the fear that he had thought dulled by Adams presence was back in full force.
He loaded the last box into the back of the truck then turned and looked back at the house and froze. In the upstairs window, a figure stood looking down on him. He felt his blood grow cold as it lifted a hand and pressed it against the glass.
He blinked and she was gone, “You okay?” Adam asked as he came around to check on Lee.
“Yeah” Lee said shaking himself, “I’m fine, let’s go” Lee said, Adam nodded but his eyes were fixed on the doorway, growing wide with surprise. Lee looked back at the door and saw a basketball roll slowly out the front door, the door that should have been closed already.
“What the hell?” Adam muttered. Both men jumped as the front door slammed shut with a boom. “Call me a coward but let’s blow this taco stand.” Adam said running for the passenger door to the truck.
“Right with you” Lee said, almost but not quite beating Adam into the cab. A moment later, the truck was speeding away from the house. Lee could only hope that the place they were heading for was as defensible as it had looked when they were there before.
Four miles outside of a town, the sun shone down on a large building complex, its parking lot and even the football field filled with parked vehicles faded from their time in the sun, the county high school had sat locked up for the last year.
A figured dressed in black stood under the awning where students had once boarded or disembarked their buses. It stood there silent as the grave, watching the frosted floor to ceiling glass wall to the left of the main doors. There was a loud crack and a line snaked up the glass, which was finally giving way under the weight of the bodies inside pressed against it. The crack expanded with a brittle cracking sound as lines spread out from the main crack like a spider web. Then with a crash the glass wall shattered, glittering shards exploded outwards and the undead with nothing between them and the outside world spilled out. Without a word, or sign the entire crowd started towards the nearby town.