“We meet no more — the die is cast,
The chain is broke that tied us,
Our every hope on earth is past,
And there’s no helm to guide us :
We meet no more — the roaring blast
And angry seas divide us !
And I stand on a distant shore,
The breakers round me swelling ;
And lonely thoughts of days gone o’er
Have made this breast their dwelling !”
The undead filled the clearing and the stair case up to the gate. The metal of the chain link gate creaked and groaned at the weight pressing against it. something popped, then snapped and the gate sagged just a bit. The groaning of over stressed metal continued, disturbed only by another snap.
She stood on the patio looking down at the undead, waiting, her time was at hand, and those who stood between her and Lee would pay, pay with their lives. And when she was done there would be nothing but screaming and dying. Her hate was boundless it was the only passion she was still able to feel, pulsing like a hot tide the only link to the life she had once held.
Even now she could feel him, close and drawing closer. Her mouth twisted into a hate filled parody of happiness even as a cold wind rattled through the trees shaking the leaves. Done below the padlock that held the gate closed sprang open and fell from the hasp to clatter to the ground. The gate sprang open spilling undead onto the steps, and then the flood began as the rotting dead swept up the stairs.
It was quiet in the Cave, only the sound of soft breathing could be heard. Adam sat on the ledge looking down waiting to see Lee and Noah appear on the path below. They should have been here before now he thought, unless they were hurt in the crash that he had heard. Unless there was some one else driving around out there.
He looked back at Ellen who had dragged on some kind of studded leather armor that covered her upper arms, torso and down to mid thigh. He raised an eyebrow at the sight but said nothing.
“don’t tell me that look is over the armor” she said as she joined him on the ledge.
“yes, but not in the way you probably think it” Adam said. “ I just wondered where you got it.”
“Noah, was a big nerd, yes he works out, even now when he gets or can make the time. But he always like odd stuff, and one of the things he liked was armor and weapons, he joined some kind of re enactment group in Knoxville. He was the group armorer or what ever, he stored the local chapters stuff and brought some of it with us when we left Knoxville. That mace he carries, our dad made for him when he was sixteen. “ She told him as she sat down beside him, and then placed an arm around his shoulders. “ thanks for ealier, I… I needed that.” She said squeezing his shoulders.
“me too” Adam replied “I have to admit I was surprised, most women don’t like short men, and usually like little people even less”
“you’re a midget” she asked curious.
“yeah” he said, still staring down the trail.
“you just look like a really short person “ she commented.
“Im four foot and eight inches tall “ he said, then shook his head “midgets as we used to be called are just extremely short but normally proportioned. my cousin on my dads side, actually ended up being six eleven, but my uncle was four foot. My niece on my moms side, was about five foot, but she was the circus idiot. If there had still been a freak show she would have been on display as the worlds dumbest human.” Adam said, half smiling, the conversation was a way to keep the tension they both felt from building to high.
“she couldn’t have been that bad” Ellen said, cocking her head as she thought she heard something.
“she almost poked her eye out trying to pick her nose” Adam assured her. “ My aunt had to put a cork on her fork to keep her from hurting herself.”
Ellen surprised herself by chuckling “ why not just give her a spoon?”
“because she got a spoon stuck in her ear once” Adam said.
“you sir are a big liar” Ellen commented with a soft smile that faded away quickly as she heard it again. This time it didn’t stop, a dull booming like hands beating on a wooden door. “I think they got past they gate” she said, rising to her feet.
“you stay here and watch for Lee and Noah, Im going to lock the Pantry door, so if they do get in the house, they wont just stumble into the pantry we cant afford to lose the food.” She said starting for the door in the back of the cave.
“No, we stick together, if you go alone, one of us might get attacked by that thing” Adam said climbing to his feet.
Ellen stopped, “damn it, your right I wasn’t thinking for a moment.” She said walking back to the mouth of the cave. Off in the distance a gunshot shattered the silence. The tension was back now, full force.
“keep your eyes open” Lee said seeing Noahs’ eyes fluttering. “on the other hand if you pass out, I can finally strip your clothes off and have my way with you”
Noah looked up at him. “your not gay, Are you” he asked as Lee smiled.
“no, Im not but it got you to focus” Lee said after a moment then stopped and let Noah lean against the rock wall of the bluff.
“thanks for saving my ass” Noah said, tilting his head back and banging the back of his head against the rock a couple of times.
“least I could do, you got hurt because of me.” Lee said, looking around at the surrounding forest, where sunlight streamed through the leaves, golden beams tinged green that splashed down creating pools of light on the leaf covered ground. He could hear the rush of water from the creek, chuckling and burbling to itself.
It was beautiful and empty, as empty as the rest of the world. He thought and what he had brought with him didnt belong here. He could run again, and it might save these folks, but run where, to another town of the dead, empty of life. Ruined buildings with dirty glass windows and rooms covered in dust where any footprints in the dust belonged to the walking dead.
Before Emma, he had dreamed of living somewhere, where there were no people. God how pathetic that had been, the reality was enough to drive a man mad, and it hadn’t been till he had met Adam that he realized that he had been clinging to his sanity with bleeding finger tips. More often than not contemplating eating a bullet than continuing on as the last man on Earth. It wasn’t till he saw Ellen that he realized he hadn’t even thought about sex since last year. His heart might have been beating, but he hadn’t been alive, not really. He had been more animal than man, his only thoughts survival for no other reason than to stay alive, eat to eat and keep moving, keep running from the thing that pursued him.
Again he tried to remember that day, the day his world had ended and sent him out into the world with nothing but the clothes on his back. But try as he might he couldn’t remember what had happened, it was all a blur. There were other people there, children crying, men shouting, gunfire, Emma looking up at him. The kids trusting Uncle Lee to get them out alive, and then he was alone and running, covered in blood, dirt and insulation. No tears, no emotion at all not for months till he woke up one morning locked in a closet in a dead mans home, crying from a dream he didn’t remember.
“lets go” Lee said abruptly something was wrong, he didn’t know what, but he wasn’t going to stand here and wait to find out. Noah stood and wrapped an arm around Lee’s shoulder leaning against the shorter man.
“sorry I still feel woozy” Noah said as they moved down the rough trail, Lee doing his best to keep them both on their feet.
“shock, blood loss, and pain tend to do that” Lee observed quietly. He sniffed the air thinking he had smelled something, and there it was, something rank and dead. “shit I thought they couldn’t climb up here” Lee said as he urged Noah to move a bit faster. “the trail up the bluff is only a hundred yards up ahead” Noah told him.
“it didn’t seem that far to the truck when we came down” Lee whispered seeing a flash of color through the trees down below. “is there any place they can get up here on this trail?”
“Yes, several spots” Noah said stumbling. “once we start up the trail on the bluff face they can only come up one at a time.”
“just great, really great” lee said aloud. The trail they were on was maybe 12 feet above the forest floor and ran along the bluff wall, it had been created by centuries of dirt and rock being washed off the top of the bluff, forming a mound that ran along the base of the bluff. Water and wind had smoothed it over the years. But in places the steep grade had been washed out forming gentle ramps up to the trail.
The smell grew stronger as they finally saw the foot of the bluff trail. “can you do this by your self” lee asked Noah.
“ I can damn sure try” Noah replied.
“good, Ill see if I can slow them down” Lee said as they reached the narrow fork in the trail, the right hand trail rose steeply up along the bluff face, while the left continued on along the base of the bluff wall.
Lee pulled out his sling, while Noah started up the trail, clinging to the bluff to steady himself.
Noah had managed twenty feet up the trail when the first of the undead appeared along the base trail. For Lee the undead were nothing compared to the spectre or what ever it was that haunted him.
He set the sling to spinning, and as the first zombie stumbled into a clear spot, Lee let the lug nut fly. It struck the zombie in the temple with a sharp crack, shattering bone. The old man with the blood soaked silver hair, fell over the side and bounced down the incline landing in the brush. A woman appeared, her body covered in ragged bite marks that exposed rotting muscle. Her face was untouched, she had been pretty in life he thought as he sent a lug nut whistling towards her, it smashed into the eye socket popping the eyeball. Lee felt his gorge rise, but managed to hold it down as he reloaded his sling and sent another lug nut winging towards the woman, this time she died and stayed dead. Her body tumbling down to join the first one.
Noah felt dizzy, and tried not to look down. He knew he had to have a concussion in addition to all the other injuries. He could hear the sling whirring again as he stumbled and almost lost his balance.
Suddenly pebbles and small rocks trickled down the bluff face, causing him to look up. He froze as he saw her, the thing, ghost or demon scuttling head first down the rock wall, darting from one spot to another, stopping then darting to the next like some gaint cockroach. The worst of it was, her head was bent at an unnatural angle to stare straight down at him No matter where she was at on the wall. And that smile, cold, hating and Dead.
“Noah” Ellens voice reached him, and he blinked grabbing the wall again, as he found himself teetering unsteadily on the narrow trail. The thing on the bluff slithered into a crack and vanished from sight.
A rope slide down beside, she was in the cave he thought, proud that his mind was clear enough to figure that part out.
“tie yourself off, and we will winch you up” Ellen yelled down. “ you cant use the front door, the zombies are past the gate”
just great, zombies below zombies above, and the truck is wrecked. We are well and truly trapped.
He managed to snag the rope, and tried to tie himself off, but his hands didn’t seem to be up to any sort of complicated work.
Lee didn’t look up when he heard Ellens voice, he just reloaded his sling for the twelfth time and sent another zombie, this one a skinny kid in a turtle neck long sleeve shirt and green pants, to his final rest.
Then suddenly a zombie smashed down onto the trail and bounced back up into the air to fall to the forest floor, then another fell onto the trail smashing into the group of zombies coming at Lee, nine were knocked off the trail to tumble down the incline.
This time Lee did look up and saw undead on the upper section of the trail. Even as he looked more zombies lost their footing and fell silently down the seventy or more feet drop. Others were walking off the edge of the bluff arms outstretched reaching for Lee and Noah as they fell. For every zombie that fell of the steep bluff trail, another made it just a few feet further along.
“oh hell” he said stepping back, then saw Noah struggling to tie a rope around himself, while Ellen and Adam stood on a ledge shouting at him to hurry. Lee gave up on buying Noah time, the only escape it appeared was to be pulled up the bluff to the cave where Ellen and Adam were standing.
He climbed quickly up the trail. Knowing that the undead below would not be able to climb up after them, at least not standing, but some of them would end up crawling he knew. Even if something had to make them crawl.
“let me” he told Noah who looked relieved that Lee was there. Quickly Lee tugged the rope and got more slack then quickly made a two loop seat around Noahs legs then a non slip loop around Noahs chest. As soon as he was finished he looked up and Yelled “ pull him up”
the rain of undead continued, and for a second Lee could hear a Tv weather reporter, predicting a light shower of the undead followed by corpse flooding in the low land areas.
At the bottom of the trail four zombies were already crawling up towards him, others trying to walk up the trail fell, and some began to crawl when they were unable to stand upright again. Lee stood there, sweat pouring off of him, his shirt and pants soaking wet as he watched the slow moving bodies crawl towards him, silent except for the snapping of teeth.
He picked up a large rock, and hurled it down the trail, watching it bounce and roll till it smashed into a zombie. The rock broke something in its skull judging by the sound and the deep dent, but didn’t damage the brain. The former housewife, in her bloody ragged housecoat, just kept coming at him, as eager to get at his flesh as her kids had once attacked PBJ’s. something stuck the trail behind Lee, who turned and saw a zombie had landed ten feet up trail from where he stood, its body looked semi deflated where its bones had broken, but it could still move and started to wriggle and writhe towards him like some giant obscene worm, its mouth working silently showing blood stained broken teeth.
“Screw you bitch” He shouted. “kill me and I kick your ass on the other side” he bellowed, sounding a lot more brave than he felt. But it was more than he usually managed.
“Lee, the rope” Adam shouted down at him. Lee looked around and realized that the rope was right there ready for him to grasp, he had lost track of time somehow. Quickly he tied himself off, using a basic loop, not wanting to waste time with a fancy rig, the sooner he was off this trail and away from those things the better, even if he fell and died.
Adam looked back to see Ellen kneeling beside her brother, terrified he was going to die. “ Ellen, I need your help I cant do this, the handle is just too high for me to crank” Adam told her urgently, this was one of the few times in his life he hated being tiny.
“go on Ellen, help him get Lee up, Im not going to die just yet” Noah said pushing her towards the Winch with one hand.
“don’t you dare die on me” she said trying not to cry.
“even if I did, its not like you cant bug me on the other side” Noah said trying to joke, then sighed painfully as she began to cry, but at least she was headed over to the old hand crank winch his Grandfather had installed to pull up every thing from fire wood to deer carcasses.
He lay there listening to the creak of the winch and Ellen crying softly, finally he sat up, feeling slightly better, which only meant he didn’t feel like throwing up and the world hadn’t decided to spin one way or another suddenly. Lee’s head appeared over the ledge and Noah felt for the man, who was white faced and soaked in fear sweat, it took a bravery to keep going against that kind of fear, no matter what Lee might think about it Noah decided.
Not sure if he himself wouldn’t have sat down and ate a bullet or drank some Jonestown kool aid months ago, if he were the one that had been facing that thing all alone in a world of the dead. He still had doubts about the wisdom of helping Lee, but there was no way he was going to back out now.
Behind him he heard the whisper of cloth on rock, and felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand straight up. He turned his head slowly, and saw something move in the darkness, something that appeared to be forming even as he watched, soon a white face hovered there in the shadows, darkness clung it like a lovers tight embrace, leaving only the face distinct. A face that might have been pretty once, if it hadn’t been twisted with hate and malice.
The dark pits where eyes should be fixed on him, and he wanted to scream remembering how it had attacked him in the bathroom.
Adam was helping Lee get onto the ledge when Ellen clearly heard a mans voice tell her to turn around, neither Adam or Lee seemed to hear it. she turned slowly dreading what she was going to see, maybe Noah had died and come back as a zombie, or …. Or her Ellen thought seeing the face at the back of the Cave.
“your not wanted here, you have no power” She shouted suddenly stepping forward. “ go back to hell, and leave us alone”
“you think you can take whats mine, your wrong whore. Now its time to pay” the thing hissed as it flowed out of the darkness sweeping towards Noah. Her arms outstretched, she screamed like the damned she was.
A cold fetid wind howled through the cave sending dirt and small rocks flying. Ellen shouted in surprise as she was pummeled, Noah threw his arms up as if to cover his face. And then Adam was there, flinging salt at the figure that seemed to disintegrate into a swirling black mass and vanish into the cracks in the rock.
The wind died, and silence fell over the cave. “ so much for the idea she can only attack us if we are alone” Adam muttered.
Ellen didn’t say anything to that at first but after a moment she shook her head. “ she didn’t really do anything to any of us did she.”
“lets get inside quick” Noah said rising unsteadily to his feet. Knowing that even going inside wouldn’t keep her out.
“we cant, the undead got past the gate, and might have gotten through the front door already.” Ellens said.
“how that door is stout as hell “ Noah said, not even sure what to think or how to feel about the undead getting past the gate.
“probably the same way they got past the gate” Adam said as he sat down, his back against the rock wall of the cave, still shaking from the adrenalin and fear that had flooded his system.
“what do you mean” Noah asked, positive he knew what Adam was going to say, and despite all that he had seen in the last twenty four hours, he didn’t want to believe it.
“she let them in, and sooner or later they will make it to the spiral stair case and inside here. and then we have a choice, climb or jump down and die at the hands of the undead or the fall, or stay in here and die. Either way we die.” Adam said.
Lee was silent as he looked from person to person, part of him wondering if he died would this end for the rest of them. The other part of him, demanded he keep going, keep surviving, he had found hope no matter how faint, and that it was worth going on. But at what cost he asked himself.
He realized suddenly that ever one was looking at him, and managed to give them a shaky smile. “Im all right, just thinking”
“did you remember what happened” Ellen asked.
Lee shook his head, as he dropped his pack to the cave floor and pulled out the mortons salt container. He shook it and found it was only half full. When they were out of salt, they were out of time, and maybe that’s what she was trying to do get them to use it all up.
Ellen started to say something, paused looking startled as if she had heard something, “I think there is only one way to end this” she said calmly. “while you two were gone, I tried contacting the dead, and well I was a bit more successful than I liked” she said then began to tell them what she had dreamed. She spoke slowly at first, picking her words carefully partly because she felt stupid for relating a dream and taking it seriously. But it had been as real as anything she had experienced when awake, more so in some ways.
Lee listened intently and if Noah and the others had thought he was pale before they grew worried when they saw the color completely leave his face as he sank to his knees tears running down his cheeks. His body shaking with suppressed emotions.
He still didn’t remember much more than snatches of what had happened, but he did remember Emma in her Favorite sundress, and there was no way Ellen could have known that with out really seeing what had happened. This was insane, undead, ghosts, mediums, the dead coming in dreams.
Ellen watched with sympathy in her eyes, “Lee, I think she is the one that is keeping you from remembering what happened. I don’t know why but I suspect if you do remember what ever it is, it ends. Or gives you a way to end it at the very least.”
“Maybe, but that doesn’t help me or us at the moment does it” Lee said.
Noah growled under his breath then made his way to the door. “ come on Adam, we are at least going to check and see if they are inside already. And if they aren’t, then we are going to block that door. Lets see that bitch clear it when Im done” Adam looked at Ellen then shrugged.
“he has a point, if they aren’t inside, we can at least grab more weapons and ammunition, packs, clothes and other stuff, then block off the door to the cooler. Maybe we can come up with an idea to help us escape with out getting eaten alive too.” Adam said joining Noah who opened the door to the spiral staircase chamber. “you two see if you can come up with a way to help him remember, if nothing else he can sleep on it. it worked for you. Might work for him too.”
Once in the cooler, Noah listened at the door, then taking a chance knocked on the door. “figure if they are on the other side, they will start hitting the door or something” he explained to Adam.
After a few minutes Noah cracked the door open, and looked out. Seeing nothing he opened the door. Instantly the two men could hear the dull muted thump of hands against the front door.
Adam ignored the noise and collected the weapons in the living room, Noah pulled a small ancient tool box from under the hand sink and then carried it to the door.
“Ill Nail the cross bar to the door frame, that will slow them down at the very least” Noah said as he pulled out a hammer then collected several nails from a jar in the cabinet beside the door.
“that thing picked up a bed and moved it, Im not sure nails will slow it down” Adam said, as he shoved extra rounds for his pistol into his pockets.
“can I ask you a question” Noah said as he began to pound the Nails into the wood.
“go for it” Adam replied as he carried their packs over to the door to the cooler.
“why are you helping Lee?” Noah asked.
“Ive asked myself that a lot.” Adam said seriously. “ it comes down to, I like him. I don’t want to be alone again, and I cant just leave him alone to deal with that crap.”
“he dealt with it before you, or we came along” Noah pointed out, as he placed another nail and began to hammer.
“he was almost a blithering idiot, when I met him a few days ago” Adam said, stopping to look at Noah wondering if Noah was getting to something.
“Ive always tried to do the right thing in life” Adam said. “I wasn’t always successful, Ill admit that. But if I just walked off and left him alone,” He paused then shrugged. “ I… I don’t know to be honest, but it would be wrong. If I needed help I hope some one would help me, not just leave me out to dry. Besides, if a Dead guy is showing up in Dreams telling people to help Lee, Im not about to argue. Makes weird sense I guess, one dead person is trying to destroy Lee’s life, and another is trying to save it. Odd huh?”
“put that way yeah” Noah said. “I guess the dead have nothing else to do.”
“why what was your point to asking” Adam asked curious if Noah was contemplating tossing Lee out.
Noah sat the sixth nail and readied to whack it with the hammer, he looked at Adam for a second. “I guess I figured if I knew why you stayed with Lee, it might tell me if you were going to hang around here after this is over, seeing as how you had sex with my sister.”
Adam stopped what he was doing, and watched Noah carefully. “ how did you know” He asked after a moment. Noah gave a grunt of laughter.
“at least you didn’t try to deny it. and your both adults. I just wanted to be sure that your not just going to bail out and leave when this is over with. As to how I knew, next time you two bump uglies, make sure she puts her bra back on when she gets dressed. Its laying on the floor over by the China cabinet.”
Adam shook his head partially in amusement. At least Noah didn’t seem to be the I’m going to kick the ass of anyone that sleeps with my sister type of brother. Especially the ass of a little Person.
“I have no plans on leaving when this is over Noah, assuming it ends, and Im still alive.” Adam said, not pointing out that as far as he knew of, there were no other women left in the world, so he coudnt be picky even if he wanted to. Which he didn’t. Ellen was good looking, and liked extremely short men. Not a combination he had found often, outside of women who thought he was handsome, and wanted to sleep “with a midget” for kink. He had used those kind of women as much as they had used him over the years.
“okay lets get some stuff from upstairs, and then we haul it all down to the Cave” Noah said as he finished nailing the crossbar in place.
Lee walked to the mouth of the cave and looked out, he wouldn’t admit it to Ellen or the others but part of him wondered if this would end for the rest of them if he just stepped off the ledge and took the seventy feet plunge head first.
He watched the tree limbs sway gently as a light wind stirred them, wishing he could see a hawk or eagle soaring over the forest. But he hadn’t seen or heard any kind of bird since the undead had risen.
“do you have any rope” Ellen asked, “ or climbing gear?”
“look in my pack” Lee replied still watching the forested hills and the distant bluff wall across from the cave.
Ellen opened Lees pack and, watching lee as she did so. She was worried he might jump, and if any one had a reason to think that dying would be better than going on, Lee was right around the top of the list. She looked down as something fell from his back, and saw a small wooden statue of a woman. Who ever had carved it had spent a lot of time to get all the intricate details just right she thought picking the thing up.
“where did you get this” she asked, holding it up to get a closer look a the delicate face.
“found it in a house a week ago or so.” Lee said turning to face her. He almost told her he took it not simply because it was beautiful but because it was another face to look at it, and because it reminded him of some one, but he couldn’t place the face with a name.
She’d had Noah with her, she wouldn’t understand the soul crushing loneliness of being alone out there, surrounded by the corpse of civilization. Believing you were probably the last person on Earth. How it felt to walk into a house and see pictures of people on the walls, and know you had no one to talk to.
“she’s beautiful, she looks a little like Emma” Ellen said, Lee looked at her, then his face fell.
“your right she does” he said, wondering how he could have missed that, but there was something else stirring in the back of his mind at those words too, another meaning. “she would have loved this place, especially the view.” He smiled sadly remembering better times.
Ellen sat the small statue aside gently then dug into his pack finding another statue, this one of a cowboy and sat it aside. Just below the neatly rolled up clothes, she found a coil of rope, but no climbing gear.
As she replaced everything, a wallet fell out of a ragged pair of pants. Lee had turned back to look outside again, curious she opened it up and saw a drivers license. James Lee Boyd, she read, then opened the picture section. She looked up at Lee then back down to the pictures of two kids, a boy and girl. The same kids she had seen in the dream. Curious she turned to the next picture and saw Emma, one picture was a typical portrait type, the other picture was folded in half in the sleeve, the half she could see, Emma was wearing a bikini, standing on a pier with a lake glittering in the sunlight behind her.
Ellen pulled the picture out and unfolded it to see that another woman was standing off to one side beside a Ford F150, her arms folded across her chest, gazing at the camera. It was the other woman from her dream.
“where did you get that” Lee asked Looking at the wallet Ellen held in one hand. Ellen looked up feeling guilty for digging through his things.
”it fell out of a pair of pants when I was putting everything back in your pack” she said. “Im sorry I shouldn’t have pried” sh
“you don’t get it” he said holding out a hand, she was surprised to see it was shaking. “I lost my wallet last year. Hell I lost all my shit last year” he said surprised his voice sounded so steady.
“maybe it was just stuck in a fold in your pack or something and you just didn’t see it” Ellen suggested.
“ you still don’t understand, I just picked up that pack and all that gear a few days ago, to replace all the stuff I had stolen or had lost. Theres no way My wallet could have been stuck in side, or in a pair of pants, either because I picked up all the clothes Im wearing now from various homes along the way.” He told her, not even sure how he felt about his wallet just reappearing.
”then how…” Ellen asked her eyes falling to the leather wallet and then held up the picture she had taken from it.
“ the question I have is who is the other woman in this picture, because she is the one I saw with Emma in the dream.” Ellen holding up the picture for Lee to look at.
Lee looked down at the picture and his eyes grew wide and the color fled from his face as the dam in his mind finally burst.
Adam carried another the box that Noah had wanted over to the stair case and was turning to go get another when a loud squeal came from down stairs. Then the sound of something metal striking the floor.
He cocked his head trying to place the sound, even as another squeal reached his ear. Oh hell he thought going cold as he realized that the sound he was listening to was nails being pulled from wood.
“come one we have to get back to the pantry” Adam yelled starting down the steps.
“why whats…” Noah said, even as Adam heard the thump of the cross bar landing on the floor.
“oh hell” Adam said slipping back upstairs, placing a finger across his lips he pointed to the ladder in the middle of the room that led up to the fire watch room. Noah looked at Adam his nose wrinkling as a foul stench wafted up the staircase.
Nodding silently Noah slung the crossbow over his shoulder and moved to the ladder as he silently prayed that Ellen wouldn’t come upstairs.
The smell grew stronger, as Noah climbed up and opened the trap door as silently as he could. Adam started up the ladder, trying not to let the fear overcome him as he heard the footsteps on the staircase. Just as he reached the top the trap door slammed shut with a boom. Adam stared up at the now closed escape route confused, why would Noah do this to him.
But it wasn’t Noah was it, he thought as he heard the chilling laugh that came from the dark door that led into the small bathroom. Above him he could hear Noah trying to open the trap door and shouting in fear and frustration.
“you were warned, and now you will pay” there was an evil humor to that voice, “He is mine”.
Adam looked down, and saw the first of the undead stagger off the stairs and into the room. He pulled his legs up and hooked them through the rungs, which kept him just out of reach of the undead. But if Noah couldn’t get the trap door open, Adam didn’t have a clue on what he was going to do. Above him, one of the screws that held the ladder to the brackets set in the ceiling, squealed as it slowly began to turn. “oh fuck” Adam moaned.
“hang on Adam, Ill get this thing open somehow” Noah shouted hoping Adam could hear him.
He grasped the handle and pulled with all his strength to no avail, a shadow fell across him from the outside. Noah looked up puzzled for a second then his blood went cold as he saw a woman, walking slowly around the balcony on the outside of the fire room, her dark hair hung limply to her shoulders covering her face, as she paced towards the door on the opposite side of the fire watch room, the door that would let her inside.
Noah looked around, trying not to panic, then began to yank open drawers. Trying to ignore the sounds of Adam beating on the trap door. There had to be something in here he could use. Like what, a cross the thought was bitter and sarcastic. He had no idea, but he wasn’t going to just stand here and wait to die.
the fragments of his memory’s slammed together and locked into place, and Lee finally saw it all, as if he were standing there.
“come on” He panted, as he held onto Emmas hand leading her, Bryce and Samantha down the street. Behind them a group of infected staggered after them, to either side he could see infected, staggering from houses scattered along the street. Bloody and mangled, skin alabaster white, tinged blue, they staggered off porches and from around the side of houses and started towards the street.
He could see even more up ahead, they were trapped he realized. But he wasn’t about to give up. He lifted his pistol and shot the nearest zombie then pulled Emma and the kids after him. His only plan was to find a fenced in back yard and get them inside. After that he would figure out what to do.
He shot down another zombie, this one a leggy blonde wearing very little, just a pair of those panties that looked like shorts, lipstick was smeared across one side of her face, as if she had been doing her lips when she had been bitten in the back. Samantha screamed with each gun shot. And Lee had to throttle the urge driven by his own fear to slap her silent.
The infected closed in, the smell of rot and hot coppery blood almost overwhelming them. he shot down two more looking around wildly, but saw no where they could escape to. The sudden gun fire, took him by surprise, Emma shouted in fear as a bullet whined past her ear. The infected to Lees left were falling fast, but many were still moving.
“come on, over here” A man shouted from the doorway of a red brick house to his left. Lee didn’t hesitate he ran dragging the others after him. The man, a burly looking dark haired man stepped aside to let them enter, then slammed the door shut behind them.
“come on” he said leading them through the living room were seven other men armed with rifles and pistols joined them. “ where are we going” lee asked as they followed the group into the kitchen and out the back door into the fenced in yard. One that had no gate to the front, which was why lee had dismissed it, the only way to get to it was to enter the house or the garage. Or he thought through the hole in the fence that led into the yard of the neighboring house.
As soon as they passed through the hole, two men slid the boards back into place, while The burly blue collar man led them into the garage, which was filled with survivors.
“thank you “ Lee said with emotion, relieved at being safe for the moment.
“don’t thank me, your just as trapped as the rest of us now” The man said. “but it beats being torn apart.”
“Oh my god” Emma said, and rushed across the garage to throw her arms around another woman. “ we were coming to get you, when those things cut us off” Emma said crying as she hugged her sister, Shawna hugged her back, but her eyes were fixed on Lee. Some how beyond all reason, Fate had brought the sisters together one final time, Lee never heard the entire story, Todd chose that moment to say “come on buddy, we are going to need men at the windows to shoot those things down, hopefully the cops or the guard will show up soon. Im Todd by the way”
the room shifted as Lee remembered being in the living room, with about a dozen other men every one was staying away from the windows, hoping the infected would keep their attention focused on the house next door, which was why Todd and the others had run over there through the back to try and help Lee and his people get off the street. Their luck didn’t last. Once the infected realized there were people in the house, they swarmed it, after that it was all thundering gunfire and the stench of blood and death.
Lee had known it was over when the infected reached the windows and sheer body weight broke the glass. they began to fall inside the house biting any one close. He had seen at least two men bitten, get back up and start attacking the men who moments before had been fighting side by side with them. they had died, there was no way they could have lived through the blood loss he knew. then the hinges on the front door had finally torn free with the weight of the bodies pressed against it.
It was a mad house of screams and blood, Lee had retreated to the garage hesitating in the kitchen before the door into the garage, one of the few men he had gotten a name for was leaning against the counter, blood cascading down his arm from a bite, waved at Lee to get into the Garage and shut the door. The gunfire was dying down in the front of the house, and as Lee backed into the garage, Todd staggered into the kitchen, his shirt and pants soaked in blood from the ragged bites he had gotten. Todd had lost his shotgun, but held a piece of Rebar that was sticky with blood and matted hair.
“ good luck” Todd told Lee, even as arms reached through the door way for the man. “go shut the door” Lee didn’t hesitate, he shut the door, and locked it.
the sound of sobbing and crys of terrified kids filled the garage as the adults talked quietly, glancing constantly at the door to the kitchen where undead were pawing at the door which was creaking with all the weight pressed against it.
Lee remembered how they had finally decided that no help was coming and made a suicide pact. Some of the people in the garage were preppers judging by their lingo and the well stocked packs they carried, sadly the preppers opened their packs and pulled out every pain and sleeping pill they had, so that the parents could put their children to sleep.
Lee had rejoined Emma and the kids, she smiled sickly at him, knowing with out being told what was going to happen. Shawna just sat silently, looking disgusted as Emma tried to calm the kids and urged them to take the pills, even as tears slid down her face.
It was then that the true horror was revealed to Lee who wished he hadnt remembered. The first kids died, their mother wailing with horror at what they had done, but knowing this was better than the alternative. She looked on with horror as the little bodies that lay there so still began to twitch, believing that her children were suffering convulsions, that all they had accomplished was to torture her children she shrieked and scooped them into her arms, crying for forgiveness. Their father had stood there mouth agape, and unable to deal with what he thought he had done, had started to lift the pistol to his own head, when the kids eyes snapped open. The mothers crys of horror turned to pain as her own kids ripped her throat open. The father, just stood there shocked to his core, while people scrambled away from the feeding children. One man, a single man, yanked the attic door down and climbed up inside.
One man, finally leveled his shotgun and shot the kids in the head, before doing the same for their mother who had bled out and was beginning to twitch. The father, stared his eyes bulging, then shot himself in the head, his body falling across the bodies of his family.
Every one stared at the remaining children, knowing what they had just seen, it wasn’t just those who were bitten that were a threat, it was any one that died. All eyes turned to the kids who were slipping into death from the over doses their parents had given them. they knew what had to be done, and knew they were going to damn themselves to hell for it.
Emma held Bryce and Samantha, in her arms, as they slipped into death, horror glittered in her eyes knowing that there was no easy peace to be had for any of them, and knowing that lee would have to do the deed and she knew what it cost him.
As Bryce began to twitch, Lee choked back sobs and placed a small cushion he had found over the boys face. “ god forgive me” he cried and fired once. His stomach roiled, and his mind reeled threatening to send him into gibbering madness, but he made himself lift the pillow away from Bryces face and placed it over Samantha’s face next.
Emma refused to let the children go, she would hold them and at least pay part of the price for what Lee had to do. He pulled the trigger, and staggered back knowing that Emma was next. Shawna stared in horror at him, then around the room, where suicide was occurring like it was a production line.
Lee held up the cushion, but Emma shook her head, she smiled at him for the last time as she reached up and pulled the barrel of the pistol to her head, “ I love you” she whispered, his eye sight blurred as the tears came freely. “I love you too” he said staring into her so bright green eyes so full of life. He would never know where he got the strength to pull the trigger, but when the pistol roared in his hand, it took him by surprise. “Ill be there in a moment baby” he said. Sobbing openly, to hell with the never show emotions, he turned and saw Shawna had risen and ran to the door that led into the back yard. “I can do this for you Shawna, or you can do it yourself.” Lee said his voice cracking with the horror his life had become.
“no Lee, we can escape together. You don’t have to do this.” She told him, almost smiling in her madness. Her eyes glittered dangerously. “you don’t have to be alone, I love you more than Emma ever did, Ive loved you since the day I first met you. I can make you happy, but we have to escape now.”
he gawked at her, even as he heard the kitchen door creaking ominously, “are you fucking nuts” he asked, tears still tracking down his face, “ Emma is laying there dead, my neice and nephew are dead, every one in this fucking garage is dead and the dead are trying to get in and you want to escape and play house.” He bellowed, his terror and self disgust at his actions twisted into volcanic fury.
“Emma stole you from me Lee, you have to see that,” She screamed at him. “if she hadn’t we would have been together. Ive waited and waited for you to see the truth. But you never have. Why cant you love me” She cried.
“your Crazy, bat shit nuts.” He said backing away from the woman, flecks of spittle forming at the corners of her mouth as she stared at him.
“that’s it isn’t it, your like all the rest” She snarled. “your just went after Emma because she was always prettier than I am. Always the popular one, well Im glad she’s dead, and Im glad your sorry ass had to kill her.” She screamed, there was nothing sane left in her Lee had realized at the moment. Maybe there never had been. She reached for the door handle.
He managed to shout “ NO” as she tore open the back door and ran straight into the arms of the infected who had entered through the hole in the fence from the house next door, and had been drawn here by the gunshots and screams. She twisted around to stare at him as teeth tore at her, she screamed and tore loose from the infected staggering over to lee, blood everywhere. “ fuck you Lee, its your fault your going to be alone” She screamed as she sank to her knees, not even trying to stop the flow of blood from the wounds. The infected were pouring into the garage, and behind Lee the door to the kitchen finally ripped free of its hinges and fell into the room
The infected fell on Shawba again, but her eyes were locked with Lee’s even as he backed up and almost tripped over the ladder from the attic trap door. “ Alone you bastard” she screamed at him. One of the infected, a man that looked oddly familiar to lee dipped his head down and ripped her throat out. Lee fired twice, both rounds punching into her forehead, just above the bridge of the nose, he threw up as kinetic energy from the round popped her eyes out of her skull. With trembling hands he lifted the pistol to his own head, and then stared sickly at the locked back slide. “ No, son of a bitch no” he shouted throwing the empty and now worthless pistol at the closest infected before he scrambled up the ladder into the attic and then pulled the folding ladder up behind him and closed the trap door.
After that he and the man who had fled their earlier had lain there in silence for three days, before escaping and going their own separate ways.
“Oh dear God” he cried out in the present as Ellen reached for him. “ why did I do it”
Noah dumped the contents of another drawer onto the floor, terror filling him as she reached the door which slowly slid open letting in air as foul as a rotting corpse. Adam was still shouting for help down below, so at least he was still alive, noah thought as he looked up and saw her glide into the room, he could hear the rustle of her dress, but she stood stiffly floating above the floor.
Her head came up slowly the hair parting and falling away from her face. Noah had never been a coward, and still wasn’t at least not when faced with anything mortal, or even against the zombies since they could be killed as well, but the sight of that pallid face, with its empty eye sockets and hard hating smile made him piss his own pants, and set his skin to crawling even as he trembled in fear.
He stepped back, kicking something that rolled across the floor towards the Spectre, ghost, demon, hag or what ever you wanted to call it. oh god let this be fast he prayed silently as he looked down and away from that awful face, and the hands reaching out for him as she glided towards him. His gaze fastened on the salt shaker, that he had kicked and with a jolt he remembered Lee using Salt, he dove to the ground and scooped it up, already twisting the cap.
“too late you little shit, your like all the other men in the world” her voice was cold, dead and emotionless.
The cap came free and Noah rose with all the speed of youth, thrusting his arm out.
The Ladder was swaying and twisting now as a third bolt came free. The final bolt started backing out, and Adam closed his eyes, resting his hand on the pistol in his belt. He would shoot himself before he let those things eat him he vowed as his hand closed on the pistol butt.
Lee rose to his feet, shaking, full of self disgust and regret. “ I killed her Ellen, Emma and the kids I had to, we thought there was no escape but there was. I didn’t have to, I shouldn’t have, but I did.” Lee was babbling and he knew it, a part of him craved what the spirit was going to do to him he had earned it, many times over. Damned, he was damned and doomed.
“Lee, I saw it remember, part of it at any rate. You did what you thought was right, and Emma and the kids didn’t have to suffer, but who was she Lee. She wants you to hate yourself damn it.” Ellen said. a sudden boom made them both turn towards the door at the back of the cave. It was repeated again and again. Lees mind flashed back to the garage where the undead were at the door, trying to get inside and he knew what was going to happen. “Ellen climb up, or down, but leave here now. hide till its over with” he said wiping away the tears and getting control of himself.
“no, I promised to help you, and Im going to now what was her name Lee” She pressed, her eyes fixed on the door. The only way a zombie could have found its way down here was to be led here.
“its Emma’s sister, the bitch, turned out to be crazy as hell.” Lee said, the words alone echoing in his mind. “I shot her, because she was being eaten, but not before she went totally nuts claiming she had always loved me and wanted me to run away with her. All this over Emma’s still warm corpse, when I said no she, curse me I guess. Then opened the back door and zombies were outside, they tore into her and I shot her to put her out of her misery, then I tried to shoot myself to join Emma and the kids and I had wasted my last two rounds on that worthless bitch.” He snarled that last part.
“Shawna, You crazy whore, I know who you are now.” He shouted at the top of his voice. The banging on the door stopped suddenly, and an eerie silence fell.
“Im waiting for you, Shawna. If you were still alive Id shoot you again, for what you said and did there at the end, and I WOULD ENJOY IT YOU BITCH.”
Adam felt the ladder lurch, and knew it was time, he wrapped one arm around a bar and pulled the pistol out. Down below the undead were reaching up excitedly trying to grab him, they knew he was going to be in their grasp soon and couldn’t seem to wait.
“sorry Lee,” he muttered as he placed the barrel to his head, he heard a metal tearing as something tore free, and then suddenly a hand grasped his collar and another grabbed the pistol wrenching it aside before he pulled the trigger “gotcha” Noah said as he let go of the pistol and Adams collar and grabbed his wrists.
Adam kicked free of the ladder that the undead were trying to pull down. Noah pulled up him and into the fire watch room and slammed the trapdoor shut.
Adam lay there shivering at the close call, noticing as he did so all the drawers and their contents scattered on the floor. The door to the balcony stood open. “ what the hell happened up here” Adam asked.
“Im not sure, She was here, reaching for me, I found a salt shaker got the top off and was going to throw it at her, and then suddenly nothing, she was gone like she had never been here.” Noah said.
“well that’s nice, hopefully she will forget to come back.” Adam muttered “ but I think the guests down stairs wont be leaving any time soon.”
“zombie I can deal with” Noah said, looking down at the wet crotch of his jeans. “ her, not so much.”
Adam eyed Noahs pants then shrugged, “don’t feel bad I crapped myself the first time”
“you win” Noah said and started chuckling as relief at surviving even if only momentarily swept over him.
Ellen backed away as a swirling black mass appeared in the back of the cave, it swirled around and then suddenly she was there, hatred flowing off her like a storm front. The face was the same yet different, Shawna’s face was finally showing through.
“don’t say a word Ellen okay” Lee said softly as he stepped forward, holding the picture that had set his memories free. He hadn’t been told, but he knew who had sent him his wallet, and it made him want to smile.
“You wanted me Alone, for the rest of my life didn’t you” He said angrily. “ well Im not, I know who you are now. you were a pathetic mean bitch in life, and your worse in death.”
Shawnas mouth opened impossibly wide as she screamed pure animal hatred at Lee. If she’d had the power that scream would have melted the flesh from his bones. But she didn’t.
“love, you don’t know the meaning of the word, Emma loved you, despite all your bullshit, and when she died, all you could do was try to get me to love you. Because like a bitter old maid you pined after a man who didn’t love you, never loved you and never will.
I wanted to die that day, and I didn’t because I wasted two rounds to put your ass out of your misery. And this is what I get. Well fuck you. Im not scared of you any longer. If you can kill me do it now. If not get the hell out of our lives.” He screamed at her.
She rushed forward like a cold wind, reaching for him. Then stopped. “that’s what I thought, I figured it out finally you can only hurt us if we let you.” He said almost conversationally as he held up the picture and tore off the half with her picture on it. He gently placed the side with Emma on it in his shirt pocket.
“but guess what, I can hurt you cant I” he said backing towards the cave mouth.
“no” Ellen said “ don’t do it Lee” he paused at the entrance and smiled at her.
The thing that had been Shawna snarled angrily and finally spoke. “ go ahead Lee, Kill yourself, run away that’s what you did that day, ran away, killed my sister, killed what was left of your family then killed me and ran away. You should have died”
He glared at her hate for hate, the terror he had once felt at the sight of her swept from his system. “do it Lee, Kill yourself, join her in hell. That’s where your going” Shawna growled, but came no closer. “ do it or I kill the woman here. You love her too don’t you.”
Lee shook his head and smiled at her. “ no I don’t, but she is a friend. And guess what Bitch Im not alone and you haven’t been able to change that have you.” She screamed at him again, even as he motioned for Ellen to come to him.
“you have no power here Shawna, you never really did except the power I somehow gave you. Get out, maybe Emma will forgive you, but I wont. You deserve everything coming your way and youll be suffering through it alone, because Emma wont be there with you.” He said as he held the her picture up, “and this is the key isnt it” he said “this is what binds me to you” She glided forward, fury or maybe desperation in her eyes. “you are dead to me” he stated and ripped it apart.
Noah, his wounds bandaged sat on the couch, eating a bowl of stew. Listening to Adam and is sister flirt with each other in kitchen. Lee sat silently, on the couch, looking often at the picture of Emma and the kids. It had been three days now, since they had cleaned the undead out of the house. The Ghost that had plagued Lee for so long hadn’t returned and they were all starting to believe that she was really gone. Lee claimed to have no doubts.
Noah finished his meal and carried the bowl into the kitchen, placing the bowl into the small sink he turned and headed back into the living room, “ if you want Adam I can find you a step ladder so Ellen wont get a bad back bending over to kiss you” he tossed over his shoulder.
“don’t worry Noah, oddly when laying down we are can look each other in the eyes. So don’t worry about a ladder” Adam replied with a laugh.
“ I will kill you in your sleep for that mental image” Noah promised. “I just wonder how ellen manages to sleep in that crib of yours.”
”bite me pants wetter” Adam laughed.
Lee smiled at the joking then rose and stepped outside onto the flagstone patio. His hand falling to rest on the butt of wild Bills Colt army pistol. he had found the pistol and much more when they were hauling off bodies to burn them.
as they had parked the truck to unload the trailer, down an incline on the side of the road he had seen the glitter of sunlight on metal, when he got Noah to agree to investigate he had found a truck with a enclosed trailer at the bottom of the incline, it had plowed into a tree and brush had grown up around it.
He had stopped and stared at the Logo on the side of the trailer, then walked around to the drivers side not surprised to find the corpse of wild bill sitting in the drivers seat. His head had smashed into the steering wheel which had kept his body from coming back.
“It was an heart attack” Wild Bill said from behind him. Lee turned to see the old man smiling at him. “hit me hard, old ticker just gave out and I drove my ass right off the road and died when my head split open” he paused and smiled at Lee “ I told you I would see you one last time if you made it through, I honestly thought it would be at the house, or somewhere, didn’t expect you to find my rig before I told you about it. but since you’re here and its time Its all yours Lee, with all my tools and stuff, you can forge tools, do wood and leather work, and keep my old six shooters full of ammo for a year. It was a pain in the ass to lure you here, she was watching for me to try and interfere, and would run me off the minute she noticed me. So I had to slip suggestions on which way to go. But it all worked out.”
“ I should have died Bill” Lee had said.
“bull shit, if you should have you would have died, cant escape it. Emma wants you to live. And no she cant visit not yet, to hard to explain, but its not like buying a ticket to come over to the living. Its hard and only some of us can do it.” Bill said. “but she did get that wallet to you, you were right about that. Any way son, I need to scoot, my time here is up. Gonna miss this place, but things change and Im tired. She will wait for you Lee, when its your time, she will be waiting. Good luck boy” Bill had said then faded away as if he had never been.
The world was still full of undead, but as the sun set here over the bluffs in Gold, glorious reds and Aquamarine, he knew it was far safer here than other places. And who knew maybe that Plane Adam had spotted yesterday might come back. Didn’t really matter, things were going to work out how they worked out, but the difference was Lee had some hope now and he wasn’t giving it up. He reverently placed Emma’s picture back in his shirt pocket and smiled at the western horizon, the Land of the Dead lay just beyond and she waited for him there.