For the next few days I'm likely to be AFK. The last time I did that there were no updates at all, and in retrospect, that's a bit of a cheat. Sooooooo, instead of offering nothing, I'm gonna post up a short story I did a little while back.
A bit of a lead in to what your about to read: I have a bit of a fetish for zombies. I don't know why but ever since I saw George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" when I was a (relatively) innocent thirteen year old, I've just been fascinated by the Walking Dead.
This short story is inspired by that seminal film and all the subsequent zombie fiction that's followed. I hope you like it...
WARNING: Due to scenes of violence and mild language reader discretion is advised!
The End of Days
On days like this Father Paul Guinn wished he hadn’t answered a calling that required him to have a belief in all things spiritual. Especially on this, what anyone would have to consider the END OF DAYS.
As he finished the rosary and blessed himself he looked up to the image on the cross and an odd thought struck him. Resurrection was supposed to be miraculous; a symbol of triumph over death. His dreams over the past few nights, the recent signs he’d witnessed, and the news from earlier convinced him that what was to come was anything but a triumph. It was an abomination against the natural order of things.
Surely there could be no other higher power with sway over life and death?
For many of his brethren, the coming crisis would surely shatter their faith. ‘How could God let this happen under his watch?’ they’ll cry.
For Father Paul, however, what was about to transpire would only serve to harden his resolve. This was proof positive that the spiritual world did, in fact, exist. He knew God wasn’t responsible for the coming trials, but he was also positive that He would certainly be there to provide comfort when things were restored to normal.
Father Paul stood up, walked over to the altar and took a small pewter crucifix from its resting place. He kissed it gently and placed it within his breast pocket. Even strengthened, the emerging sound of pounding on the walls and the breathy exhalations from the things gathering outside was unnerving.
Again he told himself that God would be there to give solace when everything was set to rights. He just prayed that there would be enough of His servants up to this task.
With that, he redoubled his resolve, strode down the aisle, passed through the heavy wooden doors and into the maelstrom.
Harmony’s door creaked open and she sat up in a start. Reflexively, the portal was pulled too a bit, leaving a small wedge of light from the kitchen that stretched across the floor.
“Sorry, darlin’”, said the silhouette in the doorway. “I was just checkin’ on ya. I thought you were asleep.”
Harmony blew a sigh of relief.
“Naw, not yet,” she replied. “I think I’m in for a long night.”
Her father considered this. Just knowing that someone was concerned for her seemed to drive some of the dark thoughts from her mind.
“Well, don’t you worry. I’m just in the next room here. Get some sleep, we got a busy day tomorrow.”
She smiled and settled down again.
“Thanks, Daddy,” she said, wincing at her own childish reference. “G'night.”
“G’night, darlin’. Sleep well, alright?”
The door creaked shut and the catch fell into place. Despite the comforting sounds of activity coming from the living room, she still felt strangely isolated. Just as soon and Harmony’s head hit the pillow, she knew she wasn’t going to sleep a wink.
Normally exhausted from what her father called “an honest day’s work”, the news she’d heard earlier was enough to chill her blood and ensure she’d toss and turn for most of the night. She didn’t know what was more upsetting: the news of a tragic death in town or the fact that her father seemed so affected by it.
She felt terrible for her poor dad and suspected that he must feel like the harbinger of doom. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. Either the crops were blighted, the coming winter would be lean, her mother wasn’t well, and now this: a violent death happening just up the road from them.
She didn’t know much about Ed Munroe, only that he was Mandy’s father. There’d been rumors going around for ages that Ed was a drunk and he neglected his family. Harmony didn’t put much credence in rumors since she and her family had been the victim of more than their fair share of hearsay. But it was impossible to deny that something terrible had happened earlier and as news started to come out it was unlikely to get better.
Another sudden sound gave her a start. This time it was from behind her, above her head. It sounded like a faint drumming noise then a squeak. A few months ago her father caught some boys from school trying to peek through her window and she wasn’t in the right frame of mind to put up with that again.
“Daddy!” she shouted, hoping to scare away the interloper. “I think someone’s at my window again!”
A coughing noise from the living room distracted her. The light under her door was suddenly extinguished by darkness. A shadow from the window played across the side of her face and was gone. Slowly she twisted around in her bed and drew herself up. Just as her eyes cleared the edge of the sill a bloodied, decrepit palm slammed into the glass, nearly breaking through.
Harmony screamed and sprang from the bed, landing nearly half way across the floor of her room in the process. She dressed hastily and grabbed a small flashlight off her dresser just as the glass in her window gave way. She stood there aghast for a moment as a gnarled paw fumbled over the edge of the window frame, coming down on top of a particularly jagged remnant of glass. Harmony watched in horror as the clear dagger pierced through the top of the intruder’s hand. Oblivious to the injury, another arm shot through what was left of the damaged window.
Harmony jumped back again, bringing up against the door. She fumbled with the handle, tore it open and promptly slipped on something spilled on the floor just outside.
Her flashlight beam washed down upon the sight of her father lying on the floor. Open, bloodied and defiled by something hunched over him. Her wavering beam of light moved instinctively towards the sound of contented chewing.
Her brain took a gruesome inventory: two bloodied hands, a matted tangle of blackened hair, blue-gray flesh and milky, eager eyes that looked up from its horrible repast. Despite the cloudy eyes, Harmony recognized a distinct look of joy.
The joy of future prospects.
Harmony screamed, making a noise she thought herself incapable of. She tore towards the front door and burst from the house pausing at the tree stump in the front yard. Without effort she pulled free the axe buried there like the sword from the stone and raced on to the only place she thought to be safe anymore.
Regardless of how many graveyard shifts she’d served as a nurse over the years, Jessica knew she’d never get used to the intrinsic eerie quality of being alone in a hospital in the dead of night. Although anyone could see that the facility here in Styler was practically a day spa compared to the creepy asylum she used to work in up in Ravenswood, she still couldn’t keep the morbid thoughts at bay.
She chastised herself as she grabbed a clipboard bearing the same checklist she’d completed for the past four nights since she started at the hospital. Why did she find this place so creepy? After all, the hospital was brand new, nothing like that near-medieval asylum she'd presided over for far too long.
She set off down the hall to begin her rounds, measuring her footfalls as she went. Despite her hesitation, the bare stone floors and cold walls echoed the slightest sound. Each one of her steps sounded conspicuous. The muted lights on the vacant crash carts and wheelchairs cast odd shadows around her. Then her mind’s eye betrayed her and she had a flash of the man from earlier...
The body the sheriff brought in was reeking of alcohol and mangled from some horrible accident. After the son came to identify the body it was very late, and all Doc Mullins seemed willing to do was pronounce the obvious and go home.
‘Poor Ed,’ Jessica overheard the Sheriff say. ‘I don’t know how many times I’ve had to tell him to quit drinking and take care of his kids over the years. Some higher power got to him by the looks of it.’
‘What a mess,’ Doc Mullins muttered back. ‘I’ll do an autopsy first thing tomorrow morning. I assume you’ll be bringing the detective in for this?’
‘Hate to agree, but I have to,’ the law man replied, sounding weary. ‘Do you think all this happened before or after?’
The doctor ripped off his blood-stained gloves, dropped them in the trash and pushed his glasses back onto his face with the back of his hand.
‘For this town’s sake, we better hope it was after.’
Over the years Jessica had seen the human body distorted in many surreal forms. That didn’t bother her. What was lingering in her mind’s eye was the odd nature of the clearly fatal wounds and the stark look of rigor-fear on the man’s face.
Had the victim actually been partially eaten?
As she hurried towards the morgue, a part of her was tempted to dart in, roll out the slab and have a second look, but instead she resolved to double-time right on by. She rounded the corner and promptly slid to a dead stop.
The very same body she’d been thinking about mere seconds ago was standing upright in the hallway, the door to the morgue still held open against a twisted leg. Reacting to Jessica’s pleasant arrival, the thing turned in a pivot, looked at her with glazed eyes and gurgled what sounded like a death rattle.
Jessica felt as if the mechanism in her brain that allowed her to scream burnt out at that moment. She was distracted momentarily by the sound of her clipboard rattling to the floor.
Before he took his father’s gun from the closet, he’d debated back and forth whether or not to load it. He knew for sure he could whip Todd in a simple brawl, but the little punk might still be armed. He’d killed Mandy’s step-dad earlier and he probably wasn’t above doing it again.
The bad-blood between Todd and Ed had been brewing for quite some time. Rumor had it that Ed had gotten drunk earlier, beat Mandy up pretty bad and Todd had responded to her call. With a pistol.
Three other kids already told him that Todd pulled the trigger. But with his father being the Sheriff, what would be the point reporting it? If he could just get the little bastard to confess even the Sheriff couldn’t deny that justice had to be done.
Todd would go away for a long time. Leaving Mandy alone...
The teenager put his head down and continued his strident trek across the park at the center of town. His sneakers were almost wet from the rain that had doused the grass earlier in the evening and it was cold enough on this October night for him to see his breath. He knew that Sheriff Cooper would probably still be at the station filling out a stack of paperwork. With some luck, he’d find his rival alone and catch him by surprise.
Seeing someone approach, Bobby adjusted his stride a bit so as not to look so hell-bent. He cursed under his breath as the figure seemed to recognize him and lurch in his direction. The thought that there might be a new candidate for the role of town drunk amused him, but it was Saturday night, so it could be any one of his countless friends.
Idly he wondered why he couldn’t see the man’s breath. This trivial thought evaporated when he realized that the approaching figure appeared to be carrying the remains of a human arm. In a flash, the appendage was discarded and the thing was upon him.
Instantly, Bobby was on the football field. The same instincts that had allowed him to avoid a blitz at the line of scrimmage countless times before kicked in. He straight-armed the encroaching tackler and was reviled as the flesh he made contact with gave way into something wet and cold. He screamed, pulled his hand free and then scrambled out of the pocket.
Unlike being at the ten-yard line on the school field, Bobby quickly realized he had a unique line of defense against this particular linebacker. He reached into the small of his back and produced his father’s pistol.
“Alright, freak!” he bellowed. “Don’t come any closer!”
With a sickening gurgle, the thing shambled forward. The teenager was almost relieved to be done with the courtesy warning phase and squeezed the trigger at point-blank range.
The man’s head vaporized like an over-ripe pumpkin.
For a moment Bobby could only stand there and shiver, despite the fact that he felt he was burning up under his varsity jacket. The miasma of stench, violated flesh and his last action all conspired to make him ill.
As he slowly came to his senses the thought dawned on him that it might not just be old Ed’s last night on earth...