Here's the concluding chapter of my zombie epic...
WARNING: Due to scenes of violence and mild language reader discretion is advised!
The End of Days
Just as soon as he crossed the threshold of the church, a comforting presence fell upon Father Paul like a warm shawl. As he walked between the pews and knelt at the altar, all seemed right with the world again.
The unearthly silence nullified everything else. He was oblivious to the guttural moans just outside the old wooden walls and the sound of chaos brewing down the road at the gun shop. He suspected the residents of Styler were making their last stand right about now.
Immersed in that oasis of tranquility an epiphany came over him that was loud and unmistakable.
He would go forth and help as many people as he could as he awaited the inevitable. God was coming to set things right. He knew it was his duty to preside over this and make sure that as many of His flock would be there to bear witness as possible.
The priest stood, blessed himself, then left his sanctuary with a renewed sense of purpose.
He was attacked just as he cleared the doors. The closest ghoul, a heavy-set woman, crashed into him at the foot of the steps. It seized his upper arm and tore away with fingernails that peeled off just as it ripped through his jacket and the arm underneath. He pushed the creature back and held up his crucifix.
Two more of the fiends who were trying to flank him seemed put off by the cross as if the priest was about unleash it’s hidden power any second. Father Paul knew it wasn’t the holy symbol itself but the renewed weight of his convictions.
He cautiously maneuvered through the tightening clutch of undead cannibals closing in on him. When he extricated himself from their deadly circle he bolted towards the closest refuge, the police station.
Father Paul ran inside and looked around frantically. With only one entrance to the building he knew he couldn’t tarry long in here for fear of being trapped.
“Sheriff Cooper? Deputy Harris?”
It didn’t take long to notice that something was terribly wrong. Earl’s distinctive hat was on the floor half-concealed behind the desk and the brim seemed to be smudged with an ochre-colored stain. A sizable crimson pool was slowly starting to creep out from behind the desk. All too close, another hat rose up from behind the back of the Sheriff’s worn, green chair. The squeaking sound of the chair turning around set the priest’s heart on ice.
Deputy Harris revealed himself, looking considerably paler than normal. His hands, the lapels of his uniform and the lower half of his face was slick with blood. He muttered something and the priest was horrified by what his brain translated.
He recognized it only because Joel Harris had come to him many times before, always beginning the rite of confession the exact same way:
‘Bless me Father, for I have sinned.’
The Deputy stood up, looking both vacant and somehow penitent. He cradled his service revolver in two hands. Father Paul made the sign of the cross and backed out of the police station.
As the door swung to, he took away another lesson of faith. In times like the, the law of man was quick to crumble. When the world was at an end only the Law of God remained.
He would preside over the judgment of the Lord. It was coming just as certain as the sun would rise. Almost on cue, the sky started to lighten in the distance as dawn began to herald its approach.
Father Paul made haste to the gun shop just as a single gunshot reverberated around inside the police station.
Harmony wilted under a flurry of grasping claws and fled. Bleeding and frantic, she nearly collided with Bobby as she ran back into the gun shop. The quarterback braced himself against the door frame and squeezed a shot off into the stifling darkness. Instantly he could hear the heart-sinking sound of a ricochet in the distance. He ducked back into the store, hoping the light inside would make his target clearer in the doorway.
Jessica ran over and grabbed a box of ammo from the same display case Bobby had broken into. She jumped when she heard the sound of breaking glass and the shrill scream that followed.
Catatonic with grief, Clint hadn’t noticed two of the fiends pounding on the window above his head. They poured in on top of him, and all at once the mechanic was buried under things that should themselves be buried.
Instead of fighting with its rival for a portion, the last of the two ghouls that had come in through the window stood up and lurched at Jessica. The nurse reacted with instinct, grabbing the nearby first aid kit and drilling her attacker in the face with it. The thing staggered back and hissed the equivalent of an undead curse. Jessica raised the metal case again and prepared to deliver another blow but something in her peripheral vision caught her eye.
“Bobby! Look out!” she yelled.
Distracted by the sight of things falling into ruin, Bobby turned to see the shambling corpse filling the doorway. Clad in a bloody brown plaid coat and denim overalls, it was once an older man with receding gray hair. His jowls and weak chin were torn apart and although his head was skewed off to one side, the eyes were still fixed hungrily on the promise of flesh.
Bobby raised the weapon and fired.
Someone close by screamed and ran into him with all the force of an outside linebacker on steroids. They both fell to the floor in a heap. When he looked up he was expecting to see a face considerably less pretty.
“It’s my Dad!” she screamed. “I can’t let you hurt my Dad!”
“Get off of me!” Bobby shouted. “He isn’t your father anymore! He’s one of them!”
He pushed the farm girl away with a force born from panic and looked up. The thing was practically on top of him now; too close to even bother trying to get to his feet. He braced the gun with both hands and fired three times in quick succession, wincing under the rain of blood that followed.
The creature was rocked back a few steps, giving Bobby some much needed clearance. He rolled over, took a bead and sent the last bullet true, destroying the head and putting the body half way through a nearby window.
Panting, Bobby got to his hands and knees and then pushed himself to his feet. He turned to appraise the situation and was surprised to find himself on the business end of a pitchfork that had been pulled off the wall.
Jessica stepped back and hurled the first aid kit with every bit of force she could muster at the creature inching towards her. The thing staggered back and tripped over the ghastly communion happening on the floor close by. She ran over to the case to grab a gun for herself then stopped dead in her tracks as she caught sight of the standoff across the room.
“Harmony, what are you doing?!” Jessica shouted. “There’s more of them coming in!”
“Get out of here,” she told he quarterback, her voice wet with emotion.
Bobby nodded and stared back at her, looking grim.
“I’m sorry, but I had no choice.”
The young man backed away, threw a glance towards the door to make sure the way was clear and then raced outside.
“Bobby!” Jessica called after him. “Where are you going? We need you!”
A weak voice from the floor gurgled a warning from out of nowhere.
“Harmony! Behind you!”
Harmony realized it was Clint, shouting with his final breath. She turned towards the door where another skeletal-looking fiend was edging over the threshold. With a banshee yell, she charged at the creature and impaled it with the rake, driving it back outside. The weapon went with it and she let it go without hesitation, looking over to the counter where her “Plan B” sat waiting for her.
Jessica finally succeeded in loading her gun. She quickly appraised the mass of writhing sub-humanity on the floor and decided to put an end to the creature that was beginning to gnaw contentedly on Clint’s innards. Just as she drew a bead, the monstrosity she’s felled earlier with the first aid kit sprung at her with surprising speed, its claws re-opening old wounds.
The pistol went off almost reflexively. The deafening report caused her to jump and scream at the same time. At point blank range, however, the weapon did its intent and the nurse was nearly bowled over by the avalanche of dead weight that fell on top of her.
“Good Lord! Jessica!”
The nurse steadied herself and spun around, her frazzled nerves barely able to register that the new voice coming from the doorway sounded familiar.
The white-haired country physician looked both alarmed and aghast.
“Good Lord,” he repeated, rushing over to her. “You’re hurt. Here let me...”
Just as he got behind the counter Mullins spied the creature that had been dining upon mechanic and froze. Sensing more prospects, the ghoul stood up and turned around. Like sharks drawn to chummed waters, two more fiends appeared in the window and were struggling to heave themselves into the shop.
“Get behind me!” Jessica shouted, grabbing the doctor by the sleeve with her free hand and pulling him out of the way.
At first, Jessica though her gun had gone off by mistake again until she opened her eyes a crack and caught the sight of body fragments hitting the floor. There was too much smoke, too much damage, too much carnage for it to have been her.
Both doctor and nurse turned slowly to where Harmony was standing nearby, still holding the shotgun on the level, smoke ebbing from both barrels. She wore a distressing expression of satisfaction as she appraised her grim handiwork.
“These sons o’ bitches ain’t so tough,” she muttered and then racked the weapon for dramatic effect.
“Good Lord,” Mullins said again.
“We have to get out of here,” Jessica added. “We’re well armed, but it’s too easy to get trapped in here...”
As if to illustrate, Harmony was forced to spin around just in time to ward away another of the undead with the butt of her rifle. The sight of the creature’s jawbone hitting the far wall barely registered with the group.
“I’m inclined to agree with you, Jessica,” Mullins muttered. “I had no idea it was this bad...”
“What are you doing here, anyway?” the nurse asked the physician as he turned to appraise her wounds.
“I came down here when Earl called me. He sounded panicked on the phone, babbling some nonsense about Deputy Harris trying to kill him. I mean, what do you do when the police call you?”
The nurse considered this as the doctor broke out his own first aid kit and improved on her patchwork efforts. She raised her hand to shield her eyes as the rising sun cast a weak beam into the shop at an odd angle.
“I was just driving by and I saw what was going on in here. I thought I could help.”
He paused, pushed his glasses back onto his face and appraised his efforts critically.
“Not my best work” he huffed. “But it’ll have to do for now.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” Jessica said, amazed by his speed and proficiency.
“We have to get over to the police station right now,” he replied, quickly packing away the loose contents of his kit.
“Too late!” Harmony shouted, raising her weapon. “Here they come!”
The jawless corpse had recovered and was joined by two other ghastly compatriots. The farm girl was thrown off by their swift, relentless approach and total disregard for the rifle barrel leveled in their direction. Stunned, she found herself wrestling with one of them over control of the weapon. Mullins and Jessica watched helplessly as the rifle went back and forth like the rope in some bizarre game of tug of war.
Before Jessica could rush to her aid, one of the creatures flanked the farm girl and bit into her arm. The nurse hurled herself at the closest creature, knocking it back a few steps. Now bleeding, a madness seemed to seize Harmony and she ripped the gun free and pressed the trigger in one smooth effort. The weapon roared, and in a fine mist of blood, three of the fiends were left scattered across the floor.
Another loud bang caused everyone in the gun shop to turn. The opposite door flew open and one of the creatures spilled onto the floor, rag-doll limp. Suddenly the light that had been a mere intimation earlier seemed to flood the gun shop all at once. A black-clad figure entered, bathed in the nearly celestial glow, looking noble and triumphant.
“Father Paul?” asked Jessica, vainly trying to shield her eyes from the glare.
“Yes, Jessica. It’s me.”
The priest approached her and took her hand. All at once she was calm, at peace.
“I’m sorry I left you. I couldn’t promise to protect you then, but I know I can now.”
“What’s going on?” Harmony asked, looking wildly around. She could still hear the unmistakable sound of the creatures approaching from all direction, but could barely see in the blinding light.
“It will all be over soon,” the priest said, sounding serene.
He turned towards the now-open door. Jessica could discern twisted shapes staggering towards him. Thinking the priest was still suicidal, she stepped up and fired her pistol at the lead ghoul and felled him.
The priest’s warm, firm hand came up and lowered the gun. For some reason, she didn’t resist.
“Just watch,” he said, turning to smile at her. “He’s about to set everything to rights.”
The gathered watched as, just outside, the army of shambling corpses collectively twitched and fell to the earth. Harmony thought they’d all been shot simultaneously by a hundred expert snipers working in perfect tandem. If he’d been asked, Doc Mullins would have guessed that the fiends had all been pulled back to the earth as if by some invisible power. Jessica, on the other hand, would go to her own grave swearing that something had severed the knotted strings of some demonic puppet master.
But only Father Paul knew with complete certainty what had just happened at that moment.
Bobby collapsed in a heap, trying to congeal from several bite and claw wounds. He’d just experienced nothing short of a miracle.
To make amends to Harmony he’d gone to the Sty farmhouse with the intent of clearing out the place. It was a great idea in theory until he realized that his pistol was jammed and the axe that was usually in the front yard was missing.
He’d ventured inside unarmed and was instantly swarmed by three (or was it twelve?) of the things. Just when he began to realize the futility of his actions and how horrible it was going to be to die alone, something remarkable happened.
The budding reddish sunset on the horizon flashed as if it went supernova. The light that washed over everything wasn’t harsh, painful or blinding. It was, however, his savior.
Bobby sat slumped on the floor for what seemed like an eternity, almost as inert as the bodies that surrounded him. He made a promise to himself to thank the clever scientists that just had launched the miracle weapon at the eleventh hour, saving him and everyone else in Styler.
Slowly he stood up, picked his way trough the ersatz graveyard and stepped out into the sun, hoping to find Harmony. With any luck she would see her way clear to forgive him.
Now if only he could shake the strange feeling coming over him. How long had it been since he’d eaten anything? Suddenly all he could think about as he made his way back across town was his growing hunger...