Posted on 1 Comment

The Four of July by Shawn M Riddle

 

I wake with a jolt, dreaming of being lowered steadily into a thumping cement mixer.  As I struggle back to the waking world, I realize that the sound isn’t only in my dream; it’s resonating throughout the whole cabin. Damn! Those helicopters again. They’ve been flying around here at all hours of the day and night for the past two days. Helicopters in Washington D.C. were common enough, but not all the way out here.

“I’m gonna find those flyboys and tear ’em a new one,” grumbles Jack as he sits up in his cot and rubs his eyes.

“I don’t know man. Something doesn’t seem right,” I say.

“We’re in the middle of the Shenandoah Mountains, for Christ’s sake! I expect this kind of crap at home, but I came out here to get some peace and quiet!” Jack’s voice gets louder with every word.

“I don’t know which is louder; you two or the damn helicopters! Will you shut the hell up? I’m trying to sleep over here!” Mike yells from his bed.

“This is starting to freak me out a bit,” I say. “Maybe there’s something wrong.”

“We can ask at a gas station on the way back, if you like,” Jack says with a shrug.

Since there’s no cell phone reception out here, and the local radio stations aren’t much better, it’s about our only option. I nod in his direction.

“Why are you worrying about a few helicopters anyway? They’re probably just on an exercise or something,” Mike says.

“Well thanks to those damn choppers, we’re already up, so we might as well get goin’,” I say. “Let’s get something to eat and pack up.”

Jack and Mike mutter a few unhappy remarks, but finally get out of bed. We get the coffee pot going and load the car. We finish up, lock the cabin and head down the road. After an hour or so of hairpin turns and narrow mountain roads, we finally turn onto the paved road that leads to the Interstate. Jack turns on the satellite radio. The speakers remain silent.  

“Did you pay your bill this month, Einstein?” Jack asks me with a smirk.

“Yeah, I did. It should be working. Try the regular radio.”

He switches the receiver to AM/FM and thumbs through about a dozen stations; nothing but a soft hiss. I lean back in my seat and light up a cigarette. I must be looking grim because Jack turns around and tells me, “You worry too much, man. It’s probably just the antenna. I’ll check it when we get to the gas station.” Deciding that Jack is probably right, I hand him my MP3 player and he kills the quiet with some music.

There are no cars on the road, but that’s not unusual for this remote area. Along the way, we pass a couple of people walking in the road, staggering back and forth. One of them is limping. “Looks like they’ve started nipping at the Kentucky sipping medicine a little early today,” Jack chuckles as we pass them by.

We reach the gas station and hope to pick up a snack and fill the tank, as well as hopefully get a few answers. The lights aren’t on inside and neither is the electronic display on the pump.

“Well, this sucks,” Mike says as we get out. “Ten thirty in the morning and the place is still closed? What the hell’s up with that?”

“Closed or not, I gotta take a leak,” says Jack.

Jack walks around the side of the station toward the restroom. When he turns the corner, he stops.

“Hey man, what’s up?” I ask. “Didn’t make it to the can? Should we bring you some dry clothes?”  

Mike and I chuckle, but instead of the expected sarcastic remark, Jack says nothing and still doesn’t move. We start to walk over to him. Before we reach him, an acrid stench catches in our nostrils. Mike turns his head and retches and I gag and swallow back bile. With eyes watering, Mike and I turn the corner of the building and see what’s rendered Jack speechless.  

A few feet from the restroom entrance, a man is sprawled on the ground, his skull split wide open, pinkish gray remains of his brain smeared on the sidewalk. On the wall, next to the body, there is a reddish brown stain. Maggots are crawling over the rotting flesh of his skull.  

“Holy shit!” I gasp.

Mike gapes at the corpse. “What the hell?”

Jack’s face is deathly white. He turns around, falls to his knees and throws up. I struggle to contain the contents of my stomach. Covering my nose and turning my head, I take a few deep breaths to compose myself.

“You OK, bud?” I manage to ask, as Jack regains some composure. He slowly nods his head, but says nothing. I help him to his feet.

“I’m OK man,” he says finally.

Mike pulls out his cell and stares at the display. “No Service. Hey, either of you got a signal?” he asks as he flips his phone closed.  

Jack and I check our phones. “No dice,” I say as Jack shakes his head.  

“Well, let’s not just stand here with our dicks in our hands.  Let’s get inside and call the cops,” says Mike.

“What if the guy who did this is still here?” I ask, glancing around nervously.

Mike turns and heads towards the shop. “You gotta be pretty stupid to hang around after doing something like this.” Jack and Mike, despite being the best friends a guy could have, can be impulsive and reckless at times. As if to prove this point, Jack follows Mike without a word.

“At least keep your eyes open, guys,” I say as I hurry to catch up.

The shop is unlocked and the interior has been trashed. Packages of candy, chips and cans litter the floor. I go behind the counter and pick up the phone. It’s dead.

I take a long look at the mess. “What the fuck is going on?” I ask. Neither one of them say a word.

I light up a cigarette and inhale deeply. Mike follows suit.

“Hey man, hand one over,” Jack says.

“I thought you quit?” Mike asks.

“Just give me a damn cigarette!”  

I toss Jack my pack and lighter. He lights up and inhales half the cigarette in one drag.

“What do you think happened?” I ask finally.

“Who gives a shit?” says Mike. Motioning in the direction of the corpse, he says, “All I know is someone popped that guy’s head like a zit and we need to get the hell out of here!”

“You’re right,” I say. “Let’s just go.”

Before we get to the front door, Jack says, “First things first. Hold up.” He heads to the cooler in the back and opens it. Pulling out a twelve-pack of beer, he frowns and then says, “Well, warm beer is better than no beer!” He opens up a bottle and downs it in seconds.

“What are you doing?” Mike asks, incredulous. “Isn’t this is a fucking crime scene?”

After belching, Jack says, “Do you think the cops are gonna give a shit about a twelve-pack of beer? Are they gonna come in and take inventory? No, they’re gonna walk straight over to dead Fred or whatever the hell his name is, stick a meat thermometer in his ass and vacuum up what’s left of his brains.”

Mike and I glance at one another then, despite the situation, we start chuckling and it doesn’t take long before we’re out right laughing.

“Fair point,” I say and head for the door.

As I open the door, something grabs me by the arm and pulls me toward it. I stare into my attacker’s face and nearly piss myself. The thing looks like a man, with pale greenish, bloodshot eyes, but half of the left side of its head has been torn away; its left eye bulging from its socket and dripping with thick yellow pus. The bones of its jaw protrude through the torn skin. It moans as it tackles me to the ground, opens its mouth and lunges forward. I lash out, yelling, “Get this fucking thing off me man!”

Mike kicks the creature in the head, sending it reeling across the floor. It stands up as I scramble away. Jack stares into its rotting face, his eyes wide with shock. Mike is fixed to the spot, staring in horror.

It begins to move toward him. Jack reacts first. He punches the thing in what’s left of its face, knocking it back to the ground. Breaking the empty beer bottle against the wall, he jumps on its chest and jabs it straight down into its left eye. Thick yellow-brown fluid shoots out the top of the bottle, splattering his shirt. It twitches, and then lays motionless.

Mike helps me up. I stand there, shaking, staring open mouthed at the bloody corpse on the ground. My heart is pounding in my chest; every beat sounds like an earthquake. I’m sick to my stomach, sweat pouring off me. My friends look first at me, then at the body on the ground.

“Thanks, guys.” Neither respond, just nod numbly. They’re dazed, almost like they’re moving in slow motion.

“What the blue fuck is going on?” Jack asks. “We’re in the middle of a bad horror movie! That thing was a zom–” “Don’t even say it,” Mike interrupts. “We all know what that thing was.”

“We have to go. Now! Maybe we can find some help.” Jack looks around and walks over to the service island to grab a few paper towels. After wiping some of the blood and pus from his shirt, he comes over to me and puts his hand on my shoulder. “Come on man. Let’s get out of here.”

A moan sounds from across the road. One of those things is running from the rear of a house, heading right for us. Its moan becomes an ecstatic howl.

“Get in the fuckin’ car!” Mike yells.

As we race away from the station, tyres squealing, I look out the rear window and see the creature chasing the car. It falls behind quickly and then disappears out of sight.  

Mike lights up another cigarette and, offering me one, says, “You gonna be OK bud?”

“Yeah.” I take a cigarette from him, my hand trembling slightly.

“I don’t know about you two, but I need to get to my parents’ house and check on them. I hope they’re OK,” Jack mutters, staring ahead.

“Me too,” says Mike.

My family is Jack, Mike, and Jack’s parents. I’ve known these guys since grade school. They’re the closest things I have to brothers. Jack’s parents sort of adopted me after my parents died. I spend holidays, weekends, and most of my spare time with them. I’m just as worried about them as he is. If something’s happened to them while we’ve been off screwing around in the mountains, I don’t know if I could deal with it.

We drive for a long time. As we reach the outskirts of civilization, we see other vehicles, broken down and abandoned. At first there’s only one or two, but then more and more clog the roadside. On the other side of the highway, we see another vehicle heading our way. It shoots by at high speed. Several more pass us before we merge onto Interstate 66, east bound towards Washington D.C., and home.

We all live in Rosslyn, just outside D.C. proper. We see signs of further carnage as we drive. Burning vehicles and numerous bodies litter the highway. Many appear to have been torn to shreds. Jack has to swerve several times to miss creatures that are wandering in the road. Some chase after us as we pass them, but most of them continue to stagger aimlessly.

“What do you suppose started this shit in the first place?” Mike asks the question we have all been wondering.

“Don’t know and don’t care right now,” Jack says. “What I do care about is finding some gas for this heap before we end up walkin’. From what we’ve seen so far …” Jack pauses and points to one of the creatures stumbling in the road, “walkin’ ain’t exactly my preferred choice and we’re damn near empty.”

“We also need to start thinking about where we are gonna get supplies too,” Mike adds. Jack and I nod in agreement.

Jack takes another look at the gas gauge. “Keep your eyes open, and let me know if you see anyplace we can stop.”

A little further down the road, just outside the City of Manassas, we come to a rest area and coast into the parking lot, out of gas. Two other vehicles are here, one SUV and a large van with the markings of the Virginia State Police on the side.

The SUV’s driver’s side window is smashed; the half eaten corpse of a woman hanging out the door. Bite marks cover her torso and arms, and her severed head is lying on the ground a few feet from the vehicle, cheeks and eyes gouged away. The van appears to be intact, with the exception of one flat tyre.

The rest stop is a small single level building, with two separated sections for public restrooms and a lobby in between. There’s a small picnic area and a pet rest area at the side of the structure. Scanning the area, we see no signs of life or movement. Dismembered bodies are littered everywhere.

“Fuck me,” Jack says as he takes in the scene. “It’s a war zone.”

A man, – or what used to be one, – staggers out from behind the building near the pet rest area. Its left arm is missing from the elbow and its torn business suit is covered in blood and gore.

“Shut up and get down,” I whisper, pointing to the creature. We kneel down behind the car, out of the creature’s line of sight. We and wait for a few minutes. The creature shambles on aimlessly.  

Jack scans the area. “We can’t sit out here all day, man. There’s got to be more of those things creeping around.”

“Well, we can’t just walk by that thing,” I say.

“I’ve got a plan.” Mike leans into the open door of the car and takes out a long metal flashlight. “I’m gonna go around the other side of the building, sneak up behind that thing and crown its ass.”

“Are you on drugs?” I ask him. “What if there are more of those things around back? They’ll rip you to pieces!”

“What choice do we have?” Mike replies fiercely.

Jack and I look at one another and then nod to Mike. I don’t like the idea at all, but it’s all we’ve got. He is small and fast, so he has the best chance of the three of us.

He inches around the side of the car and takes a peek. The creature is standing motionless in the pet rest area, looking in the opposite direction. He takes his chance and darts around the side of the building and out of sight.

Several tense minutes pass before I see Mike appear around the other side. He crouches low and creeps up behind the creature.  It seems oblivious. Once close enough, he swings the flashlight over his head and brings it down onto the back of the thing’s skull.  Blood spurts upwards and it falls to the ground with barely a sound. He jogs back with a big smile on his face. “Fucker never saw it coming.”

“Don’t bust your arm patting yourself on the back man,” Jack says, but manages a smile.  

We head for the building, stepping over bodies along the way. We see dozens of empty bullet and shotgun casings amongst the dead. I reach the front door first; it’s locked and chained from the inside.

“Stop right there and put your hands up!”

Looking up, I see a woman on the roof with a machine gun pointing at us.

“Hold it lady, we’re not armed! We just want to get inside,” I say, putting my hands in the air.

“Are you bitten?” she asks.

Jack looks to me and Mike then to the woman on the roof. “What?”

“Are you bitten?” she snaps.

“No,” Jack says. “We’re not! Will you put that thing down before someone gets hurt?”

She stares at us down the barrel of her weapon. “I give the orders here. If you want in, you’re gonna have to strip!”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I ask.

“Strip, now, or get the hell out of here!” As if to emphasize her point, she pulls back the charging handle of her weapon, chambering a round with a series of dry clicks.

We strip fast. We’re standing there naked, in front of a rest stop off Interstate 66. Under different circumstances it would all seem pretty funny. “Turn around nice and slow; now!”

After we’ve turned a full circle, her tone more relaxed, she says, “OK, put ’em back on and get over to the front door. I’m coming down.” We nod, getting dressed even faster than we stripped.”

A short time later, she appears at the door, wearing the uniform of the Virginia State Police. She fumbles with her keys, unlocks the chains and gestures at us to come in.  Keeping her eyes on us, she chains the door once more.

“Look, lady, if you wanted a date, there are certainly better ways to ask than that,” Jack says with a smirk. Leave it to Jack to make a smart ass remark to someone who just threatened to shoot us.

She ignores his comment. “I’m sorry. You can’t be too careful; I let some folks in here a few days after I got here and one of them had been bitten. In a couple of hours, she turned and chewed up her family and two of my men before I put the bitch down. You three are the first living people I’ve seen since then. My name is Sergeant Diana Ortiz.”

After somewhat shell-shocked introductions, she leads us into an office and hands us some bottled water. A table in the centre of the room is cluttered with a variety of shotguns, pistols and ammunition.

“That’s a nice piece!” I say, gesturing to the machine gun in her hands. “I didn’t know cops were allowed to carry those.”  

“I’m a trooper; it took me a lot of hard work to earn this uniform.” She scowled at us to emphasize the point then added, “It’s an MGA MK46LE SAW; very useful as an attitude adjuster. We had a few back at the barracks.  They’re issued on a limited basis – crisis situations, terrorist attacks, that sort of thing.”

“OK, sorry,” I say. “Can you please tell us what the hell is going on?”

“Where the hell have you three been?” Sgt. Ortiz gapes at the three of us in astonishment.

“For the last three weeks we’ve been out at Jack’s cabin.” I gesture with my thumb toward Jack. “Out Shenandoah way. We went up there for the Fourth of July weekend … and our yearly vacation. We heard helicopters flying around the past couple days, but besides that, we don’t know a damn thing about what’s going on. We come down from the cabin this morning and find the world has gone to hell.”

Sgt. Ortiz nods at this and says, “About two weeks ago we started getting calls in like you wouldn’t believe. Out of the blue, we were getting hundreds of them an hour. It gets busy at times, but never like that. Murders, attacks, looting, you name it.  When people started describing the attacks, we thought we weren’t hearing things right, thought maybe they meant dog attacks, an outbreak of rabies or something.”

“Dog attacks?” Mike asks.

She takes a drink from her water bottle. “Yeah, we kept hearing about people being bitten. But it didn’t take long to figure out it wasn’t dogs doing the biting.”

“Jesus Christ,” Mike mutters, shaking his head.

“He has nothing to do with it. Within hours, all the law enforcement agencies in the Washington D.C. area were completely overwhelmed and simply couldn’t respond to every call. It spread so quickly, there wasn’t even time for the National Guard to be properly mobilized. A few units here and there were rumoured to have gotten moving, but we never saw any kind of help from them.”

“Did anyone have any clue what was causing these things to walk around?” Mike asks.

“The same bullshit you always hear on the radio and TV, people talking like they knew what was going on, but no one had a fucking clue. After I lost my partner on a call, I decided not to ask any more questions. Before long I couldn’t raise anyone on the radio anymore to ask. All the channels had gone dead. The few times I was actually able to raise someone; they were just as clueless as everyone else. Some were begging for help that I was no longer in a position to give. What’s the point of knowing why or what anyway? The only thing we can do is deal with it! Those things have taken enough, they’re not gonna take any more away from me!” She gestures to the table next to us, pointing out the small collection of guns and giving a curt nod.

“What happened to your partner?” Jack asks.

Sgt. Ortiz takes another drink from her water bottle, brushes her hair away from her eyes, and continues. “I was on duty in the Fairfax area with my partner. The call came through as a domestic dispute. We normally don’t answer calls to residences, but the shit was hitting the fan and the local cops needed our assistance. When we arrived at the house, the lights were off and the curtains drawn. Knocking on the front door didn’t elicit any response. My partner David and I kicked in the front door and went in. What we found there …” She trailed off, her eyes glistening brightly.  

I pull out my water bottle and say, “Maybe something to drink?”

She takes it. “Thanks.”

Jack grabs a cigarette from the pack I had left on the table and lights up. “So you just walk up to the house and kick in the door? Not too bright if you ask me with those things running around.”

“At that point we didn’t know those things were the cause of this shit! Perhaps I wasn’t clear on that point. Can I continue now?” Sgt. Ortiz snaps.

“Sorry,” Jack says, looking as if he has just been slapped in the face.

“We saw the woman of the house – neighbours said her name was Wilma Simmons – dead on the kitchen floor. No, not dead, worse than dead. When I looked at her I thought she’d been torn apart by a wild animal. Blood was still oozing from her wounds, she hadn’t been dead long. Nothing left of her face – it had been bitten … ripped off. Blood was everywhere. Then like that,” she snaps her fingers,” a loud crash and David was screaming. I turned around and saw a man on top of him. It must have been Mr. Simmons; he had his mouth around David’s throat and was tearing at him like a wild dog. When he pulled away … well a mouthful of blood and David was dead.  I shot the fucker in the chest. He jerked but he didn’t fall. Then he ran right at me. I shot him right between the eyes, which put him down for good.”

“Talk about fucked up!” I say.

She ignores me and continues. “I didn’t even have time to take more than a couple breaths, and then the old lady … just got up off the floor and came at me. I never thought an old lady could move that damn fast! I shot the bitch in the head before she got too far. I looked over at David lying on the floor. His eyes were wide open, blood still oozing from his neck. I checked for a pulse, I got nothing. Then he started to stir; I stood up and put my foot on his chest to keep him down. He began to moan and thrash, jaws snapping at the air, trying desperately to bite me. His eyes were a milky greenish colour, all bloodshot and cloudy … I put a round in his head, there was nothing else I could have done. I’d known David Brown for ten years, and I put him down like a rabid dog.” Tears roll from her eyes.

“I … I’m really sorry,” Mike says, putting his hand on her shoulder.

She shrugs off Mike’s hand. “It’s done, and I can’t change what happened.” She wipes the tears from her face and takes another drink. “Shortly after that is when things just went to shit. Buildings were burning out of control, people in the streets with guns, shooting those things and each other. All order broke down, it was anarchy. I came back to my barracks and loaded up the van with as many guns and men as I could. I lost five men in the few hours after we left, two were torn apart by those things, and the other three were killed in a shootout with some looters. The whole world was coming to an end and these motherfuckers were out looting DVD players and shooting people? When it’s all said and done, people will never change. It makes me sick. There were only three of us left when I decided to get us the hell out of the war zone. The situation had escalated far beyond anyone’s ability to control. We heard reports on the radio of several local towns completely engulfed in flames. Other reports stated that the President had ordered non nuclear bombing runs on major cities. We were driving on Route 66 West, trying to get as far away from D.C. as we could when we saw a formation of bombers in the air, headed for D.C. It didn’t take long for the city to be reduced to a steaming pile of rubble. The explosions and flames were incredible. Did it do anything but kill thousands of people? No, those things are still everywhere. What a waste.”

I feel as if someone has just hit me in the chest with a sledgehammer. I stare at my friends and a look of absolute horror is etched on both of their faces.

“D.C. is gone? No … I don’t believe … Mom? Dad? No! I’ve got to find them!” Jack shoots out of his chair. Sgt. Ortiz gets up, firmly puts her hands on Jacks’ shoulders and forces him back into his chair. She brings her face up to his, so they’re staring nose to nose. Speaking very clearly and firmly, as if to a child, she says, “I’m telling you … D.C. is gone, there’s nothing left. All you’re likely to find are those creatures.” Jack begins to sob, slamming his head on the table.

Mike’s eyes are wide with shock. He slams a fist down on the table. “I don’t believe this shit!” I put my hand on Jack’s shoulder, trying to offer him comfort; I do the same for Mike. I feel a burning hatred welling inside me. These creatures, they’ve taken everything from us, I want to kill every last one of them with my bare hands!

After a few long minutes of silent sobbing, Mike wipes tears from his eyes and looks at Sgt. Ortiz. “Excuse me offi–”

“Trooper,” she corrects.

“Sorry, there’s something bugging me about those things,” Mike says.

Jack lifts his head from the table and glares at Mike, “You mean besides the fact our families are most likely dead because of those motherfuckers?” His eyes are filled with a rage you only see in movies.

“As I was saying,” Mike continues, a little stunned. “The thing that kind of bothers me here is the one that attacked him.”  He pauses and gestures to me. “It didn’t move very fast, but the other one we ran into at the gas station moved faster than a redneck seeing a ‘free beer’ sign. If these things are dead, they shouldn’t be walking at all, but since they can obviously walk, shouldn’t they be stumbling around, you know rigor mortis making them all stiff or something?”

“Didn’t move all that fast? Try being at the receiving end of that bear hug and tell me it didn’t move fast!” I snap.

Sgt. Ortiz puts up her hand. “From what I’ve seen and heard in the initial reports, the ‘fresher’ they are, the better they seem to be able to function. I’ve seen people get up and run, climb ladders, jump over barriers, and even use some basic fighting skills just seconds after they were killed. The ones that are a little older move pretty slowly, with no real co-ordination. You can almost walk past them. So it’s the fresh ones you have really to worry more about. I wouldn’t want to get caught with my pants down in even a small group of the slow ones though. I don’t really know how long it takes for them to slow down, probably a few days or so.”

His voice still rather weak, Jack looks at us and says, “I think it’s time we all thought about what the hell we’re gonna to do. We still need supplies and we sure as hell can’t stay here forever.”

I nod. “Man’s got a point.”

Just then I hear a ‘whoop whoop’ noise in the distance that can’t be mistaken; a helicopter. “You hear that?” I ask.

Sgt. Ortiz bolts from her chair and yells at all of us to follow her to the roof. She runs out of the room and down the hallway that leads to the roof hatch. We follow her as quickly as we can. We climb the ladder and open the hatch to the roof. “There!” Sgt. Ortiz points to the helicopter. It’s swaying back and forth and I see smoke coming out the back.

“Oh man, they’re fucked,” Mike says. Another larger puff of smoke erupts from the passenger compartment and flames become visible. It auto rotates to the ground about a quarter mile from the rest stop. We watch as it circles around and around, trying to keep some measure of control in its descent. It hits the ground hard, landing on its runners just on our side of the highway, near the edge of the woods fifty yards or so from the rest stop. Two people jump out before the chopper explodes, sending shards of metal and debris everywhere. We duck down behind the parapet wall for cover. The sound of the explosion is almost deafening.

The people who escaped from the chopper are on the ground, not too far from the building. They’re barely moving. “They need our help! I’m going out there!” Sgt. Ortiz snaps.

“Me too,” Jack and Mike say simultaneously. I hesitate for a moment, frozen with fear. I’ve spotted dozens of those things coming out of the tree line – about 100 yards or so from the downed chopper.

“Holy shit! Look at all of ’em!” Jack yells.

“Downstairs in the office, there’s more guns. Get down there, grab something to fight with and let’s get out to those men before those fuckers do!” Sgt. Ortiz commands.

“Come on man, these guys need our help!” Mike shouts to me as he heads down the ladder.

I slide down the ladder and run to the office. I grab a 12 gauge shotgun, as many shells as I can manage to stick in my pockets and a 9mm pistol from the table. Jack and Mike grab some shotguns and pistols as well. Sgt. Ortiz holsters her pistol, grabs her SAW and leads us to the front door. After she unchains the door, we run as fast as we can toward the crash site and the injured people. It’s an Army chopper; the men who made it out are wearing digital camouflage fatigues. They’re on the ground, blood covering their uniforms. We bolt into the field as fast as we can, but it’s too late. We hear the men scream as the things reach them first, tearing them to pieces. There’s nothing we can do. Several creatures notice us and start to run toward us.

“Move it! Get your asses back inside!” Jack screams. The four of us turn and run towards the rest stop.  Twenty more of the creatures have appeared as if out of nowhere, blocking our retreat. They’re runners, explains how they closed the gap so quickly. Sgt. Ortiz opens fire. She cuts the first few of the things down in mid stride. The chatter of her SAW is deafening enough; the addition of our three shotguns in the mix makes my ears scream. The blasts keeps coming and coming. The creatures in front of us are falling – blood, bone, tissue, and every type of matter possible in the human body are being ripped apart by the hail of bullets and buckshot.

Once the last of the runners are down, we continue back to the building. “They’re down, let’s go!” Sgt. Ortiz yells to us. I’m surprised that I can hear anything at all with the ringing in my ears.

Before we get to the front door of the building several of the runners come around the opposite side of the building and grab Mike who’s a few feet behind the rest of us. We hear him scream; all of us turn around at the same time. They have him down on the ground, sharp broken teeth sinking into his limbs and torso. He screams again and again as he lashes out, trying to fight them off.

Jack shoots two of them, but it’s too late to save him. As Mike is being torn apart, I raise my pistol and shoot my friend in the head – his screaming brought to a sudden, brutal stop.

We enter the building and chain the doors behind us, barely making it inside ahead of the creatures. Looking through the glass doors, we see the area is now teeming with them. Some of them are the runners, but many of the ones that move slowly, making their way methodically toward the building, and us. They’re everywhere, the sound of the crash and resulting explosion must have brought them.

I begin to panic. “Those things killed Mike! They’re everywhere! We’re fucked! There’s no way out of here!” My vision flashes white and I feel a white hot sting on the side of my head as Jack slaps me hard across the face. I fall to my knees, stunned and sobbing.

“Get yourself together man! There’s nothing we could have done for him. We have to stay cool!” Jack growls at me. Shocked, but gathering my senses, I rub my throbbing cheek and jaw, stand up and nod silently.

There’s loud banging on the service entrance door in the back. More of the creatures have made their way behind the building. Sgt. Ortiz rushes towards the noise and yells, “Cover the front!” The back door begins to shake and buckle under the onslaught of the creatures.

After reloading, Jack and I look to the front and see twenty or thirty creatures pounding on the safety glass, desperate to claw their way in. Bloody handprints stain the glass. A loud crash signals the demise of the back door. Sgt. Ortiz’s SAW begins to chatter. Another crash and the creatures break the safety glass and start surging into the lobby. Jack and I dive behind the information desks. We raise our shotguns and start shooting. A heady cocktail of rage and terror are burning through my veins; hate for these things, these murderous God damn things. I bellow and scream as the blasts tear apart the rotting corpses.

As I glance at Jack, his shotgun clicks empty. He raises it like a club and runs at the remaining creatures.

“You pus-brained motherfuckers! You want some, come and get it!” Jack screams as he charges them. He hits one in the side of the head, shattering its skull. He continues to wade into them as I fire into the crowd. Still hearing the chatter of the SAW in the back of the building, we continue to fight. One creature manages to get behind Jack and grabs him.

I aim at it and pull the trigger, but instead of a recoil, I hear a dry click. It sinks its teeth into Jack, tearing a chunk of flesh from his arm. Howling, Jack discards the shotgun and lifts the creature off the ground.  As it snaps at him, he twists it and slams it head first into the ground with a sickening crunch.

An arm tears away from its socket in his powerful grip and he uses it as a club; adrenaline lending him extra strength. He uses his improvised meat club and beats several others back before he’s overwhelmed by them; they take him to the ground. As the things rip him apart, he yells “Hope you choke on it you fucks!” They tear him to pieces in front of my eyes.  It takes less than ten seconds.

Screaming, I take out the remaining creatures near me using the butt of my shotgun, crushing skulls.  The ones who have just murdered my friend get extra treatment, smashing their heads into mush. I turn to face another one; it lunges at me and sinks its teeth into my throat. I manage to throw it off and cave in its rotting skull with one final swing. I fall to the ground, choking on the blood pouring from my neck and into what’s left of my throat. As the world begins to blur, I hear pistol shots coming from the back of the building. My final thoughts before all goes dark are of my friends …

Blackness …

I feel … Strong … powerful. I don’t hurt.

I hear loud noises close by … What are they?

My eyelids feel like lead, but I force them open.

Where am I? How did I get here?

I look around and see someone at the back of the building. Loud noises and screams are coming from her.

She looks familiar … but … I can’t … remember …

She’s holding something in her hand … a gunshe’s shooting the others.

Rage … searing, blinding rage … and hunger, a burning, uncontrollable hunger. What’s happening to me?

I stand up and run toward the woman in the room.  She doesn’t see me, her back is turned. All I can think about is this woman’s flesh. So alive, so warm. I want to rip it from her body, tear her to pieces … hungry … this hunger’s unbearable! I must have her! I’m so close, I can smell her, even taste her in the pungent air. She turns around, raising her pistol. I see a flash of bright white light and the sound of thunder roars through my head …

 

THE END

 

Posted on 1 Comment

Cult Benefits: Patron and Exclusive Content

Deadman’s Tome is proud to announce that an audio reading of A Hero’s Welcome by Peter Indiana is now available. A Hero’s Welcome is a brutal horror tale of an American soldier, demoralized by what America has become, struggling with PTSD as his sanity slips away into a murderous darkness. A solid horror short story that is worthy of a read. Too lazy to read? Want to enjoy the story while on the go? Then download the MP3.

The audio version of A Hero’s Welcome is only available to Patrons! Go to https://www.patreon.com/deadmanstome and become a patron and join the Deadman’s Tome cult!

Posted on Leave a comment

Support the Greatest Horror Zine Ever!

 

When you wear the Deadman’s Tome shirt, you show to the world that you’re a supporter of something different, a fan of anything dark, and possibly a member of a really cool cult. But, you know what’s up. you know that by wearing this shirt, you show to the world that you support a really cool horror zine.

Posted on Leave a comment

Summer Drought – Call for Submissions

Having been in the publishing business for a few years now, I’ve learned that submissions tend to slow down to a crawl in the summer time. I’m not sure if it’s because of the family gatherings, travel, socializing, beach parties, and youth sports stuff, but what I do know is that summer is a time of many distractions.

It appears that Deadman’s Tome is ONE of those distractions! Take a look! Readership has spiked.Capture

 

The flow of submissions, however, has dwindled this week. I have a few that I’m sitting on, not too impressed with them.

Authors and writers of horror and dark fiction, submit your work to Deadman’s Tome. No, I’m not the biggest and most established horror magazine out there, but the audience is growing, because the zine encourages community engagement. Your story will be read, it will be shared, and you will receive ego-inflating attention!

Much more, Deadman’s Tome pays! I pay based on the number of views, comments, and likes your story receives for a year’s time.

What about longevity? How is the zine going to pay YOU if it doesn’t receive money? Well, readers can support the site in a number of different ways. They could become a patron, buy our awesome T-Shirt, and buy our Anthologies!

 
https://read.amazon.com/kp/card?asin=B01FVCE8G8&asin=B01FVCE8G8&preview=inline&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_ZSuExb4GSD74H
Check out the submission page for guidelines and submit your work!

Posted on 1 Comment

Deadman’s Tome Book of Horrors

https://read.amazon.com/kp/card?asin=B01FVCE8G8&asin=B01FVCE8G8&preview=inline&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_Ye.Dxb06BH3A4
Lost but not forgotten, the ancient tome that madmen rambled about has finally been unearthed!

Behold the Book of Horrors: Pages of flesh, bound by bone, contains passages inked in blood of murderous desires, demonic cultic practices, nagging old hags, and long forgotten ancient cities. And while the original document had a nasty habit of crippling and maiming the reader, you get the benefit of a safe electronic copy.

Get a copy of Deadman’s Tome Book of Horrors today! Don’t have the money for it, but want to support horror and give recognition to the authors? Send me a tweet at @MrDeadmanDT for your chance to receive a free or discounted copy.

Follow this link to go to the Amazon page. Deadman’s Tome Book of Horrors

Posted on Leave a comment

Kelly Evans – Voodoo and Rejection

Mr. Deadman and horror author Kelly Evans talk about voodoo and the purpose and benefit of rejection, among other things.

 
https://read.amazon.com/kp/card?asin=B01FVCE8G8&asin=B01FVCE8G8&preview=inline&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_Ye.Dxb06BH3A4

Posted on Leave a comment

Welcome to Submission Hell!

Some times people need a great example of what not to do. Welcome to submission hell, where the horrors of horror writing haunt for different reason.

Also, check out Deadman’s Tome Book of Horrors!

https://read.amazon.com/kp/card?asin=B01FVCE8G8&asin=B01FVCE8G8&preview=inline&linkCode=kpe&ref_=cm_sw_r_kb_dp_Ye.Dxb06BH3A4

Posted on Leave a comment

Deadman’s Tome LIVE Show @ 10PM (CST)

Kelly Evans, author of horror short The Adler Street Boarding House, joins Mr. Deadman to discuss her latest featured short story VooDon’t – a dark tale of Cajun witches, curses, and voodoo.

https://www.spreaker.com/embed/player/standard?episode_id=8901432&autoplay=false

You’re invited to listen and encouraged to send questions via chat. Follow the show using this link and be notified as soon as the show goes live http://www.spreaker.com/show/deadmans-tome-podcast

 

 

Posted on 4 Comments

VooDon’t by Kelly Evans

 

 

“It smells funny in here.” Lucy wrinkled her nose in disgust.

“Jesus, it really does.”

“You’re the one who wanted to come in here. Why in God’s name would you want to visit this place?”

Kate looked around the shop and shivered. The windows were blackened to block out the early evening light from outside and candles covered every surface, dried red wax covering ancient candlesticks. The air was heavy with humidity and a musty smell Kate was afraid would cling to her clothes. Arcane symbols were painted on the walls and floor, and shelves held jars, cans, and bottles in every shape and size, their contents unidentifiable.

Peering into a jar, Kate jumped back when a small movement disturbed the murky fluid. She answered her friend’s question. “For a laugh. We’re on a weekend away and you HAVE to go to a voodoo shop when you’re visiting New Orleans. It’s like a law or something. Like those hurricanes we had this afternoon.” She waved a hand around nervously, glancing at the jar again. Nothing moved this time. “It’s all done for tourists, isn’t it.” It was then that she noticed the tall black woman standing behind a glass counter filled with small animal skulls. Behind her, painted on the wall, was a large symbol comprised of a triangle, a heart, and various intersecting lines.

“Can I help you ladies?” The woman’s broad Creole accent was slow and measured.

“Um, no, we’re…” Kate looked at her friend, “we’re just browsing.” She nearly laughed as she said it, like they were browsing a department store for a new shirt.

The woman nodded. “Let me know. I’m Marie. This shop is mine. My mother owned it before me, and her mother before that. My line goes back to ancient times.”

Kate nodded and turned to Lucy, knocking jars over on a shelf in the process. Whispering, she leaned toward her friend, using a shelf to steady herself. “Obviously a speech for tourists.” Her words slurred. “The woman’s probably from New Jersey.”

Lucy giggled and playfully slapped her friend. “Shh, she’ll hear you.”

Buoyed by Lucy’s laughter Kate continued. “I’m sure that accent is fake too.”

Lucy’s laugh earned them a look from the shop owner. They turned their backs to the counter and pretended to be interested in a can of something neither could pronounce.

Voice lowered again, Kate spoke. “I’ll bet you any money she reads palms or some other crap.”

“No, but I do read the cards.” They jumped at the sound, the voice directly behind them. The scare made them both giggle.

Addressing them both she spoke again. “Would you like a reading?” The owner looked directly into Kate’s eyes. “No charge.”

Kate felt an elbow in her ribs as she was nudged forward a step by her friend. “Uh, sure, why not.” She slapped Lucy’s elbow away.

As they walked toward the counter, Kate muttered, “This should be hilarious.”

Lucy shushed her again and stood by the counter as Marie unwrapped her cards from a faded purple cloth.

Kate had seen tarot cards before; they had all messed around with them in high school. But never anything like these. They were very old, that was obvious by the faded designs and worn corners. And while she recognized the suits, the illustrative drawings were nothing like she remembered at all. Priests, nuns, and angels mixed with demons and other unnatural creatures in every carnal pose imaginable. She turned away, blushing. The heat in the shop and the numerous drinks she’d had were making her light-headed.

Marie seemed not to notice her embarrassment. “Take the deck. Hold it between your palms. Let your spirit enter the cards.”

Kate took the deck from the counter and held them as instructed. They were awkward to hold at first; too large for her hand to grasp completely but the cards’ age had softened them and soon they moulded themselves into her hand.

“How long do I hold them?”

Marie’s head tilted as she started at Kate. “A moment is all the spirits need to see into your soul.”

Kate snuck a look at Lucy and mouthed ‘dee speereets’.

“Now. Give them to me.”

Marie muttered words Kate didn’t understand as she waved a smooth black hand over the cards, then began placing single cards in an elaborate pattern on the counter top.

“Tch.”

“What?” Despite her earlier mocking, Kate wanted to know. “What does it mean?”

Marie waited a moment before replying. “You are unhappy. With a man. Your husband.”

Kate’s interest plummeted as soon as she heard this. Typical charlatan’s guess. She wore a wedding ring and who wasn’t unhappy with their relationship sometimes. But it struck a nerve. The buzz she’d felt earlier was wearing off, leaving her with a heavy, sick feeling. She covered her irritation. “’Wit ah mahn’? Really?”

Marie ignored her and continued. “And your work. You’re frustrated.”

Kate snorted. She didn’t know anyone who was happy at work. Still, another nerve hummed strongly and in her current state it bothered her.  

The shop owner looked at a further card then at Kate. “You want a child. You think a child will save your marriage.” She nodded. “And keep Ian from seeking another’s bed.”

“What did you say?” Kate was scared now. How did this woman know her husband’s name? Did Lucy or her mention Ian earlier? She couldn’t remember.

Marie shrugged. “Not me, chere. The spirits.” She waved her hand over the cards.

Kate’s anger grew; fuelled by the hurricanes, it masked her unease.

Marie continued. “Yes, you are very unhappy. Desperate. For fortune, riches. For your husband’s dying love.”

Kate backed away from the counter, stumbling. “You fucking bitch! How do you know these things?”

“I reveal what my Loa already knows.” She pointed to the symbol on the wall.

“A bunch of fucking chalk drawings told you?” Kate put a hand onto the counter to steady herself. “Fuck your Loa! You can both go to hell!”

Marie made no mention of Kate’s outburst but her eyes narrowed and her lips were thin and bloodless when she spoke. “Let me help you to the life you seek.” She grabbed Kate’s arm.

Shrugging off the woman’s hand, she couldn’t help the acid in her voice. “What, a fucking worthless spell or some other bullshit?”

“A gris gris bag. That’s all. To bring you fortune.”

Kate hesitated long enough for Lucy to lean in and whisper. “Do it. Then we’ll leave.” Her friend glanced at Marie’s still narrow eyes and lowered her head.

“Fine. How much?”

The shop owner waved her hand. “Like the cards, no charge.” She turned and disappeared into a back room, but not before making a sign to the symbol on the wall. After a moment she returned carrying a red drawstring bag, small enough to fit into a pocket.

“Here.” She handed the bag over to Kate.

Kate smelled the bag and frowned. “Is it safe? It smells fucking foul.” The hurricane-induced nausea she felt was made worse by the mix of herbs and burnt material.

A look of fury passed over Marie’s face, there only a moment then replaced by a blank look. “There is no reason for me to wish you harm, is there?”

Kate took the bag and shoved it in her purse. She looked at Marie and saw her smile was gone. In its place was a look Kate couldn’t identify. Anger? No, something else. Satisfaction? Triumph? She couldn’t tell but she was suddenly afraid.

“C’mon Luce, let’s go.” She grabbed her friend’s arm again and led her out the door.

Lucy spoke as they left. “You okay?”

Kate hesitated. She felt an unease she couldn’t name. Avoiding her friend’s question she started down the street. “I need another drink.”

 

“I’m home!” Kate closed the front door “Ian?”

She left her bag in the hall and walked into the kitchen. The remains of a meal sat on the counter and there were dishes in the sink. Sighing, she went into the living room where she found Ian laying on the sofa, watching football. Bits of potato chips and cheese puffs littered the floor.

Kate stood behind the couch and waited. When she received no sign that she’d been noticed, she coughed.

Ian jumped. “Jesus, when did you get back?”

“Just now.”

He turned back to the TV. “Good, the washing machine isn’t working, can you take a look?”

“You couldn’t have done something about it while I was away? You left it for me?”

“You know more about it than I do.”

Kate shivered, the hangover from her weekend still haunting her. “I’m going to bed. The least you can do is tidy the kitchen, I’m not doing it in the morning.” She stormed off, Ian’s grunt of acknowledgement following her.

 

Arriving late at work, Kate groaned when she saw the files on her desk. Someone had worked the weekend and had left it all scattered in no discernable order. Being an accounts payable clerk was not glamorous but it paid the bills. She flopped down in her chair and opened the first file but the words swam before her. Closing the file she leaned back and shut her eyes. Her head ached and she was exhausted. Maybe she should go home. But there was work and she’d already been passed over for more than one promotion; leaving all this wouldn’t look good.

“You okay?”

Kate opened her eyes. Her colleague, Gordon, stood before her, arms filled with more files. “I’m fine, just tired.”

“You look wiped.” He dumped the papers on her desk. “Sorry.” He looked embarrassed.

She waved an exhausted hand at him. “Don’t worry about it.”

He smiled crookedly and left.

It was true: her job frustrated her, as the stupid voodoo woman had guessed. Not only the work but the commute. There was an office ten minutes from her house but, try as she might, she couldn’t land a position there. Instead she had an hour-long drive.

Ignoring the nausea she now felt, she set her head in order and opened the file again.

 

“You don’t look well.” Ian was sitting across from her at the dinner table. She didn’t feel like cooking and had picked up a pizza for Ian on the way home.

“I don’t feel well.” Another wave of nausea washed over her as the smell of pepperoni rose from the box and she hesitated, ready to run to the bathroom. The feeling passed.

“Can I get you anything?”

“No, it’s probably just something I ate.”

It was only after she had forced down a handful of dry crackers that Kate realized it was the first time in months her husband had paid any attention to her.

 

Kate woke suddenly and threw herself out of the bed to rush to the bathroom. She barely made the toilet before what remained of her meal last night came hurling out of her. After what seemed like an eternity she suffered through the dry heaves that continued long after her stomach was empty. She heard Ian behind her.

Finally it was over and she stood, using the back of the toilet to steady herself.

“Jesus, you look awful.”

Charming, she thought. Looking in the mirror Kate saw a pale drawn face staring back at her, with pinprick dots of red around her eyes and across her cheeks where the violence of her vomiting had broken blood vessels. She muttered a sarcastic ‘thanks’ to Ian and crawled back into bed, curling herself into a tight ball.

Ian left the room without a word and Kate felt that flare of anger once more. But it was short-lived because he returned with a glass of water and the blanket she used when watching TV.

“Here.” He handed her the water. “Drink. Small sips, not too much at once.”

While she drank gratefully, Ian spread the blanket on the bed around her, waiting until she had drank as much as she could.

“What can I do?”

Kate shook her head but the movement made her feel ill again. “Nothing.”

“Do you want me to stay home with you? I’m assuming you’re not going in?”

“No, it’s okay. Just a stomach bug.”

Ian shrugged, a look of helplessness on his face. Kate felt bad for him. He was being so nice to her, after such a long period of coldness between them.

She watched him get ready for work. “You sure I can’t do anything for you?” His concerned face regarded her from the bedroom doorway.

“No, really. It’s a bug. I’ll be fine.”

He started to exit the bedroom and she could see his shoulders sag a little.

“Ian?” He turned back toward her. “Thank you.”

 

Eventually Kate forced herself to get up and call work. Expecting a lecture, she instead got a sympathetic HR rep who made noises like a mother hen and told her to take care. “Drink lots of fluids, dear.” Following this advice Kate refilled her water glass and went back to bed, falling asleep instantly.

Later in the day, feeling better, she rose and managed to keep down some soup. She dragged her blanket downstairs to the living room and made herself comfortable on the couch, tuning the TV to a mundane daytime talk show. As she settled in her work phone beeped. Kate considered ignoring the message but in the end reached over to grab the phone. It was from HR; they wanted to meet with her tomorrow. ‘Great, they’ll probably fire me for taking the day off.’ But she didn’t care. The nausea had returned.

 

That night Ian and Kate had a light meal; he ordered in again and she stuck with crackers and soup. They snuggled on the couch and watched a movie, Ian’s arm closing protectively around her. Maybe the weekend away WAS just what their relationship needed. Yes or no, she felt comfortable with him again.

 

“Sorry about yesterday.”

Marg, the HR woman Kate had spoken with when she called in sick, smiled. “You still look pale.”

Kate reached into her bag and took out the pack of crackers she had brought in with her. “My stomach is still upset but these help.” She put them back. “And I am sorry, I’m usually very healthy.”

Marg dismissed the comment with a wave. “It’s fine, really. That’s not why I called you in.”

Curiosity replaced the worry Kate had felt. “Oh?” They weren’t going to fire her.

The HR woman smiled again. “No, not at all. In fact I have some good news for you. A position has opened in another office, it’s a senior role, located at our head office, I believe you live quite close to that building?” She waited for Kate’s nod of affirmation before continuing. “We’d like to offer you the position.”

A whisper could have knocked Kate off of her chair. “Really?”

“Yes, of course. We know you’ve been passed over before but we’re positive this would be an excellent fit for you.”

Kate’s head ached but she was clear-minded enough to consider what this would mean. More money. Less travel. More seniority, responsibility. And the office, so close to home! She could eat lunch at the house and be back at the office without even getting into a car.

Marg interpreted Kate’s silence for hesitation. “Do you want to think it over tonight? Talk it over with your husband?”

Kate knew what Ian would say. “No, I don’t need any time. The answer is yes.”

 

Dinner was in the oven, candles were on the table, and champagne was on ice. Now all she needed was Ian. It wasn’t long before she heard his key scrape in the front door lock.

“Kate?”

“In here.”

Ian entered the kitchen. “What’s all this?”

“We’re celebrating.” She told him about the new job as she poured champagne.

Ian listened intently, his smile growing wider. “That’s fantastic, congratulations.” He reached over and held up his champagne flute. “To your new job.”

It may have been the meal, or the news, or the champagne but Kate felt like she was on a first date. It was like their early years together, before the arguments and tension and tears. And instead of watching a movie after dinner, Ian silently took her hand and led her to the bedroom. It had been months since they made love but thankfully, some things are not forgotten.

 

Kate stood in the circle of people, watching the dancer. The drums grew louder and louder with each wild gyration he performed. They were outside and it was hot, unbearably so. But she couldn’t move, couldn’t force herself to look away from the dance nor escape from the circle or the heat. Suddenly the dancer grabbed her hand and led her to the centre of the circle. Kate stood alone, aware that all eyes were now on her. A tall dark woman with elaborate white markings covering her body stared at her. The dancer continued his exotic steps, this time around Kate. With each turn he ripped a piece of her clothing from her body until she stood completely naked. Kate tried to cover herself but the dancer took her arms and placed them by her side. She felt sweat trickling between her shoulders and down the small of her back; the heat was suffocating. Her head pounded along with the drums, the sound coming from all around her.

With a last flourish the dancer forced her to the ground and mounted her, at the same time speaking a language she didn’t understand. She looked up at the painted woman then dared to look down as he positioned himself on top of her. What she saw horrified her: a snake where his genitals should be. As the serpent entered her she screamed.

“Kate.” She was being rocked back and forth, the snake moving inside of her. Disgust filled her, along with fear, and she knew she would vomit. She tried to turn away from him, to get out from beneath him, her stomach closer and closer to expelling its contents.

“Kate!” More shaking and she sat up in bed, eyes wide, looking around the room, trying to catch her breath.

“Ian?”

“You were having a nightmare. You screamed.”

“Where am I?”

She heard the puzzlement in Ian’s voice. “Home. In bed.”

Kate closed her eyes. It was a dream. Just a dream. But then why, if it wasn’t real, could she still feel something moving inside her?

 

Ian insisted on her staying home the next day, but Kate was excited about her new role, despite the exhaustion she felt. She signed the contract and was surprised by the salary, much more than she had expected. Immersing herself in learning about her new role, Kate convinced herself that she was fine, that the nausea she still felt was nothing more than nerves. But no matter how much she tried to hide it, Ian noticed.

“Something from your weekend away with Lucy?”

She shook her head. “Probably not.”

“Are you sure? A parasite maybe?”

“I don’t think there are any parasites in New Orleans,” she snapped.  Seeing the look on Ian’s face, she immediately regretted it. “I’m sorry, I’m tired. New job and all.” She stood and cupped his face in her hands. “I love you. Don’t worry about me.” She placed a kiss on his forehead. “I’m off to bed.”

 

“Kate! Wake up!” She felt herself being shaken again and relief flooded her as she woke and saw Ian’s worried face looking down at her. “You were dreaming again.”

“Was I?” Kate felt the dream trying to lure her back.

“Judging by the scream a bloody bad one.”

“I screamed?” She thought back. “I was being chased, running from something. It wanted to kill me. There was a woman in the trees, she was laughing at me. I kept running and she kept appearing, closer to me each time. Then suddenly she was right in front of me.” Kate shuddered. “She was holding a head.”

“A head? Like, a human head?”

Kate nodded, unable to describe the horror of her dream. It was less the visual, although the severed, mutilated head made her feel ill. No, it was the feeling. The smell of the wet earth. The sound of the wind. The fear. She shivered and covered herself in blankets. “I can’t seem to get warm. Can we turn up the heat?”

Ian nodded and without a word went downstairs to the thermostat. When he came back there was a determined look on his face. “You’re going to the doctor tomorrow.”

She didn’t have the energy to argue.

 

“I’m pregnant.”

“What?!” Ian chocked on his pasta.

“I’m pregnant. Having a baby.”

Ian jumped up, a look of confusion on his face. “You’re sure?”

Kate nodded. “I got the results from the doctor today.” She grabbed her glass of water from the table and held it in front of her. “Congrats, you’re going to be a daddy.”

Ian sat down again, shaking his head. “Pregnant?”

“Yes.”

“With a baby.”

“Well, of course, what else would it be?” Ian remained silent. “Aren’t you happy?”

His face finally relaxed into a smile. “Of course I am, god, I’m ecstatic!” He rushed over to hold her and placed a hand on her belly. “A baby.”

Kate laughed. “Yes, a baby.”

After dinner they snuggled on the couch. Kate couldn’t remember a time when everything had been going so well. And that night, for the first time in a week, she had no dreams.

 

Over the next few months Kate worked at becoming an expert in her new role. She sat at her desk, her hand unconsciously cradling her swelling stomach. Still constantly exhausted, it took all of her resources to focus. During the day she grew into her management position; at night she prepared for their child and enjoyed Ian’s company. Her visits to the doctor raised no concerns; it was a normal pregnancy. Except for one thing she learned at her appointment that afternoon.

“I have news.”

“Oh?”

“We’re having twins.”

 

The woman was back, decorated as usual. This time she held two snakes, one white and the other black. She twirled seductively, using the snakes as props and somehow coaxing them to sway along with her. She danced in a circle that had been painted on the floor, two elaborate symbols painted within the circle’s borders. Kate watched from outside the circle. There was no one else there.

Reaching down carefully, the woman placed the snakes on the ground, one inside each of the symbols. Kate watched, fascinated.

The snakes slithered toward each other, meeting in the middle. Kate was suddenly very afraid, although she didn’t know why. Something bad was about to happen, something she couldn’t stop. She could feel it inside.

In a flash of movement the black snake attacked, launching itself at the white snake. The white snake turned, desperate to protect itself but was too late: blood flowed from a large gash in its neck where the black snake had torn a piece of flesh out. As the white snake lay dying, the black snake began to swallow the body, ignoring the feeble thrashing of its prey. Soon it was over.

Kate could still hear the woman’s laughter long after she had woken.

 

“I had the strangest dream last night.” Kate was eating breakfast with Ian.

“You ARE pregnant. Probably all that bizarre food you’ve been eating.” He reached over to the corkboard and pulled a piece of paper from it. “Look at this grocery list: hot peppers, crawfish, garlic – and you put black pepper on your cereal yesterday.”

Kate shrugged. “I know. All this stuff used to give me the worst heartburn but these days I can’t seem to get enough.”

Ian frowned as she grabbed the hot sauce and added a generous amount to her coffee.

 

The months went by, season followed by season, and Kate grew larger and larger. Her dreams continued; sometimes mild and curious, but often too horrible to believe her own mind could come up with such images. She stopped mentioning them to Ian, convincing herself they were a result of the pregnancy, or the odd food she constantly craved. Surely that must explain them. Right?

 

Kate was part of a crowd of onlookers again, a circle of bodies tightly packed around a large stone table. The forest was filled with the sound of insects and animals although none revealed themselves. A smell of dark, damp soil that she had become used to permeated everything: the forest, her hair, her clothes, what little there was. All had the musty smell of death and decay.

The dark painted woman was there; she was always there, watching. She stood beside the table and with a glance at Kate, signalled to someone Kate couldn’t see. A moment later a young woman was led to the table, heavily pregnant. She stumbled a few times and was held up by one of the woman’s helpers. Her eyes were wide with fear and she was moving her lips but Kate couldn’t hear what she was saying. The woman was helped onto the table and tied down with ropes: feet, hands and neck. It seemed unnecessary as the young woman seemed unable to move but Kate soon understood the reason for the bindings.

The painted woman addressed the watching crowd then raised a knife in the air over her head, holding it with both hands. She began to chant and soon the crowd joined in, repeating the same phrase over and over. Kate tried to run but couldn’t. When she looked down at her feet she saw they had melted into the floor. She screamed but no sound came out. Looking back up she saw the dark woman staring at her, a small smile playing on her painted lips. Her chanting grew louder and the young pregnant woman on the table finally began to move, struggling to free herself of her bindings.

The chanting reached a crescendo and on the last syllable the dark woman plunged the knife into the pregnant woman’s belly. The young woman’s scream was inhuman; like an animal in pain, a demon escaping from hell. She tried to look away but felt an invisible pressure on the back of her head, forcing her to watch.

The dark woman laughed as she reached inside the young woman and brought out a deformed foetus, a pathetic mockery of a human. She held the creature in the air, laughing as the foetus mewled, mucus in its throat making a wet sound. Grabbing the knife once more, she cut the umbilical cord and licked the blood and tissue off of the knife-edge. Kate could see pieces of flesh in the dark woman’s teeth as she smiled broadly. She began to laugh again and Kate could hear whispering: foreign evil-sounding words.

The pain started at that moment and Kate grabbed her stomach, doubling over in agony. Suddenly the dark woman was standing in front of her, foetus held by the neck in one hand, knife at the ready in the other.

Kate woke screaming as the knife entered her stomach, the woman saying only one word to her: ‘Now’.

 

“Ian.” It was her turn to nudge him. She had lain awake after the dream, trying to calm her breathing when the pain hit again. “Ian! Wake up! It’s time.”

Ian rolled over, mumbling in his sleep. As another wave of pain washed over her Kate kicked her husband in the leg. “IAN!”

He was finally awake. “What? What is it? What’s wrong?”

“It’s time.”

She saw the look of understanding creep onto his face. “Now? You’re serious?” He leaped from the bed as he spoke. “Okay, right, we’re good, we’re good.” He was running around the room. “I’m ready, I’m ready.”

They got to the car and Kate was grateful the traffic was light. Reaching the hospital in record time Kate was quickly checked in and ushered into the delivery ward.

“Is dad coming in?” The nurse smiled at Ian.

Kate replied on his behalf. “Dad is not, dad faints at the sight of blood.” She laughed and then grimaced as another contraction gripped her. Through clenched teeth she continued. “Dad can’t even watch hospital shows on TV without feeling dizzy.”

“Right then, it’s just you and me.” The nurse winked at Ian and wheeled Kate through a door.

 

It was a quick birth with no complications. Within an hour of arriving at the hospital Kate’s family grew by two members: a boy and a girl, both healthy and loud.

“They’re beautiful.” Ian was looking from one to the other of his children.

“They’re perfect.” Kate smiled through her exhaustion.

“Have you thought of any names?” The nurse had come back in to check on Kate and the twins.

“I have.” She ignored Ian’s raised eyebrows. “Aaron and Maura.”

Ian smiled. “They’re beautiful.” He looked at the boy, light haired like himself. “Welcome Aaron.” Then to the girl, who’s patchy dark hair was similar to Kate’s. “And you, Maura. Welcome to the family.”

They remained like that in silence until the nurse interrupted. “Sorry dad, mum needs her sleep. As do the little ones.” She winked at Ian again. “Can you stand to be away for a while?”

Ian nodded and leaned over to place a kiss on Kate’s forehead. “I’ll go home and bring you a few things.”

Kate nodded, already falling asleep. She took one last look at her children before nodding off. It was the first night in months she slept peacefully, nightmare-free.

 

The years passed and the twins grew. Kate and Ian moved into a bigger house; Kate had gotten generous raises each year, along with a substantial annual bonus. The house suited them well: there was room for them all, with modern appliances and parking for both of their cars. The neighbourhood was upscale with a highly rated school just two blocks away.

Ian’s business thrived and Kate continued to excel in her managerial role, despite the constant exhaustion.

“You’re a working mother, of course you’re tired.” She was sick of people telling her this. “Are you getting enough sleep?”

Yes, actually, she was. Since the twins’ birth, she’d experienced no nightmares, or at least did not remember them, and had grown used to their absence.

Maybe those people offering unwanted parental advice were right: working and looking after twins WAS making her tired. It must be.

 

She was with the watching crowd again, standing in a circle around the stone table. The dark woman was there, leering at her with her white painted lips. There was no chanting this time, only signs made in the air above the table. The crowd’s silence was like a blanket of snow, and only their breathing could be heard.

A child’s wail made Kate’s heart ache, tears forming in her eyes. No. Please. But as soon as she spoke the words they were whipped away from her mouth. The woman laughed and showed Kate her clenched hand. When she opened it and blew on her palm Kate’s own words blew back in her face.

Tears stung her eyes as the child was brought out to the table. It was a newborn, it’s skin red and angry-looking. No bindings were needed for such a helpless creature.

The woman beckoned to Kate with a long painted finger. “Come.”

She couldn’t help herself; no matter how she tried to disobey the command, her body was not her own. It no longer followed Kate’s orders; rather it belonged to the dark woman entirely. She was handed a knife, a small sharp blade with a worn ivory handle. Once more her words were snatched from her mouth before she could voice them. She couldn’t even shake her head.

A gesture from the woman caused Kate’s hand lifted of its own accord. She tried to control it, tried to stab herself with the blade. She was rewarded with a mocking laugh and a finger wagging, no no. The hand continued to lift until Kate’s arm was fully extended, the knife pointing down at the child.

Please. No. The tears were streaming down her face, blurring her vision. But it was too late. Suddenly her arm plunged, burying the knife in the child’s chest. The child screamed in pain and began twitching, its small limbs convulsing. Withdrawing the blade Kate reached in with one hand and grabbed the tiny heart.

The painted woman laughed triumphantly and made another motion. Kate felt her hand move again. No no no no no. Her hand came closer and closer, the small bloody heart nearing her mouth.

Suddenly she had her voice. “NOOOOOOOOOO!”

 

Kate’s eyes flew open. She couldn’t catch her breath, she felt like she was suffocating. The room was pitch black and when she reached for Ian she found she couldn’t move. Her breathing grew worse as she tried to gulp in enough air. A moan escaped her lips when she discovered that her legs were useless to her as well.

“Ah, you’re awake.” A broad Creole accent came from somewhere in the dark. “Good.”

Kate rolled her eyes, frantically trying to determine the source of the voice. A voice that sounded so familiar to her.

A pale light flicked on and a face appeared above her, one she recognised instantly. She willed herself to move, her leg, her arm, anything. Nothing happened.

“You remember me, no?” The dark lady smiled. “Yes, I can see you do.” She moved away and the laughter that had haunted Kate for years assaulted her from the other side of the room.

Was this another dream? Without moving her head she looked around the room as best she could, rolling her eyes left and right. The room was empty; a single dirty bulb swinging from the ceiling caused shadows to play on the peeling walls. The smell of something rotting permeated the space, making Kate gag.

“No, chere. This is no dream. You are here. I am here.”

She can read my thoughts.

“Yes.”

The silence lay heavy. Then, from the corner of the room, “Tch.” The face appeared above her again. “You still think this is a dream? You still think you can escape me?” She wagged a long finger. “No, not possible. You are mine.”

Kate’s mind raced. She thought of her children, her husband, her home.

“You think you have children? That this life you live is real? That you have a beautiful house and wonderful job? No chere. THAT was the dream.”

It wasn’t possible. Every part of her screamed that it wasn’t true. She thought of Ian.

“Ian will come to this city. He will hear that your friend returned without you and come looking.”

Lucy! The trip here with Lucy was years ago.

“No. Only yesterday. I took your friend’s memory, she will return remembering nothing of my shop or your visit here.” Marie stared into Kate’s eyes. “Nor of the grave insult you gave to my Loa.”

Kate’s eyes widened as understanding washed over her. But still she had to try. Ian will come.

“No one knows you came to my shop. No one will look here for you. No one.”

The truth violated her and her mind screamed. The twins, who she loved more than life itself, had never been born. Her relationship with Ian was as she had left it when she travelled to New Orleans, on the verge of collapse. She still had a job she hated. A house she hated. None of it had been real.

“Who is to say what is real and what is not, eh?” Marie laughed again and swept out of the room, leaving Kate’s mind to fall apart. After a while she returned, dressed in robes, face fully painted. A large man was with her. She motioned at Kate and the man picked Kate up, tossing her over his shoulder. She felt the pain of the treatment but still could not move.

They carried her outside. It was dark, a sliver of moon hanging in the sky. After half a mile they slowed and Kate was put on the ground, propped up against a tree trunk.

“Welcome to your new home.” Marie spread her arms wide.

Through the haze that had entered Kate’s mind she saw the dirt mounds, each one with a crude wooden cross at the head. Her eyes rolled wildly, still the only part of her body she could move. They were in a small hollow surrounded by a dense forest of dead and dying trees. The moon shone through the bare branches and in the diffused light Kate could see that many of the graves were fresh. All were ornamented; pictures, candles, and personal items adorning the spaces, the crosses heavy under the weight of crucifixes.

“You like your home? Good.” A terse word to her assistant and Kate felt herself being lifted once more. A few steps later she was placed in a box and a lid was nailed onto the top. Kate could see Marie’s triumphant face through the cross that was carved into the coffin lid.

“Au revoir, chere.” Marie’s painted lips parted into a smile.

 

It was the last thing Kate saw before the first shovelful of dirt hit the coffin.

Readlikeshareeyes

patreonBecome a patron

facebookJoin the Fan Club!

twitterFollow Mr. Deadman

Deadman’s Tome is a growing horror zine that publishes short stories and flash fiction whether it’s ghost stories, zombie invasions, bigfoot sightings, slasher sprees, bizarre fiction, classic horror literature or erotica. The darker the tale the better. If you enjoyed the story, or even if you didn’t, leave a comment below as it helps the authors.