Authors: AJ Brown
Dredging Up Memories
Dredging Up Memories
Published 2016 by
Stitched Smiles Publishing
Copyright ©2016 A.J. Brown
Front cover design by Lisa Vasquez
Edited by Amanda Shore
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form, electronically or mechanically. No part of this publication may be photocopied or recorded without written consent by the author, except where permissible by law.
This book is for your enjoyment and entertainment.
This book may not be resold.
Disclaimer: The works in
Dredging Up Memories
are works of fiction. Names and events are creations from the author’s imagination except where noted.
Dedicated to: Logan, better known as The Boy.
Walking in mud with butterflies above. Sounds dirty, painful, but with its payoff. You’ll have moments, I’m sure, where this story will be thick; it’ll push you, and it may just hurt, but you’ll battle on. Why? Because of the simple, honest feelings it displays. The payoff.
Hank Walker is your friend, father, brother, and son. And he is a good Ol' Boy. You will connect. And not just with Hank but also to a teddy with a boy’s name and girl’s voice. You’ll meet his family and friends. You’ve met people like them before. There’ll be bad guys and good guys. Scary and hopeful.
A.J. Brown has a knack for the feels, of making it personal and real. If he’s your ride through the end of the world, be prepared to get a little dirt on you.
Follow Hank, walk through the apocalyptic mud with him, dredge up those fluttering memories.
Co-Author of the novel
Tales of the Nothing Man
The rifle was light. Unlike Pop’s shotgun; that thing was heavier than any firearm should be, and the kickback could knock you on your ass if you weren’t ready for it. Pop called it Ox—I guess it was an appropriate name for something so powerful. It always reminded me of Babe the blue ox, Paul Bunyan’s companion. I reckon that’s how Pop saw his shotgun—more as a companion than a weapon or hunting tool.
One time my brother, Leland, thought he was man enough to wield old Ox and took him out of the gun rack in Pop’s shop. He handed it to me, and I almost dropped it. The wood stock was cold, the barrel like ice, and my nerves were frazzled. You see, Leland was the oldest of the four of us, and I was his sidekick little brother. He played jokes on all of us and did things that the rest of us wouldn’t think of doing. Like pulling Ox off the gun rack.
“Come on,” he said and took the shotgun from me. I had never been so relieved in my fourteen years.
“I don’t think this is a good idea, Lee.”
He shook his head, and his hair—which was down to his shoulders—moved from side to side. “Don’t be a wuss face, Hank. Dad will never know. We’ll go out to the fence behind the barn and shoot a couple of shells and put it back. Easy as pie, little brother.”
Easy as pie? Nothing is ever easy as pie.
I set up a can on one of the old fence posts by the chicken coop and then got behind him. Leland took aim, the shotgun in the crook of his shoulder, right in the socket where the collarbone and shoulder come together. He squeezed the trigger with no hesitation.
A bomb went off in my head, and my ears rang for most of the rest of that day. Leland went backwards and ended up on his back, unconscious. Seven hours later, he came home from the hospital, arm in a sling, shoulder dislocated and collar bone broken. He had a lump on the back of his head where it hit the ground, resulting in a concussion that gave him headaches for months after.
“Did I hit the can?” he asked me before he went to bed that night.
“Nope. But you did take out one of the fence runners.”
Memories. It’s the hardest part of this whole…end of the world thing? If that’s what it could be called. That’s all I have now: the memories of loved ones and friends passed on and, in many cases, rose up. How odd does that sound? Rose up? Like anyone thought the dead really could get up and walk.
I guess it was possible after all, wasn’t it? Shows how much we knew.
I stood from my pickup, slung my pack over my shoulder, and closed the door, leaving the keys in the ignition. Just in case. I shouldered my pack and walked to the center of the street, rifle in both hands. An old, blue sedan sat off to the left, its wheels up on a curb, its front end crumpled by the light pole it had hit. The left front tire sat at an odd angle, a dead person beneath it. I moved to the front of the vehicle. Another dead man slumped over the steering wheel, his skull ruptured. Hair and bits of tissue clung to the windshield, the glass spider-webbed from where his head struck. Flies buzzed about, zipping through the broken window and lighting on the man’s head and shoulders and probably the rest of him as well. The stench of death hung in the air and reminded me of roadkill after three days in the summer sun: a cloying, heavy odor that turned the stomach and lingered with a reach much further than anything—rotten or pleasant—should.
I let out a long breath. Recognition could sometimes bring you to tears, but not in this case. It only brought back old memories. “I’ll come back for you in a little while, Mr. Martin. Get you out of there, okay?”
He had been my baseball coach in another time, back when it was safe to play games. Back when there was no fear of something dead coming out of the woods or around a corner to rip you apart. From the looks of him, he wouldn’t be getting up and joining the ranks of the undead.
The man underneath the car was a different story. His head twitched, a movement that was so insignificant but so startling at the same time. One of his hands moved, then his eyes opened. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, I still can’t get used to seeing the dead move, get up, and walk around. I certainly can’t get used to seeing them eating people. His mouth opened, and he hissed, a deep, throaty sound.
I didn’t recognize him. He could have been a neighbor or a friend or just another dead head that shambled into our little town. It didn’t matter; he was a rotter even if he was a person at one time. I took aim with my rifle then stopped. Instead of shooting him, I brought the heel of my boot down on his forehead. His head slipped beneath my foot, and he groaned. I brought my heel down again, this time in the center of his face. His nose shattered, and my heel broke through rotten skin. A third time, and there was a hollow crunch that made me shiver. My stomach rolled, and for a moment, I thought I would throw up. The man stilled.
I scanned the small neighborhood—an odd cul-de-sac, not quite a square but nowhere near a circle either. The six houses formed a U of small homes and overgrown yards. A few skeletal remains lay about here and there. The one lying in the second yard to my right was a woman at one time, and from the flower print skirt she still had around her decomposing hips, I guessed she was still fairly young, maybe not even thirty yet.
Jeanette entered my thoughts. I tried to shove her back into the deepest corner of my soul. Swallowing hard, I shook my head and hoped she and Bobby were okay, that Jake had managed to get them to a safe zone before the dead managed to swarm our small town. I closed my eyes and saw her, the fear on her face, the look of disbelief as Jake pulled her away by her arms.
“Go!” I yelled.
I had stayed behind with Leland and Pop and Davey Blaylock. Someone had to fight. The military wasn’t going to be coming to Sipping Creek, South Carolina. Like thousands of little do-nothing towns all across the country, it existed just to exist.
A slight shuffle brought me from my memories. I looked past the back of Mr. Martin’s car. Mrs. Crenshaw shuffled along in a slightly bent over manner, her body a gray mass of ugly. White puffs of dirty hair hung along the sides of her face; one eye dangled by the optic nerves. A bloom of blood clung to the front of her nightgown. Her feet were bare, and pieces of skin and meat hung off the sides, and her toes were nothing more than bones. There were scratches on her arms and neck and face, deep grooves that bled before she died.
“Morning, Mrs. Crenshaw,” I called and waved, knowing full well the only answer I would get was…
She groaned, turned her whole body toward me. Not just her head like a living person would but her entire dead, stiff body. She picked up her pace, one hand extending outward, the other one appearing as useless as teats on a bull. I guess she tried to straighten, but Mrs. Crenshaw had suffered from Osteoporosis in her old age and had that hump on her back—the Dowager’s Hump, she once told me—that kept her from being fully upright while alive, much less in her rotting, dead state.
It pained me to see my sixth grade teacher like this. She had been a cantankerous old bat, especially when I was a kid, always fussing about not spoon-feeding her students. If we wanted to learn, we would earn it in her classroom. Not many of us passed. I scraped by with a low D—not great but passing. She wasn’t loved by many, and most of us thought she was the meanest teacher we ever had. Even so, she didn’t deserve the fate dealt her.
Raising my rifle, I took aim. Brown drool trickled from her mouth, slinked its way down her chin. I waited as she drew closer, her moan echoing in the cul-de-sac. A tingle of dread crept into my stomach. What if others heard her? I still didn’t know if they could hear, really truly hear in the way that you and I can, or if they felt vibrations from voices, or maybe words sounded like echoes in their ears, just a reverb of slow motion sounds that were no more than a
wah wah wah wah wah wah
. I didn’t know if they could actually see either, or smell, but what if they could?
I shrugged. The rifle would be louder than any moans she could make. And if they could hear, then the gunshot would attract more of them.
“A little closer, Mrs. Crenshaw,” I said and drew a bead on her forehead. I pulled the trigger. Mrs. Crenshaw’s head snapped back; she stumbled on impact and tipped backward. She landed on that fleshy hump and rolled slightly to one side. I let out a long breath, held my rifle on her as I approached. I nudged her foot, then her arm, then the side of what remained of her head. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Crenshaw,” I said and lowered my gun.
Just as I thought, others came out of hiding, their rotting bodies lurching along. Flies buzzed about them as if dancing around mobile, all-you-can eat bars. Two of them came at first, then three, four more from around the backside of one of the houses. Mr. Mitchell stumbled over a Radio Flyer sitting in a driveway, crashed to the ground with a thud and a clatter as the wagon toppled over. His fat stomach burst, sending brown sludge and rotting organs onto gray concrete. He tried to stand but could only manage to roll over. His intestines spilled out.
Biting back vomit, I took aim at the nearest corpse, a woman, and squeezed the trigger. The top of her head disappeared, and she dropped to the ground. The next shot took the man closest to her. The third one missed, and I back pedaled to the front of Mr. Martin’s car. They closed in quick, their moans escalating. I crawled onto the hood of the car then onto its top. It gave slightly but held my weight.
The next three rounds dropped the nearest of the dead. The others clambered over their fallen comrades. I slid the pack from my shoulder, reached inside for a pistol. Easier. Faster. Four shots, and only one undead remained. My hand shook for a moment. Killing the ones I knew was always harder, more painful. Tommy Banks was no different. His son played with my son, two eight-year-olds with heads full of dreams and lots of mischief left undone.
“Deep breaths, Walker,” I said to myself. “Slow and steady.” Like that tortoise that raced the hare. Slow and steady, and I should win the race. But what was I racing against? The dead? Time? I didn’t know.
Tommy scrambled over several corpses as if they were just speed bumps in the way. He teetered to one side and almost fell when he did so. His black hair was still dark but matted down on one side like he just woke up from a two-day sleep and forgot to do a comb through before going out. He wore a uniform, and his nose was crusted with what looked like brown snot. He must have been really sick the last time he arrived home from work. Like Mrs. Crenshaw, there were scratches on his face. His arms reached across the hood of the car, his mouth snapping, his teeth clattering together. I swallowed the lump in my throat. I took aim, pulled the trigger. Tommy Banks’ head snapped back, then he slumped against the car, his head dragging down the passenger’s side door as he fell, leaving a smear of blackish red in its wake.
My shoulders sagged, and I lowered my head. Forcing back tears, I slid onto the hood and jumped over the bodies. I wasn’t done. A clean sweep of the neighborhood was needed, and I hadn’t even reached the first house. A few feet from the car, I turned back, stared at the mass of rotting flesh surrounding Mr. Martin’s old, blue sedan. It was a nightmare. It was all just a nightmare. It had to be.
I pinched my arm then my face. I was wide awake.
Mr. Mitchell was still moving, crawling toward me, his blackened intestines dragging behind him, his hips and legs left back where he had split in half. His bald head bled where he had struck it against the sidewalk. Still he crawled on, his fingers slapping the concrete hard as he tried to move faster.
How did I forget about him? I raised the rifle. A second later, he stopped moving, the bullet taking off the side of his head.
I walked back toward my truck, stopping at Mr. Martin’s car. I looked at him. It would be a pain in the ass to pull him free, but it needed to happen.
“Soon, Mr. Martin.”
At my truck, I slung the rifle into the bed and grabbed the pickaxe and shovel. I was already tired, but they were good people, these folks from Sipping Creek. I couldn’t leave them to rot or to let the elements wear away what remained of them. And the animals…I didn’t know if eating their flesh could kill the animals, most of them dogs that used to be well-fed and loved, but I didn’t want to ever have to find out.
In the old world, we buried our dead. It was closure for those left behind. Stones marked graves, sometimes witty or profound statements on the markers. At that time, I wasn’t concerned with phrases or even closure. Respect held me in that neighborhood.
Three feet in to digging a mass grave, I stopped. A faint groan held my attention. Staggering from the Banks’ open door was Thomas, Tommy’s son. His jaw sat slack, his hair stuck up in cowlicks as if he, like his dad, had just woken up from a long nap. Drooping, white-filmed eyes sat in deep sockets. He stepped off the side of the porch and fell straight down. One leg struck the ground first, and then he somersaulted and landed hard on his back. I cringed. If he had been alive, that fall might have killed him. It would have knocked the breath out of him and then sent him into a screaming fit when he was able to breathe again. I wanted to run over to him, to see if he was okay. I didn’t.
Instead, I watched. It took him a couple of minutes, but he managed to roll over and get to his feet.
Daddy, can I go to Thomas’ house?
How many times had Bobby and Thomas played together? How many times did they have sleep-overs? How many times had Tommy and I taken them to the nearest race or to one of the ball games over at the University in Columbia?