The Dead & Dying: A Zombie Novel

BOOK: The Dead & Dying: A Zombie Novel
10.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

THE DEAD & DYING

A Zombie Novel

By

William Todd Rose

 

 

Paperback edition available from Library of the Living Dead Press

 

CHAPTER ONE: CARL

 

Damn, but those bastards can put a hurtin' on ya. Fucking things tore out a chunk of my side before I managed to pop a couple rounds in their heads and now I can't stop bleeding for the life of me. Doesn't seem to matter how much pressure I apply: these old t-shirts just keep soaking up the blood like drought-cracked earth hungry for rain.

Hurts like Hell, too. Imagine something rips a hole in your flesh about the size of a dinner plate. Then imagine tiny shards of broken glass get sprinkled around inside the wound before having rubbing alcohol splashed all about the gash. On top of all that, there's this damn throbbing. Like there's some sort of giant heart below all that torn meat and tissue, pounding as if it could somehow break free and plop right on out of my body.

Course, I know what this means. I've seen it happen enough there's no doubt in my mind how all this is gonna end. The only thing that keeps me guessing is how much longer I've got: twenty minutes? A day? Never seen anyone last more than a couple of nights, no matter how hard they fight. Sooner or later those chills are gonna set in and then there's gonna be a few moments where the pain just melts away. My body will be dead before my brain even knows what happened and for that brief bit of time I'll
be
stuck somewhere between life and whatever happens once you've turned.

Just before Josie took her final breath, she said it was like she'd finally found the nirvana she spent her entire life looking for.

“Everything's so clear now. Everything's so beautiful.”

I suppose as far as last words go you can't do much better than that.

When her body went limp, I squeezed my eyes shut so I wouldn't have to see the light in her eyes flicker out. I pulled the trigger, felt the pistol kick, and tried to ignore that little tickle gunpowder puts in your nose. I wanted to remember her with that spark in her eyes, with the glow that somehow seemed to radiate from her pale skin, the corners of her lips turned slightly upward into a knowing smile....

‘Course, there won't be anyone around to do me the same favor. It was just me and Josie by then and I've been traveling alone ever since. Maybe if I would've hooked up with some of the people I met on the way, maybe that Chinese fella or the little group that said they were heading to Paris Island; maybe then none of this ever would've happened. After all, having someone to watch your back usually ain't such a bad thing.

But I was tired, ya know? Tired of getting to know people, tired of hearing about the pain they've been through and the loved ones they've lost and such. You share your stories with these people, you end up crying yourselves to sleep together, and sometimes even laughing when you can steal a moment. You share blankets and food and every emotion you feel throughout the day. Before long, you care about them. They become like family. Hell sometimes, like with Josie, you might even find yourself falling in love, as unlikely as that may seem. And for what? To see them pulled down by a mob of staggering corpses? To hear their screams as you're torn between the urge to help and the instinct to run?

That first night without them is always the worst. You replay the whole thing again and again, trying to figure out if there was something you coulda done different. Maybe if you hadn't knocked that tin can over or if you'd been just a little more alert. Or a little quicker hopping over that wall. You try to sleep, but the questions don't stop and you keep seeing their faces, that expression that seems to plead for help and accuse all at the same time. And then you think of them out there, shambling through the darkness as they look at the world through the film of dust that's already begun to settle across their eyes....  I reckon that'll be me soon enough, though.

But as long as I keep thinking it takes the edge off the pain a bit. Maybe that's why so many people talk to the dying when they have the chance. Not because they think the words can honestly reassure the person, but because they somehow know that any distraction is welcome. Shit, for a moment I found myself trying to count the cracks in the wall... but that ain't quite the same. Got to about twenty-five before it felt like those teeth were ripping away at my skin all over again.

Maybe if you die quick, your life really does flash before your eyes; but if it’s draining out of you nice and slow then there's not really much call for rushing through. So I'm just gonna lay here and let my mind wander for a spell. I'll lay here and bleed and try not to moan too loud when the pain gets bad. And maybe, just maybe, I'll find that little piece of perfection Josie told me about... or maybe I'll end up tasting the barrel of my pistol and painting the wall with my brains. Guess I'll just hafta wait and see how this all plays out, ya know?

 

CHAPTER TWO: JOSIE

 

It breaks my heart to see him lying over there in so much pain. I wish I could wipe the beads of sweat off his brow or hold his hand and tell him everything is going to be okay; but I know he can't see me, that he doesn't even realize I'm here. I tried to call out to him once. I shouted as loud as I could, “Carl, it's me. Josie. I'm here sweetie. I'm with you.” But all he did was press that bloody shirt tighter against his side and grit his teeth through the pain.

And he looks so much smaller now. A lot more so than when I first met him; and I don't mean simply the weight he's lost from going so long on so little. It's something else: almost as if there's something more than just blood leaking out of him; it's like he's deflating right before my eyes and there's nothing I can do.

For what must be the thousandth time, I think
this isn't the way it’s supposed to be
. Carl shouldn't be here in this old shack with dust motes turning lazy circles in shafts of sunlight. His life shouldn't be spreading across the floor in an ever widening puddle and he shouldn't be dragging all the clothes from his rucksack in some feeble attempt to last just a few breaths longer, a few minutes more.

I'd hoped he would eventually make his way somewhere that resembled the way things used to be. A fortified town where he could have a little house and spend time gardening in the Spring, perhaps. I pictured him sitting on a porch swing at night, looking up at the stars overhead, and maybe thinking about how he had finally found the kind of life we had always dreamed about. I'm not even sure places like that exist anymore... but, if they do, that's exactly what I'd wanted for him. And now I have to face the harsh reality: he'll never be able to obtain that type of life. Or any life at all, for that matter. He'll end up like me. Or worse....

I'm no fool. I know why he can't see me. I know I'm dead. I remember when he closed his eyes and shot me: the way his hand trembled and the single tear that cleared a swath of clean skin through the grit and grime on his face; his bottom lip quivered and I remember being afraid that he wouldn't actually be able to do it.

I was trying to part my lips, to let him know that it was okay, when he lowered his head and stiffened his body. The void washed over me instantly but I could hear my thoughts echoing, as if they were receding down an infinitely long tunnel:
Thank you, my sweet... thank you....

I'd always thought I would be reincarnated when my time in this body had come to an end. I thought my spirit would inhabit another shell and I'd begin the entire cycle anew. And who knows? Perhaps, eventually, I may have.

But for a while there was only the darkness; I'm not sure how much time had passed in this realm while I was sleeping in the great unknown. I only know that at some point I began to feel a tugging. When I was a child, there was a stream that ran through my backyard and I used to dip one leg into the cold water, just up to the kneecap, and feel the current as it surged around me. The sensation I felt in the void was similar to that, like there was a force acting against me, pushing from one direction while pulling from another. Thought began to return and there was a joy that can't be described to anyone still trapped within their fleshy prison: surely, my time had come... I was being reborn.

As suddenly as the darkness had originally descended, so was it lifted and I found myself in this little shack. I took in the paneled walls, the dust covered floor, and the planks nailed over the windows. I somehow knew that I wasn't a small baby and that, instead, I'd been called to this place for reasons I couldn't quite comprehend.

Until I heard the coarse voice moan from behind me. Once I turned, I knew exactly why I had been drawn to this particular place at this particular time. He needed me... even if he wasn't aware I was with him.

I stood there, watching him helplessly, and he'd tossed one t-shirt to the side and replaced it with a fresh one by the time I noticed the child crouching in the shadows by the empty bookshelf.

The boy can't be older than five or six, but his eyes burn with the rage of a one who's experienced a lifetime of pain and remorse. What's left of his lips are drawn back in a constant snarl and his shoulder-length blond hair is matted with blood. Most of his clothes have been ripped and tattered, revealing scratches and welts that crisscross his body.

“Carl, run!” I shout, even though I know my words can never penetrate the veil that separates us. “Damn it, Carl, it's right there!”

The boy whips his head toward me as if suddenly aware of my presence. For a moment, the anger is gone from his eyes and his mouth moves as if trying to find words. Something about him reminds me of a startled animal and, as we stand here studying one another from across the room, it begins to dawn on me that this child can see and hear me. Carl can't, but this bruised and battered little boy can.

“But I was tired, ya know?”

Carl's voice is hoarse and paper thin. Not the deep baritone I had known, but still enough to draw the boy's attention back to him.

The boy pounces from his hiding place and is at Carl's side with the speed of a striking snake, his fists flailing through the air as a throaty growl rumbles from somewhere deep within his small body.

“Leave him alone! He's not doing anything to you! Leave him alone!”

I'm almost to Carl's side before I realize that the boy doesn't actually appear to be hurting him. The child is practically a tornado of rage and fury but his little fists seem to simply pass through Carl's chest like mist through a screen. Carl doesn't react to the boy's presence any more than he does my own and I stop short as the meaning of this dawns upon me.

“Who are you?”

The boy leaps away from his prey as if I had just poked him with a hot iron. He glares at me and backs away almost as if afraid to turn his back.

“I won't hurt you. I want to help.”

The child's eyes dart from me, to Carl, and then back to me again and I can sense the tense energy pent up within his small body.

“What's your name?”

In all the talks we had, Carl never mentioned a son so I feel safe in ruling that out. He never actually mentioned any type of kids what-so-ever, come to think of it.

So I am left with nothing but questions: who is this boy? Why has he been drawn here... and why does he seem to harbor so much hatred for the man I have only known as the sweetest and most noble person I have ever met?

 

CHAPTER THREE: THE CHILD

 

Hate him, hate him, wish him dead. Hope he's hurting so bad he wants to die right away but it takes a long, long time. He's so mean he deserves it and I'm glad I'm here to watch. Wish I could kick him or poke out his eyes so he can't see when the monsters come for him. Wish I could light him on fire and watch while he burned up but not all the way, just enough so that it would hurt even worse.

I try to spit on him but can't spit, try to hit him over and over but he don't feel nothin' I do. He don't even look at me and I'm right there in his face. I know he knows I'm here. He's just tryin' to make me mad, ignoring me like Uncle Bobby used to. And that lady on the other side of the room gives me the creeps. I don't like the way she looks at me but somethin's not right about her so I don't dare say nothin' about it. I bet she can see somethin's not right about me too and that's why she sometimes looks at me real sad like and other times yells at me to leave him alone, that he ain't never done nothin'. So I'll just pretend I can't see or hear her and hope she just goes away.

At the same time, though, I wish I knew what she sees. Sometimes I feel like I'm two different people. Like I'm here in this little room but also out there somewhere just wanderin' around. I hear dogs barkin' and smell smoke and feel like I'm walkin' but I ain't doing nothin' but just standin' still. And the dogs and smoke seem like they ain't quite real, like I just woke up from a dream or somethin' and parts of it followed me out into the real world.

I even see things, trees and fields of grass and all these people around me who are kinda blurry. But it's almost like the shows I used to watch on TV where people would be doin' one thing and then it would kinda blend in with other people doin' different things. And there would be a coupla seconds where you could see all the people but you could also see through 'em at the same time. When this happens I hafta think real hard about Mr. Carl and this room to make it go away but even then it comes back after a bit and I have to do the whole thing all over again, which isn't fair.

BOOK: The Dead & Dying: A Zombie Novel
10.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Nazareth's Song by Patricia Hickman
Meridian by Alice Walker
Secret Horse by Bonnie Bryant
Quilt or Innocence by Elizabeth Craig
Gorgeous by Rachel Vail
Finding Abbey Road by Kevin Emerson
Breaking Point by John Macken