Authors: Amy Cross
Copyright 2016 Amy Cross
All Rights Reserved
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, events, entities and places are either products of the author's imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual people, businesses, entities or events is entirely coincidental.
Dark Season Books
First published: January 2016
“There are some things the human mind can't handle. Some horrors are just too great.”
Three years after her brother killed eighteen people in a school shooting, Bonnie Bromley is living a nightmare. Everyone hates her and her family, but as her brother's execution draws closer, Bonnie finds that other, darker forces are starting to make their presence felt in town. Something is lurking in the shadows, waiting for the perfect opportunity to feed on the souls of the dead.
When the horrific truth becomes clear, Bonnie and her friends find themselves being hunted by a powerful creature. Fortunately they have help from Hannah, a mysterious girl who only recently arrived in town, but even Hannah might be powerless to save the day. And if she does find a way to keep Bonnie alive, Hannah might still have to face the one force from which she has been running her whole life.
The Dead Ones is the third book in the Death Herself series.
(Death Herself book 3)
The scream starts suddenly, out of nowhere, followed by the panicked sound of hundreds of chair-legs scraping across the floor.
And then more screams.
And running, lots of running.
I get to my feet and take a step back.
And that's when the gunfire starts.
Ducking down, I take cover under the table. My heart is pounding but my thoughts are racing too fast for them to make sense. I look to my left and see Debbie cowering next to me, her eyes filled with fear as bursts of gunfire fill the air. Molly and Kaley are hiding under the next table with one of our teachers, but the gunfire is louder now.
Looking toward the door, I see people running. One of them, a girl from my math class, suddenly seems to get clipped by something. She drops down, thudding against the floor, and falls still. A moment later I see two more people drop, as the gunfire gets closer, accompanied this time by the sound of breaking glass as the windows shatter.
“What do we do?” Debbie stammers.
I turn to her. My throat is suddenly so dry, I don't even think I can get words out. “Maybe if we -”
Suddenly there's another scream, much louder than the others, and I hear a crashing sound that lasts for several seconds. Looking through the legs of the tables, I spot several figures slumped on the ground, some of them smeared with blood. There's more blood on the floor, too, pooled between upturned chairs and tables.
“Should we run?” Debbie asks, her voice filled with fear.
Nearby, someone is sobbing.
I wait, trying to come up with an answer. If we run, we might get away but we might get shot. If we stay here and try to hide, we might not be noticed or we might be executed. I look around to see what other people are doing, but all I see are several other students cowering just like us. I'm about to force myself to make a decision when suddenly I see a girl – Jenna Cooper from the year above me – making a break for the fire exit. She keeps low, running frantically, but just as she gets to the door I hear the gunfire getting louder, swinging this way, and I watch in horror as Jenna's body slams into the wall and then slumps down.
Flinching, I turn away. After a moment I realize I can hear someone weeping right next to me, and I turn to see tears streaming down Debbie's face as her whole body starts shaking.
“Keep it together!” I hiss. “Don't -”
Suddenly I see two pairs of black-clad legs moving this way. They're the only people standing in the cafeteria, and I immediately feel a jolt of fear in my chest, as if my heart physically crashed against my ribs. The legs aren't coming
toward us, but the attackers will definitely see us if they go all the way to the far wall. The gunfire has stopped for a moment, and now I can hear several sobs from nearby, and various shuffling, scratching sounds. It's as if everyone is waiting to see who'll get shot next.
“Please!” a girl screams suddenly, a little further across the room. “Don't -”
A brief burst of gunfire fills the air, just for half a second or so, and then stops again.
“Oh God,” Debbie whispers, “please let me get out of this.”
“The door,” I reply, keeping my voice low as I watch the black-clad legs getting closer. They're moving so calmly, with almost military precision. “We -”
Before I can finish, there's the sound of chairs being pushed aside and I see someone making a run for the door. A moment later there's another burst of gunfire and the figure goes clattering down, slamming into a table and then dropping to the floor.
“We can't run,” Debbie mouths to me. “We're going to die.”
I wait, but the gunmen are getting closer and I know they'll spot us soon. There are sirens in the distance now, but they won't get here in time. I look around for something I can use as a weapon, but there's nothing and -
Suddenly something bumps into me. I turn and see Debbie racing for the fire exit. I open my mouth to cry out to her, but gunfire fills the air and she falls, slamming into the side of the door and then tumbling outside. I wait, but there's no sign of her now and I have no idea whether she made it. Another burst of gunfire erupts nearby, and I turn to see a body shuddering on the floor, just past the next table along. I inch away, trying to silently keep out of sight, but after a moment my right foot slips against the polished cafeteria floor, and the sole of my shoe lets out a brief, loud squeak. I flinch as I see the legs of one of the gunmen hurrying this way.
“Cops!” a voice shouts suddenly.
A familiar voice.
Both the gunmen stop, and a moment later the windows shatter as more gunfire begins, this time coming from outside. Glass comes raining down over me and I hold my hands up, but I can hear more guns nearby, as if suddenly a war-zone has erupted. Almost deafened, I scramble back, ignoring the constant pain as my hands slip against shards of broken glass. The gunfire is constant, peppering the walls all around me, and after a moment I see that the two gunmen in the cafeteria are on their knees. One of them ducks down further and I see his face.
One of my brother's best friends.
He doesn't seem to have noticed me. Instead, he's fiddling with his gun, reloading. I start crawling backward, while keeping my eyes fixed on him, but after he's finished reloading his gun he freezes for a moment, staring at the ground with blank, expressionless eyes. Finally he lets out a roar and gets to his feet, and I hear a renewed burst of gunfire until suddenly his body slams back, hitting a chair and then thudding to the ground with several bullet-wounds across his chest and neck. He rolls over and for a moment our eyes meet, but then his head tilts back and I watch in horror as blood flows from his mouth, spilling onto the floor.
The other gunmen is keeping low, and there's still the sound of bullets firing in both directions.
After a moment, I realize that I'm holding my breath. I take a gulp of air, and a couple of seconds later the gunfire starts dying down, reduced to just a smattering of shots and counter-shots. The second gunman is reloading, and finally there's a moment of peace that's only broken by the sound of someone sobbing nearby, crying out in pain. Looking across the room, I see a figure in the far corner, slumped down with blood all over her white sweater. Hearing a few muttered curse words, I turn and see that the surviving gunman is struggling to get his ammunition loaded, and a moment later he tosses the weapon aside and pulls out a handgun from his coat pocket.
This is my chance.
Turning, I start crawling across the broken glass. I know I should probably just stay still and quiet, but the door is only about ten meters away and I feel as if I have to get the hell out of here at all costs. With tears streaming down my face, I edge closer and closer to the door, until finally the urge to run becomes too strong. Stumbling to my feet, I stagger forward just as I hear several loud shots being fired nearby, inside the cafeteria. Those shots are instantly met by more gunfire from outside, getting louder and louder until I hear several more shots hitting the wall nearby, getting closer and closer.
Finally I throw myself through the open door, and the last thing I hear is the sound of a bullet whistling past my ear before I slam into the floor and hit my head. After that, everything goes black, but there's a cacophony of sound filling the air, getting louder and then, with no warning, suddenly stopping dead.
Three years later
“There she is!”
They've found me. As soon as I hear their voices ringing out through the darkness, I immediately know there's no point running. Not tonight. I'm too tired, and besides, running only encourages them. They're like dogs, they get all worked up by the thrill of the chase. Better to just let them strut their stuff for a few minutes, and then hopefully they'll leave me alone. In fact, this time I actually slow my pace as I hear the sound of them furiously cycling toward me, and I figure it's best to just get it all over with as fast as possible. It's just my luck to get ambushed three times in one week.
“Hey Bunny!” Adam shouts as he cycles past and then hits the brakes, coming to a halt just a few meters ahead on the sidewalk. “Where are
going so late?”
“Nowhere.” I step around him, but a moment later one of his buddies shoots past and slows to watch me from the street.
“Then you don't mind stopping for a moment,” Adam continues, cycling around me again but this time slowing so he can keep up with my pace. “Hey Bunny, you look angry. Why are you angry, Bunny? What's up?”
“I'm not angry.”
“Then why don't you smile? I bet you've got a pretty smile.”
His bike wobbles a little as he goes over a crack in the sidewalk. “Busy doing what?”
“You can't be busy doing nothing,” he continues, as his two friends cycle either side of us along the dark street. “You're either busy, or you're doing nothing, but you can't be both at once.”
“Well,” I reply with a sigh, “I guess -”
“Looking forward to tomorrow night?”
“Go to -”
Suddenly he turns and stops his bike right in front of me. I bump into the front wheel and almost fall, but somehow I manage to step aside and keep going. I catch my ankle in the process, but I'm able to keep from letting the pain show. A moment later, however, Adam grabs my arm and pulls me back so that I have no choice but to face him.
“That's better, Bunny,” he says with a smile. “Let's see that pretty face of yours.”
“My face is not pretty,” I say firmly, “and my name is not Bunny. It's Bonnie!”
“Okay Bunny, whatever you say. What've you got in that backpack, Bunny?”
Before I can say anything else, something grabs me from behind. I almost lose my balance, and by the time I manage to turn and take a look, Adam's friend Scott has already pulled the backpack away.
“That's mine!” I hiss.
“You'll get it back,” Scott mutters, already unzipping the top to take a look inside.
Checking my watch, I see that it's almost 10pm. This is my fault. I should never have risked being out so late. At the same time, I couldn't just sit around at home, not while Mom was embarking on another of her drunken evenings in front of the TV.
“Let's see what you've got in here,” Scott continues, tipping the backpack over and letting all the books fall out. “Wow, that's boring, what do you want these for?”
“Burning,” I say sarcastically. “They're books, what the hell else would I -”
Suddenly something hits me hard in the back of the neck, knocking me forward until I trip and land on my hands and knees.
“Language, Bunny,” Adam says darkly, cracking his knuckles. “My friend was only asking you a question. There's no need to get angry, not unless you've got something to hide.”
I turn to him, and for a moment all I want is to get to my feet and wipe that goddamn smile off his face.
“Angry?” he asks with a smile. “Hey guys, I think sweet little Bunny is finally getting angry. I told you she would if we pushed her hard enough. Some of that good old-fashioned Bromley family anger, the kind we all know so well.”
“What do you want?” I hiss as I get to my feet. “I'm just walking home. And I'm
“My sister never got to walk home,” Adam replies, fixing me with a dark stare. “Twenty-third of May. She walked to school, but she never walked home, and she never will again. She'll never walk
Staring at him, I realize that there's nothing I can say to change his mind. He already knows exactly what he wants to do to me, and the most I can do is maybe antagonize him a little. Exhausted, I figure I just have to hope he gets bored with me.
“You met my sister, didn't you?” he asks.
“I think I saw her -” Hearing a bumping sound, I turn and see that Scott is kicking my books into the gutter. “Hey!” I shout, taking a step toward him. The third member of their gang, Danny, quickly shoves me back and I land hard on my ass.
“Do you think my sister deserved to die?” Adam asks, stepping closer until he's towering over me.
I try to get up, but he places his boot against my chest and shoves me back down. A moment later I hear a splashing sound, and I turn to see that Scott and Danny are peeing on my books. I guess they really
a bunch of animals.
“I asked you a question,” Adam continues, pushing harder against my chest. “Do you think my sister deserved to die that day?”
“No!” I hiss, trying to wriggle free.
“Me neither.” He presses me all the way down against the grass. “What about the other eighteen people? Do you think
deserved to die too?”
“It was nineteen,” Scott points out.
“We don't count
!” Adam hisses angrily. “Not Wilder!”
“Oh no,” Scott replies. “Sorry.”
“Do you think they deserved to die?” Adam asks, keeping his eyes fixed on me. “Do you think they deserved to spend their final moments in abject fear, and then to have their lives mercilessly ended? And what about all the people who got shot and ended up with life-changing injuries? The cripples, the ones with scars, or the girl who lost her eyes... What about them? Do you think
deserved what happened?”
Grabbing his ankle with both hands, I try desperately to move it away from my chest.
“No answer?” he continues. “Don't you
“What's the point of answering?” I hiss. “You don't -”
Suddenly his foot slips, and the heel of his boot slams into my neck hard enough to squeeze the air from my throat. I let out a gasp, but he keeps pushing down.
“You look like your brother,” he tells me. “Did anyone ever tell you that?”
I grab his ankle with both hands, but I still can't get free.
“You've got his eyes,” he continues, “and they say eyes are the window to the soul, so maybe that means your soul is like your brother's. And if that's the case, then maybe you're just as dark and evil as him. Maybe you're another danger to society!”
“I'm not!” I hiss.
“How do we know that?” he asks. “How do we know you're not gonna do something? How do we know you're not gonna follow in your brother's footsteps? Maybe that kinda stuff runs in your family!”
“My brother was an ass!” I stammer, struggling for breath. I'm still holding his ankle, trying to push his boot from my throat. “I'm nothing like him!”
As Adam stares down at me, Scott and Danny come over to watch me gasping on the ground. Suddenly it occurs to me that maybe this time they're going to do more than knock me about; maybe this time, they're actually going to go all the way. I guess most people in this rundown old town would probably cheer them on.
“Your brother was more than an ass,” Adam says after a moment, pushing down harder against my throat. “He was an evil, murderous piece of shit, and my sister died because of him.”
“And my sister too,” Scott adds.
“And my brother,” Danny mumbles.
“And our friends,” Adam continues firmly. “Eighteen innocent people dead, lots more injured, and all because of your stinking brother and his equally disgusting friend.”
Pushing his ankle, I finally manage to get his boot off my throat. I roll onto my side, gasping for breath, but I know I can't afford to stay down on the ground for long. I sit up, but the three assholes have got me surrounded. Whatever they want to do to me next, I can't fight them. I wait, my whole body tensing as I anticipate another kick or punch, or maybe something worse.
“We're watching you, Bunny Bromley,” Adam explains finally, “and let me tell you something. If we feel even a flicker of concern, if we see
that makes us think you
be going to follow in your brother's footsteps, we'll have no alternative but to terminate your miserable life. If someone had acted sooner to deal with your brother and his friend, eighteen good people would still be alive, so really, we'd be doing the whole town a favor if we acted.”
“We could just do it now,” Scott mutters.
Still catching my breath, I wait for them to make a decision.
“We're not cold-blooded murderers,” Adam continues finally. “We're not gonna do anything unless we're provoked, but...” He takes a step back. “We're done here. For now. But we'll have our eyes on you, Bunny, and you'd better not turn out like your brother. I swear to God, this town doesn't need another sack of shit like him.”
“I won't,” I whisper darkly, rubbing my neck.
“She looks like him,” Danny says.
“She sure does,” Adam replies, turning to walk back to his bike.
Feeling a flash of relief, I start getting to my feet.
“Go to hell!” I mutter under my breath.
“What was that?” Adam shouts.
“Nothing,” I reply, realizing that I must have been a little too loud.
“Seriously, dude,” Scott says, “I heard it too.”
Before I have a chance to react, Adam comes marching back across the grass. I reach up to protect my face, but I'm too late as he swings his right foot and kicks me hard in the jaw. I feel a cracking sensation as I'm sent thudding back against the grass, and the taste of blood bursts into my mouth. Letting out a faint cry, I immediately clutch my belly and roll into a ball, anticipating another hit, and I shudder in silence for several seconds until I hear the sound of their bikes cycling away. Finally daring to open my eyes, I see their silhouettes riding along the street, and I realize that they're leaving me alone. For now, anyway.
Sitting up, I feel a loose, cracked tooth at the front of my mouth. It's not all the way out, but as I check it with my tongue, I realize that it's hanging by a torn section of flesh. I reach in and take hold of the tooth, and then I twist. There's pain, sure, but it only takes a few seconds to tear the tooth out, and then I lean forward and spit out some blood, followed by a little more. Better to get the pain over with quickly, rather than hanging on.
Really, I didn't get off too badly. There have definitely been worse nights.
Stumbling to my feet, I head over to the gutter. My backpack has been tossed aside, so I grab it and pull it over to where my urine-soaked books are waiting. When I pick up the first book, I find that it's completely soggy, but I can't afford to just abandon them. Disgusted, I nevertheless manage to place them one by one into the backpack and then zip the top. I guess I can dry them out, and then find some way to make them stop smelling, and then I'll just have to hope that the librarian in town isn't paying attention when I take them back. I really can't afford to replace them. A guy wanders past, whistling, but I carefully avoid making eye contact and he's soon gone, disappearing into the night.
After spitting out more blood, I swing the backpack over my shoulders and start limping along the sidewalk again. It's not far to my parents' house, but I twisted my ankle when I fell so I won't be able to walk very fast. Plus, my legs are doing that thing again where they feel a little numb, which makes it even harder to walk. Glancing over my shoulder, I half expect to see Adam and the others coming back this way for another go, but fortunately there's no sign of them. In a way, I guess I'm definitely lucky. A few ruined books and a kick in the teeth is less than some other people in this town would like to give me, and I can't help worrying that there's worse to come. Hell, in some towns my entire family would have been driven out already.
All because of my brother, and what he did on May twenty-third last year.