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Authors: Robert Swartwood

Tags: #Fiction, #Horror

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BOOK: The Dishonored Dead
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The screen flashed again, the word WINNER! appeared, and the game began tallying up the points for this round.

Kyle looked at his father with an expectant smile. “How’d I do?”

“You’re asking the wrong guy.”

“But did it look, you know, good?”

“Yeah, it looked great.”

Voices carried through the house, coming from the kitchen, two distinct female voices.

Conrad said, “Your aunt’s here?”

Kyle nodded.

“Thanks for the warning.”

Kyle shrugged.

He looked down the hallway toward the kitchen, then back at his son. “You want to play some catch later?”


“All right. When you’re done with the next round, meet me out back.”

When he entered the kitchen he found his wife and sister-in-law at the table. Both with their elbows on the tabletop, leaning forward to discuss whatever it was women discussed, Jessica noticed him first but made no acknowledgement until Denise looked over and saw him.

“Hey, you,” she said, leaning back and standing up. “Hungry?”

“You bet.”

As Denise went to prepare him something, Jessica whispered, “Well, well, well. The great Hunter awakes from his slumber.”

“Good morning to you too.” Conrad went to the fridge, pulled out the half-gallon container of juice. As he grabbed a glass from the cabinet and began to pour, he said, “Actually, Jess, I’m surprised you’re even up this early. Figured you’d still have a hangover.”

“Yeah,” Jessica said, “and I’m surprised to even see you here at all. Guess I caught you on the one day a month you decide to actually make it home.” She gestured at the vase in the middle of the table, holding the bouquet Conrad had brought home yesterday. “But I suppose these make up for everything, don’t they?”

At the stove, a pan on the burner, Denise said, “Guys, cool it.”

“What?” Conrad drained his glass and forced a smile. “I was just making conversation.”

,” Jessica said. “Did Denise tell you the good news?”

“She did.” His smile this time genuine.

“Think maybe this time you’ll at least attempt to raise these babies, or are you going to make my sister do all the work?”

“Enough,” Denise said. She turned away from the stove, gave her sister a warning glare, then made her way over to Conrad. She kissed him on the cheek. “Sleep well?”

He placed his hand on her belly, and even though he knew he wouldn’t feel anything, he still hoped. He thought about last night and this morning, having trouble sleeping, his mind filled with confused thoughts—a woman he’d never seen before—and he said, “Yeah.” He stared back into his wife’s beautiful black eyes, ignored Jessica’s overdramatic sigh. “I slept great.”



Their backyard was
hedged in by a row of gray pine trees, the beginning of a woods that stretched to the country club golf course a mile away.

“Give me your fast one again,” Conrad shouted.

Kyle stood sixty feet away. He got into a pitcher’s stance—feet together, shoulders square, his glove held up in front of his face, his lifeless eyes staring over the tip of the glove—and then he was winding up, his arm extended over his head, and threw the ball right at his father. Or close to his father. If an umpire had been crouched behind Conrad—who was crouched just like a catcher, even though it wasn’t good at all for his knees—the ump would have called the obvious ball, but Conrad didn’t like to discourage his son.

“Not bad,” he said, and tossed the ball back.

Kyle said, “How about my curveball this time?”

His son’s curveball was just like his knuckleball, his knuckleball just like his slider, his slider just like his change-up—they were all straight. He could throw nothing else, and even his fastballs were weak. But Kyle loved baseball, had played Little League since he was four, and this year he was going out for pitcher and Conrad knew his son wasn’t going to make it. Some days he felt like sitting Kyle down, coming right out and telling him that he wasn’t good enough yet, that he needed to practice, practice, practice. But every time he started to follow through with this plan Conrad was reminded that half of the problem lay in himself: he was hardly home as it was, so just how was Kyle supposed to practice properly?

Besides, Kyle spent most of his time practicing to become a Hunter. He had been seven when he decided that was what he wanted to do with his existence, just like every other boy around the world that age. Only, as the years passed, many of those boys eventually decided they wanted to do other things, let someone else protect humanity. But Kyle had been serious about it, looking online at the official Hunter Code, understanding just what it meant and what it would take of him to follow through.

Denise had said this was a blessing in disguise. Though Conrad had never witnessed it, she claimed their son was becoming a brat. She said he was getting poor grades in school, always goofing off, never taking anything seriously. But when he’d decided to become a Hunter, everything changed. Kyle did a complete one-eighty. He learned self-control, politeness, even the true definition of honor. He became mature. He started trying harder at school, began getting better grades, and every weekend he would sit in front of the TV and play the required Henry the Hunter video games. All in hopes that when he turned sixteen it would be good enough to get him into Artemis University.

Conrad knew eventually the truth would come out. He knew the day would come when he would have to sit his son down and confess to him why he and Denise had lied all these years. But Conrad knew Kyle would understand. He would have to. He would have to see that it had been for his own benefit, that it was the only way to ensure his protection.

“Sure,” Conrad said, holding the catcher’s mitt up, “let’s see what you got.”

After pitching, they worked on fielding. Conrad stood with the house to his back, the line of gray pine trees to his front, and with a metal bat hit grounders and pop-ups to Kyle. These Kyle had no trouble with, having always played outfield in Little League, and they didn’t spend much time on them. But before they stopped, Kyle called to his father, telling him to give him a really high one. Conrad popped one way up in the air, and while he’d tried to keep it in the square that was their backyard, the white ball soared over the gray pines.

“Don’t worry,” Kyle called, “I’ll get it,” and dropping his glove and turning away, he bolted into the woods.

A minute passed. Another minute. After the third minute, Conrad grew uneasy. He glanced back at the house but Denise wasn’t watching from one of the windows like she sometimes did—all the windows were empty—so he turned his attention back to the tree line. He waited another ten seconds and started to take a step forward when Kyle reappeared, the white baseball in hand, running toward where he’d dropped the glove.

“What took you so long?”

Kyle picked up his glove. When he reached his father, he shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I thought I heard something.”

Some dead birds twittered to themselves in the trees.

“It sounded like … I don’t know—it sounded weird.”

Staring past his son at the tree line, Conrad said, “Maybe we should go inside.”

“But you said I could bat.”

Conrad, still watching the tree line, blinked, shifted his gaze down to his son.

“Didn’t you?” Kyle said.

He thought again about trying to sleep earlier, seeing the face of a woman he’d never seen before, and despite his better judgment, he handed over the bat to his son.





Chapter 5




The Herculean was
the tallest building in the world. Standing almost two thousand feet, it sat right in the heart of Olympus. The skyscraper was home to countless offices, businesses, stores, apartments, condos, bars, nightclubs, and pretty much anything else that was fit for the mainstream public. Olympus was the largest city in the world with over ten million residents, and the Herculean was the symbol that reminded the rest of the world just how strong and powerful the city truly was.

The building was also an unspoken scale of social structure—the higher up the floors went, the more things cost, until you got up past the one hundredth floor and had to be unbelievably wealthy to even
viewing the city out of one of those upper-echelon windows.

So when Conrad took Denise to the Herculean that evening, led her to one of the private elevators, she said, “You’re kidding me.”

Conrad suppressed a smile as he nodded at the guards who stood in front of these private elevators, who had already been tipped off that one of the world’s prominent Hunters was coming with his wife to have dinner on the very top floor of the Herculean. They let them pass without a word. Conrad and Denise got into the elevator, and when the doors closed and Conrad pressed 113, Denise hugged him and gave an exited squeal that reminded him of when they’d first started dating.

A minute later the elevator doors opened and they stepped into The Restaurant. Not the most original name, sure, but in the entire world it was
best restaurant,
best place to dine,
best place to be, so it just made sense.

The host was already waiting, welcoming them with a bow and leading them to their table. Denise was silent, her shock and surprise leaving her speechless. Conrad had just told her to dress up nice, that they were going out to celebrate, and Jessica had been kind enough to keep an eye on Kyle for a couple hours. So they left Dead Oak Estates, got onto the Shakespeare, and entered the city, winding through the streets toward the black-glassed monolith overlooking the entire world.

They were seated at a table by the window, and when Denise glanced out through the thick pane she let out a soft gasp. Below them lay a reflection of the night sky, a carpet of a million burning stars.

“Do you like it?” Conrad asked.

Again, Denise was speechless.

Before leaving their table, the host turned to Conrad and, speaking quietly, said, “Sir, please let me say how honored I am to have you and your wife here as our guests tonight. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.”

Then the man was gone and it was just the two of them, Conrad and Denise, both looking like the average, middle class couple they were, while at the rest of the tables those in the upper-echelon did their best to ignore them.

“You didn’t,” Denise said.

Conrad opened his menu. “Didn’t what?”

“You always told me that using your profession to gain—”

“Don’t worry. All I used it for was to get us up here. I didn’t ask for a discount, or a free meal, and if they try to give us either I’ll still pay the full price.”

“But we can’t afford anything on this menu.” She had opened hers up, scanned the page, her black eyes widening at the prices. “I mean, the appetizers alone cost more than—”

“Denise, please. Don’t worry about it. We’re here to celebrate. Just relax and enjoy yourself.” His words didn’t seem to have any affect on her, so he said, “Okay, I was going to hold this off until later. But along with the twins, there’s something else to celebrate. I’ve been promoted.”

Denise’s uncertain, uncomfortable expression quickly vanished. “Are you serious? That’s wonderful. But why—why didn’t you tell me this yesterday?”

“Because my news isn’t half as exciting as yours.”

Actually, the real reason was because he still hadn’t been sure how to approach the subject. Even now he wasn’t sure. But he
been promoted, and even Norman said this was something he could tell Denise, that he would still be a Hunter, would work the same schedule, but would be making more money. And in today’s failing economy, where insurance was getting more expensive as more people expired at quicker rates and unknown parasites began infecting more children, more money was definitely a blessing.

And it wasn’t as if Conrad wasn’t making good money now. He was, but he had a family to support, he had a mortgage, and the little his father had left him only helped to pay for the wedding that he hadn’t approved of from the start. His father, as it turned out, had had a gambling problem. The millions and millions he’d made from selling out to TV and movies and video games he’d lost, and only a little had been left when he’d finally expired.

Denise searched his face for a long moment, a moment where the rest of the noises in The Restaurant—the clinking of silverware, the whispered hush of voices—were lost in silence. Finally she smiled and said, “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

The thin candle in the middle of their table flickered shadows across her face.

“I’m so … so

“Are you?”

She reached across the table, took his hand in hers. “I am.”

Conrad thought about the zombie from the other night, how he’d hesitated in killing it. He thought about Kyle this afternoon, coming back from the woods and saying he’d heard something weird. He thought again about what would need to be done if Kyle turned, and once more he thought about the woman he didn’t know and wondered who she was.

Holding his wife’s hand, staring back into her black eyes, Conrad said, “Good. I’m happy too.”



After dinner they
went for a drive. They backtracked through those city streets, out of Olympus and into the suburbs, out of the suburbs and into the country.

One hand on the steering wheel, the other holding his wife’s hand, Conrad drove the car without any conscious thought of where they were going. Eventually certain buildings, signs, even trees started looking familiar to him, and he turned off the main highway, started up the hill into the woods, winding and winding around the dark trees, until they came to a spot that overlooked a good section of the country and suburbs and city beyond.

“Do you remember this place?” Conrad asked.

Denise had snuggled back into her seat. Her head back on the headrest, she looked around at him and smiled. “This is where you first told me you loved me.”

BOOK: The Dishonored Dead
3.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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