Read The Scattered and the Dead (Book 1): A Post-Apocalyptic Series Online

Authors: Tim McBain,L.T. Vargus

Tags: #post-apocalyptic

The Scattered and the Dead (Book 1): A Post-Apocalyptic Series (37 page)

BOOK: The Scattered and the Dead (Book 1): A Post-Apocalyptic Series
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Something crunched under her foot as she stepped inside. From the sound, she imagined she’d just stepped on the world’s biggest cockroach. Tipping her shoe to the side to get a look at it, she saw that it wasn’t a bug but a lighter. A pair of cheap yellow Bics lay there, the plastic case of one cracked in half.

The shelves were picked clean of anything remotely edible. No gum. No jerky. Even the jar that once held the disturbingly pink pickled eggs next to the counter was empty. Only the fuchsia liquid remained. There was a shelf of windshield wiper fluid that seemed mostly untouched. A spinning rack of sunglasses leaned across one aisle like a fallen tree.

“Clean up on aisle four,” Izzy said.

One of the doors of the refrigerated section had a big green splat in the center of it. Erin’s gaze followed the drips down the glass to the floor, where a dented container of mint chip ice cream oozed the remainder of its contents onto the floor. A dried puddle of creamy goo, speckled with black dots. She’d never been a huge fan of mint chip — it always felt kinda like licking at a scoop of frozen toothpaste — but man, it sounded good right then. It had been so long since she’d had anything colder than room temperature.

Lottery tickets were strewn about the counter. Erin stooped and picked one up, studying it. Sure enough, some of the silvery foil had been scratched away with a coin, revealing a tiny image of a pot of gold underneath. She grabbed a handful of the cards, confirming that they had indeed all been scratched off. Some moron, in the midst of the world going to shit, had actually stood in this gas station and done a bunch of scratch offs. Where did they think they were going to cash those in?

She released them, the rectangles of cardstock swooping and floating to the ground like autumn leaves.

Izzy was already poking at the buttons on the cash register. Next to that was a touchscreen with a row of stickers along the top: PUMP 1, PUMP 2, PUMP 3, and so on. Erin ran a finger over the screen, depressed the power button, but nothing happened. No surprise there.

She scanned the area around the counter, on the lookout for a key. Or a ring of keys. Or even an empty hook for a set of keys, so they’d at least know they were on the right track.

Izzy kept punching at the cash register. Whether she was actually trying to accomplish something or was just playing at being a cashier, Erin wasn’t sure.

She turned to face a door behind them. A blue and white sign proclaimed, “EMPLOYEES ONLY.”

As she pushed through the door, a wave of stench hit her. The room was windowless, pitch black except for the wedge of light from the open door. She let the door fall closed, knowing what the smell meant. Goddammit.

“Language.”

She hadn’t even realized she’d said it out loud until Izzy reprimanded her.

Her shoe connected with the door, toeing it open again. The minuscule amount of light from the store wasn’t enough to penetrate the smothering darkness inside.

She sure as hell wasn’t going into that room without a light of some kind when she knew there was a body inside. No effing way.

She imagined stepping into the pitch blackness and the door swinging closed behind her and everything going dark. A prickle ran up her spine.

The Dracula’s Dungeon debacle came to mind just then. The summer she turned ten.

Erin and Kelly begged their parents to let them go. There was a sign out front of the building that rotated around in the breeze, and they created a little chant to go along with it that they repeated relentlessly any time they rode by. “Haunted… HOUSE! Open… TODAY! Haunted… HOUSE! Open… TODAY!”

After several weeks, Erin’s dad caved. The door chimed as they entered and whooshed closed behind them. Goosebumps puckered over Erin’s arms from the air conditioning.

It smelled like wet paint inside. A kid, maybe seventeen, lounged behind the counter reading a skateboard magazine. When her dad inquired about the entry fee, the kid’s eyes wandered over to Erin and Kelly. He pressed his lips together.

“We don’t really recommend the haunted house for kids under 12.”

Now it was her dad’s turn to study them. Erin and Kelly affected looks of pure, wide-eyed enthusiasm. They couldn’t really get this close only to be turned away, could they?

Her dad leaned into the counter.

“They’ve been hounding me about this thing for weeks.”

The kid shrugged.

“Hey, man. It’s up to you.” He pointed at a set of steel doors. A handpainted sign above them read, “Point of No Return(s)!”

“They have to be accompanied by an adult, and once you step inside, no refunds.”

Her dad gave them one more inspection before he pulled his wallet from his back pocket and forked over the fifty bucks- $15 each for kids under 16, $20 for adults.

Erin and Kelly grinned at each other, bouncing on their feet. It was finally happening!

The kid pecked at the cash register. It jangled as its jaw unhinged and slid out. He deposited the bill and slammed it shut.

Kelly squeezed Erin’s arm, digging her nails in a little.

“Scary!”

Erin swatted at her.

“Quit, we’re not even inside yet.”

The kid banged a fist on one of the steel doors and a half second later, it opened. A man in a black stovepipe hat and tailcoat stepped through the door. His face was painted a ghoulish gray, darker around the eyes.

“What’s this? Ah! Fresh bloo-” He cleared his throat. “I mean, new guests! How marvelous.”

He smiled, showing off a set of fangs. Erin tried not to laugh at the atrocious Transylvanian accent he was trying to pull off.

“Please come in and make yourselves at home. It’s been ages since I had anyone… for dinner.”

He threw his head back and cackled. A cascade of white ruffles flowed down from the neck of his shirt, and the flounces of fabric shook when he laughed.

Erin leaned closed to Kelly and whispered, “Nice blouse.”

Kelly snickered.

Vlad led them into a room lit by candles. They passed by a coffin, and he quickly shut the lid.

“Silly me, always forgetting to make the bed!”

There was a door at the end of the room, and he stopped in front of it.

“Why don’t you have a look around my humble abode while I make dinner preparations?”

He turned the knob and opened the door. Nothing was visible beyond the threshold. It was a black void.

“I think you’ll enjoy this part of the tour. It’s my lightless labyrinth, a pitch black maze of my own design!”

As they passed by him, he lifted his arm to stroke his chin with a white gloved hand.

“You know, it just occurred to me that the last visitors I had went into the maze… but they never came out!”

Vlad chuckled.

“Oh, but I’m sure you’ll make it through just fine!”

The door closed behind them, smothering them in darkness.

“Christ, that’s it?” her dad said, somewhere in front of her. “Alright. Erin, you hold onto my belt with one hand and hold hands with Kelly with the other.”

She held onto both with an iron grip. For the first few moments in the blackness, Erin felt only the thrill of excitement. But with each step, she couldn’t stop imagining that they’d get stuck in the maze forever, unable to find their way out. Or worse, that she’d get separated from her dad and Kelly, and she’d be stranded by herself. The walls, even though she couldn’t see them, felt like they were closing in.

They inched forward. She could hear her dad’s hand slide along the wall as a guide. There was a hollow bumping sound and then an annoyed puff of air.

“Dead end. We have to turn around.”

After they hit two more dead ends, she started to convince herself they were going in circles. They could literally walk around in here for hours and never find a way out.

Her legs got heavy, feet dragging along the floor. And then they stopped.

“I can’t,” she said.

“What?”

“I want to go back,” she said.

“We can’t go back, honey. It’s a maze.”

“I want to go back!”

She started to hyperventilate.

Her dad’s voice called out, echoing between the narrow walls of the maze.

“Hello? Whoever’s out there that can hear me, we’re having a bit of a problem. If you could turn on the lights, or bring a flashlight.”

Silence.

His voice boomed, “Turn on the lights, goddammit!”

Adrenaline flowed into her hands, turning them to ice. She started to shake.

Fluorescent lights jittered to life overhead, flooding the space in blinding light. Erin squinted.

Unfinished plywood walls. Paint spattered cement floor. Not scary at all.

Footsteps approached, and Vlad rounded the corner. But he wasn’t Vlad anymore. All the theatrical energy he’d displayed before was gone. Even his posture had changed with the loss of his vampiric essence. He stooped forward, looking like a deflated balloon.

“Might as well go back through the front,” he said, the faux Transylvanian accent long gone.

He led them back out the way they came.

It was so long ago. Why did it still bother her? She breathed in, long and deep, then let it out slow.

An idea came to her, and she clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth. She skirted around the counter, eyes scanning the ground. The candy yellow plastic caught her eye, and she scooped up the uncracked lighter.

Her thumb flicked the wheel, emitting a spark but getting no flame. She tried again, the lighter making it’s raspy sound that suddenly reminded her of a cricket. Flame sprang from the end, and she held it in the air triumphantly, like an Olympic torch.

Back at the door, she turned the handle and propped it open with her foot. She scooted farther into the darkness before she ignited her tiny flame. The room lit up with an orange tint, and she had to fight her instinct to flee.

It wasn’t just one body, but a pile of them. Heaped on top of one another like curbside junk on bulk trash day. She thought of the photos she’d seen in her history books of the mass graves at Nazi concentration camps. All the limbs and skulls and torsos tangled up that way looked so wrong. The flickering light on her hand danced over the corpses, casting shadows, making it seem like they were moving. Writhing.

She let the flame go out and backpedaled out the door.

“What is it?” Izzy’s voice came from over her shoulder, startling her.

“Nothing,” Erin said. “Just a body, I mean. Stay here.”

She put her hand on the door, not wanting to go back in.

She thought of Dracula’s Dungeon again and how after they got back to the lobby, they tried to get her to go back in.

Her dad got down on one knee.

“You wanna try again?”

Erin shook her head, worried that if she stepped back into the maze, she’d panic again. It was embarrassing enough to have it happen once. If it happened again, she might as well just wander further into the maze and die there.

She had to do it this time, had to beat the fear. Again she shoved through the door and held the lighter high. She scooted as far as she could while still holding the door with her foot, but it wasn’t enough. She had to let go of the door.

The light from the lobby winked out. The brightness of the lighter left squiggly pink blind spots that danced over her field of vision.

Her feet slid along the floor more than walked. She was scared of tripping over something in the gloom.

She held her breath and tried to let her focus soften so that the mound of human flesh in front of her lost the harsh detail. Still, she could make out the dark stains on the clothing. Skirting around the edge of the pile, she knew that just like the trampled body in the parking lot, these people had not died of natural causes.

Something reflected the glow of the lighter, and Erin hunched over to get a better look. A key ring, dangling from the belt loop of one of the corpses.

She forced herself to take a step closer. Just as her fingers brushed the keys, she realized how hot the top of the lighter had grown under her thumb. She tried to stop herself from letting go, but reflex took over and her thumb released the button. The light flicked out, and the darkness closed in.

 

 

 

Teddy

 

Moundsville, West Virginia

69 days after

 

The zombie wandered around the perimeter of its pen, too dumb to find the gate and move on. The feet skittered along the grass, not so much lifting for legitimate steps as sliding forward in uneven jerks that made the torso above wobble and lean at odd angles. Its clothes were tattered. Red covered the shriveled flesh around its mouth, but its eyes didn’t convey any malice or viciousness or much of anything at all. They stared out at nothing, blank like all of the others.

Teddy smiled. This wasn’t much of a trap, but it worked well enough. In fact, it proved more effective than some of his more elaborate contraptions. If he put a piece of road kill in this fenced-in park with all but one of the gates closed, he could usually pen one in long enough to get here before it found the way out. They were pretty good at getting to the meat, but not great at finding their way out.

BOOK: The Scattered and the Dead (Book 1): A Post-Apocalyptic Series
9.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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