Posted by K. Allen Wood on Aug 20, 2013 in Apex Publications Blog: Matters of SF, Fantasy, and Horror | 0 comments
Lindsay called it the Apocalypse, the beginning of the end.
I scoffed at the time, but she was right.
As the day waned, the deluge continued unabated. The battering on our roof was a relentless reminder that life in Orbisonia had gone astray, but we were oblivious. We went from window to window and stared through the oily liquid in rapt fascination, pondering a world stained by the blackened dollops that fell from the sky and clung to everything like molasses.
The sharp edges of our ‘81 Buick Rustbucket smoothed with the dark slick. The branches of trees hung heavy, dripping.
Behind our home, the Blacklog Creek swelled, crept slowly, steadily, up the hill toward our back deck, gurgling a promise of ruin.
Yes, we watched, dumbfounded and enthralled, because with it all came a sort of curious beauty. We were spellbound—until the grounds of the old Cromwell Church Cemetery beyond our driveway, across the street, began to churn from below. The earth pulsed as if breathing. Centuries-old headstones toppled. The ragweed and timothy-grass roiled in the muck and mud like so many charred bones.
It wasn’t until the first bony hand rose from the ground that Lindsay’s prophetic declaration of apocalypse rang true. What slowly emerged from that mired wasteland of death was not just the bones of a long-dead and forgotten soul (as if that would have been normal) but a creature, a vile perversion of life, coated and dripping with the same filth that fell from the sky.
Fear—true, indefinable dread—grabbed hold. Lindsay screamed at the sight, her shrill voice attracting the attention of the undead thing.
It moaned, deep and guttural, like wind howling down the Blacklog Valley. It stalked unsteadily toward us.
Lindsay made a vague noise, then fled to the bedroom, slamming the door behind her. I called out, but she remained silent.
Backing away from the window, I resisted the urge to flee as well. Instead, I wrenched the couch away from the wall and shoved it against the front door as a makeshift barrier. The creature was still coming forward, with others behind it, and still more clawing their way from the muddied earth, all shambling their way toward the house. Some were missing parts—bits of skull, lower jaws, hands, arms, ribs; one grotesquerie even clawed and flopped its way along, little more than a torso and upper arm—all of them animated by some ungodly manipulator.
I stood in awe of it all, part of my mind still refusing to believe it was real, as if I were being hypnotized by disbelief, maybe denial.
At some point, primal instinct or fear whispered to me and I realized that the windows would not hold them back for long, that they wouldn’t stand idly outside looking in, waving a good, neighborly wave.
Rushing from the living room, I stumbled down the basement stairs, fumbling for the light as I went. The smell of must and earthen decay was unusually strong. In areas where the grout had come loose, the stone wall seeped black sweat. Stacked in a corner, I grabbed seven planks of wood that were meant for a new shed and roughly hauled them back upstairs. I got a hammer and a box of nails from the storage closet off the kitchen.
When I returned to the living room, four of the monsters that had risen from their graves thrashed at the flimsy window screens, tearing holes in the wire mesh. They snarled in unison at the sight of me, despite having no visible means to make sound, let alone see. As if they should be moving at all, I thought pointedly. Within the blob-like skin that clung to their reanimated bones, small white worms pulsed and twisted like mosquito larvae in pools of stagnant water. Behind the creatures, dozens more hitched and stumbled down the mud-slick drive, their ghost-white skulls shining beneath the slime-skin like fire in the night.
Without thinking, for fear that fear would turn my legs to jelly and my bowels to free-flow, I slid a board in place over the first window, propped it with my knee, and pounded a nail through the top left corner, then the right. With each crack of the hammer, the swarm of dead slammed against the windows with increased furor.
As I put the final nail through the board covering the second living-room window, I heard glass shatter. It wasn’t until Lindsay broke her silence and screamed again, louder, more distraught, that I realized it was the bedroom window that had imploded.
I burst through the bedroom door, almost taking it off its hinges, and found Lindsay frantically trying to press herself further into the corner, as if by sheer will she could melt into the wall and find shelter from the unholy monstrosity that was crawling through the window. Hammer in hand, I swung my best Roberto Clemente swing at its skull. It struck wetly, the force severing head from body, and the thing fell from sight. But, immediately, more filled the space it had left behind.
“Lindsay,” I shouted, “I need the nails and a board from the living room. Go. Now!”
She whimpered as she crawled on all fours from the bedroom.
The hammer slammed and smashed and crushed, repeatedly bringing death to the dead.
Lindsay returned, and I slidd the board into place, pounded nails as if they were skulls. She helped me secure the bathroom and kitchen windows, though without uttering a word. I pried up a few thick floorboards from the living room and nailed them zig-zag across the door frames.
We holed up in the windowless reading room and sat quietly among the books, many of which described things far more monstrous but not nearly as frightening as those which stalked us beyond our walls.
Outside, the rain continued, relentless.
The TV was out, but the electricity and phone still worked. I called the police to report what I assumed no one would believe, but all I got was a message telling me that the circuit was busy. I gave up after the hundredth or so time. Anna Howland, our next-door neighbor, called late in the afternoon. She and Olin, her frail and sickly husband, were taking refuge in the upstairs bedroom. For now, she said, they were safe, as it appeared that the living dead only had an appetite for us. Anna promised to be our “eyes on the outside,” and then abruptly hung up when Olin began coughing loudly.
We would hear from Anna just one more time.
I set down the phone, pulled Lindsay closer. Whatever hell had descended upon the world, we would wait it out, I promised, we’d be okay.
But while our defenses seemed enough to hold back the dead, our old home had flaws, and the poison water (that’s what Lindsay called it) exploited them. Mold grew, exploded to life in fuzzy blacks and whites and blue-greens. Within days, coughs and sneezes raked our throats raw, destroyed our lungs with malignant indifference. Blood spatter riddled the walls and floors like evidence of tiny gunfights.
I breathed, and lived, so I coped.
We rationed our food like prudent doomsday survivors, boiled and potted tap water in every container we could find. When the electricity went out a week into the ordeal, we existed by the meager light of candles, until the candles were nothing more than formless clumps of wax.
Though it was midsummer, the world grew cold and then colder. The soft plop of cancerous rain turned to an arrhythmic beating of ice that mercifully, for a time, distracted us from the incessant moaning of the dead.
In the small fireplace we burned our things for warmth, that which was not securing the doors and which had less meaning first. Eventually, our most precious items—the symbols of our life and love—went up in dark sooty smoke that stabbed at our eyes and blackened our walls and ceilings and lungs.
As the life we had once known faded to ash and memories, so did Lindsay.
She wept in harmony with the sky, withdrew further within herself. As the weeks stretched on, she shrugged off my attempts to embrace her, to soothe her fears. Everything will be all right, I said. She didn’t respond, didn’t hear. Didn’t seem to care.
A few days after I found her mindlessly licking a picture of a pizza-burger on a Hidd’n Valley Restaurant to-go menu, our food stores began to dwindle at a rapid pace, and Lindsay no longer muttered of hunger. I knew she was stealing food when I slept, and in response I selfishly squirreled away my own stash, though I told myself (and knew better) that it was for both of us.
Two days later, the food was gone—all but my personal hoard.
Rapidly, Lindsay withdrew even further, deeper into what I imagined was a perfect world of her own design. She embraced a newfound obsessive-compulsive disorder: rummaging through the empty refrigerator and dusty cabinets we’d yet to burn; flipping light switches and pushing buttons; changing TV channels that no longer spoke to her, expecting a miracle that would give her the same hope that I so dearly clung to.
Days and nights merged, bled together into meaningless shades that glowed dimly along the boards covering the windows. I tried to ignore the neverending rain and the heavy pitapat of ice, the groans of the dead and the rat-scratching of their fingers as they tried to find their way into our home, but it was a constant presence. The sky wept endlessly, the dead never rested. And I loathed what all of it meant.
I missed Lindsay, I missed love, but I held onto hope—until Anna’s sorrowful wailing woke us in the night, quietly echoing between our bare walls.
It was a death knell, the ringing of the bells. “Olin,” I whispered to the darkness. He hadn’t been long for this world before the end came down, and I was surprised he’d lasted so long. When Anna’s sorrow turned to agony and then ceased altogether, I knew that Olin hadn’t remained dead—nor Anna alive—for long.
In the absolute dark, I wept.
What did death mean in light of instant, corrupted rebirth?
Lindsay leaned in close, yanking me from my contemplations—her labored breath cold and rotten on my bearded face, her teeth a staccato chatter in my ear—and insisted I offer to help remove Olin’s body, as if she’d put all that we’d witnessed from her mind. When I refused (on the grounds that the dead were not quite dead), she begged me to steal a leg, or an arm, even “just a couple of goddamn fingers.”
At first I was baffled, but then I knew….
God, I knew.
I no longer recognized her voice; her soulful Pennsylvanian drawl had become a husky, croaking, inhuman thing. The hunger and isolation played her like a twisted marionette on a dark-dark stage.
The following morning, when there was enough light so that I could see her eyes, they were crazed, wanting, dangerous. To my beloved wife, I was just as the body of Olin Howland had been the night before—meat, survival.
When the sun behind the clouds dipped below the horizon, blackening the cracks of faint light along the boarded windows, I could still see her staring in my mind’s eye, wicked desire flooding her veins and corrupting her heart….
Two weeks before the clouds and rain cleared and the naked sun shined for the first time in months, shucking the bodies of the dead to the ground once more, I buried Lindsay down in the basement, in seven shallow graves dug out of the frozen earth. All of her. In pieces.
My final memory of Lindsay—eyes wild, mouth contorted in primal rage, swinging the ceramic bedside lamp—festers. As does the gash on my forehead.
The wound will heal…
But my heart, I’m sure, will remain broken for long days to come.
K. Allen Wood’s fiction has appeared in 52 Stitches, Vol. 2; The Zombie Feed, Vol. 1 (Apex Publications); Epitaphs: The Journal of New England Horror Writers; and The Gate 2: 13 Tales of Isolation and Despair. He is also the editor/publisher of Shock Totem, a biannual horror fiction magazine. He lives and plots in Massachusetts. For more info, visit his website at www.kallenwood.com.
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