Five bodies hung by their necks from knotted sheets. All of them began twitching and clawing at the air in earnest at the sight of him. Against the far wall, two more bodies lay in a heap, one of them ripped open, its guts spilled out in a congealed pile. Its head had been blown almost entirely away, probably by the double-barrel shotgun cast off in one far corner. The other body was in far better condition, but only relatively speaking. There was a bandage dark with dried blood on the left forearm and a neat hole on the right temple. A tiny, two-shot Derringer-style .22 pistol still clutched in one hand.
Garrett was transfixed for a moment by the lack of an exit-wound. He finally shook free of the trance and looked at all the bodies squirming from the rafters of this large storage room. He leaned in and grabbed the bloated ankle of a fat black woman wearing a blood-stained blue frock with an apron. He pulled her towards him a bit and let go. The body swung back, colliding into others and setting off a chain-reaction. The creatures all began struggling even more, some of them able to emit harsh croaking sounds. Garrett clapped his hands gleefully and repeated the action several more times.
Eventually he grew bored. Although, at one point, one of the skinny Latina housemaid’s panties slid down from her legs, stopping at her ankles. Garrett was transfixed by the clot of maggots wriggling in the crotch of the soiled—but long-since dried—red, cotton bikinis. He felt the stirring in his pants and winced at the pain from the injury The Toy had inflicted the other night.
Anger welling up, Garrett waded into the room and swung his machete at the closest dangling body—the heavy, black maid. The blade almost cleaved through the thing’s neck. He had to tug and wrench it free. Gravity finished the job as the body swung and spun before the weight was too much and it tore away.
Garrett’s mouth opened in a silent scream of victory. He looked up and his face went slack. The eyes still followed! The jaw still worked. The body at his feet wasn’t twitching or anything, but the head was still…alive?
He reached up and grabbed a handful of kinky, black hair. It actually took a few solid tugs to yank the neck free of the linen noose. He held it up and stared into its white-filmed, black-bloodshot eyes. Teasingly, he dangled a hand close to the mouth. It snapped shut with a click.
A smile oozed across Garrett’s face…malignant, mad, and malevolent. He dropped the head and stomped it with his heavy boots until it was a large, dark, clumpy smear.
He hurried through the house, taking note of things he might come back for. He did pause in one room; a nursery. Dried blood covered one wall in a huge arc. He went in and looked around, only leaving when he found a tiny hand cast off in a corner.
Two other rooms had bodies, but they were on beds, empty pill bottles on the nightstands beside them. After checking the entire house, he returned downstairs to the kitchen.
Stuffing bags full, occasionally Garrett would giggle. Yes, he thought as he loaded all the food he could carry, The Toy would soon see. He couldn’t wait to get back. At one point, his mind drifted to the memory of seeing her naked body tied to that post. He’d ignored the pain as long as he could, allowing his excitement to try and take hold. Eventually, it became too great.
“I have a new game, bitch,” Garrett snarled as he hefted the pack onto his back and headed for the door that would take him to the back yard.
Kirsten tried to bring in a slow, deep breath through her nostrils. She was miserable. Her drool had long since dried, leaving her skin feeling itchy all down her front. Her tongue felt three times its normal size and made of sandpaper. Her eyes were swollen and sore from the crying. It’d been so strange, once she’d started, the tears had poured unlike anything she thought possible. It was worse than that first night after her daddy was attacked. Worse than when her parents didn’t come back. Worse than when Arturo didn’t come back. Even worse than when The Big Man had shoved himself inside her the very first time.
Kirsten stared out at the mob of undead faces that yearned to reach her. The tiny body on the ground had long since been crushed to a pulp underfoot. She’d actually felt relief when that tiny head, wedged so tight and awkward against the bars began to crack. The right eye actually burst in a gray bubble of goo.
After awhile, all the faces seemed to blur together. Pain came from every part of her and her skin began to blister under the burning sun that continued to creep slowly across the sky. Would it be terrible to die right here, Kirsten wondered. Maybe The Big Man ran into a pack of zombies. No, Kirsten scolded herself for such foolish hopes; she’d have heard the screams. He wouldn’t have gone far looking for food.
More than once as the day drew on, she considered simply sagging and letting that line around her neck finish her off. Every time that thought gained traction in her mind, Kirsten remembered the satisfaction of making him scream when she’d bitten down. She made a vow to herself that if he ever stuck that thing in her mouth again, he wasn’t getting it back.
The constant pain and the horror she was forced to watch furthered her resolve. The day would come when The Big Man made a mistake. He certainly liked to drink whiskey and beer. He would slip. Perhaps fail to tie her up properly one night…and she could wait. She was a Malloy, A family that not only survived, but prospered. Her daddy had shared stories of how her thrice-great-grandfather came home from the War Between the States to find the family property razed, the main house nothing but a blackened husk, and rebuilt bigger than before.
The Malloy’s were fighters and survivors.
Over and over she let that mantra play in her mind. She was so engrossed that Kirsten didn’t notice The Big Man walking towards her. A series of slaps to the face brought her around and she glared up defiantly at The Big Man.
He grinned like the idiot she assumed him to be. She watched as he pulled a cinched-up garbage bag loose from his belt. He opened it, peeking inside and then looking up, his grin even bigger…more idiotic. Carefully, he reached in and pulled out…
A head! More accurately, September Thomas’ head. The eyes stared at Kirsten and the mouth opened and closed, teeth gnashing inches from her face.
Kirsten looked up at The Big man…and laughed. His smile quickly faded.
Garrett stared out the window. His eyes unable to tear away from the figure still tied to the post near the gate. The head was mostly hidden from his view, but he knew that it would still be sitting in the grass, staring up at The Toy, gnashing its teeth.
“Are you still laughing, bitch?” Garrett growled.
He glanced down, his anger ramping up another notch. He could clearly see the teeth marks that decorated his shriveled manhood. The angry redness seemed to throb with his pulse rate. Three times he’d attempted to work it up to readiness, but it was simply too painful.
Grabbing the loose fitting sweats he’d found, he put them on. He didn’t care that they were cotton-candy pink, or that they barely went past his knees. All he did care about was that they didn’t rub his tender, sensitive injury.
Storming down the stairs, Garrett fumed. If he hurt, then The Toy would hurt as well. He would see to it. He stalked up the driveway to the post. There was a distant rumble of thunder as he reached down, grabbed the detached head by its long, stringy hair, and hurled it at the brick wall. It hit with a satisfying crack and burst, a dark stain visible where it struck. The now-lopsided head rolled onto one side, the eyes still moving in their sockets. He picked it up waving it menacingly at The Toy before turning and throwing it. Again and again he repeated the act, each time taunting The Toy. Eventually the ruined mass broke open.
Garrett looked at his hands, horrified. His palms were sticky with a dark, sap-like goo. He ran inside finding a red jug of liquid laundry soap and washed. It took half the jug and several bottles of water before he felt clean. Looking up, he saw his shadowy face in the mirror. His eyes were wide with…fear. He didn’t want to die. Even more, he didn’t want to become one of those things!
The Toy! The Toy had seen his fear. Even worse, it still showed none itself. Well…that would change. Now.
Storming through the empty house and out on the porch, he glared at the dark, shadowy outline of The Toy and the post. Drawing the knife from its place on his belt, he moved up from behind and placed the blade on one cheek. With a flick he cut the strip cutting into the corners of the mouth.
The Toy coughed, choked, and spat. Then after working the jaw a few times, it spoke in a raw voice, “Get a little on you?”
Garrett stepped around and put his face close, “I am going to hurt you.”
The Toy seemed to consider that statement for a moment. Then, with eyes so fierce it made him take a step back before he’d realized it. It smiled! “So.”
With an angry roar, he backhanded the defiant creature. The head snapped to the side, but just as fast came back, glaring. Again, he struck and once more, it swung back, an awful sneer made worse by the blood trickling from the mouth and nose. Balling up his fist, he punched it in the center of that defiant face. This time, the eyes rolled back and it slumped down. Almost immediately it began making hoarse choking sounds.
“No, you don’t.” Garrett cut the leather thong around the throat. Anger still surging, he cut away all the bindings and tossed the tiny figure over his shoulders. Seething with impotent frustration, he walked back to the dark house.
“Tonight you will scream. Tonight, you will beg.” Garrett vowed as he made his way up the stairs to the bedroom.
Kirsten stared up at the ceiling. It was blurry. Still. She remembered a joke she’s heard her Uncle Skip say once during a family barbecue: What do you say to a woman with two black eyes! Nothin’ you already told her twice! She hadn’t gotten the joke then. She’d only been eleven…two years ago.
The two black eyes she currently possessed were the least of her problems. She was pretty sure her nose was broken. She could barely breathe through it. Her entire body hurt. Then there was the filth-factor. She’d been tied naked and spread-eagled on this bed for at least two days. During that time, she’d been beaten, whipped, as well as poked with and sliced by that huge knife that The Big Man carried. Oh yes, and urinated on.
Every time she’d asked for water, he’d climbed up and stood over her and peed. She stopped asking after the third time. So then he started coming in with a bottle of water, drinking it in noisy gulps in front of her. He tilted the bottle her direction and she foolishly opened her mouth. With a fiendish giggle, The Big Man climbed up and urinated on her once more. Since then, she simply stared up any time he came in. At least, that way, it was her own filth she lay in from that point.
“Hungry?” A big, ugly face filled her vision.
No way, Kirsten thought. She fought back a shudder at what that question might imply. She continued to stare straight up, thankful that she lacked the ability to really focus on anything.
She felt something wet and squishy drip on her lips. Horrified, she spat and jerked her head to the side. A rough hand squeezed her cheeks and wrenched her head back. A spoon forced its way between her split, ragged lips, forcing a mouthful of thick, slimy…peaches? The sound of the spoon clinking on glass made her look. She could make out a small jar with a blue label in The Big Man’s hand.
Another spoonful of peach slurry shoved itself into her mouth. This time she swallowed. As much as she wanted to resist…spit it in his face…it was the most delicious thing she could remember. After two jars, The Big Man produced a water bottle.
“Thirsty?” he asked.
Not a chance, Kirsten thought. She pursed her lips and glared, although she doubted he could tell as swollen as her face felt. She felt a trickle of cool liquid splatter on her face. Hopeful, she tried it with her tongue, letting it dart out. Water! Opening her mouth, she gulped greedily. Afterwards, he simply sat there staring.
“I bet you’re wondering why,” The Big Man said after an uncomfortable moment of silence.
“Because,” The Big Man rose to his feet, the darkness and evil returning as if that calmness and compassion were a mask that he peeled back effortlessly, “I will not let you die on your terms. You’ll die after I’ve broken you. After you’ve begged me to kill you a hundred times, and mean it each time from your very soul. Then…when I decide I’m finished with you…I’ll toss you over that gate…and let them finish you.”
The Big Man stood, looking her over. She thought she saw him wince before he turned and stomped angrily out, leaving her to her pain, leaving her to lay in her filth.
“Wanna bet?” Kirsten whispered to the empty room.
Garrett stood on the balcony. He pulled another can from the box at his feet and popped the top. Warm beer would never be his favorite, but it was better than nothing. He looked down the long driveway at the sturdy iron gate. His eyes followed the fence—a nine foot high brick wall—that circled the property. More of those things came every day. The last trip outside searching for supplies had been a bust. He’d returned with barely a full knapsack.
Glancing over his shoulder, he could hear The Toy stirring. He puzzled over his inability to make it beg. The others had given in so easily. He remembered the night the world had crumbled, leaving him to rule. He’d been outside, in front of his house, staring up at the living room window. What was left of his mother had been just standing there, torn open, her guts spilling out of a hole in her enormous, sagging belly.
A car had pulled up and a young woman inside it had asked for his help. She’d been crying. Moments later, he’d climbed in, and they drove through the chaos overwhelming the streets of North Charleston; he’d seen. Empty police cars, ambulances, and even a deserted military troop truck at an abandoned roadblock. Then, he’d known.
The world was dead.
He’d taken her to the baseball stadium. Breaking that one had taken less than a week. It’d been more than a month with this one. And even though it was younger by at least half of the last one, this whore would not break. It wouldn’t beg for food or water, or for him to stop. Sure, he thought, it would cry, but that wasn’t the same. And on the rare occasion that he was honest with himself, he feared her. In those brief moments, she wasn’t The Toy. And she frightened him with her defiance.
Tossing the empty can aside, Garrett pulled out another. Tomorrow he would have to go back out there. Food was almost gone and this case of beer was all that remained besides a large, half-gallon bottle of Southern Comfort that he was saving for a special occasion.
The moans of the growing number of those things carried up to the house. Garrett shivered. That was another thing; there were so many now that he could hear them sometimes when the wind blew the wrong way. Hear and smell them. Even if the windows were shut.
He’d seen up close what those monsters did when they got their hands on you. Lately, those things had replaced Ennis—the boy who’d done things to him—in the nightmares Garrett had every night. Even when he wasn’t honest with himself, those things terrified him. He’d kill himself before he’d let those things get their filthy, cold hands on him and rip open his belly like they’d done his mama.
Reaching into the box, the big man’s hand found the last can of beer. He’d consumed the whole case, and it wasn’t even breakfast time. The dull buzz from the alcohol felt good. He heard another cough from the bedroom. Garrett knew better than to try and go out for supplies today after drinking so much. Well, he thought as he finished off the last can in three huge swallows, there were other ways to keep entertained.
“Hey there, Little Red Riding Hood,” he began to sing in an off-key rumble as he tossed the empty can over the balcony railing to clatter on the rocky walkway below.
Kirsten stared up at the ceiling. The sounds of The Big Man’s snoring grating on her every nerve. He’d been incredibly drunk for so early in the day—which she didn’t mind. When he was drunk, the episodes didn’t last nearly as long. Also, the violence wasn’t as prominent. For instance, this time, he’d kept calling her “Kimmy.” Also, he kept asking why she always laughed at him. Then there was something about the police, but Kirsten wasn’t really paying attention. She did what she always did during these sessions. She stared at the ceiling and thought about nothing.
At some point, she’d realized it had stopped. But The Big Man was still on top of her. He was up on his hands, his head looking around with… He was scared! Something had frightened The Big Man. Then she heard it, the low moans, growls, and cries of the Monster-people. But they couldn’t have gotten inside. The wall was too high and the gate was too strong.
She thought back to the last time she’d been tied to the post out by the front gate. It seemed like there were more of those things. She couldn’t see over the heads of the first few rows, but it had seemed like more. Not only were they louder, but she remembered thinking they looked smashed in pretty tight.
This couldn’t be good. If there were enough that she could hear them from her room on the backside of the house…there must be lots. Then, she remembered feeling that sensation that was both disgusting and a relief. She felt The Big Man shrink and slither out of her. He was finished. Only…he hadn’t. Then, he rolled off of her. Now, he lay there, snoring on his back beside her. She could smell the beer.
An idea began to form. It had been a while since he’d tried to make her use her mouth on him. In fact, he’d only recently healed from that encounter. He’d untied her for it. For some reason, he wanted her untied and kneeling. If she could wait until he got really drunk next time, perhaps she could convince him she was ready to try it. It would be gross and disgusting, but if he passed out, like he was now, maybe he would forget to tie her up. Or, if he did tie her up, maybe he would be so drunk that he would do a bad job of it. Then, she could get away. She didn’t care to where. Just away from here.
The Big Man made a noise, almost like a soft cry, in his sleep. She heard, then felt the warm wetness as his bladder let go. All she could do was lie there helpless. For now.
Garrett wedged the pry-bar into the doorjamb and leaned into it. The sound of wood splintering seemed like an explosion to his noise-sensitive hearing. The world had become such a silent place that everything seemed much louder than he remembered.
A musty smell rolled out with the heat that had been pent up inside the modest house. Well, modest by the standards of the one he lived in now. There was no telltale stench of the undead to give him any reason for concern.
He’d had to travel almost a mile to find this place. So many of those things had gathered outside the walls of his home that he couldn’t even get to the other nearby houses on the street that ran along the front where the main entry gate was located. Any attempt would not end well. He would be trapped and cut off from The Toy, and he couldn’t have that.
He’d seen enough to know that if he wanted to search for food—or booze for that matter, they’d run out of beer two days ago and he’d finished his bottle of Southern Comfort last night—he would need to search for locations farther away from home to be safest. Climbing over fences and creeping through back yards was a lot of work, but he’d eaten the last of the canned food this morning. Canned beets. His mouth made an involuntary grimace at the thought.
Stepping into the house, he looked around cautiously. Even though he couldn’t smell anything, he still worried that somehow one of those abominations would be lurking in the shadows. As he neared the kitchen, he could definitely smell the stench of spoiled food. Also, he could hear the all-too-common buzzing of the swarms of flies that were no doubt becoming one of the most plentiful creatures on the planet.
When he peeked his head into the kitchen, his eyes were drawn to the stain on the floor in front of the refrigerator. It had long since dried, but the flies still swarmed the smear, along with the defunct, yellow appliance.
Garrett knew better than to open it and went over to the cupboards. He found plates, glasses, and finally, food. He scooped packages of Ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese—the good stuff in the blue box—and Hamburger Helper into his pack. Next were the soups, canned fruits and vegetables. Afterwards, he found the pantry closet. He spied something that made him grin and was sure to put it in the bag last of all.
Finished, he wandered through the empty house looking for liquor. In the living room, in a fancy cabinet that fit neatly in one corner, he discovered a few bottles containing names he’d never heard of before. Some were names he couldn’t even pronounce, and after giving them a sniff, he tossed them aside. One smelled like candy, another like licorice. Garrett wanted good old fashioned—
“Patron?” he mumbled and picked up the bottle. “Tequila, now that’s more like it. Don’t know why folks can’t just be happy with some José Quervo. I guess this’ll have to do.” Garrett unstoppered the bottle and took a drink. He gave the bottle an appraising glance. The stuff was actually quite good.
He went to the bedrooms and bathrooms next. He didn’t find anything except for a toothbrush that was still in its package and a half a tube of toothpaste. He added that to the pump dispenser of soap he’d found earlier. The Toy was starting to smell almost too rank to touch. This would help.
A thud made Garrett jump. Something had slammed open the front door. Pulling the three-pound sledge from the loop on his belt, he went down to investigate. What was left of a man in what looked a postal carrier’s uniform had stumbled in and was wandering around the living room, bumping into the furniture. A lamp tumbled from an end table and crashed to the floor.
Garrett walked up behind it, setting his backpack down on the arm of the sofa, and brought the sledge down on the crown of the thing’s skull. Thick, dark goo squirted from the octagon-shaped impression that sank almost two inches into its head. Garrett wiped off the hammer and slipped it back into the loop on his belt and turned to grab his pack.
At least a dozen more of those things were shambling across the front lawn and headed for the open door. Garrett briefly considered dealing with the closer ones before making a run for it; then he saw another twenty or so coming in their wake. In fact, as he paused to take a better look from the doorway, he could see more. They were coming through yards and around cars, and there were a lot.
He grabbed the pack and ran for the back door. The back yard was empty and he stood on the deck looking into some of the adjacent back yards. He had five to choose from; only two were totally empty. Where had they all come from? Garrett wondered. They hadn’t been there when he arrived.
By the time he reached the wall of his kingdom, there were well over a hundred coming on his heels in a stinking tide of undeath. He had to fight the urge to stop and kill some of them. Especially one particular girl who looked to be about nine or ten; she looked fresher than the others, and somebody had done him the favor of removing all her clothes.
As he climbed over the wall and pulled up the rope, several of them crashed through the hedge. He hadn’t swung his left leg over yet and one of them managed to get a hold on his ankle. With an uncharacteristic squeal of fear, Garrett brought his other foot back around and drove his heel into the upturned face. It took three solid kicks to free himself from the dreadlocked, ashy skinned zombie with piss-yellow teeth.
Swinging the rest of the way over and dropping to the ground on the other side, it took him several minutes to calm down. He remembered seeing his momma torn open that first night by several of the neighbors who had burst into their tiny house.
Eventually, his mind shifted to one particular neighbor: Kimmy Vanderwall. He remembered standing over her on his bed. Most likely, that was where she was right this moment, his seed having turned into a dried glaze on her blue-grey skin.
Recovered from his terrifying experience, Garrett picked up the pack and walked through the shadows cast by the late afternoon sun. He’d untie The Toy from its post and let it watch while he ate dinner.
Kirsten felt a trickle of saliva spill from her mouth and dribble down her chin. She’d lost track of the days a long time ago, and couldn’t remember the last time she’d had something to eat. The Big Man sat beside her on the bed with a bag of barbecue potato chips, crunching loudly. She could smell the tangy, salty sweetness of them. It made her stomach churn, making noises that could almost pass for the same ones coming from the Monster-people.
He’d been back for a few hours now. When he’d untied her, she noticed how skittish he was of the wall of hands reaching though the iron entry gates. He’s afraid, Kirsten thought, and immediately her mind went to figuring how she could use that to her advantage.
“Hungry?” a voice snapped her back to the present and the never-ending gnawing feeling in her gut. It was as if one of the Monster-people were inside her belly trying to get out.
Kirsten glanced over at the hulking figure beside her. The candlelight from the nightstand flickered, adding to The Big Man’s already frightening appearance. She mulled over the idea of actually answering, but decided against it. This was simply another of his tricks.
“I’ll only ask one more time.” He waved a big, unbroken chip under her nose.
“Y-y-yes.” She cursed herself for sounding so frail and weak.
“I’m gonna cut you loose.”
“You gonna do what I say, or I’m gonna finish my dinner while you watch. Then…I’m gonna toss you over that gate.”
She believed every word that he said. And, for a moment, she considered the possibility. There would be pain, but then …nothing. It would be over. Only, that would leave The Big Man alive. He would win. She’d already decided against allowing him to win. She didn’t know how yet, but somehow, she was going beat him.
The Big Man cut the bindings on her wrists and ankles. She tried to sit up straight and everything swirled as the room swam and her vision blurred. Huge hands scooped her up and carried her downstairs. Unable to help it, her head fell against his chest.
The next thing she knew, she was laid out on the rough, shell-textured concrete that surrounded the swimming pool. A moment later, he was rolling up one of the big wheelbarrows and stopping beside her. She hadn’t even realized that he’d been gone. Am I passing out? she wondered. She didn’t think so. Picking her up again, he placed her naked body in the cold metal basin of the wheelbarrow. The next sensation was the dousing of her body with pitchers of sun-warmed water. Then his hands went to work on her with soap and a washcloth.
Surprisingly, his hands were gentle as he cleaned her thoroughly from top to bottom. At one point, he even cautioned her to close her eyes as he rinsed her so that she wouldn’t get soap in them. Still, she refused to let her guard down.
When he was finished, he helped her stand so that he could pat her down with a towel. He handed her a water bottle which she sniffed before taking a drink from. He’d given her a swallow or two every day, but this was a full bottle. Kirsten drank her fill, savoring every drop.
While she drank, he pushed the wheelbarrow over to the knee-high grass and dumped it. He waited for a moment, then beckoned her to follow him back inside. Her mind raced with all the possibilities, trying desperately to think of anything that she could do. She came to the conclusion that her choices were absolutely nothing. She could barely walk, much less run or climb. And where did she hope to go? Naked, weak, and starving, she stumbled after The Big Man who had already gone back inside the house.
She made it to the stairs that led up to the back entry and stumbled. Struggling to her feet, she made another attempt. This time she fell hard and cried out. The Big Man stepped back out onto the landing and stared down at her. He seemed to consider her much like she would an insect for several seconds before finally scooping her up and carrying her inside.
This time she was certain that she’d passed out. She opened her eyes to find herself back in her bed. All of the linens had been changed. A tray sat on the nightstand beside her bed. It was piled with canned pears, what looked like a bowl of chicken noodle soup, and a pile of barbecue potato chips. Tears welled up in her eyes in unison with the drool that slipped from the corner of her mouth and trickled down her chin. She knew this trick all too well. He would eat it while she watched. Only…after the bath and the clean bed, a kernel of hope had bloomed against her will. Did she dare to hope? With that thought, her body began to shake. The more she fought it, the worse it got. Soon she was crying uncontrollably and trembling to boot.
“Aren’t you hungry?” The Big Man asked, his lips sickeningly close to her ear.
God help her, Kirsten nodded. She felt something cold press against her budding left breast. The knife. She knew its feel very well. Just as she had suspected, this was a trick.
Then, big hands scooped her up and set her on the floor. She looked up and The Big Man towered over her.
“You can have everything you see on that table, and all the water you can drink.” The Big Man gestured with the knife towards the table. “After.”
After? Kirsten was puzzled. Then, The Big Man unzipped his pants and pulled that disgusting thing out.
“Your mouth,” The Big Man said in an excited whisper. “And if you bite me again…I’ll cut off your tit with this knife and make you watch as I feed it to those things out there. But,” he inched closer until it was right in her face, she noticed it was already poking straight up, “do this…and you can eat.”
“Promise?” Kirsten whispered after a long pause where her eyes couldn’t keep from all the food just a few feet away.
“Promise,” The Big Man said.
Choking back the tears, Kirsten rose up unsteadily on to her knees. She looked up, but the candles were behind him and all she could see was blackness where his face should be.
Kirsten opened her mouth.
Garrett sat on the long, plush sofa. The once white sectional was dingy and stained now. He stared out the enormous picture window, watching the rain fall in sheets. A howling wind blew, drowning out the sounds of the dead. A row of empty beer cans stood in silent sentinel down the length of the ornately carved coffee table. Garrett briefly wondered if rich people had a fancy name for coffee tables, then popped the tab on another can and decided he didn’t care.
A flash of lightning turned the world an electric-blue for a second…one…two…three…BOOM. Thunder vibrated the cans as well as the windows and everything else. Garrett loved storms and this had the marks of a doozy. It might even be a hurricane for all he knew. The Weather Channel had gone off the air a long time ago.
A sudden thought wiped the drunken smile from his face. What if the gate collapsed, or a tree fell and crushed a section of the brick wall that kept those things out? Yesterday he’d gone out with the intentions of going to look for food. However, there was a problem; the entire property was surrounded. Those things were dozens deep at some of the thinner spots. In other places, they were all the way across the road and in the yards across the street. The hedge that had stood between the sidewalk and the narrow strip of grass was completely gone, no evidence remaining that it ever existed. At least nothing visible.
Garrett had checked everywhere, becoming more and more frantic as he did so. He’d passed The Toy tied to her post three times before realizing it. There would be no more food runs until those things left. Only it didn’t seem those cursed abominations would be leaving any time soon. From the numerous upstairs windows, every place he could see out past the wall, the numbers continued to grow.
Perhaps, if this were in fact a hurricane, it might brush these things aside. Tipping the can, Garrett drained another beer in two great swallows. As he set the empty can down, a shadow flickered across the big window. Garrett yelped and jumped to his feet. The sudden movement caused the room to swirl, sending a bolt of pain to his head. Once it subsided, he staggered to the front door, the poker from the rack beside the fireplace in his hand.
A line of slobber dripped from his mouth and down his stubbly chin, hanging for a second before cascading onto his sweat-soaked shirt and vanishing in the big, dark stain already in place. The side of his face pressed against the coolness of the door, and he listened. All Garrett heard were the howling wind and the pebble-like cacophony of giant raindrops pelting the ground, roof, windows.
Slowly he turned the knob. The door slammed into him and Garrett was certain that dozens if not hundreds of those things were pressed against it. He pushed back with all his might and the door shammed shut. Staggering back, he cocked his arm, ready to shatter the head of the first one of those freaks that came through the door, but nothing happened. He waited to hear the sound of dead hands pounding on the door, but all he heard was his heart hammering in his chest in sync with the pulsing sensation in his head.
Garrett staggered to the window, peering around the edge of the curtains. The swing on the porch had toppled. Nothing more. He could see that the rain was coming down horizontally now. And as it hit the windows, it sounded as if somebody were throwing handfuls of gravel.
Garrett laughed; at first in a nervous chuckle, then in all out hysterics. He was safe. Those things were stuck on the other side of the wall, and that’s where they would stay. His kingdom was safe. Returning to the cardboard box on the coffee table, he shoved his hand in and fished out the last can of beer. Popping the tab, Garrett guzzled it down and then belched loudly.
Stomping over to the door, he turned the knob once more, this time letting it fling open. Rain and wind pummeled and pelted him, but Garrett didn’t care. He stepped out onto the porch, instantly soaked to the skin as if he’d plunged fully clothed into a swimming pool. Lightning flashed and thunder rumbled almost immediately. Stepping down off the porch, he turned his face to the sky and roared his defiance.
He staggered along the walkway, the wind amplifying the weaving path he took as he stomped down the driveway. By the time he reached the gate, Garrett had transformed all the fear of just a few minutes ago into rage. He thrust the poker through the bars into the face of one of the hellish creatures on the other side. It dropped as soon as he withdrew. Again and again he stabbed. Sometimes in the face, other times in the body. All the while he screamed obscenities or roared challenges. Arms reached through and were beaten and broken. On and on it went until he was exhausted. His screams of anger became sobs of frustration as his efforts showed no sign of making the slightest dent in the numbers gathered just on the other side of the gate.
In a final and futile act of desperation, Garrett unzipped his fly and urinated. Of course, the raging wind blew it away—in reality he probably got more on himself—but it was the act of defiance itself. Yet, even that brought him no comfort or contentment.
Exhausted, Garrett turned and made his way back to the house. Somehow, the journey seemed longer and the wind felt even more powerful. He stumbled through the front door and fought for a moment against nature to get it shut.
Peeling off his soaking wet clothes, Garrett made his way up the stairs. He paused in the doorway and stared in at The Toy, still bound by wrists and ankles to the four corners of the bed. Then, he staggered down the hallway to the master bedroom. Crawling into his bed, he wrapped himself in the blankets and drifted off, grateful that, at least for tonight, he could fall asleep to something other than the sounds of the dead.
Kirsten listened to the storm outside as it continued to grow stronger. The windows of her bedroom rattled as the wind and rain sustained their onslaught. The flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder had long since ceased in making her start.
She’d never been afraid of the weather…until now. The world had become a more frightening place; storms—like darkness—held an entire new mystery to them. Something outside clattered on the balcony, but Kirsten couldn’t see what it was.
She lay still, her focus on keeping calm. It did no good to let fear overwhelm her. She needed to keep her head clear. The Big Man had changed in the past few days. In fact, he hadn’t touched her since that day he’d made the bargain resulting in her actually eating her fill. She shuddered involuntarily at what she’d had to do.
It was after she ate that Kirsten realized that The Big Man had just sat quietly. He’d left her be. Even going so far as to let her get up and walk around a bit. She kept waiting for him to spring his trap, but it never happened. After about an hour, he’d tied her back up, but still, this was completely out of character.
Laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, Kirsten felt the kernel of hope begin to sprout anew. What she had to do now was ensure that she watched for the opportunity. Perhaps she could lull The Big Man into making a mistake. She’d finally done that disgusting thing with her mouth that he’d wanted so badly without causing him injury. Maybe he thought that he’d won.
Could it really be that easy? Was it really as simple as pretending that she’d given up fighting? Kirsten thought about it. Since that evening, he hadn’t hurt her, done any of those terrible things to her, or so much as laid a hand on her. Instead, he’d given her water, food—not much, but some—and untied her a few times a day and taken her downstairs to the library which was where he kept the toilet bucket. She hadn’t been forced to lay in her own filth. And, the one day she’d been left alone too long and peed the bed, he’d taken her out back for a bath and let her change the sheets.
She heard the front door open and it startled her back to reality. The door slammed and continued to bang against the wall. The sound of the storm drifted up the stairs and the rain sounded like the television had been turned to a channel of all static and set to full volume.
Another sound struggled to be heard above the storm. It sounded like The Big Man screaming. Kirsten felt a chill that had nothing to do with the wind that now whipped through the house. The storm was unlike anything she’d ever experienced. It dawned on her that perhaps this was a hurricane. If that were the case, it was possible something had happened to the wall. That might mean some of the Monster-people had gotten in; and that scream…had they gotten The Big Man?
Laying in bed helpless was not the way Kirsten wanted to die. She struggled to hear anything that resembled feet coming up the stairs. Dead feet slapping along the hardwood floor of the hallway, coming for her. She considered which would be worse, seeing The Big Man turned into one of the Monster-people walking through that door to eat her, or a bunch of complete strangers?
Kirsten struggled at her bonds. This couldn’t happen. She felt tears well up, stinging her eyes. She lay still again and listened. All she heard now was the door banging, swinging on its hinges as the wind howled and the rain poured. Still no sound of approaching footsteps. In that moment, Kirsten realized she wasn’t actually afraid to die. What she was afraid of was dying helpless.
She renewed her struggles, trying desperately to free just one arm. The tears changed from ones of frustration to those of anger. That feeling welled up and overflowed as she screamed. This couldn’t happen. She couldn’t die this way. Kirsten struggled, feeling the bonds cut into her, but she didn’t care.
The front door slammed and suddenly it seemed almost silent. Even though she could hear the wind outside and the rain hammering against her window, the door being shut cut down on the noise tremendously. Kirsten froze and listened. She was almost positive that the Monster-people wouldn’t have shut the door.
Then, she heard it: footsteps on the stairs.
In strange, awkward sounding thuds, she heard them climb the stairs. Then, after another pause, she heard a sound she could definitely identify; the sound of belted jeans dropping to the floor. So…the break was over. As she’d suspected, it had all been a trick. Well, she would try a trick of her own this time. She would pretend. Yes, Kirsten thought, I’ll make him believe I like him. She swallowed hard and prepared herself, closing her eyes, doing her best to clear her mind.
The footsteps stopped at her doorway. Kirsten took a few deep breaths. She tried to imagine how she should act to make The Big Man think she liked what he did. Then…the footsteps continued down the hall. Tilting her head up, Kirsten stared at the empty doorway. A few minutes later, the sounds of snoring could just be heard above the storm.
Garrett stood in the kitchen. Even here, in the rear of the house, he could hear them. Sleep only came now when complete exhaustion set in. Yesterday, he’d sat down on the steps of the pool intending to wash up. He awoke only when his body slid down the rough concrete stair and his head hit the aluminum handrail.
He tried to go inside to lie down, but it seemed the more he worked at it, the more elusive sleep became. To make matters worse, The Toy was apparently unaffected by the noise, because it had no difficulty sleeping.
As was usually the case anymore when his mind drifted to The Toy, anger began to boil up. It was a physical anger that churned his stomach and made his hands start to tremble. Lately, nothing he did had any visible effect. This would usually be his signal that it was time to swap out and hunt for something new, but he couldn’t actually convince himself that he’d broken this one’s will or spirit. No, he wasn’t being treated with fear and complete submission; this was more like…indifference.
He considered going up there and forcing The Toy to serve him with its mouth; but yesterday, when he’d used the plate of food as enticement, and then eaten it himself…
If he allowed himself to be honest, he feared those teeth. If he was hungry, then that scrawny creature must be starving. He easily ate four meals to every one he allowed it to have.
Garrett shuddered. He could not imagine the pain or just how terrifying it would be to actually be eaten alive. Taking a deep breath, he opened the cupboard. His shoulder slumped at the sight: two cans of beef soup, four cans of green beans, one box of macaroni and cheese, and one bag of unsalted peanuts. That represented the last of the food.
He’d never been terribly bright. It was a fact that he accepted. For the first time in his life, he cursed that aspect of himself. With all of this open ground, he could have easily started a garden. Instead of waiting until supplies were practically depleted, he should have been out there gathering everything he could. And wasting precious space in his backpack by putting booze so high on his list…well…that had perhaps been the stupidest of his mistakes. As if in agreement, his stomach gurgled loudly.
Water certainly wasn’t a problem. There had been plenty on that truck, plus there were the swimming pools and that huge fountain. Besides the fountain—or more accurately the concrete pool at its base—he had set out numerous pots and pans to catch some rain (it didn’t matter that it had been The Toy’s suggestion that he do precisely that). Supposedly, the body could do without food longer than it could without water; at least that’s what The Toy said.
Garrett stared at his meager food stores and let his anger build. His stomach growled even louder, competing with the moans, groans, and cries of the undead gathered around the entirety of the brick wall that surrounded the property. Their desire to feast on him echoed inside his head.
That’s it, Garrett thought. Grabbing a large meat cleaver from one of the drawers, he stormed out of the house, a grim expression etched on his face. Walking up the path, his resolve began to waiver. Hearing them was one thing, but seeing them in such huge numbers pressed against the fence, was another. Their dead faces, horrific injuries, and then there was the stench. It had become so prevalent that he had gotten used to it…somewhat. But after that storm a few nights ago, it had seemed to intensify. Out here, the smell was far worse.
He stopped a few steps away from the gate and stared. The injuries on some of the ones he could see threatened to turn his bowels to liquid. He remembered the sounds of his mother’s screams the night this had all begun. His mother, a woman who had never shed a single tear to his knowledge, had screamed in agony. That, for him, was the most frightening thing he could imagine.
His eyes paused on one of the creatures reaching for him through the bars. The once blonde hair was matted, filthy, and plastered to its head. The skin was a moldy looking swirl of blue, green, and grey. Yet, it lacked any serious body damage; if you ignored the bullet holes in its torso. Even in death, he could tell that this creature would have made an ideal Toy. The exposed breast still seemed almost firm. The face might have even been pretty.
Garrett forced himself to take a step closer. A wall of hands opened and closed in desperation. He could almost feel their need; their desire. Reaching out, he snagged the wrist of the petite blonde zombie and hacked at the arm just above the elbow with the meat cleaver. After three big whacks and one ferocious yank and twist, the section of arm was his.
He stalked back to the house with his prize. After stirring the embers in the giant fireplace, he tossed in a few more pieces of wood to get the fire going. In the kitchen he found a skillet and filled it with chunks and strips of dead flesh that he’d cut away from the piece of arm he’d retrieved. Once he was satisfied that there was enough, he returned to the fireplace and situated the skillet atop the glowing coals.
Almost immediately, a horrid smell began to roll out of the fireplace filling the living room with its foulness. Garrett gagged more than once, but continued to hope that it would cook off. Turning the meat with a fork only caused the odor to intensify. Finally convinced that the blackened lumps of meat could benefit no more from any further cooking, he pulled the pan from the heat with a gloved hand. Dark tendrils of smoke rose from the shriveled, puckered nuggets of flesh. Taking the fork, he stabbed a small piece and brought it to his mouth. Forcing back another gag, he blew on the meat and took the tiniest nibble.
The rancid flavor seemed to coat every taste bud in his mouth with its vileness. Garrett was unable to hold back as his stomach lurched and emptied itself. Vomit sprayed from his mouth and nose in a burning mixture of bile, and the remnants of last night’s beer and Spam.
Once he was able, Garrett grabbed the pan of offensive meat and staggered to the back door. Weak but angry, he tossed the whole thing into the high grass of the overgrown lawn.
Time to catch your breath...tomorrow is Christine Sutton's time to shine. Be nice.