All Roads Lead to Terror: Chapter Nine

The horrors of the past meet the brutality of the present

Chapter 9

Drops of rain clung to the windows, chilling the glass and forming a frame of condensation around the perimeter of each pane. Beyond the window the sky was full of dark clouds churning in a volatile way, almost touching the ground, as rain pelted the roof above their heads with a steady drone. He knew this place, had learned to read within its wall, it was the classroom at Bremo Bluff.

What am I doing here?

The children had left for the day and he was alone with Anna who was two years his senior, helping her clean up. It was odd that he had been assigned to help out in the school instead of with one of the scavenging crews embarking on their varied searches beyond the fence. 

But he wasn’t complaining.

It was warm and he had the added pleasure of working with Anna who had caught his eye several weeks earlier, emerging from her bulky winter clothing like a beautiful butterfly after a long harsh winter. Being inside with her was better than being out there in the cold rain. Here he was warm and dry, the warmth enveloping him in a comforting embrace that lulled him into a sense of security he’d never really known. It was so warm in fact that Anna was wearing a pair of shorts and a halter-top.

A faint yell intruded upon the scene, coming from the darkened hallway beyond the door of the classroom. Meat glanced in that direction as a cold chill whispered down his spine and he thought briefly that he should go help whoever was yelling.

Anna crossed the room towards him, stopping as she touched his arm, standing within the arc of his legs that were splayed out before him, one bare thigh resting gently against his own. Even thought he wore pants the sensation of her flesh against his was electrifying, sending jolts of delicious anticipation coursing through his body, deepening that feeling of secure warmth that enveloped him. Carnal thoughts whispered through his mind as he hesitantly reached out to touch one of her breasts encased in the thin fabric of the halter-top.

The scream came again, filled with terror, a man crying out for aid. His gaze was drawn to the door where he saw Window watching him through the crack in the door that stood ajar.

“You said you would help,” Window said

Meat returned his attention to Anna who stood before him without any clothes. “It is so hot in here,” she said as she fanned her face with her hand, “wouldn’t you feel more comfortable without all these clothes?”

He didn’t question the how or why of what was happening, buoyed as he was upon a volatile sea of yearning. Meat nodded as he tried to look at her secret place, shrouded in shadows his gaze could not penetrate. He’d seen naked women before while growing up, some dead, some alive, and others stuck in the hell in between. None of them had made him feel like Anna did.

The sound of something slapping against the glass came from the row of windows along the wall to his left. He looked in that direction, a horde of Zombies had gathered beyond the window,  slapping uselessly against the glass with melting flesh. Blood smearing the glass, and the rain washing it away in some places, the image overwhelming his desire, leaving him cold and lifeless inside.

“Don’t you love me any more?” Anna said, her voice low, grating, a guttural sound that came from somewhere deep in her throat.

She had changed, her once soft flesh now hard and gray, mottled with black spots where the decay was advancing. She grasped his head in her hands, her cracked nails raking against the flesh of his cheeks. She opened her mouth as she leaned forward, rotting teeth like the slats of a fence behind her twisted lips, and he pushed her away with his foot.

“Shoot her,” Einstein yelled, his voice coming from some distance away.

“Shoot her,” Einstein screamed, his shout driving away the dream and Meat opened his eyes on a dark world.

For a moment he was disoriented, unsure of where he was. The memory of finding the old house filtered through his mind, mingling with the memory of another old house that lay  shrouded by the shadowy wisps of terror that sent his heart racing as it squeezed his windpipe in an icy grasp . He sat up, glancing over at Billie Bob and Gregory who lay to his right, breathing in that steady rhythm of deep sleep. From his left came the sound of a struggle.

“Shoot her dammit,” Einstein shouted from somewhere in the depths of the house and Meat jumped to his feet. Though a fire was burning in the stove the room was cold, the night sky beyond the kitchen window alight with a full moon partially hidden behind dense clouds that still carried the promise of rain. Crossing the kitchen he came to the open basement door and in the shadowy depths below he saw the light of a candle softly illuminating the end of a couch on which Einstein sat. Only he wasn’t sitting. He had crawled halfway up the back of the couch, struggling with something outside of Meat’s view.

Meat took the steps two at a time, his revolver in his hand as he entered the finished basement to find Einstein struggling for his life with an older woman who had obviously turned. He drew a bead on the side of the woman’s head, a part of him wondering why Window was just sitting there, his gun in his hand, staring up at the woman with rapt attention.

The sound of the shot was deafening in the confines of the basement, that violent roar amplified by the close walls, leaving a ringing in his ears. The round hit the woman in the side of the head, high and to the right, a spray of blood marking its entry point. The soft nosed bullet expanded as it penetrated her skull, shattering bone, and slicing off the top portion of her skull that landed on the floor at Window’s feet. Instead of dropping instantly she folded up slowly, her knees buckling as her motor controls were cut and she rolled backwards onto the floor to gaze unseeing at the ceiling as the last of her bastardized life drained away.

“What the fuck’s wrong with you man,” Einstein said as he turned to confront Window, his voice tight with emotion, “why didn’t you shoot her?”

Window turned his head slowly to look at Einstein, a faraway expression in his eyes, as if he wasn’t really there.

Footsteps sounded from above as Gregory, followed by Billie Bob, crowded down the steps.

“What happened?” Gregory said, spotting the dead zombie lying on the floor at Window’s feet.

“I heard a noise in the basement,” Einstein said, “Window and I came down to see what it was and she attacked us.”

“And Window killed her,” Billie Bob said.

Einstein shook his head and pointed at Meat as he pushed himself off the couch to stand on shaking legs. Window remained where he was, his gaze fixed on the corpse at his feet.

Gregory crossed to the corpse and knelt down along side it. “It hasn’t been that long ago that she’s turned. There might be others.” He said before pushing himself to his feet.

“Are there anymore of them?” Meat said as he crossed to the darkened hallway and peered down its shadowy length.

“I think she was the only one,” Einstein said, “why didn’t you shoot her?” he finished, swiveling his head to look at Window with an angry expression, “are you trying to get me killed?”

“We better check the rest of the basement,” Meat said and turned back to the hallway. Einstein and Gregory followed as Billie Bob remained with Window who had yet to move from the couch.

Three doors greeted them as they moved into the shadowy depths of the hallway, one on the right, another opposite, and one at the end of the hallway. All three were closed. At the first door Meat turned the knob and pushed it open slowly, Einstein was behind him and held up the candle so they could see what awaited them. The stench of a sewer greeted them as the door opened upon a small bathroom. It was obvious the toilet had not been flushed in some time.

Stepping back he closed the door, not wanting to spend any more time than necessary in that tiny room. He turned to the door opposite the first. In that room they found a bed whose surface was covered with blankets and clothing. The sheets were filthy and looked like they had been used recently as they carried the sour scent of an unwashed body. Dirty clothes were piled against the opposite wall. The closet door stood open, empty, a lonely wire clothes hanger hanging from the closet rod.

Back in the hallway they cautiously approached the last room. If there were any more zombies left they’d be hidden behind this door whose surface was marred by what looked like bloody smears. Taking a deep breath Meat turned the knob and leaned into the door pushing it open. In this room was more of the same, another bed with a nest of clothes and blankets, more dirty clothes piled against the far wall. Like the other room all of the clothes belonged to a woman.

As he turned to leave he heard the unmistakable sound of someone moaning. Stepping back into the room he rounded the bed, the muzzle of his pistol aimed at the floor as he approached the pile of clothes. He probed them with his foot, coming into contact with something hard yet yielding.  He kicked aside the clothes to uncover a person crouching on their hands and knees, their long hair hanging to the floor as they shook with fear.

“It’s okay,” Meat said as he knelt down, “I’m not going to hurt you.”

She was a young girl, fourteen, possibly fifteen years old, and she lifted her head to look at him with terror filled eyes. Her face was dirty, her eyes haunted as they darted left and right.

“SSSsssshhhhh,” she said holding a finger to her lips.

“It’s okay, you’re safe now,” Meat said.

She shook her head as she looked over Meat’s shoulder, “she’s out there waiting for me.”

Meat shook his head, “who’s out there?”

“My mom.” The girl’s eyes widened with remembered terror. “She kept trying to get in but I wouldn’t let her.”

“What happened to her?” Meat said, trying to keep her talking until he could get her to come out.

“She tripped down the steps in the dark, I think she broke her neck.”

“Is there anybody else here?”

“Daddy left a long time ago, he went to get water and never came back. Jamie died last year but wouldn’t stay in the ground, he kept digging himself out, and coming to the backdoor, pounding on it for us to let him in.”  She clamped her hands over her ears as she relived the memory of that incessant knocking.

“He’s gone,” Meat said, “take my hand, it’s safe.” He held out his hand for her.

She reached out hesitantly as her brow furrowed with a sudden thought, “are you real?”

Meat smiled, “I certainly hope so.”

As her hand came into contact with his own he felt an electric spark of desire race the length of his arm. It reminded him of his recently vacated dream..

She was, after all, a girl. Beneath all the grime and dirty clothes she was a female, and Meat’s hormones surged in response to her proximity as that new, yet familiar stirring came from his loins. The purple-headed bastard was waking up and as he stood up he quickly adjusted himself to make room. It didn’t feel right referring to it by that name, but his limited experience with the opposite sex left him with little real knowledge, forcing him to fall back upon familiar schoolboy jargon.

The adults had tried to teach them about sex and babies, but the greater needs of the survival of the compound left little time for such things. It was after all a natural process, and the adults felt that each of them would in time figure things out; it was how it had been done since the days of the caveman.

Meat was suddenly very conscious of how dirty he was. They were all grimy, every last one of them. Water’s scarcity in this new age had caused a monumental shift in thinking towards ones own personal hygiene. While they might be making drinking water in the Bluff, it still had to be rationed to make sure everyone got their share. Of course the outlet lines of the steam turbines at the power plant offered a nearly limitless supply of hot clean water, and the proximity of the river, permitted many of the inhabitants to bathe regularly. Yet the fact remained he was fourteen going on fifteen, and one thing that hadn’t changed with the awakening, was an adolescent’s disdain for bathing. The only difference now was that no one was riding them to get a bath everyday.

She stood unsteadily on her feet, the flickering light of the candle casting strange shadows on the walls around them, and she jerked her head left and right trying to catch a glimpse of whatever was lurking in her peripheral vision. She smiled, revealing a row of fairly straight, yet dirty teeth, that to Meat was like a ray of sunshine suddenly bursting through a dreary overcast day.

“Who do we have here?” Gregory said from the doorway as Meat led the girl across the room. It was then he realized he’d never asked the girl her name.

“I’m Maria,” she said as she followed Meat into the hallway where Einstein and Billie Bob were waiting. They stepped back as Meat led her into the family room where Window was still sitting on the couch with the dead woman at his feet.

“Mom,” Maria said. She pulled her hand from Meat’s grasp and crossed to the dead woman, dropping to her knees at her side as tears rolled down her cheeks. She ran her hand along her mother’s cheek, her other hand covering her mouth as she bent her head and cried silently.

Meat crossed to Window and knelt down next to him, placing his hand on Window’s knee as he looked into his eyes. What he saw frightened him. Window had always been the strong quiet one in the group. It was a quality Meat had grown accustomed to so he wasn’t entirely sure how to proceed when he realized Window wasn’t really with them. He might have been physically sitting on the couch, but mentally he’d become lost in his memories.

Meat glanced at the dead woman to his left. Maria bent over and gently kissed her mother’s cheek, then wiping her eyes, she pushed herself to her feet.

“Is he all right?” She said, motioning to Window.

“I think so, come on Window, let’s go upstairs,” Meat said as he stood up and took Window’s hand. Window followed them willingly enough and as the false light of the approaching dawn filled the overcast sky they gathered in the kitchen.

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