He slipped around the end of the trailer and looked at the other car. A newer Ford: He could see the badge on the rear deck. The front end of the car was wrapped around the oak in the backyard just as he had thought and steam was rising up into the air. The Ford first, he decided. The car across the road would have to wait.
The Ford had hit the tree and climbed it a few feet before it came to a complete stop. Carl had to stand on tip toe to peer into it. The driver had no head left, that had been the huge stain on the windshield. There was no passenger. Looking out from the inside it was not just red but gray and black too: Bone, hair and brain matter. His stomach did a quick flip and he began to close his eyes as he turned away.
As he turned, his eyes caught on the floorboard and a blue duffel bag that was jammed into the space with the drivers legs. There was no way that the door was going to open, but the glass was gone from the window. He balanced over the edge of the door trying to stay as far away as he could from the dead man as he did, leaned in and tried to snag the duffel bag. His fingers brushed the two plastic handles, but he could not get a grip on them.
Carl levered himself further over the window sill and nearly came down into the dead man's lap as he lost his balance and his feet left the ground. His hand shot down quickly, bounced off the dead man's thigh and hit the seat, stopping him just a few inches above the man's lap and a small splattering of bone and blood that was there. His hand slipped, but he pressed down harder and held himself.
He could feel the slick blood and splinters of bone under his hand, but he pushed the knowledge out of his mind, took a deep breath, braced himself and then reached down with his free hand and snatched the handles pulling the heavy bag free.
He pulled back, but the bag was so heavy that he had to hold on tight and push off the seat with his other hand. For one alarming second it seemed he would fall forward into the dead man's lap. After a second of indecision his body dropped back down to the ground, the bag in his hand. He thought about the trunk as he started to turn away, reached back in, shut off the dead ignition, pulled the keys free and hurried around the car.
The trunk held nothing but a black suitcase. He debated briefly, then reached in and took it. He went back, put the keys back into the ignition, and turned it back to the ON position. What else! What else! His mind asked.
His heart felt like it was beating a mile a minute, skipping beats, and his breath was tearing in and out of his lungs so quickly that it was painful. He could think of nothing he had forgotten. He told himself there was nothing else and then immediately he thought of the glove compartment. He ran back around the passenger's side of the car, dropped the bags and pushed the button on the glove box. A small paper bag and a dull, black pistol rested inside.He took a deep breath, thought for a moment and then took both, slammed the glove box shut, picked up the bags and ran for the trailer. He booted the door open and threw the bags inside...
His head exploded, and the glass of the rear window he had been standing in front of blew inward. The shots ricocheted back to them and then the silence came hard and stayed.
“Chloe,” Mike whispered after a while.
“Yeah?” Her voice was still tight. Strained. They had both been looking through their scopes.
“You see anything? Anything at all?”
“Nada,” she said softly. “Goddamn truck's in the way.”
Mike nodded to himself. “Alright... I'm going to stand up and yell Jessie's name... I'd say cover me, but I guess I'll be a sitting duck.” He stood and looked down the road past the truck. The view was no better. The truck in front of them was on a slight rise, or the road dipped past the truck, either way there was little to see.
“You guys alright back there,” Mike asked.
“Yeah,” Tim’s voice.
“Good,” Josh added.
He cleared his throat. “Jess! ... Jessie! It's Mike,” he yelled. “Those guys that were shooting are done, Jess... Jess?”
“Goddammit, Jess. It's really me... Answer me... Someone!”
He stood on his tiptoes. “You can see me, Jess... Those guys are dead... We killed them... I'm standing in plain view, Jess... For Christ’s sake don't shoot me... Come on, Jess. It's Mike!” His voice was growing hoarse from shouting.
Silence.... Then he saw her. A shock of black hair bobbing just above the hill. Then she was there. Standing on the apex of the hill.
“Mike?” Her voice sounded small and far away. Her rifle was in her hands, ready to use. Another head bobbed, and another, and two men moved up behind her.
“Jess, it's me. We're coming down, Jess,” he yelled.
“Those bastards shot me, Michael,” she said, in her far away voice. Then she collapsed...
They were thirty now, and there were a half dozen laying on the ground who would be coming up out of twilight any minute. Killers. Or they had been in the old world. Being dead took the killer out of you, at least at first it did. But then it came back. You forgot all the little things of the old life. You nearly forgot your name. Where you had lived, what you had done. And then it changed. Every day you got a little more back. It wasn't exactly a memory, like a memory would be in the old days, like a breather would have. It was more like found knowledge. Not there one second, and then there the next. But it was clearer than the old memories she had had.
Donita didn't question whether that found knowledge was true or not. It didn't matter. Just like it wouldn't matter to these. What would matter to these was getting through the first bit of time. That time where heat still seemed like the only possible source of life and you struggled to find it only to realize it did nothing at all for you any longer. In fact it could kill you.
Then the cold came upon you, found you, along with its understanding and you were fine. You began to understand that life was just a short stop on the way to dead and that dead was just a way station to dead. And dead could be forever. Death was not something as trifling as life. But all of that took time. And these killers would be nothing more than babies for a few nights.
There was a process. She had gone through it, and the others had gone through it. She supposed any of the dead had gone through it. Everything that had to do with life, heat, that world had to come out of you... Sick it up. Shit it out. It had to go. It had to go because it had nothing to do with death. Nothing at all.
The dead used what they took in. There was no waste. So there was no need for a system to dispose of that waste. The dead did not heal in the same way that a breather did. There was no need for time to heal. You couldn't predict it. You weren't even precisely injured. You could lose a finger, or a leg, while you were turning and that was that. It was lost. But you could lose one after and it was back in a short time. Or most of it. She had not lost a leg, but she had lost a few fingers. One of the twins had lost an ear a few nights before. It was back. Those things could be. But they did not depend on any kind of healing like the living. No.
These were killers. For a few days they would be babies. Then for a few days they would get used to the gift they had been given. Then they would be killers again. They would be because that is what they were, and you could not change the basic truths of what you were whether you were a breather or dead.
The turnings were coming faster. Where once seven would pass in to death and maybe one would rise, now seven passed into death and five came to be. Soon it would be seven for seven. She knew that. And soon after that the whole world would belong to the dead. The breathers would be done.
She let her silvered eyes pass along the bodies that lay stretched out on the ground.
She was not weak. There was a strength that came with this life. A strength that came to your whole body once you embraced the cold. They had moved silently into the woods and taken these without a sound. They had carried them here. It had been no expenditure of energy at all.
The Mission was on upper Franklin street, a short walk in a straight line, or even if you had to walk around the square and start up, as she usually did, but tonight the square was packed with traffic and so she had chosen the shortcut instead. Unfortunately it was not well lit: A four block wasteland of parking lots and alleyways.
She had almost turned completely around to make sure the car had seen her when the horn blared and startled her. A second later she finished the turn, hand clasped to her throat, and watched as the car skidded to a stop and three men piled out of the back seat slipping and sliding in the slush, laughing.
“What's up, bitch,” one asked as he found his feet and stood staring her down. The laughter died away.
“Nice ass,” another said as he moved toward her.
She turned to the second man, the one who had just spoken, as she shrugged her purse from her shoulder, caught the bottom of it in one hand, and slipped her other hand inside. The third man, really just a boy, looked frightened as his eyes slipped from his two companions and then flitted to her.
The driver leaned out the window, “Get the bitch!” He was looking over the roof-line, sitting on the windowsill of the driver's door, a smirk on his too-white little-boy face.
“Yeah... How about a ride, baby,” the nearest one said. The other had finally found his feet, stopped slipping and was skidding his feet across the slush heading in her direction. She pulled her hand from her pocket and aimed the mace canister at them. They both skidded to a stop.
The closer one, the one that had made the remark about her ass cocked his head sideways, shrugged his shoulders and then pulled a gun from his waist band. “Yeah... Kind of changes the whole situation, don't it?” He asked.
His gun was aimed at the ground, close to her feet. She had only a split second to decide. He was less than five feet away the gun rising from the ground when she pushed the trigger and watched the stream leap at him. His face went from sarcastic smirk to alarm just before the stream of mace hit his nose and splattered across his face and into his eyes. A second later he was screaming. She had just turned to aim at the second guy when the world turned upside down.
She found herself tumbling sideways. Somewhere, close by, a roar began and rose in pitch as the ground below her feet began to jump and shake. She found her knees after she fell and skidded across the roadway as she tried to hold herself, but the shaking was just too hard. She collapsed back to the roadway and the relative softness of the slush and snow, her body jumping and shaking as she seemed almost to bounce across the short expanse and into the snowbank on the opposite side of the road.
The roar went on for what seemed like minutes as she tried to catch her breath and steady herself at the same time. Both seemed impossible to do, but almost as soon as she had the thought the trembling of the earth became less and a split second after that the roaring stopped. There was no silence. The sound of breaking glass, tumbling brick, blaring horns and screams in the dark night replaced the roar. Sounds that had probably been there, she decided, she had just been unable to hear them.
Pearl made her feet and stared back down the street where the car had been. The car was still there, the nose tilted upward, the back seemingly buried in the street itself. She blinked, but nothing changed. She noted the broken asphalt and churned up dirt, and realized the car had broken through the street. There was no sign of the men, including the driver that had been hanging halfway out of the window.
She drew a breath, another and suddenly the noise and smells of the world rushed back in completely. The screams became louder. Horns blared. The ground trembled under her feet as if restless. She could smell sewage on the air. Broken lines below the pavement, her mind reasoned. She swayed on her feet as the earth trembled once more, lurching as it did. She waited, but the tremble was not repeated. She sucked in another deep breath and then began to walk, slipping on the broken pavement and slush as she did.
From RAPID CITY THREE:
A minute or two after I heard the man, I saw a fast blur to my right, the other side from the church, and I blazed that whole building, dropped my clips, reloaded the ones I had emptied while I listened and waited. I listened to the lung shot man's breathing and it was not good. I allowed my head to get lulled by that yearning to hear that man pull his breath so much that I almost missed it when they came at me.
Two sides at once, and damned if I didn't get them all as they were comin'. All but the one that took me in the back and flattened me out right there in the street.
I managed to flip onto my back, but I was no better off. I had lost both guns and that walker knew it. She was on me hard and fast. Hissing, biting at me, clipped the end of my finger, had me scared for hours because of that. I got my sticker and drove it up fast through her chest and into her backbone. She arched hard, her back bent like a bow, mouthing wide, teeth flashing, and I was trying to pull that knife free when her head blew apart and she flew off the side. I got my eyes closed, but I still grimaced as I felt cold chunks of her head splatter against my face. I held my vomit, but barely, rolled off to my right, pulled my shirt up, buttons flying and cleaned off my face as best I could. It was then I thought to look for the lung shot man I knowed had to be there.
She was some tore up when I saw her. She had sagged to the ground just about where she had stumbled to and managed the shot.
I got my face as clean as I could and then got to my shaky feet and went to her. I was looking over that finger, worried as I went. It was bit bad, but the skin did not break.
She was most dead when I got there.
“What was it that bought you creeping on me like that,” I asked?
Her eyes were bright. The bottoms of those lids filled up to overflowin' with tears, probably from the pain. A lung shot can hurt powerful. I seen a man or two go that way. For a woman, she was holding it down good...
I drove as he gave me directions.
We stopped just before dawn at a gas station in the middle of a small desert border town. The Mexican directed me past the dimly lit islands and over toward the side of the station, and the shadowy side lot.
There was a big hound sleeping in an open bay doorway on one side of the garage. On the other side a thin man with long, greasy-black hair was turning wrenches on an old Plymouth. He glanced up, nodded, and I nodded back as we pulled around the side of the station and parked in the shadows.
There were payphones bolted to the side wall, just past the Men's room door. I had thought that payphones were a thing of the past. But I had also thought gas stations were a thing of the past too, come to think of it.
I helped the Mexican to the phone. He ran about $6.00 worth of change into the phone and then he just stood there, leaned against the wall, panting hard, for what seemed like ten minutes.
Finally he began to speak in a stream of Spanish so heavily accented and fast that I could make no sense of anything he said. Not even the gist of it, and I was usually pretty good when it came to Spanish.
He sprayed blood from his mouth as he talked. And he leaked blood from the bullet wound in his lower chest all over the wall he was leaning against.
Seventeen stories from Horror to Science Fiction...
More Bad Dreams
The Forest closed in around me quickly. Even as a spiritual presence I could feel it: I began to worry about my body where it lay at the edge of the woods. Hidden, but hidden well enough? I could only hope that it was. Abignew was setting a fast pace and I was drawing farther away from my dream self, splitting my spiritual self to do it. I didn't like it at all.
There was no moonlight here. A pale silver disc graced the open sky above the trees. Sunlight then, I thought. The time here in this world must be completely different. This had to be more than a shift or a slip sideways.
I kept one part of my mind on the silver ball in my pocket. A large part. Not as large as it had once been, but still large. Another part was watching over my physical self. The sounds of the day-quiet motel drifting at the edge of everything else my mind was processing. Occasional rattles of keys, a far off argument. The sounds of a scuffle. An aluminum can rolling down the steel steps from the floor above. Hollow, metallic 'Pong' sounds as it fell from step to step. A breeze sighing over the low rooftop. A crows' raspy call as it overflew the motel roof and winged its way into the city.
Another part of my mind was with my dream self, watching the area where my spiritual body lay. And my vision skated over the forest floor watching Abignew as he walked fast along an old worn path.
I sensed the wolves before I saw them. Nothing concrete. A scent on the wind. A rustling in the grasses. I broke away from my travel and slammed back into my dream self fully.
The wolves were on me before I could gain my feet. The lead wolf, nearly pure white with smudge gray markings that were barely there. Glowing pale-red eyes, launched himself through the air, his teeth finding and closing on my throat. I fought my way up to a sitting position. My own hands came up automatically to his throat, but even as I squeezed I willed myself to end the dream. I focused all that I had as a second wolf slammed into my back, claws hooking into the skin, clawing for purchase, riding me as his jaws bit deep into the back of my neck.
The black came fast, closing down my sight, pulling at my soul. The battle lasted less than a second. The wolves were no match for the power I had developed. My soul leapt into the void. I felt myself falling faster and faster.
I hit the bed so hard that it felt as though I had broken it. Within seconds someone began to beat on the thin Motel room wall from the room next door...
The Moon shone brightly in the sky. Cold air curled around her as she walked along, slipping from shadow to shadow at the building fronts and the alleyways. The boy and the twin clung deeper to the shadows; farther behind, under the overhangs of the buildings, hidden from the moonlight, trailing along behind her. The big man farther still, but not so far that she was out of his sight at any time. The others farther still
The breather she was following was alone, walking the roadway.
Falling down and then getting back up and walking the roadway would be a better description, Donita thought. He was injured? She asked herself. No. It was more than that. He was injured, at least a little, from falling down repeatedly, she could smell the blood that leaked from his palms where they had scuffed the roadway, but that was not it. There was something else wrong with him. Something else that she knew she should be able to understand, yet she could not get it to come.
She thought about it. But her new mind did not work that way. Something... Something she should know... Something from her old life, but that was quickly dissolving into nothing. Fading.
She knew she had come from the breathers, they all came from the breathers, but she could not remember the details of that life. It wasn't there. It was like that part of her memory was dying away. Gone more and more each day.
He stumbled, fell, got back to his feet after a time, and scrubbed one skinned hand against his pants. Donita could smell the blood from where she was in the shadows, she could feel the excitement from the boy and the twin as they smelled it.
She had bought only the boy, the twin, and the big man with her. The others were in a factory she had chosen. More joined them by the hour. They knew she was there. They knew they should follow her. They made their way to the factory and waited with the others.
She had left to hunt for a time. To bring her familiars with her, away from waiting for what would soon come to them, war. She cocked her head from side to side, scenting the air with her eyes.
The old sensory inputs meant nothing. She did not breath, so there was no scent that came to her as the air was pulled into her body. Instead, all smells being particulate, her eyes absorbed the particles and turned it into smell. It was a thousand times stronger than her old, human ability to smell. Deeper. More complex. It told a story, not just delivered a scent. She drank it in now.
The man scrubbed his hand against his jeans, leaving a trail of blood so bright, so glaring, so compelling that Donita herself could barely stand it. She could see the microscopic droplets clinging to the cotton, some falling away, becoming airborne. Her head ducked lower as she drank in the intoxicating scent. She straightened suddenly.
Two things had disrupted her train of thought. Intoxicating. That was what was wrong with the man. He was intoxicated. She remembered intoxication. Had she ever been intoxicated herself or had she simply remembered seeing it, she asked herself. She had no answer. She could not remember either being intoxicated or not being intoxicated. The second was the other of her own kind, who stood hidden herself, within the shadows two blocks down. She had scented the man also, then she had scented Donita. Donita drank her in.
There was no give to this one. She believed she would be the one who took the man. She did not ask, she knew, and she transmitted this knowing to Donita.
Donita was sure she had felt her own knowing too, and she wondered when the defeat would come. One would win. One would lose. There was no other position, and Donita knew she would be the one to win. For some reason the other did not know that.
Donita stared at her through the gloom from her hiding place in the shadows, the man forgotten temporarily. A second later she stopped. The boy and the twin skittered away into the darkness. Sent away by Donita. The big man moved up closer to her, protective of her; barely restraining himself from rushing at the other female where she had hidden herself in the shadows.
The man finished scrubbing his hand, unseen by anyone except the boy and the twin who were deep down an alleyway slightly ahead of him: As he began to walk again he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned and watched a woman, surely a dead woman, from the look of her, step into the moonlight. He stopped and stared; his mouth hanging open.
A blur farther along the line of buildings caught his attention and he watched as another woman, also dead, he could tell from the way her skin stretched too tightly across her face; the way her bones protruded through that skin in places, stepped out into the moonlight and faced the first woman. Before he could fully grasp what was happening the first woman screamed and then launched herself at the other one. The man stumbled back; backed into the alley wall where he stood watching in fear.
Donita met her in midair. Her hands, hooked into claws, punctured the other woman's chest and dragged her down to the ground. From there it was all downhill for her. She had underestimated the power that Donita possessed. Donita's fingers had punched straight through her chest, hooked into her ribs, and then ripped her chest apart. Donita threw her to the ground and then pounced on her, her feet driving powerfully into her. Her mouth angled down and tore at her face as her hands closed around her neck. She squatted on her torn chest, weight on the balls of her feet, and rode her as she fought to live.
The fight did not last long. Her powerful hands ripped her head from her neck even as her teeth tore her face apart. There was no mercy in treachery. This one could have been a part of Donita's army. She could have had power handed to her; but she had decided to go her own way, and she had convinced herself that defeat of Donita was obtainable. That was not a belief that could be allowed to grow.
She looked over at the breather. He stood still. Mouth open. Staring at Donita. She looked back at him levelly. He would normally be too big for the boy and the twin: If he had been stronger, in his right mind, she would have taken him herself. But, as he was, he was perfect for the boy and the twin, and they needed to practice. Learn. She dropped her eyes from the breather, looked up at the bloated moon, and then gave them permission to take him.