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.
Dell Sweet was born in New York. He wrote his first fiction at age seventeen. He drove taxi and worked as a carpenter for most of his life. He was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy in 1975. He has written more than twenty books and several dozen short stories.
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...
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...