Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Chapter 5 of The WRONG KIND of DEAD: “Oyster Crackers” Part 2: “Sleeping Arrangements of the Damned”

From the ALL-NEW, Yet-To-Be Proofed and Published FINAL BOOK of the SAGA of the DEAD SILENCER

PREVIOUS EPISODE: Chapter 5.1: “Romantic Banter of the Damned”

We open the door to see Elyssa and the other girls sitting quietly in the living room. “Why aren’t you packing out?” says Agnes.

“Most of it’s already out there,” says Elyssa.

“Most of it? What are you talking about? Everything needs to be packed and ready to go.”

“The babies are sleeping.”

“You want I should I go and wake them up? Get everything out of this furniture, get your clothes, start packing your trucks. We’re leaving and not coming back, so unless you can afford to miss it, I suggest you pack it up.” 

Elyssa opens her mouth as if to say something along the lines of, “Nice to have you on board, finally,” when she catches me glaring at her. Elyssa rolls her eyes and follows the other women out of the room. She looks over her shoulder and winks at me before disappearing down the hall.

Agnes waves A.J. over. “Go tell Teresa she needs to be packing out now. Help her if you have to.”

A.J. makes a face. She runs over and hugs me, before running away to disappear out the back door.

“She means it when she calls you ‘Daddy,’ you know,” says Agnes.

“I know a little about raising daughters. Sybil had an uncanny ability for telling me what I wanted to hear.”

“Well, aren’t you a fat bundle of weapons-grade sunshine?” says Agnes. “I know what you’re saying, though. I wish I had an answer for you, except that she really does love you.”

“It’s all right. I got a feeling.”

We step into what used to be our bedroom, where Agnes sleeps with baby Damon and A.J. Damon is with the others on Elyssa’s side of the house, but I can still smell the lingering aroma of soiled and wet diapers. 

I’m camped back in the middle room, although I’ve spent many nights with Elyssa in her suite, by her request. I’d prefer to move back into the mother-in-law house, but Elyssa would likely follow me there, which would make things awkward. As long as we all stay in the same house, we can pass this off as normal, or the next best thing.

It was in mid- to late October when, pregnant and crazy with hormones and God knows what, Agnes first banished me from our bedchamber. “Look, this is nothing personal,” Agnes would say, time and again, “I need to do this on my own.”

As for what I thought about being on my own…well, never mind. A.J. was established in the middle room by that time, and I wasn’t about to make her suffer for my misfortune. Besides, I’d already had my eye on the mother-in-law house. I sometimes used it during the day when I needed a siesta, or a quiet place to read. It took me all of 15 minutes to move in, and no time at all to adapt to my surroundings.

It turned out that having my own space away, but not too far away, was exactly what I needed, too. Those nights reading by the lantern light, standing outside and staring up at the stars were worth a million dollars of drugs and therapy. Except this actually worked. Even the howls of the dead from the city below seemed easier to take, without having someone else’s terror to feel responsible for. At last, I understood what Agnes was doing, even if she didn’t seem to understand it herself. 

It had yet to get bitterly cold. We still had plenty to eat. Our tribe gathered around the fire pit in the evenings for our communal dinners. The mood was bright; we were all happy to be alive and together, whatever our relationships at home or in the field. Agnes would kiss me good night at evening’s end. There were no hard feelings as I retired to the cottage, and she to the main house. Not that I went inside right away. I liked to watch everyone as they waved goodbye, knowing we’d all be back together in the morning to make something good happen. Something we’d all be celebrating about the fire tomorrow night.

The wind picked up on Friday, canceling the bonfire. I was there when Agnes told Brother Christopher it would be for the best if everyone learned to cook in their own houses and he nodded, no doubt thinking of his socially awkward wife, Teresa, and how she barely tolerated our gatherings. It was prescient advice, for the next day it snowed immediately after our morning assembly.

We were stocked up on smoked meat and assorted canned goods and vegetables at our individual places, and Agnes said now was a good time to test how well we budgeted for our individual households. Of course, the boys were welcome to go hunting in the snow if they felt like it. Ethan and a couple of the others looked at each other as if that might be worth considering, but most everyone else wanted to simply hunker down and work on keeping warm.

I spent the morning watching the snow transform the woods about our compound. Upon returning to the cottage I got out of my wet clothes and curled under my blankets for a delicious midday nap. I awoke to a darkening afternoon, the clouds lowering, the snow getting heavier. I dressed and readied myself to take in one more chapter from the book I was reading before starting dinner.

While making coffee, I glanced through the window to see Elyssa wading through the ankle-deep snow towards my place, an iron Dutch oven held up in her hands. She was wearing a dark green hoodie zipped up over her long nightdress, with the hoodie’s sleeves pulled over her hands so she could hold the handles of the hot ironware. With the hood shadowing her face, she looked like a Druid priestess turned bag lady.

I opened the door. “Agnes sent me with this,” she said, like she had the most precious gift. Which she did. Elyssa had brought me the canned clam chowder I’d scored during our raid on the big box shoppers club on Nevada Avenue. Unless I got lucky, this was, for all intents and purposes, the last of the clam chowder on earth. 

It seemed sad, even wasteful that I should have this all to myself, and on such a perfect day for it. I suggested running back to the main house myself to bring Agnes over.

“She doesn’t want any,” said Elyssa. “This is for you and me.”

“Right.” I had my doubts, but the early season snow was heavy and wet, and I didn’t want to go out unless it was a matter of life or death. Elyssa’s nightdress was soaked from walking through this mess, so I had her change into my bathrobe back in my bedroom while I took the bowls down from the cupboard. 

Elyssa called me out for making a sad face when I thought about how nice oyster crackers would be with this. I was opening my mouth to tell her that I had every right to be depressed over the passing of oyster crackers from the world when she began telling me her story. How she was living at home with her parents, taking care of her invalid mother while her father worked and her younger brother went to school. They had no extended family, and friends were few and far between as her father went from one job to another according to the ebb and flow of the economy.

“Go ahead, eat before it gets cold,” Elyssa admonished me somewhere among these details.

“You, too,” I said.

“No, I need to tell you this,” she said. “I’ve wanted to tell you my story since that very first day I saw you at Sisters Keep. All this time, you’ve never asked.”

“This is the first time we’ve spoken without a bunch of other people around.”

Elyssa’s eyes flashed. The corners of her mouth turned up, and it was the ever smiling, sunshine-and-lollipops Elyssa who leaned in and said, “Agnes always kept you close, didn’t she?”

“It’s always been something.”

“Mm-hmm,” she said, bringing the spoon to her lips. She smiled over her bowl at me as if we shared some secret. I took this as my cue to eat, too. 

Later, Elyssa took our empty bowls to the sink while I got up to tend the stove. I resumed my seat to find a fresh mug of coffee waiting for me, and the rest of Elyssa’s story.

Elyssa had returned from a round of errands-running that had taken twice as long as it had to, owing to most places being closed. This was late in that last week when people weren’t even bothering to call in sick, because whoever wasn’t sick was staying home to take care of their people. Elyssa’s father, for his part, had been functional up until that last day before Bad Friday. By that point he was bedridden, and running a fever fit to fry an egg. 

The bag from the pharmacy still over her wrist, Elyssa knew something was wrong when she opened the door. There was that smell. That noise, that sound…she stepped into her mother’s bedroom to find her father sucking noisily at her mother’s arm. There was blood on the floor, sheeting down the bedspread. A huge crimson stain pooled across on the floor.

Her father turned around to face her. One look into those blind, dry eyes over his red-dripping mouth, and Elyssa understood immediately, as so many in similar situations did not, that this was not her father. She backed out the door and ran through the house, the thing in her father’s skin close behind her.

“I was fresher,” said Elyssa. With no other information, only the instinct of the born survivor, Elyssa had understood that.

It was her habitual turn of the lock as she pulled the front door shut behind her that saved her. Elyssa heard her father yanking furiously at the door as she climbed into her car. He was crashing through the picture window after her as she pulled out of the driveway. She heard the thump of his hands on the back of the car as she pulled the shifter into drive and screeched away.

The last Elyssa saw of her father was in the rear view mirror. He stood in the middle of the empty street, waving his arms and yelling, the essence of her dying mother falling in thick, wet chunks down the front of his shirt.

For the price of a happy hour drink you can enjoy many delirious hours slashing and shooting your way through the delightful hellscapes of my first two SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER books, available in Kindle and paperback from Severed Press. We commence the collapse of civilization in Bleeding Kansas, wherein our intrepid hero, Derek Grace, must survive a plane crash, combat with the undead at the local Wal-Mart, an exploding fire truck, a female hardbody assassin, and lots of walking dead people-things.

Book 1 has ONE exploding head
on its cover.

I’m told it reads even better in German. This edition from Luzifer Verlag also sports a hellacious one-of-a-kind cover courtesy of ace artist Michael Schubert:
You can buy this German version stateside here.
You know you wanna.

Book 2, Grace Among the Dead, steps up the game with a tale of love and redemption, the living dead, and a flame-throwing monster truck. We’ve got an arc going from decadence to...respectability?...for our hero. As close as it gets, anyway. You should savor this big book o’ hell while it lasts, because things are about to go completely to shit.
Book 2 has TWO exploding heads.
See the pattern here?

They’re also available in Canada and the UK.