Pieces-A Serial

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American Revenant: Pieces

A Serial.

By

John L. Davis IV

Copyright © 2016 John L. Davis IV

All Rights Reserved

 

 

Chapter 1

Small Town Living

 

Arlen Dalton had planted himself at the window; a thick, scarred finger parting heavy brown drapes just far enough to peer out of the filthy glass. His shoulders, as broad and heavy as any linebacker, sagged under the weight of constant trepidation.

“Arlen, you come away from that window, sit down here with me. They’ll be back when they get back. Standing there wishing isn’t gonna do you or me any good.”

“You hush Mary Lou. I’ll stand here as long as I want; besides, someone’s gotta be ready to get the door unlocked and open in a hurry.”

Mary Lou Dalton shook her head at her husband’s back. “Dang it, Arlen, sit down. Thirty-two years of marriage wouldn’t do it, but right now you’re about to give me an ulcer.”

Arlen looked over his shoulder, the drape slipping back into place. “Fine, I’ll sit for a minute.”

Mary Lou knew the many shapes Arlen’s face could take, and the one it wore now always made her feel sad and helpless.

Arlen fidgeted, picking at dirty fingernails with the tip of a thick splinter he’d worked from the edge of the doorjamb. “They’ve been gone far too long.”

“I know they have,” Mary Lou responded sharply. Softening her tone, she said, “Let’s just hope it means they have a lot to carry. I could eat half a horse right now.”

Arlen placed a hand over his empty stomach as he stood up from the chair, nervous energy getting the best of him. “I know just what you mean.”

Arlen rested one of his meaty shoulders on the wall next to the window and spread the curtain again. He leaned his rifle against the wall next to him, only to pick it up seconds later.

He would have preferred to use the quieter crossbow, but Dave had taken it with him when he and Sandra had gone in search of food.

Arlen glanced at his wife when he heard her release a deep sigh. “Arlen, you think we should keep this up, us staying here with these kids.”

Arlen gazed into the reflection of his own eye, knowing what Mary Lou meant. “I just can’t bring myself to do it, Mary Lou. Davey says that we’re no burden, no more than he or Sandra are, and despite the situation, I prefer to keep kicking for as long as I can.”

“That’s just the thing, though, Arlen. You can’t kick, or run. You can barely walk. Neither of us can, not for long periods anyhow.”

Stepping from the window, Arlen looked sharply at his wife. “Put it away, Mary Lou. I’m not takin’ that pill, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let you do it either. We’ve still got plenty to give, Mary Lou Dalton, and we’ll give it as long as we can. These kids need us as much as we need them, so let’s just put that away.”

Mary Lou nodded, tears glistening in her watery brown eyes. In a tone that made it clear she was not in agreement, she said, “If you say so Arlen.”

Peering between the curtains, Arlen said, “I do say so, and you need to obey your husband like the Good Book says.”

A loud bray of laughter escaped her before she could stop it. Her hand flew up to her mouth, smothering it quickly. “Arlen Jacob Dalton, when have ever known me to ‘obey’, don’t think I’m gonna start now just because some zombies are roaming about trying to eat folks.”

His wife’s sudden burst of laughter was infectious. “Oh don’t I know it,” he said as he chuckled.

Mary opened her mouth to say something and stopped as Arlen jerked the rifle up and stepped back, allowing the barrel to hold the drapes apart.

“Arlen?”

“Saw something moving,” he said curtly.

“Well?”

He caught movement again and his heart leapt when he saw Dave shuffling rapidly under the weight of the box in his arms and the large duffel bag hung around his neck by its strap. The crossbow bounced atop the box.

Coming around the corner of the house directly across from them, Sandra followed Dave, similarly laden with two smaller bags and a box that looked ready to split apart. Arlen jerked the two-by-four out of its bracket and dropped it to the floor with a clatter.

Flipping the deadbolt, Arlen stepped out onto a narrow back porch and waved.

Dave caught sight of the older man and tried to yell. His overtaxed lungs wouldn’t allow him to so much as whisper, so busy where they on huffing and puffing.

Several steps after Sandra cleared the corner, Arlen found out why they were running.

Behind them both a small knot of dead came shuffling rapidly, arms lifted and hands grasping at empty air as they tried to catch their fleeing prey.

Arlen’s heart fell when he realized that the first dead thing leading the pack was Harry Dillman. He had worked with Harry for more than twenty years, had barbequed with him, drank beers and fished together. He had shared in Harry’s heartbreak when his wife had succumbed to a woman cancer. He had sat with his friend several years later and shared in the soul-rendering sorrow when Harry Jr. had been killed in combat in Afghanistan.

Arlen raised the heavy rifle, and the sick feeling in his heart sank to his stomach, turning his insides as he drew a bead on his old friend. Arlen rested his finger on the stiff trigger and cast a quick glance at Dave before releasing the shot that would end Harry’s shambling torment.

Dave shook his head, sweat flying in fat droplets. He tried to wheeze out “Don’t shoot.”

Arlen understood, and dropped the rifle by hair.

Dave crossed the overgrown yard separating the two houses and barreled past Arlen into the house, dropping the box with a crash. Spinning on a heel, Dave scooped up the crossbow and darted back to the door, fitting a bolt into the arrow track as he moved.

Sandra put her foot down on the bottom step just as Dave came back through the door. She juked to one side and kept moving, clearing Arlen, Dave and the door in two wide half-leaping steps.

From inside, Mary Lou was calling out, “Get in here, you two, just get on in here!”

“Go Arlen,” Dave wheezed as he sighted in on Harry’s face. The bolt leapt free and Dave cursed, his aim thrown off by his pounding pulse. The bolt had driven into Harry’s face just above and to the left of the man’s mostly-missing top lip. Teeth shattered, spraying from the zombie’s mouth. The bolt lodged deep, but the angle had prevented the broadhead tip from burrowing into the brain. Instead it had lodged firmly at a slight downward angle, the bolt juddering and bouncing in the dead man’s face with each shambling step.

Arlen twisted , grunting as a stab of pain pierced into his hip. Forcing himself to move, he made it inside with Dave backing in behind him.

The door slammed closed, Sandra flipping the deadbolt as Dave snatched the fallen board from the floor and wedged it into the brackets bolted into doorframe. The dead hit the door seconds later.

Sandra collapsed into an overstuffed chair, and Dave rested his back against the door, both sucking hard to refill exhausted lungs.

Arlen hobbled to a hard dining chair as Mary Lou hovered and fussed, berating him for even going outside.

Leaning the crossbow on the wall next to the door, Dave looked up at his three companions from beneath a sweat-dripping brow.

“Anyone hungry?”

The barred door continued to jump and rattle as the ravenous dead drummed at the wood.

 

Chapter 2

Small Town Dead

 

Sitting atop the roof of the Courthouse building, William Kramer watched through large binoculars as Dave and Sandra made their run. He had followed them with the big glasses throughout the morning, watching as they went house to house.

It was obvious that the two were very good at being quite, but something had drawn the attention of a shuffler.

By the time they had left the massive old house at the corner of South Bradley and West Olive a small pack had gathered at the north side. The two scavengers nearly walked into the crew of zombies.

Kramer had watched as they turned and ran, keeping their cargo close. He tracked them until they disappeared into their house. At least he thought it was where their group was staying.

Kramer let the binoculars rest on his chest. “You’re going to have to try harder there, girl, if you wanna sneak up on me.”

From behind him a soft female voice spoke. “Well damn it.”

“Come here and have a sit.”

The girl sat down beside the thickly bearded man. “See anything?”

“That guy from before. I think his name’s Dan or Dale; I know I’ve seen him around town, before…”

Kramer trailed off, gazing out over the town.

The girl sat quietly, letting him have his moment.

“He and the girl almost walked into a pack of ‘em when they came out of a house they were scavenging. Helluva site, watching them run with all that stuff they weren’t about to let go of.”

“They get away?”

“Yeah, they made it back home safe, I think. Can’t see the backside of their place.” Kramer looked at the girl. “What’re you doing up here anyway?”

“My mom was looking for you.”

Kramer rolled his eyes. “Oh hell, what now.”

“She thinks Tony was creeping on her when she was washing up earlier.”

“Uh, don’t you mean ‘Big T’?” He asked with a grin.

It was the girls turn to roll her eyes. “I’m not calling him that; I don’t care how much he bitches about it.”

Kramer smiled at the sixteen-year-old. “Better not let your mother hear you talk like that, Lainy, or none of us will hear the end of it.”

Enjoying the rare moment of freedom, the girl said, “Yeah, well, she bitches too much, too. I mean, it’s the damn zombie apocalypse, let up already.”

Kramer chuckled as the girl stood, dusting off her backside. Lifting the binoculars, he scanned as far as he could see. Lainy hovered over his shoulder, gazing out into the distance.

“Do you think we’re going to, you know, be ok? Can we stay here and, uh, survive?”

Kramer let the binoculars hang from their strap. Reaching up, he took the girls soft hand in his, and looked directly into her eyes. “I do. You know why?” He waited until she shook her head. “Because a kid like you, who admits she couldn’t have lived without her internet and phone, and who has told me that she couldn’t even cook an egg before, can now handle a gun better than most people I know, and you’ve proven throughout the hell of the past winter that you can keep your stuff together, while helping others do the same.”

Lainy smiled at the burly man, taking something from both his words and the touch of his hand clasping hers. She felt the warmth of a father, one she missed every day. “Thanks, Bill.”

A wide grin shone through the wild beard. “You got it, kiddo. Now, as far as staying in this place goes, I’m not sure. We may need to think about finding a way out of town, get as far from population as we can. Honestly, I think anyone with any sense has either already done that, or is working towards it.”

Lainy nodded, considering her words. “Well, I’m game, Bill, besides, this place is really starting to stink.”

The look on Lainy’s face brought a hearty laugh from deep in Bill’s chest. He caught himself thinking that it was a surprise that he could still laugh like this while hundreds of roaming dead wandered past their building.

“Oh, I almost forgot, I heard Mr. Stewart mention something about wanting baking soda. You might wanna ask him what that’s about before you go on the next run.”

Bill opened his mouth to reply as a loud scream echoed up through the huge courthouse.

Charging through the building, allowing the steps to carry them down two and three at a time, Bill and Lainy found Lydia Stoneham two flights below brandishing a broken broom-handle at a shadowy corner of the room.

Bill gripped a tactical tomahawk in his right hand, always preferring to go with a quite weapon whenever possible. “Lydia, what hell?”

The woman, nearly panting in her terror, glanced at the bearded man standing next to her daughter. “A rat, so big! Ran across my feet!”

“Oh my God, Mom! You screamed like that over a rat?” Lainy lowered the large knife she carried, slipping it into a black leather sheath strapped to her left leg.

“You hush! It scared me half-to-death!”

Bill took a breath before speaking. “Lydia, I understand you were scared, but screaming like that is a great way to…”

Tony sprinted into the room gripping his aluminum baseball bat in both hands. “There’s like six or seven zombies heading for the, uh, the south side door.”

“…bring the zombies to the yard,” Lainy said, finishing Bills thought for him.

“Where’s the Alderman?”

Tony eyed Bill. “Yo, man how da hell I know dat, Yo? I don’t know where he at, shit.”

Lainy rolled her eys at Tony, while Bill glared. Lydia still brandished the broken broom-handle; only now she was facing Tony, fear of the rat replaced with fear of the dead.

Over his shoulder, Bill said, “Lydia, Lainy, head up to the second floor, do as fast a sweep as you can, see if the Alderman is up there. Underwear Man and I will check down here, then do what we can to take care of the zombies.”

Tony glared back at Bill. “Yo, man, what da hell is dat shit, “Underwear man”? What da hell, man?”

Bill was already moving. “Pull your damn pants up, Tony. How many times do I have to tell you, you can’t run with your pants around your ass.”

Tony’s pale face turned bright red, “Man, I done tol’ you ta call me Big T!” He rushed to catch up as Bill rounded a corner.

Lydia and Lainy both laughed when they heard Bill tell Tony to “shut the hell up and look for the Alderman” as the women charged up the stairs for the second floor.

 

Chapter 3

A Preacher’s Peace

 

Pastor Grant Craig rolled his tired shoulders back and forward again, working the tense muscles before placing his hands on each side of the pulpit and raising bloodshot eyes to look out over the nearly filled pews of his tiny church.

He had always felt that time slowed a bit whenever he stood behind the hand-made wooden pulpit and spoke to a building full of those in need of the Lord’s Word, and today was no different.

His thick, worn Bible lay in front of him, open to the passage the God had led him to speak on this morning.

“Today, this day of the Lord, we gather to worship God the Father and share in communion of Him that has blessed each of us.  I ask you all to please forgive me for this being the first sermon of the year. This past winter was a hard one, and long, but we are past that now, and into a new day, a brilliant dawning spring, given to us by God this glorious day, so that we can spread the joy of his love through the difficult times that have befallen those who have turned from his face.”

As he began to speak, Grant felt peace come over him, the Preacher’s Peace, as his father had called it. That place of comfort in God’s Word and the sharing of it. He gripped the podium firmly, as if drawing strength from the wood and the Holy Bible resting on it.

“Sister Ella is unwell, and will not be able to grace us today with her fine piano playing. As such, we are going to skip past hymn singing and go right to the Good Book.”

Drawing a deep, fulfilling breath, Grant began to preach.

“Let us go into God’s Word. I have several verses for you today, as always from the King James Version of the Holy Bible.” Placing his finger on the thin page, Grant began to read. “Romans, chapter six, verse four. Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”

Grant spoke, filling the sanctuary with his deep, faithful voice.

“It is into this newness we find ourselves! The world has fallen into sin and turned away from the glory and salvation that only God can give through His Son Jesus Christ. This is why we find ourselves inside a church lit by scrounged candles! This turning from God is why we find ourselves hungry and denied sustenance! This loss of faith in Jesus Christ is why we are here now, aching for fresh water, the water of life only Christ can give! But it is also because of this that we are baptized into the newness God’s word speaks of, my friends.”

Grant began to animate as he preached, his arms lifting and waving, gesticulating wildly. He took great care not to upset the oil lamp resting on the pulpit. No cleansing by fire for his flock.

“We must look at the horrid situation of the world as a blessing from God. We have this chance now to bring others into the fold and anoint them with the Lord’s ordained newness, that all may spread his glorious message!”

Little sound came from the pews, and Grant took heart that his parishioners were awed into silence.

Using a marker he had placed, into the book previously, Grant flipped to the next verse. “Now we read from Zechariah, chapter fourteen, verse twelve. And this shall be the plague wherewith the Lord will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth.”

Grant stepped away from the pulpit at the last words and stomped his feet, throwing his arms high. “Their flesh shall consume away while they stand right on their feet! This is what we see right now, sitting here, this is what we see! This is the plague the Lord God hath made! It is the duty of God’s chosen to spread his Word! Word of his plague and why it is upon the world!”

Words fired from his mouth, bullets of spittle carrying his vehement message to the pews.

“We are the chosen of God. We alone bear the great weight and honor of being called upon to share the Lord’s message! Together we can and will rise against the darkness of this new world, and we shall walk in our newness and bless the Father with our deeds!”

With no electricity there was no power, and Grant began to drip sweat, flinging it from him as he waved his arms, tossing it from his hair in arcs when he threw back his head to gaze up to the ceiling and beyond.

“I tell you all, this work will not be easy. Though there are far fewer people on this earth today, the ones out there will likely not understand, will not see with the eyes given them, will refuse to hear with the ears God gave them. I will lead you, as God the Father leads me through this dark time.”

Grant walked back to the pulpit, once again gripping the sides, sweat dripping from his thin mustache onto his loafers as he hung his head, catching his breath.

“Now for the last verse I have for you today. This comes from Jeremiah,” he said as he flipped to the next verse. “Chapter nineteen, verse nine. And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they shall eat every one the flesh of his friend in the siege and straitness, wherewith their enemies, and they that seek their lives, shall straiten them. They will eat they flesh! The flesh! In the straitness, meaning distress, they will eat the flesh of all.”

Grant’s voice sunk low, and soft. “The disciples took communion with Christ, and drank of Him and ate of Him. Today we shall give thanks and ask for blessing in communion with our Lord.”

Grant stepped away from the pulpit, took the three steps down to the sanctuary floor and picked up a large bowl sitting on the bottom step. Next to it lay a set of grabbers, the department store device designed to help the elderly or infirm reach and pick up things that they normally could not.

The pews rustled as his flock became restless. “Please be patient. Once we have filled every seat here in this church, we will be ready to go out into the world and spread the Word. For now, let us be satisfied in this communion.”

Grant stood before the flock the Lord had commanded him to shepherd and grinned in hope for what he was bringing to the world.

Using the grabber, Grant reached into the bowl, and then extended a freshly severed finger into the waiting mouth of the zombie tied into place in the very first pew.

 

Chapter 4

Tally Marks

 

Rena Caplan gazed into the full length mirror at her nude body, her hands caressing her freshly washed skin. The mirror returned an image that made her eyes water. She was far too thin, ribs showing, bones jutting, appearing angular and emaciated. The only places on her body that seemed round and full were her breasts, and the slowly forming swell of her lower abdomen.

She ran rough hands over her belly, imagining that she could almost feel the tiny person growing inside her beneath her palms.

Tears spilled quietly from her eyes as she turned away from the glass and began to dress. She had hoped to have children someday, to build a family, and she had always believed she would be joyous at being pregnant, but now the only emotion she could muster was fear.

Fully dressed, she slipped her feet into thin canvas shoes that were beginning to rip out at the sides and made her way through the tiny country house, out the front door, and onto the small porch.

The wooden rocking chair that had sat in the living-room now took up most of the space on the porch and she sat down in it, watching the long lane that led from the house, through a deep row of trees and out to a gravel road that eventually let onto a paved service road.

She sat here daily, watching and waiting.

“Jeff,” she said into the morning air. Dew still glistened on the grass, and a newly spun web in the corner vibrated with a faint breeze.

Rena leaned forward and flicked open a pocket knife she kept with her at all times, indoors or out. She used it to scratch another tally mark diagonally across four others.

“Twenty-five days. Jeff, I can’t do this alone,” she sobbed.

Rena had realized that she was late just as the last of long winter was melting away. They took stock of the meager supplies they had left, and both realized that there was not nearly enough food for the two of them to last much longer, especially if Rena was pregnant.

As soon as they could see the road through the patchy slush of melting snow and ice, Jeff packed a bag with food for one day, the old revolver they had found, and the large corn knife taken from the shed.

Rena had asked him why he was taking so little food. “I’ll find some along the way, I mean, that’s what I’m out there for, right? Don’t worry, babe, I’ll be fine, and I’ll come back with a big haul of munchies for the both of us, and for little Jeffy, too,” he had told her, patting her tummy.

“Little Jeffy, huh? Um, what if it’s a girl, smarty-pants?”

“Oh, well, Jeffina then.” He had winked and smiled, picked up his bag and headed for the door.

Rena had stopped him, wrapped her arms tight, and kissed him deeply. “Be safe, please, and run whenever you can. I’d rather have you here and alive than being Mr. Toughguy and getting yourself killed.”

That had been twenty-five days ago.

Rena slipped the knife back into the pocket of her jeans, wiped the tears from her eyes and went back into the house.

From a shelf beside a door, she took a candle holder with a stub of candle, lit it, and went down wooden steps into a tiny dirt-floored root cellar. On wooden shelves, likes the last sentinels of a dying regiment, stood six glass jars of food.

She knew what was in each, and she took the last jar of peaches down from the shelf. She stared at the jars for a moment, thinking, thinking. “Five more days, she said to the shelf and the jars and the flickering candlelight. Five more days and I’m leaving.”

As Rena lifted her foot to take the first step her toe clipped the edge and she stumbled. Both hands went out, and before she could stop herself the one holding the jar of peaches hit a worn tread and shattered in her hand.

Rena Caplan cried out as a thick wedge of glass sliced across her palm. Sticky juice and blood flowed out of her hand, spatter onto the step where glass and peaches had scattered.

She sobbed and screamed and struck out with her foot, kicking the bottom step. Her tow barked in pain at the assault and Rena cried out again.

The candle-holder had stayed clasped in her hand; the still-lit stub now cast its feeble flickering over the stairs, two of which were covered in dirt and peaches, and blood.

Without thinking about what she was doing, Rena stooped down and, avoiding the bits of glass, she began to suck up the too-sweet fruits and juice from the filthy stairs.

Tears tracked down her face and Rena tasted sweet and salt and blood. Turning off the disgust she felt in her mind, Rena stopped only to spit out pieces of grit, continuing until the last piece had been slurped up.

Doing her best to push it all aside, she climbed the steps, shut the door, blew out the candle and went back out to the front porch. There she stared at the markings, before taking out the pocket knife.

She pinched the blade out and laid the gleaming edge along her left wrist. The blade stood out in striking contrast to her fish-belly pale skin.

Finding the tally marks etched into the railing from the corner of her eye, she looked at them for a moment before returning her eyes to the knife at her veins.

Suddenly, with more force than she would have thought herself capable of she buried the knife deep into the wood of the railing, in the center of the tally-marks that reminded her of Jeff now being gone.

Ripping the knife free, she stabbed and stabbed at the wood, obliterating the etchings.

When at last her pulse calmed, and her breathed slowed, she moved to the side of the deeply scarred railing and made a new mark, this one long, deep, and wide.

“Four more marks,” she said to the wind and sat back in the chair, something other than a child inside her growing, becoming hard and well defined.

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