By D.C. Martin
The first time I heard it, I thought it was just the house settling, either that or I had dreamt it. I was about half asleep, lying across the bed, boots still on my feet; half clothed, I had slept where I’d fell. A half empty can of Budweiser beer sat on the mock oak end table next to the bed; a beady layer of sweat now it's own makeshift koozy. The sound that had pulled me from my sweet abyss was a cross between the sound of someone trying to kick in my front door and the sound you hear when you head butt a soccer ball. I got up and turned down the television, Jay Leno was doing his monologue and laughing at his own jokes as usual, so I did not mind one bit decreasing the volume. I made my way to the window and looked out into the night, no cars, no lights, no policeman kicking in my door and definitely no soccer players head butting a ball back and forth. Turning off the kitchen light, I performed my own symphony of groans and creaks as my boots led me back towards the bedroom and across the old wooden floor. Stripping down to my once white boxer shorts, I looked at myself in the mirror, stomach a little more prominent than it used to be, hairline a little less prominent, I sighed, sucked in my gut and puffed out my chest. "Still got it" I thought to myself, relaxing and letting my stomach relax back into its former position. I sat on the side of the bed staring at the clock, too early for bed? I wondered, nah, never too early. I slid beneath the covers and drifted off to sleep.
The sun came peeking in between the floral patterned curtains that had come with the small wood framed house almost 10 years ago. I squinted as I woke, somehow the sun always finds the exact spot my face is occupying on the pillow and makes an inverted mask across my eyes, so I end up looking like the anti-lone ranger. Whipping back the covers was an easy decision, realizing that my bladder was not interested in sleeping in. I mosied towards the bathroom, not exactly knowing what it meant to mosey, but never the less, it wasn't a waltz, I knew this much because I did not hear any music playing and I am known to be a diehard foxtrot man. With bladder empty I fumbled with the toilet flush handle and after the 3rd attempt I got the damn thing to flush. Glancing again at the clock in the bedroom and back towards the bathroom mirror, I decided that I should get my ass in gear and head in to work. It was Wednesday, the slowest day of the week, the hardware store was only open till 3 on Wednesdays because the bank closed at 4 and I had to make the daily deposit. Most banks close early on Saturday but First Provincial had been around for over 80 years and Old man Parker had always closed the bank early on Wednesdays so that he could make it to the Elk Lodge for bingo. I had a whole storeroom full of this and that to inventory so I decided to get to it. Grabbing my Wrangler's and wrangling my legs through them and into my worn out boots I somehow managed to get dressed, shirt untucked, John Deere hat fitted squarely on my noggin, I grabbed breakfast as I headed out the door and towards my 73 Ford F100. After I had finished the hearty breakfast of 2 Marlboro Reds and a Dr. Pepper, I turned on the radio and found I had a choice between Conway Twitty singing about a rose or some scientist talking about a downed communication satellite. I chose Conway; always will if I have a choice. My gauge read almost empty on my old blue Ford so I made a quick turn into the Speedy Stop. Pops Allred used to own this station back when I was a kid, it was all remodeled now. His son Rayford had sold out to some foreigner a few years ago and they had totally redone the place, even sold lotto tickets and had nudie mags behind the counter, some things don't get better with age I guess. Filling up Old Blue with regular I went in to pay, it had those fancy pay at the pump credit card things, but I prefer to use cash when I can, keeps the government on its toes, they monitor and record it, they track all that stuff you know. Upon opening the door I saw the owner’s son behind the counter, Sadat, or Sundot or something like that was his name, nice kid, a freshman at the local Jr. College, he worked here part time to help his old man out. I suppose it's like that with just about every culture, nothing wrong with that, hell I'd inherited the hardware store from my old man almost 15 years ago, just a boy myself. "Good Morning my man" I said to him. "$20 on pump 2", "will that be all Mr. Baird?" he asked, I said "yes and call me Joe" handed him the $20. People had been calling me Joe all my life, though I was born John Oscar Baird, my first two initials eventually became my first name, there were worse things to be called I guess, while I waited on my receipt to print noticed the extremely wide variety of energy drinks in the cooler next to the counter. There must have been 40 different brands all claiming to boost energy, raise attention levels, or cure AIDS. I had tried one of those a few years back when my nephew was in town for the holidays, tasted like baby aspirin somebody had put in a Sprite bottle. Nasty stuff, I'll stick with coffee as my energy booster. The receipt finished printing and I took it from him, thanked him, and headed back out towards the truck. The door made a chime as I exited the store and I wondered if the government monitored and recorded all that as well. Getting back in the truck I turned over the ignition and after a few struggled coughs she caught a breath of life and I headed in towards town. Arriving a little earlier than usual I parked in my space on the corner of main street and got out, as I was walking towards the door of the hardware store I could see my neighbor Mr. Curtis standing there waiting for me to open. "Morning Mr. Curtis" I said "wow the early bird is after the worm I see" as I smiled at him. "well no not exactly" he said, "rats is more like it, I got some down in my cellar got to be big as house cats, been making all kinds of racket" he added. I unlocked the door and we made our way into the store, I told him I had all types of poison and traps back on isle 3 and to take his pick. He nodded and made his way down the aisle as I began turning on all the lights and display cases in the windows. I had just started the coffee pot when he approached the counter with his arms full of traps, both sticky and traditional, 2 bottles of rat poison pellets and a small hand shovel. With a big smile on his face he looked at me and said, "This oughta take care of those little bastards" Well I said, "If it doesn’t then I don’t know what will, by the way, what’s the shovel for, clobbering them in the head should the other methods not work?" He chuckled and said that he’d had a couple of sink holes appear in his yard from either a mole or possible underground erosion and that he planned to fill them in with gravel this morning. I rang up his tab and he paid cash as usual, I think he is about as paranoid as me when it comes to staying off of big brothers radar. I bagged the items and offered him some coffee; he declined stating that he had some killing to do and needed to get to it. I thanked him and wished him happy hunting as he clamored out the door of the shop and headed towards his pickup. I poured myself a large cup of coffee and began to read over the supply checklist that I had begun on Monday. I had several hours of inventory duty to complete before lunch so I turned up my little stereo, tuned it to a replay of last weekend’s American Country Countdown with Bob Kingsley and headed toward the store room. I wasn’t expecting much business and I had one of those buzzers that rings when the door is open installed a few years ago. I got about my business and lost all track of time, looking up at the clock after a while, I noticed that I had been working for over 3 hours, it was time for lunch. I made my way to the mini-fridge and found a package of tuna and some crackers, I mixed up the ready kit with relish and mayo and grabbing another cup of coffee settled in to enjoy my lunch.
The day came and went a few more customers came in to buy nails or a few pieces of electrical wiring, all in all a slow day. I was just getting ready to fold it up for the day when Sheriff Mauldin came through the door. "Afternoon Sheriff" I said, he nodded and gave a weary smile. "Something I can do for you?" I asked. He nodded and said, "Yeah Joe, I’d like to pick up a few chains and some pad locks if you got’ em." "I sure do" I said, "Any problems I should know about?" I asked. "Yeah Joe a few, turns out somebody has been vandalizing the old cemetery out near your place, probably kids you know. You haven’t seen anything going on out there have you?" He asked. "No Sir, I sure haven’t, but then again, I don’t really pay that close attention to the place" I replied. "I’ll be sure to keep a keen eye out for you though" I promised. "I’d appreciate that Joe, if you see anyone out there past dark, just give me a shout at home ok?" he said. I told him I would and helped him carry the chains and locks up to the counter. We checked to make sure the locks all worked and were well oiled and I put them in a box for him and he headed out the door. He thanked me again as he backed out the door arms fully loaded. I watched him leave and took a look around the store, finding it empty as I knew I would, I went up to the register and emptied all the money into a bank bag, filled out all the deposit information, turned off the lights and locked the door. Walking towards the truck the sun was still hanging in the sky, I could feel its warmth rubbing my shoulders. It was still relatively warm here in Texas being that it was October 29th. I unlocked the truck and after firing up the engine, I headed over to the bank to make the deposit. After dropping off the money at the bank, and spending a good 20 minutes chewing the fat with a few of the townsfolk, I decided it might be time to chew some real fat, I pulled into the parking lot of Kell’s diner and shut off the engine. Tucking in my shirt and looking into the truck mirror I checked to make sure that my hair looked ok. Deciding that I had looked worse before, I made my way into the diner. As I expected, Lavern Hanson was standing behind the counter as I walked in. About an even 5ft, light blond hair and somewhere in the range of 40 years old, she was a sight to behold. I had known here for about 2 years, ever since she moved here from Houston after her divorce. She was quite the looker, she always reminded me of Meg Ryan if she had a little more meat on her bones. I said "good afternoon good looking" She smiled and said "Hey there Mr. Baird, How’s life been treating you?" I told her that I was just fine as a frog hair and thought that I’d like to get some of her delicious cooking. She smiled ear to ear and said that unfortunately I was in the wrong place, because she only took the orders, Max was the cook. I nodded to Max in the back and he shouted a hello back out to me. Max was nearing 70 but still one of the best short order cooks in the state. He had apparently been a cook in the Navy several years ago and brought passion and flare to his trade. I placed my order and being the only one in the diner at the time, took my seat next to the counter. Lavern gave my order to Max, grabbed me a glass of iced tea and took a seat across from me in the booth. We talked about work, and the unseasonably warm weather, and her son that was away at college. My food finally came, a cheese burger with extra cheese and jalapenos, with a large order of onion rings. She rejoined me several times between serving soda and ice cream to a few high school kids that came in. I was just finishing up when she sat down again and asked me if I needed anything else. I told her no that I was full as a tick and about to pop, she laughed and told me that I should stop in more often and visit. I agreed I would and while I was feeling that I was ahead in the luck department, I told her that I had ordered the big boxing match on pay per view Friday night and would be thrilled if she’d like to stop by. She said that she would love to come by as long as I promised to not laugh at here when she covered her eyes at the sight of blood. I agreed that I would not laugh too hard at her and that I would fix us a little something for dinner, steaks on the grill or something. She told me that she’d bring the potato salad and be there around 7. Getting up to leave, I told her thanks for the company and that I’m looking forward to seeing her on Friday. She smiled at me, told me that I was welcome and would see me then. I looked back at her with a dumb grin on my face and her grin matched mine, so I felt pretty good as I started the truck and headed home. Along the way back towards the house, I decided to stop off at the cemetery and see just what damage had been done. I pulled along next to the gate and saw the big metal chains that Sheriff Mauldin had purchased from me earlier. Locks in place kept me from entering the grounds, but I was able to look through the gate and seen into the cemetery thanks to my headlights. I could see a few headstones turned over and what looked to be several large sinkholes here and there. It reminded me or Mr. Curtis’s mole problem that he had mentioned earlier in the day. This would have to be a big damn mole to cause that much of a sinkhole. I glanced around once more and not seeing anything else out of the ordinary I climbed back into the truck and drove home.
As I got out of the shower I heard that noise again, the sound of bumping against the wall or floor boards, just one quick bump and then silence. I drank a beer and watched a little TV and as I was dozing off to sleep I was startled awake by another series of noises this time coming from the bedroom area of the house. I jumped up and grabbed the flashlight out of the kitchen drawer and headed out onto the porch. I clicked the switch on the flashlight to turn it on and nothing, the batteries were dead, smacking it with my hand a few times, it glowed dimly, not nearly enough light for me to peer underneath the house. I decided that I’d take the same route as Mr. Curtis and get me some traps planted first thing in the morning. I went back in the house and closed and locked the door, got ready for bed and turned out the light. As I slept, I had a horrible nightmare that my house was sinking into a giant sinkhole and that huge moles were burrowing through my property. I awoke at 6am feeling like I had only gotten about 2 hours of sleep, stumbling to the bathroom I started the shower and began the daily ritual. As I was sliding on my boots and getting ready to head out of the door and into work, I heard another bumping sound. I stomped the floor hard with my feet and screamed, dead bastards! That’s what you’ll be soon, dead bastards! I grabbed the keys, jumped in the truck and headed off to work. The day dragged on, not much music was playing, I kept surfing around on the dial trying to find something that would hold my attention or at least you could tap your foot to, but all that was on was news reports of the downed satellite the ARP-TX communication satellite. Apparently it had gone down almost 2 days ago and was emitting some sort of radioactive alpha waves. Scientists were worried that they may have negative effects on the general population if they didn’t find out exactly where it crashed to Earth. According to local news it was somewhere in our county that the damned thing was supposed to have landed. Just my luck it was in my back yard and giving me a brain tumor as I slept. Maybe it would kill those damn rats that seem to have infested Mr. Curtis’s place and mine.
I searched a bit more for some music but all I found were religious sermons and that news, so I left it on the news. Apparently the Automated Radioactive Propulsionary /Topographical X-ray Satellite or the ARP-TX as they were calling it was deployed to take X-rays of the surrounding countryside determining where new highways and railroads should be built depending on how sound the earth was beneath. It was then tasked to produce composite topographical maps of the areas for the department of transportation. I could care less as long as it hadn’t landed on my home or my shop; I listened to a few more minutes of this crap and then just shut off the radio and began to think about what I was going to have for lunch. I had some really rank coon cheese in the fridge and thought that it might go well with some summer sausage and some crackers. I stepped out of the store and went into the butcher shop two doors down. Ms. Van Housen was in there and going to town on some pork chops, she was evidently chopping them up into small portions for some reason. She had a big smile on her plump face, red hair poking out from beneath her paper hat. Her apron was covered in blood and the cleaver she was wielding looked like something out of a horror movie. She stopped as I came in, brought the cleaver down hard into the counter top and with a big smile said, "Howdy Neighbor, what’s going on in your world Mr. Baird?" I smiled back at her and said, "well I was in the mood for some of that good ole summer sausage you guys had in here earlier in the year and thought I might poke my head in and see if there was any left."
She smiled a big smile and pointed over to the deli case. There were about 6 large links of the stuff sitting on the top shelf and my mouth began to water as soon as I saw it. She and her husband make the stuff themselves and they sometimes add jalapeno, or onion, or even dill to it to give the sausage a distinctive flavor. The jalapeno is my favorite. She came over to the counter and asked "what kind you like Joe?" I told her that I would take a pound of the jalapeno, and she just laughed. She said "I had a feeling that would be the one you wanted, it’s a good thing you came in too, this is the last link of the stuff we have right now". The Mr. is on his way back from Tyler right now; just dropped off a load at our son’s store down there". I told her that I was glad that I came when I did then. She measured me out a little over a pound of the stuff and as I was waiting to pay when I noticed some of the thickest and juiciest T-bones that I had ever seen on the counter behind her. I told her to add 2 of those to the bill as well, she wrapped up everything in butcher paper and I paid for the meat, grabbing a few of her homemade peppermints out of the courtesy dish by the register. I figured that I wasn’t going to find a better pair of steaks in town, and I wanted to be prepared for my dinner date with Laverne. We said our goodbyes and I could see her raising the cleaver again high in the air as I walked out the door and back to the hardware store. I finished my lunch, ate almost the whole pound of sausage and wrapped the rest up in tin foil and put it in the fridge. I was just about to lock up a little earlier than usual when something caught my attention out on the sidewalk. I got up from my stool, opened the door and went out on the walk to see what had several people gathered around. First off I saw Ms. Galloway and Mrs. Perkins pointing towards the sky with one hand and shading their eyes from the sun with the other hand. Mr. Cruz was out there too, staring up towards the sky. I asked them what was so interesting. Mr. Cruz said "Looks like some sort of whirly bird up there, green, must be the Army" Mrs. Perkins said "Yeah, I think your right Mr. Cruz, it’s been buzzing around for almost 10 minutes that we know of" I took a look, couldn’t see much but then I remembered the binoculars in the shop and stepped back in to get them. They had come in by mistake and I’d meant to send them back but never got around to it. I stepped back out onto the street and peered through them up towards the helicopter. I could clearly see the U.S. Army insignia on the side and what looked like 2 men hanging their legs out the door of the aircraft. I told the group what I saw and we each wondered aloud what the heck they could be up to. I mentioned that they were probably looking for that satellite that went down. Mr. Cruz clapped his hands loudly and the sound made me jump. "You’re right Joe, I bet that’s exactly what they’re looking for" He said. Well I said, " you guys enjoy the show, but I got plans tonight and they don’t include bird watching, whether real or mechanical if you know what I mean" They looked on a bit longer before they went about their business. I stepped back into the store, placed the binoculars back under the counter and began closing up for the day. After I had completed the end of day ritual I turned out all the lights, made sure the door was locked and jumped in the truck and headed home. I had called the diner earlier in the day and spoke with Laverne and confirmed that she was going to be able to make it. She said that she’d be there with bells on and I thought that might get annoying after a while and suggested that she leave the bells at home. She snickered and called me an idiot, I guess sometimes I am.
I arrived home just as the sun was going down and decided that I’d better fire up the grill and get those steaks a cooking. As I went into the house to get the charcoal and lighter fluid from beneath the kitchen sink it hit me. I’d forgotten to bring home rat poison and traps. Oh well I supposed it could wait one more day. Grabbing the grill gear I headed back out to the pit and began setting it up. The flames burned high and hot on it for a few minutes before it finally settled down and began to turn the coals from black to reddish gray. I could see in the distant sunset that the Army was still flying around looking for what I assumed was that satellite. Except now there were a total of 3 helicopters in the sky. I put it out of my mind and was beginning to put the steaks on the grill when I saw headlights coming down the road. Lavern’s car pulled into the drive and came to a stop next to my old Ford. She got out and with the lights coming from the porch I could see she had both hands full. She came in through the gate with a big smile on her face. "I brought the potato salad and also thought we might enjoy some of this coconut pie from the diner" She said. I spoke up over the sound of the wind and said "I’m sure that I can find somewhere to put it" as I rubbed my belly. She laughed and asked where she could set the food down. I told her to go on in and place it on the counter that the steaks would be ready in a few minutes and that the fight wasn’t scheduled to start for another 30. She stepped in the door and put the food on the counter; I covered the pit with the lid and walked inside to join her. I offered her a cold beer and she accepted, gave her a quick tour, showed her where the bathroom was if she needed it, and then excused myself to check on the grill. The steaks were just about done but I yelled into the house to ask her how she liked hers. She said she liked hers a little pink in the middle but whatever I decided to deliver would be fine. I exclaimed that I was a surgeon on this grill and if it was pink she wanted, it was pink she was going to get. Personally I like mine rare, so I pulled it immediately and flipped hers over one more time. After a few minutes they were both on a plate and I was headed into the house. As I put the platter down on the countertop I caught a glimpse of her bending over into the fridge putting away the pie and potato salad. She was wearing a plaid skirt and a white blouse with black loafers and a plaid matching scarf tied around her light blonde hair. She looked amazing. She turned around and caught me staring at her. She could see that I was taken aback and asked what was wrong. I smiled and said that I was just caught off guard by how pretty she looked out of her normal work uniform. She looked down at herself as if to see if she agreed with me and said, "Well see, you should give me the opportunity to dress this way more often then huh?" I looked at her and said "well if you get half as much out of looking that way as I do at looking at you, then we’ll make this a regular thing!" She seemed to like that answer and smiled at me. An uncomfortable silence hung around for a second until I pointed to the steak and told her that hers was on the left. She forked them onto the two plates she had already loaded down with potato salad and we grabbed our beers and went to sit down on the couch. I picked up the remote and began to search for the channel the fight was on, when she looked at me and said. "So, who are you betting on, I think that I’ll take Holyfield" "WOW" I said, you did your homework huh?" "Well I guess then I’ll take Tyson" She laughed and said "good luck with that one" we both laughed and almost simultaneously took a bite of steak. You could hear us both making an MMMM sound as we chewed, Mrs. Van Housen had definitely known what she was creating when she trimmed these babies. I was just about to remark that very sentiment when I heard the sound of a truck racing up towards the house. I got up from the couch, careful to not dump my plate onto the floor; I placed it on the coffee table in front of me. Laverne looked at me with a mouth full of food and said, "What is it Joe?" I told her probably nothing, but that I heard someone speeding up the driveway. I got to the window and looked out, the porch light was still on from the cookout and I could see a dirty old Chevy pickup with a large gas storage tank in the back. At first I didn’t recognize it, but as I reached into the top drawer of the table next to the couch to get my pistol I could see Mr. Curtis my neighbor coming up the steps. I let the .38 Caliber Colt revolver fall back into the drawer and I pushed it closed. I opened the door with a big smile on my face; I was just about to make a joke about him being late for dinner when I could see in his eyes that he was in no mood for jokes. He was holding his left forearm with a bloody towel that had been completely soaked and was dripping onto my front porch. "Good God, Mr. Curtis, what happened?" I asked. He came towards me like he was going to lean up against me, but instead fell face first into the house. Laverne jumped and threw her plate down next to mine, she ran over yelling in an excited state, "What’s going on, who is he?" I told her that he was my neighbor Benny Curtis. I bent over and felt his neck for a pulse and was happy to find one. I told Laverne to get his feet and help me move him over to the couch. Once we got him laid out on the couch I went into the kitchen to get the first aid kit, I knew that I had to dress that wound on his arm and maybe even use some smelling salts to get him to come around. By the time I had returned with the kit, Laverne had already wrapped ice in her dinner napkin and was rubbing his head with it. I could hear him talking or more like mumbling to himself as he lay there. I knelt down next to him and tried to remove the bloody towel, as soon as I touched his arm, he raised up rigid as a nail, screaming at the top of his lungs that they were after him. I tried to calm him down, but he just kept trying to get up and screaming that they were coming and we had to get out of here. I asked him exactly what was wrong and he got completely silent. He stared into my eyes and then looked down at his arm, I joined him in his gaze and could see that the blood had already started to crust over, there were dark black veins around the wound and it looked like it had been necrotic for days. We both locked eyes again and he said in a very calm voice. "There are people under the ground, coming out of the ground, they tried to bite pieces out of me Joe" He had to be in his mid to late 60’s but he sounded like a sad child when he said that. Laverne began to cry and said we should be calling the police instead of sitting around here like some idiots in a bad horror story. I agreed, told Benny to just lay still that I was going to call the Sheriff. Laverne took a seat on the coffee table and put her head in her hands, I could hear them both sobbing as I went to the kitchen to get the phone. As I picked up the receiver I heard a loud crash from the living room, I looked around the corner and just caught a glimpse of Mr. Curtis heading out the door, Laverne close behind him, crying and screaming for me to come quick. I dropped the phone and ran out onto the porch; Mr. Curtis had already gotten in his truck and was stirring up dust everywhere. He must have been disoriented because he tore through my fence and shrubs. He finally made it out towards the driveway and was headed out towards the street. He must have either seen something that he didn’t like out there in the darkness or just completely lost his mind because he spun around in the driveway and was hauling ass back towards the house, I yelled to Laverne to get back in the house in case he lost control. I jumped up on the porch and about half closed the door as I saw him lose control and clip the telephone pole with his front bumper. The truck did a nose dive into the ground as the front tires exploded and the rims dug into the dirt. The fuel storage tank that he had in the back must not have been tied down to anything because it flew out of the bed of the truck and crashed into the roof of Laverne’s car and landed in the back of my truck. Sparks were flying all over from the downed telephone pole because I had used the very same pole to mount my security light. Mr. Curtis started to get out of the truck; I ran off the porch and was heading towards him amongst the smell of gasoline. I could feel that the ground was soaked and that the dirt was caked on my boots in a mud/gasoline putty. I managed to pull him out of the truck and was headed back towards the door with him, dragging him by his shoulders. He came to, mumbled something incoherent and while I was busy yelling for Laverne to open the door; he must have pulled out a small caliber pistol from his coat pocket. I looked down and saw him pointing it towards the highway. He yelled the words "Go back to hell" as he fired the pistol. The shot hit the roof of Laverne’s car and immediately the flames leapt up. I struggled one last time to pull Benny up the steps but he pointed the pistol at my face and instinctively I dropped him and he fell to the floor. I wasn’t sure if he had another shot or not, but I didn’t want to take the chance. I turned around to see Laverne holding the phone and as we caught each other’s eyes, I felt a warm blast hit me in the back. Seconds later I heard the sound of the explosion and found myself laying face down on top of Laverne. The curtains and part of the living room carpet were on fire, we were covered in glass from the windows being blown into the house. I rolled over and asked her if she was ok, she was still holding the phone in one hand and her napkin in the other. I got to my feet and moved as quickly as I could to the doorway. The whole front yard was littered with car parts and burning pieces of metal. Benny lay smoldering on the front steps, his feet and legs completely engulfed in flames. I was about to go back into the house and get a blanket or something to put out the flames on his legs when I noticed that his arm was completely blown off and only a bloody stump remained. Benny was dead, my house and yard were on fire and all three vehicles were destroyed. What the hell is going on I thought. I managed to stamp out the small areas of the carpet that had caught fire, and Laverne had doused the curtains with a pitcher of water from the sink. I picked the phone up from the floor where Laverne and I had collided and as I knew before I put it to my ear, there was no dial tone. The truck had not only almost destroyed my whole house, but knocked us into the Dark Age’s communication wise. Laverne was hysterical and shaking, I pulled her close to me and told her not to go outside; I was going to saddle up the horse and ride into town to find the Sheriff. She shakedly agreed and took a seat at the kitchen counter. I grabbed my jacket from the hall closet and the small flashlight with the nearly dead batteries and headed towards the back door of the house. I paused as I passed the bathroom and went back towards the front door. I reached into the drawer of the little desk and removed the Colt pistol I had contemplated handling before. I checked to make sure it was loaded and then tucked it into my waistband. Laverne looked at me, mascara running down her cheeks; she still looked beautiful even in this state of emergency. I told her to stay inside, lock the door behind me and don’t open it until I come back. She said she would and made her way to the back of the house to lock the door as I left. I heard the click of the deadbolt as I exited the house. Clicking on the flashlight I pointed the weak beam out in front of me and was headed towards the barn behind the house. With the light pointed towards the ground I could see several places where the Earth was sunk in a few feet. I avoided those best I could and was almost to the fence in front of the barn when my leg was swallowed up in a sinkhole. I felt a burning in my knee joint and was up to my thigh in loose soil. I dropped the flashlight and tried to pull myself up out of the hole by holding onto the wooden fence in front of me. After several attempts I managed to pull myself free. I took the flashlight and pointed it into the dark hole. I immediately pulled my head back, the hole harbored a disgusting stench, and it smelled as if something had died down there. I got to my feet and paying careful attention as to where I stepped, I opened the gate in the fence and went into the barn.
As I entered I could hear my old mare whinnying and moving around. I shined the light on her and could barely make out the lights reflection in her eyes. Clicking off the flashlight I went to the tack wall to get her saddle and blanket. Putting them on securely and adding the bridle and bit she was ready to ride. I was about to mount her when I heard a shrieking scream from inside the house. I burst out the door of the barn and went running for the front door. I was aware of the sinkholes but too worried about Laverne to give them much thought. I made it to the front porch and found the front door wide open. I yelled for Laverne and was so busy looking around the room for her that it took me a minute to realize that Benny Curtis had not been on the front porch as I ran up. Surely he couldn’t have survived. I yelled Laverne’s name several times and got no response, I rounded the living room couch and was headed down the short hallway towards the bedroom when I ran face first into Benny Curtis. His eyes were completely opaque, dead; he only had the one arm attached to his body and the bloody stump of the other wriggled in its socket as he reached for me with his good hand. I let out a yell and stumbled backwards; I tripped over the end table next to the couch and came down hard on my back. I quickly looked up and saw him coming towards me; he was drooling and making a growling sound. Thinking fast I pulled the Colt revolver from my waistband and pointed it at him. I yelled "stop right there Benny, I don’t want to hurt you" He didn’t slow and was about 4 feet from me when I fired a warning shot just past his left ear and into the ceiling. He kept inching forward so I fired again, this time hitting him in the upper thigh. Still he came towards me, I put 2 in his chest and he seemed to stumble back a few steps, he was still coming at me as I got to my feet and took careful aim at his head. One last shot was all it took as I pierced his forehead with the .38 caliber round and saw his brains explode from the back of his head. He fell like a sack of rocks to the floor, blood oozed out onto the hardwood floors and as I watched it, I couldn’t help but think that I had just killed my neighbor. Stepping over his corpse I yelled again for Laverne, the back door was open when I got to it and I stepped out onto the back steps. I yelled her name once again and heard a faint echo back. At first I thought that that was exactly what it was, an echo, but I then heard it again. "Over here, help me" It was Laverne; I jumped down the steps and with gun in hand ran to where I had heard her voice. I yelled again and this time via the light of the pale moon I could make out her shape in the darkness. She was on the ground curled up into a ball. I reached her and asked if she was ok, she said that her ankle was broken, or that at least it felt like it was. She had tripped in one of the numerous sinkholes that had appeared in the yard. Apparently she was trying to get to me in the barn. She was crying and kept saying that the old man had been moaning and when she opened the door to check on him he tried to grab her leg. She said she hit him with the base of the broken lamp that was on the floor but that he got up and kept coming after her. She was obviously upset, but what surprised me more than that was just how calm she was. I suppose that it was shock that was setting in, but I managed to help her to her feet and together we walked out towards the barn. I got her mounted on the back of the horse and then I mounted as well. We were riding out of the fenced area in the darkness when I felt something grab my leg. I looked down and saw several people next to us in the yard. This must have spooked the horse because she reared up on her hind legs and when she did, Laverne fell off the back onto the ground. I sprang off the horse and was yelling for one of the strangers in the yard to help. The mare took off running out into the night and I had no other choice than to let her go. I couldn’t quite make out any faces, but as I was bent down to help Laverne I felt one of them kneel down beside her as well. She had landed on her back and the wind was knocked out of her. Dazed but ok, I grabbed her arm in unison with the stranger. I started to pull her up and that’s when in the moonlight I could see his face. His eyes were the same opaque white as Benny’s had been and a large tear in his throat was obvious even in the darkened night. He bent his head down towards her and before I could say anything he tore a huge piece of skin from her arm with his teeth. I screamed and fell backwards onto the ground. I pulled the pistol and used the last round in the chamber. It hit him in the shoulder and he didn’t even flinch. Laverne was screaming at the top of her lungs as he continued to bite here about the arm and shoulder. I got up and kicked him as hard as I could in the top of the head. I could hear the bones in his neck break as he rolled over to one side. I went around to continue kicking him when I felt someone grab me from behind. I swiveled around to see a woman that had the same characteristics as the other one except she had a large open gash down her midsection. Her blouse was torn off and though she had ample breasts I could see the "T" shaped wound on her torso. It was obvious when I saw it that this was the scar from an autopsy. I pushed her away as hard as I could and as I was stepping towards her to give her a kick as well; I felt the guy on the ground grab my ankle. He sunk his teeth in but only succeeded in getting a mouth full of boot leather. I jerked my foot away and kicked him again; Laverne had risen to her knees and was squeezing the bite mark on her arm. I told her to hold on; I was going to get us out of here. She screamed as she looked at me, taking this to mean that someone was behind me I turned around and saw two small children coming at me. One was a boy of about 14 and the other was a little girl about the age of 8. The little girl had no bottom jaw and her tongue hung uselessly from her mouth. The little boy looked as if he was completely unharmed except for the white eyes. I ran towards them with my pistol in the club position and smashed the boy in the head with the butt of the gun. He fell into a pile and I picked the little girl up and threw her over the fence. I figured that it would take at least a minute for her to figure out how to get out of there and by that time Laverne and I would be gone. I turned around to get Laverne and as I did I saw her being bitten on the neck from behind by a large black man. His eyes rolled back in his head as he tore a huge chunk of flesh from her neck. Blood shot out of the wound and it was only as I watched the bloods path towards the ground that I noticed that most of her calf had been consumed by the original attacker that was still on the ground. I lost it for a second and started towards them, it was only about two seconds into that plan that I decided to change my mind, she was obviously dying and the same was going to happen to me unless I got out of there. I took off running into the night, screaming and crying heading towards the town. I had almost passed the house when I noticed the empty revolver in my hand. I stopped running and looked back towards where I’d left Laverne; I couldn’t see anything in the darkness. I decided that it would be better to have a loaded gun than an empty one, so I ran into the house and ripped open the drawer where I kept the pistol, I was fumbling with the box trying to get the shells out when I heard a bump on the floor. I was just like the ones that I had been hearing off and on for 2 weeks now. It made me jump and I dropped the shells on the floor. The shells scattered all over the floor and I knelt down to pick them up, I had 4 loaded in the weapon when I heard a crashing noise from the other end of the house. I rose up just in time to see one of the creatures breaking through the wooden floor of the bedroom. Apparently this had been the origin of the mysterious bumping that I had been woken up by all this time. I pointed the gun at him, he had gray skin and the tell tale eyes of all the others, he was overweight and bald and pulling himself out of the floor boards and crawling this way. I raised the Colt towards him and squeezed off a shot. It must have been blind luck, but I hit him in the face just above the left eyebrow. He fell in a puddle in the hall way, I walked over closer to him and was about to shoot him again when I heard the groaning sound of someone behind me. I swiveled around to see 3 of them coming in through the front door. Horribly mangled they reeked of decay. I decided that the back door was a better idea seeing that I only had 3 rounds left and that I might eventually need that last one to take myself out of this nightmare. I bolted towards the back door and to my surprise there were at least 5 of them trying to get in the back door, they were bumping into one another and stumbling around trying to figure out how to navigate the steps. I was trapped, for a brief moment I considered using that last round on myself, but decided against it when I realized that I was standing next to a hole in the floor. I dropped down in the hole hoping against hope that I was alone down there. It must have been about five feet deep and at least four feet wide and smelled like God awful Hell. I got down on my hands and knees and began crawling forward down the tunnel. I wished that I had my old flashlight with the weak batteries at least that might keep me from running face to face with one of these damn things. I kept on crawling hoping to find a way to the surface or to see some light somewhere; I wasn’t moving fast but fast enough that I didn’t have to worry about those things in the house catching me. They moved slowly, confused and ignorant of what they were doing, they would be easy to out maneuver on the ground. However underneath the ground in a fucking tunnel I was fish in a barrel I thought.
I must have crawled for over a mile before I came to a larger opening in the tunnel. I was able to get to my feet and stand; I was in some larger chamber of the tunnel and could see that above me were a few holes in the Earth that I might be able to climb out of. I tucked the muddy pistol into my waistband again and took hold of some roots that were growing out of the wall. I pulled myself up the wall using the roots and by planting my feet into the side of the soft earth. I managed to get my arms out over the edge and could see the pale moon in the sky. I pushed harder with my legs and just couldn’t’ seem to get enough leverage to make it all the way out. I moved my arms around in a circle and found the edge of a hard stone that was lodged in the ground. I used that to pull myself out of the hole and onto solid ground. I lay there for a moment in the night air trying to catch my breath. The moon hung over me, looking down with its stoic countenance shining blatantly upon my now stark and surely mad one. I rolled over and patted the stone with my hand and said "Thank God I found you old buddy" It was then in the moonlight that I could see where I was, this wasn’t an ordinary stone, it was a headstone. I was in the cemetery just down the road from my house. It seems that the dead that were attacking my house had originated from here. I jumped to my feet and ran towards the gate. I ran into it full speed expecting it to open, but I had forgotten about the chains that Sheriff Mauldin had put on there just the day before. I hit the gate with everything I had in me and it felt like I had broken my arms. I fell to the ground and laid there for a second hugging myself till the pain subsided enough for me to think. I slowly rose to my feet and considered climbing the fence but it was topped with large spikes, the gothic type used extensively for graveyards and the like constructed in the earlier part of the century. I wheeled around and began running along the fence line hoping to find a hole in it somewhere. I was about to give up hope when I rounded a corner and saw a tree branch that was broken and hanging over the fence. I decided that this was my best chance at getting out of here. The tree was small and had low limbs so I was able to easily pull myself into the bough of it. My arms ached as I did the climbing but held together as I’d hoped they would. I eased out onto the branch with one foot and sort of bounced on it to make sure it would support my weight. The last thing I needed was to be impaled on the fence and just be a human shish kabob for the creature feature that was taking place around here. I moved out further onto the branch and it appeared to be holding. I was directly over the spikes when I heard the dry wood began to crack. Instead of waiting to see if it would hold I jumped and landed on the crest of a small hill just opposite the fence. I landed on my feet but the angle was too steep and I tumbled down the hill head over feet. I landed at the bottom of the hill in one piece. I reached back to see if the pistol was still with me and felt relief when I found it where I had tucked it earlier. I rose up to one knee and was taking survey as to which way was the way out when I saw it. It was in a small crater no bigger than 10 feet in diameter and glowing a fluorescent green. Actually it was pulsating. I walked up to the metal monster and saw the letters ARP-TX on the side. I had stumbled upon the downed satellite that the Army was looking for. I took a closer look and thought about touching it when I remembered what the news source had said about radiation and such. I backed away but decided that at least I could spit on the damned thing considering that it was probably the reason behind the GOD DAMNED DEAD RISING FROM THE GRAVE! The last part I must have screamed out loud because the sound of my own voice made me jump. I spit a big shiner on the satellite and then took off walking through the tall grass towards town. I reached the blacktop and accessed the right direction to take. I heard a rustling of leaves behind me and turned to see about 10 of those creatures coming out of the bar ditch to my rear. I took off running full speed towards town, my boot heels making the only sound in the night; I ran the six miles to the edge of town nonstop.
As I entered the city limits I could see that this problem wasn’t localized to just me and Mr. Curtis’s place. There were people running through the streets, cars were smashed into one another and buildings were on fire. So much for getting help from the Sheriff; I could see the police station in flames at the end of Main St. There were creatures everywhere stumbling around and trying to catch the living. They were for the most part unsuccessful but I could see a few bodies on the ground here and there. A group of 5 or 6 saw me and started shambling my way, I looked for a place to hide out and nothing immediately came mind. Either the buildings were on fire or were barricaded up. I saw a light on inside the Speedy Stop and decided that was the closest place that I might find help. I ran towards the door, I could hear moving around inside and took this as a good sign. The creatures were about 100 yards away at this point so I had some time to make contact with those inside. I rapped on the glass door but no one answered, I knocked a little harder this time with my gold ring so that whoever was inside would definitely hear it. I could see movement in the back of the store. I paused and yelled against the glass. "HEY, IT’S JOE BAIRD OUT HERE, LET ME IN" I checked my back again those things were closing in fast. It was time to start thinking of a plan B. I kicked the glass real hard with the toe of my boot and thought for sure they would have heard that. I was right, the glass in the door exploded next to my face. I could feel the shards as they dug into my flesh and I fell back on the ground, screaming "Hold your fire, hold your fire" but the bullets just kept coming, bouncing off the glass and the cement near me. I rolled backwards onto my feet and took refuge behind a vending machine. The creatures were almost upon me now so I took off running towards the center of town. I could still hear gunfire coming from inside the store. I made it to a stalled car in the middle of the street and took shelter behind it. I was just trying to catch my breath and decide where to go when I saw the Speedy Stops’ gas tanks explode. I guess that all the shooting ignited the tank out front. The whole place was on fire, I thought that maybe they might have a chance of getting out the back of the store. No sooner did I think that thought than the whole building exploded into flames. I could hear the yelling of those inside as they were baked alive. I put my face in my hands, I could feel tears rolling down my cheeks but I hadn’t been aware that I was crying until that moment. What is wrong with the world? What has happened to the people that I have known all my life? I stood up, checked the pistol again and found 1 round. I didn’t remember exactly how many times I had fired it, but evidently it was 3. I closed the chamber and looked around. I considered holing up in the barber shop but its front door looked like someone had kicked it off its hinges. I decided that my best bet was to try and make it to the other end of Main St and hold out in the hardware store. I checked my pocket and found the keys to the place still where I had last put them, so off I went. It was still dark out but the flames of the Speedy Stop gave off quite a glow, so I was able to maneuver pretty well around the slow moving creatures and the dead cars in the road. Here and there I would hear a gunshot or screaming nearby, but it was all mixed together and hard to tell exactly where it was coming from. I stayed on the sidewalk as much as I could, hoping that I wouldn’t run into any surprises along the way. I was beginning to think that my luck wasn’t going to hold as I traversed the final cross street and found myself in front of the hardware store. I fingered the keys from my pocket and quickly unlocked the door. Once inside I locked the deadbolt and reached behind the counter for the industrial flashlight I keep there to use during blackouts. I clicked it on and immediately went up and down each isle checking for intruders. I checked the back door and found it as I had left it hours before. I went back to my office and opened the supply closet. It was there that I kept my old Mossberg Pump 12 gauge shotgun. I checked that it was loaded and put a few extra shells in my shirt pocket. I crept back up front and looked out the window, there were creatures everywhere, and I counted at least 20 just on the street in front of the store. I knew that I was relatively safe in here so long as I didn’t make much noise or let them see my light. I clicked the flashlight off and sat hunkered down next to the window. It occurred to me as I sat there that if enough of them got against my window their bodyweight would be enough to crack the glass. I’d be stuck in here with them. I took a look around for something I could barricade the window with. I didn’t see much then I remembered the spare sheets of plywood in the back. I had built some additional shelves a couple of years ago and stored the extra wood in the back. I went back there to bring it up front. Slipping on my leather work gloves I brought 3 big pieces of the ¾" plywood up in front of the window. I gathered up the cordless drill and some heavy woodscrews and began to anchor the wood in place. I must have made more noise that I thought because I could see out the window that those things had now taken an interest in me. I hurried to put the last 2 pieces up as they started to gather around the window. I could hear them moaning and starting to push against the glass. I prayed that it would hold until I got the last few screws in. Thank God that it did, I added a few more screws here and there to secure it and then I just collapsed in the floor and waited to see if it would hold them out. It wasn’t but a few minutes before I heard the glass shatter and could hear the pounding of their fists on the plywood. I picked up the shotgun and held it ready in case they managed to come through. I heard a loud banging sound coming from the back of the store so I ran towards the back door and looked out the peephole into the alleyway. I couldn’t see much at first then I saw a man and a woman, at least that is what I think it was, the only light available was the one supplied by the muzzle flash of a handgun. I could hear the shots echoing down the alleyway and knew that it was a mistake to be trapped like a rat in there. I was just about to open the door and yell for them to come in when I saw from the side of the peephole that there were several creatures next to the door. I heard a few more gunshots and then nothing. I braced my foot against the door, slid the deadbolt open and cracked the door about 3 inches. I put my face up to the crack and peered out into the alley. Nothing, I was about to open it wider and use the flashlight when a hand reached in and grabbed me by the neck. I freaked out, dropped the flashlight and almost dropped the shotgun as I struggled to keep the door in place with my foot and to remove the slimy hand from my neck. I could smell the putrid stench of decaying flesh as it tried to strangle me in the doorway. I managed to get the shotgun up and into the crack of the door. I couldn’t get leverage enough to hold it steady and pull the trigger so I decided the best thing to do was to open the door completely. I stepped back about 2 feet; this allowed the door to swing open and also freed me from the grasp of that stinking son of a bitch. I could see that he was wearing a business suit jacket and shirt complete with necktie however he was completely naked from the waist down. I stifled back vomit as the smell hit me full force. I raised the shotgun just as he opened his mouth and stepped into the doorway. The shot hit him center mass and for a second I thought that I had missed. His arms were still straight out and hung in place for a split second as his head and torso exploded back into the alley. The arms hit the floor with a sickening splatter as his legs still stood in position as if waiting for further orders. I kicked the legs back over on top of the torso and could still see the jaws moving as if they were trying to tell me something. I had no interest in what he had to say and closed and locked the door. As I applied the deadbolt I peered through the peephole one last time and didn’t see anyone out there moving around. I went back up to the front of the store to make sure that everything was still secure. As I approached the counter I could see that one of the pieces of plywood had come loose from the window and that two creatures were clamoring to get in. I considered using the shotgun but thought that might damage the wood even more. I raised the gun over my head intending to use the butt of it as a club. As I reached the first one and brought the butt of the shotgun down on the top of its skull, I heard it crack. The gun sunk deep into the cranium of the beast and immediately it was seized by the hands of 3 or 4 creatures. I struggled to pull the weapon free but only succeeded in tearing down the piece of plywood. I jumped back and pointed the pistol at them; there were at least ten of them out on the sidewalk looking in at me. I had 1 shell and decided once again to save it. I backed out of the front room and ran towards the back door. I slid open the deadbolt and opened the door only to be confronted by an army of undead. I slammed the door back and locked it. I was trapped for the second time tonight. I was about to panic when I remembered the small crawlspace that led to the roof. I quickly went into the supply closet and kicked some boxes away from the wall. There was a small rope hanging down that led to a wooden staircase. I pulled the rope and the staircase descended with a creak. I scrambled up the staircase and began to close the door. As I was pulling up the final few steps a hand grabbed the bottom rung of the ladder and began pulling the staircase back down. I knew that if he succeeded in pulling it all the way down that I was screwed. I pointed the pistol in his face and pulled the trigger. His forehead imploded in a green and black array of colors. His hand fell free of the stairs and I quickly pulled them in and closed the hatch. As of now I have been up here for several hours I can hear them downstairs tearing the hell out of my shop. The sun is coming up and I can see part of Main St from the slats in the attic wall. I still have the Colt pistol for all the good it will do me, I suppose I can club someone with it should I need too. I found some office supplies up here from back when my Dad used this area for storage and I have written everything down in case there is ever a question about what exactly happened here. Should I die or for some reason become incapacitated I hope that someone one day will find this letter and know that I did the best I could to save Laverne, that I’m sorry that I didn’t do more or that I failed to act fast enough in the beginning. I can see now that there are a few helicopters landing in the town square. There are multiple soldiers pouring out of the aircraft with automatic rifles in their hands. YES! They are taking these stinking sons of bitches out. THANK YOU GOD!
I can see them here and there through the smoke of the car fires and maybe just maybe this will soon be over. I’m going to see if I can kick a hole in this thin paneling and get out on the roof and maybe signal them somehow. I guess this is goodbye for now.
Joe kicked the paneling loose from the wall and was able to climb out onto the roof. He was looking for a way down to the street top when some of the shingles gave way and he fell approximately 20 feet into the alleyway severely injuring his knee. He was able to get to his feet and stumble out of the smoke towards the soldiers that were dispatching the remaining creatures. As he stumbled clumsily out into the open he could see their camouflage fatigues and thought to himself that he had never seen anything so beautiful. He was about yell out when a round from one of the soldier’s weapons caught him between the eyes. His brain erupted out the back of his skull as he fell to the ground with a thump. Two soldiers walked over to him and looking down at his body the Sgt in charge said "Good shot Private Schumann, now make sure you check his pocket for ID, if you find none, put him on the list as Caucasian Male. Remember we were ordered to monitor and record every one of these poor bastards we neutralize, Uncle Sam tracks this stuff you know.