author's note: the following was my second submission to the nighttime fiction challenge.
childofgilead gave me the following options:
1. A first night story about a man trying to find materials to barricade himself safely in his house. Problem is, he's crippled from the waist down.
2. A story set a couple of weeks into the crisis, about a small town police department coping with the dead.
3. A story about someone remembering their life, as they slowly die from a zombie bite. But the person cannot be a do-gooder...
Lightning lit the sky in a flash of white. The rain came down in forced sheets that soaked Jillian to the bone. She ran through the open field towards the dark farmhouse barely visible through the storm. Thunder split the air with a piercing crash, startling the young girl. She clutched the heavy shotgun, holding it like a lover seeking comfort.
She reached the farmhouse as the storm hit it’s pinnacle. Under normal circumstances, she would have swept the surrounding area, looking for any sign of them. Now though, she only wanted shelter.
She kicked open the front door, bringing the shotgun to bear. The house was black and still, the smell of must hung heavy in the air. Dust spun in miniature cyclones as the heavy wind blew through the doorway. Jillian shut the door behind her, muffling the sound of the storm. She stood still, feeling the beating of her heart, not daring to move. She held the gun to her shoulder, the barrel pointed at the wooden floorboards, keeping the weapon ready the way her father had taught her. She allowed her eyes to adjust to the darkness of the abandoned dwelling.
She waited for the thing to come in the darkness, to move in slowly behind her. To grab her with it’s cold, unearthly hands. To smell it’s carrion scent, like the smell of rotted meat, or a wound gone gangrenous. To hear it’s keeling moan, so full of sorrow and anguish. She held her breath and waited.
Eventually, she gave in to the cold. Her clothes were soaked and clung to her like a second layer of skin. Goosepimples raised along her exposed flesh, making the fine blond hair on her arms stand up. Her lips quivered, though she managed to keep her teeth from chattering and creating noise.
She slung the gun and moved deeper into the house. Sheets had been draped on the furniture, and she thought vaguely of corpses covered with shrouds. Dust clung to every surface, her shoes leaving distinct footprints as she wandered into the living room. The air was stale and she knew the place had been closed up and uninhabited for a long time.
In the living room, she found what she had been hoping for. A large fireplace was set into the wall. The wood had been set in the hearth, complete with kindling, awaiting to be lit. Jillian smiled at her turn of luck as she dug for the book of matches she always kept in her pocket. God willing, they weren’t too wet to be of use.
She had a fire going in short order (it had taken most of the matches, but she would surely find more when she got around to searching the kitchen). There was a cushioned armchair setting by the fireplace with a small table next to it. They were the only pieces of furniture she had seen so far that were not enshrouded. She sat in the chair, feeling the heat of the flames soak into her skin, her clothes beginning to dry. Outside, Jillian could hear the storm as it continued to rage. She waited, rather morbidly, for a voice to call “Nevermore”.
Her eyes began to drift closed, it had been days since she had been warm and dry. As she fought the sleep that was sure to steal the day, she noticed a yellowed envelope setting upon the table. Inscribed on the face were the words: To the Survivor that bears Witness. Curious, she opened the envelope. There were several sheets of yellowed paper inside, scrawled upon in fine script. She began to read.
12 June, 1962
To the finder of this letter,
I hope that this tale finds you well. Alas, the same can not be said for myself. It has been mere hours since I was bitten, yet I feel the poison of the damned coursing through my veins, already.
Ah, but my manners wane in my years. Allow me to introduce myself, before I bend your ear with the story of my end.
I am ______________.
Mien Gott! How long I have awaited to make that confession.
It has been twenty years since I have come to America and assumed the identity of William Barnes. Alas for poor William, he was a simple farmer, content to live out his days in solitude and peace. As I pen this, I feel him extinguished inside me. Ironic, that the death of an infamous butcher and the death of a good man can take place within the confines of the same body.
Yet, so it must be.
As for my own death…It was bought by a madman in a time that seems long ago and far away. I doubt there will be many that mourn my passing like that of William’s.
And die I will. But, I fear it will only be to rise again, and resume my former ways. I have been bitten by one of the damned, the dead that walk. Such a naïve fool! I invited this death into my home.
How could I have known, you ask? Surely there are many who bought the same fate, seeking to aid an injured stranger. True. Yet, I should have known better. For this is not the first time I have seen the dead walk. As Standartenfuher of _____________, the worst of the death camps in Eastern Poland, I saw many such things. I had hoped that running to America, that becoming a new person, that leaving the Reich and it’s ideals behind, that I would escape such memories. A lie, however, is only a thin shield from such darkness.
Once, we used an experimental gas. Ushstadten. It was supposed to burn the Jew from the inside, leaving the outside of the body whole and unmarred. To what purpose, I can not say. Perhaps the little madman wished to display the corpses as trophies, for the viewing pleasure of his inner circle. But Ushstadten did not work as planned. Indeed, the insides of the Jews smoldered, smoke poured from their mouths, noses, and even their eyes…but they continued to live on! The dokters assured me that they were dead in every clinical sense of the word, yet they roamed the confines of the ‘showers’, unwilling to lay in peace. Gah! There are many such stories, though. I once heard the tale of Jews bursting from the crematoriums, their bodies engulfed in flames. They would run about the camps setting fire to everything in their path, until the flesh roasted from their bones and they finally fell. And all the soldiers could do was wait and put out the flames, for it was forbidden to waste ammunition to end the life of something as unworthy as the Jew.
It was shortly after the incident with Ushstadten, that I made my escape from Europe to South America. I became a slaver and dealer in narcotics, until Wiesenthal and his band of Jew sympathizers came calling for my head.
I laugh now, but imagine if you can, the proud Standartfuher of ___________, escaping from the Jews by smuggling himself out in the cargo hold of a boat loaded with pigs. I slept and ate for three days, covered in their foul offal.
Then, for twenty years I lived in peace (or rather, I lived the life of peaceable William Barnes). I settled into the American way of life, easily. And no one ever questioned who I was. It was grand. Until the stranger came.
My hand grows weary, my eyes heavy. I fear that death has come to claim it’s belated prize. And so I will close this letter, regretfully, as there is so much I wish I could tell you. But there will be time enough later. For I am upstairs, lying in the bed…waiting for you.
Jillian dropped the letter with a gasp as the cold hands closed upon her from behind….