The Cha Forest: Part 5

It was hard to tell which citizens had been infected but by the quiet street vendor’s and the chilling afternoon breeze, he knew many had been affected. The cleanup would be bad, many funerals to attend in the morning hours and even more paper work to pen. Not to mention with the King in quarantine it made it hard to run a town such was the size of Shorkvera. But it didn’t take long to find Sierra, the little girl possessed by the demon Nell. She stood in the middle of the street, finding them. Nell had a healthy revenge planned out for Soun and it was better sooner than later that she revealed her ugly face to them. As it turned out though, Sierra had no face as was Nell’s purpose to wipe mankind from the earth and in Pestorus mind it made this mission easier, to avoid the look of the innocent while killing her.

Thirty-five years, Pestorus. Your wife brings greetings from hell,” Nell hissed around them. Pestorus clenched his fists. Soun revealed a pocket sized book, no bigger than Pestorus palm and she began to read a passage from it.

“Tella bissa, nova sprite oosalvia, nell.”

Nell jerked on the spot and a piercing screaming laughter filled the air. Pestorus covered his ears and shut his eyes against the noise but Soun just kept reading as if she were immune to the demonic screeching.

“Nell, su alog Freda monsta, cha.”

“What the hell are you doing to her?” he called, elevating his voice to a shout but just like that the screaming stopped and so did Soun. He looked down the street and the body of Sierra lay still, crumpled against the dirty, rocky road.


He turned and she was there. But it wasn’t Soun. The dark rivers of black veins clawed their way down Soun’s once beautiful face and her cooled ice eyes were now a crimson red evil. The earth shuddered around him violently like a giant’s rampage and Nell smiled with a hideous blank smile.

Your wife loves it in hell with me. So does the baby. Babby boy, babby girl. Did you want to know what it was?” Nell said using Soun as her puppet.

“Go to hell,” Pestorus shouted, raising the dagger high.

The ground shuddered again and Pestorus was knocked to the ground. The blade went flying from his hand and Nell grasped his throat with elongated claws. She licked him, the tongue stretching so far, running the length of his cheek and down his neck.

What was it like to slid that dagger into your wife, into your unborn child and kill me? Was it worth it, Pestorus? Worth the blood on your hands, for cha, cha Nell?” she laughed in that deep, demonic echo.

Soun’s hand gripped tightly around his neck and he felt the oxygen leave his body. Has my life just been one long road of innocent murder? He thought thinking of all the innocents he killed to protect the good of life. But was what he did really considered to be good? It was him that needed to die, he realized suddenly. Not Soun or Sierra. He was the source of everyone’s pain and he needed to be the forgiven. He let go of Soun’s hand and allowed Nell to do what she had planned, striking her nails in his throat. And maybe praying the last moment of life saved him because she suddenly went rigid above him, her hand loosening on his neck. He shoved her off his body and saw the dagger was plunged into her back. From red to black, the gem gleamed above where her heart should have been.

“Pestorus, are you okay?” It took him a moment to recognize the new recruit. Kygard. He looked supremely surprised and fearful, his hands shaking as he looked at the carnage he had caused to Soun.

“I-I’m sorry, she was attacking you and…and…” Kygard continued to say, flustered.

“It’s okay, son. You did good. In fact better than good. You did something I could never do. Go check the girl, she may still be alive,” Pestorus said letting the tears freely fall. He removed the dagger from her back and gathered Soun into his arms. He let out an anguished sob as she just smiled at him, burying his face into her neck.

“Pestorus,” she whispered, barely audible. He nodded, unable to speak as he stared into her crystal eyes, “This was how it was always supposed to be, Pestorus. Not your wife or your baby, but me. I needed to die to end this.”

“I love you Soun,” he said choking back the emotions that wallowed inside him.

She smiled and closed her eyes, “Never doubt yourself, my love. Doubting is for the devils that crave the human soul. Set yourself free as I will be waiting.”

When he knew she was gone, he wiped his tears from his eyes and lifted her body. Sierra was already getting up slowly when he walked up to them, Soun draped over his arms. Sierra was shaken but otherwise okay and would heal over time, the fingers of forgetful memory already working on her as she clung to Kygard’s waist. Kygard looked tired and thin but he too would be fine in the coming days. Pestorus would make sure of this. It was time he taught someone else the craft.

“Kygard, I need you to come with me into Cha Forest. There are a few things I need to teach you about the world we live in that might benefit you greatly in your long years of life,” he paused thoughtful for a moment at Soun’s peaceful face, “maybe bring a shovel and a bouquet of delicate roses.”


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The Cha Forest: Part Four

Pestorus blamed his crazy morning partly on waking up on the wrong side of the bed, but the chill in the air was abnormal even this time of season and he tucked his fur coat tightly around his collar as he followed Soun up past the castle gates and into the barracks. This is a bad day. He dreaded this moment since leaving Soun’s house. The reveal of the faceless body to Soun. She had experienced enough pain and this was just going to bring it all back. Which he had wished to avoid in all the thirty-five years since the last outbreak. He stood just outside the barracks, staring at the door like it was a coiled snake.

“Rus,” Soun said gently using his old nickname and he entered.

The first thing he noticed upon entering the barracks was the unholy smell of diseased flesh. The second thing he noticed was the absent soldiers. The empty hall plagued him in ways he wished Soun had never picked up on.

“Mighty busy force we have here in Shorkvera,” she mildly joked.

“Where the hell is everyone,” he demanded entering further.

“Pestorus, they’re all dead. You know that. Let’s go out in the air away from this horrible smell before it does permanent damage to our very souls,” she said, offering her hand out to him.

He took it and cursed that she could seem so calm in such a dire, rapidly out of control situation this was becoming. She was right though, the air was a lot better outside but the smell still lingered in his nostrils.

“We know where to go from here,” she said. He laughed humorlessly and removed his shoulder armor in anger.

“We don’t go anywhere together, Soun. You go home and stay there. I don’t want a repetition of last time,” he said, struggling to unbuckle his cuirass. She stayed his fingers and undid the laces for him, smoothly popping him out of his wild restraints. He felt hot and dizzy. This wasn’t supposed to happen again.

“Enough, Pestorus. Hold that wicked tongue of yours before you say something you truly regret. The girl, where is she now?”

“Romn Inn,” he said with closed eyes, taking deep breaths.

She started rhythmically rubbing his chest, and his airways cleared giving him more oxygen to breath, to think. He never knew how she could do the things she could and he never asked. He protected her. It was the one thing he could offer her for saving the town from that one fateful day. Though he knew she felt much more differently about the situation than he.

“She latches to the girl. Pestorus do you hear me? This will be tough the girl cannot be allowed to live. Nell is trapped within her vessel and it is the only chance we have at putting her out,” she said gently to him.

“I remember the rules from last time, Soun. I’m no fool.”

“This needs to be pushed into her heart, like last time. Only when the red gem on the hilt turns black can you pull the dagger free. Bury her at the Cha stone, and bring no one,” she said giving him the dreaded dagger.

“I am old, Soun. This will only happen again, so what is the point?” he said miserably.

“The point is that everyone in this town, this realm, this earth will die horrible deaths if Nell is not contained. That is why we sacrifice the things we do…for the ones we love. When Nell is reborn to spew her plague once more, a new defender will be chosen as it always is and they will make the same hard choices as you.”

“Is it impossible of me to ask you to leave now?” he said. She tucked the collars of his shirt down and looked at him, the ghost of a smile appearing at the corners of her mouth.

“Too impossible.”

“Yes,” he said finally caressing her cheek like he longed to this whole time, “I suppose so.”

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The Cha Forest: Part Three

He left, leaving the corpse in the company of those who knew not of what was happening yet. Pestorus didn’t know he was heading to her house until he was in front of it. The slanted shingles falling off a rusted tin roof, the door barely able to close as its swelled wood expanded from the heat of hot summers. He took a deep breath and went to knock but the door was already open when he reached the top step, the fresh face of Soun standing there holding a cloth in her hand as it lazily dried out the china cup in the other hand. Her smile was thin, but otherwise welcoming in his presence. She had barely aged since their last encounter and he grimaced at the thought of how long ago that was.

“Well, if it isn’t Pestorus. How long has it been…twenty? Thirty years?” she said as if she’d read his mind but her smile never faltered, “come. I’ve prepared tea.”

She stood there still, holding the door open and as he passed her he couldn’t help but take in her intoxicating smell of beauty and fresh summer wind. Her house was the same as it had always been, slightly cluttered but in a pleasing homey feel. Cabinets lined the walls with trinkets of every sort, and books marked with hundreds of assorted bookmarks claimed couch cushions and fancy oak chairs. He knew his way to the kitchen and by the time he entered the little cooking area, she was already pouring tea into the freshly washed cup. She handed it to him and sat down on a stool, gazing at him lovingly like she always used to.

“To what do I owe such a pleasant surprise?” she asked in that sing song voice of hers.

“There’s been a murder,” he said choosing his words wisely.

“And you suspect me? The honor I must be feeling right now,” she said in mock entertainment.

“No, Soun. I don’t suspect you. It was…dark,” he said looking away.

“Drink your tea. I promise there isn’t any poison in it this time,” she smirked.

“A boy was found with no face,” he said. Soun’s smile disappeared rapidly.

“You know we’ve seen this before. And you know I cannot help you this time. Pestorus, I may love you still but there are some things that even I cannot change, I pray you understand that. That kind of power exceeds my own.”

“I just wanted you to look at the body. To confirm my suspicions,” he said. Soun looked fretful, but she stretched her fingers across the table and clasped his worn hand.

She was cold, but then again she always was. Her eyes were ice blue, so chilling but mesmerizing, mimicking the coolness of her skin. He longed to stroke her cheek, to feel her smooth skin under his rough hands once more but he settled for a gentle squeeze instead.

“Fine. To make you happy once more, I shall do as you request.”

“Thank you Soun,” he said huskily, breaking contact with her.

“Don’t thank me yet, love. If this is what you think, our sorrows are only just beginning.”

.  .  .  .  .

Darmi’s hand shook violently as she tried to stick the thread through the eye of the needle. The thread shivered violently in her hand before missing once more and she cursed, tossing the needle on the table. Arthritis was a bugger, and in her old age she couldn’t seem to have a moments rest from the crippling condition.

“Terei? Can you bring me some of those herbs from the cellar? Unless you want your pants done and sewn proper, I’m going to need a tea for my fingers.”

“Maybe I don’ wanna wear pants,” he grumpily called from the kitchen.

“Shut your damn mouth and get the herbs. You’ll wear pants and you’ll like it,” she fired back at him.

She could hear him grumbling as the chair legs squeaked against the rough tile floor. She added a second log to the spitting fire and checked the pot, making sure there was enough water in it to sustain enough tea for the rest of the day. She made a mental note to pick up more of the herbs from Soun. It had been well over three weeks since her last medical resupply. The village had grown quiet over the early hours of the morning since the death of the small child. She had not a single clue where the children came from but she felt it had been her motherly duty to calm and claim them as her own until their parents showed up. The young girl, Sierra, sat on the patched couch sipping a cup of tepid water quietly. She hadn’t said a single word since leaving the inn but it was not Darmi’s place to question her after such an ordeal—some things were better left unasked. Darmi offered a cookie to Sierra but she merely shook her head and continued to stare at the back wall. There was a loud crash from the cellar door and Darmi dropped the platter of cookies to the floor and rushed as fast as she could.

“Terei? Are you okay?” Darmi flicked the light but the bulb flickered and burst.

“Terei? Sierra dear, please go fetch the neighbours. I think Terei fell down and my old legs can’t get down the stairs,” but when Darmi looked back at the couch, Sierra was gone. She narrowed her eyes.

“Darmi? I fell. Blasted shelves fell on ma’ head,” he called from the darkness of the basement, “I think I broke my hip.”

“Shit,” Darmi said taking the steps one at a time as slow as possible, “Hold on you old idiot, I’ll be there in a minute.” When she reached the dirt floor, she scanned the darkness for any sign of Terei. A few spilled jars littered the floor in the immediate circle of light but Terei was not among them.

“Alright where are you?” But he didn’t answer. In fact the only answer she received was a child’s giggle.

“Sierra? Did you come down to help Terei?” Darmi said smiling.

“I came down here to eat his face,” said the child’s voice and Darmi stopped advancing into the cellar, goose bumps riddling her arms.

The voice was human, but it had a supernaturally charged demonic quality to it that chilled Darmi’s spine to the core. When Sierra came into view she was not alone. In her hands was a young boy. Neither children had a face but she had the strange sickly feeling that this boy was the same murdered boy from the front gate. Darmi backed up and fell, tripping over a glass jar and landing hard on her hip.

“W-where are your parents?” she asked.


“Wh-who are you?”

“Cha…cha…cha. Only the Nell of the Cha can save you…Darmi,” said the little girl tilting her head.

Darmi screamed and in the corner of the cellar her husband huddled unseen, afraid to move as the demonic children ascended onto his wife. He held back his silent tears as Darmi’s screams escalated and then stopped altogether.

.  .  .  .  .


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The Cha Forest: Part Two

“Sir Pestorus! You must come, there is a disturbance at the front gate,” cried a young man breathing heavily, barely old enough to fill out his newly tempered armor. Pestorus nodded grimly and placed the apple back onto the stand. The young woman tending the stand looked disappointed but she plastered her smile on all the same.

“Another day than,” he smiled warmly to her.

He knew it was going to be a rough day when he couldn’t even buy an apple for his lunch in peace. He hitched his sword belt upward and walked down to the gate where a massive horde of people were occupying a space just beyond the gated front walls. There was a mass of whispers filling the air and random accusations as they let him through easily but Pestorus paid none of them attention until he came into view of the young solider. He vaguely knew the new recruits name was Kygard and he was kneeling down beside a black tarp with a few mild rips in the sides. When Kygard noticed Pestorus presence he stood immediately.

“Sir, this young lady needs to speak to you. It’s…urgent,” he said and walked away with a wary, unsettled look.

The young lady walked up to Pestorus timidly, just a young girl maybe the age of seventeen or less with a thick head of grungy blond curls. She was holding the cords to the tarp closely, clasped to her chest like she was afraid they would blow away in some unforgiving wind. Her face was completely muddy and her clothes were severely torn. At first Pestorus thought he was dealing with a victim of abuse, but when he saw her deeply disturbed blue eyes, he knew he was dealing with far more than just a minor altercation. He knelt down beside her, hand on his rickety old knee and gently smiled.

“My name is Sir Pestorus. May I have the pleasure or yours?”

“Sierra,” she said shyly. An older woman in the crowd placed a worn calloused hand on the girls shoulder. The older woman nodded for Pestorus to go on.

“Can you tell me what happened to you?”

Her eyes betrayed every emotion she owned and she backed up into the woman, fearfully shaking her head violently. Her refusal only deepened Pestorus confusion and curiosity.

“She’s just a child for god sakes, let her breath,” said a man from the crowd. Pestorus held an irritated hand up to the crowd, a warning that his patience was already worn thin.

“Okay, okay. May I have a look under the tarp?”

She looked terrified as she bit her lip but finally she handed him the strings to the tarp, her seemingly greatest treasure. He undid the secure knot at the base of the tarp and when it tugged free he lifted the tarp. The first thing that hit his nose was the rancid smell and he pulled away, choking back the need to vomit all over the scene. Kygard handed him a handkerchief to thwart the smell and he accepted graciously. When he peeled the tarp off fully everyone in the crowd gasped loudly. A few screamed in terror, another man fell to the ground in a fainted bliss and others turned away to empty their stomachs. Pestorus eyes grew wide and he barely knew what he was looking at. Immediately this had become a crime scene and it didn’t take long for the guards to rope it off from the public. Word reached the castle faster than Pestorus would have liked and as he watched the jittery man jump from his steed he thought, what a day for the last of my retirement days.

“Pestorus what the hell is going on?” demanded Jaried, the emissary to the king, as he waddled over with an air of importance closest to that of a piece of dung. Jaried was wearing heeled boots and a green and orange velvet suit with large puffy gray pants to top the overzealous number off.

“I don’t know,” he said looking at Sierra again. Jaried looked at the girl than back to Pestorus with slight confusion.

“Is she responsible for this? What is this? A dog?” he said with his nose stuck firmly upwards, pulling the tarp back. He gasped and released the tarp, eyes wild as he looked to Pestorus for answers. Pestorus only shrugged his shoulders.

“I don’t know if she’s responsible. Can a little girl remove the face of child?” Pestorus said almost sarcastically.

“R-remove? It’s completely smooth! It’s just skin!” Jaried cried.

Pestorus shrugged his shoulders once more. There was more to the body than just the face though the face was the focal point to the mystery. The torso had deep wounds that had been dealt after the boy was dead, he could tell from his long term service to the royal guard. Of course this would all be explained by a medical doctor but until then, Pestorus held his tongue. He called Kygard over to him, ignoring the outrageous rant of Jaried.

“Take this girl to the Romn Inn. Tell Ferry I sent her and that she is to have everything to make her feel comfortable. New clothing, food, water. Anything she wants.”

“Yes sir,” he nodded and ushered her away. The paleness of her face still visible in Pestorus memory clearly, the pain of her loss only reflecting his own losses he had endured from life.

“What do we do?” Jaried said standing next to Pestorus, hushing his words as if no one else could hear him.

“We inform the King and pray for some kind of bloody miracle,” he said and Jaried walked away from the pretentious little man.

“Take the body to the barracks and no one is to touch it until I say. Understood?”

“Yes sir,” said a guard.


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The Cha Forest: Part One

By Terrin Jarrell

The wind was endless and the moon was waning on that cold night. Tardo could barely make out the fine path as he crawled up the mammoth stone that resembled the head of a charging horse. The torchlight from the other side was little enough to cloak him in shadow but still allowed him to see vaguely where he was going amongst all the moss and vines. He hefted the smaller, leaner Bello up and dumped him down beside him.

“What is it?” whispered Bello from beneath Tardo’s arm.

But Tardo didn’t answer him because he barely knew himself what his mind was trying to refuse. The creatures were gathered in a half circle, in the center was a stripped woman whose eyes milky white but oddly fearless in the presence of the beasts. She had an enormous pregnant belly sticking out like a round ball from her stomach and she kept mumbling something lowly under the firelight as the creatures surrounded her, dancing in their odd, fluid way. The firelight stroked and teased her taut belly skin and unusual images arose on her barren skin painted in black shadow.

“I…I don’t know,” Tardo said quietly, his breath glistening against the cold night.

“We should head back, tell Sir Pestorus or something,” Bello whimpered in his usual nervous self but was unable to move from his spot just like Tardo.

“Shhh, Bello,” Tardo waved him off.

The creatures were hideous yet fascinating to watch as they moved oddly, swaying here and there in rhythmic maddening motions. They had dark shimmery hair covering their bodies and in the firelight it looked to glow purple, or possibly blue. Their eyes were deep orange, darting constantly and never settling on one thing for too long. The fangs were the most grotesque sticking out from chapped gray lips like enormous tusks and the claws were sharper still, making an ear grating noise when they rubbed together like knives.  The woman withered in the circle but nothing more happened. The beasts were just watching her, waiting it seemed as they danced to inaudible music. To Tardo’s seven year old mind, it was incomprehensible but cool to watch. He couldn’t know the possible danger it was to stand watch at the unusual ritual.

“Tardo, let’s go,” Bello whined and Tardo turned on him, punching him in the nose hard with a tightly clenched fist. Tardo pulled back, barely noticing the wet blood against his knuckles as he sneered at Bello.

“Shut the hell up, baby,” he said but for the half second or more it took to say those words, he instantly regretted them, wishing he could pull them back into his nasty mannered mouth. Bello yelped as he touched his now bleeding nose, crooked to one side absurdly.

“That hurt! You punched me in the nose you ass!” he whined. Tardo looked back at the group and ducked. Every creature had stopped and Tardo had the overpowering feeling that they had been heard. The vivid dancing of the creatures no longer painted the leaf ceiling above but rather stood eerily still in the cold.

“You bloody idiot…they heard you.”

Bello’s face paled and he scrambled up the top of the rock to prove Tardo wrong, the fear rising in him as the blood dripped down his soiled white shirt. He was quiet staring at nothing, sitting straight up like a statue and Tardo watched him collect thick fistfuls of moss in a momentary spasm. Tardo was vaguely aware of the scent of urine in the air as he watched Bello intently. When Bello looked back at Tardo, his face was completely blank. Only white, glazed eyes glared at Tardo. His mouth, nose and eyebrows were all gone, completely vanished from his face and yet Bello was still able to talk, still able to produce sounds so eerie they came out as a lisped whisper.

“Tardo, they’re gone. All gone. Nothing more to see. Will you join us, Cha?” he said strangely as Tardo watched in horror at the spectacle his childhood friend had become.

He stole one single glance over to the ritual space and was surprised to find it completely empty. Not even the torches were still burning, or the withering woman on the ground. The space was empty and night surrounded them both in a shroud of black deathly stillness like an ominous demon.  Goose bumps rose on his arms and he longed to itch them away, to go back home to a warm bed but he knew that was impossible now staring at his blank friend.

“Cha, nothing to see,” Bello repeated again disturbingly beside Tardo.

Though Tardo couldn’t see Bello in the darkness that engulfed them suddenly, he could feel the dead eyes staring inches from his face and he scrambled from the rock they both occupied. The fall from the rock wasn’t terribly steep, but Tardo felt the rocks below his knee’s dig deep and he winced in pain when he tried to stand. On two shaky legs, he ambled through the forest, trying to distance himself from the scene and the creatures and Bello. But it was especially Bello he was running from. Dark trees past him, dark shapes, disembodied voices surrounded him as he fled and the fear only gave way to erratic jerky turns that lead him nowhere inside the maze of the forest. Whose idea was it anyway to come into the forest? Was it Bello’s? No, it was Tardo’s. It was his fault they got into this situation, his fault that Bello was dead. The Cha Forest was known for its mysteries but did Tardo know this was going to happen? That an innocent adventure would turn into death of nightmarish proportions? His foot struck a stray stone sticking from the earth and he toppled, arms flaying as he reached for anything to hold him up. His face smacked first, sending tingling lightning bolts flashing through his skull as the rest of his body crashed around him in an ungraceful landing. He cried out in pain, trying to remain calm and move slowly as he felt his bloody, cracked chin. Something rushed past him, a dark blotchy blur and nothing more. He bit his lip against the pain and stretched out his broken leg. Would it be too much to go insane? To not know what’s about to happen to me, he thought desperately.

Tardo…Tardo, cha. Come into my arms and be warm and safe. Your bed is here, you mother is here, Tardo.”

“You’re a liar! Stop talking, stop talking. STOP.TALKING!!” he shouted. There was only a brief momentary pause.

“Bello is with me. Do you long to see your friend?

The voice was so far off he nearly passed it off as wind through the trees. Tardo was confused. Was that the voice of the woman? The pregnant one from the forest? Whispering enfolded him and he cowered, covering his head as it got closer to his ears, the smell of rancid meat and defiled underpants filling his noise.

“Leave me alone!” he cried into his arms.

“Tardo, it’s okay. We’re all safe now. Bello will hold your hand,” she said so close to his ear now and he screamed as a cold wet hand grasped his. The scream ripped through his throat only to reach closed, dead ears.

.  .  .  .  .


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Tepper’s Mill Part 5

I dropped my bag to the ground, taking as much time as I could to ready myself. I stripped the gloves off, one by one and took one swig from the bottle before dumping the remaining alcohol on me. When I pulled the golden lighter from my pocket the first of the undead rounded the corner, with its head held high, nostrils flaring. I smiled and once the flame was lit, I dropped the lighter to the ground. In an almost instant blaze, I was surrounded by orange fire and I rushed the horde coming towards me. This was my testament, my leadership to save my friends from a fate worse than my own. I wouldn’t allow those little boys to witness what I had to.

.  .  .  .  .

 Mary peeked around the corner from the far building and watched as Hark’s flames slowly burnt out and the horde began its feast on his dead burnt body. He was right. It was a beautiful distraction and the dead only concentrated on Hark as the others got away. Although the morning is still young and the sun still has to rise yet, she thought hopelessly. Mary picked her way along the wall. Jenni and Aber went without her but she chose to stay behind, chose to watch Hark’s grand finale. It was in all curiosity but once Hark lit himself on fire, her curiosity turned to fascination and admiration. She slumped against the wall, staring at the graffiti in front of her. It was strange, the scene, not a typical gang related graffiti. It was a scenic view, a meadow with tall wheat fields and golden sunshine. The rolling hills seemingly going on forever even though it was a painting. Amongst the beautiful gold reeds was a small wind mill, turning lazily in the wind, its bright red roof giving the painting a whole new vibrant feel. The blue sky reminded her of Disney land for some reason and though she had never been, this scene was giving her the same feeling it would give her. Joy. Her fingers found something on the ground and it was a needle, still filled with some kind of concoction left forgotten as the disease had struck. She smiled and waited for the happiness of the drug fueled joy to enter her and pretended she was in Disney land. The graffiti painting was beautiful with the rolling hills, coming to life in front of her even in the dead land.

Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts,” Mary said in a dreamlike voice. And she kept repeating those words until she fell asleep in front of the peaceful image of Tepper’s Mill. A photo of Hark and his wife fluttered by unnoticed, a blotch of drying blood staining the matte surface as fresh scream’s peeled the morning hours of a new dawn.

The End

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Tepper’s Mill Part 4

The screaming woke me up first and I jolted to my feet, grasping for the chair bat. Jenni was screaming, hiding in the corner with Gabe and Luke in her arms. I saw Cable’s bloody face grinning at me from the floor as two dead men were gnawing at his legs. Sevina was crouched near his face and she looked up, a mess of blood coating her faces as she chewed with gnarled teeth. I grasped Mary by the shoulders and dragged her away and Jenni and the boys followed. Aber hobbled by barely dodging one. We started to unravel all the chairs and debris by the door.

“How’d this happen?” I shouted tossing a chair.

“I think they came from the back. The door was locked so Cable never checked it.”

I cursed under my breath and tossed a chair at the dead Sevina. She buckled from the throw and fell to the ground. I pried the door half way open and allowed the boys to slip out first followed by Jenni.

“Aber, go!” He swung his ax cane at Sevina with an apologetic sorry and the clunk against her skull grated my ears. He struggled to pry it from her head and cursed, leaving it sticking out of her head like a party hat.

“Go!” I said and Aber crawled through the chair legs and out to safety. One of the undead men bit my arm and I cursed, kicking him back with the heel of my boot and scrambled under the door. I closed the door tight and thanked fortune for blessing the dead with lack of door knowledge. Gabe and Luke started crying and Jenni hushed them soothing as we hurried down the black stairs slowly. Twenty flights down and all I wished for was the clear morning air to fill my lungs. To try to get over are recent losses in peace. My anticipation was high when we reached the front doors. I expected the way to be clear, to see the beautiful sun shining down on an empty street but instead the horde resided outside, still chewing at the scarred glass windows. When they saw the blood on my shoulder they grew frantic excited and some started to bang on the glass. One broke through, its arm covered in shards and Mary and Jenni screamed in harmony. Was there any other way out? Didn’t I remember the map from floor 1 briefly outlining the exits and outs to this goddamn place? I looked to my right and there was the same map I had read the previous day. I mesmerized the route, tracing it with my index finger. Left, left, right, straight, left, right. Mary was the first to gasp in horror at my arm.

“Your arm, your arm. You were bit!”

“It’s fine. We go as planned. Back exit,” I said.

I followed the map now seared into my head, not even looking at the open doors and hidden grooves as I made me way through. Left, left, right, straight, left, right. Along the path exit signs lit the way and I gasped for joy when I saw the push door with exit scrawled across it in large red letters. I paused for breath, debating whether to open the door or not. When I touched the metal band Aber grabbed my hand.

“There’s an alarm. If we push this, everything out there will know where we are.” Jenni let out a sob and Mary slammed her fists against the wall.

“No, NO. I can’t deal with this. I. Can’t. Deal. With. This.” Every word was punctuated with a fist to the wall. I grabbed her and held her still as she cried, wept and screeched for me to let her go, bucking against me to free herself.

“Hark let me go. I need to get something. I just need a little bit, just a bit to relax me for a while. Plllleaaaseee, just one more hit!” she whined in my lap.

“Mary, there aren’t any drugs anymore. You hear me? No more drugs. The world ended and so did your drugs. Get a hold of yourself.”

Jenni slapped Mary across the face suddenly so hard it echoed and everyone looked up stunned. Mary grasped her red cheek as silent tears rolled down her face.

“Listen, bitch. We have two young boys scared to death and you carrin’ on is going to get us killed. So shut the hell up and let the grownups think,” Jenni said. I released Mary and she curled up into the corner. Aber held his hand up and Jenni high fived him but she was clearly shaken by her experience. I squeezed her shoulder and nodded.

“Aber how much of that scotch you got left?”

“Well, I don’t know. But if you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking, it’s not enough to get shit drunk, that’s for sure,” he said pulling it out of his coat pocket. I smiled and accepted it.

“This is what we’re going to do. Once this door opens you won’t have much time to escape so listen closely. I will cause a diversion, you guys run, take the back ally’s until you are free and continue going your course. You hear me?”

“What about you?” Jenni asked.

“I’ll be right behind you I promise,” I smiled but the smile was unconvincing.

“I have one more thing I wanna ask,” I said ruffling through my bag, “will you take could care of this?” I handed her a small envelope.

“What is it?”

“Don’t open it. Not yet, please. Just…keep it safe.” Jenni looked sad but she smiled as she tucked it into her shirt pocket.

“Promise,” she said crossing her heart. I stood up and braced myself against the door.

“Alright, like I said there won’t be any time to second guess. So we ready?”

Everyone looked grim but determined to live. Mary came out from the corner, standing as far away from Jenni as possible. I nodded and pushed the door open. Immediately the alarm started to chime out and the group rushed from the building. From the other side those same strange screams could be heard.

“Move!” I shouted and they ran.

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Tepper’s Mill Part 3

The rusted hinges on the metal door creaked loudly as I pushed it open with one hand, the chair leg held high ready for an attack. I let Cable go first with a light, and Sevina went after him. Aber ushered Luke quietly through and Mary held Gabe close as Jenni filed in last. I closed the door quietly, jamming a piece of broken furniture as a wedge just in case the stairs proved more unsafe than outside. I flicked my light on and I saw Aber click his on and we all moved upwards like a slow train, hand on each other’s shoulders in the dark cave of some unknown office building. The occasionally crunch was heard from underfoot and a few disembodies screams echoed through the tunnel of the stairs as they climbed higher. Jenni turned to me as we came to a halting stop.

            “What level do we stop at?” she whispered.


           I allowed her time to get the message through to Cable in the front by a series of hushed whispers and before long we were moving once more. A few more steps and we came to another stop.

            “Cable doesn’t want to go in first,” she said.

            I rolled my eyes and made my way to the front of the train, tousling Luke’s hair as I passed hoping to cheer a smile out of him. I shined my light up to Cable’s face and he looked scared. They all did and I could understand. It had been weeks since we were in this kind of predicament and the group had been used to the peace. I rubbed the doorknob and pushed but nothing happened. I tried once more but still it wouldn’t budge so I had Cable hold my light. With as much force as I could muster, I forced my shoulder into the door and it banged open loudly. I paused and counted the seconds as I listened, waiting for any kind of noise that would indicate dead on this level. I took my light back from Cable and allowed everyone to come in. The twentieth level was full of cubicles and many small places to hide but everything looked relatively in place. When the disease struck, it was a holiday so many people had been visiting family members rather than at work. That was the only good thing that came out of the apocalypse. Empty buildings meant safer refuge if it didn’t contain the dead which happened to fancy the large areas. A few chairs had been flipped over but otherwise everything was in place. There was a horrible musty smell, and a few dead flowers decorated desks as we walked stealthily. We circled each desk making sure it was clear before setting up a small camp in the far corner. Mary set up a few solar paneled lanterns and Jenni handed out snacks as me and Cable stacked chairs against the door for safe measure. I winched as I shoved the last chair against the door he gave me a worried look.

            “You alright?”

            “No, I’m not,” I said shaking my head and showed him the nasty bite mark reddening against my palm. He stepped back bumping into a desk and knocked a vase off the surface, smashing to the ground in a thousand pieces. The group looked over at us with fear in their eyes.

            “Nothing, just a mouse,” I called back smiling. Mary started talking about how mice were cute and Jenni was expressing disgust. I grabbed Cable’s shirt collar firmly and pulled him close to me when everyone went back to their own business.

            “Don’t tell anyone. Not even Sevina. Got that? This stays between me and you,” I said dangerously.

            “F-fine. Nothing happened I swear,” he stuttered and I let him go roughly.

            He hurried back to the lighter area of the floor without another glance back at me and I sat back against the desk. I squeezed my hand and allowed it to ooze out before taking the medical kit from my bag and applying a fresh wrap to my hand. Within the bag I noticed a pair of black winter gloves. Putting them on, I entered the little circle of light and drank deeply from a canister of water. The group grew quiet and Cable refused to look at me, huddled in Sevina’s arms.

            “What do we do next?” asked Mary. Luke was sleeping in her lap and I hesitated as I tried to come up with a rough plan for the next twelve hours.

            “We wait till the sun comes up. In the morning a group of us will go check the front, if they’re still there we need to find an alternate exit. Presumably one near the back of the building.”

            “Hark, what if both exits are blocked off. What next?” said Jenni.

            “I can’t afford to think there isn’t a safe way out of here.”

            Aber pulled a bottle of scotch from his jacket pocket and held it up. I chuckled a little which prompted a series of horrendous coughs.

            “You okay?” asked Gabe.

            “Sure my man, just a small cold coming on,” I smiled tiredly at him and accepted a glass of scotch from Aber. I grimaced as the amber liquid rolled down my throat and he offered me a second glass. I shook my head as much as I wanted a second helping. He gave Jenni a small shot and was gasped with disgust. 

            “Is that why you’re wearing gloves?” Gabe giggled shyly.

            “Sure is,” I smiled.

            I watched the group quietly from my spot on the floor and knew this was my chance to say good bye, to tell them it had been a hell of a go while it lasted. But I couldn’t muster the strength to do so as I watched Gabe chuckle and giggle as Jenni tickled him or Mary saying no to that glass of scotch even though every fiber in her body meant to drink that whole bottle dry in an attempt to drive away the stabbing want. Eventually after Gabe had fallen asleep and Jenni huddled up to Mary for warmth, did I finally pass out. 


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Tepper’s Mill Part 2

“When I was a young boy I used to walk up and down these streets all the time,” smiled Aber.

“You lived here your whole life old man?” asked Mary.

“Born and raised,” he winked at her.

“I came in from Cleveland. But I was supposed to head to California that day. Damn I miss that sunshine,” I said dreamily.

“Canada has sunshine too,” Aber said.

“And brutal winters, can’t forget those. What are we gonna do when winter hits, huh?” asked Mary sarcastically.

“You can start by putting a coat on instead of wearing a bathing suit,” called Sevina from behind the group. Mary glared at her with red rimmed eyes.

“Hark, how much further do we have to walk? My feet hurt,” cried the one child, Luke. He was a little ways behind me and I called him over to me. Jenni gave me a look but I smiled and scooped Luke into my arms.

“How’s that?” I said tugging at his swinging foot.


“What about me?” cried Gabe. I gently rolled my eyes and allowed him to crawl on me too.

“You two are lucky I like you,” I said smiling and everyone in the group laughed.

But once the laughter died down, it was back to the quiet stillness and the memory that we were probably the only ones alive in the dead city of Hamilton. The sun was slowly setting and I knew I would start getting questions about shelter soon. Night time was the worst. Though the dead rarely came out at daylight, once the night came it made it nearly impossible to sleep. Once the disease hit, not many people were able to get out of the big cities. I was only able to get out because I was at the airport. I saw it first with my own eyes. I could remember feeling the tray of forgotten coffee slip from my fingers as I watched on in horror as people started to devour each other, ripping chunks of flesh from immobile bodies strewn across the bright white tile. A few of us got out on a plane to Canada. When we finally landed hoping to be escorted by military personal, nothing was left. Only loose newspapers greeted us from the streets full of loot and broken glass. Seemingly everyone had completely vanished, gone without a trace and when night came, they all came back hungrier than ever. And not human. Clara was with me then. But she was gone now. Maybe this apocalyptic purgatory was my punishment of infidelity, of ruining mine and others virtues. And I had failed to protect her like I had my true family. Plio and I married in 2004 and things went well at first. A few bumps and bruises along the way but we managed. And once we had Kelley it seemed even better. But Clara came into my life like a whirlwind and everything changed, became less safe and more dangerous, adventurous. That was where I messed up.

“Hark, look,” tapped Jenni breaking my thoughts. She had a worried look of fear on her face and she was pointed ahead.

Ahead of us in the middle of the street was a body. It wasn’t moving but that meant nothing. My heart thumped deeply in my chest but I kept my bravado strong and dropped the children down to my side. Jenni took charge and stood in front of them protectively, eyeing me for my next move. I could feel my mouth go dry and my mind begin to wander on darker things as I turned to the group. They all stared at me like little lost children, sunken bloodshot eyes and skinny wrists. Dirty grungy, ripped clothing hanging loosely on them as flies buzzed their heads for a nice place to land.

“Stay here,” I told the group and no one objected.

I could sense everyone’s fear like a collective heartbeat as we all looked at the body that seemed to take up the whole street like an ominous troll. What was it called when you were afraid of the dead? Necrophobia. Once upon a time, I would have laughed at such ridiculous phobias and fears and psychological mumbo-jumbo. I sobered up fast though, believing this wasn’t just a study of some poor saps anymore but rather something so physical you could touch it and it lived and bit and infected. I gripped my bat tightly as I walked forward. My breath was heavy as it always was and I tried to relax as I closed the gap between me and the dead body. A few flies buzzed around his head but he looked relatively healthy. His cheeks were still pink and fleshy, his brow was slightly damp and his chest was moving up and down in rhythmic time. There didn’t appear to be any wounds or bite marks, nor any scratches and I reached to check the pulse in his neck. I dropped my head in relief as I felt the steady thrum of his pulse against lukewarm flesh.

“He’s not one of them,” I called back and suddenly he gripped my wrist tight.

I dropped back, scrambling away from him as he stretched out his arms to me moaning. His eyes were dead, milky white with the veins of black and his jaw worked up and down as he crawled to me slowly. He let out a loud scream, a noise I had never heard come from the dead before and around us more calls were heard. I kicked him in the face hard with my steel toed boot and scrambled back to the group.

“We have to go. We have to get out of here,” I said.

As I said this a group of ten or fifteen undead shuffled out from behind the tallest building in front of us. The one lying in the street was having a difficult time getting up but as he looked up at us, the rest of them started running. We bolted, running for the nearest cover in an office building. I was never religious, and I could argue that I wasn’t still but in that moment, as we ran I prayed for the safety of all of us, praying to some almighty to give us some slack and pull us through this latest horror show. I carried Luke and Jenni scooped Gabe up as we shut the glass double doors behind us. Aber and Mary were already grabbing pieces of toppled furniture and staking them against the glass when the wave of undead struck like a tidal wave. I was in momentary shock, staring at the horde as it gnawed and chewed at the glass anticipating our juicy bodies. Some of the dead were more decomposed than others and others looked as fresh as we did, save for the milky eyes. Bones stuck out in places that should have been painful but the only look of pain in these dead faces was the raw hunger.

“Dammit, Hark you said he was alive,” called Cable as he rushed to place upturned tables against the door. Sevina was cowered in the corner clutching mass handfuls of hair in a fit of fear.

“I…I…he was. His chest was moving and everything. I even felt a pulse,” I said back.

“You what?” said Aber stopping in his tracks.

“He was alive. For the brief moment I touched him and then he turned just like that. L-like a switch. One minute he was human, the next he was…”

“Dead,” said Gabe chillingly from under Jenni’s arm.

“How is that possible? How is this still happening. What have we done to deserve this shit,” screamed Sevina from the corner, rocking on her heels. Cable went to her, holding her in his arms as she shivered.

“This is wrong, this is all wrong,” she mumbled under her breath.

“They’re learning to act human,” said Mary.

We all grew quiet at the unsettling notion of the dead learning the art of trickery, staring at one another with suspicion and worry. Sevina let out a massive sob. I flipped a wooden chair closest to me and broke the leg off. I felt unsafe without a weapon and the thought of my trusted metal bat outside among the horde made me feel useless. I concealed the bite wound with the sleeve of my shirt for now. I would have to tell the group at one point but now wasn’t the time. Mary reached to touch the elevator door buttons and I stayed her hand.

“No, we take the stairs,” I said.

.  .  .  .  .


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Tepper’s Mill

Tepper’s Mill

By Terrin Jarrell


            I hefted the club in my hand and only hesitated for a brief moment before smashing it against Clara’s head. The sickening wet whack echoed throughout the buildings surrounding them and her groaning and moaning was silenced immediately, the dead hand reaching for me moments ago dropped to the ground with a thump. She had turned; it was obvious from the start but we all ignored it, wanting to believe it was over and that she was completely fine, that the bite was no more menacing and dangerous than a simple mosquito bite on a summer’s night. We wanted to believe the infection was over. But it wasn’t. And I stopped trying to convince myself of this very fact once Clara died, though I never said this to the group. I tried to keep myself as numb as possible, iced to the pain and loneliness of the fallen world I moved as their unspoken leader. She was dead twice over now as kneeled down beside her lifeless body, examining the bruised and bit forearm of her lovely cream colored skin, slightly burned from the blazing sun. I brushed her blond bangs from her forehead and gazed once more at the beauty of the group, her blue eyes shutting forever in peaceful oblivion. The brave one of the group. I snatched a tarp off of an old 73’ mustang, a car I would’ve drooled at before the end of times and covered her corpse as best I could with the lack of materials on hand. A proper burial was out of the question but we all knew that and it didn’t change the level of respect we had for her.

“Stupid bitch, she knew better than to go out there alone,” yelled Mary through a few sparkling tears. Mary picked at her scabby arms, fingers jabbing at nothing as her body forever waited for the next great fix.

“That ‘stupid bitch’ risked her life to get you food. It was more than any of us should have asked for so I’d damn well shut my mouth if I were you,” I said raising my voice.

Mary said nothing and I grabbed my bag off the ground. It was only moderately heavy, a few cans of food, a bottle of water and a few memento’s from my past life. There was a rip in the bottom and I tried to remind myself to have Jenni sew it for me at the next rest point. No sense in having a useless bag in times as hard as these.

“We move. We have to get off the street before nightfall or we all end up like Clara,” I said more sympathetically, one more glance at her tarp coffin. I lifted off the ground, tugged my bag around my shoulders and strapped the metal bat to my hip again.

“She was truly a spirit that one. You can’t blame yourself for what happened to her. You did the best anyone could have in this crazy scenario,” said Aber coming up next to me, dragging his ax in front of him like a cane. I couldn’t let the tear that threatened to fall show so I patted him on the shoulder and let him make his own peace in private mourning as I moved away.

Once the funeral was over for Clara and we all made what little peace we could muster, we moved out trying to get away from the city. I had time to examine the behemoths that surrounded us as we trudged along. Long lost buildings already aging in the short absence of the human population looked like sad giants as the sun danced across the dirty windows and weeds sprouted from the cracked, unattended roads of old. Shattered windows opened random holes up in the buildings and a few computers hung from stretching cords. Though the somewhat sparkling shine of the glass in the buildings provided a small hopeful memory of what used to be, I knew they were also the most dangerous. The buildings created too much nostalgia for the group and it allowed each individual to lose his or her guard. Not to mention the dead found it quite homey. I couldn’t wait for the rolling hills and the smell of farm country, the escape to the future. I looked back at the group behind me, shuffling their feet slowly in the eerie quietness that should have been filled with the noises of busy cars going by and vendors selling newspapers on the street corners. There were seven in total but the group was once much larger. The group consisted of two small children who had been adopted by Jenni, a child herself. Only sixteen but she had taken the responsibility when no one else had. Mary, the junkie. Before the disease she was just a waste of life, begging on the streets of Toronto until she could scrounge up enough money for her next euphoria of dope. Though everyone in the group had changed from what they used to be in some way or other, she was always able to hold onto that tiny piece of herself still. Aber was an older man but he had his wits about him and he knew when to back me up. Finally my eyes rested on Sevina and Cable. They were lovers and had come to us in a gas station when we were a bigger group then. They only kept to themselves but that was fine. Having less people to care about made the world a bit easier. That was something we all started to realize. I thought about Clara again and instantly regretted it. Why did it always came back to her?


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