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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.

            “20.”

           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.

“Better.”

“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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