Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Genre: Horror (Zombies)
Note to readers: This story serves as a prequel of sorts to an extended story, In the Flesh. Check back for updates because I’m hoping to have it posted by the end of the month.
Beyond the reservoir, Raymond Clark saw the house.
As he moved closer, the signs of abandonment became apparent. His flashlight beamed across the front yard. The grass was waist high and scorched brown by the sun. Several stern WARNING: PRIVATE PROPERTY and NO TRESPASSING signs had been spiked into the earth, barely visible behind the dense blades. Ray thought nothing of the signs and assumed they were likely a deterrent for bums or rowdy teenagers. A weak attempt to prohibit troublemakers from breaking in.
The light drifted past the unkempt lawn as he examined the property that sat around it. The house was ancient; two-stories, with red shutters and pale blue vinyl siding. The windows were busted out and looked to be boarded up from the inside. The front door was sealed, chained, and padlocked to avert entry. Other than the front, there were no other signs of admission. No side or backdoor. No basement windows either.
Wasting no time, Ray dashed up the cobblestone path that extended from the sidewalk to the front porch. Holding the flashlight between his crooked yellow teeth, he removed a short metal crowbar from the bag draped around his shoulder and used it to bust the padlock, unwrap the chain, and pry the door open.
The hinges were rusty and the door sounded like it was going to snap off as Ray forced it shut behind him. He used the flashlight to guide his way from the foyer to the narrow hallway which led through to the kitchen and living room.
The previous occupants didn’t seem to leave much behind. No tables, chairs, dressers, sofas, couches, desks, or cabinets remained. They even cleared out all the utensils. All Ray found in the living room was a dusty old bookshelf with no books and a television that dated back to the early 70s. It had the rabbit ear antennas and two knobs below the screen to adjust the volume and switch the channels.
No carpeting; just wood floors and linoleum tiles in the kitchen and bathrooms. The kitchen was bare, stripped down to nothing. In one corner, Ray spotted a brighter square of linoleum and realized they had even removed the stove.
The walls were jet-black with mold and rotting away. The staircase was frail and missing several steps, leaving a huge gap and making access to the second floor unmanageable.
Ray assessed the house was nearly a century old and it showed as the floorboards screamed with every step he took, threatening to collapse under his weight. Ray did a full sweep of the first floor to make sure he was alone.
In the only downstairs bedroom, he found a box of old textbooks and medical encyclopedias. He gave the box a quick search for anything rare or valuable, but found nothing further besides a worn photograph.
The photo showed a childless couple in their mid-thirties. They were dressed for a formal event as the man was wearing a tux and woman wearing an evening gown. A deep scar rested below the man’s right eye, a scar he seemed to wear with pride. Ray could also see the woman was wearing a wedding band, but not the traditional way. She had it attached to a silver necklace laced around her neck. Ray pondered the value and how much he could pawn it for.
Then he sought refuge in the living room, pressing his back against one of the decaying walls and letting his body sink to the floor. He tossed the crowbar aside, rested the flashlight beside him, and opened his bag. He turned the bag upside down, carelessly emptying the contents.
He counted the money first. There was just over two grand in unmarked cash. He counted it twice to be sure. Then he examined the rest of the loot. Among the pilfered belongings were several wedding rings, a pearl necklace, four wristwatches, two gold bracelets, a pair of diamond studded earrings, five iPhones, and three iPods.
“Not bad for one nights work,” Ray said with a smile. In the distance, he could hear the sirens emanating, drawing closer. You don’t break into six houses in one night without attracting the unwanted attention of Cherrywood’s finest.
But Ray was confident he would not be caught. They wouldn’t find him, not in that dilapidated mess. They wouldn’t even bother to look. He just needed to lay low until the heat died down and the search was called off.
Ray preferred this line of work. It beat minimum wage and he never stole from the poor. His targets were always well-to-do rich folk. He was sort of like Robin Hood; except he stole from the rich and gave to himself.
The first five houses were a walk in the park. It was the sixth house where everything went wrong. The owner had cameras installed outside the house and saw Ray coming a mile away. The man had surprised him in the kitchen, brandishing a shotgun.
Ray managed to overpower him and render him unconscious with the use of his reliable crowbar. He even made sure to add the man’s wedding ring to his collection before he made his escape.
But the man was not alone. His wife was upstairs when she had heard the struggle in the kitchen and crawled under their bed to hide. When Ray made a break for it, she slid out from the bed and called the cops.
None of this mattered to him now though. He got the loot, he beat the cops at their own game, and he was going to live a long, rich life if he could keep this pattern up.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
It sounded like a knock at the door. Even Ray was convinced at first, and then he realized how preposterous the thought was. The house was abandoned. It’s not as if the owners were anticipating visitors. And if it was the cops, they’d know better than to knock.
The sound was unquestionably coming from inside the house.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
He heard it again. This time the noise was unmistakable and made Ray leap to his feet; crowbar in one hand, flashlight in the other. He ruled out the possibility that this second intruder was an animal given the volume of the thumps. It sounded more like somebody stomping around the house in heavy combat boots.
He moved from the living room to the hallway, floorboards creaking beneath him. The flashlight navigated his way as he followed the heavy thuds, using the sound as a map of sorts to pinpoint the exact location. He checked the kitchen first and found that it was still vacant.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
In the bedroom, a chandelier dangled from the ceiling. It was the only fixture the owners seemed to leave intact. He lowered the crowbar to the floor and slid the closet doors open to be certain. Nothing inside; bare and empty. His next guess was the basement.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
He snatched the crowbar and twisted around, shining the light in the doorway. Above him the glass chimed as the chandelier rocked gently.
The noise was emanating from the second floor.
Ray rushed to the staircase and flashed the light in every corner. It slowly emerged, dragging its body across the banister. A silver chain dangled from its neck, holding an aged wedding band.
It dawned on him that the sealed door, the padlocks, the boarded windows, the various warning signs–they weren’t there to hinder trespassing. It was all designed to keep what was inside from spilling out.
It was the same woman from the photograph, no uncertainty in Ray’s mind. Judging by the advanced stage of rot and decomposition, Ray could not reckon how this woman was on her feet. The lack of color in her skin and absence of flare in her eyes said that she had died long ago. But there she was, leering over the banister; drooling, snarling, hissing.
A burst of laughter came forth as Ray almost rolled over at the realization that the woman couldn’t reach him, not with the missing stairs.
But his laughter concluded when the floor above caved in. As the dust and debris settled, she was still standing and she looked undeniably hungry. Teeth chattering, she advanced upon him. Ray discarded the flashlight and took the crowbar with both hands, swung like he was trying for a homerun.
The first swing was a miss, but the second dislocated her putrid jaw. Still this damage caused no physical reaction. The pain did not register with her.
As the crowbar cut through the air again, she lunged and the floorboards cried out as she collapsed on top of him. She was aiming for the neck, but Ray managed to adjust his head and her teeth sunk deep into his shoulder.
He gripped both her elbows and succeeded in reversing their position by rolling her over. Using his knees to pin her down by the chest, he raised the crowbar by its curved end and rammed the bar through her skull with relative ease.
Bleeding profusely, Ray retrieved the flashlight and gathered the loot. He stopped to appraise the ring. The silver necklace had little value but he knew he could get something for the ring, if he lived long enough. He snapped the chain off her neck and pocketed it, throwing the bag over his good shoulder while applying pressure to his wounded shoulder. The crowbar was still embedded in her skull and Ray decided to leave it behind. His prints were not on file and if the cops hadn’t discovered this woman by now, he supposed it wouldn’t happen anytime soon.
Ray was a Long Island boy and Cherrywood was a fairly small town. He knew the land well. The veterinarian office was ten blocks from the house and had medical supplies, and it wouldn’t be open for another six hours.
Trailing blood, he tramped through the hallway and made it to the foyer. The hinges squeaked as he dragged the door open and stepped out into the darkness. No matter how much pressure he applied, the wound wouldn’t clot. The blood just kept flowing.
Outside the house, he didn’t make it more than five-hundred feet. Pale and shaky, his knees weak, Ray could no longer support his own weight. He collapsed, and his body spilled over the dam and dipped into the reservoir below. His body floated facedown across the water for less than a minute, then sank to the bottom like a stone.
Those looking for a glass of cool tap water in the morning were in for quite the nasty surprise.