A collection of horror, mystery, and science fiction tales, with contributions from fellow writers, James Darko and Dexter Lynch. If you wish to contribute, I'd be happy to showcase your writing. Just send me a message. The stories are free to read and always will be. Some are better than others (I'm speaking only for myself), but I can't give all my best ideas away for free, ha ha. Feel free to share any stories, but please be sure to give credit where credit is due.
It was low tide when the body of Fritz
Zoller washed up along the jetties, his mangled corpse crashing against a wall
of jagged rocks with each rippling wave. Just as twilight set in and the sky
was a breathtaking canvas of orange and purple, John Calvin had trotted down to
the jetties with his fishing rod for one final cast.
John was the first to see what
remained of Fritz Zoller when he cast his line into the water and gazed down at
John Calvin promptly notified the
authorities, who fished Zoller’s body out from the water and he was pronounced
dead at the scene.
The Montauk police assessed the damage inflicted to the
chest and face, and determined this was no accident. Fritz Zoller didn’t slip
and fall into the water, or get snatched by a mammoth wave and dragged out to
sea. This was a cold, calculated, deliberate act.
Someone dumped the body in the ocean,
hoping it wouldn’t row back to shore. They counted fifty-two lacerations to the
torso. And most baffling was the fact that Zoller’s eyes had been scooped clean
out of the sockets.
It was unthinkable to even imagine
that someone in their small, friendly community could be capable of such a
grisly act. But they couldn’t deny the possibility or rule out any suspects.
Fritz Zoller had many friends, but no known enemies. So finding his killer
wasn’t going to be a stroll on the beach.
* * *
Ted Jones was a reporter for the Long
Island Post. He always fought for the big stories, but was always passed over
by his editor in favor of other journalists. Instead, he was relegated to
writing short, half-page articles about rescue animals or crystal meth lab
When Fritz Zoller’s body floated to Montauk shore, the
article went to Ted’s colleague, Phil Johnson. The local police didn’t give
Phil many details to work with. They just confirmed his death was not
accidental and that they were considering all possible suspects at that time.
Zoller never married, never had children. He didn’t leave much behind, but his minimal
belongings were being donated to charity.
Other than that, they knew that Fritz Zoller was residing in
Montauk for ten years before his death. He worked in construction and pitched
in at the bakery part-time to make extra scratch.
That was three months before the disappearance of Dwayne
Urig, the latest in a string of disappearances that had plagued the otherwise
serene village of Montauk.
When it came time to write the article, Phil Johnson got
first dibs. Again, there was little information to go on. Dwayne had not been
declared dead, simply missing. But all the locals feared the worst.
It was June, Friday the 13th, 2014, when Ted
Jones was summoned into Derek Stoker’s office. Stoker was a man that Ted
despised with every fiber of his being. But Ted was an ace at masking his
contempt. It’s the only reason he stayed on the payroll for so many years.
His editor was a fidgety man with a receding hairline.
Stoker was always tugging at the legs of his pants or adjusting his silk ties.
Every year that Jones worked there, he watched Stoker’s hair grow thinner, his
bald spot grow wider, forming that classic horseshoe pattern.
“Yes, Mr. Stoker?” Ted asked as he entered.
“We’ve got a lead on the Dwayne Urig case,” his editor
informed him. “An old man who claims to have new information the police won’t
share with the press. I need you to go out there and see if this guy’s legit.”
“What about Johnson?” Ted asked, not even realizing he was basically
trying to talk himself out of a job.
“Johnson is on his way out,” Stoker said. “He’ll be working
for another paper by the end of the month. I need someone to step up and fill
his shoes. You could be that someone. Don’t let me down, Terry.”
“Ted,” he corrected him.
“Whatever,” Stoker muttered, sliding something out from his
desk. It was a blank check. Ben Loomis had failed to list a price. But if this
business taught Ted anything, it was that everyone has a price.
The truth can be bought just as easily as it can be adjusted
or exploited to sell a few extra copies. To people like Stoker, the truth was
as flexible as a rubber band. You could stretch it as far as needed.
“Here’s a blank check,” Stoker said, passing it to Ted. He
folded the check and placed it in his breast pocket. “The guy’s name is Ben
Loomis. I’ve written the name and address on some stationary and reservations
have already been made for you at the Montauk Manor. The next train leaves in
three hours. I suggest you get packing. And whatever information he has to
share, pay no more than a grand for it. But try and talk him down to five
hundred or less if you can.”
Ted left Stoker’s office feeling a renewed sense of
confidence. This was his big break. The information Ben Loomis had to share
could blow this investigation wide open, maybe even solve the mystery of Urig’s
disappearance. Or it could be complete horseshit. But Ted knew there was only
one way to find out.
He returned to his desk, grabbed his notepad and
windbreaker. “Why do you look so happy?” Phil Johnson asked, looking up from
“I’m on my way to Montauk,” Ted said. “Stoker’s got a lead
on the Urig case and he’s sending me out to interview them.”
“You?” Johnson said in disbelief.
“I’m just as shocked as you,” Ted told him.
“Man, I never thought Stoker would give you a break,”
“Well, on the record, Stoker’s a prick,” Ted informed his
colleague. “Off the record, he’s also a creep with a fetish for women’s shoes.
He got caught red-handed one time in the janitor’s closet with his secretary’s
pumps. Let’s just say he wasn’t polishing them.”
“I guess that’s why they call him Stroker,” Johnson laughed.
“Well, best of luck to you, Ted. You deserve it.”
* * *
Ted rushed home, packed, and caught
the eastbound train from Dorchester station at one o’clock. He arrived in
Montauk by three. He had Map-Quested directions with his phone and Ben Loomis
lived a quarter mile from Montauk station.
Seeing as his editor was a frugal
bastard and sent him with little to no cash to cover his expense, he had the
option of paying for a cab out of his own pocket or hoofing it. He figured the
walk might do him good. A slight breeze had kicked in from the west and the
weather was balmy and mellow, the perfect conditions for him to stretch his
legs and enjoy the tranquil scenery.
He passed Montauk Lake along the way.
Then he crossed over at Industrial Road, the home of Riverhead Building Supply and
other wholesale providers.
Ted thought about Phil Johnson leaving the Post. This being
his big opportunity was the one thing keeping him focused. He was there to squeeze
the truth out of Ben Loomis…and exploit it for his own personal gain.
This wasn’t about Phil Johnson or Derek Stoker or the LI
Post. Ted was looking out for Numero Uno. And like many of his fellow
counterparts, he viewed the news for what it really was: Mass exploitation.
Keep people scared, confused, anxious, and enraged and they’ll keep reading the
paper and watching the television.
On his walk, he stumbled upon the town post office. There
was a bulletin board posted out front, but instead of fliers for guitar lessons
or posters that advertised local tourist attractions, the board was riddled
with dozens of missing person’s fliers; the fliers all overlapping one another.
Smack-dab in the middle of this bulletin board was a flier
with a young girl’s picture on it. Fifteen years old, wavy brown hair, green
eyes, braces. The flier said her name was Veronica White. It also claimed she
was last seen walking home from school, in September of 1997. She was traveling
west on South Federal Street, carrying a purple knapsack.
She could have been
kidnapped, Jones thought silently. Sold into white slavery. Or maybe some creep
snatched her up, someone looking for an easy target. Poor girl, he thought.
They might find her body floating in a
watery ditch someday…well, what’s left of her body. Won’t be much left after
the birds, maggots, and earthworms have their fill.
Ted Jones didn’t want to think these terrible thoughts, but
he was accustomed to them. His paper wrote of these events on a daily basis: Rape, murder, kidnapping, child molestation.
Whatever sold copies.
Ben lived on East Lake Drive, in a one-story brick layered
house with a small chimney stack and a semi-circular driveway, where Ben’s
ancient Ford Deluxe was parked.
The porch was wooden and didn’t feel too sturdy as Ted
ascended the stairs. Seeing as how there was no doorbell, Ted settled for an old-fashioned
No answer. So he knocked again. Glancing down at his wristwatch,
he realized that he had started to tap his foot.
It was an annoying habit he had recently developed. Something
he would do whenever he started to grow anxious or impatient. When he was in
meetings with his boss or his editor, his foot would tap like he was pounding a
bass drum. He couldn’t control it unless he concentrated extremely hard.
The door open a smidge and two grey, tired eyes peeked out
and examined Ted. “State your business,” a voice said, harsh and raspy.
“My name is Ted Jones,” he introduced himself. “I’m with the
“Just a minute,” Ben said and closed the door. A few seconds
later, the door was opened again and Ben waved him inside.
Loomis closed the door behind him, locking it. He assured
Ted it was only a minor precaution. Ted gathered that Zoller’s untimely demise
stirred up a lot of concern in this quaint little fishing village.
He led Ted from the foyer to the living room, which reminded
Jones of something his grandmother might throw together once Alzheimer’s sets
in. The plaid couch was sealed in a plastic slipcover. The wool carpet was
purple and made Jones ponder if Loomis was colorblind. So did the mustard
yellow wallpaper, which proved to be an instant eyesore.
There was an antique armoire in one corner and an antique
credenza in the other. Even the lamp that sat atop the credenza appeared
ancient. Jones couldn’t help but wonder if Loomis arranged this place himself,
or if he bought it as it was. But he didn’t dare ask. He didn’t want to offend
a potential news source of this caliber.
The fragrance of stale cigarette smoke tainted the entire
house. The whole place reeked like the bottom of an ashtray.
“Make yourself at home,” Ben said as Ted did just that and
planted himself on the plastic covered couch. “Can I get you anything? Water,
“Coffee would be great right about now,” Ted said.
“Excellent,” Loomis said. “I just put on a fresh pot. How do
you take it?”
“Lots of cream and sugar,” Ted responded.
Loomis shuffled off to the kitchen and returned with two
steaming mugs of coffee. He passed one to Ted and sat across from him in a red
leather armchair. Ted waited for his coffee to cool down a bit before he took
the first sip.
“I walked here from the train station,” Ted shared with Ben.
“Passed the post office. A lot of missing person’s fliers tacked to the
bulletin board. Dwayne Urig was one of them. Another one dated back to 1997.
“Veronica White,” Loomis repeated the name with his raspy
voice. His poor throat had been ravaged from years of smoking and health
negligence. “I remember her. A sweet girl. Used to come into my candy shop
every day after school. They never did find her. I felt sick for her family.”
“You said you own a candy shop?” Ted asked, scribbling along
on his notepad.
“I did,” Loomis said as Ted continued writing. “Until I got
sick, I owned three businesses in Montauk. The candy shop, the hardware store,
and town’s souvenir shop. I sold the souvenir and candy shops a few years ago.
The hardware store went last year.”
“And you saw Veronica White every day?”
“That’s what I said. Then she went and grew up on me and
stopped coming in all the time. She’d still stop by once in a blue moon for
chocolate fudge or black licorice.”
The coffee had cooled and Ted sipped it as he stared down at
his notepad. So far, he wasn’t looking at Pulitzer Prize material.
“You said they never found her,” Ted read from his notepad.
“Do you remember the day she disappeared?”
“That was so long ago,” Loomis said, thinking back. “It was
September of 1997. She was walking home from school. I guess she never made it
back. It always bothered the locals, never knowing what happened to her.”
“Do you believe Veronica White could still be alive?”
“Veronica White’s been missing for seventeen years. If that
girl’s alive, it’s nothing short of a miracle. But I doubt it. She’s gone. And
I doubt they’ll ever find her.”
“Do you think they’ll ever find her killer?” Ted asked.
“I don’t know,” Ben said, shrugging his gaunt shoulders. He
finished his coffee and put the mug aside, then crossed his arms over his
chest. “Only time will tell.”
“Let’s move on to Fritz Zoller,” Ted said. “Did you know
“Sure did,” Ben said. “Used to see him in the bakery all the
time. And he was a construction worker, so he did projects on the side for
cash. I had him build a new shed out back for me for five hundred bucks. Can I
get you some more coffee?”
“No thanks,” Ted shook his head, holding up the mug. “Still
working on it.” He took another sip and wrote a few more notes down on his pad.
“Were you surprised when they found the body?”
“I’m sixty-eight years old,” Ben laughed. “Nothing surprises
“We don’t know much about his death,” Jones said. “Just that
it was intentional. Perhaps you could shed some more light on the situation.”
“Fritz Zoller was murdered,” Ben said. “I can assure you of
that. He must’ve suffered quite a bit from what I’ve heard. Fifty-two
lacerations to the torso. And that’s not the horrific part.”
Now they were getting somewhere. Jones was writing like a
madman. His pen was on fire as he jotted down every detail verbatim. His foot
was tapping with impatience. He had to know more.
“What’s the horrific part?”
“His eyes were gone,” Ben told him.
“Scooped clean out of his skull.”
“I thought I heard everything until now,” Jones said.
“You know I was once premed?” Loomis shared this with Ted as
if it was a key aspect to his story. “I got booted out. Hand tremors. I don’t
have that problem anymore. My hands are steady as a board. But none of that
makes a difference. I’ve got the Big C.”
“The Big C?”
“Cancer. It started in my lungs. Spread through the rest of
my body. It’s rotting me from the inside as we speak. That’s why you’re here. I
need to clear my conscience before I’m dead and buried. I need to tell you the
truth about Dwayne Urig’s murder.”
“Dwayne Urig hasn’t been declared dead yet. Just missing.”
“He’s dead. I can assure you of that as well.”
“How could you know for sure? Did you kill Dwayne Urig?”
Jones scoffed just at the thought of this old man harming a hair on someone’s
“I most certainly did not. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t
“You want me to show you the body? I can’t. But I can tell
you things nobody but the local police are aware of.”
“So please tell me. That’s what I’m here for. To tell your side
of the story.”
“Save your patronizing attitude for the next schmuck. You’re
here to do your job and make your bosses rich in the process. That’s all you’re
here for. Now, as you’re aware of, Dwayne Urig isn’t the first resident of
Montauk to be declared missing. Several residents have either vanished or died
under questionable circumstances in the past six months alone.”
“Yes, I’m aware of this,” Jones nodded his head
“What you’re not aware of, because the police have been
trying to keep a lid on it, is the fact that this is all the work of one
person. They don’t know if it’s a man or a woman, but they’re leaning towards
the idea it’s a man due to the vicious nature of the crimes.”
“Are you saying there’s a serial killer on the loose here in
“That’s precisely what I’m trying to convey. And that’s how
I know Dwayne Urig isn’t missing. He’s dead. Nobody goes missing for four weeks
in Montauk and turns up alive. Not these days.”
“Why haven’t the police notified the press?”
“They’re trying to keep it under wraps. They don’t want
people freaking out. It’s all about controlling and containing the situation.
Plus I’ve heard there’s some internal dissention in the department about what
to call the killer. You know how all these psychos have a nickname? Half the department
wants to call him the Surgeon and the other half is pushing for the
“Yes, it’s a doctor who examines people’s eyes.”
“I know what it is. I mean, where’d they get that name
“This killer… apparently uses a scalpel to remove his
victims eyeballs. Carves them right out of the sockets with the skill of a
professional surgeon. It’s not just a technique that limited to Fritz Zoller.
It’s the killer’s specialty. His calling card.”
The images that flashed through Ted’s mind made his skin
crawl. His fingers were clenched, digging into the plastic covering of the
couch. His foot was tapping like he was playing a bass drum. He told himself to
stop, but his mind was too focused on Ben’s words to listen to anything else. “Again,
how could you possibly know all this?”
“I have a police scanner,” Loomis revealed. “I listen in on
all their calls. Hey, what can I say? I’m an old man. I’ve got nothing better
to do with my time. I’ve heard some pretty graphic details over the past six
months. Let’s just say Fritz Zoller wasn’t the first.”
“Did you hear anything on that scanner about Dwayne Urig?”
“Yes,” Loomis assured him. “That’s how I’m positive Urig’s
dead. His body was hacked, slashed, and his eyes were plucked out.”
Ted felt dizzy, nauseous, on the verge of losing his
breakfast. This was the story he’d been waiting for, and now he wasn’t sure if
he could handle it. But nevertheless, he continued to squeeze Loomis for all
the information he could get. He just had one more question on his notepad. “Do
the police know why the killer takes his victims eyes?”
“Trophies,” Ben said. “That’s the assumption. But they’re
not entirely sure.”
“I think I have enough information here,” Jones said. “Thank
you for your time, Mr. Loomis.”
“Wait,” Loomis said. “I have one more story to share with
you. This is the closest I’ve ever come to crossing paths with the killer.”
Ted stayed put. He wasn’t sure if he was ready for this
final tale, but he had to see this through to the end.
“Get your notepad ready… A month ago, I was walking down
Montauk Boulevard. It was late, after dark. If I hadn’t almost tripped over
her, I might’ve never seen her. She was sprawled out on the sidewalk, eight
months pregnant. I screamed for help, but it was too late. Her throat had been
slashed, eyes ripped from her skull. Should I continue?”
“Yes,” Jones said, gulping. He was parched, his throat dried
up. He could feel his muscles growing tense. His anxiety was off the charts and
his foot refused to stop tapping against the carpeted floor. “Please continue,”
he said. Though he wasn’t so sure he wanted to hear the conclusion of this grim
“The miraculous thing was that the baby survived. The
paramedics rushed her to the hospital and they performed an emergency
C-section. It was a boy. They named him Ben, after me.”
“You’re shitting me,” Jones said in disbelief.
“Damned if I am. They hooked the baby up to an incubator.
Tubes and machines nourished the baby and pumped air in and out of its tiny
frame. It was only four pounds and three ounces. It fit in the palm of your hand,
like a mini football. I’ll tell you, it was adorable though. Precious. It had
the lightest shade of blue eyes I’ve ever seen.”
Ted saw Ben’s expression grow cold. There was a murderous
glint in his eyes that Ted identified immediately. He leapt from the couch,
making a run for the front door. But Loomis was closer and managed to get there
first. Blocking the front door, he held Jones at bay with the same scalpel he
used on Fritz Zoller, Dwayne Urig, Veronica White, and countless other victims.
I was recently contacted by a young writer named James Darko
who asked if I would allow him to write a short story featuring a character
named “The Behemoth” that I created for a story I published last year. Not only
did I grant him his request, but upon reading his story, I’ve decided to share
his work on my blog with his permission.
It’s my pleasure to introduce a new young writer to you. So
without further ado, I hope you enjoy his story and the Lovecraftian title as
much as I did.
THE THING OUTSIDE MY WINDOW
By James Darko
Robert Combs is my name, and by the
time you’ve finished reading these hastily scribbled pages, you’ll understand
why people think I’m insane.
In fact, by the time you read this,
I’ll surely be dead. Overdrawn and unemployed, this old house is all I have to
claim. And soon, when I fail to keep up with the mortgage payments, the bank
will snatch the place out from under me.
But that’s not what unnerves me.
It’s the thing outside my bedroom window.
Every night, it lurks outside my
window. It conceals itself, hiding amongst the shadows, thinking it can fool
Every night, I hear the scratching of prodigious claws and
the fluttering of its long, narrow wings. Every night, it waits patiently for
me to sleep. Just waiting for me to slip up and let my guard down.
As I jot all this down in a
drug-fueled frenzy, it’s been four days since I’ve closed my eyes to sleep. The
cocaine is still keeping me alert and responsive. But my supply dwindles with every
passing hour and soon it will abandon me entirely, leaving a void that can only
be filled by a bullet to the brain.
The .38 Smith & Wesson was
unearthed on my latest expedition to the attic. I found it in an old shoebox,
still loaded. I forgot I still had the thing. It belonged to my late father.
It’s the gun that ended his life. How ironic that the same gun will play a part
in my death as well.
Nevertheless, I will die on my own
This primordial creature… This retched
abomination… This sin against nature…I will not allow it to take my soul.
By speaking of this beast aloud, I
have alienated myself from my friends and family. My sister thinks I’m having a
mental breakdown. My so-called friends refuse to return my calls. My aunts and
uncles think I should seek professional help. And my erratic behavior cost me
my job at the steel mill.
Many who were born and raised in
Westlake have heard tales of the Behemoth. But few believe these tales to be
more than small-town mythology.
Judd Ballard believed the legends. He
believed them so much that after a brisk encounter with this legendary Behemoth,
he packed his car, fled Long Island, and never looked back.
Judd resided in Mill Pond, three towns
over from Westlake. He was there the night Victor Ward, Harold Dinsmore, Glenn
Parker, and Drayton Sawyer were torn limb from bloody limb.
For whatever reason, the Behemoth
chose to spare Judd’s life. Perhaps so he could spread the word of the macabre
incident and add to the mythology. Or perhaps because it assessed that Judd
Ballard was an innocent man.
Vic, Harold, Glenn, and Drayton all
had something to hide. They all had a part in the death of Julian Campbell.
Campbell, a registered sex offender, was under suspicion for the rape and
murder of Victor Ward’s daughter, Mallory.
It turns out Julian was innocent. The
guilty party was none other than Drayton Sawyer. But Sawyer got what he
deserved. All the men involved got what they deserved.
This monster, it punishes the evil souls, the wrongdoers.
The ones who seek justice on their own terms. The ones who carry out their own wicked
agendas. At least that’s what the legends dictate.
The Behemoth is a guardian, a protector. A purveyor of
justice. So by now you must be asking yourself what horrible atrocity I
committed to warrant its presence.
The .38 Smith & Wesson, I mentioned it ended my father’s
life. I just never said how. It wasn’t suicide. I killed my father, shot him
dead with his own gun. Then staged it to look like a suicide.
I was dishing out my own brand of justice. I felt my actions
were justified. It was his infidelities that led to my mother’s alcoholism. It
led her down a path of self-loathing and destruction that ended in a fatal
crash that claimed her life.
Toxicology reports confirmed she was drunk at the time of
the accident. She lost control, skidded off the road, and collided head-on with
a tree. It was an ugly scene. Barely anything remained of the car.
We couldn’t even give her a proper service and have an open
casket at the wake or the funeral.
If my father had kept his affairs private instead of flaunting
his whores in public, mom never would’ve known. She still might be alive today.
My father didn’t stand to speak at the
wake or the funeral. He never even shed a tear. It wasn’t a week she was in the
ground before he was out running around with his whores again. I couldn’t stand
the sight of him anymore. Something had to be done. So I took matters into my
I confess. I’m a sinner. I’ve done
plenty of bad things in my life. And now this beast has come to harvest my
soul. I deserve to pay for my sins, but not at the hands of this abomination.
I got a glimpse of it one night when it was hovering in the
shadows. It could’ve been eight or nine feet tall for all I know. Its weight indeterminable.
Its body was a crust of dry reptilian scales. Long, narrow wings flapped
effortlessly in the breeze. Atop its broad shoulders rested the head of a
triceratops, a prehistoric creature that’s been extinct for about two-hundred
Three horns jutted from its misshaped skull. Two vertical
horns protruded above its glowing yellow eyes and one curved horn above its
mouth. Its sharp, prodigious claws looked capable of tearing through a steel
vault. And did I mention its fangs?
Oh, sure, go ahead and say it. Robert Combs is crazy. He’s a
loon. But be warned, citizens of Westlake. The Behemoth is real, and one night,
you might find it lurking outside your bedroom window.
Oh, God…I see it now. Two yellow eyes staring back at me through
the window. It’s closer than ever before.
Please don’t judge me. Please forgive me. I’d forgive you if
you were faced with the same utter annihilation that awaits me outside that
The .38 is in my left hand. My finger is wrapped around the
trigger. The barrel is pressed against the side of my head.
Ryder: Former marine/Former police officer/Suffers from retrograde amnesia/
Searching for clues to his past
Albright: Found and saved Carson/Has no family or friends outside of the
group/Doesn’t seem to have a care in the world
Sudrow: Former spa porter/Happy to be doing something else
Razzano: His only concerns are his Rolex and his hair gel
Crawford: Religious zealot/Loner/Keeps to himself
Pickman: Scientist/Worked for the CDC/Knows of a cure
Burton: Survivor found in Cherrywood Mall/Parents were rich and left him a
large inheritance when they died
Sheldon: New associate/Drives a box truck/Carries a badass flamethrower
Watts: Proprietor of the Starlight Hotel
Vesti: A compassionate man who let the entire group stay in his underground
shelter/Biters got him
Whitfield: Abusive husband of Janice Whitfield/Biters got him
Morris: Comic store employee from Long Island/Was found dead, strangled in his
Mays: Survivor found in Cherrywood Mall/Shot by Damien Albright/Claimed that
Carson arrested him at one point
Virden: Comic store owner/Biters got him
Blaze: Former Cherrywood police officer/Vern Sheldon shot him after he got bit
Burton: Wealthy sister of Eli Burton/Attacked by a lone Biter
Whitfield: Pregnant wife of Regis Whitfield/Committed suicide when her baby
IN THE FLESH
By Daniel Skye
As the Biters continued to stagger
down the ramp, the grey cement walls of the parking structure started to look
more and more like their tomb. Once Damien had finished siphoning the last drop
of gas from the vehicles, he joined Carson and Kenny. They all put their backs
against the wall so they were facing the ramp and drew their weapons.
A tall Biter ambled towards Carson.
He pumped the mechanism of his shotgun and with a deafening blast, he tore its
head from its shoulders. He pumped the shotgun, watched the shell pop out of
the breach, and then he fired again. Damien had Andrea and Angela–his two
pistols–drawn and was firing at anything that moved.
Kenny’s semi-automatic was spraying
bullets like the gun was set on auto-fire. Even Damien couldn’t argue that he
was improving as a shooter. With each pull of the trigger, another looming
Biter crashed to the cold pavement.
Carson regretted not bringing his
machete along when he ran out of bullets for the shotgun. Tossing his Remington
aside, he drew the backup pistol tucked into his waistband and resumed fire.
Damien stopped to reload his
pistols, and it provided enough of a distraction for one of the Biters to creep
up on him.
His back pressed against the wall,
Damien dropped his pistols and a struggle ensued as he tried to hold this
snarling creature at bay. Its rotting, shambling face was mere inches away from
Damien’s as its teeth chattered in anticipation.
Kenny pressed his gun to its skull
and pulled the trigger. It flopped lifelessly to the ground and Damien regained
his composure. “Thanks, kid,” Damien said as he picked Andrea and Angela up.
Other Biters wandering the area had
heard the shots and followed the noise, shuffling down the ramp towards their newfound
“There’s too many of them,” Carson
said. “I don’t know if we’re going to make it, boys.”
“If we don’t, it’s been nice knowing
you guys,” Damien said.
Tires screeched as a black Ford
Bronco came barreling down the ramp, mowing down every Biter that stood in its
path. The truck stopped a few feet away from the wall the guys were back up
The doors opened and a group of men climbed
out, rifles and shotguns in hand.
“I don’t think these guys came to
help us or have a friendly chat,” Damien whispered.
“No shit, Sherlock,” Carson
whispered back. “That’s right,” he added, still whispering. “I just remembered
who Sherlock Holmes is. But I digress…just do whatever they say for now. Let’s
play their game for a while and we’ll handle them when they let their guard
“Drop your weapons,” one of the men
advised. Seeing as they were outnumbered four to three, they lowered their guns
and let the men step closer.
“Smart move,” the man spoke again,
stepping forward to identify himself as the leader of this pack. “The name’s
Lewis. These are my men. Todd, Roy, and Mason.”
“The pleasure’s all yours,” Damien
Lewis held his rifle in one hand and
scratched his unkempt beard with the other. He kept scratching himself and
twitching the way a junkie would shake.
In fact, Damien noted that all the
members of the group had hand tremors. They all had a slight twitch as they
gripped their weapons.
Damien knew the cause wasn’t drugs.
He had read of this before in medical encyclopedias. And it didn’t bode well
for him, Carson, and Kenny.
“Mason, gather their weapons,” Lewis
ordered him. “Roy, Todd, round these gentlemen up and find room for them in the
* * *
Kenny and Damien found themselves
chained up with bags drawn over their heads. They were knocked out for the
duration of the ride, so they had no clue how far the men had taken them from
the Starlight. But they knew they were still in Tennessee.
Prisoners of their camp, Kenny and
Damien whispered back and forth as they couldn’t see who was in earshot of
“We’re fucked, aren’t we?” Kenny
“We’ve faced worse,” Damien said.
“Did you notice anything strange about these guys?”
“You mean the way they twitch and
“You think it’s got something to do
“I’m afraid not,” Damien said. “Ever
heard of Kuru?”
“Can’t say that I have,” Kenny said.
“It’s a form of prions disease.
Prions are mutated protein cells that are usually found in human brain tissue.
Kuru can be contracted from eating these cells. In layman’s terms, our new
friends are cannibals.”
“So they’re planning on eating us?”
“I would assume that’s eventually
their plan. Shaking is a side effect of Kuru. But that’s not the worst of it.
It destroys your entire body. Leads to excruciating pain before dementia sets
in. Eventually, your body breaks down so much you can’t even walk without
something to support yourself. Then you die.”
“Sounds lovely,” Kenny remarked.
“Since they’re infected, I say they’ve
got a year, two years tops, to live. So if they do wind up eating us, just know
we’re not the only ones that are going to die from it.”
“Do you think they…do you think
they’re eating Carson right now?”
“I don’t want to think about that,”
Damien said. “Carson is tough as nails. He can take care of himself. He’s a
former police officer, a former marine. If anyone can make it out of this
alive, it’s him.”
* * *
Deep in the woods, just beyond the
camp, Carson found himself bound to a dense willow tree. As he struggled to
break free, his hands grazed flesh and for a moment, he thought he had made
contact with a Biter. But this flesh was warm to the touch and very much
intact, not rotted or decayed. It was then Carson realized someone else was
bound to this tree behind him.
“Hey!” Carson shouted out. “Are you
“I’m alive,” a voice responded,
female. “What’s your name?”
“Carson Ryder. What’s yours?”
“Well, Valentina, do you know where
we are and why we’re tied to a tree?”
“We’re not too far from a campsite
that’s set up just outside of town. There are four men in the group; Lewis,
Todd, Roy, and Mason. Lewis is the leader. They’re using us as live bait.”
“Live bait? Bait for what?”
“Zombies. They lure them out from
the woods, and then they kill them. And then…they eat them.”
“They’re eating these things?!”
Carson was ready to be sick.
“I know,” Valentina muttered. “It’s
awful. You can’t imagine the sight of it.”
“I think I can,” a queasy Carson
uttered. “So why are you here?”
“I refused to partake in their
buffets,” Valentina said. “Lewis is Lewis Jackson. My father. I didn’t agree
with his ways, so he decided to punish me.”
“That sicko is your dad? No offense
honey, but your dad is a few cans short of a six-pack.”
“None taken. Believe me, I’ve said
much worse about him.”
* * *
“What time is it?” Willard Pickman
asked Chuckie Razzano back at the Starlight Hotel.
Chuckie held out his wrist and
flashed his gold Rolex. “Can’t tell you,” he said. “The thing stopped working a
while back. I just wear it as a souvenir now.”
“It got dark hours ago,” Vern
Sheldon said. “I know it’s the winter, so it gets dark earlier, but still, they
should’ve been back by now. I’ve got a bad feeling about this. I think we
should go look for them.”
Chase Crawford was absent from the
conversation, so Eli Burton decided to interject.
“Too dangerous,” Eli said. “It’s
dark. We don’t know the area. We’ll get just as lost as they are. If they’re
not back by morning, I’ll help you look for them myself. You have my word.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to
that,” Vern sighed.
They all sat in the lobby, warming
themselves by the fireplace. Vern had spent the day chopping firewood and it
looked as though they were set for winter.
But that wasn’t on anybody’s mind at the
moment. They all found themselves praying silently for their comrades to return
safely. All except for Eli, who had other things on his mind.
* * *
“We’ll probably freeze to death out
here before any Biters come along,” Carson remarked.
“Biters?” Valentina asked.
“The zombies,” Carson said. “That’s
what my friends and I call them.”
“Ah, gotcha,” she said. “Well, I’d
rather freeze than be torn limb from limb.”
Carson was momentarily distracted by
a rustling noise. He looked over to see movement in the brush.
“Valentina, I’ve got a small knife tucked
in my boot. I can’t reach it, but I’ve managed to loosen the ropes a bit. See
if you can slip one of your hands out from the ropes.”
Two Biters stumbled out from the brush,
their sights set on the vulnerable feast that had been presented to them.
Valentina struggled and eventually
managed to free one hand from the ropes. “I’ve got it,” she said. “Now let’s
see if I can reach that knife.”
“Better hurry,” Carson told her.
“Two of them are heading our way.”
Carson lifted his leg up and
stretched it back as far as it could go. Valentina stretched down and failed at
the first attempt.
The two Biters sauntered over, gaining
closer with each shabby step they took. They were frothing from the mouth with
excitement, foam dripping down their chins.
Carson pulled his leg back again and
held it in the air. He was trying his best not to shake. On the second try, her
fingers just barely grazed the blade.
“I almost got it,” she said. “Hold
She snagged the blade and yanked it
out from Carson’s boot. She started cutting through the ropes at lightning
speed. She cut through the first layer, which was enough for Carson to wriggle
his arms free.
“There’s no more time,” he said as
the Biters approached. “Pass me the blade, quick!”
He reached around the tree and
snatched the knife from her hand. He plunged the blade into the first Biters
eye, pushing it up into the brain, and then retracting it.
The second Biter growled as its
black teeth tried tearing at his neck. Carson forced the blade deep into its
skull. With the advanced rot and decay that had set in, jamming the knife
through its skull was as easy as slicing through a warm stick of butter.
He yanked the blade free and wiped
the blood away. Then he picked up where Valentina left off and finished cutting
through the ropes. The ropes fell to the ground and Carson tucked the knife
away, rubbed his sore wrists.
They stepped around the tree and met
face to face. Carson saw a slight twinkle in her green eyes when they first
gazed at each other. She was a young woman with fair skin, curly blond hair,
and a slim hourglass figure. For a second, Carson almost forgot for a second
time that he was a married man.
“Where’s the camp?” Carson asked.
“Why?” Valentina asked. “Let’s just
bail before one of them gets back to check on us.”
“My friends are back there. I’m not
Valentina detected the genuine
concern in his statement. She recognized this was a man who didn’t leave anyone
behind. So she volunteered to lead him back to the campsite.
“By the way,” Carson said on the
walk back. “You don’t happen to have a cigarette do you?”
“I don’t smoke,” she said. Then she
“Don’t sweat it. Just help me find
my friends and we’ll call it even.”
Along the way, they encountered a
lone Biter. But this one was virtually defenseless. Its legs had been severed
from the waist and it crawled on its belly, snarling as it desperately tried to
It was the first time Carson stopped
to actually examine one up close. It was a male, mid-teens, a gold piercing
that dangling from one rotting earlobe. The lower half of its face had rotted
away completely, exposing its black gums and decaying jawline.
The eyes were all iris, no pupils.
For a moment, Carson almost felt sorry for the thing. That was before he bashed
its skull in with a rock.
It seemed cruel to Valentina. But
Carson was doing the right thing by putting it out of its misery.
* * *
Carson advised Valentina to stay
back as he crept up on the campsite. He used his pocket knife to jab into Roy’s
back, surprising him and getting him to hand over his weapon, which was
actually Kenny’s semi-automatic.
Not wanting to be responsible for
any more casualties, Carson used the butt of the gun to smash Roy in the back
of the head and knock him unconscious.
Then he snuck up on Mason, who was
warming up by a lit bonfire, and jammed the semi-automatic in his face. “My
friends, where are they?”
Mason pointed him right in their
direction. He bashed Mason’s face with the butt of the gun, drawing blood from
his nose and knocking him out like a light.
Then he sprinted to the tent where
Kenny and Damien were being held. He yanked the bags off their heads and they
both breathed a sigh of relief when they saw it was him.
“I knew you could do it,” Damien
said. “So glad to see you, buddy.”
“Save the dick sucking for later,”
Carson said. “Where are the keys for these chains?”
“That fucker Lewis has them,” Damien
said. “Do me a favor, kill him.”
“You can kill him yourself, just as
soon as I get you out of here,” Carson said. “Hang tight. I’ll be back.”
Lewis’s tent was pitched at the far
end of the campsite. He blasted one hole through the top of the tent with
Kenny’s semi-automatic. He knew the shot wouldn’t kill or even graze Lewis.
This was merely a warning shot. The next bullet surely wouldn’t miss.
“The keys,” Carson demanded. “That’s
all I want. You get to live, and my friends and I get to walk away. Make the
Lewis staled for time as he fumbled
around in his tent, pretending to search for the keys.
had heard the gunshot from his tent and was tiptoeing behind Carson, a garrote
wire pulled taut with both hands. As he was just about to sneak up on Carson
and wrap the sharp, penetrating wire around his throat, Carson heard the
footsteps and turned, firing a single shot that went through Todd’s right eye.
Lewis unzipped his tent and tossed
the keys out. “Just take them and go, please,” Lewis begged.
“I didn’t want to kill anyone,”
Carson said. “But I’ve already come this far. And a man who is willing to
sacrifice his own daughter for food doesn’t deserve to live as far as I’m
* * *
When Carson returned with the keys, his
winter jacket was drenched in blood. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s not mine.”
When Kenny and Damien were set free,
Carson introduced them to the newest member of the group, Valentina. The guys
were more than pleased to make her acquaintance.
They collected their weapons,
gasoline, medical kit, and other supplies that Lewis and his men had confiscated.
Then, at Valentina’s suggestion, they poured some gasoline around and roaring
bonfire, and torched the campsite to the ground.
“Where the hell have you guys been?”
Vern asked as they returned to the Starlight Hotel around dawn, looking worse
for wear. “And what happened to you? You look like you’ve been through hell.”
“We have,” Carson assured him.
“We were all so worried,” Vern said,
exhaling a sigh of relief. “We thought you didn’t make it. And who’s this?”
“Valentina Jackson,” Carson said,
making the proper introduction.
“Pleased to meet you,” Vern said
with a smile.
“Your man here saved my life,”
Valentina said in regards to Carson. “I’ll do anything I can to help you guys.”
“I like her spirit,” Vern said as he
welcomed them in through the vestibule and sealed the doors shut behind them.
Carson helped Valentina find a room
for herself. Chuckie Razzano was wandering up and down the halls, shouting
about his gold Rolex and asking if anyone had seen it.
“I haven’t seen it,” Willard Pickman
Terry Watts had come down from the
second floor to see that Carson, Damien, and Kenny were all right. When Razzano
asked him about the watch, he said he didn’t have a clue. “Now that you mention
it, I think two chlorine bottles are missing from the laundry room,” Terry
“Who would steal chlorine?” Willard
“Yeah,” Chuckie said. “I mean, the
watch I could understand. But what the fuck would anybody want with chlorine?”
“Hey,” Damien called. “The bottle of
rubbing alcohol we took from the pharmacy is missing as well.”
“Maybe we left it back at the
campsite,” Kenny said.
“No way,” Damien said. “I definitely
made sure to grab it along with the medical kit.”
“Maybe this place is haunted like
that movie The Shining,” Kenny said.
“Don’t be silly,” Terry said. “I’m
sure there’s a reasonable explanation for all of this.”
“Well, I don’t have the answers,”
Willard shrugged and wandered off to his room.
* * *
Day One Hundred and Forty-Two.
Chase Crawford had grown
increasingly disturbed. The crucifix that never left his side had been
abandoned by Janice Whitfield’s gravesite the way someone would leave flowers
for a lost loved one.
He refused to join the group for
dinner, instead confining himself to his room and eating only when the rest of
the group slept. He kept to himself, but at the same time, he kept a watchful
eye over Eli Burton.
He had a bad feeling about the kid.
But Eli had the group under their spell. Carson was teaching him how to shoot
and even Damien and Kenny were starting to warm up to him.
Willard Pickman and Vern Sheldon
pitied him for the loss of his sister, and Chuckie Razzano was so wrapped up in
the loss of his Rolex, he hardly took notice to anyone or anything else.
Chase was the only one who saw him
for what he was. A monster.
He just had to find a way to prove
* * *
Valentina had become very
comfortable with her new surroundings. The group welcomed her with open arms
and made her feel what her father and his lackeys never could. They made her feel
safe, secure. They made her feel needed.
Carson had found her wandering the decomposed
garden of the hotel that morning.
“You shouldn’t be out here alone,”
he told her. “At least not without a weapon.”
“I just needed some fresh air,” she
said. “But thanks for looking out for me.”
“Don’t mention it. Hey, I was going
to show you this earlier, but I forgot.” He removed the worn photograph from
his pocket and unfolded it. “Do you recognize the woman or the child in this
“Yes!” she exclaimed. “I saw them in
town with a group of about three or four other people. It was weeks, hell,
maybe months ago. It’s so hard to keep track of the days and months without a calendar.”
“You’re sure it was them?”
“I’m absolutely sure it was them,”
she said. “My father and his thugs were out looking for fresh meat and I gave
them an escape route, helped them flee the area before they were found. I
couldn’t have that child’s blood on my hands. No way.”
“Do you know where they went? What
direction they were traveling in?”
“I think one of them mentioned
something about going to Arkansas. Something about a commune that was set up
there. They said they were taking in survivors, offering shelter. Who knows if
it’s really true.”
Carson turned away from Valentina
and folded the picture, tucked it back in his pocket. “Caroline,” he whispered.
“If you’re out there, I will find you. You have my word.”
* * *
Like Chase Crawford, Willard Pickman was
also isolating himself from the group, as he devoted more and more time to a
special project he was working on in secret. He had the gold Rolex that belonged
to Chuckie Razzano. The bottle of rubbing alcohol Damien had snagged from the
pharmacy. The chlorine bottles that had gone missing from the laundry room. And
he also had a plethora of other household chemicals and supplies he had
accumulated over time.