The Slow and the Dead

by Joey Payne

Ben screamed as the top of the thing’s head flew off from the gunshot. He stood there for a moment, breathing heavily, the old colt revolver still held out in front of him. As smoke lazily rolled from the barrel Ben shook his head. The ringing in his ears from the shot sounded like a siren’s wail. “What the hell…” Ben said to himself  as he tried unsuccessfully to make his feet move forward. After a few moments he swallowed hard, and this time was able to force himself to move forward slowly.

As he approached the creature on the ground he kept the gun pointed at it even though his hand was shaking uncontrollably. As he approached he was scared that it was one of his friends or neighbors in a costume, a prank that had gone horribly awry. Ben shook his head again to try and clear it of adrenaline and think clearly. It couldn’t have been a costume he told himself. After two tours in Afghanistan he knew what real wounds looked like… didn’t he? His suspicions were confirmed as he got a clearer look. As his eyes scanned the body his training kicked in and his mind was suddenly crystal clear. The thing’s skin was gray and glistening, slimy almost. Under the skin were spider web patterns of bluish purple veins. He noted that it looked like ruptures under the skin. A bite-sized chunk was missing from his arm that no makeup could replicate. A green, thick, puss oozed from the wound. By the time he assessed the thing’s face he did not doubt it wasn’t a costume.

It was his neighbor, Carl, or at least it resembled Carl’s face. Besides the half dollar-sized hole in his head, his face had the same deathly gray pallor. Blood poured from his eyes and like tears. The eyes themselves were a dark red where all the white should be. Ben knew that a head wound from his revolver wouldn’t cause that kind of wound pattern. Trying to make sense of it, Ben played the morning through in his head again.

He had woken up and was going to go the shooting range to test out his new colt revolver. As he walked out to his car he saw Carl across the street in his other neighbor’s back yard. He remembered calling out a friendly good morning and waved in a neighborly fashion. Next thing Ben knew Carl screamed like an animal and ran at Ben while wielding a hammer. He was fast, his feet pumping like a sprinters even when Ben screamed “Whoa hang on!” Ben had fumbled for his keys and dropped them as Carl closed the distance. As Carl had reached the top of the driveway Ben knew he would have no time to retrieve his keys and raised his Colt. He remembered saying “Stop or I will shoot!” clearly as Carl ran at him, slavering and bleeding from the eyes. Ben fired when Carl was halfway down the driveway ending Carl’s assault with one shot.

“But what the fuck happened to you Carl?” Ben whispered to himself as he fumbled for his cell phone to dial 911. Ben’s mind warred with itself, as he didn’t want to say the one word he knew described the situation. A deep fear Ben had carried his whole life, Carl had become a zombie. Since he was young Ben had suffered from nightmares about a zombie horde ripping him limb from limb… Their sharp teeth tearing into his flesh… Of his dead friends and enemies clamoring and groaning as one for him to join them. He had fought it down for years but after a zombie resurgence on the internet he could do almost nothing without seeing a reference to the coming zombie apocalypse and the nightmares had returned. Ben shook his head to clear it of the troubling thoughts as he held his cell phone to his ear and listened to the steady, rhythmic ring on the other end.

“Come on!” he growled as the phone rang over and over. And breathed a sigh of relief as the ring was interrupted by someone picking it up. “Hello,” Ben said, “I need help, I’ve had to shoot someone.” Ben waited for a second for any reply to his statement but was met with silence. “Hello?” he asked again and was met by a low groaning sound from the other end. A lump formed in Ben’s throat as the monotonous groan continued. Ben looked at his phone slowly to make sure he had dialed right. The animal growl from the other end audible as he saw he had indeed called 911. His attention was torn from his phone as another scream was heard at the top of his driveway.

Two more creatures stood there, a woman and a child, pointing and screaming like banshees. The child began to run at him with her arms thrown wide. Blood poured from her eyes and her teeth were, chipped and jagged. The woman was right on the little one’s heels with arms outstretched. The nails on her hand were like talons and dripped with blood. Ben didn’t waste a moment and fired off two quick shots. The first caught the smaller zombie square in the forehead. The other bullet caught the woman in the shoulder causing her to spin as she fell to the ground. She writhed on the ground, her back arching and hands clawing as she screamed.

Ben cursed as he saw that her screams were attracting more of them. Bloody hands smeared windows as they peered out at the commotion. They ran out into their yards and were pointing bloody hands at him. They were all screaming their gurgling, animal-like screams, drawing more and more of them out of hiding.

With another deep curse Ben ran back into his home and slammed the door. His mind raced as he thought about what to do next. “Gotta be the rapture…” he said to himself in an attempt to figure out the situation.  “Reload…” he said, reminding himself. As he opened the cylinder on the old colt he let his mind wander to when he bought it yesterday.

He had bought it from an old Cheyenne man at a gun show. Ben had just gone to look; he didn’t own any guns and had not even touched one since the Army. As Ben handled it he could tell it was old and not a replica because of the patina on the metal and the worn front sight where it had been pulled from a holster many times. He had noticed the tick marks in the grip of the gun and when he asked about it the old man had shook his head sadly.

“My Grandfather told me those were left by the people who owned the gun throughout the years. Before it came to my Grandfather it was owned by a Calvary solider who was hanged for murder. Grandfather said the owner was a bad man and the gun held bad medicine.”

Ben wasn’t the superstitious sort and had bought the gun to shoot for fun and to brag about. Now he sat running his thumb over the 6 tick marks in the gun’s grip, worn down from years of use. Each one still a stark reminder of someone’s life. As he felt them he wondered who they were, why the gun’s owner had killed them. He was pulled from his thoughts by a banging on the door. A loud slam of meat against wood and the groans of something horrible wanting in.

“Go Away!” Ben screamed and shot a round from the gun through the wooden door. Suddenly the sound of glass breaking filled the room as the zombies shattered through in force. The loud crack of the back door breaking down and the sound of multiple footsteps seeking him out, demanding his life. Ben fired shot after shot at the lumbering dead, counting each one until he knew there was only bullet left. This last shot he had saved for himself and lifted the gun to his head as he pulled back the hammer. But before he could pull the trigger they were upon him, clawing at him with bleeding eyes and fetid breath.

“NO!” he screamed as they grabbed his arm, pulling the gun from his grip and forcing him to the ground. Ben closed his eyes and waited for the end.

“We got you now you bastard!” a voice said angrily in his ear and Ben opened his eyes suddenly. Police had him pinned down and were putting cuffs on him. “W…What’s going on??!!” Ben stammered

as he was pulled to his feet. “What the…” Ben began as he saw two dead and one wounded police officer in his living room. “No. No! But they were dead… I mean they were zombies… wait!!” he stammered on as he was dragged out of his home. “No! No! NO!” he screamed as he saw Carl lying in his driveway with the body of Carl’s daughter lying close by.

“Monster!” Carl’s wife screamed as paramedics tended the bullet wound in her shoulder.  “Went crazy…” his neighbors whispered. “Might have been bath salts,” they said as they pointed. Ben shook his head frantically as they pushed him in the patrol car. “You’re gonna fry for this!” the cop said and Ben tried to explain to them… tried to tell them that he had defended himself. That they had been zombies and he was innocent… they had to believe him!

From within the plastic evidence bag the old colt revolver lay still. If anyone had been listening to it they would have sworn that from somewhere inside the bag was a deep yet quiet laughter. And a faint scratching noise as a seventh tick mark appeared on the gun’s grip.

***

Joey Payne enjoys writing post-apocalyptic novels and horror short stories. His first release, a book set in a grim future world, entitled Love and Radiation (Book 1 of his Radiation Tales series) was published in October of 2012 and is currently available via Amazon’s Kindle and Kindle App Store. The second in the Radiation Tales Series—Death and Radiation—is expected out sometime in 2013. His latest published work, The Slow and The Dead, a horror short, appears in this year’s 13 Stories Till Halloween 2012 edition.
Joey is a Georgia boy and lives with his wife and children in his beloved home state. He also loves river boating, fishing and collecting antique firearms, which he shoots often to help him concentrate.

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The Hiding Chant

by III

The children gather;
the pumpkins stare.
They beg for treasure
but never they share.

And so my brothers,
we shall embark
and go a’questing
when it gets dark.

They don their masks;
they play at fear.
But what they forget
will let us draw near.

We’ll show them our faces,
though see them they shan’t.
Because we are singing
the hiding chant.

Now go out among them
and into the night.
Go now my goblins;
it is time to unite!

***

III (Trey Martin) is a local, Atlanta-area poet with interests in neoclassical forms as as free verse.  Trey is a proud LGBT artist, with a penchant for taking an “alternative” view of the world both around and within us.

Attached

by Kayanne Smith

As a young reporter, Ella Case was eager to take on any story to come across her desk, so when her Editor in Chief breezed into the office and requested she do the annual Haunting Story for the paper’s Halloween edition, she happily agreed.

Ella stepped out into the crisp autumn air and made her way down to the local library. Sure, she could stay chained to her desk and find just about any information she would need right at her fingertips, but she always enjoyed the hunt for information, thumbing through old books, newspapers, and microfilm, and of course her greatest source, the local people of Temple.

The Annual Halloween Haunting Story was usually something one would expect to hear around a campfire or in the wee hours of the morning at a slumber party, nothing with any depth, and definitely short on actual fact or history. Ella was determined to make this year’s story different, to write something more than just a “fluff” or “filler” piece, maybe even uncover a real life ghost story right there in Temple.

“Good afternoon Ms. Case,” the librarian trilled as she approached the front desk, “tell me dear, what exciting story are you working on today?”

“Well if you must know I’ve been assigned the task of writing the paper’s yearly Halloween Haunting story, and I really want it to be special this year, so I decided I’d begin as I always do with some honest to goodness research.”

Mrs. Cox clasped her hands in excitement. Ella never quite knew if she was really ever excited to hear about her assignments, or if she was simply being kind, nevertheless, it always made her feel someone actually did in fact care what she had to say.

“What creepy tale will you be sharing with the people of Temple this year?”

“I’ll be doing a piece on the old Wingarten Place,” Ella offered, when suddenly the old librarian’s whole demeanor changed. She had never seen this side of her, didn’t even think she was capable of having any emotion other than happiness.

“Mrs. Cox, are you okay? Did I say something to upset you?”

“Be careful my dear, there are some things – some stories, that should remain buried.” And with that, she turned and left Ella standing there not really knowing what occurred between them. All she did know was she absolutely had to find out what made that sweet, unassuming lady react as she had.

Ella combed through town histories, newspaper clippings, taking notes and making copies of anything that seemed odd and relevant to the topic at hand. As her research continued she learned the Wingarten Place was originally owned and built by Joseph Wingarten. It operated as a plantation and after the Civil War he’d been forced to sell the property and home to the state. After a few years it was restored and made into a hospital for the mentally challenged. Those members of society who were different – not necessarily dangerous, but perhaps misunderstood.

She hurried home, eager to go over her notes and do some research on the internet, thinking how she could take this story to the next level. It was rumored to be haunted, but had it ever been confirmed by anyone other than the local kids who had broken onto the property as a dare? Not that she could find. But amid all the supposed paranormal experiences recorded she not only discovered it was one of the most sought after locations to be investigated, but what exactly made Mrs. Cox react in the way she had earlier that day, her daughter, Sara Rue Cox  a patient at the hospital before it been closed down for good, and had died as a result of “unknown causes”, which actually meant they’had taken one of those experimental treatments too far.

Over the next few hours she researched various paranormal groups and decided on one that seemed to have the best knowledge, equipment, and experience of any of the others. She jotted down their information and made a point to contact them the next morning. Ella spoke with the team leader and soon all the details were set for the upcoming investigation of the Wingarten Place.

On a gray and chilly October afternoon Ella met with the paranormal team to go over the process of the investigation, where to place cameras and audio recorders, and who would be teamed up to investigate. Ella would be joining each pair, observing how they gathered their data, and hoping to have her very on experience.

Throughout the course of the night each team seemed to be having unexplained experiences, but nothing more than what she would learn was a residual haunt. As she followed the final team through what used to be a beautiful home a chill came over her, and all the energy seemed to be sucked out of her. Had she just had a paranormal experience or was it just that she was standing in a drafty old home after a very long night? The common sense side of her leaned toward the latter, but it didn’t stop the nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

After all the equipment had been gathered they parted ways, promising to get back to her as soon as all the data had been analyzed with a fine tooth comb. They were all hoping to find some extraordinary evidence!

Ella arrived home as the sun was just beginning to peek its head over the horizon. She was so tired, but energized at the same time, she just knew it had been a successful venture. She crawled into bed, falling into a deep sleep. She awoke later that afternoon and as she brewed a strong pot of coffee she stood under the stream of the shower allowing the warm water to envelop her and soothe the ache and chill that seemed to reach down to her bones, a cold she just couldn’t seem to shake.

She returned to work the following week and finally received the call she had been waiting on from the paranormal team she worked with. They found some pretty compelling evidence and were very excited to share all they found with her. Ella met with them the next afternoon and was overwhelmed with what they found, she couldn’t wrap her mind around all that was going on around them, not having heard most of it during the investigation. The team members gave her copies of all the data, which Ella would put up on the paper’s website for those who dared to listen.

Now that she had everything she needed, Ella began feverishly writing the story that was turning out to be all she hoped it would.

“Mr. Thompson, here it is, the BEST Halloween Haunting Story ever to be published in The Daily Temple,” Ella chided as she plopped the finished copy of her story onto his desk.

With a sigh, he glanced up at her with a bewildered look, “I’ll be the judge of that, Ms. Case. Now go home and get some rest, you look as if you need it.”

“Um, thanks?”

“Now don’t be a girl and get all sensitive and take it the wrong way. It’s just that you’ve been looking a little pale and drawn lately and I know how much you’ve put into this, though I can’t seem to understand why.”

For whatever reason, his last statement infuriated her. Yes, she put a lot of time and effort into this, but it was no different than any other story assigned to her. She didn’t half-ass any other assignment, why would she start now?

Spinning on her heels, and taking her boss completely off guard, she laid into him, “Well, maybe if everyone else around here put in the same kind of effort we’d have a much better paper!” She could not believe what she’d just done. Ella was usually mild mannered, never wanting to rock the proverbial boat, what was going on with her, she felt as if something was taking over, something she didn’t have any control over.

“Ms. Case I suggest you leave this office immediately and go home for an extended vacation! This is not a request, it’s an order!”

She ran out, not looking back, not wanting to see the disappointment on his face. She wondered if he would even run the story after the way she had behaved. Ella arrived home and threw her belongings on the ground, not caring about the mess it made, just wanting, no craving rest. She looked in the mirror and saw for the first time just how sick and tired she appeared and made an appointment for the following day to see the local physician. Over the past week Ella had barely been able to sleep, haunted by dreams which were beginning to feel more like memories than the nightmares they were. As badly as she wanted to sleep, she feared it at the same time.

The next morning she went to the doctor and was told just what she thought she would hear, “what you have dear is the common cold, all you need is rest and to let it run it’s course.” Feeling even more defeated Ella returned home where she stayed for the next two weeks, seeing no one, speaking to no one, living in what was becoming a daily hell. Nightmares becoming ever increasingly more vivid and horrible, being so cold no amount of clothing or blankets could warm her, and her appetite seemed to disappear more and more every day. She had to get some help, Ella felt as if her very self was being taken over by something, or was it someone? But who could help her, who would help her? She’d pushed everyone away, except for one person, Mrs. Cox. For reasons she couldn’t explain she was more and more compelled to reach out to her every day. Maybe it was because of her kind nature, or because she’d always to have some interest in her life, but it felt like so much more than that. Something far deeper than she could even begin to grasp. Ella grabbed her phone and dialed the number for the library, she had to see her, now.

“Temple Library, this is Mrs. Cox, how may I help you?” It was a greeting Ella had heard countless times, but today it almost brought her to tears, “Hello, hello? Is anyone there?”

Ella gathered herself, “Yes, Mrs. Cox, it’s Ella, could you come over? I-“…

Before she could finish her thought the sweet librarian interrupted her, “I’ll be right there.”

Her heart raced, Mrs. Cox just couldn’t believe what she’d heard over the phone. This had to be some horrible prank, or maybe it was the horrible memories Ella’s story and conjured up, the years of grief over losing her only child taking it’s toll. As she turned into Ella’s driveway she took in a deep, slow breath and made her way towards her door.

The door opened. Mrs. Cox let out a shriek. Standing before her was not the young, vibrant reporter she had come to love, but her dear deceased daughter Sara Rue Cox.

“Hi Mom.”

***

Kayanne Smith lives in Gainesville and works at The Coffee Shop, one of the few remaining drug store lunch counters, minus the soda fountain. When she isn’t working she enjoys reading, listening to music, traveling (which she wishes she could do more of), going to the theater and concerts, spending time with friends and family, and coming up with new creations in the kitchen. Kayanne has always enjoyed writing (admittedly it has been awhile), and is very excited to be included among so many talented writers!!

The Watcher

467774_254898404652876_1106802007_oThis is not your typical, ordinary ghost story. This is the story of a ghost who wanted to be a real little boy. The ghost’s name was Dustin, and he was a very unhappy little ghost because he wanted to be a real live, normal little boy — to be able to play ball with his friends, and to go to school. He wanted to ride the bus, and have sleepovers, and tell secrets with his friends.

Dustin did have a life at some point, but if you ever asked him, he wouldn’t be able to tell you much about it. See, he didn’t have many friends. He kept to himself. He was too afraid to put himself out there, risking his heart. He always wanted what others had, but was never really happy. Being a ghost, Dustin now longed for a chance to change things. He wished he could be who he should have been, and stand out instead of always trying to find purpose in someone else’s life or dream.

Dustin hid in the shadows and corners. He followed people and watched them as they lived out their lives. “I wish I had friends like that,” he would say to himself. He watched boys playing ball together, and how they would choose their teams. Sometimes, Dustin would float onto the field with the boys as they played and he would pretend to play with them — pretend they were his friends. “I’ve got it!” he would yell as he dashed to catch a pop fly, almost forgetting he wasn’t really a part of the game. It felt good for a little while, but then the game would end, and everyone would go home, then the little ghost Dustin was all alone.

At night, he’d watch through windows while kids had dinner with their families. He listened as bedtime stories were told, and wish it were him getting tucked into bed. “Ugh! I wish my life could have been different,” he would say with a sigh.

Each day, Dustin would travel to different places just watching and listening to the children. He visited the school, and pretended he too was part of the class. Sometimes he would spend the whole day there, among all the other kids. Learning, going to art and science, and recess. He pretended what it would be like if he were there too. At lunch he would sit and listen to the kids laugh, and talk and act like they were his buddies. He would even tell jokes and stories, although no one ever laughed at his jokes or heard his stories. After all, he was still a ghost.

On the weekends, Dustin would visit the lake, or following around the boys as they played, went fishing, had sleepovers, and played pine cone wars in each other’s yards. He loved being a part of this group, laughing at them, playing along beside them. He got so wrapped up in following them and pretending to be in their world, that he often forgot that he wasn’t one of them.

One day Dustin saw a little boy sitting by himself on the porch of an old country store. He looked sad, and Dustin wondered what might be wrong. He stopped to check him out. Dustin watched as the little boy sat on a bench and cried. A few moments passed and an angry man left the store holding a paper bag with the shape of a bottle inside. The man jerked up the boy by his collar and yelled at him. “Get your butt up from there boy! You stupid child!”  He shoved the boy and smacked the back of the head before they started to walk away.

Dustin didn’t like the way the man treated the little boy, who looked so scared. He followed them as they walked away. As they arrived at their house, Dustin saw the man drag the boy inside, yelling at him. The man ordered the boy to do many chores, and the boy did them. If things were not done properly, or something was out of place, the boy got yelled at more. “You can’t do anything right, you good for nothing piece of dirt! I don’t know why I put up with you!”  Dustin didn’t like the way this made him feel, so he left. But the boy was the only thing he could think about all night.

The next morning, Dustin returned to the house to see the boy, who was walking all alone to school. The boy seemed to stay back from the other kids. He sat in the back of the class, didn’t try very hard on his school work, and never played with anyone at recess. He just sat around watching others, always to shy or scared to get involved or make friends. Dustin followed him home after school, and watched as the boy tried to stay out of the man’s way. The boy would just sit in the corner in his room, and daydream until he fell asleep. Dustin wished he could help him.

Dustin decided that he wanted to do whatever it took to appear to this little boy, even if it meant for only a moment, or that he would never be able to watch the other kids ever again.

So that night when he went home he approached the “Elders”.

The Elders were the older ghosts, who looked after the younger ones — telling them what was and wasn’t allowed in the “ghost” world. Dustin had never approached them before because even in his ghost life he’d been too busy following happy, living children he wanted to be like instead of meeting anyone like him.

There were six elders. They varied from different times and places on earth. There was Mort, Stephen, Yar Yang, Clara, and Ruth. Dustin visited them and told them his story – pleading with them to allow him to break the rules to appear to this boy. “Please!” he begged. “I need to speak to him. I need to tell him that life is better than what he thinks it is. You see, I lived that life. I was made fun of, beat up, and pushed around. I was the outsider. I felt alone and no one liked me.  I can’t let this happen to him!” At first they were hesitant but they continued to listen to Dustin’s story and felt sorry for him as they felt Dustin’s pain through the story of this boy. They could feel the physical pain Dustin felt, and the empathy he now felt for this young child.

“We will allow it,” Ruth said, “but… you will never be able to watch anyone, or hear anyone, or follow anyone from the living world again. You will be nothing but a ghost of space, like the wind in an empty room.”

Dustin didn’t care and he agreed. If it meant he could help this boy, he wanted to do it.

Later that night, while the man slept and the boy cried in his room, Dustin appeared to the boy. He told him about his own life and struggles. How he was picked on, and pushed aside. How he needed to tell someone about his dad so he could find some peace, and learn to try and to grow. He told him no matter how hard life seemed to be that it was still worth living and making the most of it. That there were people out there that would touch the boy’s life. He told the boy, “Don’t give up.” The boy listened to Dustin, and they talked for a long time. The boy began to cry, but he thanked Dustin for visiting him, for he now saw hope.

Suddenly, a gust of wind came out of nowhere. Dustin and the boy were confused. “What is that?” the boy asked, puzzled. The boy’s bed started to shake, pictures fell off the walls. The boy was very scared. “What is going to happen to me?” he cried.

Dustin assured him everything was fine. “It is my elders. They are here for me not you. Do not worry.”

Another figure appeared in the corner of the room. The boy tried to focus on it, but no matter how hard he tried, it seemed to just be a blur of white. Then they heard a voice. “Dustin,” the voice called.

“Yes Ruth,” Dustin replied. “I know what must happen now,” Dustin told her.

Ruth spoke very strong, yet quiet to Dustin. “Because you have put another beings’ interest above your own and shown that you would sacrifice yourself for the well being of another, we have decided that we will give you another chance.”

“What?” Dustin questioned. “You mean I will still be able to watch all of the people? I won’t have to go into the nowhere place?”

Ruth looked at Dustin and smiled. “No, honey, another chance at life.” And before anyone could say anything else a tornado of wind circled the room… and with a loud clap of thunder and a flash of light — Ruth was gone.

Dustin sat, confused for a moment. Then he looked at the boy, who was sitting with his mouth wide open in awe. “It is ok,” Dustin told him. “They are gone. You do not have to be afraid.”

“I’m not afraid,” the boy replied. Then he pointed at Dustin. “You’re different. I can’t see through you anymore,” he told Dustin. “It’s like, like… You’re real!” The boy reached his hand out and touched Dustin. “I can touch you, you are real!” the boy yelled.

Dustin jumped up and looked into the mirror. He saw himself, and he was a real boy! He cried with happiness. Then he sat down, reached out his hand and said, “Hi, I am Dustin, It’s nice to meet you.”

The boy smiled. “Hi Dustin, I’m Sean, Nice to meet you too!”

New found friends, the boys talked until they fell asleep.

Over the next few days, Sean told the police about his father, and his father was arrested. The cops found and reunited his mother and Sean. He told his mother what Dustin had done for him. She was so pleased and grateful; she adopted the boy as her own son. The boys grew up, happy healthy and had a bond that no one could explain.

***

Dylan Lee is a thriving 6 year old boy with a great imagination. He loves reading, riding his bike and playing with his friends. He likes to draw and come up with stories all his own. He enjoyed helping his mom with this short story

Deborah Lee is a wife and mother of two.She writes music and poetry, and decided to attempt a short story with her son. She hopes to one day write a stories based on a troubled past.