As part of a group effort for Halloween, myself and several other authors who are represented by Juliet Mushens, decided to post some short flash fiction horror or spooky stories to tie in with the forthcoming World Fantasy Convention and Halloween. More info over at Andrew Reid’s blog here.
In the meantime, below is my short story.
The Burden of Sin
“I want to thank you for letting me share your shelter. It was kind of you. It’s hard to know who to trust, especially these days. My name’s Mike, by the way.”
The family said nothing, just stared at him, and Mike held up both hands to show they were empty. They continued to say nothing, which he took as a good sign. Mike closed his eyes and listened.
Silence. Endless silence in all directions. So much it made his ears ring and his head echo like a cathedral bell. The lack of sound filled him to bursting.
Would you folks like to hear my story?” he asked, and the wife’s right hand fluttered. He took it as a yes. “I’m nearly forty. Practically ancient, right?” he laughed and ran a hand across the grey bristles on his face. Shaving wasn’t important these days. He desperately needed a shower though. They all stank.
“You folks don’t look twenty five. Course I’m old enough to remember what life was like before. I wasn’t much older than you are now when it happened.”
Mike cleared his throat and took a sip of water from his canteen. His audience waited.
“My story really starts when I was a teenager. Me and Mary, we met in high school, when she was just seventeen. We were inseparable. I’d borrow my dad’s car and we’d drive out to this little lake and…” Mike trailed off. The parents looked uncomfortable and he guessed the children were already bored.
“We’d do what young folks do. But after, we’d talk. We’d talk for hours, sometimes until the sun came up. Back then it was still quiet. This was long before the Internet and mobile phones.
“Years passed and me and Mary got married, got jobs and everything around us started to change. Life was noisy and people were always busy, rushing here and there, constantly talking and texting. There was an endless stream of words and information, all day and night. It’s a shame so much of it meant so little.” Mike laughed and shook his head.
“I know how that must sound, given what we’ve all lost, but it’s the cold hard truth. And these days that’s what people value most of all. Of course me and Mary weren’t immune. Somewhere down the line we stopped talking to one another about what was important. We always had one eye somewhere else.”
“Then it happened. The world stopped, the dead rose and suddenly there were so many, what do you call them? I’ve heard many names. Walkers, slugs, zombies. What a silly word. Like something from TV. But it was real. People died and then they came back and life was harder than ever before. But Mary and me, we found each other again. For the first time in years, it was quiet and oh so still. There were no distractions from the truth, and amidst the blood and the chaos, we both fell in love again.”
Mike paused and wiped a stray tear from his right eye.
“For years we moved from place to place. Sometimes we met good folks and stayed with them, sometimes it was just the two of us. The seasons turned and still the slugs seemed to be endless in number. But it was all right, we had each other. At night we’d sit out like we used to, just us and the sky and the stars, and we’d listen to the world. We’d talk for hours about what mattered, about what was in our hearts. I won’t say that life was perfect, but we had it good.”
One of the children, the little boy, slid sideways in his chair and closed his eyes.
“I wish I could say that was all of my story. That it had a happy ending, but five years ago I lost my Mary. Something went wrong that shouldn’t, a door was left unlocked, and she got bit. I knew there was no medicine, no cure to stop what was coming, but it didn’t stop me from trying. But like sand falling through the hourglass, it was inevitable and then it happened. She closed her eyes one final time and then she was gone. What came back wasn’t her. Not really. After that I was alone.”
No matter how many times he told it, this part always made him cry. Mike wiped at his wet cheeks until he felt he could go on.
“After, I wandered for days, wrapped up in my loneliness, shrouded in my grief. Somehow I found myself in a church. It wasn’t fancy, just a run down old thing. I’d never been a religious man. Far from it, in fact. God was for other people. They were all crazy, or fools not strong enough to get by without a crutch. I fell down on the ground in the church and wept. I cursed and cried until I was wrung out and my throat was hoarse. But then something happened. I felt His presence. He spoke to me for the first time in my life. Me, of all people! I asked him ‘Why now?’, and he said because I was a man of sorrow and because the time was right. He chose me and gave me a purpose.”
The children didn’t seem impressed. The parents’ mouths gaped and their whole bodies trembled.
“That was how I felt for the first week. But I had been given a mission and I could not refuse. Some folk think these are the End of Days, or it was science that made the dead rise, but they’re wrong. He sent the plague to cleanse the Earth, to create a new paradise. Ever since Eden we’ve all been born with sinful hearts. We used to pray, and ask for forgiveness, but then life became so busy. We became wrapped up in ourselves, and like sheep we were all led astray. But now the Lord has chosen me to be his righteous hand, to send souls of the living to him for judgement.”
The husband started to shake and Mike held up his hands. “Calm down now. It’s already done. I put something in the food an hour ago. I’ve already freed your souls. All that’s left behind is the sins you committed in life, chained to dead flesh.”
The final stages of the change began to take hold. The husband’s eyes turned milky white, his mouth gaped and his hands stretched out towards Mike in a mockery of life. With one smooth motion Mike pulled the long knife from his jacket and plunged it between the man’s eyes. He yanked it free and a stream of blood followed. Next came the wife, struggling to her feet. Mike put her down as well, driving the blade through one eye, twisting it left and right, scrambling her brain.
The little boy hadn’t moved at all, but Mike put a foot of metal into the back of his skull. The little girl snarled and gnashed her teeth, but he kept her at arms length with a hand on top of her head, like a playground bully. She tried to reach up for him but her arms were too short. Pressing the blade to the crown of her head he stabbed downwards into her brain.
Silence returned. Stretching out in every direction to the horizon. But Mike knew it was only an illusion. Somewhere, out there, were other souls waiting for their final judgement and a plague of sin that needed to be destroyed.