Chapter 22: And hell followed with her
Elderton flipped on a light switch to the singular hallway in the church. Along one wall were doors to the bathrooms; the other wall had a mirror spanning the length of it. A place for the ladies of the church to stop and sprucing up before services. The mirror had been broken and shattered in many places, the floor covered with shards of glass and blood. A woman of the church was in a pool of blood and glass. The aggressors had used shards of glass to cut off pounds of flesh for their own appetites. Martha gagged and grabbed Elderton’s shoulder as she looked away. Elderton held her hand for a moment while Martha gained her composure.
“Just so you know,” Martha said, “I’m not gonna look that way from now on.”
“It’s OK,” Elderton replied.
Elderton pushed the men’s bathroom door open and looked inside. No one. They continued down the hallway, along the adjacent mirror and chaos on the floor. Elderton reached the women’s bathroom door and tried the handle. It was locked.
She knocked on the door, “Anyone in there? It’s Sheriff Elderton. I’m here to help.” There was no reply, but she heard feet shuffle inside. Sounded like more than one survivor. She hoped she was right. “You should know that I’m not infected. And that I have friends and we are all uninfected. We are making our way out of town to safety. We have weapons and ammunitions. If you want, you’re welcome to join us.”
She heard more shuffling of feet inside. There was also whispering among multiple voices. They were no doubt debating whether to trust her or just wait for help. Not sure if this was the help they had waited for already. The whispering stopped and a single pair of feet shuffled forward to the door. Elderton moved away from it and pushed Martha back with her.
The door cracked.
“Hey.” A woman’s voice spoke through it. “Come here, let me see your face.”
Elderton walked out and stood in front of the door. She could only see half of the woman’s face. She recognized her though, she was certain it was Jennifer Claiborne. A single mother.
“Hey, Jennifer, is that you?” Elderton asked.
“Shush,” Jennifer said. She was still paranoid about the situation. “Look me dead in the face. And answer me honestly. No pussyfooting around.”
“Do you believe in God?” Jennifer asked her.
Elderton raised an eyebrow. “Not sure how that’s relevant.”
Jennifer sighed in relief. “Me either.”
Jennifer opened the door and out stepped Chelsea and little Marcus. Jennifer explained the church service to Elderton and how they had come to be in the bathroom locked up for safety. Elderton then gave her the short version of the events to date. The church was not an outlier, but part of a bigger picture.
“But where is everyone?” Jennifer asked.
“Ya’ll are the first we’ve found in here,” Elderton said. “Looks like you’re alone.”
“Did you check the basement?” Chelsea said.
There was a pause.
“Shit,” Jennifer said. “Oops, sorry, ignore that Marcus.”
“I didn’t even know there was a basement,” Elderton said.
“Yeah,” Martha started, “It’s where the potlucks are held.” She pointed across the hallway to a door at the end of the mirror. “That’s it.”
Elderton stepped up to it. She gripped the handle. She looked over to Jennifer and the kids and asked them to step back. She turned to Martha and asked for a grenade from the backpack.
“What’s that for?” Martha asked after handing it to her.
“What do you think, Martha?” Elderton said.
Elderton slowly opened the door, but with no lights on she couldn’t see anything passed the first four steps. “Please tell me the light isn’t at the bottom of the stairs,” she said.
Martha pointed to a switch on the wall to her left. Elderton flipped the switch on and it lit up the entire stairs and basement. Sitting at the bottom of the stairs were a host of aggressors, former church members, who were just waiting for their next meal. The light alerted them. They looked up the stairs and growled. They jumped to their feet and were pushing and stepping over each other to get up the stairs. Elderton pulled the pin from the grenade and threw it into the lot of them on the stairs. She slammed the door shut. She looked for a lock on the handle.
“No lock,” she said. “Perfect. Everybody to the chapel.”
The last thing they heard was the screams of aggressors as the grenade went off with a bang.
A father's daughter
For Mandy, it was her father who had haunted her dreams as a child. He was an angry, abusive, and outright atrocious man. That was when he was sober. When he was drunk, he was inhuman, otherworldly. Pure evil. As he stood before her at the front of the church, he appeared not to be drunk, but there was something else beneath his demeanor. Something far more sinister. The thing that had been eating at the other townsfolk had gotten to him, but in a far more aggressive way. He was still cognitive. He knew who she was and was aware of his surroundings, but he was clearly long gone like the others. Much like his hateful tirades at a small child, she couldn’t make sense of his behavior. It was hell all over again.
Except this time, she had a gun.
He slowly moved towards her, each step methodical. He was gearing up to pounce on her. She knew the symptoms. The movements. He ran his fingers through his greasy hair, pushing it back from his face. “Darling, darling. We been out all night, looking for ya,” he said. “You’re my only girl, my little girl. I need to know you’re okay.”
“No need to worry about me,” Mandy said as she took a step back. Maggie and Selene were behind her, against the baptistry wall. “You haven’t worried about me in a long time. No need to start up again now.” She took another step back. She knew eventually she’d reach the baptistry and be out of room. The question was whether it was okay to shoot him. Was he like the others? Was he possessed with the madness? Was he just in some crazed state of drunkenness or highness she’d not seen?
He snarled, “Quit backing away from me! I’m not gonna hurt ya, darling.”
“Hurting people is all you know, dad.” She couldn’t believe she’d found the words. After all these years. She was finally ready to tell him what she thought. “You hurt mom, you hurt me. You hurt anyone you supposedly loved. I don’t know if you’ve ever known a moment’s peace in your entire life. But I’m done worrying about that. I’m done worrying about what you think of me or whether you’ll attack me in my sleep and drag me out of bed, like you used to when you were drunk. So, you can just turn around and walk back out the door you came in. And take your friends with you.” She didn’t budge.
He took another step forward. “I’m your damn father, darling. I can’t abandon you now, not like this. Not in your time of need.”
“HEATHENS!” Elron yelled from across the chapel. “Can’t you smell their sins? God’s judgment will be recognized this night. Our hands are the tools of God’s judgment and compassion. Tonight—”
“Elron,” Richard turned his head slightly, “You stay out of this. This is my affair.”
“What God binds, let no man tear apart!” Elron shouted back at him. His congregants moaned in pleasure behind him.
“That’s marriage, Elron!” Jennifer yelled at him.
“Tonight is God’s night,” Elron rambled on. “My lips are his word, my hands his tools.” His congregants moaned louder. They were getting impatient. They were hungry.
Mandy could see her father was noticeably irritated at Elron’s presence. He started to foam at the corners of his mouth. The aggressors that had come in with him were growling, eyeballing Elron and his congregants. But they stayed put. Richard wiped sweat away from his brow. “So be it. But this one is mine,” he said to absolutely no one. He turned to his aggressors and simply made a motion with the jerk of his head, and that was enough. They knew. The aggressors tore off in a frenzy across the pews and aisles.
“For Jesus!” Elron yelled.
His congregants screamed and splintered. A small group ran to Martha, Jennifer, Marcus and Chelsea. Elron and a few ran to Elderton, they picked her up and threw her across a pew. They pursued. Another group ran straight up the center aisle towards the aggressors from Richard. Selene leapt into action as well, scurrying across pews towards Martha, Jennifer, Marcus, and Chelsea. It was chaos.
Mandy and Maggie were left alone with Richard.
He smiled at Mandy and took a step forward, and then another. He stepped up onto the podium where they were. “No need to be afraid of your old man, darling,” he said with a grin. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m going to eat you. Every. Last. Bite. Every last drop of blood.”
Mandy raised her pistol and took aim with both hands. “Stop moving or I’ll shoot you, dammit.”
There was so much yelling, screaming, growling, and moaning that she couldn’t hear herself think. She was ready to put a bullet in a leg, if he moved at her again. That was what she thought.
He pushed the pulpit over and off the podium. It landed with a crash, the wood broke in places. Elron’s Bible went sliding up the aisle, notes from his sermon flew through the air.
She fired the first shot. It struck him in the left shoulder. It went in one side and out the other. He was bleeding bad, but he didn’t seem to register pain. He looked at it and started to laugh. He looked back to her. “You can’t stop me. You never could. You never will.”
Fuck this, Mandy thought to herself. He started to run at her, but she took two shots. One grazed his neck and the other ripped up his left collarbone. That knocked him back, though he was still feeling none of the pain. He laughed harder as he regained his balance and started to run at her again.
She was done giving him chances. She was done debating the ethics of what she was doing. She aimed for his angry, sweaty, foaming-at-the-mouth face. The bullet struck him in the left eyebrow. She couldn’t see it, but the bullet went through his brain and got caught in the back of the skull. It spun around his brain matter, scratching his skull and tearing up his brains, until it finally nested.
Mandy stepped forward and looked down at her father. She wasn’t sure if he was dead for good, or if he would be jumping back up. But upon examination, she determined he was deader than a doornail. She suddenly felt as if a huge burden on her shoulders had been completely lifted. He was gone. Forever.
A father's love
“For Jesus!” Elron yelled.
The congregants ran to Jennifer and the others in sections, a group came at her. She saw Elderton get swallowed up by a group of folks she used to call brothers and sisters. She grabbed ahold of both Marcus and Chelsea, and then she braced for impact. Martha was next to her and raised a rifle. She began picking them off, but they were on top of them and there were too many. Out of nowhere Kinsey grabbed Chelsea and pulled her from Jennifer’s arm. Jennifer wrapped both arms around Marcus and kicked at Kinsey who tried to pull Chelsea away from her.
Jennifer felt hands grab her blouse. Marcus screamed.
She turned and it was Frank. The last time they had been this close to one another they were making love and creating little Marcus. He headbutted her and her nose broke, blood poured out of it. She nearly fell over backwards, but she had to keep Marcus. She couldn’t let her little man go. She kneed Frank between the legs, but it didn’t seem to phase him. He just growled, bit her neck, and then tackled her to the ground. He was atop both her and Marcus. She tried to wiggle out with Marcus, but they were trapped. He kept biting at her neck, the pain was unbearable. She wiggled one arm from Marcus and planted it between her and Frank’s neck. She pushed up and she could see a bit of her own flesh caught between his teeth, he chewed on it. It hung dangling between them.
“Martha!” She screamed. But Martha had been overtaken and was wrestling with three or four others. They were maybe ten feet away from her, but it was more like a football field away. She looked behind her and saw Kinsey and a few others had made quick work of Chelsea.
Kinsey’s head jerked up and she made eye contact with Jennifer. “Filth,” she said, “So much filth on you.” Kinsey crawled over to her and licked some blood off Frank’s chin. “Filthy, filthy.”
Jennifer felt she only had one hand left to play, one more chance to turn the tables. She looked Frank in the eyes, and with tears filling her own, she spoke the words she swore she’d never say, “He’s your son.”
Frank’s eyes looked down at Marcus, who was crying uncontrollably. She thought for a moment she had broken through to him. The love of a father would surely prevail over whatever this mad disease was that had overtaken him. If there was anything of Frank left deep inside, the young man she once loved, it would show itself at this thought. He was the father of Marcus, this little boy she’d been raising was theirs. Marcus even had his eyes; surely, he’d noticed that at some point. Maybe he’d already known. Maybe he just needed to be reminded.
Frank looked back at her and pushed hard against her arm until his face was brushing up against hers. He spit all over her as he said one word, “Filth.”
Betas and heartbreaks
“For Jesus!” Elron yelled.
Selene watched as the betas and alphas that had followed Richard went running up the aisle towards Elderton and the others. She leapt from the podium. She landed on the man at the back, and reached around with her tail and snatched the leg of another who was ahead. The beta fell flat on his face. She stuck the beta beneath her with the claw of her finger; it went straight through the skull and pierced the brain. The body flopped, twitched, and then died. The beta she had tripped up got up and tried to run at her, but she still had him wrapped up. She lifted him up by his leg, upside down. He punched her and her head barely moved. But now she was angry. She was going to use her claw, but that was too kind. She slung him up with her tail, and then back down headfirst. His head shattered the tile floor, his brains spewed across them. She let go of his leg and took two leaps forward on all fours; she grabbed one beta by the head, squeezed hard, crushed his skull in, dropped him. Another she plucked with a claw through the eye.
An alpha saw her and charged. He dove at her like a linebacker, but instead of tackling her to the ground, he simply crashed into her with his arms around her waist. She grabbed his hand firmly between both hands and crushed until his arms went limp. She tossed him into a pew.
She heard Jennifer yell for Martha. She looked around and spotted her underneath Frank, Kinsey beside. She started to run to them, but just then an alpha and several betas tackled her at the same time.
She slid backwards across the tile until she caught her footing. The alpha was hanging off her arm, chewing on it. But her skin was too hardened for his teeth, he couldn’t penetrate. She took one of the betas who was punching her repeatedly in her abs and simply tossed him across the room. He hit a light and came down with it. The other beta she plucked in the head with her claw, she wiped him off on her leg. She pried the alpha from her arm. She threw him down on the tiles, which shattered. He was on his back and laughing as he looked up at her.
“You can’t defeat us,” he said. “We are too strong.”
She crushed his head beneath her foot.
He no longer laughed.
She dove across several pews, landed on one and knocked it over. She reached over the pew she’d just taken flight over. She grabbed Frank with her tail, it wrapped around his stomach. She yanked him off Jennifer and Marcus. She threw him out of the window at the back of the church.
She was too late. They were gone. She looked over into the next pew and Chelsea was done for as well.
“You must be one of Satan’s demons,” Kinsey said to her. Selene turned and looked down at Kinsey who was on all fours above Jennifer. Selene didn’t know what Kinsey was yelling at her, but she could see she had blood dripping from her mouth. That her eyes were glazed over with hatred and that her belly was filled with the blood of the innocent. “Get thee hence, Satan!” Kinsey screamed at her. “Get thee hence!”
Selene looked over to Martha. They made eye contact for a moment, and then Martha simply nodded. Now Selene knew that a nod of the head was a sign of agreement between humans. She also suspected Martha and she were both of the same judgment. She nodded gently in response.
Selene looked back down at Kinsey who was continuing to spew words at her, but she quit listening when she heard that word Jesus again. She palmed her head in one hand, placed another on her shoulder. She pushed down on the shoulder as she turned the head all the way around on its spine. The last thing she did was pull it all straight out. She stood there with the two parts of the whole for a moment.
Selene knew what she had to do.
“For Jesus!” Elron yelled.
Martha watched as the congregants tore into a sprint at them, following Elron’s command. She raised her rifle and started picking off as many as she could before they were too close.
Leland Brown. Down.
Nicholas Winston. Down.
Jessica Neesan. Down.
Robert Bedford. Wounded.
Elijah Wickfield. Wounded.
Weston Turley was the first to reach her. He grabbed her rifle and pushed it against her. He yanked, tugged, pushed, and maneuvered her all over the pews. She wouldn’t let go. Finally, she got enough of it away to hit him in the face with the butt of it. He fell back, but others dove on top of her until she collapsed under the weight. The rifle was gone, and she saw it slide away from her on the tile floor. Someone had taken it.
They were clawing and groping at her body. Biting and scratching at her skin. She tried to move, but someone laid across her legs and weighted them down. Another pulled her pant legs up and started nibbling at her skin. One took her right arm and held it out from her, rolled the sleeve up and started biting at it. Another took the left arm and followed suit.
“Back! BACK!” Elron’s voice shouted. Someone on top of her moved, so she could see him. Elron moved around the nibbling ankle biters. He stepped over her and looked down at her, spread-eagle and helpless. “Behold, the Prodigal Son has returned. You abandoned the godly duties of a wife. You abandoned the counsel of the church, the community of the church. The fellowship of the church. You abandoned it all. Your husband came to me, concerned about your backsliding—”
“My husband is a murderer!” Martha yelled at him. “As are you, you hypocritical nut-sack.”
Elron fell to his knees over her. He leaned close to her face; he was sweating, his face covered in dried blood. “The Lord will have His way.”
“Not tonight,” Martha said. “Tonight I’m kicking your ass.”
Martha yanked her right hand free. She punched Elron across the face, and then found the pistol she’d kept on her right thigh. She shoved it against his head and pulled the trigger. He fell dead on her and his blood poured out on her. She tried to lift him off, but with only the one arm free it was difficult. The other congregants hesitated for a moment, with their master now dead, but then screeched in anger and jumped at her.
One got picked off. A bullet to the head. Another got picked off, a bullet to the neck. Another and another still.
Martha’s left arm came free. She pushed Elron off of her and shot the two holding her feet. She kicked and pushed, and rose to her feet. Shooting any that got in her way. She turned and took aim as Weston charged her, but he was picked off by someone else. She turned and looked where it came from.
Maggie had been shooting aggressors from the communion table. Maggie saluted her, and then turned elsewhere.
Martha turned around and loaded her gun. She looked up and saw Selene towering over the remains of Jennifer and her son. Kinsey was yelling a bunch of religious mumbo-jumbo at Selene. She called her a demon. But Kinsey was covered in the blood of her victims. The blood of innocence. Which wasn’t far from reality, as Kinsey was notorious for ruining peoples’ lives through gossip and rumors. So in life, as in death, she figured.
Martha made eye contact with Selene. Her body language seemed to convey what she was feeling inside as well. That of torment, despair. Such loss. Such violence. But still…
Fuck that bitch.
She nodded to Selene.
Back against the floor
“For Jesus!” Elron yelled.
Elderton pumped her shotgun and shot into a group of congregants that came right at her. Several hit the floor. She pumped again and took her second shot directly into the face of Nina Douglas. Nina’s head exploded before her eyes. Elderton felt sick to her stomach but didn’t have time to think about it as the congregants kept coming. She tossed her shotgun down the pew, pulled out her pistol and took aim with two hands. She began picking off as many as she could, but they were on top of her before she knew it.
Two wrapped their arms around her torso. She lifted her arms above their bodies and began raining down blows on their heads with her elbows as she went reeling in circles from their momentum. She felt a sharp pain in her back when she crashed against a pew. It tipped over with a crash. The three of them slid down to the floor, her back scraping across bibles and hymnals. One of the congregants tore her shirt open, the buttons spewed across the church. He pounded his head into her chest and took a bite right above the line of her tank top.
The pain infuriated her, and she got a surge of adrenaline. She stood up and shoved the two congregants off of her onto the pew behind them. The reprieve didn’t last long as a third congregant tackled her to the ground. The back of her head hit the tile and she gritted her teeth in pain. But still feeling the adrenaline, she wrapped her arm around the congregant and successfully put him in a chokehold. She didn’t know if it was effective at all. But as he began to choke for air, she could tell it was working. She didn’t get to finish though, because the first two congregants recovered and pounced on top of him. The weight of the three men started to bear down on her. But she wasn’t about to give in. She wasn’t going out as part of a buffet. Her adrenaline started to kick into overdrive. She used her back and feet to lift her knees and hips off the tile, the three congregants raised with them. In quick motion she twisted to her right, dumping the congregants off of her, and then she rolled to her left underneath the pew. She came to a finish on her back and jumped up to her feet. She saw Martha in a world of trouble underneath a pile of congregants and Elron looking down at her. She started to run to Martha, but a congregant grabbed her by the backpack of ammunitions she’d been carrying since leaving the high school. He yanked her so hard her feet went out from underneath her. She crashed to the ground, but the backpack came off. She looked up just in time to see the backpack come crashing into her face.
The congregant raised the heavy backpack again and slung it over his head, prepared to beat her to death with it. But before he could swing it down on her a bullet went straight through his head. In one temple and out the other. It was a quick and violent affair and the backpack slung out of his hands over the pew, out of sight.
Elderton sat up on the pew, shaken from the heavy blow to the face. She sat down as one of the first congregants jumped the pew, but got shot twice as he did so. He landed on top of her and the two of them rode the pew to the ground. She wrestled free and saw he had taken a bullet to the head. He was dead. She looked up to see who was helping her and saw Mandy standing atop the pulpit with her pistol in hand. She was reloading.
Elderton realized she had no idea where her shotgun or pistol had gone in the mix of things. She looked around where she thought the backpack had landed, but didn’t see it as it was buried by the pew they’d knocked over. She looked about and saw that what aggressors were left were fighting amongst themselves. The ones led by Elron and Richard were fighting against each other, and without their leaders to tell them to redirect their focus, they were free to escape.
“Martha!” Elderton called out to her. Somehow Martha had survived her attack. “Get to Mandy and Maggie!” she shouted to Martha.
Elderton looked around one more time as she ran to the walls, exiting the pews she had so thoroughly crashed. She just couldn’t locate her weapons and ammunitions. It was going to be a major setback for them. She ran along the wall and looked back every few steps to assure she wasn’t followed. She saw Martha had taken a similar route along the wall on the other side of the room. She looked ahead and saw that Maggie and Mandy were still shooting into the crowd of aggressors. Maggie tossed an empty clip over her shoulder and into the baptistry.
“Stop!” Elderton yelled at them. “Save your bullets!”
The two girls stopped shooting, but Elderton wasn’t sure if it was too late or not. She ran around the front pew and up to Martha, who was missing her rifle. She still had her pistol, though; that was a plus.
“Alright everyone,” Elderton said. Mandy and Maggie jumped down from the podium and joined them. “We head to the gas station, got it?” Selene walked up behind Martha. “Mandy, can you tell her to follow us?”
Mandy signed the message to Selene.
Everyone headed out the side door Richard had come through with his aggressors. Elderton took one moment to look back and make sure they were still unnoticed. The aggressors were biting, scratching, growling, moaning, screeching, and just generally causing chaos. Even though they were of the same ilk, they were devouring themselves.
She closed the door to the church behind them as they left.
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