Authors: Scott Wieczorek
Copyright © 2016 Scott Wieczorek
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, places, events, and objects mentioned in this work are either a product of the author's imagination, or have been used in a fictitious manner. No part of this work may be reproduced, copied, printed, or distributed without the author's permission.
I would like to give a big thank you to all the people who have been fans of Byron. His is an interesting character and one I love to write about. After all, it’s not every day that the zombie is actually the hero of the story. More specifically, I would like to thank SA Hunt—one of the most phenomenal writers and cover artists I have ever know, my wife Catherine—who wanted to know what happened to Byron next, my daughter—who helped me develop the characters of Sammy and Dove, and Ishabelle Torry who served as my beta-reader. I would also like to thank Summer Ross for proofing this work before its release.
My footstep sounded
like an angry child stomping on bubble wrap, exploding through the stillness of the early morning. Wings battered the air with fury as a pair of pigeons leaped into the sky from their perch above.
Sorry! My bad! Didn’t mean to wake you.
Dew glistened on mahogany pews, casting diamonds of light against the water-stained walls. The orange early morning rays of sun peeked through the not-so-ancient rose window sitting high on the far wall. Fragments of plaster, broken timber, concrete, and rebar littered the ground, tumbled down from the crumbling vaulted ceiling high above. Nails stuck up at odd angles, threatening to pierce my foot. I gave thanks that my steampunk boots had steel shanks. Most of the girls I’d known back in school would have run screaming from this place long before now. Not me. I’m not that kind of girl.
Thunder rumbled in the distance and a smoky black cloud drifted across the sun.
“The rain is coming,” I said to the camera mounted on my headband. “Can it wash away the destruction, the demolition, the decay? Or will this scene of weathered disgrace haunt the local community for years to come? What was once a regal homage to the Almighty has fallen into ruin, neglected by the very church who commissioned its construction. In its heyday, Saint Bonaventure Church of North Philadelphia used to provide a place of worship and reflection for generations of Catholics. Designed by noted church architect Edward Forrest Dura—Durni...”
Dammit! Edwin Forrest Durang.
“Designed by noted church architect Edwin Forrest Durang, Saint Bonaventure opened for its parishioners in 1906, serving as the focal point for a small enclave of ecclesiastical life. Its convent and rectory housed the clergy and a local sisterhood who sought to bring good works. Its attached parochial school educated those of the local community who could afford to send their children.”
Another pigeon leaped for higher ground, a coo rumbling through its throat as it flew away. I whipped my head and caught the bird’s tail end on film as it landed on a marble acanthus-leaf high above. My heart pounded and sweat slicked my palms.
“Dammit!” My eyes flashed wide. “Edit that last part. Place gives me the creeps without having to deal with all the flying rats.”
I turned as a chill breeze blew through the crumbled chancel, howling like a Dickensian ghost. None of the ceremonial accoutrements remained there, or in either transept. But a small chuckle rose in my throat as I saw that in place of the traditional
, or throne, some joker had placed a cheap folding chair.
“Hey! What you doin’ here?” A gravelly voice called from the south transept in a cliche Philly accent. A bear of a man poured his mass from a pile of cardboard boxes. Curly graying hair covered his grimy face and thick dreadlocks hung from his head. He pointed a massive paw at me. “You shouldn’t be in here. Ain’t safe. Could get hurt.”
“I’ll be okay,” I replied.
“No! Ain’t you read the sign? There’s sick folk in here. City condemned and quarantined this place.” His voice rose in pitch and intensity.
“I didn’t see any signs.” A lie. There had been signs posted all over. But what else could I expect? The city didn’t want people crawling around condemned properties and getting hurt.
“One of them bit Roger over there!” He pointed his paw to the north transept. In true Philly fashion, he pronounced
Rubble moved behind me and I took a few steps toward the man. Exploring America’s abandoned places often brought me close to squatters and homeless people. Most of them ignored me and went about their lives. On occasion, I spent time telling them about my work. It was rare when any would become hostile toward me. This man struck me as more curious than violent.
“What do you mean bit?”
“You speak another language or something?” He narrowed his eyes.
“People are biting each other?”
“City keeps dumpin’ them folks in here. Been doing it fer a week now. Every time they gets a flotsam that’s all snappy with his teeth, they dump him in here. Ain’t safe no more. Them snappy folks is goin’ mad. Look like lepers, they do.”
More rubble tumbled and moved behind me. A low moan drifted up toward me, turning my blood cold. My arm hairs stood on end.
“They waking up. Best get yourself out of there, before they get really moving.”
I turned around and felt my hackles rise. My heart stopped and my face flushed. An emaciated woman pulled her way toward me with one leg dragging behind her. Much too large clothing hung from her frame. Bald spots spread throughout the filthy, matted mess of hair on her head. Cloud-filled cataracts coated her eyes. Her mouth worked open and closed, black teeth showing through a hole in her left cheek.
“That’s Alice,” the bear called from behind me. “Best stay away from her, she got bit a couple nights ago. Been getting worse night by night.”
I slid my feet across the rubble, moving closer to the homeless man.
My muscles froze as the woman loosed a wail that caused all the nearby birds to take flight. The shrill sound reminded me of the death-shriek of a tortured animal in the wild. Something wild in the sound made my legs buckle and I fell forward, debris hurting my knees and hands.
“Best get yourself up, miss. I think she’s past the gone.” The man’s voice held a note of urgency. Another wail sounded from beyond the woman. “There’s more coming. We need to leave.”
I rocked myself back onto my feet, turned, and ran to the man.
“How do we get the hell out of here?”
He swept his meaty paw toward the main door. “You can either go that way.” I followed his gaze. Several more emaciated people moved out of the north transept, sweeping in the direction of the door like they had played this game of cat and mouse before. “Or you can go through the school.” He stabbed his thumb over his shoulder. “There’s only one problem.”
I raised my eyebrows. More wails filled the air.
“There’s a bunch more of them in there.”
“So you’re telling me there’s no way out.” My voice let out a squeak of trepidation.
“Nope. I’m just telling you it ain’t gonna be easy.” He reached into his cardboard enclosure and pulled out a nine-iron and a baseball bat. “Ya prefer baseball, or golf?”
~ ~ ~
Being a Boston girl and a closet Red Sox fan in Philadelphia, I shouldered the aluminum baseball bat as we slipped through a door in the south transept. Darkness filled the hallway beyond, offset by dim light trickling through the grimy classroom windows and doorless frames.
“What’s yer name?” he asked as we each took a side of the hallway, peering into rooms.
“Like the bird?”
“Yeah. Like the bird.”
“What kind of a name is that? Who names their kid after a bird?”
“It’s a nickname. What’s your name?”
“Samson. My friends call me Sammy.” He paused for a few moments, looking me over. “So what’s yer story?”
“What do you mean by that?” I couldn’t help the defensive tone in my voice.
“First off, what the hell is with your hair? Looks like you couldn’t decide whether to shave it or grow it out. Then you dyed the short stuff purple and bleached the long stuff. Ain’t never seen nobody with hair like that before.”
“It’s called punk. I grew up with a lot of skaters and go to a lot of concerts.”
“It’s weird, is all.”
“We can debate the pros and cons of our lifestyle choices when we get out of here, but until then...” I let the thought trail off. He took the hint. To be honest, I never seemed to fit in with the skater/punk crowd either and sat somewhere on the fringe of that group. I never acted my age, coming across as more of an old soul than a millennial.
After a few more minutes and empty classrooms, he couldn’t resist the urge for more conversation. “What are you doing in here anyway?”
“What kind of job’s got you climbing through ruined churches?”
“I make my living climbing through these places, and more.” I pointed to the small camera mounted to my headband. “I visit abandoned and condemned buildings and record them. Usually I give a little history of the place, of the neighborhood, and show what neglect does to an architectural gem.”
“You can make money doing that?” His voice held a note of genuine curiosity.
“I post the videos to my webpage and link them all over. I have about a hundred thousand followers. Most of my money comes from advertisers and the occasional donations from viewers.”
“Make decent money?”
“I do well enough. It helps to pay for my apartment, car, and equipment.”
“Travel a lot?”
“Around Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Delaware, for the most part. I stay pretty local. How about yourself. What’s your story?”
“I used to work in city government. Ran one of the public works facilities until a heart attack cost me my job. Put me on disability, and fell into a real bad funk. My wife left one night and took our kids with her. She never told me where she was going. The medical bills kept piling up and the bank took away my house. Real nice place in Pennsauken. Spent more nights drunk than I care to remember after that. Until they started dumping the Goners in here, that is. Police keep bringing them here instead of jail.”
“That’s what you call those people? Goners?”
“Yep. Seems like a good a name as any.”
“Fair enough.” I paused, poking my head around a doorframe. “So did you give up drinking?”
“Had to. No other way to survive. The Goners keep you on your toes. Can’t do that without a clear mind.”
“But if there are so many of them in here, why do you stay here? Why not live somewhere else?”
He stiffened. “This was my church. Married my wife here. Baptised my kids here. They went to school here. I hoped that if salvation could be found anywhere, this would be the place. Hoped that maybe God hadn’t left its halls, after all. Been hiding from these things for the last week or so. Goners get out now and then and roam about the city. The neighborhood is getting pretty bad, but they don’t seem to come out in the daytime much.”
Something moved down the hallway ahead, a shuffling, shifting sound. I raised my finger, shushing him, and tightened my grip on the bat. He nodded, flexing his elbows and wiggling the golf club.