The Lingering Outbreak At Hope Cove (9 page)

BOOK: The Lingering Outbreak At Hope Cove
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Chapter 17

Callum and the doctor pulled into town just before dusk. The boy grabbed the doctor’s arm and pointed silently towards a figure shambling up the center of the street.

“These things are like rats,” Callum whispered as he reached for his musket. “Where you see one, there’s always another hundred hiding.”

The boy raised the gun and targeted the creature, but the doctor placed a hand on the weapon, and forced him to lower it.

“Look at it,” Channing whispered, “It’s seen us, but it doesn’t seem interested.”

Callum realized the doctor was right. Normally, the things attacked on sight.

“Wait,” Channing said as he shielded his eyes against the lowering sun. “That’s Mrs. Hopkins. She was one of my patients in the saloon.”

The doctor jumped from the cart and ran towards his makeshift hospital; Callum followed. Channing burst through the door, and instantly noticed that five previously occupied cots were now empty. He looked back out into the street. Mrs. Hopkins was now only twenty or so yards from them, yet still she seemed completely uninterested in their presence.

Channing swallowed hard, and then walked to meet her.
             

“What are you doing!” Callum shouted as he ran back to the cart to retrieve his gun.

“She’s not like the others. Look at her eyes.”

Callum grabbed his gun, levelled it at the old woman’s head, and began to edge closer.

Channing now stood only a foot from the woman, she in turn looked back at him with complete disinterest. The doctor gulped, and then reached out and took the old woman’s hand.

“She’s nothing like the first wave of creatures, she’s completely placid. Maybe this is a new phase in the disease’s progression. Maybe the aggression is missing from the newly infected. Look at her eyes … see how they’re yellow. The other creatures’ eyes were completely black.”

Callum kept his gun raised, but he continued to edge closer. “Doctor, I think you should be more careful.”

“Nonsense,” Channing said as he raised the woman’s eyelid and peered deep into her yellow eye.

Callum had now moved to within five feet of the woman, but he stopped when he noticed her sniffing the air.

“Doctor, move away. I think she’s caught the scent of my blood.”

Dr. Channing gasped with shock. The old woman’s eye turned black as he stared at it. Swirling vortexes of tiny black dots were spewing from her irises, turning her once yellow eyes into dead, black orbs.

The old woman viciously shoved the doctor aside and ran at Callum. The boy did not hesitate. A single shot obliterated the old woman’s head.

“Doc, get up! There are four more of those blasted creatures somewhere, and I need to reload.”

The doctor scrambled to his feet, and ran to the boy’s side. “She smelt your blood, and it turned her,” Channing said in panicked fits and gasps. “We need to dress that wound and mask its scent. Otherwise, you have a bull’s-eye tattooed on the side of your face.”

“You know what this means?” Callum asked as he scanned the street for more of the Lingering. “My pa, Sally, and old man marsh are going to turn into those things … and so are all the people inside the saloon. We’re wasting our time trying to save them!”

At that precise moment, one of the saloon’s upstairs windows swung open, and someone shouted.

“There are three more of those things outback. They seem mighty interested in the garbage, so I think you should hurry up and come inside.”

Both Callum and the doctor spun on their heels and stared up at the window. An elderly, and apparently completely toothless, black man hung from the window.

“What are you waiting for,” the toothless man yelled, “a written invitation? Well, that ain’t never going to happen, as I never learned my letters. So if I was you, I would be hightailing it inside.”

Callum looked at the doctor, and Channing looked back at him with a smile. “It appears that not everything is as bleak as you think. As you can see, some of the fallen do awake in the same state as before the malaise struck them. Meet Josiah Green.”

Callum slung his musket over his shoulder, and shouted up to the old man in the window. “Nice to make your acquaintance, Mr. Green. We have sick folks in yonder cart, and we would greatly welcome a hand getting them inside.”

“Right you are.”

With that, the old man disappeared, and then reappeared at the door of the saloon a minute later. Between the three of them, they made quick work of carrying the stricken into the saloon. After all were safely inside, they set about the task of blocking the door.

They then placed the three malady ridden, one of whom was Callum’s closest kin, in the vacant cots. As soon as they had settled the three in their beds, Callum, Dr. Channing and Jo Green headed up stairs.

“I have a pot of coffee on the stove,” Jo said as he looked over his shoulder at his weary looking companions. “It will perk you both right up. By the way, Boy, you should have the doctor take a look at your face, it looks right nasty.”

 

***

Jo had been right. After several strong cups of coffee both the doctor and Callum felt much revived.

“So,” Dr. Channing said as he placed his cup on the floor beside him, “what happened while I was away?”

As Jo recounted his tale, the doctor worked on Callum’s cheek.

“I remember those things attacking,” Green said as he settled into his story. “And then everything went dark. That is, ‘till I woke up down stairs. I was the first to wake. Mrs. Hopkins woke next. I soon saw she was … well … you know. She made no moves to attack me, so I simply opened the door and ushered her out into the street. The Broderick twins woke next. It was strange. One minute they were out cold, the next both of them opened their eyes at the same time. Again, they made no move to attack, so I just showed them the door. The fourth person to wake was a stranger to me, but like the others, I showed him the door.”

“So they showed no aggression?” Dr. Channing asked.

“Nope, just wandered out into the street.”

“So it was definitely the scent of Callum’s blood that turned Mrs. Hopkins into a monster … interesting.”

“I wouldn’t say interesting,” Callum interjected. “Frightening is what I would call it.”

The doctor nodded. “Yes, it’s frightening, but it’s also interesting. If those things only become violent at the smell or sight of blood, then we might be able to control them. If they’re placid by nature, then they could be managed.”

“There ain’t nothing natural about those things,” Jo said as he stood and poured himself another coffee. “They’re an abomination.”

Callum nodded decisively. “I agree with Mr. Green. By the way, what happened to your masters?”

Green spun on his heels and stared at the boy angrily. “I ain’t no slave! I was born right here in town, and I was born a free man. The color of my skin don’t make me any less free than you. My daddy was a slave to the judge of these here parts, and when the judge died, he wrote in his will that my daddy be freed. I was born free, and even though I never married ‘til gone fifty, my two boys were born free too.

“Their momma’s dead now, God rest her soul, but she raised them boys good. I only hope this wicked curse ain’t reached them in Washington.” The old man’s eyes fixed on the boy, and they sparkled with pride. “They can read you know. My oldest, Josiah Junior, works in a school for the underprivileged. T’other, Seth he be, works for a senator right there on Capitol Hill. Lords, who would have ever thought in ignorant Negro like me, could have two boys who know their letters. We live in a marvelous time, and you mark my words, soon slavery will be wiped from this here country.”

“If we’re not all wiped from it by the Lingering,” Channing interjected.

Jo cut him a dirty look, but then nodded his agreement. “Tis true. Mayhap the Lord has seen fit to send a plague upon us. It’s like the Book of Revelations says in Zechariah 14:12, ‘And this shall be the plague with which the Lord will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths.’.”

“If you can’t read, then how do you know it says that?” Callum asked in a puzzled tone.

“There you go again, Boy. You talk so ignorant that I can’t hardly believe it. Just ‘cause I can’t read, don’t mean I’m a fool. Can you read, Boy, ‘cause if you can, you is still a fool.

“I know what the bible says ‘cause I learned it at my momma’s knee. She done learned the bible from her daddy, and he were a lay preacher. My momma could read, and she tried to teach me my letters, but it never stuck. She said my head worked different to most folks because my brains is in my hands. There ain’t a thing on this here Earth that I can’t fix.”

Callum looked dejectedly at the floor. “Sorry, Sir. I didn’t mean to offend.”

Jo waved a hand absently in the air. “You ain’t the first to judge me ‘cause of my skin and you won’t be the last. Remember this, never judge a book by its cover, especially if the book don’t know its letters.” With that, the elderly black man erupted into a fit of bellowing laughter and slapped Callum on the back. “Come on, Boy, you is still alive, so count your blessings. I know that’s your pa downstairs, but he ain’t dead yet. I mean, just look at me. I’m an eighty year old black man living in a country where slavery still runs riot. Yet, here I stands, as bold as Billy be damned. Smile, otherwise you may as well go downstairs and join the rest of those poor souls.”

Callum did smile, but it looked forced.
             

“I guess you’re right. Thanks, Jo.”

The elderly black man looked at him sternly. “I don’t recollect saying you could call me Jo.”

Callum began to stammer an apology, and with another outburst of laughter, Jo slapped his back again.

Chapter 18

For close to a week, Callum, Jo and the doctor watched over the Lingering without incident. To all of their surprise, no one else had risen from the stupor caused by the Lingering. The doctor surmised that the five who had awakened had only suffered from a mild form of the disease.

They had also searched for the three missing Lingerers, but they found no signs of where they were, or where they had gone. It was as if they had simply disappeared. This did not greatly upset Jo or Callum, but the doctor felt he could have learned a lot from them. Both Callum and Jo told him how unwise they thought it to capture one of the undead, but Dr. Channing dismissed their concerns out of hand.

As the week wore on, Callum found himself liking old Jo more and more. In many ways, the old man reminded him of his pa. Sure, his lively personality was nothing like his father’s quiet manner, but his deep and thoughtful wisdom seemed almost the same as his pa’s. The old man seemed to be able to sense Callum’s every thought, and usually, he always found a way of making the boy feel better.

“Jo, what do you think we should do if those folks below start waking, and they end up being like Mrs. Hopkins?” Callum asked as he and Jo sat with their legs dangling off the roof of the saloon. The two had taken to sitting on the roof to keep an eye out for Lingerers.

“Well, I think the doc would like to keep um around so he could poke um and prod um. I ain’t so sure that’s a good idea. The way I see it is those things are like wild animals. They may start out nice as pie, but once they gets a whiff of blood, they turn like a crazy mutt. I think we should put a bullet in their heads. What about you, Callum, what do you think?”

“Pretty much the same as you,” the boy answered as he looked at his feet.

“And what if that meant killing your pa and your friends.”

Callum looked at the old man, and then returned his gaze to his feet. “If my pa or the others wake as one of those things, then they are already as good as dead. My pa would want me to end it for him, and that is what I’d do.”

Jo’s dark and extremely wrinkled hand squeezed the boy’s shoulder. “I think you have more of a measure of this thing than the doc does. I think he sees those things as an opportunity.”

“Really, how so?”

“Well, I think he wants his name in the history books. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a right nice fella, and he’s doing right by the folks of this here town, but he has that gleam in his eye.”

“What gleam?”

Jo laughed. “The gleam of being on the verge of something bigger. The gleam of a man with ambition.”

Callum nodded and then looked to the distance. After a moment or two, he stood and held a hand to his brow.

“Do you see something?” Jo asked as he forced his old body back to its feet.

“There’s a dust cloud, the kind you get from a big herd of cattle, only I don’t think it’s cattle heading this way.”

“Lingerers?”

“Maybe, but they’re still too far away to see. If it’s the Lingering, then it’s more than we’ve ever seen before.”

Jo looked in the direction of Callum’s gaze. “Boston be in that direction.”

“I know,” Callum replied worriedly. “I know. I think it’s time for you, me and the doc to head out of town for a while. Do you think the folks downstairs will be all right? I mean, we’ll have to leave them here. ”

“I think they will be just fine. After all, those things will not see them as fresh food; they will just see them as their own. Come on, Boy; give me a hand to get below.”

Dr. Channing looked at Jo with disbelief. “We can’t just abandon these people!”

“We can, and we will,” Jo said as he grabbed the doctor’s arm and all but dragged him to the door. “Do you see that?” He asked as he pointed towards the dust cloud, which now seemed only a mile or so away. “Whatever is causing that unholy sight is moving mighty fast. Too fast for anything other than the undead. We have to leave; otherwise we’re going to be the first things on their menu.”

Channing nodded reluctantly. “Where’s Callum?”

“He’s bringing the horses ‘round. He’ll be here at any moment.”

 

***

 

Callum hurriedly saddled two horses. He could ride bareback, but he doubted either Jo or the doctor could. Hector fussed around at the boy’s feet, and twice he nearly tripped him. Suddenly, Hector stopped his fussing. Instead, he turned towards the barn’s open door, and started to growl.

Callum froze, and then turned slowly towards the door. Two Lingerers stood like statues at the opening. They stared at him with a kind of witless curiosity, and he instantly knew who they were.

It was the Broderick twins, and they represented two thirds of the missing Lingerers from town. They stared at him for a few moments, and then their dull gaze turned to the dog.

Callum’s hand went to his injured cheek. The doctor had done a good job of stitching his wound, and he felt sure the two creatures could not smell even the slightest trace of blood on him. But what were they doing back in town? Was it possible that they feared the things approaching? Callum decided whatever had caused their return meant nothing to him. What mattered was getting away.

Callum started saddling the horses again, but this time he did it facing the door. One of the twins started to move farther into the stable, but he backed off again when Hector let out a deep, resonating bark.

Soon, all three horses were ready, and the boy led them towards the docile creatures stood by the door. As he drew closer to them, the twins simply shuffled to one side and allowed him to lead the horses unhindered from the barn. Callum suddenly felt sorry for the twins. These were not like the flesh eating monsters he had faced at the mill. These creatures seemed more like frightened children than they did bloodthirsty killers.

As he exited the barn, he looked back in their direction and took one last look at the twins. Hector barked again, but the boy’s gaze remained fixed on the undead by the barn. Maybe the doctor was right. Maybe they should try to…

Callum slammed to the ground, and all the air instantly fled his lungs. He blinked madly as stars filled his vision, and he fought to regain his breath. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he could hear sounds of a struggle.

Hector growled, snarled and yelped crazily. The boy then realized that his loyal dog seemed entangled in a fight of some kind. Callum could feel hands pulling at his leg, but the clawing hands were slipping away. With an effort, he took several deep breaths, which helped to clear his semi dazed mind.

He looked down the length of his prostrate body, and saw Hector dragging a thrashing creature off him. It was then that everything came back into focus. A Lingerer—possibly an advanced guard from the approaching swarm—had attacked him, and now he lay in the dirt with the thing grabbing for his leg. His mind kicked into gear, and his hand went to the tomahawk that had once been his father’s.

Hector had managed to pull the creature almost entirely off his master, and now the monster turned its vicious intent to the faithful canine. The Lingerer kicked out savagely and connected with the dog’s head. Hector’s grip on the ghoul lessened, and the creature sprung onto the dog’s back. With a howl of pain, Hector crumpled under the creature’s terrible onslaught.

The abomination tore at the dog with both its hands and teeth. Its jaws latched around the dog’s throat, and with a wild shake of its head, it ripped the poor animal’s trachea free of its neck. Hector went into a seizure as enormous gouts of dark arterial blood pumped from the vulnerate of his neck.

“NO!” Callum screamed as he leaped to his dog’s aid.

Callum tore into the creature with a ferocity that would have quailed the heart of the bravest of men. Again, and again, he brought his weapon down on the creature’s skull. The whole attack from start to finish had only lasted a few seconds, but to the boy it felt like an eternity.

Hector was dead, and Callum’s heart felt like it would break. Somewhere in the boy’s mind, something cracked. He had lost too much, and as a result, he could take no more. His mind was like a fragile pane of glass, on which a spider’s web of cracks had appeared.

From behind him, a low growling began to resonate. He turned in time to see the twins eyes change from yellow, to black. At first, he thought the smell of Hector’s blood must have triggered the change, but then he felt something warm trickling down his leg. He glimpsed down and saw long scratches beneath his torn trousers. Clearly, his fresh wounds were the result of the creature’s sharp nails.

The boy knew what would happen next. The twins would attack and attempt to eat him alive! The spider’s web of cracks surrounding his fragile sanity gave, and what was left of Callum’s mind splintered into a thousand shards of memories and thoughts.

Without any sense of danger or self-preservation, for Callum’s mind no longer worked in terms of logic or sense, he launched himself at the twins. In a frenzy of tears and anger, he hacked and chopped at the two monsters. He screamed and bellowed as he pulverized their skulls. The creatures withered under his terrible onslaught, and dropped to the dirt. They were dead, but he did not stop. With great guttural bellows of grief, he stamped and kicked at their heads. Soon, their skulls had turned into nothing more than mashed piles of meat and bone.

“Callum!”

The boy dropped the tomahawk, and turned slowly. Jo gasped with horror, not because of the dead creatures, but because of what he saw in the boy’s face. Callum’s eyes seemed deader than those of the creatures. Jo was eighty years old, and he had seen some terrible things in his time, but nothing came close to what he now saw in the boy’s vacant gaze.

The old man looked down at the tattered remains of the boy’s dog, and understood everything. He began to weep. So much death. So much pain. It just did not make any goddamn sense.

Jo cuffed at his eyes and then straightened. “Come on, Boy, time to get you out of here,” he said as he took Callum gently by the shoulders.

Dr. Channing came running around the corner, but on beholding the carnage, he skidded to a stop. “Dear God,” he whispered as he first looked at the mutilated creatures, and then at the boy. “Did he do this?”

“I’m guessing he snapped after his dog met its end. Come on, just grab the horse,” Jo said as he positioned the boy beside the closest mount. “I’ll take the boy with me.”

Channing held the horse as Jo lifted the boy into the saddle. His ancient muscles strained under the boys weight, but he never faltered.

Channing mounted his own horse, and they moved back towards Main Street. As they rounded the corner, a thunderous sound filled their ears. Dr. Channing turned towards the noise, and let out a disbelieving gasp.

“Dear God, how did they get here so quick,” the doctor said as he tried to comprehend what he saw.

Jo looked past the doctor and saw hundreds, no thousands, of ravenous Lingerers heading their way. On seeing the three, the swarm halted and all sound ceased in a second. For close to ten seconds the swarm stood quietly staring at the three. In turn, Channing and Jo stared back. As for Callum, he simply stared past the creatures, completely unconcerned by their presence.

Mesmerized, the Lingering seemed to be considering their next move, but Jo did not wait to see what that move would be.

“For your father’s sake, ride!” he bellowed as he kicked at his horses side.

His outburst seemed to break the spell that had fallen over the creatures, and as one, they threw themselves into pursuit. Both the doctor and Jo drove their horses as hard as they could, but they seemed to be making no ground on the Lingerers.

The doctor drove his spurs into his horse, which seemed to coax an ounce more strength from his mare. He started to pull away from Jo, thus opening the gap between him and his pursuers. The added weight Jo’s steed carried meant Jo could not match the doctor’s speed. Soon the creatures would have him.

Dr. Channing led by a good twenty yards, but now he veered to the right. Jo’s brow furrowed. What the hell was he doing? Suddenly, the doctor drove his horse back towards Jo, and the old man realized what he was going to do.

The doctor flew past him and shouted over his shoulder. “Take care of the boy.”

Jo pushed his horse on, but he watched the doctor over his shoulder as he went.

The swarm suddenly changed direction, and started pursuing the closer target … the doctor!

Channing drove his horse along a swerving course, but he could not stay clear of the creatures. His heroic sacrifice lasted no more than thirty seconds, but it bought Jo the precious head start he needed.

 

***

 

For more than two hours, Jo pushed his horse onward. Finally, the exhausted animal collapsed beneath them, and threw its riders to the dirt. Jo quickly got to his feet and rushed back to the horse, but it was already dead. He looked around, but saw no signs of either people, or Lingerers. His eyes moved to the boy, who now simply lie in the dirt staring at the clouds above.

The old man followed the boys gaze, and then offered a prayer to the sky. He looked back towards town, and knew he would never see Warrington again. Finally, with a loud creak of old and weary bones, he stretched his body to its full extent. Then, he moved to the boy, picked him up, and started walking.

BOOK: The Lingering Outbreak At Hope Cove
11.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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