Hell Breaks Loose : Episode 10 - The UNwelcoming Committee
"Holy shit!" Mitch shouted. He ran around the kitchen table, through the entry way, and threw open the front door. He stood, staring through the top half of the screen door, squinting against the harsh light shining on him from the, now, stopped truck.
A cloud of dust settled by its huge, manhole sized tires, and the driver's door opened. Out stepped a scrawny, silhouetted man, pulling on something Mitch couldn't see. The figure stood there, holding the outside handle of the door. Mitch wasn't sure, but he'd be damned if the man wasn't staring at him.
The man walked in front of the headlights, leaving the driver's door open, and there stood a balding man wearing aviator-style prescription glasses, sporting a poor comb over.
"And who might you be?" the man asked, clipping the left bib of his overalls.
Mitch licked his lips, sizing the man up, unsure if he should even answer that question at all.
"Think I'd like to know who's asking before I say anything more," Mitch said, locking the latch to the screen door.
The man shook his head and laughed.
"It's been a while since I's seen a kid, even longer since I seen one with a tough pair like you," he said. "This ain't your house, kid. Where's Lyle?"
"You deaf, or just dumb? I ain't sayin' one more word 'till I get your name, stranger," Mitch said.
"How's about I give you my name, once your lying, flat on your ass with one hell of a shiner on them narrow cheeks 'a yours? We ain't got time for this you little shit!" the man said, walking back and turning the truck off, setting the house and front porch in a cold darkness.
Mitch heard the man's steps, heard the gravel crunching under his boots as he walked up the drive, then saw the man again when he stepped into the light coming from inside the house, onto the front porch.
"Now, I can't be sure, but there may or may NOT be a coupla' dozen of them dead fuckers following my scent out here. The sooner I can get in and talk to Lyle, the better. You can take my word on it, kid, you won't wanna' keep me out here much longer, and that's for damn sure," the man said, pulling a handkerchief from his front pocket and dabbing his dirtied face. "You've got about five seconds before the lid on my temper'll be irreplaceable."
"The shit is going on down there?" Lyle shouted from the top of the stairs.
The man took a step forward, trying to get a view of the stairs through the screen door.
"Lyle, that you ya' old buzzard!" the man shouted.
Mitch stepped back from the door, giving Lyle room as he walked down the stairs.
"Bill!" Lyle smiled. He unlatched the screen door, grabbed the front of Bill's overalls, and pulled him in for a tight hug, patting Bill on his back. "Bill frickin' Denningham, thought I'd never see your scrawny ass again!"
"This is really nice'n'all, but I'd be so stinkin' grateful if we could move this inside!" Bill said, spinning Lyle around, pushing him inside. He glared at Mitch as he passed.
Mitch clenched his jaw and closed the door behind them then locked it tight. He followed them through the kitchen and into the living room, where Bill flopped onto the couch and rested his elbows on his knees, running his hands over the few strands of hair on his head. He massaged his temples while Lyle eased himself into an armchair, across from the couch.
Mitch stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame with his arms crossed.
"Jesus, Bill, I thought you was dead. Two weeks, nothing, not a word! What the hell happened out there?" Lyle asked, adjusting his pajama bottoms.
"You ain't bit, are you?" Mitch asked, tilting up his nose, inquisitive.
"Shit," Bill laughed. He leaned back into the couch and swatted his knee. "Bitten? It ain't got nothing to do with a bite, turning into one of them."
"If that was the case, you wouldn't be standing there, Mitch," Lyle said.
Bill smiled, amused.
"This ain't no disease, no fuckin' virus. You ain't there when you turn," Bill said, palming the side of his head. "No, sir-ee, you're long gone by then, DOA, toe-tagged, whatever. There's something else happenin'."
"It's gotta be a sickness of some kind. Maybe I beat it, by sleeping or something?" Mitch said.
"Can't be. Reggie would have turned then, when he was bitten, and as I recall, he'd been bitten more than once," Lyle said.
"No, you're not listenin'," Bill said, gesturing with his hands. "You can't explain this shit with science, okay. It don't work like that, not any more. Whatever is going on...it's like something from the good book, ya' know? Look here," he said, standing up and pacing beside the coffee table, separating him and Lyle. "I went to the Walmart, that Sunday, lookin' for food for us, just like I's says I's going to. That much went just as planned. I got us some canned goods, the few that weren't picked over. Could tell the place was sacked, prolly pretty early on too. Weren't nothing good but some beans and some canned spinach, but something is better than nothin'. I was comin' out when I seen it, on the side of the building. I don't know how I missed it when I went it, but I sure as shit saw it on the way out. Was one of them penta-thingies, the ones they use when doing that damned devil worship, ya' know, sacrificing virgins, raping goats, and all that gussy stuff. Was the size of a tractor tire, it was. Even had some words written inside. No idea what they were, weren't English or any language I'd recognized."
He walked to the window on the far wall and stared into the pitch black night, folding his hands behind his back. He sighed and dropped his head, leaning it against the glass.
"This is beyond us, Lyle. This is it," Bill said. He turned, fear in his eyes. "What I seen, the past two weeks...things are never gonna' go back to the way they were. It's not just the zombies, not anymore. It's the people too."
"I can vouch for that," Mitch said, raising his hand, thinking about the mad butcher, remembering the look in his eyes when he died. A shiver ran up his spine and goosepimples speckled his arms.
"I..." Bill said, finding it hard to tell his story. He gulped and looked around the room, trying to find the strength to tell it. "I seen a group, living, armed men and women, and even some teens; saw 'em take a baby from a woman begging for food, just crying for anything. They took her baby, sliced its throat, and drank its blood, then they raped and killed the mom and dragged their bodies, threw them into their truck and drove away."
"Dear God," Lyle said, covering his mouth with his hand.
"I had to sit there, listening to a gargled, dying baby, listen to the cries of this woman while they took turns with her; helpless," Bill said, tears forming in his eyes. He ran his hand along his chin, deep in thought, back in time. He covered his face with his hands, cried, then wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt. "Where's Reggie? I just...I need to talk to him."
Lyle looked at the floor, beginning to choke up. He shook his head 'no'.
"Where's Reggie!?" Bill shouted, standing up.
"These kids were in trouble, needed our help," Lyle said, pointing his thumb at Mitch. "Reggie did what he felt he had to do."
"What happened?" Bill asked, stern and quiet, squeezing his fists taut.
"Zombies got 'em, Bill," Lyle said, soft. "Weren't nothin' anyone coulda' done."
"Well who the hell sent you out there for these kids," Bill shouted, pointing his finger like a knife at Mitch who stood, petrified.
For the second time in this conversation, Mitch was reminded of someone, this time his mother. We help others, by helping ourselves. Goin' out there, that's a fools game, that's what she had said after all, before he'd left the house, the thing that started all of this, set it in motion. There must have been some truth in that, Mitch thought. She'd be alive if he hadn't left, but, Pheobe might have been dead. Was it a good tradeoff? Maybe, maybe not. Time would have to let Mitch know. Either way, what's done was done, can't change that.
"I should kill you where you sit, Lyle, for doing something so fuckin' stupid! Nothin' here belongs to them! They ain't got no right to any of our stuff!" Bill screamed.
"As I recall, ain't none of it yours neither, Bill," Lyle said, pushing himself onto his feet with a grunt. "I hired your ass and the way I sees' it, I can fire your ass too." He pulled a revolver out of his pocket and pointed it in between Bill's eyes then cocked back the hammer. "You ain't got no more right to anything in this house than these little ones. I can ask ya' to beg, but I won't do no such 'thang. We's equals here. Nothing more to it."
Bill stared down the barrel, his breathing quickening, sweat dripping down his forehead and cheeks.
"Get that thing out of my face," Bill whispered. He stood as Lyle backed down, clicking the hammer back into place. "Enjoy your stay," Bill said, walking past Mitch.
"Girls in your bed," Lyle said. "You can take Reggie's room."
Bill stopped and turned, facing Mitch and Lyle.
"Not sure if I was followed. If you two wanna' wake up with all your limbs 'counted for, should prolly get someone up in the attic keeping watch," Bill said, turning and heading upstairs. "Least that's what Reggie would have suggested," he hollered from the top of the stairs.
Lyle walked around the coffee table, putting the revolver back into his pocket.
"Knew this thing would come in handy for something. Don't ever sleep without it anymore," he laughed. He touched Mitch's shoulder. "Hate to say it, but he's right. Should prolly get-"
"No worries, Mr. Lyle," Mitch said, cutting him off, knowing what he was going to ask. "I got this."
Lyle patted Mitch's shoulder and smiled.
"There's a rifle up there already, scope attached. There's some night vision binoculars up there too, should come in handy I'd say. You need anything, spot anything, you make sure to holler like the dicken's, okay?"
Mitch nodded and took a deep breath.
Lyle turned Mitch around and walked him up the stairs, to the upstairs hallway. They stopped, about halfway to the end of the hall, and Lyle reached up, grabbing hold of a string weighted with a quarter tied to the end.
"Attics up this way," Lyle said, pulling it down.
Mitch hopped in, grabbing the string from Lyle when he saw he was struggling with it.
A built-in step ladder unfolded before them and Lyle patted Mitch on the shoulder one last time.
"Like I said, anything, you holler, ya' hear?" Lyle said then yawned.
"Yes, sir," Mitch said, climbing onto the lower rungs. "Get some sleep."
"You get tired, you'll let me know?"
"I've been sleeping for two weeks. If there's one thing I don't feel like doing, it's sleeping."
Lyle snickered and walked down the hall to his bedroom, shuffling his feet.
Mitch sighed when Lyle was in his room with the door closed, then started climbing up into the dusty attic. It smelled like old clothes and stale oil. The attic was dark and cramped with a low, steeple ceiling. Mitch had to hunch over as he planned out each step to the other side, maneuvering around boxes and random stacks of old, coverless books, lamps without hoods, and piles of clothing.
Mitch's eyes started stinging from the dust flickering in the air and when he closed them they burned worse and almost lost his balance, nearly falling through a section of insulation. He caught himself on a rafter and finished making it to the window on the other side of the attic. The rifle was exactly where Lyle said it would be, propped up beside the window sill, beside a pair of binoculars.
Mitch picked it up and felt the gun's weight in his hands. It was lighter than he expected. He propped the butt of the gun against his shoulder and looked down the scope, out the half-open window, testing it.
He hunkered down on his knees in front of the window, which was still low enough to perch the gun on for stability, and grabbed the binoculars. He held them up to his eyes, scanning the front lawn of the farmhouse, admiring the dark greens and blacks of the night vision. So, he sat, for hours and hours, watching the night.
He saw a rabbit around midnight munching on what looked like a cabbage. A few hours later, a pair of dear ran across the lawn to the road, disappearing into the field on the other side.
It was around four in the morning when Mitch finally dozed off, without even realizing he was tired. If he'd just managed to stay awake a few minutes longer, just a few, he'd of seen them coming; would have seen the packs, the burning red eyes. He would have smelled the blood and the decay in the early morning breeze. But, he didn't. He didn't see or smell a thing, because he was off, dreaming about when his daddy taught him baseball. If only...