TRAUMA & RETRIBUTION : PART ONE
By Warren 'Thadeuss' Thompson
Billy wiped tears out of his eyes onto his stained sleeve. The tears carving lines through the dirt he wore on his youthful face. He tried to stop remembering what he saw. He tried to stop remembering his mothers face, covered in blood and cuts and the horrible sounds she made from the locked room. His father told him she was sick but he could hear her in his room below hers; wandering, moaning, calling for him. He even heard when she came bashing through her door and the scream his father made. He had gone to check on him when he saw his mother standing over him in her blood stained nightgown, her hair was frilled up and dirty. When she turned to him, the last thing he remembered thinking is that she wasn't the mother he knew, she had become a monster.
He ran a finger over the scab that was developing on his leg; the scab he got while climbing out of his bedroom window, away from her. He didn't cry as much then, not when it was about surviving. The tears really started when he met Rick. Rick was big and he was dumb but he made Billy feel safe. Safe like his mother used to make him feel. He shuddered again and the tears started. Rick turned to him.
"It's okay, Billy" Rick said, trying as always to comfort him.
Billy looked up at his friend with teary eyes. The seatbelt of the old Chevy stretched nearly to the steering wheel to accommodate the size of the man, his belly hanging over the sides of the belt. The truck rambled on down the empty country road as Billy threw his head in his hands. Rick sighed and looked back out onto the infinite stretch of road. Rick had his story of loss as well. Although Rick didn't like to talk about it, Billy could hear him at night, tossing and turning, crying out, "I'm sorry I was so dumb, daddy, don't hit me." Billy figured that Rick's father was abusive to Rick and Billy didn't know why Rick missed him so much, but he figured he loved his father anyways.
"Billy!" Rick gasped and Billy looked up, " It's one of them sick people!"
Billy saw it, in the distance; a single figure shambled across the road.
"It's ok, Rick, he can't get us in here." He assured him.
Rick nodded but still appeared scared as he drove on. As they neared the figure they noticed it wasn't shambling, it was limping rather like a living person, so they slowed down and pulled up closer. When the got close enough their suspicions were proven true, it was a survivor; a man was somewhere in his thirties. He was wearing a business suit and looked rather professional, which made Billy feel more at ease. The man saw them and was now waving both hands in distress at them. They pulled up next to him when he approached the window smiling brightly.
"Thank God I found you," he said as Billy rolled down his window, "I didn't know how much longer I would've lasted in this heat."
Neither of them said anything as they watched the man, cautiously.
"Where you headed?" He asked, finally, covering his eyes from the sun.
Billy and Rick looked at each other before looking back at the man with the same questioning look they had given each other. He seemed to understand as he nodded and reached down to tie his shoe. Billy noticed blood staining his sock and pant leg as the stranger looked up at them.
"Don't worry about that," he said with a grin "it don't hurt none."
He walked over to the truck window and to get a better look at the two of them before he spoke up again.
"Name's Jeff," he said, extending a hand, "you two mind if I tag along? I don't reckon I can stay out here all day, now can I?"
Billy looked at Rick but found only the same confused glare he was giving.
"You two don't say much, but I respect that. We're all having trouble these days, troubling times with all these demons runnin' 'round, creatures of Satan." He spat.
"Those is people," Rick spoke up, agape, "they's just sick, that's all."
The stranger looked at Rick for a second as if reading him then spoke up again.
"You boys aint gonna leave a god-fearing man out here to rot, are ya'll? I take you two to be decent folk, not akin to deserting a man in times of need" He smiled at both of them, a gap in his teeth showing under his wiry mustache.
"Mister, you can't stay out here, not with all them sick people runnin' around" Rick said, looking shocked.
"Well, that's mighty decent and Christianly of ya, stranger. I wonder if you could help me with my things, they're just over in those trees." He said, indicating a group of pines off the side of the road.
"Things?" Rick asked, " What kinda things?"
"Just some supplies, tha's all." He said in a reassuring tone.
"Well ok, mister, but we gotta watch out." Rick said, getting out of the truck, "We gotta hurry too 'cause if they see us they'll come fer us. And they're mean, too!"
Jeff smiled at this, his gapped tooth showing again, as Billy climbed down the truck to join his large friend. They walked along slowly, slowing now and then to allow the limping stranger to catch up. As the neared the trees, Billy could see that Rick wasn't too excited about leaving the safety of his fathers truck, his eyes were darting all around on the look-out. A stick breaking underfoot 'caused him to jump before he realized his own boot was the culprit. Billy took Rick's hand in his own, more for Rick's sake then his own, but it made Rick feel brave, having someone to protect. They reached the underbrush a few steps ahead of their frail-footed associate and had to part some thick shrubbery to see inside. Billy's eyes had to adjust before he could see the ground beyond.
"Where is it?" He said before he felt the weight of his hand drop to his side.
He took his head out to see Rick lying facedown, holding the back of his head. Billy gasped and turned to Jeff, only to find himself looking up the barrel of a shiny, silver revolver.
"Hands up, kid." Jeff cocked the gun threateningly and Billy freed his grasp of Rick to comply.
"What are you doing?" Billy said with a frightened whimper.
"What am I doing? The work of God, son, that's what I'm doing"
Rick, who had managed to roll over, barely conscience and bleeding from the head, now looked as terrified as Billy. Jeff looked down at him and smiled.
"As for you and your retarded friend, here, I have it on the highest authority that you two is to be crucified and buried in a way befitting an abomination such as yourself."
"We aint got no money mister," Rick stuttered, "not a cent."
Jeff smiled at this, as one smiles at a child's joke, then kicked dirt in Rick's face.
"What in the hell would I want your money for, retard boy?" he spat, "What in the hell do you think I would buy?"
Jeff walked over a pulled a long, thin branch off of the nearest pine and began stripping it of its needles.
"Jesus don't like no retards, and he sure as hell don't like no zombies."
After he was satisfied with the stripped twig, he smiled at it and turned on Rick.
"I know you, and your daddy." Jeff said through his gapped teeth, " Right down the road from my farm, I can hear him beating you at night, dummy."
Rick clenched his teeth in anger but Jeff continued.
"Yeah, stupid, I could hear him beatin' the shit outta you and cursing your very mother for how stupid you was." Jeff laughed at himself as he continued, "Boy, I remember you were so dumb, you used to come to town to buy fertilizer and my uncle Ray would charge you double; you daddy used to whoop the shit outa you when you got back with no money."
Jeff laughed once again before tucking his gun in his pants.
"Don't see how you managed to come into the company of this boy, but he woulda eaten you alive had I not found you." He indicated the cut on Billy's leg, "Looks like you owe me."
Billy looked down at his bleeding leg before Rick spoke up.
"That's just a cut from a window, it aint no -"
Before he could finish Jeff had swung the stick and whipped Rick across the face. Billy gasped in shock as Rick turned back, holding a red swell on his face. His face was strewn with tears and light drops of blood.
"Didn't your daddy teach you not to speak out'a turn, boy? You're too stupid to know wha's going on. This boys infected and your stupid ass was gonna keep 'im 'round till he took a chunk outa you, then where'd you be?"
Rick looked into his assailant's eye, which only seemed to further anger the man. He didn't have time to react before the stick came down on him again. Billy watched, too shocked to move, as the stranger continued to beat the stick into his friend. By now, Rick was crying like a malnurtured infant, a depressing sight to his young companion. Between his lashings he cried out for mercy but the anger flowed too deeply through Jeff, his eyes ablaze with false divinity. Rick hid his blood-strewn face into his hands but could not stop the lashings on this back as he tried to roll away. The stick snapped as it placed a final welt on the back of Rick's head. He was screaming in pain as Jeff resorted to planting his boot into the man's sides. Billy stood agape at his action but was distracted a shadow he saw in the trees. He would have sworn that he had seen a figure pass between two trees about ten feet from Jeff's back side. He heard a loud snap followed by a scream by Rick, a bone had been broken.
"I see something!" Billy shouted over Rick's whimpers, in a hope that this would stop the beating and save his friends life. Jeff looked up at the desperate boy.
"What'd you say, boy?" He said in winded breaths, "Where?"
Billy only looked up at the man, angrily. He felt extreme rage flow through him as his glaze dropped to the gun, which sat, vulnerably in Jeff's pants. If he could make a grab for it, he and Rick could get out of there. As Jeff took in deep breaths air, Billy saw the shadow again. Billy looked up at the man, squinting in the midday sun, and smiled. Jeff's look of confusion was matched with his look of fear as a rotting hand grasped his shoulder. He lost his balance on his weakened leg and fell atop the post-mortem assailant, arms flailing. Billy ran to help Rick up as Jeff wrestled with the thrashing creature. Rick and Billy watched as Jeff struggled to free his self from the creatures grasp. Billy saw the gun again and made for it. His hand grasped the cold steel of the handle and he tried to pull the barrel out of its polyester-clad haven. The tip was caught and Billy nearly fell into the brawl. Rick ran to aid him and wound up knocking all three of them down. Billy freed the revolver and trained it on the stranger; he backed up into the sheltering grasp of Rick. The weight of the gun did not deter the boy from keeping it precisely aimed on Jeff.
Jeff managed to stand and push the creature to the ground. He looked at the boy helplessly. Billy looked into the man's human eyes and trained his gun on the creature. He closed his eyes as the hammer slammed down and ripped a slug through the creature's head. His lifeless eyes rolled up as blood flowed out of the hole under his eye, a bit of tissue flowing through the fresh bullet hole. The creature slumped on the ground as the huge jolt of recoil caused Billy to drop the gun. Jeff's eyes followed it and leapt for it, but his hands found nothing as it was quickly scooped up by its fumbler. Billy was surprised at its power, imagining what it could do to Jeff, he was sure it would prevent him from trying anything.
"What are you going to do, boy?" He said, smiling again. Even staring down the cold barrel of his magnum, he bravely rose to his feet.
Rick gripped Billy tighter but Billy was calmly marking his target. Jeff saw the look on the little boys face and lost his smile.
"You stupid piece of shit." Jeff spat, "You've killed anyone before boy, have you?"
Billy didn't answer but Jeff seemed to know the answer.
"It aint like puttin' a hole through a zombie." He pulled a cigarette from his coat pocket and placed it under his wiry mustache, "Ever seen the look on a man's face when you do 'im in? You'll never forget that look, that pitiful gaze of guilt. It will eat your heart."
"Shut up." said Rick, his face clad in blood and tears, "You just shut up, mister."
"I know your secret, retard." Jeff smiled again, "Yeah, dummy, I saw you."
Billy kept the gun trained at Jeff but Rick suddenly seemed uncomfortable.
"Now I told you to shut up, mister."
"Why don't you tell the boy, dummy? Tell him what its like to kill a man." The gap is his teeth could be seen again through his wiry mustache.
Billy looked up and his friend, confused. Rick wore a look of hate through the bloodstains on his face, he gritted his teeth and Billy saw tears washing away the dirt on his face.
"I told you, shut up, mister," he whimpered.
"Yeah, boy, this dummy 'ere done murdered his Pa."
Billy turned back to Jeff, agape. Rick clenched Billy's hand in his own.
"Dummy was getting' beat. Turned 'round and hit 'is Pa with a shovel. "Jeff continued, seeing the hate in Rick's eyes, "Didn't stop there, kep' hittin' him 'til he damn near took 'is head off, how'd that feel, dummy?"
Rick snatched the gun out of Billy's hand and before Billy could respond, a shot resounded. Jeff fell to his knees, a fresh bullet hole through his neck. He gasped short breaths of air and reached out, taking hold of Billy's overalls. Rick looked angry and confused but dropped the gun to his feet.
"What've I done, Billy?"
Billy looked down at the pitiful gaze of the dying stranger; he stepped aside and let him hit the ground, dead.
Night had fallen, the old truck rambled down the country road, its taillights dimly casting their blood red hue on a forgotten past, its headlights blasting their high beams on a bright future.
"I killed a man back there, Billy." Rick whimpered. "I mean, again," he said in a soft whisper, cleaning blood from his face.
Billy said nothing but watched his companion through the dim glow from the headlights. Rick had been crying since they left Jeff by the road, he tried to comfort him, he tried to cry with him; but Billy didn't cry anymore, it was about survival again.
They pulled into an abandoned gas station, its tanks long empty. They had decided to find shelter for the night and its seemed safe enough with its iron shutters. Billy settled in the corner and Rick leaned against some filing cabinets. Billy tried to doze off but could see his friend was having a harder time, he heard him crying deep into the night. When he finally slept, it was a rough sleep, full of nightmares of zombies, mothers, strangers, and dying friends. He remembered his mothers face, askew with blood, her teeth clamping with hunger as her loving eyes fell onto her son. He shuttered in his sleep.
He woke with a start; a loud crash brought him out of his nightmare. It was dark and he sat there, waiting. He waited to confirm if their haven was unbreached, if they would last for another day. He crawled over to the filing cabinets, hoping to wake Rick. He bumped into the cold steel of the filing cabinet and had to probe his blind hands over the concrete floor to find his companion. His hands met Rick; they felt his arms, his hands. Billy could feel Jeff's gun in Rick's grasp, he felt the barrel of the gun in Rick's mouth, but he couldn't feel Rick's head.
TO BE CONTINUED...
You can e-mail Warren Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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