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The Choice

Kimberly Bronson climbed onto the overturned carriage and looked inside through its glassless window. Two panic struck faces stared back up, her husband, Andrew and her brother, Zander. Her lips motioned to speak but snapping twigs and guttural moans drifted from the surrounding forest cut her off. Kimberly laid a knee on either side of the carriage door, her head spun from the two faces inside to the ever increasing red light creeping closer through the trees. Kimberly knew what that red glow meant, the dead had found them.

Frogs croaked around the lake as Kimberley’s jaw chittered in reply to the wind against her dripping wet clothes. Her fingers trembled as she fumbled with the chilly metal handle however, the door remained stubbornly closed. “Open damn you, in Hixel’s name why wont you open? The carriage lay on its right side, tilted on the lake bank and half submerged, the icy lake filled the carriage interior from the bottom window. The trapped men’s fingertips dug into and dragged down smooth leather upholstered seats in the attempt to hoist themselves free. The murky water encased in a dark night made it impossible for Kimberley to gauge what anchored their legs in place. The two men shared the claustrophobic cabin with travel trunks and cases that hindered their movement. Loose apples and stray items of clothing bobbed and sloshed on the water surface around the trapped pair. Arms flailed and splashed as both men struggled to free themselves. Kimberly watched a travel trunk soak and sink below the water’s surface creating further debris to trap the men in place.

Kimberly remained dogged, rattling the handle while the lake lapped lazily against the canvas roof. The reflected moonlight on the water’s inky surface was her only ally against the shrouding darkness. She blew into her hands then rubbed them together when a figure down the road caught her eye. A small skeletal frame illuminated by a self-perpetuating red light. It was a child, little more than bones and sporadic fine hair on a skinless skull. Two hollow eyes emitting a crimson bloom appraised her in deathly silence. The wind whipped in a circle at the child’s bony feet. Dust circulated and rose to blow through the boy’s exposed rib cage. His long rotten clothes now mere scraps fluttered in the wind. Kimberly froze, until the skeletal infant stepped towards her.

An hour prior, the occupants of the Broxbourne graveyard inexplicably rose to stalk the living. Ancient cadavers and the freshly dead emerged from the earth and shuffled into town. Soldiers on night patrol called the alarm and recently sleeping men spilled onto the streets. Some hopped out of doorways struggled to pull on boots, others threw tunics on in darkened rooms and wrestled with them as they ran. Collectively, the men ceased fidgeting with their regalia and froze stiff upon seeing the dead walk. The risen held no such fear and subsequently tore down and devoured the half dressed soldiers before they staged any coordinated defence. With the town’s defendants killed or dying, the dead turned their glowing crimson attention to the Broxbourne houses. Those inside now awake and aware had one option, flee. Broxbourne’s civilians dashed through doorways, grabbing children and armfuls of belongings before making their escape into the night. Some people fled on horseback, most on foot. Kimberly was lucky enough to be in possession of a carriage. While her brother and husband frantically grabbed supplies from the house, Kimberly fetched the horses from the adjoining makeshift stable and harnessed them to the carriage. People screamed as they ran into the night, the horses sensed the rising panic and pranced on the spot while neighing their distaste at the encroaching reek of death. Kimberly ran a soothing hand along their sleek coat and spoke in hushed tones to the anxious animals. She secured the last leather strap through its loop on the harness as her husband and brother shot out the house. Kimberly beckoned them with a frantic arm and hauled herself up to the drivers seat.

The town took on a red hue, Kimberly glanced over her shoulder to see the crimson light emitting from the eyes of the dead. She saw a corpse bite into a fallen militia and caught the stench of rotten decay drifting on the night breeze. The chunk of flesh slid down the corpse’s throat and slapped to the dirt through its missing stomach. Kimberly fought the urge to throw-up while her husband and brother bundled inside and pulled the door closed. She cracked the reigns and set the horses into action. The wheels turned and jolted the carriage into motion. A sudden pang of guilt struck Kimberly. The carriage belonged to the local lord who resided in the estate outside of town. She was only the driver, minding it as she did every night. The thought determined her choice of direction and she headed for the estate.

Both horses galloped along the path through a thickset tunnel of branches and bark. Hooves pounded and the horses snorted misty breaths as they tore along the dirt road away from the madness of Broxbourne. The rotting stench of death dissipated to be replaced by the distinct odour of smoke. The smell was soon accompanied by the roar of fire, the volume intensified as the trio closed in on the estate. A bright yellow bloom became visible through the barren tree branches that lined both sides of the road. Kimberly drove the horses passed the last of woods towards the estate’s perimeter fence. Black iron poles blurred as they whizzed past Kimberly’s vision. Half an acre of meticulous lawn separated the dirt road from the estate’s buildings yet still she could feel the inferno’s heat on her skin. Shuffling corpses, silhouetted against the fire warned her not to stop. The lord and his family had either escaped or were dead, no one could survive that blaze or the pummelling smoke that rose to black out the starlit sky. She stared at the blazing estate hoping to hear a call for help or to see someone run towards the road. The carriage reached the main gate and nothing stirred on the lawn and no cry for help interrupted the low rumble of rampant flame. She kept her ears cocked and her eyes fixed on the estate grounds as they whizzed past. Kimberly said a private prayer she would meet the lord and his family somewhere on the path ahead.

Kimberly’s blood flushed cold when she gazed back to the road. White and yellow screens obscured the path ahead. She peered, trying to make sense of the road through the shapes of dancing light. She blinked, trying to dislodge the shifting obstructions in her eyes. She heard low hanging branches brush and rattle along the side of the carriage; it sparked recollection. She had ridden this road thousands of times chauffeuring the lord and his family. Kimberly took a deep breath, closed her eyes and delved into memory. She traversed the road mapped in her mind. Familiarity served her well until the slosh of the lake lapping against its bank caused a reactionary jolt on the reigns; the horses felt the tug and reacted. She quickly rectified the direction but a fraction too late. The carriage tipped and slid along the muddy bank into the lake. The horse bindings broke and they bolted along the road into the darkness of night. Kimberly launched from the driver’s seat and soared through the night air, her arms waved wildly before breaking the surface of the dark waiting water. The hypothermic temperature of the lake acted as an invisible hand grasping her around her chest and squeezing her lungs closed. She tried to take inhale several times but could not. Eventually she managed to gulp air down. She took another breath, deeper this time and let it out as an involuntary moan. The cries of her husband and brother trapped inside their overturned prison snatched her attention and she swam to shore.

Kimberly tugged and struggled with the unmoving handle. The dead were close now, too close. “Why is the lake rising?” She instantly realised the answer, it was not the water that rose but the carriage that slid further down the steep lake bank. Both men pulled feverishly on their leg, neither succeeded in freeing it from its trappings. Simultaneously, they looked up, desperation etched on their faces. Kimberley’s hands momentarily let go of the door handle to cup her mouth as tears filled her eyes. This couldn’t be happening. She grabbed the brass handle again, numb fingers prevented her from fully applying herself. Through closed eyes and gritted teeth, Kimberley heaved on the stubborn door, it still did not budge. She stole a glance along the road. More bodies had broken from the forest and shuffled towards them on the path, the red light intensifying in the process. She looked back inside to see the water at chest level and two faced shaped in terror. Both men reached up with outstretch arms, their fingers stretched in a non-verbal rescue plea. Both men’s breathing quickened at the water’s icy touch took hold.

Perhaps the carriage door window would be big enough to pull one through.” “One.” The word echoed around her head. Both her husband and brother were a similar build. They had shared clothes in the past. Her brother, Zander gave Andrew overalls when he moved to Broxbourne to be with her. His new job required them. “Tailor made” was her response upon seeing her husband set out on his first day. If one could fit through the window so could the other, even sheer necessity would not relieve her of the impossible choice. “Sis, please.” Her brother’s voice matched his expression. Her husband’s pleas soon followed. “Kim, I can’t get any purchase, I’m trapped.” Both men looked at each other, seeming to realise the sands of time would not spare them both. Kimberly’s vision went blurry. She let out a frustrated grunt at the door’s continued defiance. Unsure to whom, she whispered “I’m sorry.”

The thumping of bone on the back of the carriage caused her to gasp. The road was no longer visible. Now it was a crowd of corpse’s shrouded in a self-generating blood red light. More fists pounded on the carriage and the sudden extra weight accelerated the slippery decent into the lake. The water rose and encompassed both men’s faces, only a forearm and outstretching hand remained above water, each presenting an impossible dilemma. Save me, condemn him. If she didn’t find an answer, indecision would see them both dead. It was one or none.

Andrew arrived in Kimberley’s life a year ago, a chance meeting further down this same road. After dropping off the lord at his estate, a rickety wheel forced Kimberly to stop by on her journey home. Her inspection was interrupted by a passing regiment of soldiers. Two dozen half inebriated men wobbled off horse drawn carts to lend their aid. The soldiers were celebrating their first day in a two week stretch of relief. It became apparent from their chatter they were recently involved in a skirmish with Miria soldiers on border patrol. Confrontations were becoming common but it rarely advanced further than gritted teeth, pointed fingers and verbal jousting. This time however, it was apparent lives had been both taken and lost.

The men took it upon themselves to tighten the wheel despite Kimberly’s consistent refusal. Andrew was the only one who seemed to notice her irritation at the intrusion. He offered apologies on the soldier’s behalf and assurances that despite the lack of proper tools, they would have her back up and running in no time. Before long the other men ceased their chatter of war and noticed Andrew keeping close company with Kimberly. Soon nudging elbows had the entire regiment focusing on the chatting pair rather than repairing the wheel. After incessant goading from the men, Andrew asked Kimberly if she was free on the end week, she declined. Andrew apologised for any offense caused and climbed dejected back on the horse drawn cart, his brothers in arms firing taunts every step of the way. With the wheel fixed, the soldiers climbed on the carts and they trundled along the road. They waved to Kimberly and sung an unsynchronised chorus of ‘farewell to thy maiden fair’ to her. Between the farewells and inebriated singing Kimberly heard the men continue to tease Andrew. It was not until the carts and drunken men where out of sight did Kimberly really consider Andrew’s offer. Andrew took the tirade of taunts on the chin. He was brave enough to ask when being turned down was the most likely outcome, he also accepted that rejection with a gentleman’s good grace. He could easily have deflected his embarrassment as anger onto her as she had seen men do upon refusal. Kimberly sighed, it was little late to contemplate the offer now.

Two days later Andrew appeared at her front door, sober and out of uniform. He was visiting relatives in Broxbourne and recognised the carriage stationed outside Kimberly’s house. Andrew offered Kimberly further apologies and recognised that a score of uninvited drunk men must have been intimidating to a lone woman stranded on the road. Kimberly hinted that perhaps it was the intimidation factor that forced the refusal and perhaps if asked under different circumstances, on a private one to one basis then perhaps the answer may be different. Andrew took the hint and asked her out again, this time Kimberly said yes.

Over the following months, they saw each other whenever Andrew had army leave. Having served three years as a soldier in the Olbaidian army, Andrew’s initial service was almost up. Signing up again was mandatory for single men unless a considerable donation to the empire was made. They both decided that Andrew had served his empire well and it was time to settle down in Broxbourne. Kimberly didn’t know the donation required, judging by the scant possessions Andrew showed up with, it was every penny he had.

Andrew’s exit from the army was perfectly timed. War with neighbouring empire Miria was officially declared in the following weeks after Andrew’s departure. Had he stayed, it was most likely she would never see him again. The empire attempted to re-enlist Andrew as he was a bachelor so a hurried wedding ensued. A letter from the temple of Hixel was enough to see off any future requests from the Olbaidian army. Her brother Zander, arranged work for Andrew and soon all three were living contently together in Broxbourne. Three incomes and the cost of living split three ways granted them a comfortable life. Andrew felt like the missing piece to her contentment.

Then there was Zander. Their parents called him son. Some would call him friend. Kimberly and her sisters knew him as brother. Next door neighbour Miss Greenall, affectionately called him ‘Bubbles Bronson.’ However, only Kimberly knew him as serial killer. Zander’s behaviour as a boy was always questionable. Kimberly often found the remnants of twisted experiments in the family barn. Most commonly four stakes nailed into the ground with an animal leg bound to each. For some bewildering reason, the body and head were always missing. A smeared bloody mess in the centre of the four posts where the torso should be. Kimberly privately excused the behaviour, dismissing it as an over curious boy with a keen fascination. A mere boy, trying to figure out the workings of the world. ‘A passing phase’ was Kimberly’s favourite internal comment to dismiss the matter from her thoughts. Little did she know the phase would indeed end, just not the way she’d hoped. When finding animal limbs ended, finding human fingers begun.

As a teenager, Kimberly argued fiercely and often with her boyfriend. One night, an agument reached a new level and ended with her boyfriend slapping her. She stormed home, her burning hot face demanding swift justice. Telling her father would be confessing to a forbidden boyfriend. Entrusting any of her sisters was not an option either, at their age sibling rivalry was at a peak, what was a sworn sisterly secret tonight was ammunition to win father’s favour tomorrow. Besides, they were no more capable than she of executing any desired revenge. That left Zander. Despite his peculiarities, Zander valued confidentiality. He recognized having someone you can permanently confide in was a far greater commodity than frivolously cashing in snippets of gossip. After Kimberly confided in him about her forbidden boyfriend, Zander felt obligated to share a secret with her.

On the last weekend of the month, mother would take the girls to sewing lessons in the next town. Rather than travel back through the dark countryside at night, they would stay over and return the following morning. Father would take this time to frequent the inn. “Just staying up to speed with local goings on” he would tell Zander, often accompanied by a ruffle of the hair on his way out the door.

One such night, father returned home clutching a near empty bottle in one hand and a swaying woman in the other. Upon seeing Zander, their father raised a wobbly finger to his lips and slurred “sssshhhhh, get to bed, adults have goings on to discuss.” The woman giggled and the drunken pair staggered past a gawking Zander. The backdraft when they passed produced a prominent whiff of alcohol, strikingly foul to Zander’s adolescent nose. His father led the woman into the cellar, the only door inside the house with a lock. Zander watched the door close and listed to the lock turn but did not go to bed, instead he clutched his frayed one eyed teddy bear and starred motionless at the locked wooden door. A thumping on the outside door caused Zander to jump. It was their neighbour and close friend of his mother, Miss Greenall. She’d caught sight of Zander’s father stagger home with company. “Open this door right now!” she demanded. Zander’s head turned from the closed outside door to the closed cellar door. Thump thump thump. “Zander? Bubbles? are you awake? Open the door bubbles, for your mother’s sake son, open the door.”

Zander heard the cellar staircase creak then the lock turn, the door swung open to reveal the drunken woman. She floated passed Zander and drew a hand across his cheek. “Go to bed, kid.” The woman’s eyes took in the outside door. “rude bitch, banging on a door at this hour.” The potent smell of alcohol was back and impossible to ignore. The woman took a few steps towards the kitchen. “You’re not my mother.” said Zander to her back. The woman paused then continued into the kitchen. Miss Greenall continued her rapping on the door while spitting demands that it be opened. The drunken woman returned from the kitchen, a bottle of wine in hand. She stopped in front of Zander and leaned over to speak face to face. Her eyes were bleary and bloodshot. Her breath caused Zander’s eyes to squint and nose to crease. “Your mother is a dumb bitch, now get to bed.” The woman straitened and headed for the cellar. Miss Greenall continued her incessant pounding on the outside door. Zander watched the sway of the woman’s hips, it reminded him of a snake. Her hurtful words, the thumping on the door, the reek of booze all overwhelmed him. He let teddy fall from his hands; he ran after the woman and pushed sending her sprawling down the stairs. The woman tumbled through the doorway and was swallowed by the darkness. For the briefest of seconds, she vanished. Zander stood at the top of the stairs and held his breath. It would be best for everyone if the woman did just vanish. He could let Miss Greenall in to see there was no problem; his dad could go to bed without goings on to discuss. And he could pick up teddy and take him to bed for the night. Everything would be better if she just disappeared.

The smash off the wine bottle against the stone cellar floor eliminated Zander’s wishful thinking, the crash was followed by the woman’s body hitting against the stairs. Each stair lip made its own thump as she slid down them. Zander rested tiny fingers on the doorframe and peered down into the darkness. Miss Greenall banging on the door intensified “I can hear you. Open this door, now!” Zander’s eyes adjusted to the dark, at the bottom of the staircase the woman lay in a dark pool, Zander did not know if it was wine or blood. He did know she was dead, her head faced backwards, like she wore her clothes back to front. Heads don’t twist that way without the neck breaking and a broken neck meant death, at least that was true of all the mice and rats he caught.

Out of the darkness stormed the angry face of his father. A mass of gritted teeth and stomping boots charged up the stairs towards him. His father cast a cautious glance at the outside door before big meaty fingers clasped around Zander’s upper arms. His breath stunk of tobacco and alcohol, Zander did his best not to react to the abhorrent smell fearing it would somehow make his dad angrier. Miss Greenall continued to pound a fist on the door, her demands louder and more frequent. His father’s eyes darted around as plans formulated behind them. Eventually, his words came as an aggressive whisper. “Listen to me Zander and listen good.” His dad let go of one arm, wiped his lips and pointed down the dark stairs. “We’ll take her into your bedroom. Once we get it in there, go into the kitchen and fetch the honey jar.” Zander motioned to move but his dad’s grip held tight. “Do it quietly.”

Father and son lifted the dead woman up the cellar stairs. His father locked his hands around her torso while Zander clasped trailing ankles under his arms. The pair ascended the stairs, his dad’s eyes squinted shut as if every stair creek and sound was painful. They managed the body into Zanders room and lay it on the bed. Zander tip-toed into the kitchen and fetched the honey while his father slid open the bedroom window. Miss Greenall continued her incessant knocking on the outside door. Zander climbed out the window before his dad passed the body through. “Don’t let it make a sound.” whispered his dad. The body was heavier than Zander expected. He fell backwards and bore its full weight. The dead, alcohol soaked woman landed on top of him. He lay flat on his back and pushed up against her soft body. He managed to raise her shoulders but her broken neck caused the head to flop and sit limp against his face. Zander turned his head to the side and tried to spit away the dead woman’s hair. His father came through the window into the pale blue night and lifted the body of him. He threw it over his shoulder and passed Zander the honey jar “Carry this.”

The pair made their way into the near-by woods. The crunch of dead leaves and twigs seemed exaggeratingly loud in the stillness of night. Zander stared at the honey jar in his hands and pondered its use, a rebounding branch gave him a stinging cheek and forced him to focus where he was going. After several minuets of forging a path through the foliage his father suddenly stopped and let the body slide off his shoulder. It fell to the ground in a muted thump. Zander stared at the woman then the honey jar then his father. His father bent down and put a hand on his shoulder. Smear that over her, cover as much as you can. I’ll make sure no one followed us. Before Zander had time to question, his father retraced their steps and disappeared into the trees leaving Zander alone with the corpse. Dead leaves clung to the woman hair as Zander unscrewed the honey jar lid. He dipped three fingers into the thick cold liquid then kneeled down next to the body. He started at her, remembered her calling his mum a bitch and stuck his honey covered fingers into the woman’s face. He smeared her eyes, then her nose and although she had ceased breathing, he wanted to pour the honey down her throat just so he could imagine her chocking on it. His tiny hands worked feverishly on the woman’s skin, they traversed the contours he was told were private but this woman deserved no privacy, she deserved this, lying dead covered in the sticky liquid. “Don’t ever call my mum a dumb bitch.” The honey was difficult to spread and His fingers kept snagging on her skin. Although the night carried a chill, the young Zander worked up a sweat as he carried out his father’s instructions. His dad came back through the trees just as he scrapped the last of the honey out of the jar. His father appraised the sticky dead body. Leaves, twigs and dirt clung to the woman. Zander thought it a masterpiece. “Right, lets go.” said his father offering his hand. Zander took it and they headed back to the house.

Before they reached home, his father took a sack from a nearby barn. He put the honey jar inside. He wrapped it up tight and smashed the jar with a rock. They climbed back through Zander’s window into the house. Miss Greenall had given up the banging and returned home. Zander’s dad took the smashed honey jar and laid the shattered glass on the kitchen floor. He then grabbed scrubbing brushes and set a pan of water to boil. “We’ve got cleaning to do lad.” He said handing Zander a scouring brush and cloth. The two made their way down the cellar and scrubbed the dark stain on the floor. Zander now knew the dark patch was both blood and wine. The repugnant stench of alcohol did not seem to bother him any more. In a few short hours his disgust receded to nothing, just like the sight of blood when he experimented with vermin. The insides were gooey but so fascinating that he was prepared to endure the yucky parts. Now those yucky parts were gone and his fascination only intensified. “Do all animals look like this on the inside? Do people?” He had so many unanswered questions, questions he would find answers too. After an hour, his father declared the floor clean, Zander was ordered to change and get bathed. While he splashed in the bath, Zander caught a whiff of smoke. He guessed his dad was burning both of their blood stained clothes. Zander got out the bath and dressed in his bed wear while the sunrise peaked lazily in through the window.

Zander’s dad swore him to secrecy and presented a story to memorise. His father was helped home from the inn by a friend. He came in alone, and fell into a deep, drunken sleep. A rat or some type of vermin must have knocked the honey jar over in the kitchen, that was the smash Miss Greenall heard, and Zander was simply too frightened to open the door to her after a nightmare and hearing a smash in the house. He was a spooked child, quivering under his blanket. He saw nothing, he did nothing. Zander’s dad got him to repeat the story back. Once satisfied, his dad sent him off to bed. As Zander reached the bedroom doorway, his dad called to him. “Here, teddy wants to go to bed too.” His dad tossed the bear, Zander stuck out his arms and caught it in mid-spin. Zander climbed into bed were the corpse of a woman lay just a few hours prior, a woman who called his mum a dumb bitch. Zander gripped his teddy tight and pulled the cover over them both. His eyes went momentarily wide when he realised what the honey was for, bears. The honey was to attract bears. Bears would find her long before any search party did, she was going to disappear after all. Zander inhaled deeply, he could smell the dead woman on his pillow, a combined blend of blood and wine. Zander cuddled teddy tight to his chest and drifted off with a smile on his face. He really didn’t mind the smell of blood or wine anymore. In fact, he might even be starting to appreciate them.

The night after Kimberly and Zander swapped secrets; she awoke to a tap on her bedroom window. Kimberly slid out of bed and cautiously peeked through the glass. There stood the boyfriend who struck her. Furrowed Lines cut deep into a face that should be too young to harbour them. His eyes shifted as if being hunted and he trembled despite it being a summer night. Kimberly could not help but feel sorrow for such a forlorn sight. Kimberly thought the troubled expression was guilt for striking her, until he raised both his shaking hands up in front of her. Two bloody bandaged stumps were suspended between Kimberly’s blinking face and her boyfriend’s broken one. He burst into tears and promised he was leaving town and she would never see him again. The knapsack lying on the grass at his feet suggested he was telling the truth. He didn’t mention Zander’s name, he didn’t have too, Kimberly knew who removed his fingers. Her boyfriend fell to his knees and jittered a final apology before scampering a hasty retreat into the night. True to his word, he was never seen in town again.

In due course, Kimberly left the family home for a place of her own. Zander moved with her. His company being both reassuring and worrisome. “Fresh surroundings will do him good, help him leave the past in the past. A new start.” Kimberley realised the thought was born of hope rather than expectation and it was not long before digit mutilation blossomed into murder. Every few months, the town crier would announce another missing person. Kimberly never saw any bodies but found Zander’s bed unoccupied too many nights to ignore. However, sisterly love prevented her from making the connection definitive. “It could be coincidental. Lots of foul things can befall people in this world, lots of people run away.” She had even considered disappearing in her youth, had a bag half stuffed one night and if not for torrential rain, the Broxbourne town crier could easily have declared her a missing person. Despite her continual side stepping of the issue, Zander behaviour grew increasing erratic. He got more comfortable in Andrew’s presence and more complacent as a result. He would drop suggestive remarks regarding death and murder. He got drunk on red wine and demanded to know how many people Andrew had killed while in the army, and how he killed them, and if he enjoyed it. Kimberly fed Andrew whiskey in the hope of numbing his suspicion. It worked for that evening but in time, Andrew began asking questions about Zander’s eccentricities.

It was not until last week did Kimberly finally admit to herself her brother was a killer. He arrived home after work, dancing and giddy. Kimberly thought he had visited the inn but it was a crate of honey he bought on the cheap that had him tickled. Forty eight jars for a household of three people was beyond excessive and Zander’s glee at scoring some honey on the cheap was beyond normal. Kimberly knew why none of the bodies were found. They were not runaways, they were bear food. She spent several sleepless nights wondering what to do before finally deciding to approach the marshals in the morning. She turned over in bed, kissed a sleeping Andrew on the cheek just as the Broxbourne town guard sounded an alarm. The dead had risen.

The light from the eyes of the dead bathed the world red, the lake water looked like blood. She could hear the dead hiss and the stench of deathly decay was staggering.

Kimberly inhaled a fortifying breath. she reached through the window and clasped the hand she wanted to save. She bit down and heaved, the other hand shot across the water and gripped her around the wrist. She was not strong enough to pull them both out. Kimberly cried as she peeled off the unwanted fingers wrapped around her wrist. The hand let go, seeming to understand and accept its fate. Then it snatched her. A vice grip around the wrist cutting off the blood to her hand. Kimberly stretched back with her free hand and drew the dagger she kept hidden in her boot, a harsh necessity of traveling the roads alone. With a mournful cry she drove the blade into the unwanted hand. It drew back and disappeared underwater. Dropping the dagger she clasped two hands around the one she was trying to save. Something popped. Kimberly hoped it was a leg coming free rather than a shoulder joint. His face broke the water gasped for air. His free arm slapped on the side of the carriage and squeezed himself through the narrow window frame. from the corner of her eye, Kimberly seen the dead horde surround the carriage in a half circle, their moans, their smell, the blood glow in their eyes all demanded her surrender to madness. With little of the cartridge left above water his body finally squeezed through the window, the buttons on his shirt ripped off in the process. They shivered and met each others eyes. Kimberley broke the stare and pointed in the direction of the bolted horses. Decomposed hands clawed at their feet as they shared a solitary nod and jumped off the carriage onto the road.

The dead did not follow. Instead they climbed onto the carriage and into the window just as the lake swallowed it. A rush of bubbles broke the surface where the carriage went under. The dead stragglers made their way below the water and the surrounding world lost its red tint. The carriage and throng of dead stirred up the lakebed sediment, made visible by the glowing red eyes of the dead. The light faded as the dead and their prize drifted down to the dark depths of the water. Soon the night was still, the moon shimmered on the surface and the water rolled and sloshed over the muddy bank as it had done for thousands of years.

Kimberly lifted one of his arms and draped it across her shoulders while he held his sodden shirt closed against the heat sapping wind. The pair built distance between themselves and the crash site before a panting Kimberly sat down and thumbed over her shoulder. He sat behind her and they leaned on each other, back to back. He blew into his trembling hands. Kimberly silently wept. “I’m sorry” he said in between blowing into his hands. “That couldn’t have been easy.” Kimberly remained silent; he blew into his hands again. “I won’t ask if you knew it was my hand you grabbed, intentional or not you saved my life. I guess I’m trying to say, thank you.” Again Kimberly did not answer; he could feel her body wrack which heavy sobs. He decided to change the subject. “We’ll die of exposure if we stay out here. You know this road better than me, where can we go?” She leaned her head against his and scanned her surrounding. She forced her mind out of mourning and visualised the road ahead. “First we need dry clothes, there’s a cottage no too far ahead, we head there then we try catch up with the horses.” Kimberly tried to shrug off the memory of stabbing his hand, her face quivered before she regained her composure. “I have a horrible feeling the dead rising is not exclusive to Broxbourne, with horses we can break for the coast and snag a boat ride.” He didn’t answer but Kimberly felt him nod. Woe filled up inside her again and threatened to best her. She stood, and began walking towards the cottage before it moving was beyond her.

Kimberly heard the scuff of boots on the ground behind her as he stood up. She walked a few paces ahead, he seemed to understand her need to be left alone and stayed three paces behind. They continued towards the cottage against the cold breeze of night. Once beyond the lake, pine trees stretched ahead of them and disappeared into darkness. They towered high into the night on either side of the path. She continued to cry as she walked, tears ran and felt warm on her cheeks. Even after death he still somehow managed to offer a little comfort. Despite her tears she offered a one sided smile at the thought.

The world around them had changed forever. In every village, town and city the dead were rising. Every graveyard split and spewed forth the dead with a single purpose, revenge. Both empires were set to put differences aside. A new quandary was introducing itself from the very earth the soldiers stepped and bled on. A force that did not sleep, that did not tire. A force that felt no fear and knew no pain. This was no longer empire against empire, this was life versus death.

The end.

The Choice

What would you do when faced with the impossible? After fleeing in the night from the risen dead, Kimberly Bronson finds herself in an impossible dilemma, With the clock ticking she must choose between two people she loves. By saving one she condemns the other to death and any Indecision will see them both dead.

  • ISBN: 9781370798544
  • Author: JGJ Fairhurst
  • Published: 2016-09-18 02:20:12
  • Words: 6266
The Choice The Choice