The Walkers of
2016 Halloween Stories
By K. Massari
Copyright © 2016 K. Massari
All rights reserved.
Distributed by Shakespir
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This ebook is a work of fiction. The names, places, incidents and characters are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to persons living or dead, or actual events or organizations, is purely coincidental.
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“Are you sure?” she asked.
“What do you mean by that?” he growled with a gravelly voice, not looking up.
She held on. She did not let go. He was hauling everything from the insides of his car to a pile further towards the house. There were no lights on in the house. It looked deserted.
“Come on in now. I am so tired.”
She had no idea what he expected of her. Hers was a backpack and a bottle of water. She moved towards his pile (of suitcases and bags and boxes). They paused and stared at each other and then up at the house.
“This is our home now,” he mocked, and broke out in a broad but bitter smile, stooping down to grab as much of his stuff as he could.
“Want me to help?” she asked.
“Oh, by all means,” he threw at her over his shoulder. He marched away without another word, sweating profusely in the unbearable heat.
As she was picking up a large box (which turned out to be surprisingly heavy) she saw how he plucked a key from a flower pot dangling from the porch. He opened the door to the house with ease. He did not, however, turn on any lights until he was in the back of the house, so that she saw only a glow, not a real light. She hurried. Ford Road was utterly barren.
They had driven for at least five miles without seeing another house, without passing another car. She could not comprehend how this was possible. And she wasn’t at all sure it was a good idea to spend the night in a house with a man she hardly knew, other than from driving upstate with him all day, but before that, had never had any dealings with.
They had hit it off immediately, with a strong déjà-vu bond, both travelers on a nerve-wracking journey. She felt dizzy and stumbled forward and into the house to lean against a wall so she would not go down. He came back to her, his shirt unbuttoned. “What?” he asked, and touched her arm. She let him, despite the nausea. He was an exceptionally good-looking young man, not what you would expect of a psychopath lurking on a highway.
“Come on, let’s get further back. Let’s crawl into the place and make it our sanctuary. I don’t want anyone to see a light. They don’t have to know I’m back. We won’t be staying for long.”
“Back where?” she wanted to know, following him around. “Is this your mom and dad’s house?”
“They didn’t have a house,” he said bluntly, closing what appeared to be a kitchen door behind her. “It belonged to an aunt.”
“Let me get my stuff and hide the car, okay?” he continued. “Then we can … talk.”
She was about to object, but he was out the door again, lost in the night. She went to the refrigerator and opened it, and did not draw back in horror when she saw it had been turned off for quite some time. Somehow, she hadn’t expected it would be stocked up, not from the looks of the place. And it wasn’t exactly how her luck usually panned out.
She heard the thuds of his things being deposited in one of the front rooms. She checked the cupboards. They were bare. Could they order takeout, out here, in the middle of the night?
Or was he just not going to give her anything?
It was depressing. She got up, her coat over her arm, and considered just leaving through the back door, walking alone along the road, until she hit the small town they had driven through earlier. Would he follow her? Make her get back in the car? Why would he bother?
“What’s up?” he asked, coming in, shutting the door again, acting like a husband on a Saturday morning, his hair tousled, his chest tan and strong – but the dark circles under his eyes a sure giveaway that he had been working too hard for too long.
“Nothing,” she lied and he took her in his arms.
She dropped what she could, not only clothing, but also apprehensions and doubts and fears, and kissed him and ate at him, gobbling his salty taste up (his lips felt so good, and she hadn’t been kissed by a man in such a long time). Both of them were desperate, both of them were in such grave need of that joy only love can provide.
He stopped and looked into her eyes. He let her go and started to button up. He shook his head. His hair nearly covered his dark eyes, black strands hanging loosely.
“We need to eat and wash up.”
“I agree,” she said, looking around for something to tidy up with.
“Do you have running water?”
“I think so.”
They sat in the desolate kitchen, too tired to move. After what seemed to stretch like hours but was only mere minutes, he directed her up the stairs and gave her an order in no uncertain terms to stay in the back of the house. She found a bathroom with cold water, a toilet and a shower, but after all the hours on the road cooped up in a hot car, it was heavenly.
She did not have a change of clothing and the only towel was dirty and stale. As if he could read her mind, he knocked on the door and when she said ‘yes’, it opened a bit and he handed her a large T-shirt and what looked like pajama pants and a set of fresh towels. “Thank you!” she cried, but the door closed on her.
He was lying on the bed when she came out, fresh and clean, her hair washed with the last of her shampoo. He managed half a smile. “My turn?” he asked. She nodded.
One bedside table light was on, the room dark in the corners, as the lamp was tiny and a dishtowel had been thrown over it to further mellow the glow. Shadows were large and scary, so she was grateful she could slip under the covers. A plate with a sandwich and a peach was on her side next to the bed, with a glass of milk, and she sat up and chewed slowly and gratefully, her eyes wide, her heart beating rapidly.
Later he came to her, when she had drifted off to sleep, and he was a gentleman about it, kissing her hand, smoothing the wrinkles on her forehead, whispering ‘good night’. He did not try to have sex with her, although she moaned and hoped he would.
“Oh, and what I wanted to ask all along …” he said as she was fighting hard to stay awake, towards 3 a.m.
“What’s your name and who are you?”
They both giggled and laughed out loud, two children sharing a joke. He slid down deeper under the covers and turned the lamp off. The moon outside was nearly full and the light it flooded the room with, at once blue and gray, was much more comforting than the kids’ contraption that had cast such giddy shadows moments earlier.
“I go by Tracey.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too.”
There was an awkward silence, and she was sure he had fallen asleep. Or perhaps he was the kind of weirdo who would not sleep at all, plotting to kill her, staying awake at all hours. He had been exhausted, she reassured herself. And besides, it didn’t really matter, she might welcome it, her life wasn’t really worth fighting for. She would only ask one thing, for him to make it quick, but usually, on TV, they didn’t make it quick. She shuddered.
“I am not going to … kill you,” he said.
“But you could,” she answered.
“I probably could.”
“It’s like I know you though.”
“Yeah. We know each other.”
“How? Did you kill me in another life?”
“Doesn’t matter. All that matters is we’re here.”
“Maybe you’re right, Roger.”
“You know I am.”
After a moment of silence, he added:
“Oh, and Tracey?”
“I might kill you tomorrow.”
“Good night then.”
The bantering had been fun while it lasted, but she woke after midnight, drenched in sweat and breathing heavily. He was snoring softly beside her. Panic engulfed her from all sides. She needed to get out of there and she needed to get out of there fast. Or she would go crazy.
Concentrating on moving ever so slowly, she lifted his heavy arm off of her stomach. She swung a leg over the side of the bed. He mumbled something deep in his sleep. Tracey twisted and wiggled and pushed her butt out of the bed, but when she was standing, his eyes snapped open.
“Where are you going?” he asked, his voice thick with sleep.
“Bathroom,” she said in a creaky voice. She swallowed hard.
“I’ll come with you.”
“I have a flashlight. I don’t want anyone to see us …”
“At this time of night?”
“You’d be surprised.”
She could only shake her head. He stumbled out of bed and had to steady himself. He clicked the flashlight on, but kept the light to a minimum with a dark hoodie wrapped around it.
“Why don’t we just pull the blinds?”
“They were open before. That would show.”
“Are people watching this house? It’s all the way out in the boonies! We didn’t see another house or car for miles. Which is hardly possible, by the way.”
“Sometimes you have that.”
He should have said more. There was something he was concealing, of that she was sure. She searched his eyes, searched for answers, but he said no more. Instead, he led her to the bathroom and opened the door for her.
It was clear he would be waiting right outside the door until she was ready and finished. She scrunched her eyes shut as she sat on the toilet seat, never wanting to open them again. What in the world had she gotten herself into? Why had she spent the day driving around with him? She had wanted to get out of the car earlier, but he had kept insisting she stay with him.
“Are you okay in there?” he breathed from the other side of the door.
Why was he even asking? He was probably going to strangle her later on anyway. She thought of cheerily calling ‘I’ll be out in a minute!’ but that would have been so fake in the early hours of a horrible morning and this was going to turn into an even more terrifying day. She decided to try being honest, for whatever it was worth.
“Could you please … leave me alone for a while? Could you please stop hovering outside the door? Please?”
“Well, yeah, I could do that for you,” he said, his voice full of sadness. “But then you’re only going to freak out and run away. And then … we won’t get any sleep. And tomorrow will be just piss-awful, because I will know I’ve made a mistake. You are not the right woman for me.”
Tracey nursed herself by holding her head in her hands. ‘Oh what a fucking psychopath,’ she thought.
“Okay, okay,” she moaned. “I’m sick. I need some more time.”
“That is … not good. I’ll be in the bedroom. If you need me.”
“Call. And I will come.”
She did not trust him. He was not telling the truth. He had moved maybe a foot or two away from the door to the side. But he was definitely there. As if his feet were stuck in concrete. He was there, and he intended to be there until she breathed her final breath on this planet.
‘Get a grip,’ her internal voice warned her. ‘Go back to bed. Get some sleep. He might turn out to be harmless. You are wasting your time worrying. You need to rest instead.”
“No way is he fucking harmless,” she mumbled out loud.
Splashing cold water on her face, she studied her reflection in the mirror in the bluish moonlight. Her eyes were large and dark and they reminded her of the eyes of a ghost. Her skin was a sickly kind of glowing pale.
“I look like I’m dead already,” she said and moved ever so slowly and sadly towards the door.
He was in bed, half-covered, his eyes wide open, his erection showing. He didn’t look the slightest bit sleepy. He looked ready for love, a rough kind of love. He seemed to be toying with her, ready to jump up at any time. From the outside of the house, she heard a shuffling sound, but couldn’t quite pinpoint where the noise was coming from, couldn’t identify who or what was making it.
A homeless man, making his way down the road, same as she had intended? But it was the muted roar of many feet, more like an army. An army of homeless people? Well, they were outside. Tracey shrugged. Roger was the problem. And he was inside. She listened though.
Was it the hum of all the driving in her ears after so many hours? But the sensation would have disappeared after so much time on a cool night. She had been able to rest – a little.
“Do you think they’ll try to come in?” she whispered.
Roger twitched. He had fallen asleep, his head at an angle. Slowly, ever so slowly, she lifted the blanket and got under it next to him. The shuffling sound grew louder. Tracey, however, was very tired now. It had been such a terribly long day. She knew she should get up and go over to the window to check what the hell was going on. It was a persistent nagging thought, but she pushed it aside. She leaned against Roger’s arm for comfort and then she was asleep.
She slept a deep, refreshing kind of sleep, at first anyway. Then she had a dream. She was dancing with Roger, and the music was oh so good – the beat just right, and she was drinking and it was making her feel like a million dollars. They were going to have sex, she knew this in her dream, and it made her happy, made her smile in her sleep and in the dream. Then the beat turned into a knock and the knock turned into a knocking at the front door and the knocking just wouldn’t stop as she swam through the layers of consciousness and became more and more awake and aware.
Then the music died. Tracey was now completely awake and the only thing besides the annoying knock was Roger’s light snoring. Judging by the sunlight it was still early, six in the morning. There was someone at the door downstairs, wanting to come in. Should she answer it? Or wake Roger? Would he be angry? Or paranoid? After all, he was paranoid most of the time. She had had perhaps two hours of sleep. Tops. The sleep deprivation was painful.
Suddenly, it was over. The knocking stopped. Whoever had wanted to enter the house, had left.
Then she heard the tread of footsteps padding around the yard. “Roger?” a female voice cried out. The voice was shrill and harsh. “Roger!”
Tracey held her breath. She prayed the woman would just go away. She did not pray often. There was no use to it. God never listened to people like her.
“Roger? Something’s up. Better get outta bed. I seen your car, you can’t fool me.”
Tracey looked at him. His soft, even skin, the amazing cheekbones, the dark hair. Darn, he was good-looking.
“Get lost, bitch,” she muttered, biting her lip.
“Hello?” the woman yelled, louder this time, more urgent, but Roger slept through it. Tracey exhaled a sigh of relief.
After one last bitter “Roger!” and the woman was quiet.
Tracey made a mental not of telling him how aggressively this woman had knocked, no, how she had pounded on the door and how she had made a big deal out of calling his name, how she had even claimed she knew where he had hidden the car. Tracey fell asleep in the warm, balmy summer air and forgot all about what she had made a mental note of to remember. Tracey and Roger slept until noon and lay in bed until two, caressing, groping, making a drunken, lazy kind of love.
Roger rubbed his eyes. It was so depressingly hot in the room and there was so much light it hurt. The skies were a nerve-wracking blue. They were so clear and sunshiny he felt sick to his stomach. The only real beauty in the room came from Tracey, her gaunt gray body, her sunken cheeks. With a finger, he drew an imaginary line along her temple, her cheekbone and her cheek down to her jawbone and her neck. She did not stir.
He stared out the window, focusing on the mosquito screen, blocking out as much as he could while he was still lying in bed. It was strangely quiet, and although there were hardly any cars by day in this place, there usually were some. Now, there were none. It had started.
‘I’m safe here,’ he thought. ‘They promised. Ford Road would always be safe.’
‘Yeah, but you left them,’ an internal voice warned. ‘You never wanted to come back.’
‘They will forgive me,’ he retorted. ‘They always do.’
“They’re gone,” the voice conceded.
Tracey had her eyes open. “Hey there, sleepy-head,” he cooed, suddenly in good spirits. It took a while for recognition to flood her senses, and she looked at him in a stupor until it dawned on her who exactly he was. Then her face broke out in a smile.
“Well, didn’t expect you’d be happy to see me,” he said softly, snuggling against her. And she put her arms around him.
“You are so so good in bed, Mister.” Then, after a delicious pause, she added:
“Why is it so hot in here?”
“It’s past noon.”
“The sunlight is killing me,” she said.
“You have no idea,” he answered.
“Is there coffee?”
“I wanted to tell you something …”
Perplexed, she stared at the wall. There had been something she needed to tell him, but her thoughts were a mess and there was no caffeine in her system. She couldn’t for the life of her recall what message it was she had to get across. A headache was coming on, too. She stretched. She yawned.
They each got out of bed on their side, neither of them happy about facing the day. Only one of them aware that it had been their last happy moment in life together.
“Those people,” Tracey said, lifting her chin to indicate a crowd of about fifteen standing in a pasture on the other side of Ford Road, “what are they doing over there?”
Roger, who was moving around again with the practiced dexterity of a husband on a Saturday morning, shot a glance in their direction through the window, and shrugged. “Beats me.”
“Waiting for a farmer to give them work?”
Tracey raised the mug of coffee to her lips. It smelled heavenly. “They are all doped up. Look at them.”
Roger was drinking his coffee and staring at his shoes. “I love coffee,” he said bluntly.
“So do I,” said Tracey. “Are they some kind of hippie commune?”
“It’s worse, and that is why I saved you.”
“Have your coffee, dear. We still have time.”
She glared at him. What was he getting at? “So you lied.”
“What?” he asked, looking honestly confused.
“You acted as though you had no idea what was wrong with those people.”
“I just don’t feel like talking about it. I don’t know how to deal with all of this …”
He waved a hand around dismissively and scrunched up his face to show her how he loathed the house, the place, the weird people, perhaps his family, just everything. Especially in the afternoon now because it was too hot, too bright out, and he needed coffee. Fair enough, she thought. ‘I won’t push.’
Then she remembered something. It shot into her mind like a flash of light. She remembered the woman who had come calling for Roger. He probably wouldn’t be too happy if she asked him about her, but he might be equally pissed if she just said nothing. So she ventured forth, laying out the plans for the day. Dealing with all the uncomfortable people of Ford Road.
“You know, Roger, this morning – well, it wasn’t morning actually – there was this woman, pounding on the front door, yelling up the side of the house … and she said she knew where your car was.”
“Well, I told you, nothing out here goes unnoticed,” he said. “Even if a feather falls from a tree, or a dandelion is blown away in the wind. Especially not right now.”
“But it’s deserted. No cars. No houses.”
“It’s better that way. Believe me.”
“You aren’t too happy about being back,” she said thoughtfully. “But you do know this place.”
“Let’s just leave it at that.”
She wanted to say more, he could tell, so he nodded for her to continue. He poured more coffee into her mug and offered her some creamer.
“Are we safe? Are we staying here?” she asked.
“Those are the big questions I guess.”
She raised one of her beautiful eyebrows. He was tempted to touch it, to run his finger along its curve. Outside, the group of people mulling around were groaning, as if in pain, and Tracey noticed, too. She began to stare in their direction, horrified. Roger cracked a smile, and Tracey tried to understand.
She looked at him, more questions in her eyes. He kissed her, slowly, softly, with wet lips. In the distance, a woman screamed. Tracey tried to pull free, mesmerized, but he wouldn’t let her go. He held on. She resisted the urge to be drawn into what was happening and stayed with him instead. She wanted to be a part of him, even though he was not the healthiest person to be around. She wanted this kind of relationship, true love, as the world was coming to an end. The ultimate cliffhanger.
Somewhere further down Ford Road, tires squealed, then screeched. A moment of suspension followed and the impact was near. The car crashed into a tree, perhaps. Soon, it was quiet. Too quiet.
Tracey started to run for the door. Roger grabbed a fistful of her sweater, restraining her. She looked at him with wide open eyes, not understanding. She tried to wrangle herself free.
“But we’ve got to help,” she said, her voice cracking.
“First and foremost, we have to think of ourselves.”
The group of weirdos quickly turned into a troop of uncanny soldiers, marching in a wobbly file towards the crash. Suddenly, they were very much alert and able to move at a rapid pace. Tracey was amazed.
“I’d of thought they were too retarded to bother,” she said and winked at Roger.
“Oh, you’d be surprised. There’s a lot of damage they can do.”
“Is it … a disease?”
“That’s the official explanation.”
He tugged at her sweater. “Darling, we really should be going …”
“Upstairs. There’s a walk-in closet, stuffed and suffocating. For now, it should do.”
Tracey was in a kind of a stupor; it was easy for Roger to lead her by the hand like a small child. They had barely reached the first floor landing when all hell broke loose.
The screaming was loud and unbearable. Someone was literally being torn apart, limb by limb. The crunchy tearing sound was unique and awful. Roger dragged Tracey along for a few steps, but soon gave up because she had gone from stupor to numb, and so he hoisted her up against his chest and carried her. Once they had reached the closet, someone came barging in downstairs, yelling and cursing and whimpering. Afterwards, shots were fired.
Roger secured the walk-in closet from the inside with a latch. It wasn’t much and it wouldn’t hold, but for their very special moment in time, there was not much more he could do. He was hoping Ford Road would work its magic. He rushed to the far corner of the small cell, where he set Tracey down on a pile of musty-smelling clothes.
“Are there rats in here?” Tracey asked, breathing erratically.
“Shush, little girl,” he answered. “No, there are no rats in here. Are you afraid of the dark?”
“Gotta grin and bear it. The bad stuff has started. They always said it would.” He added:
“Lie back and try to get some rest. I’ve done what I can for you.”
“What do you mean? I don’t understand.”
Downstairs, rowdy voices were shouting, the raw emotions in the people surfacing under great stress; the members of a family were in the midst of a heated discussion. It sounded to Tracey as if they were used to this kind of a yelling match. Their barking had a beat to it.
Tracey wondered why, in a matter of seconds, so much would seem so obvious to her. They were in distress, they were on the run. She could clearly hear it, even though the individual words were blurred together.
One word in particular, though, was repeated over and over again, and caught Tracey’s attention immediately.
“Zombies?” she asked Roger, her eyes large and full of fear and terror. “This is a joke, right? A prank?”
“These walkers are … dead.”
“No, they’re not. They’re alive and shuffling around and killing people!”
“If you say so.”
“And what are you? Who are you? Why are you acting so smug in all of this mess?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
For a long time, he did not answer. Downstairs, a female family member was crying. Her anguish was causing her to sob. Tracey glared at Roger. He was grateful for the dark in the walk-in closet. He felt defeated, despite himself.
“Why did you bring me here?”
“I was told I could save someone …”
Tracey stared at the floor, and even though he could hardly see her, Roger could make out the shape of her head bowed down. He could smell her fear.
“You know, don’t you?”
“You so deserved it. You deserved a chance at Ford Road.”
“What is so special about this place?”
“It’s different. The people whose land this was explained it to us once. My family told me about it, but I chose not to listen. I just went for the city, to forget. Now, I’m grateful, actually. I’m grateful for the rift.”
“You must be prepared. It’s not an easy decision.”
The female family member, the mother, was arguing downstairs in what must have been the living room, pleading with the family to make a run for it.
“Let’s at least try to get back to the car!” she screamed at the top of her lungs.
The father was telling her and the kids to stay put. “You know it broke down, don’t you remember?” he yelled back.
“We’ll find another one that’s working. We’ll find one. And we’ll get away, we’ll drive far away!”
“I know the guy who lives here. He was one of them. They are our only chance. Believe me. They know Ford Road.”
“Those are just stupid stories. Ghost stories. Ford Road is just like any other road out in the boondocks. We’ve got to get back to civilization to see what’s happening. To be safe.”
“What’s happening? It is over. There is no more ‘safe’. America as we knew it is gone.”
“Dad? How can you say that?” one of the children – from the sound of her voice, a young girl – asked.
“They’re monsters, didn’t you see? They … killed Martin.”
He sobbed. A wail of desperation escaped him, even though he was trying to be strong for them. They all started to cry.
Tracey imagined they were holding on to each other, forming a circle of sorts, and her heart went out to them, even though she usually hated families. She would never have one. A child, maybe, but would she be able to raise it? With Roger? No, not with Roger.
“Can’t we help them?”
“I’ve made my choices. It’s too late.”
“What is he talking about?” Tracey whispered back. “He said ‘the guy who lives here’. Did he mean you?”
“My family settled on Ford Road. We know its secrets.”
“So why don’t you share them? People need all the help they can get right now.”
“That … isn’t possible.”
“Are you human?”
“I can’t do more. It’s their story, their life.”
“How come …?”
“Shut up. Just stop. Please. Okay?”
“Now you’re Roger again. And I’m the hitchhiker.”
“Yeah. I’m driving.”
The hum was all around. Tracey sat on a pile of old clothes, clutching Roger’s arm. All around the house, at various vantage points, the dead people (who weren’t really dead, but moving and – killing) were trying to get in. Tracey seemed to be aware of this, but the members of the family downstairs were not. They continued their talking, heatedly discussing their options.
“They’re dead … but you called them something.”
Tracey was whispering again, although there was no need to, her head on Roger’s shoulder. He rubbed his cheek on her hair and answered:
“Did you know they would happen?”
“Yes. We’ve known for a long time.”
“Why didn’t you try to warn anyone?”
“We never trusted anyone.”
Tracey fell silent. She still had many questions. Roger obviously had some kind of family, or was a member in some kind of secret group. It was troubling to her.
The walkers were inside now. They were stomping and crashing and tearing into the house. Roger was leaning back against the wall, his eyes closed, and every few minutes, he clicked on the flashlight feature of his phone, illuminating his high cheekbones from his lap. Tracey thought he was such a beautiful man.
“Will they come for me too? The walkers?” she asked breathlessly.
“No. You’re safe. This is Ford Road, remember?” he said, turning his phone off, staring at her. There was love in his eyes, tenderness, and she shuddered. Then, she sat up.
“Roger, we are all on Ford Road. It’s a place, a physical space. The family downstairs, they’re in this house, and it’s located on Ford Road.”
“They are not with me.”
The roar was deafening. The family downstairs was fighting, furniture was being splintered and destroyed, thrown against the walls, and the people, they were all screaming at once. And … it sounded as if they were being … eaten. The sound of flesh ripping, bones breaking. The tearing noises seemed oddly familiar to Tracey. As if all her life she had been expecting something like this to happen. As if she had seen it often in her dreams and nightmares. As if she had known the planet would go bankrupt. It harbored no love. It could not last. Nonetheless …
“Roger, we have to help them …” she said.
“There are so many, so very many,” he said, sounding defeated, his shoulders slumped. Tracey sighed.
“I had strength for only a few.”
“Thank you for considering it.”
She hadn’t expected him to utter even one sentence that would in any way show compassion towards the family or anyone. He was, after all, a coldhearted loner, with a grudge towards society. (But so was she.) He was mellow now, softened by the monstrosity of what was taking place. Stacey tried to get up, but he pulled her right back down.
“Stay.” It was all he said.
“Is there any way to fight the walkers?”
“You’d have to be able to kill like a machine.”
“Yes, I can kill.”
“No you can’t.” Now she was fighting him to get up and out of the walk-in closet.
“Tracey,” he continued and then he kissed her, “you’ve known from our very first minute together … that I’m not like other people.”
“You were worried.”
“I thought you were a weirdo.”
“I thought you would hurt me.”
“That still replays in your mind. How … I would kill you. You consider the amount of pain I would put you through.”
“How many have you killed?”
“It’s what we do. It’s what I do.”
As the cacophony on the lower level died down and gave way to an even more horrible silence, Tracey once again leaned against Roger, her only guiding light in this new unbelievable reality. From far, far away, first responder sirens were heard and shots were fired. It felt as if it had grown dark, as if impenetrable nighttime were around to further cloud the misery and the mayhem.
“Are they gone?”
“They’re still feeding,” Roger said matter-of-factly.
“How long do we stay cooped up in here?”
“Until it’s really quiet. Close your eyes. Try to sleep.”
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
“Sure, why didn’t I think of that?”
“Quite okay, dear.”
He would have preferred to ride most of the tumult out in the closet; Tracey was sure he did not want to leave. But she really, really had to pee, apocalypse or not.
With his phone flashlight, Roger led the way. “I’m outta juice,” he said. “I have to recharge.”
“I will find you there?”
Tracey risked a sideways glance out the window, with hooded eyes and a rapidly beating heart. Orange flames licked up in the distance, groping at the reluctant and indifferent night sky. The rear lights of cars cordoned off entire sections as an exodus began. Shouts and screams echoed into their abode.
Even in the yard below, fistfights broke out and walkers gathered, drawing strength, relieving their vilest undead urges with a hate-filled vengeance. Tracey was paralyzed. The craziness was everywhere. There was no comfort left, no more beauty.
Roger gently shoved her towards the bathroom. “Nothing we can do,” he muttered, more to himself. She just let herself be pushed, limp like a rag doll.
She closed and locked the door behind her. Her head was spinning. How would they get out? Would they have enough to eat? Would the stores even have food, or would the looters take everything away? They were not looters, concluded Tracey, but people trying to survive. Urinating felt heavenly after such a long time cramped into the back of a musty-smelling walk-in closet. And Roger frightened her again, though she yearned for him with all her soul.
She sat there and started to cry.
Eventually, she began to feel alone and longed to seek refuge in his arms. Perhaps they could even stay bed for a while, and sleep. But sleep would be impossible under the circumstances. Sheer exhaustion was always a possibility.
Tracey washed her hands and wondered why the walkers hadn’t tried to come upstairs … Should she risk a peek at the carnage in the lower level down below? She shivered. Something or someone indeed was protecting her.
Ford Road … It was just a drab country road. With a pretty farm sprinkled here and there. Not much for hitchhikers, though. Too long and lonely.
Roger was in bed, with his hands behind his head, relaxing. She gazed at him dreamily for a few minutes. Then, she had to ask. She knew she was being annoying.
“Are we safe here? Why don’t the walkers come up the steps to see who else is in the house?”
“They wouldn’t dare. Not with me around.”
“What makes you so sure? Have you experienced walkers before? And when? And where? Oh … on Ford Road.”
“Ah … so many questions. So much fear.”
“Can we sleep for a while?”
“If you want to. Might be a good idea.”
“And will we have food to eat …”
“Yes, we will.”
“Because … of Ford Road.”
“Yes, we are the gatekeepers.”
“And who told you that you could save me?”
She laughed, she couldn’t help it. It sounded ridiculous. Who? God? Roger drew her into his arms and kissed her. A kiss to answer all questions. They got into petting while all the world around them got into a war of survival. Explosions caused the window panes to rattle. The smell of smoke wafted into the bedroom from the back; even the mountains were on fire.
One thing led to another, and finally, he wanted inside of her, and she had craved it all the time. She jerked up and shook her head. Then relented and moaned. She was with him. Finally.
Despite herself and the situation she was in, after coming twice, she had to giggle, from her belly upward, if only as a form of relief. He lay beside her, smoking, as the world all around them imploded and ceased to exist as a beautiful and powerful America. Someone threw a bottle through their window, and the wine splashed onto the wall. Tracey sat up and he pulled her down.
“Do we … disappear … into Ford Road?”
“If you want to.”
“What does that even mean?”
“If you stay too long, it won’t let you out. There are a lot of things you have to learn.”
He offered her a cigarette, which she declined. “Is it … different in there?”
“Most of them just didn’t want to return to this world afterwards.”
“Most of them? How many have you taken?”
He sighed a heavy sigh. He swung his feet off the bed and sat up. He hoisted up his jeans. Slowly, Tracey grabbed a blouse and slipped an arm into it.
“Will I die? Will it be quick?”
“Shush, little girl. You won’t die today.”
A tear escaped her and rolled down her cheek. It had been the worst day in the history of mankind, and she had had the very best sex she had ever had. She stepped into her pants. He was watching her, with love in his eyes, and desire.
“Are you in there often?”
“Me? Yeah, sure.”
“Does it change you?”
“Yes. You don’t age as much.”
The night was calmer now; the wailing from the highway had died down to a dull muted mumbling and whimpering of lost souls. They were cussing, but words were no longer coming out of their mouths. Words were useless now. America was over. It was a smoking tar pit. Ruined for generations to come.
Roger took Tracey by the hand. They went down the stairs and without bothering to inspect the damage, they walked briskly out the front and quietly down the street. It was Ford Road.
At first, there were cars and dead bodies and the undead mulling around in the distance. Then the trees and the pastures took over, along with the moonlight and the stars. Everything seemed to fade into the background. The noise went soft, the sky became serene. Tracey felt totally at ease, as if she had swallowed her mom’s valium, or had had too much of her dad’s gin. It was a blur, but a sweet, soothing blur. The kind you have before you drift off into sleep on the last day of school.
They were inside, she could tell. They were on the inside of Ford Road. Roger’s car from the day before stood waiting magically towards the side of an old barn.
“Wait …” said Tracey. “Where are we going now?”
“Deeper … always deeper.”
She nodded and let Roger lead her. They got in the car and drove off. Behind the bend, Tracey worried about seeing walkers, but there were other cars, very clean, longish, she realized she was in the 1960s.
“You called it a rift.”
“There’s a thing,” he said, watching out for traffic. “If you talk too much about it, you might find yourself back in the other reality. You have to make a point of accepting Ford Road as your reality. Then it will help you. And keep you.”
“Okay,” she said and nodded. “Silly me with all my questions.”
“Your life has changed dramatically in the last 24 hours. I understand.”
“You’ve changed too.”
“Yeah, this ‘forgiven’ business … it was never my style.”
Tracey knew better than to press for more details. She was losing the need for answers. They were coming close to a town. The town looked nondescript. As they drove past an ice cream parlor, Tracey longed to lick the heavenly treat on a cone, but there was a ‘closed’ sign on the door. As they drove further, Roger’s appearance began to change, his hair suddenly seemed much shorter, cropped, and he was wearing horn-rimmed glasses, not the round kind, but the angular. It made him look strict, like a teacher. His jaw bone was clenched. Tracey swallowed hard.
“We’re married, honey. And we have four kids.”
“What?” asked Tracey, “what the hell?!?”
She pushed the vanity mirror down and saw that her hair had been dyed red, and she had a scarf on against the wind. Also, she was wearing dark sunglasses and a sleeveless dress. A dress!
She smiled, and her white teeth were smudged red with lipstick. This was not good.
“Roger, can we leave if we want to?” she asked timidly.
“Yes, we can leave the Halloween party tonight when and if we want to.”
“It’s not Easter, you know?” he growled, and laughed a wicked laugh. But then he realized he was being short and mean and apologized. He took her hand with his right hand (and kept his left hand on the steering wheel, driving ever faster), and brought it to his mouth and kissed it.
“I have always loved your soft hands …” he cooed.
“You are speeding …”
“I want to get home fast, that’s all.”
Tracey hated this place and this time already. It was so not her. Ford Road was a pit stop on the highway to hell.
Commander Dale Harrington, more commonly referred to as ‘The Freakshow’, plowed his bulldozer into Roger’s house in a last chance power drive. Behind him, the crowd roared. It had to be here somewhere. That was what the bitch had spit out after an all-night torture session. She had lost plenty of her teeth and her good looks during the procedure.
This would be the end of it, the agony, the chaos, the lawlessness (oh, but that part he liked), the nights waking up in sweat at the sound of walkers gurgling, chugging, approaching. Lord, how he hated them and their vile stench. A mixture of plastic and vomit and dried blood.
He had heard about Ford Road all through his younger years, but it had been the thing to muse about down at the watering hole, after a drink too many and a lost game. He never took it seriously … until he saw his first walker.
“Where is Roger?” they had all asked.
He was the only one. Someone had seen his aunt banging on his door and checking out his car. Had he been home? He had not opened. They had dragged her away and tried to beat it out of her. She told them what she knew, before passing out.
“You’re too crazy to even know what you are doing, you dickheads!” she had screamed.
So here he was, plowing up Roger’s house, while his buddie thrust hoses full of water on it. No sign of Roger, no sign of a rift for the zombies to go back into and disappear.
“It does not work that way!” the aunt had screamed, before Dale slapped her in the face … again.
“It does when I say so!”
Dale refused to give up. He had to be on it, but nothing was budging. “Go get her!” he screamed. “That fat aunt.”
“We can’t,” they yelled back. “She died.”
So he brought his big smoking machine to a stop. Right on top of the rubble that used to be Roger’s house, some of the walls still standing. Dale rubbed his head.
They would wait for Roger, in the woods. He would come back, he always did. But why would he, this time?
Dale didn’t even know what Roger looked like. He couldn’t remember ever talking to the man. Dale felt sick to his stomach and defeated. He had not slept in two days. But they were all looking up to him. They needed him for help. They begged for someone to guide them, to get them out of this colossal mess.
Now they were dragging someone towards him by the hair, a man who had been to school with Roger, who knew him, a homie, a friend. Or so they thought.
“Roger has no friends!” he was yelling, as a cog of Dale’s smacked him.
“Okay, okay, lay low,” Dale called out. “We’re getting nowhere here.”
He got down from the bulldozer and came sauntering towards his new victim.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I’m Caleb from Ford Road.”
“Oh, are you now.”
“Yes, my dad owns the farm across the street.”
“Good, then you know all about his place …”
“That I do.”
“Guys, get me more beer and a drink or two and coffee … whatever you find that might humor our new friend … Caleb.”
Tracey’s mind raced back 48 hours. She had washed her hair in the gas station public restroom, ice cold brown water coming in spurts out of the faucet, chilling her fingers. It had felt so good anyway to get rid of at least some of the grime. There were other drivers needing the toilet, so she had had no time for her toothbrush, and no time for mascara.
Idling outside had been an incredibly good-looking young man in a big sedan, warm and inviting, and quite obviously too good to be true. He was staring straight at her. She hesitated and looked out towards the highway. It was drizzling. It was cold.
When she had bought a roll of Pringles with her last money, the weatherman on the radio in the convenience store had talked about a storm. Then, there was mention of a strange new virus which had already claimed many lives in the United States alone.
So she had sprinted towards the sedan in the rain and opened the door on the passenger side. The driver smiled.
“What took you so long?” he asked.
She got in. It wasn’t the smart thing to do. It just wasn’t. But her bones were sore and the new upholstery felt so good against her strained back, a dream come true. Maybe just this once, it was her easy break, her lucky chance, her big thing to happen.
He had smiled an amazing smile, with perfect white teeth and perfect sincerity. She had decided to stay with him and hope for the best. But real life? It never worked that way, now did it?
‘Halloween Party Tonight Dear’ read the note on the refrigerator door in this other reality she had come into, where she was a housewife with an uber-dedicated, utterly humorless husband. She actually caught herself longing for the gas station restroom, as crazy as that sounded, if only to have another chance at it, to see it play out differently.
Her kids were screaming and fighting and Roger had vanished. Halloween was looming, with bags of candy everywhere. Did she have to live a fake life so as not to die of exposure or sadness or an unforeseen virus? Who had decided she was married and had children? When had all of this happened? She made a vow she would do what it took to leave this Ford Road horror story, but first … she had to live through … Halloween.
After a glass or two of whiskey sour with ice, Caleb warmed up to the fact he was now working for a guy named Dale. Not that he liked the bully freak. He seemed to be in charge, elected by a nameless group of vastly desperate people. What did he know about Roger? Dale was asking him.
“I’ve seen him maybe four or five times in my life. High School? I can’t remember.”
“Go on …” Dale said and blew cigarette smoke in his face.
“His folks were different, the entire family and the entire … heck, everyone here … knew.”
“If it helps you, yeah. Vampires. They killed. They killed people who ventured out here on the country roads. And they disposed of them. They drove the bodies into the rift. After they had gutted their stuff and their cars.”
Now Caleb had their undivided attention. He was in a crammed room with muscle-heavy thugs. They were all staring at him, transfixed.
“You drive, same as always, and then … you are somewhere else.”
“You go back in time. Or forward … I have never been. My dad, he told me.”
“And what’s the point? What’s there to gain?”
“Makes you younger. More powerful. Better in bed …”
The whole room exploded with laughter. This did not deter Caleb. He shrugged and downed his glass.
“Some never came back.”
“Folks are talking it’s where the walkers came from,” one of the men interjected.
“That might well be. Who’s to say?”
“Could we get rid to them that way?”
“I cannot answer your question. I could show you … where they say the rift is … However, it is not always in the same place, and you have to want to find it. But yes. It works as … a garbage disposal of sorts. What goes in doesn’t always come back out. That’s what my dad told me.”
“Good. Good riddance.”
“That’s all I know.”
“Well, thank you, Caleb. We’ll try come morning.”
This was met with disapproval. They wanted to go look for the rift right away. Caleb understood their feelings of helplessness, he himself was scared out of his wits because of the walkers. He had narrowly escaped being bitten. He saw others being eaten.
“I’d have to agree with you we have to do something, anything, to fight for our lives and for our country – for the whole planet!”
“Okay, let’s hit the sack and see what we can do when the sun is up.”
The meeting was adjourned. Dale left, he marched out and his men stomped angrily after him. The only one in the room was Caleb, and he found himself surprised he was no longer a prisoner. They had ripped half of his hair out, though, when they were dragging him.
“It’s your duty as a wife …” Roger purred.
He did not smell the same. He reeked of aftershave, and not of cigarette smoke.
“Have you ever killed someone?”
“What?” Roger sat up in bed, as if he had been slapped.
“You’re not Roger, you’re some time puppet.”
“My dear, I have no idea what you are talking about. Does Halloween scare you that much?”
“Halloween never scared me.”
“Then what is wrong?”
“I want to go back to my time … and my place in the world.”
As if anxious someone could be listening in on them, Roger bent his head close to hers and whispered in her ear:
“We can’t go back there. That world is in flames. Destroyed.”
“Do you really know that?”
“The dead have conquered it.”
“Did they come out of here? Were the dead hiding in the rift of Ford Road?”
“Yes. The ones that could not move on.”
“Oh, heavens, but that would mean they were the criminals and the bad people in their lives.”
“I don’t really know.”
“You are one of them.”
“I am a monster. Yes, but He wanted to … forgive me.”
“He asked if anyone wanted one more chance.”
“And you said yes.”
“It was not unconditional. I had to find someone who could love me. Then, I could take some of my people with me. On my new journey.”
“Is that why you’re putting on this act? Are you trying to make me love you?”
“I guess I never really thought about it. I don’t really … know what love is.” He paused and shrugged. Then he said:
“I guess I’d just like to forget.”
“And not be Roger anymore?”
He nodded. She could understand that, but it was not her choice. “I need to go,” she said bluntly.
“You were close. I thought you could really love me.”
“That was in reality. Outside of this … side show.”
“Okay, it’s just not working, huh. We’ll try and sneak out, tonight. After the Halloween party.”
“Why is this party so important?”
“Because the spirit will be there.”
“What kind of spirit?”
“Some of us think it’s the Savior.”
“At a Halloween party?”
He looked at her and she could tell he was puzzled. She touched his arm and turned to look at the night sky through the window. It seemed unnatural, full of distorted clouds and stapled stars. When she glanced back at Roger, he was clearly not the same beautiful, terrifying man she knew. He was a wax figure, mechanical at best.
“We have got to get out of here.”
“This was the only other option.”
“Could you take me back to the gas station where we met?”
“Is that what you really want?”
“I don’t want to let you go. And I have no idea if we can even make it that far.”
“How about you take me there in this world … and we see what happens?”
“All right. I’ll check to see if the kids are still asleep. Then we can hit the road.”
“Who are those children?”
“The children we might have had.”
“Yes, I thought of having children with you.”
“Did you … love me … a little?”
“I would have wanted to.”
She smiled. “But Roger? This here. This ‘inside’ Ford Road. This just isn’t right. We must leave. Or I’ll go crazy. Please.”
She kissed each of her four children goodbye. She shed a few tears, but this was not reality. Then, hand in hand, Tracey and Roger rushed out to the car. Just in time. The earth beneath their feet began to rumble violently and shake, as a bulldozer came tearing through the bowels of Ford Road. Dale and Caleb had found the entrance to the rift and were now foraging through with pickups and an army of beheaded but moving walkers. In the beds of the trucks there were stacks and stacks of dead mutilated bodies as they had learned to kill the walkers.
Tracey gasped as the rift’s edges started to burn and explode. Roger calmly started the car and drove in the opposite direction. From out of all the houses, people were pouring into the streets in their pajamas or naked even, and they held onto each other for support, seeing their once safe and sweet world being ravaged and invaded by power-crazy walker-hunters. Some were truly angry and mustered guns and knives. They were rushing forward as a group in the direction of the intruders.
“Who is that?” asked Tracey. “The macho driving the bulldozer.”
“Roger! Roger!” Dale called out.
“He doesn’t know me,” Roger said calmly, watching the spectacle in his rear view mirror.
They sped off, and Tracey recognized the highway they were approaching. She sighed a great sigh of relief. Roger, though, was changing. His hair was growing longer by the minute, his complexion was returning from pale and waxen to rosy and tan and strong. His glasses disappeared, and his goatee grew back. An intricate tattoo on his arm flushed up from the depths of his new skin. The landscape was breezing past and Tracey let the window roll down. They were back to being partners in crime, Bonnie and Clyde on the road.
Driving for what seemed like hours, Tracey relived their relationship and especially their love-making in her mind. Every precious second. She admonished herself to remember the fear, because Roger had been strange and unsettling and still was. Despite that, the time with Roger had been great, intense; she had felt emotions and sensations she hadn’t even known she had.
Off the highway, a glazy orange sun was setting and figures appeared black against the horizon. Roger had tears in his eyes. Tracey took a sip of water.
“I am always asking questions.”
Then she added:
“They’ve come to say goodbye.”
A muffled sob escaped him. He waved wistfully but none of the shadows waved back.
“They are my family, some of the neighbors, others were strangers. I saved as many as I could. I collected their photographs, their journals, their computers. I brought everything back to the house, you helped, remember? I was going to shield them, I was going to invite them to the inner sanctuary of Ford Road. I failed.”
“The end shattered my dreams,” he continued. “But the Father told me I could try …”
“When did you meet the Father, Roger?” Tracey asked, sitting up straight, looking at his exquisite profile.
“I was driving into Ford Road one day …” he answered. “And I zipped out on the other side somewhere else …
“So are you saying there’s more?”
“What was the Father like?”
“He was nice-looking. He sat on his porch. It was an old farm house out in the country. And it was autumn. I felt so at home. I have never felt that way before.”
Roger smiled at her, then stared at the highway in front of them again, detached. Tracey thought he would not let her know more.
“I jumped up a few stairs to the man and my heart swelled with love. It was magic. A golden light engulfed me. It was like being hugged by a million angels. Just to be near.”
Tracey was impressed, but more than a little scared. She fidgeted in the passenger seat, as the sun disappeared behind the horizon and the darkness crept in.
“Roger,” she said softly. “Are you sure this was … the Father?”
“It’s what he told me.”
“Does he love us … love us all?”
“You and me, huh Tracey, we don’t live like that.”
“No, we don’t, Roger. We live our lives as though the Father in Heaven business is just bullshit.”
“He told me to try and save people, he also told me I was forgiven, and that I should try to love someone deeply … before the end.”
“Me?” Tracey was wide-eyed and tears began to flow.
“Yeah, you, sweetheart. YOU.”
Tracey covered her face with her hands. Her small frame was quivering. To be loved. By Roger. And saved. All in one final day.
“Do you want to go back?”
Slowly, she let her hands slide off her face. It was dark out and no cars were on the highway. Only shadowy figures to the sides. She knew right away in her heart it was somehow over, as much as a part of her wanted it to continue.
“I can’t tell Roger. How much of any of this is real? I guess it’s just better to go back to … being me.”
“I hate to hear that. But you’re right. It’s over, isn’t it? That’s the feeling I’m getting, too. There’s no more time left.”
Up ahead, she could see the Sunoco. She clicked herself out of the seatbelt. Good to go. There was no one around, no cars, no people, no one. The shadows were gone now, too. One last look, one last kiss as he stopped the car. A quick peck. She waited. That was it. The love of her life.
“Is this what you want?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said. “This is my story.”
He let her go. He did not hold on. She rushed out over the parking lot and into the restroom, which was not locked. She leaned against a wall and closed her eyes. She knew she would be alone again from now on.
Time passed. It was past midnight outside. She washed her hair in the cold water by the light of a dim, stained lightbulb. She washed it without any shampoo. Patting it quickly with paper towels, she rubbed until her hair was close to dry. Then she sat down on the cold tile floor. She slept, her head against the wall.
Tracey woke up with a stuffy nose and a headache, a cold coming on. Her bones ached from sleeping in an uncomfortable position on the floor of a gas station restroom. She braced herself against the sink. Counting to twenty, when she was ready, she opened the door, which thankfully was still not locked, and wondered what the world outside would be like, now that the dead had been regurgitated into the midst of the living. Would everything be destroyed?
It was a hazy, overcast day. The sky had bled rain, and lots of it, overnight. The cars were stuck, their contents spilled onto the highway. Some drivers were on the rooves of their cars, others were lying on the tarmac. It was a horrific scene, and Tracey suppressed a scream. The walkers were nowhere. That was good news. Then, further away, she realized a man was standing next to his sedan, arms folded over his chest.
It was Roger. He seemed to be waiting, waiting for her. What should she do? Was he the only man left on Earth? Tracey had to laugh despite her situation. She limped towards him, grateful to have found him. When he saw her approaching, he turned and got in his car. Tracey tried to move faster, to run even, but Roger was ready to go.
She reached him and asked, breathlessly, jokingly, with one hand waving to get his attention:
“Hey Mister, please, can you give me a ride? Roger? Roger! It’s me … don’t you …?”
“Not today,” he answered and drove away, down the country road, away from the highway, towards Ford Road.
He left Tracey behind him, standing with her mouth ajar, to fend for herself. She watched his car grow smaller and smaller, then she turned, wanting to find food in the store, but the gas station had been torn apart, literally. Perhaps she could pilfer a candy bar, so she went back, and started her search.
But as she stumbled towards the pumps, walkers emerged from a copse of birch trees, blood-smeared, blood-hungry, lunging towards her. So she turned on her heels and headed towards Ford Road, too, in a hopeless gesture, because she simply didn’t know what else to do.
Tracey DiMarco is homeless. She is hungry. And cold. She has just spent her last money on food. The weatherman on the radio at the store warned about a storm brewing. This after reports a virus has broken out and already claimed many lives. A young man offers her a ride in his new car at the gas station. Should she take the risk ... he is so goodlooking. How could he be evil? And so she gets in his car and smiles at him, never knowing what she just got herself into ... A haunted road ... as the heavens conspire, and Earth's time is running out.