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The Dusk Mistress - Darkest Days Revisited

The Dusk Mistress – Darkest Days Revisited

G Johanson

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2015 by G Johanson

 

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

100 years old – I’m what you call vintage, an antique. I never thought I’d reach my centenary so I was happy to celebrate with the family when they came to visit the home. If I’d have been able to get a word in edgeways I could have told them a tale or two. I’ve lived through Vietnam, WWI and the sequel. The Titanic didn’t make it on my watch, nor did Buddy Holly or Amelia Earhart – sadly the Enola Gay did make it, but the guilty consolation for me was that it didn’t target Berlin, as it very easily could of. I lived my first 7 years in Bavaria, or Germany if you prefer, and the following 93 in the US of A so those two countries capture my imagination more than the rest. I’ve seen two Presidents assassinated; I’ve seen the last Kaiser ascend to the throne and descend into exile, seen the Third Reich grow from a Beer Hall shambles to cover almost an entire continent. I cheered on Max Schmeling and Franz Beckenbauer; I cheered on Hitler for a while too before the full horror became apparent. I’ve seen my homeland split in two, one of many territorial changes but by far the most emotive. The Sondheim song I’m Still Here pretty much sums up my feelings about my life.

 

Of course I shouldn’t still be alive – I should have perished 93 years ago.

 

My name is Kirsten Truszkowski. Back then I was Kirsten Theiss, only daughter of Dale Theiss and ? Quacks would have you believe that missing one parent fundamentally affects you for life but I never felt like I was missing anything. My mother loved me enough for two parents and did her best to provide for me. She sheltered me as best she could from the backlash she faced as an unmarried mother. The first time I was aware of it being a problem was when two girls weren’t allowed to play with me and told me why. There were tears before bedtime that evening and Mother dried them for me and advised me to ignore them. Facing your critics head-on is probably better for your own self-esteem but shying away from conflict and keeping a low profile did improve the situation.

Home, sweet home, was Niederstadt in Bavaria. A small town, with a population of close to 6000, I always felt safe there. A walled town, the only way in or out of Niederstadt was through the town gates. Our defences were ultimately our undoing, as it meant that when the outbreak happened none of us could leave. The gates were locked and we were stuck inside with creatures from a terrible nightmare that would make soldiers swoon. The walking dead took over our town in a matter of hours during the longest night. It wasn’t mindless either; the first few waves simply killed their prey quickly and effectively before moving onto fresh targets. These victims would then rise up and join them until there was well over a thousand of them. Once the army was of sufficient number their stance shifted from conversion to complete devourment. A lion would leave more flesh on a deer than they did their quarry. Back then I couldn’t decide what would be worse: coming back to life or being eaten alive. Either be damned and forced to endure a hollow existence as one of them or experience excruciating, unimaginable pain. I would probably have opted for conversion at a push whereas now I know better.

Mother was walking me home from the Mongoose, the tavern that she worked at while I stayed upstairs in a back bedroom out of the way. I always got the impression her boss would rather I stayed at home but he allowed my presence in his home. I was a pretty good kid if I do say so myself, and kept out of mischief no matter how bored I got. When he first took over the tavern from Wulff Winter he wanted to be seen as agreeable, to try and be as popular as Wulff, who made very healthy profits from the small establishment, enough to buy a large property outside of the town which he turned into an inn. As such, when Mother, who stayed on as staff, asked if she could continue bringing me round while she worked, as she had with Wulff as her boss without any problems, he agreed. Three years later and I could tell he was starting to get fed up. If I made the slightest noise, dropped a cup or anything, he was very quick to investigate and not very friendly about it. Most of the time I was completely silent and didn’t give him any ammunition so the arrangement was just about working. The hour must have been late and I recall she was asking me what I wanted for supper when we saw them. They would have put anyone off their food, and they were just the recently turned. Later into our stay creatures that looked worse than them were encountered, though not particularly by me. I was reasonably sheltered, all things considered.

Hedwig Winter had been dead longer than a few hours and she looked truly abhorrent. She had been a stunning young woman too, which made her transformation seem worse, tarnished beauty. She seemed sprightlier than the other zombies. She was all severe angular movements, almost as if she was rediscovering movement. The other zombies talked so we knew they had some mental capacity from the start but Hedwig appeared different. All they seemed to care about was munching on live flesh whereas I could see that all sorts of thoughts were flooding her mind. She might have been reliving her murder or remembering her complicated private life in which she juggled several lovers, including an elderly award-winning scientist, a young lothario and her husband, a colossal bruiser. Two of those men died around the same time as she did, leaving Wulff to take the fall for her murder, though he always protested his innocence. Hedwig was always flawed; I knew that from my earliest memories at the tavern. She did whatever made her happy. Admittedly that doesn’t sound like a crime, but she didn’t care what consequences her actions had on other people. I liked him more than her but I did like her too because she was kind to my mother. They were both considered fallen women and Hedwig looked out for her because of this, in death as in life. The undead men at her side wanted to take us and she ordered them to leave us be. We didn’t stick around to ask questions.

Mother and I found refuge at the church, where we had not exactly been regular visitors. Mother had graduated from pauper to barmaid, which was still not the most prestigious position in town (one step above prostitute, two steps above Hedwig) but the vicar and his wife couldn’t have made us more welcome. The Fuhrmanns were more prepared for the crisis than we were, having their faith to help them through it. The vicar’s father was with him too, almost as ancient as I am now, but full of life. He helped me out a lot, did Siegfried. When the grownups were talking about the carnage outside he would distract me, tease me and play games with me. If I could have picked anyone to survive beyond myself and Mother, it would definitely have been him.

Having said that, I was keen on Bruno Pilz too, though the policemen didn’t turn up at the church for a few days. They stayed out on the streets for as long as they could trying to quell the outbreak before they were driven back by the zombie hordes. By the time they arrived we’d already suffered our first fatality. Quite how Erwine Loewe made it to the church is beyond me. From my recollections she didn’t live anywhere near it, though I could be mistaken or she could have been visiting someone at the time of the coup. She looked as old as Siegfried but I don’t think she could have been based on the ages of her children. The crisis was enough to make anyone jittery and Erwine was certainly that. A religious woman, she prayed round the clock morning, noon and night the whole time she was with us. I would say that her prayers were answered when her heart gave out. The stress was too much for her, deliverance granted less than 48 hours into the ordeal. Compared to how most of the town perished that was positively merciful. She wouldn’t have been able to handle what was to come. At that time the rest of the group didn’t know how clever the zombies were or how they could be stopped so I imagine the body was buried intact.

At least she reached a decent age. The children of Niederstadt suffered the same fate as the adults. Everyone I went to school with perished. Everyone that was in the town at the time, which was virtually everyone. Nowadays people travel frequently but back then it wasn’t the norm so it stands to reason all of my friends and enemies fell. The only other child survivor that springs to mind is Johanna Kirsch. We had been friends, both of us coming from ignominious backgrounds, before I turned on her. Her mother moved to Niederstadt to live with her parents while Johanna’s father was in prison and when he was released after several years they went back to the city to be with him. Johanna was aghast at leaving, barely remembering him, but instead of comforting her I took against her for deserting me. She must have only been gone a couple of days before the outbreak, the timing perfect. I did contemplate contacting her years later before thinking better of it. I’d burnt my bridges with her in any case and I realised it would do her no good to know what happened to Niederstadt, and to her grandparents.

I had gone to school with one of the initial survivors. Hermann Metzger was quite a bit older than me and was a little wild. I recall that our mild-mannered teacher, Mr Petersen, thrashed him a number of times. One of his friends was at the church too, Koenig. They were both pleasant enough to me and Mother. Even as a child I recognised that they were a little shady. The Reverend seemed to assign a lot of jobs to them. Idle hands and all that. They were the first to go out on supply runs, before the police showed up and disagreements ensued. In their defence Hermann and Koenig did bring back plentiful amounts of food and drink during their long forays. In taking such risks for the group I feel they were entitled to raid the town for valuables. It reached a point where they couldn’t hide the jewellery, silver and cash upon their person and that was when Luther tried stopping them. The boys didn’t mount a very good defence when he called them to task for looting. As far as Luther was concerned it was acceptable to seize provisions or weapons and nothing else, and even then only when an officer of the law was doing the seizing. It would be nice to think that the boys ran off after the lecture and escaped the town with their booty but I know better than that. They would never have left their loot behind so they must have pushed their luck one time too often. Because they’d disobeyed him and gone out without his permission it seemed like Luther was…pleased is too much and inaccurate as nothing seemed to please him. Vindicated, maybe?

The police arriving definitely changed the dynamic of the group. It did feel safer, which was a plus point. Bruno and Pahl had a way about them that was reassuring – a lot of old school police officers have that. Nowadays they’ll have training and courses for that sort of thing but I think it’s innate. It’s popular nowadays to hate the police and the establishment but we’d be lost without them. Beier was there too, a rookie who never got to show what he was capable of. He seemed pleasant enough the little I did see of him. It was Luther I couldn’t take to at all. Authoritarian, humourless (admittedly there wasn’t much to laugh about but a little gallows humour did help from time to time), Luther took charge from the start and organised us with military efficiency. With the wisdom of hindsight I am extremely grateful to him and can see that he was thinking of us at all times. He certainly wasn’t courting popularity in his decision-making but he was willing to take all of the risks to see us through. According to my mother he’d been a very different man before the crisis, known for being a soft touch, a lenient police officer. Losing his uncle, aunt and cousin and the whole sorry experience hardened him as it would anyone. Wulff Winter swooping in to save the day made for a more dynamic hero, rugged, hard as nails and able to fell ten zombies with a single punch. As Wulff (even his name was more potent than Luther Schultheiss) gave Mother her first decent job in town, at the Mongoose tavern, I’d been spoon-fed positive propaganda pieces about him from a very early age.

Wulff came and went later. To begin with there was Mother, me, the Fuhrmanns, then Erwine, Adolph Reiniger, the deranged bell ringer, Hermann, Koenig, then the four police officers, then Manfred Trautmann. Luther and…I’ll guess Bruno, saved Zweig after a few days and brought him back to us, crutches and all. I’m forgetting Aloisia Heiden. That’s easy done, because she was never really one of us. She was always separate, a solitary, strange creature. I don’t know how to put it really. Her aunt was just as weird; my mother told me that she had stories to tell about Ilse Heiden but she never did share them, though I gathered they were sinister. All of us, bar perhaps Luther and Wulff, were frightened. Aloisia’s fear eclipsed the rest of us, even me. The slightest sound and she’d leave us all for dust and hightail it to the bell tower. Everyone else got stuck in; I can’t honestly claim that Siegfried did much but he never ran off, never deserted his post. It didn’t help that she was an outsider, new to Niederstadt, visiting at completely the wrong time. With her aunt dead she had no connections and her behaviour rubbed us all up the wrong way. Only Luther defended her, and that was just because of his sacred duty, to protect all citizens as an officer of the law. I think if he hadn’t been around things would have turned quite ugly for her, especially regarding Trautmann, who despised her to a pathological level, never missing a chance to slight her, often getting Bruno involved when Luther wasn’t around. Mother would have bowed her head submissively under such fire and they might have been placated but Aloisia had an acid tongue, which just made the enmity towards her worse.

We survived in our bolthole for almost two weeks without being detected. The closest we came to being discovered in that time was when the Mollerings turned up outside seeking sanctuary. They were too loud when they shouted for us to open the door. We heard them and so did the zombies. By the time the men attempted to move the barricade it was too late. The hardest part of this for the group to take, and which caused dissension, was that there had been time to let Mr and Mrs Mollering and their four children inside, though we would only have been delaying their deaths by minutes and revealing and dooming ourselves in the process. Trautmann took it the hardest and he went berserk afterwards though was soon contrite and apologised to Luther, accepting that he was right. Yet another occasion where Luther standing strong and acting for the greater good kept me alive and yet another reason why I hated him at the time.

We definitely had our fill of internal dramas and lost one of our group to natural causes and three to the undead but the grisly deaths played out outside of our refuge so didn’t impact that greatly. I was more concerned about my doll, which had been left behind in our flat. I never had many toys growing up, not until we moved to America, so Lulu was always very precious to me and the thought of one of them getting their hands on her sent shivers down my spine. I’ve seen it with my own children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren too, that every child has their own special toy which they cling onto for dear life. My comfort item was lost out there with the undead and it distressed me. A lot of the tears I shed during that fortnight were not for the thousands that had lost their lives or the danger that we were in but were for Lulu.

We lost Beier when Reiniger finally fully flipped out (which had been coming for some time, Mother taking great care to keep the sharp knives used in cooking safely out of reach) and rang the bells in the middle of the night bringing the horde to our doors. Luther led them away just before the barricade gave way, braving the rooftops like the Pied Piper of zombies. They came drawn to the noise and left drawn to the meal that leapt tantalisingly above them. When Trautmann went to fix up the barricade there were still a few of them milling around which Wulff Winter dispatched for us. I felt more secure as soon as he was with us. Even though he’d been implicated – more than implicated, he’d actually been arrested for his wife’s murder – his reputation remained intact. I don’t know if it was that people thought he was innocent or that his hated unfaithful wife got what she deserved; either way he was still held in high regard. He was the man you went to if you were in danger, or being harassed or bullied. His reputation meant that he didn’t even need to fight anymore; he would simply have a quiet word and problems would vanish. Whether people misused this, I couldn’t say.

I remembered Wulff very well from when he owned the Mongoose and I would play upstairs with his daughter, Anna, while my mother worked her shift. She was a lovely girl. The sort that went unnoticed, kind and unassuming. It was a shame what happened to her. He always used to give me gingerbread to take home – funny the things we remember. If it was late he’d walk us home too, which the new owner didn’t do. However dark it was, it never made any difference when Wulff Winter was walking with us, because I knew I was safe, whereas when it was just me and Mother I felt very apprehensive. Ironically, if the new owner had walked us home he might have been spared with us and joined us in our refuge rather than whichever of the two grim fates he experienced. Wulff hadn’t been in the town when the outbreak happened, having scaled the walls from the outside to get in, no easy feat, I’m sure, and he was able to tell us that our plague/curse was confined to Niederstadt and was not affecting the rest of the country. That news made Mother really emotional. It was such a relief for her to know that there was hope that I might grow up in a ‘normal’ world.

It all kicked off when Luther returned back to the fold the next evening. The group as a whole were pleased to see him (my childish pique excluded) but Wulff’s arrival saw some bad blood spill out between the two men. Luther had been dating Anna, who Wulff claimed was alive and well elsewhere (which me and Mother discussed years later and agreed was likely a lie, Wulff fooling himself), which formed an undercurrent between them. Wulff’s legal status didn’t help either, Wulff on the run from prison, returning back home to help us despite the risk of death and being recognised and arrested and shipped back to Munich. To my eyes at the time Luther seemed squarely at fault. He was so off with him and you could see him struggling to repress his pent-up rage towards Wulff, who bore his insulting manner well. Luther pulled a gun on him to illustrate his authority. It was a horrible scene, and I think there must have been more going on than any of us really knew. Luther had saved all of our lives the previous night, so for him to pull a gun on someone…I truly don’t think it was as black and white as it appeared at the time.

I remember Luther banned us from using candles that night and Siegfried got very cross with him. He could barely see anything at the best of times, but he was just about able to play cards with me (though he was very bad at recognising certain face cards, and I let him have a few hands that I needn’t have), which went out of the window under Luther’s strict rules. The lawman laid down the law in even more militant fashion than usual because Wulff Winter got under his skin. It was common for Hedwig Winter to inspire such antipathy in people (which was the main reason they moved out of the town into an inn in the country, because of the hostility she faced in the town) but it was very unusual for anyone to feel that way about him. He was our likeable (possibly homicidal) gentle giant. Even if he had killed Hedwig I would have still trusted him enough to leave my kids alone with him because I know how he was with me.

There was another incident following the gun confrontation that has stuck with me just as vividly. It happened in the early hours when I got up to use the pot. We kept reasonable standards of hygiene, all things considered. We had several pots in use which were cleaned every day, thankfully out of my sight or smell. After I had wandered down and done my business Aloisia appeared in the corridor, beckoning me with a bony finger to follow her up to the bell tower. At that point I had no real reason to hate her – that came later – and I wasn’t scared of any members of the group so I decided to venture up there with her. We had never interacted much so I was curious as to why she wanted my company all of a sudden, feeling secure in the knowledge that if she did anything to upset me I had the power to have her expelled from our sanctuary, her position precarious from the off.

Mother would have gone mad had she known what I was doing, and she would have been right to do so. There was no rail or barrier at the top of the bell tower, hence why Beier had been able to fall so easily to his doom. I stayed well away from the edge, following Aloisia’s eyes as she revealed what she wanted me to see. She said a lot of cryptic stuff, most of which I didn’t fully take in as the sight of that creature in the dark captivated me. I remember gasping and covering my mouth when I laid eyes on it, wondering how I hadn’t seen it from the off. It stood on a rooftop some distance from the church, a beast covered in fur yet standing on hind legs like a man, like a minotaur or other crossbreed. The howling seemed to give it away as a wolf or werewolf. Aloisia made some digs about Wulff, purporting that he was the same as the thing we looked at, but I knew that Wulff was locked away downstairs and that he was a man while this thing was something else.

“The monster you see isn’t always the most dangerous.” Those words, uttered by Aloisia, stuck with me, partly due to the grave delivery and the ambiguity. I took it to mean that the main threat of zombies was the lesser of two evils, and posed nowhere near as much threat as those things. Though, technically, the werewolf was the monster we saw at that moment. Who knows what she meant? She was never an easy person to read, and the antithesis of a team player yet she had suddenly wanted a companion, or a witness at least. I never told anyone about what I saw and never saw anything like that again but I know what I saw was real – in a world where the dead could rise up again anything was possible. There was something noble about the beast, which seemed to have as much sentience as the zombies, maybe as much as us. It made no move on us, seemingly mounting a vigil, an animal sentry, maybe staking us out as food or something more? The answers would never come, and my next interaction with Aloisia was much more unpleasant.

Wulff stayed for a day or two with us. He was largely kept in confinement with Reiniger in the Reverend’s chambers before he left his cell (to Luther’s chagrin) to ostensibly undertake a supply run. Luther and Bruno had been out recently so we weren’t that desperate for food so it may or may not have been a pretext. I can’t imagine it suited him to spend time with Reiniger, who was restrained and gagged otherwise he would bring the undead back to our door again. Leaving enabled him to do something constructive and put his plan into action. Wulff’s plan was another cause of dissension between him and Luther. Luther came up with an escape plan which involved the Burgomaster’s horse drawn carriage and the town’s sewers – not taking them down there. It wasn’t quite that silly. Luther intended to ring the bells again and lure the zombies to the church while Pilz went to the Burgomaster’s mansion and unlocked the secured horses and carriage and rode to meet the group in the town square, where we would emerge from the sewer. It was high-risk, and no mistake, especially for Luther, who would die even if his plan came off, sacrificing himself for people he didn’t even seem to give a jot for. Wulff objected to this plan from the off and proposed another one which suited the lion’s share of us. Wulff volunteered to play exterminator, willing to keep us supplied while he killed the undead once and for all. He’d already killed around a hundred and believed he could kill the rest within a few weeks. His supply run gave him the opportunity to winnow down their numbers further.

It also gave Luther the opportunity to put his plan into action. We weren’t a democracy and, as the two plans could not coexist, we had no choice but to go along with him. It was no use us sitting in the church waiting for Wulff to finish them off if Luther was going to ring the bells and have our sanctuary ripped apart. He couldn’t risk Wulff coming back and talking us round, a mutiny not that unlikely, so he acted quickly. The reason he gave was that the horses were in a sorry state and had to do this now or never, but that only unnerved everybody further. For me and Mother the prospect of escape was insufficient motivation to offset the terror of being caught by them and ripped apart, disembowelled, beheaded. Siegfried was apoplectic. But we had no choice.

The full complexities of the plan weren’t shared with me. I was told all I needed to know to prepare me for what I needed to do. The way it was presented to me was that I had to stay by my Mother’s side throughout, in the streets, in the sewer and into the carriage. I was urged to be quick but it was made out that there would be no danger, that we were unlikely to encounter many zombies. Even at seven years old I didn’t buy that. Alterations were made; Luther was persuaded by the group to let Reiniger ring the bell in his stead, under his supervision. At some point Luther left him, presumably once he’d seen that he was doing as instructed, making a rooftop escape and heading to the Burgomaster’s estate while we waded through shit and the zombies homed in on the church, the barricade buying us all some time. This way Bruno came with us, which was better as far as I was concerned.

Mother gave me a gift before we departed to boost my confidence. Bruno gave her the key to the town gates, a vital part of our escape, as his way of proving his love to her, of proving that whatever happened, she would escape. She passed it on to me. It was a big, clunky and heavy key and I felt tremendous responsibility. It was on a chain so I put it around my neck for safekeeping and just hoped for the best.

The sewer…I come from a time before ordinary families had access to decent toilet facilities so I was no stranger to chamber pots but the concentrated stench down there was very difficult to stomach. I tried holding my breath at first, which only made it worse when I needed to take a deep breath. Mother carried me to try to keep me out of the water but the water was high and she was no giant so it still soaked my feet and ankles. Still, they weren’t down there, so it was a half decent stratagem. There was someone else down there, besides the rats. Ernst was a vagrant, a hobo as the Americans would say. We’d lost one loony in Reiniger and immediately gained another, though Ernst was more manageable. Reiniger had been sane his whole life and snapped due to the crisis whereas Ernest had always been mentally deficient. Another important distinction was that Ernst didn’t have a death wish, having come down into the sewers to hide from the undead. He was more emaciated than usual and Aloisia mistook him for one of them, an understandable mistake. In her terror she hightailed it again, smashing into Siegfried, breaking his hip in the process. The pair of them were very thin and frail, like two skeletons colliding, though she was younger and had the momentum.

Siegfried’s injury slowed us down a little. By the time we made it to the manhole in the town square the bells had stopped ringing, signalling Reiniger’s death. I know the Reverend was very upset about leaving Reiniger behind. He’d been the bell ringer there for many years; I don’t think Reiniger had any family, his life tied in with the church. Bruno climbed out first and the clear path that had been discussed turned out not to be so clear. Luther did what he said he would, drove the carriage virtually right on top of us so we could get straight in while Bruno and Trautmann fought off the zombies that lurched into the area. Mother put me on the ladder to go up next and Aloisia wrenched me off to go before me. Such a nice woman. I’ll admit I was hesitant and slow but what seven year old wouldn’t be in the circumstances? The chain came off my neck and was lost in the sewer for several minutes, in which time the small number of zombies up top had become a horde. I had to fish around in the shit for it, so by the time I found it I was pretty much covered head to toe in the piss and shit of the people of Niederstadt.

Bruno was eaten alive during this time, something I’m pleased I didn’t witness, and Wulff came onto the scene, kitted out like he’d been through a shredder. Mother made me go back down a few steps at this point, though I could hear that there was a brief set-to between Wulff and Luther, which resulted with Wulff appearing above us and telling us to remain down in the sewer until he came back for us. With that he replaced the manhole cover and left us in darkness. Shortly after that the sounds got worse from up there. The horses screamed before galloping off, the sounds of bones breaking and blood flowing and flesh being torn asunder, along with howling from a different sort of wolf which made me think of the creature that Aloisia had shown me. We all just stood silently, listening to the hell above us, not knowing whether to stay or retreat. The option of leaving by carriage had gone, which I have to say, could have worked. Bruno would have died either way but I think most of us could have got out if not for the delays. If Luther and Wulff could have been on the same page and forsaken the battle of the egos who knows how many of us could have lived?

Anyway, Luther’s plan was dead in the water, which was what we feared we’d be as time passed deathly slow in the sewers, where the sounds of carnage above appeared to be amplified. Howls and moans abounded for hours as a war was fought on the surface between ungodly creatures. By the time the manhole was removed again it had grown dusky, though we were able to make out that it was Wulff Winter who stood above us, and he appeared to be completely naked now, the scraps that he had been wearing previously now gone. Wulff appeared very grave and unsteady on his feet as he warned, “We must be quick.”

I think we all doubted the remnants of the group were capable of that but we tried our best. Zweig went first, climbing up the ladder as best he could followed by Mother and I. Ernest and the Reverend struggled with passing Siegfried up the ladder, resulting in Wulff having to briefly venture down to carry him out. Siegfried did not let his pain or the dire situation affect his humour, asking Wulff if he scared the zombies off with his cock. Wulff was never the greatest of jokers and he didn’t play along. It was clear that he was exhausted, both physically and mentally, and we could see why. Way over a hundred zombies lay dead in the marketplace, torn to pieces. This was the way Wulff had wanted to kill them in his original plan, which many of us had backed, though he intended to kill small pockets each day rather than the vast numbers he had dispensed due to this emergency. It was hard to find anywhere to stand where you weren’t stood on some body part. Once we were all out of the sewer Wulff led us the short walk to the gate, carrying Siegfried as far as he could before he had to pass him to his son and Ernest. He had to stay behind to lock the gate and finish the job he started. We were sad to leave him, on a personal level, and also as a protector and some of the group did try to talk him round. He’d scaled the walls to enter the locked town in the first place so we figured he could lock the gates from the inside and scale them to come out. Reverend Fuhrmann was especially worried about him, noting that he didn’t seem like himself, which was understandable as he had just committed an act of savagery which would not sit easily for any man. That his victims were the undead and his cause just did not make performing such deeds any easier. He wasn’t for turning, ushering us out and telling us, “Use my inn as your home for as long as you need. None will leave here; you have my word.”

Wulff’s inn couldn’t have been more than a few miles away but it took us hours to get there in the darkness with our various frailties. Of all of the townsfolk to survive we really were the least likely. Geriatrics, cripples, mentally deficient hobos – Mother was the only adult in reasonable condition. Once we finally made it there we stumbled around for an age until Gudrun found some candles and then we barricaded ourselves in. I don’t think any of us had any appetite after a day spent in the sewer but Mother and Gudrun still made a meal and collected our clothes to wash in the morning. Me and Mother shared Anna Winter’s bedroom and borrowed some of her clothes, which were a better fit on me than they were on Mother.

We heard Wulff approach the following afternoon. I was ordered to stay in my room and barricade myself in while Mother investigated the sound, which turned out to be a very ramshackle cattle driven cart. I don’t know where he got it from but due to the extenuating circumstances of our emergency I feel whatever he had to do to get it was excusable. He had been very remote the previous evening and he remained distant and preoccupied as he talked us through what we should do next. Thankfully he’d found some trousers, so that suggested he was a little more grounded, grounded enough that he conformed to the custom of making oneself decent. He also had Lulu and Felda. Felda was my second doll, in rank and appearance, the kind you don’t really give a shit about. It was picked for me by an ‘uncle’ I didn’t like and I remember that instead of being grateful for Lulu I was flummoxed as to why he’d rescued Felda. He had seen Lulu before and while there were superficial similarities I somehow expected everyone to be able to tell the difference. My ingratitude was terrible, really, though at least proved that the experience didn’t make me grow up too fast. I still acted like a child, which was good, as there were certainly enough adult years to come.

The Reverend tried very hard to persuade Wulff to come with us but he was immovable. Some of the others thought that was because he was a fugitive and maybe they were right. I thought then, and still do now, that he was going back to Niederstadt, which didn’t hold the same fear for him as it did for us. He found ample supplies for us, in his home and in his garden, and he set us on the path for Altwinden. He had one last gift of gingerbread for me, the type that old Koch used to sell, this parting gift meaning more in retrospect than it did at the time. He put his body through hell for us and we never really got the chance to repay him.

It was very late by the time our cart crawled into Altwinden, where the Reverend led us to the local church where we found shelter for the night. I can’t say I slept soundly there, knowing that the horrors still lurked just 20 miles down the road. Siegfried was able to see a doctor the next morning and that was the end of him. He’d been holding on so long to see us through it or so we wouldn’t feel bad at leaving him behind. From what the doctor said he just passed away peacefully mid examination. We stayed in Altwinden for a few days and there was a surprising amount of dissension in the group considering most of the bigger and more combustible personalities were no longer around. The Reverend wanted to tell everybody what was going on in Niederstadt whereas Zweig and my mother didn’t. I guess with my mother it goes back to putting her head in the sand when others disparaged her, of not making waves.

Mother wanted to stick around for Siegfried’s funeral. She knew how important it was to me and she had liked him too. The Fuhrmanns invited us to stay with them wherever they ended up and they promised Mother that they would leave Altwinden after Siegfried was buried but she decided to put more distance between us and the infestation. We didn’t get that much further away due to our very limited funds but every town and village we made it to was one step further from them. I recall some very hard times over the following few weeks, including nights spent sleeping in shop doorways.

Mother’s critics would have crucified her for the speed with which she moved on from Bruno. She did mourn for him and might have done so for longer if her need had not necessitated that she move on. In her defence I had never been told to call him Uncle Bruno which proves that their relationship had never been that serious. Mother met a tailor named Oskar Hoffmann who fell head over heels in love with her, the pair marrying within a fortnight of meeting. Afterwards the three of us moved to America. This was at Mother’s behest and suited me too, the additional distance from Niederstadt making me feel a little more secure.

Before we went we heard whispers from Niederstadt. Prior to that there were terrible tales from the North of a massacre across a chain of small hamlets. It was reported in only one paper and portrayed as being committed by a cult dressed and made up in macabre fashion. The body count was estimated at around 80, which made the story very newsworthy, yet it completely petered out. I researched the tale in recent years and found no evidence that this actually occurred but I remember the newspaper story as clear as day. The story must have been buried, which was probably the best thing for all. Knowledge is power and ignorance is bliss and I choose the latter every time. Apparently Niederstadt was ‘reopened’ about four months after we left. There were no reports of zombies or skeletal remains being discovered, though of course that doesn’t mean that the authorities didn’t find either horror. The town returned to normal with fresh, unwitting inhabitants and was swiftly renamed.

As for us, we started off in New York, like so many immigrants (and that was almost as terrifying as undead Niederstadt at first), before moving on to Louisville. Oskar already knew a little English, which helped him find work, and I picked it up with relative ease. Mother struggled and stayed at home a lot and only mixed with German immigrants. The move put a lot of strain on the marriage because she had pushed for it despite Oskar’s reservations yet she was the one who was unhappy and unsettled. Having the twins helped, otherwise I think they might have called it a day. Once they were born everything seemed to gel again. She found hope in them, Wulff and Gretchen. Wulff would have had a different name had she gone ahead with calling Gretchen Hedwig. Hedwig had spared us but she was also one of them and this one benevolent act and former friendship was not enough for Mother to put herself through the horror of remembering what she became every time she said her daughter’s name. Wulff’s name was a reminder of those times too but at least he never turned…that we know of.

I still have Lulu and Felda (Mother forced me to take it with us to America and I’ve hung onto it ever since) which serve as the only mementoes from Niederstadt, the town where the dead walked and talked, where werewolves stalked the streets, their motives unknowable. More and more, with my last days approaching, I think back to those days, that short two week period in which the way I viewed the world and life itself changed forever. Why was it such a small area that was afflicted and how was it eliminated?


The Dusk Mistress - Darkest Days Revisited

  • Author: G Johanson
  • Published: 2015-09-13 16:20:07
  • Words: 7537
The Dusk Mistress - Darkest Days Revisited The Dusk Mistress - Darkest Days Revisited