Crossroads: Michael

Crossroads: Michael

A Story by Scotty White
"

This happens sometime after the Zombiegeddon

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CROSSROADS: Michael


    The wind pushed puddles of rain water through the open doors of the empty chapel and twisted through the old stone arches separating the pews from the atrium. It was January now, the priest suspected, and the air carried a newly bitter cold along with the stale stench it had held for the last few months. Of course, the passing of time was much more relative these days.  Relative to his last contact with the living. Relative to when they lost power. Relative to when the food ran out.

    There was a solemn rumble of thunder off in the distance, and the candle light danced and dimmed against the stone walls of the church. Father Michael Allen Dewitt softly recited his prayers while lighting the dwindling candles that the wind had blown out. His voice cracked and strained with each syllable uttered, his hunger and thirst devastating muscles already weakened by fatigue. He limped back to the first pew in the chapel where he rubbed his gloved hands in an attempt to urge the feeling back into his fingers. He pulled the two suit jackets he had found in the donations tighter around his body and fought momentarily with the temptation to close the church's doors. The gray in his hair had made its way into his beard over the last several days, and his pale skin wrinkled at the eyes and lips. Another birthday, his fifty-third, had passed with little thought, like any other day since they came.

    The reports used to come in regularly, blaring over the little radio that now sat cold and silent on the desk in his dark and cluttered office. The talking heads would speculate and try to fit this new horror into the awful molds that already existed, the evils they were accustomed to and understood. Experts from every field would shout terms like 'Bio-terrorism' or 'Chemical Pollutants'. For the more spiritually focused panic, a 'Global Pandemic' was simply a new toy for God to channel his wrath. Father Dewitt made a point to ease his shrinking flock's nerves with lessons of love and perseverance. In the end, fear was a more powerful motivator, causing those who hadn't been infected or slaughtered to seek shelter and safety in almost mythical destinations. So the priest prayed and lit candles while pleading for the continued protection of his congregation.

    Just before the reports stopped, somber voices told stories of large groups of refugees taking shelter in malls, schools, jails, hospitals, even amusement parks. It was assumed that the infected came to these locations in such large numbers because the places were significant to them prior to exposure. The number of casualties was incredible. Not long after the attacks, the radio and the world outside Father Dewitt's chapel went quiet. The priest left the doors open for any possible survivors, but they had never come. The dead were the only ones who shambled by, but even their appearances grew fewer and fewer.

    The priest started to believe he was the last soul left. The procession of doubt and dread following the acknowledgment of that fact left the lone holy man in a cold sweat. He paused a moment and closed his eyes to clear his thoughts. It would do no good to fall into so much despair.

    Movement. It was important to continue moving. With a pained lean to his left and some struggling against uncooperative muscles, he stood once more and hobbled across the room to his office. Even in the dark, his hands traveled well worn routes through stacks of notebooks and loose pieces of lessons preached to empty seats. He gathered them into trembling arms and carried them into the chapel.

          Michael heard the loud howl as he stepped into the sanctuary. The books fell from his hands as he heart nearly burst through his chest. He couldn’t tell how far the dead were from the church, but it sounded close. He ran quickly to the podium and pulled the shotgun from the open shelf inside.

    He gripped the weapon tightly as he rushed for the front door. His body ached all over. He so greatly wanted to rest, but this wasn’t the time. As he got to the church doors he could see a pack of the dead shambling up the road. They were scouts looking for food for the larger packs.

    With little time to waste, the priest quickly kicked the stops that held the doors open. He heard howling from the pack, and looked just in time to see four transition from their shuffle into a full run. By the time he had lowered his makeshift wooden brace the dead were already banging at the door. He chose to escape into the sanctuary.

    The creatures banged against the wooden door, and it shook with the force. For a moment or two the priest thought they would break open but his brace held its ground. Soon the banging stopped and the howling began. The loud, primal tones echoed through the forest chilling Michael to the bone. Others would come soon.

    The next priority was to make sure the shutters were down on the stained glass. The creatures continued to howl as Michael lowered and locked the steel shutters. Oh how he wanted to scream and tell them to be quiet, but that would only aggravate the situation.

    As the last shutter fell and Michael locked the latch, he was startled to see a woman standing at the back of the sanctuary. She was wearing a filthy dress that had been white in its hay day, but from shambling across the country had succumbed to a mess of dirt and blood. Her hair was matted, unkempt, and hung over her face in limp, greasy strings.

    The back door! Michael had forgotten the back door! Heart pounding, he lifted his shotgun and aimed it at the dead woman as she started to shamble his direction. The veins on her face protruded with the green infection than snaked down her neck. As she opened her mouth the priest squeezed the trigger. The shot echoed through the sanctuary and reduced the woman’s head to a splattered spray of tissue.

    The banging at the front door grew louder and louder as more hands pounded against it. The dead were trying to force their way inside the church. From the sanctuary, the priest saw the strained door trying to break under the force of the dead. He began to pray as he grabbed the arms of the dead woman and dragged her out of the back.

    The back door was wide open. Surprisingly, there were no other dead hanging around. They all seemed to be at the front of the church. The body was heavier than he had expected, and the blood trail would have to be cleaned up soon or the smell might attract others. He knew he would have to bury this one as quickly as possible, but now wasn’t the time.

    Another howl ripped through the night as he struggled to pull the body out of the church. He turned to see another of the dead, this one a male staggering out of the backwoods. The priest had been spotted, and the corpse rushed quickly for its meal. The loud shrieking howl grew so strong it shook Michael at his core.

    The priest scrambled back into the church and closed the door behind him. He slammed the locks into place and pressed against the door to make sure it would not move. Moments later the door began to shake. They were trying to get inside. The banging grew louder and louder.  Now he could hear both the front and back doors buckling under the stress. He knew they would break.
    
Michael quickly ran into the supply closet and locked the door behind him. He dropped to his knees and yanked the rosary from his belt. His hands tightly gripped the beads, and he began to pray.  Over and over any prayer that would come into his frightened mind spilled from his lips. He prayed for protection, he prayed for guidance, he prayed that the hand of God would come down and save him from this Hell on Earth.

    The banging continued, and Michael began to think the entire church would come crashing down under the stress. The moans and grunts of the hungry dead outside echoed everywhere. Even with his hands tightly pressed over his ears, Michael could not keep out the awful sound. All he could do was pray.

    Everything fell black.
Michael came to on the floor of the supply closet. The air was still and quiet. Was it… could it be over? His head throbbed so badly he felt his brain was trying to bash through his skull. Slowly the priest stood up and reached to unlock the door, but a banging at the front door stopped him. His hand instinctively pulled away from the door knob until her heard the sound again.

    It wasn’t banging at all. It was a knock, a steady knock. The dead don’t knock. They force themselves on doors, trying to tear them down. Michael quickly flipped the lock on the closet door and rushed out into the sanctuary. The doors seemed to have held up in the attack, and that pleased him. This was another chance to do some good in the world.

     The knocking became more intense and it was followed by a voice. “Hello? Hello? Is anyone in there?”

    “Y-yes!” Michael quickly called out as he was removing the brace from the door. “I’m coming!”

    “Oh thank God.” The voice called out from the other side.

    Michael had the brace thrown onto the floor in no time. The doors were pulled open to a man in his mid thirties wearing denim overalls soaked with splotches of dark blood. He carried a well-used baseball bat in his left hand. In his right hand, a shotgun, muzzle hanging towards the ground.  His body was slumped from exhaustion, eyes lost to the horrors he had witnessed.  He took one look at the older priest and collapsed to his knees.

    “Are you real?” the man asked. Tear tracks glistened down his dirtied cheeks.

    Michael knelt beside him, reaching arms out to embrace him. “Yes, I am. You’re safe.”

    Elated to find another among the living, the man breathed a wearied sigh of relief and cried while the priest held him. After a few moments, Michael helped the stranger to his feet. The man wiped his blurry eyes across the back of a dirtied sleeve once he began to calm down. “I’m sorry. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen another living person.”

    The priest just nodded.  “It’s okay. Come have a seat.” He led the man to a pew and let him sit down.  “Stay here. I’ll be right back,” he said before moving to exit out the back.

    He returned shortly, twisting the cap off of a bottle of water.  He handed the bottle over to the man, who began greedily drinking it down.  Michael sat beside him on the pew and just watched.

    “I’m Benjamin, by the way,” the man said as he paused for a breath and wiped water from his lips.  He held the bottle tightly in his grasp.  “Thank you.”

    “It is what I do,” the priest said with a smile.  “It’s nice to meet you Benjamin, I’m Father Michael.”

    “You’re the first living person I’ve seen in some time. I was starting to think I was the only one left.”

    “If we are still alive I believe there are others.” Michael replied.

    Benjamin sighed then started to drink again from the bottle. “Fresh water,” he thought aloud to himself. “It’s been a while since I’ve had fresh water.” He tilted the bottle and some of the water dripped between his dirty fingers. “Do you know what happened?”

    The priest watched his guest for a moment before answering the question. “No it was sudden. I imagine too sudden for anyone to really know. I’ve not heard a radio broadcast in some months. No one mentioned any facts it’s just speculation.”
    
    “I had my family in our basement for a couple of weeks, but that didn’t last.”

    “Your family?”
    
    Benjamin nodded and paused a moment with a far away look in his eyes. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. It took a moment of fumbling before he could get out the photo holder out and pass it to the priest. “My wife and two girls. Nichole was going to be three next month.” His voice nearly failed on him as he spoke, and a look of physical pain crossed his features.

    “Your family looks wonderful,” Michael said, looking through the photos.

    “They were. They didn’t make it.”

    The priest was familiar with the story. So many lives lost in the crisis. “I’m sorry,” were the only words he could mange to say. He knew no amount of sympathy could heal the rift in Benjamin’s heart. Even as he said it the sentiment felt hollow.
    
    “Do you still take confession?” the distressed man asked curiously, looking up at the priest.

    “Of course. Of course I can.” Michael offered Benjamin a reverent smile. “We can do it right here, whenever you are ready to start.”
    
    Benjamin slowly stood, leaving the water on the pew. His gaze fell on the priest, and he shook his head. “Please, can we do this official?” he said, gesturing to the confessional booth with a nod.

    “Son, God doesn’t care where you give your confession.”

    “But I do,” Benjamin said before moving towards the booth.

    Michael nodded and followed him to the confessional. He opened the door and sat down then waited while Benjamin readied himself. It took a moment, but the priest pushed aside the sliding screen.  There was a moment of silence as Benjamin worked the courage to speak.

    “Forgive me father,” he paused after a shaky start, “for I have sinned. It’s been some years since my last confession. For that matter I don’t remember the last time I was in a church.” Another pause as he thought before adding, “My second daughter’s baptism, that was the last time I was in a church.”

    “Well the important thing is that you are here now my son. Please go on,” the priest offered.

    “It was the dogs. The dogs woke us up that morning. It was still dark outside, but those mangy mutts were barking up a storm. I got out of bed to see what was going on and that’s where I first saw him, well it,” Benjamin started.  “Rhonda and I, Rhonda is my wife, we had seen the reports on the news, just like anyone else I suppose, about the epidemic that was started. The CDC said they were looking into it and not to worry. Now I was looking out my window and I saw it stumbling across the fields heading towards the house.”
    
    The Priest nodded, straightening a bit as he listened to Benjamin’s story. He began to drift back to what he was doing when this all started, but he blinked back to the present. This man was here wishing to confess his sins, and it was his job to listen. He focused as Benjamin continued to speak…

    “At first I didn’t think it was a big deal.  It was only one of them, I didn’t think it was going to be too much of a problem.  I kept thinking maybe it would just walk past the house and back into the woods. Of course I was only lying to myself. By the time I got downstairs and looked out the kitchen window I saw three more.

    I ran back up stairs as quick as I could and woke my wife. She started to panic when I told her what was happening, she just started to cry. I remember grabbing her by the arms and shaking her. I didn’t want to hurt her but I had to get her to focus. We had to get the girls and get out of there. I remember getting my shotgun out of the closet and grabbing a box of shells I had on the high shelf so the girls couldn’t get to it. I loaded the gun right there and followed my wife into the hallway.
    
    Rhonda ran to the nursery and got the baby out of the crib and I went to Betsy’s room and picked her up out of her bed.  I wrapped her in her blanket and started back for the hallway.  She started to wake up and ask questions, and I told her we were leaving and it was going to be okay.

    By the time we got everything together and were headed out the front door we could see more of them.  There had to be at least twenty maybe thirty by now.  It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes I don’t know where they came from, but as soon as I opened the front door they smelled us and they began howling like wild animals.

    It was horrible. Horrible. I knew we couldn’t get into the truck and get out of there, so I lead my family through the house and out the back door. We had a storm shelter, you know in case of tornadoes, so I thought it would be best to wait this out there. Help would have to come soon, the sheriff or the National Guard something. So we ran out the back door and through the back yard. I didn’t expect to see more of them out back.

    They were coming for us. Running for us. Without thinking, I raised the shotgun and began to fire. I wanted to protect my family. Trust me, that’s all I was doing, but when I picked up the gun I let go of my daughter’s hand only for a moment, just to shoot. I didn’t even know she was gone until Rhonda screamed. I turned to help her but it was too late. Three of those things grabbed her and ran off with her and she was screaming so loud. My heart broke. I knew I couldn’t do anything for her. I’m her father, and I couldn’t even save her.

    I grabbed hold of my screaming wife and threw her into the storm shelter and locked the door behind us. It seemed like it was days, those things out there banging and howling outside that door. They couldn’t get inside, though. My wife took care of our youngest daughter, and I stood guard. We hardly said a word to each other.

    It was like that for a while. I guess we were there for a few weeks, maybe a month. It’s hard to keep track of time in the dark. Rhonda didn’t say much after we got there. Pretty much the only sound was the zombies outside and, of course, the baby fussing. Rhonda would cry herself to sleep. I tried to comfort her, but she wouldn’t have anything to do with me. I don’t blame her. I just let our daughter die right in front of my eyes. Oh god, I wish I could have done something.

    Then a few days ago I was asleep in the shelter, and I heard the sound of the door latch. I woke up and saw Rhonda with the baby in her arms trying to open the door. I heard crying outside. Rhonda said it was Betsy. It couldn’t have been. We watched her being dragged off by the monsters. I tried to stop her, I did. She opened the door right as I got to the stairs.

    She was out there, our Betsy. Her clothes were ripped to shreds. She was filthy. She looked so sad. My wife ran to her and reached to pick her up, and that’s when I realized it was a trap. Those crafty b******s had laid a trap for us. Our precious baby was a decoy. She bit right into Rhonda’s shoulder.

    I don’t remember much after that. I know I grabbed the shotgun, Father. I know I fired. I would like to say I fired on the monsters, but thinking about it...  I think I fired on my family. I used the gun to help me get out of there, fighting my way through the crowd of friends and neighbors I had once knew. Father, I just hope my family didn’t suffer. I mean, Rhonda was bitten. There was no hope for her. I could have tried to grab the baby, but I didn’t. I’ve been a bad husband. I’ve been a terrible father. I’m a murderer. I think I killed my own family.”

    Benjamin’s throat tightened just then, and he couldn’t continue. He dropped his head into his hands and sobbed. Michael listened with a large lump in his throat. He opened his mouth to speak, and all he could manage was an airy little gasp of a sound. He cleared his throat and said, “Son, the Lord understands you are sorry for what you did, your family didn’t suffer.”

    “Father I want to die. I don’t deserve to live. I’ve done terrible things.”

    “Suicide is a sin "”

    Benjamin was quick to cut him off.  “It’s too late for me. I made sure I pay for what I’ve done. I found one of the dead at the edge of the forest. I think it was run over by a car, it was wounded. I was going to kill it, but I couldn’t let a condemned man to go out without a last meal, could I? I let him bite my arm. I decided I’m going to walk among them. Thank you for your hospitality, Father Michael.”  He stood up, then, and left the confession booth.

    Michael quickly got up and followed him into the sanctuary. The man stood trembling, looking at large, hanging crucifix above the altar. The priest laid a hand on his shoulder and helped him to a pew. Benjamin fell to his knees and began to pray, begging God to end his heartache, to stop the misery.
    
       Michael’s heart sank. He had never seen anyone suffer so much. He could not imagine the burden Benjamin carried. Michael reached into his coat pocket, brought out the revolver, and pulled the trigger. The single slug blew through Benjamin’s skull. He died instantly.

   

      Michael opened his hand letting the pistol fall to the floor.  He was silent for a moment and just looked at Benjamin’s body lying between the pews. “My God, My God what have I done?” and he fell to his knees clasping his hands in prayer and begged for his forgiveness.

           

     After his prayer, Michael stood up and stepped over to Benjamin.  He grabbed the man’s arms and began dragging him out of the sanctuary toward the back door.  It was getting late and he still had two bodies to bury.  It was going to be a long night.



                Scotty O. White

© 2011 Scotty White


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Added on May 26, 2011
Last Updated on May 28, 2011
Tags: Zombies

Author

Scotty White
Scotty White

Dunbar, WV



About
I am a storyteller originally from Alabama who has been spending a few years in West Virginia before he makes his way to California. I have stories to tell and I hope you will enjoy them! more..

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