Second Dead

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Chapter 17: Up the hill

I gazed into the dying embers of the fire. The faintest memory of a dream danced through my mind but slipped away faster than I could recall it.

Incense smoke hung in the air. I stared at the clock above the fireplace. The second hand ticked toward the minute hand. Tick, tick, tick, the hand clicked forward. Past midnight by three precious minutes….

“Shit.” I jumped from the floor.

“You were talking in your sleep,” Susan whispered while we put on extra clothes. She glanced over her shoulder toward Mom.

“Yeah, so. What’s new?”

“Mom heard you; that’s what,” she hissed while she pulled her boots on. “You were talking to Nana. You called her Máy Màn.”

“Shit.” That’s all I needed. “What else did I say?”

Susan peeked into the kitchen. She turned back and said, “You told Nana you were scared, you didn’t want her to leave you. I don’t know what Mom heard or how long you talked before I woke up.”

“Shit,” I said for the third time. “All right, thanks.”

Afraid this would cause some problems, I cast furtive glances toward my mother. At the very least, she would believe this to be an unlucky start to our journey. She’d worry about negative energy, evil spirits and all that crap.

“Come on, guys. It’s time,” Dad said. He fumbled with the contents of a box on the breakfast bar.

Dad had not slept. Even in the dim lamp light, I could tell. Theo and I picked up our book bags and walked over to the counter.

“Weapons only. We’ll bring up your other stuff,” Dad said. He removed walkie-talkies and chargers from the box and placed all four on the counter. “Fully charged. Took care of it when you were asleep. Should last a couple of days.”

I reached for my bow before I remembered the weapon now belonged to the abler Klara. Knowing Klara to be much deadlier with the bow than I, had made giving it to her easy. Now though, I felt naked without it.

Kitchen’s clean, I noticed. It was obvious some effort had been made to tidy up.

Dad saw me gaze around. “Yeah, your mom freaked out about the mess. We threw all the trash in Chris’s room.”

“Hey,” Chris said.

“Let it go, son. Your mom didn’t want anyone going through Chet’s stuff.”

“Looks nice,” I murmured. We were leaving. We were finally leaving home. With a rush, I already missed it.

“Yeah, well, just behave yourselves. Your mom’s a little -- Let’s leave it at she’s not taking this well.” Dad clammed up when Mom came in from the garage. “We also took care of Calvin. Nothing much. I offed him and put him by his barbecue pit. I think he would have liked that.”

Dad glanced up at the clock and grimaced, “Damn. We’re losing time.”

The clock showed twelve twenty-five.

“You guys know what to do, right?”

“Yeah, Dad,” I replied.

Dad sat down and pulled on his boots. He tucked his pant leg into each boot while he continued with his instructions. “You have fifteen minutes after you leave the yard and then we’ll move out. Remember, we’ll meet you at the top of the street, right past Beanies. Got that?”

“Right, Dad, got it,” Chris replied, for what I’m certain was the hundredth time.

“Just making sure.” He turned to Theo. “You have everything?”

“Yep, right here.” Theo patted his coat pocket.

Dad stood up and stomped his boots on the floor several times. “Susan, show time.”

***

With an awful creak and rasp of metal against metal, Dad pulled the garage door open.

“How about a little grease, Dad,” Chris joked.

“Yeah?” Dad replied tersely, “Try finding some.”

Susan darted outside with her pistol drawn. She lowered her weapon and exclaimed, “Wow. It’s beautiful.”

“How can you tell?” I walked out of the garage to stand next to her.

“Easy. I stood in the dark with my eyes closed until the door opened.”

Something I should have thought of. My eyes adjusted to the moonlight. Snow clung to the trees and carpeted everything, with only the occasional animal tracks to mar the pristine landscape. Silver light reflected off the snow.

“You’re right, Susan. It’s beautiful.”

“Yeah, frigging magical. Let’s go,” Chris grunted. He and Theo walked past, each burdened with two five-gallon buckets of diesel.

I turned to say goodbye to Dad and Susan. Before I could, Mom came out from the house with a fistful of lit incense sticks. She walked straight toward me.

“Annabel, would you put these with Chet when you go by?”

“Sure, Mom.” Anguished, I took the incense from her. She couldn’t let it go, this, her last chance to torment me over Chet’s death.

“Thank you... Bel,” she stammered. Without warning, she embraced me. “Be careful, won’t you, dear?”

Without another word, she walked back into the house.

“Fifteen minutes,” Dad said. “And, Anna, use the gun if you have to.”

I walked past Theo and Chris. They were busy cutting ropes that secured a section of fence. I went and stood by the two mounds in the center of our yard.

I placed three incense sticks at the foot of the smaller mound. Kenny’s grave. Mom, although she would never admit as much, would appreciate this. Kenny had been a good dog and Mom had been especially fond of him.

I moved over to Chet’s grave. I again bent down and placed the remainder of the incense in the snow, where I knew his head rested.

“Goodbye Chet,” I whispered. “I’m so, so sorry.”

I wiped my eyes with my free hand and rejoined Theo and Chris. They were moving the fence section out of the way.

“Okay, there, sis?” Chris asked gently.

“Yeah, never better.”

Theo patted the snow on his beloved automobile and said, “Let’s go.”

“I’ll cover you up the hill,” Susan said after she and Klara joined us.

Theo and Chris picked up their buckets and walked into the street. I flipped the safety off my rifle and fell in behind them. We crossed the street and made our way into the church parking lot. The snow slowed us down more than expected.

“You could have carried some gas you know,” Chris huffed when we started to ascend the hill.

“No can do, bro. I’m point girl, don’t you know,” I replied in my sweetest, most innocent voice, amused by their difficulties.

“Then go on.” Theo jerked of his head.

“Oh, right,” I said, startled by the realization that I did not perform my allotted task.

I hopped through the snow to get ahead of them. I made my way up toward the church entrance.

This church was a plain brick structure with a tall steeple. Two large white doors, rather oversized for the building, stood ajar above the rather stingy slab of concrete that served for the front entranceway. Two small windows in the front gave it the appearance of severe austerity I always found so off-putting.

Theo broke into a run when we neared the doors. He ran past as fast as he could manage. He did not stop until well past the darkened entrance.

Theo believed this building to be haunted. Late at night, on watch and alone, he claimed to hear mournful wails. He wasn’t a coward by any means, but I found it hard to give credence to his account. I always thought he was having a go at us with his stories. Now though, I could see this place creeped him out.

Theo’s disquiet turned infectious. I fancied I saw movement, accompanied by whispers, just inside the inky void of the entrance. It seemed a little colder when I approached the maw. The moonlight did not shine as bright. These delusions ran through my mind as I too felt the dread of this place. I broke into a run when I passed the doors with Chris hot on my tail.

I shuddered when I remembered the carnage that had befallen this hallowed hall of worship. Church members had sought refuge in the building. We never found out exactly what happened in there. That they were attacked from the inside had been clear. These were God-fearing folk, and I always suspected their zeal to save the undead had led to their demise.

Popular in the beginning, the belief that all a moaner needed was an old-fashioned exorcism had run rampant across the globe. These folks certainly believed. Maybe someone in there died unknown to the rest, and after turning, set upon the others. Maybe. However, I had reasons to believe they were bringing in family members. Unseen, at night, they, like so many others who died in the endeavor, attempted to cast the devil from the undead corpses. Whatever.

“Damn this is taking forever,” Theo grunted.

I crested the hill and paused to let them catch up. Theo and Chris reached the top and set down the gas buckets to catch their breath.

“At least it doesn’t smell,” Theo grumbled.

We had become so accustomed to the stench of death that the presence of fresh air proved to be a welcomed change. I took deep breaths of the fresh air.

I ran to the back of the service station. Close to the wall for cover, we worked our way up the side of the garage. I stepped out from the shadows and onto the parking lot. We stopped at the first garage door. The bottom two panes of glass had long ago been broken out.

“Ladies first,” Theo said. He put down his buckets of gas and pulled out his pistol.

“Thanks,” I whispered. “Your safety. Idiot.”

I bent down and crawled through the door. I spotted the tow truck in the back. Chris came through next. After Theo and his ten gallons of fuel made it inside, we rolled two racks of tires away from the wrecker.

Theo placed his bat on the hood and walked to the rear of the wrecker. He climbed onto the truck, stepped over the tow bar, and worked his way around the winching arm. He inserted a screwdriver between the two sliding rear windows and pushed the plastic latch off. He crawled through the window. After righting himself, he unlocked the door and sat down on the bench seat.

Chris opened the door. “Dome lights good and bright.” His voice echoed in the empty garage.

“Good sign,” Theo said. He ducked under the steering wheel. Chris shined his flashlight on Theo to give him light to work.

“Okay, I have the wires. Fill her up,” Theo said.

After Chris poured a bucket of fuel into the tank, Theo put wires together. These sparked, and then nothing. Well, not nothing, there was plenty of noise. The engine turned over, with a noise I’d never heard a motor make. The sound of a toilet plunger came to mind. Theo tried several more times, with the same results.

“Any ideas?” he asked crossly. He peered at us from the floor of the truck.

Chris looked at me. I gazed at him. We turned to stare at Theo.

Chris pulled the radio from his pocket. “Dad.”

“Are you on the move, son?”

“Uh, no. We have a problem.”

Silence from the other end greeted this rather important pronouncement so Chris continued, “Can’t get the truck started.”

“What’s it doing?”

“Well, it turns over. Plenty of juice in the battery, but it doesn’t want to fire up.”

Silence, and then Dad asked, “Did you put fuel in it?”

“Tell him there’s a quarter of a tank,” Theo yelled. His loud and angry voice echoed in the cavernous garage.

“Yeah, Dad. Maybe the diesel’s bad,” Chris replied through clenched teeth.

“Stay put. We’re on our way.”

We waited in the cold and dark for five minutes before we saw headlights break over the hill.

“Let’s not take any chances.” I turned my flashlight off.

Both vehicles came to a stop. Dad jumped out from his truck with his portable generator. I opened the door and pointed toward the back.

“Sorry guys. I should’ve thought of this.”

Klara and Susan got out from Mom’s SUV. Susan walked past the garage door and took up position at the corner of the building. Klara proceeded in the opposite direction to stand guard at the other end of the garage. Klara’s idea I’m sure. Damn smart.

Dad’s voice drifted from the back of the garage, “We’re looking for a plug, a regular plug. It’s probably sticking out the front grill.”

Theo found the plug and showed it to him. Dad started the generator and plugged the cord in. The generator’s hum pinged loud in the otherwise silent garage.

“What’s up, Dad?” Chris asked tersely. No one could doubt that he still stung from Dad’s earlier question.

“Sorry, guys. These diesels, well, they’re great when they’re warm, but when they get too cold they can’t start without a little help. They have heaters in the engine block which need plugging in when the temperature falls below freezing. What’s the time, Theo?”

“Err, five to one.”

“Damn. Give it thirty minutes, and we’ll see what happens.”

Tick, tick, tick. One hour in and Dad’s plan was already behind schedule. The half hour dragged on for what felt like an eternity.

I peered out the window and homesickness flooded over me. Fishers Creek was the only home I’d ever known. Now though, I was about to leave forever. Sneaking away, like a thief in the night. This small township, which for so long had seemed too small, too mean for me, now felt like the most special place on earth. My heart ached for friends long gone and presumed dead. No more than memories, just like Fishers Creek was about to become.

“Time,” Theo said and walked to the wrecker.

I didn’t look, but held my breath and waited. The engine turned over once, then twice. On the third try, it caught and roared to life. Carbon monoxide spewed into the garage.

Theo let loose with a loud whoop. I had to admit, it was infectious. I could not remember the last time I felt this happy about anything.

“Let’s get this thing fueled up,” Chris said to Theo.

Hmm, couldn’t have done that, say, a half hour ago. Again, destiny would have me cool my heels. Dad and I waited non-too patiently for the boys to finish fueling the wrecker.

“Anna, get the door,” Dad said.

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