Second Dead

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Chapter 46: Sevens

Dad stuck with his original plan to use the house as a refuge of last resort. We left it well provisioned with weapons, ammunition, and two cases of MREs Klara, against orders, had filched from the container at the river.

“Where’s our truck, Theo?” I asked when everyone started to pile into vehicles.

“Out of gas. Just this side of the interstate.”

“You’re with me.” Dad tossed Theo the keys.

“Theo, where’s my stuff, my book?”

“Right here.” He pulled out the notebook tucked in his jeans. “I kind of figured you had some more reading to do. Try page seventy-seven, it’s a kicker.”

“Ahhh, Theo, you read for me. I’m touched.”

“Anna, what’s going on?” Dad asked while he stared at the sky.

I didn’t answer. Hell, I had no answer to give. “Are we going across the creek?”

“No,” Dad said. “The creek’s pretty high from the snow melt. We might make it across, but why take the chance?”

I could think of two very good reasons. The small towns of Tippet and Angel Hair stood between the quarry and us by road. Somehow though, the choice seemed right. Like so much since I awakened, I could not explain it.

“Man, I hope we don’t get hit by one of those.” Theo stared at the clouds while he started the truck.

Curious thing about this weather. Lightning filled the entire countryside, but none of it came close to us. One had to wonder, and I did, would we drive right into the unnatural lightning?

Theo took the lead and drove up the gravel driveway. The quarry lay less than two miles across the creek, but twenty-five miles by road. I placed one arm around my father and the other around Theo. I sat silent and waited for whatever was to come.

We hit pavement in less than five minutes. Soon we were past where the horses should be but weren’t. Past the fields where cows once roamed, but now did not. We drove by an old barn which in better times served as a dance hall. Theo turned onto the state highway and we headed for Tippet City. He slowed down when we approached the outskirts of town.

Dad fidgeted and kept his eyes on the skies. I, for my part, felt serene and relaxed. As for Theo, who knew? He’d switched off again.

Theo slowed even further when we crossed railroad tracks. We received our first glimpse of the disaster that had befallen Tippet City. This place didn’t go down without a fight. Along the road and out in the fields and yards sat abandoned sandbagged gun emplacements. Cars stacked between the tightly packed houses made a barrier against the hordes that had descended on this place. Bombed out or burned down, very few of the houses remained intact. The only constant was the half eaten corpses laying everywhere.

We weaved through parking lots and the road while we drove past abandoned vehicles, many of them military. A helicopter sat in the road and its pilot, still strapped into his seat, snapped his jaws at us.

We turned left and headed for the quarry. Here, besieged, the defenders had made their last, desperate stand.

Around a bank and two large gas stations, defensive works had been erected. Shipping containers were stacked around the bank to form a wall. A chain link fence and gate thrown up across the road lay on the ground, trod down by the unstoppable tide of undead.

Poor bastards. Was it the same all over the world?

Theo accelerated when we cleared the last of the corpses. We left the horrors of Tippet City behind and came upon a golf course on our right.

Littered with abandoned helicopters, the golf course apparently had served as a staging and supply depot for the local defense. Military trucks were scattered around the greens. Theo guessed the equipment sat abandoned for lack of fuel.

How long did it take? Stop the oil and you idle the refineries. All too quickly the fuel-vulnerable modes of transportation become heaps of scrap.

A broad, well-tended field opened to our left. We passed the sign which dedicated the field and a sense of déjà vu arose inside me.

“Stop,” I said as we drove along the field of grass.

Theo looked at me, puzzled.

“This is the place. Turn around.”

“Hang on a minute,” Dad yelled, confused and irritated when Theo slowed down. “We can’t get to the quarry from here. Keep going until I tell you to turn.”

“I said turn around! We aren’t going to the quarry yet.” I glared at Theo. “This is important and can’t wait.”

Theo glanced at my father and shrugged. With a grimace, he pulled into a parking lot and turned around. Confused expressions greeted us while we passed the other vehicles, which dutifully followed Theo’s lead.

“Stop at the gravel road,” I said.

Theo pulled to a stop. The road stretched into the distance. Clean for a gravel road, it was smooth and straight like no other unpaved road I’d ever seen. Ahead sat the stone sign which had attracted my attention.

Made of pinkish granite, the monument stood nine feet tall and ascended in a graceful arch complete with a brass capstone. A black slab of marble sat centered in the stone. Words were inscribed in gold upon its face. It was these words, evanescently read, which had drawn my attention.

“Let me out,” I demanded.

Theo shot my father an uncertain, guilty glance before opening his door.

I smiled at my very angry father. “Trust me, Dad.”

I headed for the sign. Behind me, car doors slammed closed. By the shadows, I knew others followed. I stopped at the sign and began to read the words inscribed in gold.

Centered at the top of the black stone and larger than all the other words the heading read: Welcome pilgrims. Ye seekers of knowledge, welcome to the Theodore Bojanna Nature Field and Shrine of fraternal love and understanding.

Below this rather grand salutation were words much smaller and yet no less exalted in their message.

Come, rest from your worries in this garden of enlightenment. Beware seekers of truth, ye may find what you require and not what you desire in your blind quest for certainty.

Below this pronouncement was a list of seven religions. All the world’s major faiths stood together in the creation of this place.

“Dad,” Susan’s voice rang out in the still morning air, “Mom’s awake!”

Relief flooded Dad’s face and he ran toward the SUV. Not even acknowledging my mother’s recovery, I again turned my attention to the stone edifice in front of me.

Dedicated July 7th, 2007, the inscription read. Below were four other chronological variations of the same date, one of which I recognized as Hebrew.

The final bit of writing, the dedication itself, was not inscribed in gold. Instead, it consisted of seven different colors which melded seamlessly into each other and appeared to ripple across the stone.

Know ye travelers, this shrine, one of seven, is dedicated to the universal principles of compassion and understanding so in the fruit of time may man find fulfillment together in peace and harmony.

Mom stopped next to me and gazed at the monument. “This is the place,” she whispered. She squeezed my arm and we exchanged smiles.

Theo shifted nervously next to Dad, who once again appeared impatient to move on to the quarry.

“Everything is coming up sevens,” I muttered.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Dad asked.

“Language, Father,” I murmured.

Dad sighed and pulled his most fatherly look of sympathy. “Come on, Anna, you’ve been traumatized. You were close to death. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for Laura. But this potion or whatever -- has affected you. You’re not yourself.”

“Listen to her,” Mom said. “She knows more than we understand. For better or worse, our fates are tied to Bel.”

Dad exploded. “I’m not doing anything until someone tells me what the --fuck -- is going on.”

“I’ll show you.” I reached up to the first sentence of the sign, placed my hands over the words Bojanna Nature and spread my hands apart. “Read it.”

“Nana,” Chris gasped.

I moved my hands down to the final line of the stone. I again placed my hands between two words.

“May Man,” Dad groaned in disbelief.

I turned away from the inscribed stone. “Nana has spoken to me in visions.”

“I know all about your dreams,” Dad said.

“They’re not dreams. They’re visions, or communications, if you will. She told me when the time was right to release her from this world. She said I would know. Now I know.”

“What did you mean when you said everything was coming up sevens?” Dad demanded.

“Simple. I can’t even pretend to understand what it means, but it’s simple. Seven shrines, this one at least, was dedicated on the seventh day of the seventh month of the seventh year of the twenty-first century. Seven separate beliefs came together to erect these shrines. Coincidence?”

“Seven armies fought the last war against the undead. Seven colors on this stone and seven colors on the pennants placed on the battlefield. Then there’s Nana’s book, seven chapters Dad. I could go on.”

Dad did not respond.

“How old am I, Dad?”

He didn’t answer. There was no need.

“What’s our address?” I asked.

“Number 7 Lucky Lane,” Chris exclaimed.

“Yeah, isn’t it. Hmm, tell me, Dad, how many trees did you plant along the street between our house and the church?”

Dad thought for a moment. “Seven. No wait. Eight, I planted eight.”

“And one died,” I reminded him. “Several trees died in the same spot, didn’t they, Dad? Tell me, how many times did you try to replant a tree before you gave up?”

“I don’t know.” Dad knitted his brow. “Six, maybe seven….”

“How many of us Wallis’s lived in the house during the fall?”

“Eight,” Dad said, with an air of one deflating a flawed argument.

“And then Chet died,” Mom whispered.

“Just like your tree, Father.” I turned to Theo. “That’s why your ghost didn’t attack when we were at the house. She couldn’t. Somehow the trees protected us.”

Mom dropped her bottle of water and turned pale. “She?”

“Yes, she. I’ve spoken to her in my trance.”

“Oh, Bel dear, no! The Ngạ Quỷ seeks possession. You will be consumed.”

“Nana spoke of pity. She’s a lost soul, frightened and searching for release. I promised to help her.”

“Annabel, no.” Mom slumped against Dad.

“What is everyone talking about?” Penri asked.

“Your banshee, Major. It’s real,” I replied.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” Maria cried out and made the sign of the cross.

“How many survivors have we collected since it all began, Dad?”

“Seven survived,” Dad whispered.

“I’ve had visions of Nana. No, Máy Màn. A young, beautiful Máy Màn surrounded by seven lamps.”

“Wait,” Jane said and reached into her knapsack to pull out her Bible. “I’ve read that somewhere before.” She flipped through the book, stopped at the last few pages and opened it for all to see. Inside lay a flower, a clematis, with seven white bells pressed flat with age.

“And out of the throne preceded lightnings and thunderings and voices. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne.” Jane flipped a few pages of the book and another white clematis with seven bells fell out. “And the angel took the seven censers, and filled them with the fire of the altar, and cast them to the earth and there were voices and thunders and lightnings and an earthquake.”

Silence greeted Jane after she finished.

“Dad.” I took my father’s hand. “Look down the road and tell me what you see.”

He cast his gaze toward the structure at the end of the lane. “I can’t make it out; it’s a building of some sort.”

“I can’t see it either, but I know what awaits. We will find a shrine consisting of two concentric circles. Each circle is fenced and supported by seven pillars. The seven inner pillars each have a single lamp on top. The outer ring is paved with the whitest of sand while the inner is tiled with deep red stone. The inner sanctum contains one altar and seven tabernacles. At the high altar, we will find a man and he is who we are here to help. One last thing. Seven trees circle the sanctum. Pin oaks, Dad.”

Dad glared at me for a moment. “This is insane.”

“Susan,” Dad barked. “Get your binoculars and describe the building.”

Susan raised her glasses to her eyes. “Well, Dad,” she yelled while she scanned down the road, “it’s not a building at all but two fenced enclosures. One inside the other. Black fences connected to brick pillars.”

“How many pillars in each circle?” Dad asked.

“Seven,” Susan yelled and put down her binoculars.

“The trees?” Dad asked weakly. “How many trees?”

“How many trees?” Confused, she brought her glasses back up. “Hey, seven, and get this Dad, they’re just like yours.”

Dad didn’t reply.

Finally, he turned to Theo. “Chris and Susan know the way to the quarry. I want you guys to get everyone there safely. Nancy, Anna and I, will meet you there when we’re done.”

“No.”

Such a simple word, often used amongst people in conversation. But on this day, at this moment, coming from this man, the word hit Dad as if Theo had struck him.

Shocked, as we all were, Dad stared at Theo in disbelief. Since the day he’d taken him into our house, Theo, without fail, had been there for him. He never refused anything requested; he was Dad’s go to guy.

“I won’t leave Annabel again,” Theo said. He couldn’t bring himself to look my father in the eye.

“Penri,” Dad yelled.

“Sorry, Dave. Although I did give my word to faithfully serve you, I also made a promise to protect Nancy and Annabel with my life.” Penri leaned on his crutches, not at all giving the impression of a man in any shape to protect anyone.

Jane stood up straight and proud. “My mother and father raised my brothers and I to be faithful soldiers of God. You will not prevent us from confronting whatever lies ahead. My father did not sacrifice his life just so we could fail at the hour of need.”

My gaze fell on the cat, who still had not taken its eyes from me. “Your Dad never left your side,” I murmured.

Before Jane could respond, Maria said, “Mr. Wallis, without Anna and Theo, my daughter would be dead. I owe them a debt that cannot be repaid. We will follow you, come what may.”

“Fine,” Dad conceded with a growl. “Penri, when we get up there, set up a perimeter and be ready to move out on my signal.”

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