Pushing Up Gravestones – Chapter 14

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With their newly found travel companion, Donny, the group knew all too well that there was no room for stragglers. The gun they acquired earlier would help them but carried only so many bullets and they needed to find shelter, if only for the night. No one can last forever on little sleep, sparse food and elusive life-sustaining water. Tired, filthy and exhausted from running, Tina was the first to point out the towering cathedral in the distance. 

“I can’t take it anymore,” Ferrah whined, her unnaturally perfect hair was now sticking to her face from the sweat and dirt that overtook them all.

Tina and Denise shot a knowing glance at Ferrah.

“I could soak in a bubble bath forever!” exclaimed Denise, “I hurt in places I didn’t even know I could.”

“I wish things would go back to normal,” Tina piped in, “I miss my family.”

Donny looked at the girls, “Are you kidding? This is awesome; it’s like Call of Duty, but in real life.”

Ferrah glared at him, “Do you even know how to use that thing?”

She scoffed, shifting her eyes to the gun Donny had snuck from Denise. She couldn’t believe that Denise let him have it without a fight. Then again, the pair of them didn’t even know how to load the thing with bullets.

Donny smirked, “Get bitten and find out.”

Ferrah rolled her eyes in disgust, causing Denise to chortle. It was hot that day and the air was almost nonexistent save for a breeze here and there.

“Shh!” Donny shot out, “Do you smell that?”

A sudden breeze picked up filling the air with an acrid smell. The all too familiar sickly sweet stench sent a chill down Denise’s spine, who glanced around nervously. They stood still, listening for anything that might give away the location of the undead so as to avoid it. The rays of the sun were unforgiving and the smell could be that of a rotting corpse as much as a zombie, with little noise in the air except that of cicadas and crickets, the group decided to run for the church, now within sprinting distance. Tina was the first to run, followed by the others. 

The group arrived at the church, the spires of the cathedral towered over them with what looked like no way to gain access except through two thick wooden doors. There were no visible ground level windows, giving the church a feeling of fortitude. Ferrah ran to the door and rapped on it while Donny stood by the fence in front of the church gate, holding the gun in both hands, his back to a stone pillar. A muffled hello came from the other side.

“Please, can we come in?” Ferrah squeaked.

“How many are with you, is anyone hurt?” The voice called out from behind the knotty carved door.

“Uh, four of us, one a child, uh no, no one is hurt.” She hurriedly answered back.

From beside the church in the cemetery, they heard a hoarse moan. Amidst the archaic headstones there stood a man whose face was slowly sloughing off exposing his lower jaw almost completely. His clothes, looking rather disproportional to his size, gave him an unbalanced gait as he hobbled through the graves. He’d been dead more than a few days and well into the later stages of putrefaction.

“Do you have any provisions?” The unseen voice inquired.

“We have a gun. Uh, what do you mean?” Ferrah bellowed back becoming angry at the delay.

Donny held the gun up to his eyes, keeping it at arm’s length, he pulled the trigger. A bullet ricocheted off of a marble mausoleum and splintered a corner of a stone grave marker close to the seemingly melting man, causing him to slowly look in the direction of the group.  Suddenly, a heavy thud came from the other side of the stocky wooden doors and they were opened.  The girls hurried in with Donny right behind them, backing in as to make sure he was the last one.

Farrah collapsed almost immediately on the cold tile floor, welcoming its cold presence against her hot skin.  Denise’s eyes quickly darted around checking out her surroundings as she held out her hand against Tina as if shielding her against an unseen force. Donny was immediately drawn to a baptismal font near the door, slipping his hand into it, only to pull it back out in disappointment as there was no water to be found. A nun who’d been watching the newcomers came over to them, her brow becoming furrowed deep in thought.

“We’ve all but run out of everything,” The nun said, waving her hand in show.

Farrah, Denise, Tina, and Donny hadn’t noticed the church pews half full of people, living out their own personal hells.

“We have been sending people out to gather supplies, and sometimes they never come back, or when they do, they are bitten and they are not allowed to come back in, for the safety of others of course.”

She sighed, “We are in the tribulation and the rapture is going to happen soon.”

Tina tugged on Denise’s shirt and whispered, “What is the tribulation?”

Denise looked at Tina and shrugged before turning back to focus on the speaker.

“The only thing we really have left is sacramental wine, and our Father has been saving it for our rapture,” The nun said heavily, “I’m Sister Mary, by the way, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to properly introduce myself, but circumstances willing.”

Sister Mary glanced around the church, “How could this have happened?”

There weren’t many able-bodied looking men left to search for food and supplies let alone protect the women and children should someone undead, heaven forbid, break into the church. But, people had to eat, and water had to be brought in as there was no running water or electricity, and kindling for a fire, which was held in the center of the floor.

Farrah, a little more comfortable than the rest, stood up, “How are you going to get more supplies?”

Mary glanced at Donny, who was now sitting on the floor cocking and un-cocking the newly acquired gun.

“Are you willing to go out with others tonight to find food?” She’d asked him.

He swept his bangs out of his eyes and without hesitation said “Yes.”

It sounded fun. After all, what he was about to do tonight was what he used to do, all day every day it seemed. Then, it began to sink in what was happening around him and he started to lament. Killing zombies, trying to survive, it was all so much simpler on a console than it was in real life, it hit him like a ton of bricks and he became terrified. If you die, it really is game over, for good and no medkit is going to bring you back.

“That’s great,” Mary seems rather excited, “Let me get the father and let him know, I’m sure he’d be happy to meet with you four. Some extra supplies will truly bring up spirits with the oncoming rapture.”

A moment later a man wearing white ceremony robes came over to the group. He knelt by Donny and gave him a half smile holding his hand out offering a friendly handshake. Slight wrinkles were beginning to form prematurely around his eyes making him seem older than he was. His sky blue eyes tried to hide the worry but failed miserably. He turned to the girls next and shook their hands as well.

“My name is Father Brandt, I heard that you guys are looking for a place to stay.” He said justly, “We’re a motley group, that is, what’s left, but we’re here to welcome and serve the Lord until our last day.”

“What is the tribulation?” Tina questioned.

“Why, child, do you know who the Lord is?” Asked Father Brandt in awe.

Tina shook her head. Her parents weren’t religious people and her friends weren’t either. She knew of churches and the word Lord but never knew what he looked like or what the fuss was about Him.  Father Brandt sat down next to her and spent the next hour explaining to Tina things in the Bible.  While her time was occupied, the others walked around seeking out familiar faces and the comfort of being able to converse with people who were still alive that might know where their parents are.

“Hey Tina, how did things go?” Denise asked.

Tina sobbed a little and wiped the tears from her eyes.

“What wrong?” Denise looked concerned.

“Father Brandt, his sister was killed by zombies here at the church.”

 “He said that God must be punishing him for something he did. Do you think I did something wrong? What about my mom and dad?” She cried out loud enough so that others were staring at her at this time.

“No, no! You’re not being punished. I don’t know what is causing this, but it’s not to punish you,” Denise drew Tina close and wrapped her arms around her like a big sister would, “We’ll do the best we can to get through this together, but we have to do what we can to live too. How would your mom and dad have felt had they lived and you didn’t? Your parents would be very proud of you, but right now we need to do what’s best for us right now, ok?”

She wished that she could wake up, that all of this was nothing but a bad dream. She’d even promised herself that if she woke up, right now, she’d never skip anything again. After mingling with the other survivors, the group came back together. They could split up, but with all that they’ve been through together, it seemed fitting for them to stay close. The church was beginning to darken as the stained glass windows dimmed from the setting sun. Mary came over to the sleep-deprived group.

“You’ve been through a lot. We’re okay for tonight, but tomorrow, Lord willing, we’ll need to send you out Donny to gather supplies. Is that alright with you?” Mary asked him.

 Donny nodded before laying down on a pew, using old Bibles as a pillow to prop his head.  They slept as well as one could, given the situation, in groups of two on two pews. Denise and Tina, Farrah and Donny.

The night seemed to last forever, but the sun finally came up. Light spilled onto the pews they were sleeping on in vibrant colors. A shrill scream pierced the air causing them to wake suddenly.

“They’re trying to get in!” A woman’s voice rang out.

Donny jumped to his feet and reached for his gun before racing towards the entrance. There was banging on the door followed by an earthy sounding moan. The moan turned into a wet gasping cough and then silence.

“What do we do?” Asked Kailyn, a newly found widow with two young children, with concern in her voice.

No one was willing to go up to the door, solid or not, knowing one of “them” could be out there. Donny took it upon himself to place his head slowly against the door to listen.

“I don’t hear anything,” He whispered.

The frightened crowd began to part down the middle, as Sister Mary came down the aisle. She looked at Donny, who was still leaning on the door.

“Do you hear anything?” She asked.

Donny shook his head. She walked up to him, he moved aside and she slowly began to open the door. Before she could move the barricade completely out of the way, the weight of a body leaning against the door caused it to slam open, the body of a man tumbled to the floor. It was the same zombie Donny had seen in the cemetery just the night before. The church screamed and people started to run towards the back, away from the now dead zombie in front of them.  His appearance was certainly frightening, even worse than Donny had remembered. The man’s eyes were the color of milk, the exposed jaw now lying beside him and various holes on his face from what looked like birds pecking at his green and purple bubbled flesh. The stench of rotten flesh started to fill the church, causing some to vomit where they stood.

“Please, someone get rid of him!” Sister Mary exclaimed, “We need to shut the doors!”

Two men came from the back and grabbed the blood-stained shirt that clothed the man and tried to throw him outside down the stairs in front of the church.  The body rolled down the stairs completely, before the head finally fell off, spewing black clotted liquid from the rotten veins left. Another roar of screams filled the church followed by crying and panic that caused people to hold one another tighter. 

“Michael, Brian, can you please take Donny with you and make sure there are no other people wandering around that could hurt us?” Sister Mary asked, “Since it is day, and they are slower when it’s hot, can you please also look at nearby stores and homes for things we could use here?”

Mary hated referring to them as zombies; it seemed such a disrespectful word. You were supposed to treat the dead with respect; they, too, were alive at one time and had friends and family who cared for them. Unfortunately, one could not afford such niceties when trying to prevent yourself from becoming lunch too, simply put, “them”.

Time had now simply become an illusion, what seemed like forever, and yet not that long ago had mingled into one and just was. Donny hadn’t put much thought into what he was going to do as he grabbed his backpack and gun before he looked at the girls and smiled, this was his chance at a real zombie hunt, something he’d only done before in video games. Michael and Brian came over to him and he instinctively stood up and followed them as though he’d rehearsed this in advance. This was his destiny, he thought to himself. Mary opened the doors and gave them all a worried smile before they walked out. The thud of the barricade shutting behind them all caused a feeling of dread in Donny’s stomach.

“What do we do now?” He asked the other men.

Brian held out his hand and pointed to a store about a block away.

“We run there and hope we can get in,” Brian said, “Are you good at running?”

“I guess,” shrugged Donny.

The three slowly crept down the stairs leading to the church, keeping an eye out for any more surprises. When they got to the bottom, Donny wrinkled his nose in disgust as he stepped over the head, the eyes seemingly staring right at him. Michael was the first around the corner of the stone pillars, a quick glance and hand gesture later let the other two know the coast was clear, for now. The trio ran as fast, and as quietly as they could, to the store. Brian grabbed the door to a little mom and pop mart and gave it a good yank causing a bell to ring that was attached to a motion sensor.

“Shit,” He mumbled under his breath.

 Michael peered quickly through the window looking for any signs of life and satisfactorily shook his head for his companions to enter. Brian grabbed the door handle and pushed it open taking one last glance behind his shoulder as a precaution before closing the door behind him. They each took an aisle and started shoving as much food into their provided bags as they could carry. A motionless body lay on the floor, no signs of life or of zombification. The store was quiet, something they took advantage of and let their guards down a little to have fun.

“Here, you’ll need these for sure!” Laughed Michael as he took a pack of condoms and tossed them at Brian, who jumped in surprise, “Might want some of these too, you know, for the obvious.”

 Before he could duck out of range Brian was smacked in the head with a pack of pine-tree shaped car fresheners. Brian grabbed a bottle of beer and threw it at Michael. The bottle careened off a shelf next to Michael and shattered next to a corpse, Mr. Hughes the shop owner who’d been killed by another in a previous picking, mixing his congealed blood with the yeasty beer.  After a few belly laughs, the team went back to foraging like squirrels for the winter.

Filling his sac with as much junk food as one could possibly fit, Donny’s eyes lit up. “Twinkies!”

He went to reach for his prized snack without realizing where he was stepping and suddenly slipped on a piece of glass. Before he knew what happened, he was on the floor. Donny turned his head and found himself staring at the dead eyes of the once shop owner, he belted a scream. Michael and Brian raced to his side. Michael drew a hidden pistol and had pointed it at the expired man on the floor. Brian reached his hand out to Donny.

“Are you ok? Are you hurt?” Brian asked.

“No. I’m fine,” Donny said; It was a blatant lie. “Dude, I have to take a piss.”

Donny took off to the bathroom. He locked the door behind him and threw off his shirt. Sticking out of his side was a large piece of glass surrounded by blood and the smell of beer. He slowly pulled out the shard which was more painful than it was going in. He carefully examined it, globules of thick foul smelling blood were attached to the glass, and his heart sank.

“Please don’t be infected.” Donny pleaded to himself.

He stood for a few minutes, feeling for any signs. He didn’t feel infected. He felt fine, other than the wound. He was probably fine.

There was a knock at the door. “Hey, you okay in there? We’re ready to go.”

“Yeah, I’m coming!” He quickly responded, wrapping a long piece of paper towel around his midsection before throwing back on his shirt.

The men exited the shop as quietly as they entered. A breeze in the air blew through the trees causing them to rustle. A tree branch snapped in the distance causing them to stop dead in their tracks. Michael brandished his pistol again, his eyes darting around. Out of a clearing in the underbrush a deer bounded, clearly looking spooked. A roar sounded sending chills down their spines.

“What was that?” Donny asked, looking at Brian for answers.

“Sounded like a lion to me, I hope that’s not something else we have to worry about, as if the zombies weren’t enough, now we have to deal with lose zoo animals too.” He replied.

“Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh my!” Michael chanted to Donny.

The trip back to the church was uneventful as they ducked here and there. The head that had once lain at the bottom of the church stairs was now gone. Where would it go and more importantly, who would want it aside from its previous owner?

“So now what do we do?” inquired Donny.

“We give our bags to Mary and she rations the stuff out, we’ve been doing this for about a week, seems to work well enough,” Michael answered nonchalantly.

Three raps at the church door and the usual questions and then they’re in.  Donny searched the pews and found the group he’d newly acquired.

“How did it go?” Denise asked.

“Ok, I suppose, just got stuff, you know, Mountain Dew and Twinkies, the essentials,” he smirked.

“Did Brian and Michael say anything to you when you were in the store?” Ferrah whispered, “Father Brandt and Sister Mary said the rapture is happening tonight.”

“Nah, they didn’t say anything about it, what does any of that have to do with us?” Donny asked before he flopped down next to Ferrah, the pain in his side caused him to wince a little though no one took notice.

They were all in pain in one part or another at this point and time.

“They said if we drink the sacramental wine, we will go to be with the Lord tonight,” Tina chimed in, “I don’t want to go tonight.”

“Oh, we’re not going to be a part of the rapture tonight, that’s for sure,” Ferrah responded, “I remember hearing about this stuff in school; I think these people are brainwashed.”

“Me too, this sounds like cult stuff to me,” Denise responded, “We’re going to leave tonight.”

“Where will we go?” Tina asked with concern in her eyes that made them look unusually large.

“The airforce base, the plans haven’t changed,” Denise responded.

The group all looked at each other and planned their escape of the ill-fated church. Father Brandt went to his pedestal and cleared his throat a few times to get peoples’ attention.  The church fell eerily silent and everyone focused on him.

“Tonight is going to be the night of the rapture,” The Father said with hope in his voice “Tonight we will have one last communion and then the Lord will return to take us away from this pain.”

Squeals of delight and cheering filled the pews. Women and the few men alike began to cry and fell to their knees to pray. Ferra, Tina, Denise, and Donny all got on their knees so as to not draw attention to themselves.

“Now what?” quipped Ferrah quietly to Denise, “How do we get out of here?”

 “I don’t know, I’ll think of something, just follow my lead,” Denise responded.

Men, women and children alike began to form two lines awaiting their release without asking any questions. Tina, Ferrah, Denise, and Donny followed suit. Each one took a shot glass full of wine along with a wafer from Father Brandt who said a personal prayer for each one. He knew what he was doing was wrong, but Father Brandt had seen what these people who trusted him unconditionally had been through, and enough was enough. After all, dying like this and not having to endure a bite from a zombie was better than this, wasn’t it?

The crowd went back to their seats with their wine and wafers in their hands. Father Brandt gave a short speech about heaven and the rapture.

“Whatever you do, don’t drink the wine, throw it on the floor or whatever just don’t drink it,” Denise told Tina, Ferrah, and Donny quietly.

Within moments, everyone save the group had taken their wine and wafers. The church became chatty and excited, renewed in faith and glimmers of hope could be seen in people’s eyes. Smiles that hadn’t been seen on some were now beaming as they talked about loved ones they’d soon see again. 

Chatter began to slow and people started to relax, some not moving altogether. A few sobs could be heard here and there when a family member could not be roused from their now deep sleep.

“Do you think they know?” Denise asked Ferrah.

“Deep down I think they did. How could they not? Some people are just looking for a way out,” Ferrah responded.

“This is messed up,” Donny shook his head and lowered it.

Each of them lowered their head in silence as the movements of each of the parishioners inevitably stopped, leaving an eerie silence.

“I feel like we should have done something to prevent this,” Denise suddenly spoke up.

“We didn’t know for certain, and had we tried, it would have just upset them and caused problems,” Ferrah responded, “Come on, let’s go before they start turning into zombies.”

Donny jumped, “Right, I almost forgot about that.”

They made their way out of the church, checking to make sure that there was no one outside before they vacated the building. Before they turned to leave, Denise moved to the side of the staircase, grabbing a white stone. She ground the stone into the door, and it left a white filament behind. She wrote some words across the door in big bright letters. When she pulled back, Donny got a look at the note on the door.

Only the dead in here.

He nodded, and Denise let the stone fall to the side. The group turned, Ferrah patting Tina on the shoulder as she shook slightly. Then they moved on, heading towards Amora Air Force Base, it was the last hope they had.

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