Authors: Christopher Cox
Copyright 2010 by Christopher Cox
"Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
I awoke to the soft sounds of tranquil life downstairs. Soft sunlight poured through the window and the songs of morning birds came in muted through the glass. A small amount of dust danced lazily in the orange sunbeam that had crept up the wall.
I stretched across the bed, rubbing the remnants of sleep from my eyes. The smell of bacon wafted up the stairs, carried through the air with the sounds of the children laughing and the occasional clang of pots and pans. I had fallen asleep with the television on, but had turned down the sound at some point- the news was showing what it normally does; flashing images violence, anger and war that I ignored- as long as it didn’t upset my corner of the world, it wasn’t my concern.
Today would be a fine day.
I stepped into my threadbare pajama bottoms and threw on an old and faded concert t-shirt, padding down the stairs in bare feet. Landing at the base of the stairs and rounding the curved wall, I was greeted by the warm sight of my family.
Jacob grinned a nearly toothless grin through a greasy mouth as he happily gnawed at an overcooked slice of bacon. His footy-pajama covered feet kicked rhythmically against the high-chair legs as he babbled unintelligibly. Madison, my dear Madi, brushed her blond hair from her face and offered me the same warm smile that never failed to melt my heart. Just eight years old, she already seemed to have life figured out- young boys were already lining up to share their desserts and pull her hair. I’d have to watch out for her in a couple of years, but for now, she was just Daddy’s girl.
Aimee, my wife, busied herself over the small stove: cracking and mixing eggs, flipping bacon, buttering toast. The act would have been a beautifully choreographed dance, if not for the occasional grease fire or burnt finger. For her many virtues, Aimee was no chef.
I wrapped my arms around her from behind and greeted her with a quick peck on the cheek. I had to stifle a chuckle at the look on her face- the fixed look of complete concentration in her eyes caused her eyebrows to wrinkle just above the nose, and her tongue was held gently between her pearly teeth through the corner of her lips. It wasn’t helping the cooking, but I loved her.
“Good morning”…she paused to quickly fix the lid to the top of the pan, suffocating yet another small fire, “dear”, she completed finally, in her characteristic singsong voice, a slight twang betraying her southern upbringing.
“Morning”, I moved my hand across her belly. We just found out a few days ago that she was pregnant, ‘preggers’, she called it, and hadn’t told the children yet of our blessed mistake. We’d have to start considering space for the nursery in the near future. But not yet, now was breakfast.
I sat at my seat, feeling every bit like a king in my own kingdom. Aimee set a plate for me next to a cup of orange juice, and sat with her own opposite me. Madi looked at her mother expectedly, and I knew that whatever was coming next was already a foregone conclusion.
“So, Brad, did you know the circus is set up at the fairground?” Aimee asked, casually. Madi eyed me with eager anticipation. Even Jacob started giggling and swinging his feet as if he understood.
“That right?” I asked casually, before taking in another bite of bacon.
“Maybe we should go today, then,” I said with a wink. I knew the girls had made up my mind for me.
“Sounds good, honey.” Madi and Aimee exchanged knowing looks; Madi desperately clasped her hand to her mouth to stifle a giggle. I pretended not to notice, smiling inwards.
“Maybe while we’re-”. I was interrupted by a knock at the front door.
Somehow, the knock itself chilled me to the core in a way I couldn’t quite name. It wasn’t the knock of a friend, or a delivery, or a salesman. The sound was more of a dull thud, followed by a subdued scrape, as if whoever was on the other side were lethargic or ill.
I greedily gulped my juice, as though I hadn’t heard the knock. Aimee, as if to save me the embarrassment of my uneasiness, quickly stood.
“You stay honey, I’ll get it.” She circumnavigated the table as she spoke, running her hand lovingly across my back as she passed. “Coming!” she called to the door.
Again, louder, a knock. Thump, scrape. And again. Thump, scrape.
I leaned back a little, able to take in the entire living room as Aimee passed through to the heavy wooden door. Madi had started talking about her dream- a pleasant little girl’s dream- but I could only half-listen, and not at all as Aimee reached the door.
“Aimee, don’t,” I started. I couldn’t complete the thought that I didn’t understand, and another knock accented my statement.
“Don’t be silly, honey,” Aimee consoled, “Sounds like someone needs some help.”
Her spirit and her heart were pure, and my wife found no greater joy than in helping others. While this suited her well as a night nurse, her kindness, I always said, would someday be the death of her.
“Who is it?” She called through the door. No answer, except another knock, louder again. She fixed the chain and pulled the door a crack.
“Hel-” The word turned into a scream, high and harsh. She retreated quickly from the open door, spinning around in a panicked and confused dash. The ottoman caught her foot and she collapsed in a tangled heap, still trying to put distance between herself and whatever she saw through the crack.
I sprung to my feet, but Madi was already tearing past me to her mother’s side. The wind knocked from her by the fall, Aimee could only manage, “Madi, no!”
It was too late. From her angle, Madi was able to see through the crack in the door. She, too, screamed at what she saw and buried her face in her mother’s chest as they stood together. Startled by the sound, Jacob began to cry large tears and Aimee, with Madi in tow, rushed to his chair, yanking him from the seat to hold him close as he wailed.
Jacob clutched to her breast, and Madi clasped her leg. “What the hell’s going on?” She yelled- to me or the door, I couldn’t tell.
I didn’t answer.
Madman? Animal? Riot?
I couldn’t tell what it was, but I was grateful for the solid wooden door and the sturdy chain keeping the door from flying open. The sound of the fists was getting more insistent, and sounded as if it was being joined by others. More unsettling than the pounding, though was the moaning. Low, guttural and hungry, the sound poured through the crack in the door. Worse, I realized that I could hear the same sound from the open kitchen window.
The door chain, thank God, held firm against the beating from the other side, but I doubted that the kitchen window was quite as strong.
Unfrozen for the moment, I tore across the dining room, knocking the table in the process and causing a plate to crash to the floor. Reaching the phone on the wall, I freed it from its cradle began dialing, the long beige cord trailing behind be as I returned to the doorway and my family. 9. 1. 1.
The answer set my mind reeling.
“We’re sorry, all circuits are busy now. Please try your call again later.”
I stared for a moment at the handset, uncomprehending. The timing couldn’t have been worse.
I hit the disconnect and tried again, dialing very deliberately.
“We’re sorry, all circuits are busy now. Please try your call again later.”
Next to me, Aimee kneeled and held both of the children. “Brad?” Aimee called, her eyes pleading. Madi quietly whimpered into her mother’s neck, while Jacob openly howled. My nerve was resolved and with a herculean effort of will I dropped the phone, which sprung back to the wall, and dashed to the front door. My blood turned to ice as I got close; I could hear that the pounding had become desperate, the moaning sounded almost feral, and the all-important chain was straining from the relentless pressure. The screws themselves looked already to pop loose, and the hinges were beginning to creak. The door wouldn’t hold out much longer, I knew.
I braced my back against the door, relieved to see the chain slack a small amount. With all my strength I pushed against the onslaught, knowing that someone… something… some terror was on the other side of a few inches of wood. To me, every imaginary and childhood terror was on the other side, although I hadn’t yet seen what it was.
Either redoubling their efforts or joined by other terrors, the door began to move slightly inward once again. The chain complained with the pressure, and my bare feet begin to slip on the polished wood floor. Desperately, I scrambled for traction that I failed to find.
To my horror, fingers appeared in the crack of the door. Then more fingers, then hands were desperately clawing at the door and trying to force their way inside. Bloated, grey and bloodied, I realized that they were human; or were at one time. On one, I saw, the long, slender fingers had swollen around a soiled wedding ring. Some had fingernails that were carefully manicured and clean, while others were broken and had bits of meat under them. Closing my eyes to shut out what I saw, so tightly they ached, I persisted.
After a few moments, or perhaps a few hours- I couldn’t feel sure, I felt a presence and my eyes snapped open. Aimee was by my side, as she always was, pushing with every ounce of strength against the door. Gradually, again, the chain began to loosen and the hinges began to relax as the door slowly began to close. At the other end of the living room, I could see that Madi held Jacob closely, gently bouncing him up and down, whispering the same soothing songs that Aimee and I would sing to her when she was frightened.
The hands and fingers continued, however, to claw desperately through the crack, even as the entryway narrowed over their yielding skin. We continued to push until we began to hear the sickening snap of breaking finger and hand bones. But still, they persisted, not seeming to react to injuries. Instead, they pushed more desperately as the crack narrowed. The beasts on the other side of the door shoved, stripping skin from bone and splintering digits in small showers of blood and substance. But still, the door couldn’t be forced to latch. We were at a standstill.
Suddenly, the oversized living room window exploded in a shower of glass, which was barely contained by the drawn drapes. Madi, mere feet away from the open window, shrieked “Daddy!” and clutched Jacob tighter. Instinctively, she retreated back to the relative safety of the dining room doorway.
More greedy arms thrust through the open window, their owners moaning with a fevered lust. Blood from new wounds ran freely down the white walls, pooling among the broken glass on the floor. My castle had been breached.
Holding out was clearly impossible, so Aimee and I darted in unison towards the dining room, not daring to delay and steal a look at the writhing masses that clawed at the drapes. The moment the pressure on the door was released, it snapped forward, the overwhelming force demolishing the chain in a deluge of metal and splinters, stinging my back from across the room.
Hearing the noise, I whipped around in a panic and saw my first of the undead. There were others in the heap, but the man was the one I saw. I froze when we locked eyes, but there was no life in his- perhaps he was no longer a man after all. What I did know was that he would kill me and my family with no remorse, but behind his eyes there was no emotion- no anger, no fear, no hate; and that terrified me most of all. He would leave us all dead without a thought.
His mouth was caked with fresh blood, which ran freely down his chin like saliva from a hungry dog. His lips were gone entirely, and his mouth was fixed with the same ethereal moan as the rest. His teeth glistened with fat grease and fresh, stringy meat and he left a smeared path of blood as he walked.
I realized, my mind tumbling over the understanding, why the phone wasn’t working. He wore a blood-stained police uniform, and his sidearm was missing from his holster. He walked with a frenzied shuffle, his eyes still fixed to mine. I saw his fingers were hideously crushed; what may have been his trigger finger dangling limply from the delicate network of nerves and veins, threatening to fall with every step.
A dull thud woke me from my momentary tunnel vision. I heard Aimee, Madi and Jacob screaming and sobbing, and saw them clutching each other and backing away. I also saw why they hadn’t run- the lighter kitchen door was already splintering under the weight of countless dead fists, and they couldn’t work the courage to run past it to the stairs. Turning, I saw the thud I had heard was caused by a body, still moving, falling through the living room window. It thrashed wildly, caught in the drapes that it pulled them down with a loud tear. Finally seeing us, hungry and wild faces clamored over each other; some were caked with blood, some with visible wounds and some, revoltingly, were partially eaten with flesh still hanging free from the mutilation.
I wrested Jacob from his mother’s arms and pulled her by the hand. Aimee, in turn, grasped Madi with a death grip and pulled her along.
“Upstairs!” I called behind me as I raced into the stairwell.
“What then?” Aimee hissed after me as we leapt up the stairs.
I didn’t answer.
Madi tripped on the stair, but Aimee didn’t miss a beat, pulling her back to her feet in mid-step and continuing up.
“Run, Madi!” She called.
We reached the top, slamming the hinged baby gate and securing the latch. It wouldn’t hold, of course, but desperation breeds petty acts when nothing else remains.