Her hands wouldn’t stop shaking as she tried to wrap them around the coffee cup. She couldn’t control her breathing. Like the rest of her it was erratic and didn’t want to be controlled. She couldn’t calm down and why the held should she want to? She had just seen her ex-boyfriend with whom she had just had sex with, killed by some shadow creature from another plain of existence.
It reminded her of that movie Roland had once made her watch. It was the one with the guy who cut off his hand and replaced it with a chainsaw. He was looking at himself in the mirror, telling himself that everything was fine when his reflection grabbed him, looked at him with those wild and crazy eyes and said to him, “you just chopped up your girlfriend with a chainsaw, does that sound ‘fine’ to you?”
Well, she had just saw her friend die. In the last few weeks, she had seen most of her friends die, many of them coming back and had been nice to her until she put on the damn necklace. Why had she ever put it on, it didn’t matter. Because as she tried to calm herself, she couldn’t help but think of all that stuff and then whispered to herself, closing her eyes to let a single tear fall and whispered “does that sound fine to you?”
No, it sure as hell didn’t. She wasn’t fine and knew it, but what was she going to do about it? She had no one to talk to and it seemed like anyone she did talk to ended up dead.
Her phone sat on the counter. Jessica still hadn’t called her back. Lizzie had already left her four voicemails since she’d left the room. She had only made it forty-five minutes down the interstate before she was starting to drift off behind the wheel and in that time she had kept trying to get ahold of her friend, fearing she too was dead. That dream had been so vivid. It had to be more than just a dream.
She eased the coffee cup to her lips again, holding it tightly to keep it from shaking. It took an effort, but she sipped at the bitter brew. She wasn’t a plain coffee drinker but hadn’t been able to process the ingredients on the counter to sweeten her drink.
“Figured out what you want or do you still need a few minutes.”
Lizzie jumped in her seat and looked up at the woman standing over her. The woman was smiling at her, her teeth yellow from years of coffee and cigarettes. Her eyes were dark, sunken in from what Lizzie guessed was lack of sleep. Her nose had a ring in it and Lizzie realized she couldn’t guess the woman’s age. She looked old, her skin winkled and ashen, but Lizzie wasn’t sure. This woman looked life hardened and made her age irrelevant. She was ancient in the ways of life and that was all that mattered.
“I’m sorry, you just startled me.” Lizzie noticed, glancing at her coffee, thankful none of it had spilled. Had she really drunk three quarters of a cup already? How had that happened?
“It’s okay.” The waitress said as she brought over a fresh pot of the dark liquid. Steam rose from it as she poured. “Is everything okay?”
Lizzie internally chuckled at the question, not able to get that damn movie out of her head.
“Do I need to call someone for you? Or are you hiding from someone? I can call the sheriff. Pete’s a decent guy. If your boyfriends doing something he shouldn’t, Pete’ll set him straight.”
“No but thank you. I just-” she cut off mid-sentence. What did she need? She wasn’t sure of a lot of things. None of this, nothing in her life over the course of the last three weeks made any sense.
So, if she needed anything it was that. To make it all make sense. She needed to think.
No, she needed to figure out where to go. The cops would be looking for her and the last thing she wanted was to explain why she had been with her cheating ex-boyfriend when he had died.
“I guess I just need a piece of paper and a pen if you have one?”
“Sure thing.” The waitress said as she ripped off a piece of paper from her order pad and set it on the counter as well as pen. “Did you want to eat anything?”
Lizzie thought about it. Her stomach was in knots and the coffee was only going to make it worse unless she ate something. She just wasn’t sure what. She needed something to soak up all that acid that was burning her insides.
“I’ll just have a waffle with wheat toast on the side.”
There was a ding from the bell over the door to the diner and the waitress looked up. Lizzie followed her gaze to see two men, both looking tired. One of them smelled of diesel, though she wasn’t sure which one. As it was an all-night truck stop, they were probably both truck drivers coming in for some middle of the night nourishment.
“World’s going to hell in a hand basket. Come on, you hear some of the crazy shit they say been going on out there?” One of the truck drivers was saying. His voice billowed out from him, and it was obvious the man had no concept of an ‘inside voice.’
“I’ll be right with you gentlemen.” The waitress said looking up at them as they sat a couple stools down from her. They nodded, but she had already turned her attention back to Lizzie. “And like I said, need anything else, just let me know.”
The woman held her gaze and Lizzie was transfixed by her. She could turn to look away, those eyes, the compassion emanating from this stranger as she briefly let her hand rest on Lizzie’s own, all locked her into this woman’s control.
“Thank you,” Lizzie felt herself say the words, but it didn’t feel like it came from just her lips. Somewhere deep within her she felt a weight lift and for a short time felt it would be okay. Maybe she could think on everything that had happened, and she could make some sense of it.
There was a release and Lizzie found herself blinking her eyes, fighting back the tears that threatened. When she looked up again, the waitress was already talking to the two men, both of whom already had their cups turned over and Alice was pouring them the steaming coffee.
Okay, so she had to figure out what was going on.
She looked at the slip of order sheet the woman had given her and flipped it over to the blank back side. There she scribbled at the top, “What I know?”
So, what did she know? Well, her friends were dying and then sometime during the night they came back and haunt her. Well, they had… Now with the necklace on, they only attacked her in mirrors and somehow had the strength to attack her and nearly kill her.
This wasn’t working. She had to focus. She needed to figure out the timeline and keep it in order. If she just started writing down random thoughts, she would be all over the place.
Sarah had been killed by a dead man who Lizzie hadn’t known. That was strange as it was the only time the shadow man had used someone not associated with her and had somehow dug up the thing from the nearby graveyard. Had the sheriff said the graveyard was nearby? No, he had said it was on the other side of town. The dead man had to have dug himself up to work his way across the small community to end up there for when they arrived. That seemed farfetched so Lizzie had to wonder was someone working with the shadow man or controlled by him like he controlled the dead man?
Something else about that didn’t add up. Her uncle’s note said she would be safe from the dead in his house, but somehow the dead man was able to get in. Sarah hadn’t been able to get in. There had to be something different about the dead man.
“You know that was horse shit, right? Another government cover up.”
“Yeah, like you know what happened.”
“Hell yeah I know. I know one of the survivors. He’s a trucker. He said that the dead were attacking people.”
Lizzie’s head spun as she turned to look over at the two men. They were completely focused on each other and their coffees, neither seemed to notice her as she watched them intently.
“You know, I’d agree. But I know the guy. He’s not the kind of guy who makes this type of shit up.”
“So what, there were zombies and the government just up and nuked the town? Because the idea of home-grown terrorists blowing themselves up is more farfetched.”
“Lizzie vaguely recalled what the men were talking about. Something about terrorists blowing up a small town. She only remembered it from Roland talking about it, talking about them dumb flatlanders blowing themselves and everyone around them. It had only been a blip in her radar as her parents had died and she was still reeling with it. The president could have been killed and she’d barely have known as she had lost herself to her own bubble and nothing else mattered.
Kind of like what she was doing now.
She wanted to break into their conversation and ask about the dead killing people but didn’t get a chance when Alice was back refilling their cups. They had both stopped and watched her, but she had looked to Lizzie with an inquiring raise of her eyebrow.
“You need something, honey?”
It seemed like all the world was trained on her as everyone was watching her now. The two guys had turned to look, and Alice kept her gaze.
“No, I’m fine.”
“Heyya cutie. What’s got you out so late.” The taller or the two men said to her. He was the one whose friend told him about the dead. The other man shook his head, turning away from them both as he took another drink from his coffee.
“Nothing.” She said as she focused her own cup.
“We weren’t disturbing you, were we?”
“Just ignore my friend here. He seems to got zombies on the brain.” The shorter man said, looking around his friend so he could look at her.
“Its….it’s okay. I just hadn’t heard anything about-“
“He’s talking about the town that somehow managed to blow itself up. Hayward, or something like that.”
“Hammond.” The taller man cut in. The waitress seemed to already have grown bored with the conversation and stepped back, probably to place the men’s orders with the cook.
“Hammond, that’s right. You remember that right.”
“Not really. My parents had just died. I don’t think I really-” her voice trailed off and she saw the sympathy in their eyes.
“Sorry about your loss.”
“No, but I get what y’r saying. Anyways, Hammond had some kind of home-grown terrorist living there, no one ever said who, just that there had been a small cell, and they had built a dirty nuke. Fools had screwed up and blew themselves as well as the whole town right off the map.”
“Which doesn’t make no sense. If had been a dirty bomb, there would still be radiation all around there. There’s not.”
“How would you know. Military’s had the area locked down since it happened.”
“Not farther out. There’d still be traces.”
“So, but your friend said their was zombies? Reanimated corpses?” She cut in.
“Yeah, this guy Bruce. He’d been my trainer and we stay in touch. Ran into him a few months back shortly after it happened. He was pretty shaken up about it. Frustrated too as they had him quarantined so long afterwards that he nearly lost his wife.”
“Just why in the hell would he be in quarantine.”
“Because they don’t know what caused the shit. He said there was something to do with spiders but he didn’t understand it all. Just said it have been some freaky shit and didn’t know how he survived. Said if it got out that he was talking about it that he’d be a dead man or locked up for life.”
“Then why’d he tell you?”
“Because he was stressed about it and needed to talk to someone. I was someone.”
“Wreaks like bullshit to me.” The shorter man said and looked over to Lizzie, giving her a knowing wink, though what he thought she knew, she wasn’t sure. She had already drifted from the conversation thinking about that day in the house. Had there been any spiders? She hadn’t recalled seeing any. Each time she’d been there, she hadn’t noticed any bugs. Even outside there had been a lack of mosquitoes, which was odd the more she thought about it. When was the last time she’d ever been in the woods and there had been none of the blood-sucking bastards?
“Order up,” called out the chef from the kitchen and Lizzie turned to see her food in the elongated window that separated the kitchen from the dining area. Alice appeared from wherever she had been hiding to avoid being a part of the conversation and made her way to it.
“It may-as-well-be. I’m just telling you what he told me. Something strange about what happened, though I’ll admit it sounds crazy. But you think about it, there’s some crazy shit in nature.”
Lizzie was only partially following their conversation, no longer participating as she watched Alice pull her food down from the window, put butter on the waffle and then create a small plate of fixings to go with the food. Once done, Alice was able to magically hold it all as she brought it the short distance to where Lizzie sat.
“You ever hear of zombie ants?”
“You’re full of it.”
“No, no. I saw it there on Facebook.”
“It’s on Facebook so it’s gotta be true huh.”
“Hey asshole, there’s good stuff on there. Saw some guy post about some article in one of them science magazines.”
“Here ya go. You need anything else with these?” Alice, the waitress, asked as she set the plate down with all the condiments. Lizzie was surprised to see the little metal pitcher shaped container with warmed milk and wasn’t sure how she was supposed to use it for the waffles. She didn’t ask, instead only shaking her head to Alice as she tried to pay attention to the two men. It seemed interesting, but she wasn’t sure it had anything to do with her situation.
“It’s how this fungus controls these ants you see and have them doing what they want them to do. The ants are dead, and this fungus controls them.”
“No, thank you.” Lizzie said and Alice nodded, giving the men a frustrated look before turning back to Lizzie with a wink and a nod.
“Think I heard about a movie like that. Something about kids being special zombies.”
“What the hell are you talking about. No, this is about this fungus controlling ants.”
“Enjoy. Hopefully these dingleberries will talk about something a little less disgusting and allow you to eat in peace.” Alice said, walking past them on her way into the back area.
“Sorry about that. Derek, shut the hell up.” The shorter man said, looking at the other one.
“Sure thing. Sorry about that. You go ahead and eat up honey. We’ll talk about something more frustrating.”
“Like how much longer the Bears coach has before he’s run out of the city with his head on a- ur, I mean how much longer until he’s fired.”
Lizzie wasn’t paying them too much attention. She had looked over, and she had acknowledged them, even nodding as they started down into some new argument. She tried to act interested, but her mind was already whirling to somewhere else. She couldn’t stop herself from thinking about what the man had said.
The old man hadn’t been the first time that dead things had come back. While she didn’t think of them as zombies… That made her think of too many bad horror films and there was no room in her thoughts as she tried to focus on the new reality shaping itself around her for those. She had enough nightmares to worry about.
The old man had dug himself out of his own grave to somehow find its way to her uncle’s house. Why? How? Something was different there. It was like the shadow creature needed some way of starting… this, whatever this was.
She wrote on the paper.
-how did he come back to life
-why did he come back
How is he killing them?
What does he get from it? He
feads feeds off it somehow.
He’s feeding from her… She had gotten a sense of that when she had merged with him earlier, but she wasn’t sure how that worked. It was like, somehow with how he tormented her, it fed him. That didn’t make sense though, as he would eventually deplete whatever he got from her, and they would be done. Also, if he had been feeding off her uncle then her uncle would probably not have survived as long, or the thing would have starved if her uncle hadn’t been nourishing it.
Damn, why didn’t the thing try to find someone else. What was so special about her family?
She wasn’t sure if she did have any answers to any of it and sitting in the diner wasn’t going to do anything. She came in there for coffee, was she really going to try and eat too? Her stomach twisted and she knew its opinion was she would never eat again.
“It ain’t no skin off my back.”
“Hell, you’d never give anyone the shirt off your back either.”
“Well, what do you expect. You only roll through here every couple of weeks. It’d be nice if I got to see my brother more often.”
She looked at her piece of paper to avoid looking at the squabbling brothers. There wasn’t anything new written there, but she saw what wasn’t written there and began to realize what she needed to do. She had been right to not call her brother. If she had, it might have gotten him. Everyone she loved was in danger.
She had nowhere else to go. The cabin was it. It was far away from everyone hidden out in the woods. That would keep everyone else from dying, and with all the junk her uncle had, maybe there was some answers. Maybe he had found something that would help her.
It wasn’t like she would be like her uncle. She wouldn’t go there and stay hidden. She was just hiding for a little while as she got everything sorted out.
“Not hungry?” Alice, the waitress said as she seemed to appear out of nowhere.
“Not really.” Lizzie said, quickly flipping over her piece of paper she had been writing on.
“Yeah, well, least your hands aren’t shaking as much. Get some things figured out?”
“Sometimes to find answers, we just need a respite along the way.”
Lizzie put the piece of paper in her little purse and pulled out her wallet. She didn’t look at the bill but dropped forty dollars on the counter. She knew it was more than enough to cover it, but money wasn’t her concern anymore. She almost relished the time a few weeks ago when it had been.
Lizzie was almost to the door when Alice called after her.
“Remember these dark times you’re going through; you will find a path to the light. ‘For He rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.”
Lizzie gave her a weak smile. She had respected the older woman, but never had appreciated when people quoted the Bible to her. She had enough of that growing up, and what did that faith ever do for her parents, her brother, or her? The woman had been nice, so she nodded a thanks and then turned to look at the two men sitting there.
“Hey you guys, just so you know, I’ve seen it. Sometimes the dead do come back, and if it was enough of them, then I believe they would have nuked a town.”
She left them there looking at each other, jaws dropped. She had to chuckle a little to herself as she walked to the car. If she ever had a mic drop moment, that had been it.