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(© M.A. Kastle)

Page 1

Jack walked, head down, his only outward acknowledgement to the dozen others waiting was a slight nod. The weather made him miserable, struggling to get blood flow back to his freezing feet, made him mad. It was September and felt like December. Autumn’s biting cold patiently waited for the hazy golden hue of the evening sun to sink behind the shield of dense trees and the snow capped mountains. Once it was gone, the chill would devour whatever warmth had existed throughout the day.

The preserve, being some sixty miles from the nearest town wasn’t without heat. Situated throughout the staging area were six fifty-gallon drums, each one turned fire pit, and each one glowing from the fire within. The snow around each barrel was nothing more than thick sloppy slush and as he approached his chosen barrel, each of his steps pushed bitter liquid up and over the toes of his combat boots. Its icy fingers crept up his calves sending goose bumps racing across his skin. The barrel sat on the fringe of the staging area, lacked people and their monotonous mumbling, and when he reached it, he pulled his gloved hands from the flannel-lined pockets of his coat, stretching them over its warm gold tipped flames. It was time for silence, reverence, and he needed to think about what he was doing and what he was going to do. In seconds, what relief he found in the heat escaping through the holes of the barrel faded under his indecision.

It ran rampant.

He second-guessed every detail, even his choice of clothing; shirts, coat, jeans, his thick wool socks, and his boots. With another step closer to the flames, he exhaled more unspoken complaints about the melted snow that would soon turn to ice making his clothing useless, and watched the foggy grey ribbons of his breath drift in the moving air.

Silence sat as thick as the snow, and in its depth, between the men and women who journeyed to the preserve there was an understanding, ‘judge not’. They all came for a reason, the thrill of the hunt, curiosity, and then there was the other reason, the one that just thinking about it turned Jack’s already queasy stomach into a churning mess of nerves. There were those who went into the preserve to say good-bye.

What, he thought starring into the red/yellow flames, was the purpose of that?

Self-punishment, he answered himself. Maybe, sad as it was, it’s really an attempt to understand something, someone, who didn’t make sense anymore.

Jack coughed into his right hand and looked up at the buzzing yellow floodlights. What did the song say- the darkest hour never comes in the middle of the night? Whoever sang it was right, at least in his part of the world. If he remembered correctly, it happened in the middle of the damn day, noon, straight up, and even then, it started slowly, innocently, if you could say that about death. Almost like it was lolling you into acceptance, and once you were sure it was all going to be all right, it busted wide open.

Simple things, headaches, nausea, the chills, and a fever, sent groups of scared people rushing to hospitals. One by one, two by two, old, young, and everyone in between, fell sick. The hospitals didn't only admit them; they quarantined them with the fear they were dealing with a new strain of whopping cough. Jack shivered, they were smart to quarantine them, probably the only smart move made on their part, he thought bitterly. The first hours of chaos created panic, and the idea Mother Nature unleashed Armageddon to cleanse herself, crossed everyone’s minds. It wasn’t as if the idea people were born with an expiration date was possible.

Wave after wave people were changing and when no one could find a cure the unimaginable happened. The victim’s minds gave up, and not in death, they turned into frenzied monsters whose human form was the only thing human about them. Immediately the news went wild touting the sick as the real modern day zombie. The end of whatever they were was horrible.

Later, after the initial chaos turned to a gentle roar, the day became known as the Cessation, meaning the end. In the end, the name didn’t matter. The simple act of naming it, made it commonplace and easy to remember in one simple term rather than the nightmare it truly was.

[ Continue to page 2 ]

Genre:Living Dead
Type:Short story
Rating:6.93 / 10
Rated By:59 users
Comments: 1 user
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