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    WARNING: Stories on this site may contain mature language and situations, and may be inappropriate for readers under the age of 18.

    THY NEIGHBOR’S WIFE by Michael R. Colangelo
    November 26, 2008  Short stories   

    … and in the end, after Tony suggests that he might like to share Sonja’s daughter with the rest of the men working in the camp, she puts a bullet between his eyes and steals his truck. She hopes to put as many miles between Shelly and that hell hole as she can before the truck runs out of gas.

    Sure, they follow her. They follow her as far as Crenshaw. But nobody dares go through the city. They are a pile of cowards just like Tony. She sneers her way through the lonesome town just fine. She doesn’t see one of the restless dead. She doesn’t see anyone, for that matter.

    The trouble starts when the truck finally runs out of gas. It rattles to a stop on a long stretch of country road where the fields still support tall plants of wild corn and tobacco. She throws the emergency brake and takes the keys from the ignition.

    “We’re going to need to find gas, Shelly.” She tells her daughter. “Help me hide the truck in the corn.”

    The glum teenager rolls her eyes and then turns her face away from her mother. She stares out the passenger window and makes no move toward exiting the truck.

    Sonja bangs her keys against the doorframe. She’s nervous to be out here alone at sundown.

    “Come on, missy. You can sulk later. Once it’s safe again.”

    Eventually, Shelly moves. The pair of them move to the rear of the truck and slowly push the vehicle off the road and into the tall corn. As they rest from their exertion, a distant gunshot sounds up the road somewhere. Sonja can’t tell if it’s a rifle or a shotgun, but where there are guns there are people, and where there are people, there is gas.

    She nods at her daughter, but Shelly is once again insolent and unmoving. She looks at Sonja with uncertain eyes. Sonja grabs her wrist and pulls, marching up the road towards the sound.

    “Oh, for Christ’s sake, Shelly. Come on. We don’t have much time left before dark.”

    Shelly struggles and manages to worm her wrist from beneath Sonja’s grasp. Despite this resistance, she follows her mother, anyway.

    Soon, they find the source of the noise.

    There are a group of men on the road. Each one is oddly similar in appearance. They wear a collared and button-down shirt, suspenders, and plain brown boots and trousers. They wear straw hats and sport square beards on their chins. A pickup truck sits horizontally across the road, forming a blockade. Its rear is filled with rifles, axes, rope, and bright orange canisters of gasoline.

    Two of the men drag a barefoot, naked, and blackened corpse back from the road towards the truck. The remaining men pat one another on the back and shake hands.

    Sonja begins to move down the road towards them and Shelly grabs her by the elbow. Her daughter hisses a warning: “Mom… don’t.”

    Sonja shrugs her off and rolls her eyes right back at her. If Shelly wants to play petulant child, she’s welcome to it. But Sonja didn’t drag them both this far to get stuck in the middle of wild cornfields with God-knows-what lurking between the stalks. She leaves her daughter standing back where she is and continues forward.

    When the men spot her, they stop and wait. All of their previous joviality is gone and they look like wax statues – grim and unmoved by her appearance on the road.

    It feels as if she has just walked in on a bunch of teenagers and interrupted their circle jerk.

    She addresses them, regardless.

    “My truck’s broke down just a little ways up the road. If you could spare a pinch of gas, it would surely be appreciated, gentlemen.”

    Nobody speaks. The men continue to stare. Some of them rock on the balls of their feet. After what feels like an eternity, finally, one of them steps forward. He’s a big and handsome-looking blond-haired man with perfect teeth set inside his unsmiling mouth.

    “Ain’t no gas you can just have here, missus. You need to ask Lazarus about all of that.”

    He spots Shelly on the road behind her and shuffles a bit. His eyes narrow in concentration on her daughter and, in turn, she shuffles a bit to block his view protectively.

    “Well, which one of you is Lazarus? I don’t have much for trade. Some ammunition, maybe a pistol too.”

    When she finishes her sentence, a murmur ripples through the men standing by the truck. The blond-haired man’s eyes widen ever so slightly. His grim expression almost breaks into a look of something else. A look of surprise? What did she say that was so shocking?

    “You got to talk to Lazarus. He’s back at the settlement. We’ll take you to him.”

    She shakes her head. No. Absolutely not. She won’t leave the road. Not with these men.

    That’s when he lunges for her and catches her by the shirt. Sonja steps back and gets the pistol free from where she has tucked it into the waistband of her jeans in the small of her back. He backs off and the click of ten-odd rifle chambers being set can be heard from the group by the truck. They all train their weapons on her.

    Shelly shouts from behind her: “Mom!”

    “I didn’t give you a choice, missus. No women allowed to be armed out here. No women allowed to be out here, either.”

    Maybe. Maybe if Shelly wasn’t with her she would have tried to shoot her way out of this. The risk is unfortunately too great with her daughter in their line of fire. Sonja lowers the gun and nods quietly that she understands.

    “Gonna need that weapon.” The blond man tells her. He holds out his open hand and she places the pistol into it.

    “That’s better.”

    Shelly arrives and clings to her mother. Her body trembles and she turns her face inward into Sonja’s breast, hiding herself from the blond man’s piercing gaze.

    “Let’s get in the truck now.” He tells them. “We’ll see what Lazarus has to say about all of this.”

    #

    Their settlement sits at a pair of crossroads among the cornfields. It’s little more than a boarded up old gas station, a stone church, and numerous ramshackle homes cobbled together from old plywood, tent material, and other bits of trash. In the center of the crossroads, someone has placed one of the dead inside a rusting cage. It shambles helplessly about in the cage, bumping gently against the bars when the truck passes by as if it senses them.

    They park in front of the church and while the other men unload the corpse they shot out on the road, the blond-haired man directs Sonja and Shelly inside.

    The church is dark. Only the barest of light manages to shine through cracks in the boards strapped across the windows. All of the pews have been smashed and cleared out of the center of the building. On the far wall, above the altar, a cross constructed of human bone hangs from baling twine wound through the rafters.

    “Wait here.” The blond-haired man tells them. He strides into the center of the church. “Lazarus? Lazarus?”

    It is silent in here. Sonja can barely hear the muffled sound of laughter from the men outside. She should have shot her way out back on the road. She never should have given up her weapon. She never should have agreed to come here with them.

    “Lazarus? I brought something from the fields for you. I brought you something different this time.”

    There’s a slight twinge of joy to the blond-haired man’s voice. It’s like he’s proud of something. It makes Sonja’s blood turn to ice water.

    “Elijah?” A soft and gentle-sounding voice calls from somewhere behind the altar. “Elijah? You know how the light hurts my eyes. Why do you wake me so early? Why do you hurt me so?”

    “Lazarus! I got women out here. Two of them. We picked them up on a hunt. We bagged a corpse too.”

    The blond-haired man is smiling now. He sounds excited. He sounds rapturous, almost, with this news of his discovery.

    There’s a shuffling sound from somewhere in the back of the church, and Lazarus appears from the shadows that lurk there. He’s just a boy, maybe even younger than Shelly is. His skin is very pale in contrast to his black hair. He is dressed in a morning suit. Black – like one might dress the corpse at a funeral wake. One of his eyes is dead too. It sits milky-colored and useless deep in its withered socket.

    Lazarus’s good eye trains itself on Sonja and Shelly and his mouth slowly spreads into something resembling a smile. He looks to Elijah.

    “Get out.”

    The blond-haired man makes a hasty exit, slamming the church door behind him. He leaves Sonja and Shelly in here with this… boy.

    “Please,” Sonja tries to reason with him. “We only stopped because the truck ran out of gas. We only need to borrow some and we’ll be on our way again.”

    “Do you remember The Fall?” Lazarus asks. “Were you around when the dead rose like Jesus Christ on the third day and reclaimed this world?”

    He was talking about The Day… the moment of the apocalypse. Sonja nods slowly. She does remember the day – a little over thirteen years ago. Shelly was just a baby. They barely made it out of the city alive. The chaos of that time paralleled to the eerie stillness of this church and the boy inhabiting it pound at her skull. She quickly feels a migraine headache coming on.

    “The town was overrun rather quickly.” He gestures with his hand across the ceiling of the church. “My father was a deputy sheriff. He had to go into Crenshaw to help them there. He left my mother home alone. And do you know what happened next?”

    “Mom!” Shelly whispers harshly. She grips Sonja’s arm so tightly that Sonja thinks blood might start running at any moment.

    “And do you know what happened next?”

    He begins to move across the church floor towards them both. He has a terrible limp in his right leg. It’s so bad that his shoe drags along the floor and makes a scraping sound.

    “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.” Lazarus hisses as he approaches. “And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

    She steps forward, meaning to strike this odd boy with her fists, but Lazarus easily sidesteps her clumsy attack and there’s the sound of a blade leaving its sheath. In the next instant, he has her down on the church floor with his arm wrapped around her throat. The tip of a knife is pressed up underneath her chin. His skin is cold. His breath smells of carrion.

    “The dead didn’t kill her,” Lazarus whispers into her ear. “No. Not right away they didn’t. When my father got back from Crenshaw he found her out wandering the fields. He couldn’t put her down, you understand. Not pregnant the way she was. He was a strong man. A community leader. A God-fearing man…”

    Shelly shrieks and the blond-haired man comes bursting into the church with his rifle. Lazarus is suddenly up and off of her. For a boy with a limp, he moves with the swiftness of a snake. He looks at the blond man and nods toward him to indicate that he is okay, and then he looks down at Shelly on the church floor.

    “My father let me live.” He tells her. “But no more women.”

    #

    They keep them both inside the gas station; in cages similar to the one they’ve placed the corpse in at the middle of the crossroads. They feed them very little – only enough to keep them both alive. It’s torture.

    On the eighth day, Lazarus comes to visit them with six of the townsmen. He leans on the bars of Sonja’s cage and seems to relish in the sobs coming from Shelly. Sonja’s daughter cowers in the corner with her hands over her ears. She has been like this since they put both of them in here.

    “What are you doing with us?” Sonja spits. “No women, remember? Let me go or KILL ME!”

    Lazarus seems unaffected by her outburst.

    “My father had his rules during his reign, but now I am in charge.”

    They open the cage and drag Sonja and Shelly screaming from the gas station outside into the night. Sonja does her best to fight them off, but the men are all strong and bigger than she is. The lack of proper food and water and sleep has weakened her severely.

    Outside, bamboo torches have been arranged and lit around the cage in the center of the crossroads. The figure they saw inside it still bumps helplessly against the cage. As they are dragged across the road towards the cage, Sonja can see that beneath the filth and grime that coats the thing, the faintest trace of a uniform, blackened and tattered by age. The remains of a police uniform.

    They pause at the cage doors. Lazarus stands before them. He scratches at his dead eye.

    “The girl first. The feisty one next.” He tells his men.

    The cage door opens with a rusting squeal, and Shelly is lifted from the ground with a scream. As they shove her inside the cage and slam the door shut, Sonja collapses. Her daughter’s screams warp and twist as vertigo assaults her sense. The night seems to close in on all sides of her.

    Soon, Lazarus is beside her, sitting on his haunches, stroking her hair and whispering into her ear.

    “Shhhh… shhhh…” He soothes. “We will build a new empire, the four of us. You, your daughter, Dad, and I. It may take some time, but you will see the light eventually.”

    “Shhhh… shhhh…”

    Nothing but screaming and the night beyond it.

    11 Comments

    1. Michael,
      Your story made my spine tingle, it was extremely creepy and well written. Continue the good work.

      Comment by Bobby Z on November 26, 2008 @ 4:37 pm

    2. Freaky dude, a real sense of crawling horror and impending doom. Love the concept, love the writing style. A brilliant story. Well done!

      Comment by Ricardo on November 26, 2008 @ 5:46 pm

    3. Creeped me out.

      Comment by Madmac on November 29, 2008 @ 2:07 pm

    4. Hey Michael,

      Great work! This is the sort of Zombie story that keeps you awake at night. Look forward to reading more of your stuff

      Comment by Peter McCarthy on November 30, 2008 @ 8:58 pm

    5. Liked the style but I had problems with it. Despite being to-the-point and well written I would think that a woman who had survived what must be a nightmare world for thirteen years would know better, MUCH better than to just go and talk to a group of post apocalypse types. The kid would not be a sulking suburban spoiled child but a killer havign been raised in a hell on earth.

      I don’t buy it but your presentation was great.

      Comment by Andre on December 13, 2008 @ 10:57 pm

    6. why must someone always die in zombie stories?

      Comment by petrus glatius on December 22, 2008 @ 3:25 pm

    7. Extremely well written and vry very creepy. I had to suspend my usual zombie logic, but did trully enjoy the read. very well done.

      Comment by Dave Knight on December 28, 2008 @ 12:19 am

    8. interesting take I think the young girl was poorly written she would have fought…also normal men and teen aged girl post apoc. thats not goign to happen that way…great presentation though….you get 2 and half stars out of 5 for great writting with a bullshit theam….try agian i look forward to more your good to read

      Comment by Thomas on February 1, 2009 @ 11:30 pm

    9. Enjoyable and creepy. I agree with the other comments about the teenage girl being too pre-war spoiled-type… But it didn’t take too much away. The concept itself was good and I enjoyed reading it. Well done.

      Comment by brycepunk on March 19, 2009 @ 12:12 am

    10. Damn, where’s the army when we need one? Very cool, even if the ending was rather predictable.

      Comment by Liam on July 7, 2009 @ 10:20 am

    11. I agree with the above comments but also we all know that Zs dont have sex and certainly couldn’t impregnate a human anyway.

      Comment by Mark on August 3, 2010 @ 8:23 pm

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