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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.

    GOD’S WAR by T. Fox Dunham
    May 26, 2012  Short stories   Tags:   

    “Down on your knees,” the nameless Minister commanded over the shortwave. “Beg the almighty for your forgiveness. God’s army has come. Glory. Oh brilliant fucking glory. God’s army has come. His angels wear the dead. This is God’s war now.”

    Sergeant Leon Crane lowered the volume on the short wave in case the bodies could hear the Minister shouting. For three straight days this revelator had preached over the air, not pausing for sleep or food, just moments of silence while he sipped his coffee. The old preacher must have stockpiled a case of Maxwell House in preparation for the apocalypse.

    Leon fed a fresh swab on a barrel rod down the barrel of his M-16, cleaning the weapon. He’d run out of oil a few days ago and hoped the rifle wouldn’t breakdown. He had about ten rounds of ammo left. During the early days of the siege on his house, he’d poured gunfire into the mob from his roof. He’d shoot one in its gourd, knock it down for good, then two more bodies took its place—classic war of attrition. After going through most of his ammo, he changed tactics, crawled back into the second story bedroom and reinforced the barricade over the doors and windows.

    He reassembled his weapon, careful with the pins in the weak candlelight. He set the weapon on the couch then checked the generator. Once finished, he blew out the candle to conserve wax. A sallow glow from the radio’s display illuminated the corner of the cellar. Light he could live without, but he needed to hear another voice, a living soul out in the world to keep him company in the dark; thus, he considered the shortwave a necessity and worthy of his dwindling fuel.

    Don’t we all need somebody?

    “The atheist kingdoms call this an epidemic, worshipping their soulless science. The faithful know the truth. Any soldier who has seen war beholds the truth of God’s justice. The holy dead march to His orders. Praise them. Praise Him. Behold His wonders and vengeance. The Good Lord is taking us to the woodshed.”

    The Minister spoke directly to Leon as if he could read his heart. He knew Leon’s secret, what he had done on his last day of active duty in Kandahar, what he had become.

    Leon grabbed a block of wood from his work bench and his carving knife. He flaked away slivers, starting a fresh sculpture. The repetition in the work kept his mind busy. The shrink the army sent him too told him it was good therapy. He’d picked up wood carving in Kandahar, carved a little rabbit to send home to Sue and his little bunny, Mary. You had to keep your mind busy over there—and here.

    “Three score hence, the Lord revealed to me a vision of the coming end. I was an idiot boy who thought he was a man. The Chinese had poured over the border into Korea. Cut off from my unit, I wondered Chosin Reservoir for days. Nearly dead, I saw a vision: Of them, faces dried to leather, clotted blood smeared on their cheeks, white eyes like boiled eggs, staring with hunger. I have prepared for my mission. I stockpiled enough food and water, enough gas for a transmitter to be heard far and wide from this mountain. I surrendered my name. I am His vessel. For a lifetime, I carried the news of the Lord. The dead would walk. The dead would be us.”

    Leon spit, then he sipped from a bottle of Kentucky Whiskey, just enough to get that taste out of his mouth. Since his breakdown, the salty flavor still lingered on his tongue. Only Whiskey burned it out, sometimes just a taste but normally, half a bottle in the early afternoon. Liquor didn’t mix well with the anti-depressants, the army shrink had warned him. So he went cold turkey on the Zoloft. He didn’t feel a difference.

    “I know your sins,” the Minster preached. “The Lord knows your sins. They know your sins.”

    Something crashed upstairs, thumping the ceiling. Several more thumps followed. Leon heard something dragging across the floor in the living room.

    “I say to you now, there is still time to repent. Toss away your earthly burdens and give yourself to the Lord. Hiding in the dark, in the earth, running from his light. Surrender yourself. Give yourself over to the dead. To God’s army.”

    He loaded a magazine and armed the M-16. They’d break down the plywood, cellar door with little effort then pour down the stairs in a mob. His only chance was to get passed them before too many got in the house. He grabbed his jacket and a pack with supplies he’d prepared in case he had to make a fast exit. He had to be quick. His fatigues offered little protection from their teeth.

    He slung his rifled over his back and picked up a hammer. It was time to shut up and color, like his c.o. used to say before going into a hostile cave.

    If he made it out clear, he’d try to get to his mother-in-law’s apartment in Yardley. He had to know what happened to his family, his daughter. Her little voice had reached him while he scratched at the walls in the veteran’s hospital. They had to still be alive, hiding out in a basement. Sue was a survivor like he was. He’d find them.

    The stairs groaned beneath his weight. By the eighth step, they banged on the door. He knew he should have been frightened, but after a tour in Afghanistan, this felt familiar to him, his natural state. Coming home, he’d been out of place, always checking the perimeter, searching the other yards for Taliban. He couldn’t sleep in bed with his wife, woke up every morning on the floor, laying on his stomach. As the suburban world turned into a war zone, he’d regained his stability. Leon was back in his element.

    He kicked the door open, snapping the latch. It slammed the two bodies behind, knocking them into the foyer. He gagged on trenchant rank of hot road kill, like old salty vomit. A third body moaned, stumbling towards him. It grabbed for him with its only arm, its right shoulder a mass of torn muscle and cracked bone. He nailed it in the forehead with the hammer then pushed through. He swung the hammer below the chin of an obese woman wearing a bathing suit too small for her girth, shattering her jaw, driving bone into her head. A boy with a X-box controller shoved into his mouth grabbed his leg, and he kicked it, launching it into the cellar.

    More bodies poured into the house through the backdoor, moaning collectively in hungry choir. Their mouths dripped green ichor. It seeped from their eyes, ears, the ubiquitous trait of the Helsinki 221 retro-virus animating them.

    He didn’t have time to pull down the barricade from the back door. They’d mass on him and devour him like a buffet. He needed a secure position to work from. He knocked two more down, spraying clotted blood like spilt Jell-O on his hands. Then he ran up the stairs to the second floor, locked the master bedroom door and pushed the dresser in front.

    He paused at the closet. Some of Sue’s dresses hung on hangers. She said she’d be back for her things once she was settled in an apartment. He pulled her little, black satin number from its hanger, pressed the smooth fabric to his nose, smelling the remaining hints of her sweet perfume, her perfect, feminine scent. Bodies bumped into the bedroom door, disturbing his reverie. He’d smeared their blood on her dress.

    “Sorry baby,” he said. She’s going to be furious. He stuffed the dress into his pack, then pulled the boards down from the window. Besides two bodies wandering about, the backyard looked clear. He pushed open the window and climbed out onto the roof. He checked the perimeter. Bodies had mostly funneled to the front of the house. He arched his legs, loosened his back then jumped. His left leg struck a rake left out. The uneven landing jolted his leg, and he couldn’t put weight on it without a shock of pain.

    He grabbed the rake and chucked it at the pool. Pain kept him from sprinting, so he settled into an awkward jog, climbing over the fence into his neighbor’s yard.

    He jogged through charred grass by his neighbor’s house, leaning on a birdbath to catch his breath. Blood soaked his white sock. He couldn’t stop to bandage it. Drinks waited on the picnic table with little umbrellas. Charred hamburgers, hot dogs encrusted the grate of the gas grille. Carbon blackened the corner of the house. The lit grilled had been left to burn, his neighbor’s barbeque interrupted by party crashers. He picked up a baseball bat and used it as a cane to take the weight off his leg.

    Around the side of the house, two bodies stumbled through the shrubs. Leon caught the tasty odor of cooked meat. The fire had charred their flesh black and crusty. He swung his hammer, knocking them down. They dropped, their animation stopping like he’d flipped a switch.

    He scanned the house through the sliding glass door, then he slipped inside. Bodies would be on the place soon enough, summoned by the moans of crispy, previous owners. He cleaned the gash on his foot and dressed it with a bandage. He found some percocet in a medicine cabinet, took half a pill, not too much. He needed a clear head if he was going to make it to Yardley. It didn’t ease the pain, just made him not care about it.

    * * *

    He’d felt nothing taking down the bodies. His arm swung like clockwork, like ringing a bell. His first week in Kandahar, he’d hesitated firing, missing shots. Basic training had been academic, shooting at targets then reloading, not the same as killing a warm man, a man of flesh possessing the same capacities, a heart that loves, a mouth that prays.

    Instead of admonishing him for putting the unit at risk, his c.o. brought a bottle of whiskey to his tent one night. Lieutenant Sullivan had left the seminary and gone to West Point. The men trusted him. He had sand in his mouth. He’d told Leon that night:

    “Think of them like they’re already dead.”

    The next day on patrol, a boy wandered into the street and exploded a vest bomb, initiating a raid.

    “Dead and walking,” Sullivan had said. “God cares nothing for the dead.”

    He fired several clean shots, a razor, cutting the enemy’s numbers in half. That’s when he first felt the poison in his soul, ripping at his gut like he’d swallowed razors, the rage. It rolled around in his gut. It dried in his veins. The enemy all looked dead to him. He didn’t kill them, just flipped a switch. And the more he killed, the more he rotted inside, the infection spreading within him. Then one morning he woke up, walked into the mess and saw only the walking dead, no longer just the enemy. On patrol in Kandahar, the jinglies, the name they’d given to civilians because of the brightly colored trucks they drove, even looked dead with pale eyes.

    Then it happened that afternoon when the Taliban attacked Kandahar, revealing to him his true nature.

    “We’re God’s army,” his Lieutenant Sullivan  had told him. “Killing for His glory.”

    * * *

    He hiked the path along the Delaware Canal into Yardley, behind civilization, below train bridges and passed lots filled with parked trailers. He took care of the few bodies he met on the path. The canal ran behind his mother-in-law’s apartment, so he followed it up to the three story, brick building. Sheets dirty from the elements swung from the net of clotheslines strung in the back. He scanned the perimeter, looking for shadows, then he jumped the fence and hobbled to the back stoop. He readied his rifle and kicked open the locked door.

    A body grabbed his arm from the side, yanking Leon over the railing. He struggled to pull Leon’s drumstick into the range of his mouth, chomping at the air. It’s hairpiece dangled from the remaining wisps of white yarn on its skull, having torn away the scalp to reveal white bone. Leon pulled free and discharged his weapon point blank. The top half of its head burst, spraying fragments of skull and brain matter, splattering on the hanging sheets.

    “Damn it,” he muttered. It had been trained instinct. He knew they’d be on him now. In the silence of the moribund world, the bodies would have heard that shot halfway to hell.

    He scanned the hall, searching the shadows.

    Something twitched on the staircase. He aimed. A cat, fur bloody, leaped down and howled. It flew out the back door. He climbed the steps, leaning on the banister to support his leg. The building felt wrong to him, hollow. He searched the bones of the place, looking for any stray bodies. He listened at the doors but heard nothing. He could smell the rot in the building’s atmosphere, stronger by some doors.

    He tried the door to his mother-in-law’s flat. She hadn’t locked it. Evening gloaming killed the daylight, laying shadows over the apartment. Flies buzzed about the flat. He swatted one on his shoulder. He found his mother-in-law sitting in her rocking chair.

    “Myrtle? Where’s Sue? Where’s my daughter. I know it was you, telling her she should leave me, that the war over in the sandy place had made me bad inside. I’ll forgive you. Just tell me they’re ok.”

    She taunted him, didn’t speak.

    He knelt in front of the chair, ready to strangle her or beg her. He wasn’t sure which. His hand slipped in a puddle of ooze, dripping down from the rocking chair. She’d killed herself, still wearing her bifocals.

    “Sue?” he yelled. “Mary!”

    The bedroom door blew open and shut, oscillating in a crossing draft.

    His wife and daughter clung together on the bed, embracing in their last moments, both frightened of the dark. An orange pill bottle rolled on the night table, pushed by wind. A storm blew in. Rain pelted the roof.

    With one of Mary’s crayons, Sue had written on the pale, white wall behind the bed:

    “Leon. Don’t be mad. It’s suppose to be. Missed you so much after you came home to us. You never came home. We’re going sailing now. Going sailing like we did at Ocean City just after Mary was born.”

    She doodled a sun setting into a line representing the horizon. Uneven lines radiated from the sun.

    He’d done this. He’d been the source. The CDC said it was a retro-virus, Helsinki 221, engineered to cure cancer, but they didn’t know of Leon’s transformation. The death he saw in his targets had recoiled back into him, filling him with poison, with a disease. He’d come home mute with wild eyes, committed for a month in the veteran’s hospital in Bristol. The disease in him had been contagious, and he’d infected his family. He spread it to the staff, the visitors, and they carried it into the world.

    When his memories came back to him, he’d been so ashamed of what he’d done on this his last day of active duty. He couldn’t look at his family. They’d only see a feral animal, a beast with sharp teeth that bite.

    He’d held on for them, come home for them. He’d found his way from that dead world and back to the living for his family.

    He growled. Sweat dripped from his forehead. Snot oozed from his nose. He bit his upper lip and tasted the blood like salty ham juices on Easter. He ran into the hall and jumped over the side of the stairs. He no longer felt the pain in his leg. He no longer felt pain.

    A mob of bodies hoarded below, waiting for him.

    * * *

    Sue had lost her husband in Kandahar, when the Taliban attacked the city to take it back. They’d announced their attack with mortar fire, then suicide bombers took out key buildings. The rage that had been building slipped its chains, fire expanding within him, feeding on his soul like gasoline. He’d forgotten how to fire his rifle, couldn’t form clear thoughts. He launched into the enemy on the streets, into the gunfire. He clubbed one of them, beating his head into a bloody mash. Then he turned to another and chomped down on his neck, ripping out his trachea. Hot blood gushed down his throat, and he choked. He chewed on the flesh, tasting the blood, the human meat then swallowed. He launched back to devour more. Men from his unit tackled him, pulling him into a cafe. He clawed them, snapped his teeth at their flesh. They all looked dead to him with gray skin, white eyes.

    * * *

    And when he looked to the bodies, he saw color in their skin, warmth, living eyes. They opened arms to welcome him, embrace him, to welcome him home. Angels lived inside their limbs. They were God’s army.

    He embraced them, the men and women, the children hosting angels. They wrapped him in their arms, kissing his neck, his chest, his legs.

    He laid down his gun.

    Let go his rage.

    The war was over.

    —–

    T. Fox Dunham resides outside of Philadelphia PA—author and historian. He’s published in over seventy international journals and anthologies and was a finalist in the Copper Nickel Annual Short Story Contest for his story, The Lady Comes in the Night. He’s a cancer survivor. His friends call him fox, being his totem animal, and his motto is: Wrecking civilization one story at a time. http://www.facebook.com/tfoxdunham

    12 Comments

    1. Awesome!
      The main character is sad and tragic and insane all at the same time.
      Yet one is drawn to pity him all the same inspite of the character’s flaws, because we can all be subject to the same weaknesses given the right situations.
      Btw very well implemented action scenes.

      Comment by bong on May 26, 2012 @ 1:00 pm

    2. Very real. You put a lot of work into this and the scenes were nicely crafted. You had an honest character here, and quite a palpable ending

      Comment by Ryan on May 26, 2012 @ 6:49 pm

    3. Wow…I am blown away (pun intended?) by this…it’s so well written, a complete vision of the insanity after a zombie apocalypse. I love the language, the visuals, the metaphors, and that it is timely; I love the connections and the reference to the cause. Extremely well done, Fox!

      Comment by Tori L. Ridgewood on May 26, 2012 @ 9:09 pm

    4. I really got into this!! Loved it! Great job 🙂

      Comment by Elizabeth on May 26, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

    5. For most of us drawn to the zombie genre since the 60’s, the difference between a good read and an excellent piece of work is how well the author shines a light on the human condition. You hit a cord with this excellent story.

      Comment by Granny Beads on May 27, 2012 @ 6:26 am

    6. A good read, however I personally am not a fan of “green slime” zombies. Anyway, this story struck a chord in me. My older sister, her fiance and my other sister’s fiance have all served tours overseas, and all came back with varying degrees of PTSD. I’ve seen people sleeping under their beds with their rifles on their chests, and I’ve seen the feral look of a caged animal in their eyes. Scary stuff, the human psyche… In Conclusion, good story i liked it.

      Comment by Oppressed1 on May 27, 2012 @ 7:32 pm

    7. What a great way to get inside the head of someone who cannot unsee the worst of humanity. The zombie stories provide a great vehicle for it, too. Well done, as always! 🙂

      Comment by Lucy on May 27, 2012 @ 9:56 pm

    8. Ah yes, very well done Fox! A good break from my usual subjects, glad for the action bits! Extremely deep and touches many morality issues as well as provides an interesting detail of zombie end world. I love the references with the xbox controller, grill, and religion. Also includes a great twist and compelling overall feel that had me catching my breath. Thanks for sharing, hope to have time to read more! We are the front lines of change my friends!

      Comment by Rand Burgess on May 29, 2012 @ 11:23 pm

    9. Great story, powerful, disturbing, and provocative. Look forward to reading more of your work!

      Comment by Tieryas on May 30, 2012 @ 10:48 am

    10. Very nice take on PTSD and Survivors Guilt, well done!

      Comment by Retrobuck on May 31, 2012 @ 9:13 am

    11. Great parallels between real war and the zombie war. Sad and moving. Keep up the good work.

      Comment by RJ Spears on May 31, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

    12. I really enjoyed the ending. It maintained the gloom and doom mood of the zombie genre, but somehow made it a “happily ever after” (at least in the character’s mind).

      Comment by Mike on July 2, 2012 @ 3:05 pm

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