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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.

LONESOME By Richard Gustafson
June 5, 2012  Short stories   Tags:   


Brian Gren was a simple man with simple tastes. He liked his coffee in the morning, scotch at night and a full rest in between. He always had it too. Running the hardware store in town kept his needs meant and living above it made his life almost too easy. Well, that life was soon tested when the Darkness came around. Just waking up from a long night with his loveliest bottle of cheap scotch, Brian found that he may not have another night like that in quite awhile. The Darkness he heard people call it, assumingly because it had come on at night, Brian wasn’t too sure. Not many living people roam around outside anymore to talk to.

Today, the old man crawled out of bed as he does every morning, walked to a panel and switched on the circuit breaker, his eyes stung at the sudden florescent light. “Oh, where’d I put them damn glasses at now?” he spoke gruffly. His withdrawal from alcohol has made him a bit of a grump. “Well Helga, I’m just going to walk on over to Simmons and get some donuts for breakfast, maybe get some new coffee grounds too.” He says aloud. The cat lifts her head up and squints at him. “Bah, don’t look at me like that you dumb cat, it was just a joke!” The cat puts her head back down seemingly unaware that the man was talking to her. “You sure aren’t one for conversation you know that?” Brian says as he dresses.

Looking out of the second story of his building Brian could see the damage all too severely. Some buildings were burned, some untouched, his fortunately has gone unscathed through the madness down below. Being in the hardware business had its pros and cons like all ventures do but to Brian, they were all pros now. Boarding the windows and barring the doors had been his first order and he had moved fast, faster than most. Being a dreamer all his life he had had plenty of time to consider what he would do in the face of total collapse. Survive. He had even made a plaque with the saying when he had delved into the art of wood burning. The activity had vanished but the plaque stayed, mounted just before the exit to his beloved shop. Survive he did. It’s been months since the Darkness came but here in the hardware store; he felt that he was sitting pretty. He had power which was supplied by an array of solar panels on the roof. Drinking and bath water is pumped from the river into a 30 gallon charcoal and sand filter. Fruit and vegetables were supplied by a greenhouse he had built last summer on the roof as well as an apple tree. No, having food hasn’t been a huge concern to him though his stocks of proteins were almost spent. Brian’s only real issue he thought was that his coffee grounds were about to give out, even after re-brewing for days. As for the scotch, well let’s just say he often wished that he had owned a brewery instead.

The morning had been going quite well, blue sky and cool air, the walking corpses outside seemed to be quite calm today too. The old man thought it was such a nice day that he had decided to take lunch on the roof, even taking Helga up for a little sunshine. “You need your sun too cat, it’s good for you.” He says as he hauls the large cat up the ladder. The menu for the day was a sad combination of mushrooms, cucumbers and bread. Not his first experience and more than likely not his last.

The food hadn’t lasted long as Brian was feeling quite hungry and after washing the dishes and brewing some coffee he had decided to take his binoculars up and have a look around the city. From his vantage he could see across the river and then some and about a mile in each direction. Taking the binos to his eyes he spots what he was hoping to see, a little S10 pickup truck. He knew the thing from front to back and it was easy to spot, mostly because it still had his name painted on the side. Grens Hardware. He shook his head and laughed, thinking that the only thing of his that wasn’t below him was out having more fun than he was. He knew the kid had taken it and he wasn’t rightly upset about it either. “If he gets use out of it then its fine with me.” he said aloud stroking Helga’s mane. The cat purred at his touch and moved so her belly was exposed. Smiling, Brian obliged the feline.

It wasn’t long afterward that Brian set about scanning the streets down below. He almost enjoyed watching the corpses try to go about their daily business. There’s the woman that walks to the coffee shop across the street every day. Tries the door, looks around and walks back the way she came. Usually doing it three or more times throughout the day before giving up. He nicknamed her Bean and thinks they could have been friends at one time for how much she obviously loves her coffee, even in death.

There’s Deputy Rogers, still in uniform though it’s quite dirty. He walks the streets all day and night, waving a flashlight around trying to peer through windows. The flashlight hasn’t worked in weeks, the batteries finally giving out. Brian doesn’t forget that the Deputy still has his revolver as well and hopes that he doesn’t remember how to use it again. He shudders with the thought.

Good old Murphy, one of Brian’s long time friends. As sad as it is that he’s now one of Them, Brian is happy to see the control master never misses a day of work. Come rain, sleet, snow or death he’s there, waiting for a boat to come slinking through. The old man shakes his head as he remembers that Murphy still owes him from a poker game.

The last corpse that Brian spots troubles him. It’s the little boy, standing in the street across the bridge, smarter, quicker and down right meaner than the rest. He had been unsure of the kid since day one, the only corpse that Brian could see that didn’t have a set path, always showing up in different spots everyday. The look of the boy alone gave the old man shivers.

The sun was starting to get lower on the horizon when Brian decided it was time to retire to the comfort of his abode. Gathering up his binos and coffee cup he proceeded to scoot Helga down the ladder when something catches his eye. Just out of his left peripheral he spotted something moving. Stopping to put the cup down and kick the cat out of his way he moves over to the edge of the two story roof. “What the hell was that Helga?” He asks the cat. “Moved too fast to be one of them” He leans over and scans the corner of the bridge where he saw the movement, where he thought he saw the movement. “Dammit, Must have been something else.” He thinks aloud. Stressing his ears he listens for any kind of sound that’s out of the ordinary. Nothing, just silence. He waits for a few minutes before turning from the ledge to make his way back down stairs. “Must’ve been my old eyes, cat” He says, closing the hatch to his domain.

Grabbing one of the books that line the living room of the old mans home, he sets into his favorite chair to read. Having refilled his coffee cup with what can only be described as clear coffee flavored water he brings it to take a sip. He stops midway to his mouth, a sudden puzzling look on his face as he hears a noise come from the alley. “They’ve never stepped into the alley Helga.” he says as he puts the cup down. Pulling himself up he takes a deep breath and listens. Again the sound comes, this time louder. He hurries to the window and unlatches a board. He shivers as he peers out. It’s the boy, standing there with something in his hand. Cold fear drums through Brian’s old frail body as the boy looks straight up at him. “No.” Brian exclaims. The boy smiles, an eerie smile full of congealed blood and rotting teeth.

Now, Mr. Gren may be a bit weathered and a bit of a pacifist but he hasn’t been completely unprepared. With an armory of blunt weapons at his disposal he’s taken great care in having a contingency plan. Survive is his motto and survive he will. Grabbing the hatchet off his kitchen counter and a crowbar from the front door he prepares himself. Not completely sure as to what the boy may do now that he’s been seen, Brian vows he won’t go down easy. He scoots Helga into a closet and shuts the door. “Stay there darlin’, I’ll be back, just gonna go downstairs for minute.”

He hasn’t been in the store for days and curses himself for not checking it regularly. The door opens with a click, a thundering sound in the almost space like silence. Creeping slowly down the stairs, hatchet in his left hand and crowbar in the right he peers into the cavernous like room. Silence, not a sight to be seen, at least that’s out of the norm. The door closes quieter than it had opened.

Stepping down the steps he counts in his mind until he’s at the bottom. Thirteen steps in all. Any more or any less he’d be toppling down onto the dimly lit concrete. He moves right, working his way around shelves stacked with his wasting merchandise. The rear door seems to be solid, still chained and barred from that first fateful night. Looking straight down the middle isle he sees that the front door is the same. “Nothing wrong there.” he whispers to himself. He hasn’t heard the noise again and is thankful and worried about it at the same time. Was it still out there? Did it move on and leave him be? Brian’s nerves were taught with worry as he moves across the showroom to pull a board from one of the front windows. Nothing out there but late afternoon light and the previous worlds remains, nothing at all.

Brian stays at the window for several moments, scanning the street in front of Grens Hardware and down to the bridge entrance to the right. As if on queue and about half a second before Brian decided to go back upstairs he sees his demon. The boy is jogging up Rushmore towards Washington Blvd, stopping in the intersection at Bridge St to, sniff the air. “They can smell!?” Brian asks himself. It had never occurred to him that they might have normal senses. “What is he sniffing for? Could they smell, people?” No, it’s not possible, but what if it was, could they track? The thought almost makes him vomit. “If he’s after someone, then I’ll be damned if he’s going to get them on my watch.” Brian turns and makes his way back upstairs.

Without a care in the world Brian takes the stairs two at a time, throwing open the door at the top. “Love, I gotta go! I’ll be back soon.” He says, opening the closet door where Helga was hid. He makes his way to his bed and pulls on his boots. “Someone out there is in trouble Helga. You understand I have to go don’t you?” he says as the cat stretches on the floor. “I know what I said but what if that boy with our truck is in trouble?” He stands up, walks to the open closet and grabs a hat and a pair of gloves. “No, you aren’t going to talk me out of it, I may be the only person left that can help. It’s my duty as a Veteran.” The cat jumps out of the way as Brian makes his way to the door. He looks back at the cat, now obviously interested in what was going on. “It’s my duty girl, just as it’s been my duty to keep the two of us safe. Hell, maybe I’ll find some catnip for you on the way back.” He says with an awkward smile. He bends down and gives the cat a scratch behind the ear, she looks up with an almost knowing expression. Taking the first step down, the old man turns, shuts the door and locks it.

The back door was his choice of exit as he knew the others wouldn’t wonder into the alley and he felt safe enough to just lock the door from the outside. Putting the keys into his back pocket he makes his way to the side walk along Rushmore stopping to look up and down the street before stepping out. The only thing moving is the flag flying high over the coffee shop. He had sold it to the owner just a week before the darkness and gives it a quick salute, promising himself a stop in to the store on his way back.

Taking long strides and hunching over Brian begins to regret not having a fitness regiment as his muscles begin to cramp on his way down the desolate sidewalk. The air has become still and the sun is sinking lower on the horizon, he knows that if he doesn’t get back before dark he’ll have to hold out the night somewhere. Thinking to himself he realizes he never wondered where They went at nightfall but he was sure they didn’t go home and snuggle into their warm beds. Adjusting his grip on the crowbar he stops a yard away from the intersection of Rushmore and Washington. Hunching down behind an old wooden fence he strains his ears for some tell tale noise. Nothing, the only thing he can here is the sound of his elevated heart beat and breathing. He notices for the first time that he’s shaking and takes a few deep breaths and tries his best to relax. He knows that at his age such trauma can cause a heart attack.

He calms down and begins to breathe normal when he hears it, the same noise that had come from the alleyway. The same cold fear runs over him, he feels his body become frozen in place. He wants to shout out, anything to anybody. Hoping that the sound would just go away but he knows better, he holds his tongue and concentrates on the sound. “I need to find that boy.” He quietly says to himself “The good one and the bad one.” He closes his eyes, gives a prayer to God and steps out from his cover. The sound comes clearer now but there’s a new sound as well, it’s the sound of feet on broken glass and its coming from the Pharmacy. Without a beat missed he runs in a full sprint to the once grand entrance to The Maybell Pharmacy.

Brian can’t believe his eyes when he rounds the corner and brings the building into view. “It must’ve been over run that night.” He says quietly. Tip toeing to the shattered glass doors he kneels down beside the opening. His ears can still catch the alleyway sound but now there’s something else. Muffled screams? A woman’s screams? Anger and hope flash in his eyes as he rushes into the store.

The room is completely dark, only light from the entrance shining in. Without waiting for his eyes to adjust he runs all out towards the screams, dodging in and out of isles. He’s ready, crowbar in his right hand and hatchet in his left he stops suddenly at Isle Fourteen. There she is, a woman staring at him with the most horrified expression on her face. Brian Gren, old veteran, hardware store owner and staple in the town of Maybelle can’t hold it in any longer. The emotions that have built up in him since the coming of The Darkness are overwhelming as he begins to sob uncontrollably. The sound of his own crying is the only thing he hears until an audible growl emits from the other end of the isle. He moves his gaze towards the boy standing there, no longer a child but a demon from the depths of hell itself. Looking down at the woman Brian sees her gorgeous face, twisted with the look of imminent death staring at her, sure that her time had come. Not on my watch he thinks to himself. Letting out a defiant yell he raises the crowbar high as the horrid young boy bares his teeth and begins running at him down the isle. Brian throws all of his weight towards the boy, slamming the woman onto the ground as he goes.

The two warriors meet exactly in the middle of isle fourteen. The young boy flailing his arms as Brian brings the crowbar down. The wild swing misses as the boy jumps at the old man, teeth chomping away, trying to get a hold of Brian’s weary flesh. Brian dodges the attack and spins, almost slipping on the tile underneath. He catches himself just in time to see another attack. The boy has climbed onto the top of the shelving moving with furious speed and like some crazed animal jumps at Brian on all fours. This time the boy gets a mouthful of jacket and tears into it like a guard dog. Foam begins to seep out of its mouth as the boy shakes violently trying to tear away at the coat. Brian’s swings his body around, bringing his left arm and the boy down to the floor with all of his weight. He hears a snap and excruciating pain fills his entire left side. The arm has broken he knows but he can’t stop now. The boy has let loose his grip on the jacket and is scrambling to get out from Brian’s bulk. “No!” Brian screams aloud. He raises his right arm high, the shift in weight putting more pressure on his already tormented left arm. The pain masked by the adrenaline shooting through Brian’s body. With the eyes of a mad man Brian brings the crowbar down in one short swift blow, burying the cold steel into the top of the boy’s skull, the bone crushing under the massive force of the old arm and stout metal. Blood and bone fragments burst over the once clean floor of the pharmacy, it was a killing blow. The body underneath Brian no longer squirms but he doesn’t even notice. Over come with emotion Brian swings the crowbar repeatedly on the boys head, blood and tears covering the veterans face.

Brian Gren stops his frenzy; dropping the crowbar on the ground with a loud clank that only steel can make and cries. Brian sits there with a once carefree young boy underneath him, dead by his own hands, the grotesque face of the boy no longer distinguishable. The only sound in the place now is coming from Brian’s heavy breathing and uncontrollable sobbing. “I’m so sorry.” He says, the words broken as he speaks. The pain in his arm begins to turn on him, the adrenaline running dry. He tries to stand but stays down, his legs feeling like mush under his massive weight. He turns around and looks at the girl. He had hit her hard he knew, but he did what he had to. He crawls to her leaving a trail of blood along the floor behind him. She’s young, probably in her mid to late twenties and emaciated; out cold from the fall. Her shoulder length black hair spilled on the floor contrasting with the white vinyl tile. “Poor thing is probably starving.” He says as he brushes her face with his hand. He wastes no time in dragging a rug over and rolls her onto it. He knew that the rear of the Pharmacy was relatively safe and drags her in. They won’t be going anywhere until morning.

The Maybelle Pharmacy was quite familiar to Brian. He had worked there when he was still in high school, stocking shelves and cleaning the very floor that was now covered in red. He gets to the restroom in the rear and begins cleaning up plugging the drain and filling it with water. The sink quickly dirties, his stomach lurches at the sight of hair and bone sliding off of his skin. It takes him nearly ten minutes to get the taint off his body as crimson flows down the sink drain, the porcelain bowl stained. Once finished, Mr. Gren sprang into action as he had the night in the hardware store. His broken arm making the job painful but his knowledge of the store made the task of keeping them safe for the night go quickly. With the mental strain of his battle slowly slipping away, he perused the endless isles of merchandise, grabbing items that he had written off as long gone and lost. Spam, jerky, bags of chips, his mouth begin to water as he pulled non spoilable foods off the shelves. Oh, he was going to eat well tonight he thought.  He was almost finished when spotted his favorite libation, Scotch. He began to sob again. Thinking of all the time he’d spent locked up in his home without the taste of his liquor. “All this time, sitting just down the street.” He says to himself. He picks up a bottle and stares at the label for what seemed like days. An overwhelming sense of duty came over him. “No, I’ve gone on this long without it.” He places the bottle gently back on the shelf and turns away. He has someone besides himself and a cat to protect now.

Brian came walking back into the rear, pushing a shopping cart full of supplies and pulling another behind him. When he entered he saw the young woman he had saved, who he had risked everything for and shed his emotions for standing right before him. A broken broom stick in her hands. She looked frightened, utter fear streaming from her face. “It’s alright darlin’, I’m here to help.” He says, holding his hands out before him. “My name is Brian Gren. I own the hardware store here in town.” She doesn’t seem to hear him and stares at him like she had never seen another human before. “Just put the stick down darlin’. I mean you no harm.” Brian says, trying to consul her, hands out to show he has no weapon. The girls eyes narrow and she begins to sob, at least what he thinks are sobs. It sounds muffled and indistinct.” I’m her to help.” He says again. Without warning the young girl drops the broom handle and flings herself on Brian, wrapping her arms around his waste in an intense hug. Brian collapses, his emotions coming through all over again as he brings his bulky arms around the girl and holds her tight. The two lost souls for just a moment relish in the closeness of another “living” human being.

That night they ate a big meal, larger than they had both ate in quite some time. The girl he saved had yet to say anything but that was fine with him. “She’ll talk when she’s ready, been through a lot I bet.” The old man wonders how Helga is as he checks the doors for the third time before they both finally fell asleep. That night, Brian felt warmth again from a person he had to keep safe less he fall into despair again. He was her protector now, her companion. He was a father again.



  1. It took a while to figure out that this goes along with the girl looking for isle 14. Great story!

    Comment by Andy on June 5, 2012 @ 3:05 pm

  2. That was a Fantastic story!! My heart was pumping all through the story. Really superb character development, the way you made him feel like a real person made me feel scared that he was going to get eaten by the boy

    Comment by Shawmyfiddlenet on June 5, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

  3. Great story, very enertaining. Write more!

    Comment by John the Piper's Son on June 6, 2012 @ 3:11 am

  4. I enjoyed it, more please.

    Comment by gunldesnapper on June 6, 2012 @ 7:30 am

  5. likeable character with tons of old world charm, hope to hear more of his adventures and his new charge.

    Comment by bong on June 6, 2012 @ 9:52 am

  6. Damned kids…..can’t live with them, can’t bash their heads in….oh, wait….

    Comment by Retrobuck on June 7, 2012 @ 9:07 am

  7. Thank You for the comments everyone.
    Andy – I have this thing with keeping the reader guessing, I don’t know why. 🙂
    Bong – I somewhat fashioned Brian after my Grandfather which as you say, had that old world charm.
    Retrobuck – I completely agree.

    In the end though, if it wasn’t for the comments I have recieved here on TTOZW I would have stopped my pursuit at writing, now I know I have something worthy of this site. Thanks Again!

    Comment by FubarFrank on June 7, 2012 @ 10:08 am

  8. Nicely done.

    Comment by Terry on June 7, 2012 @ 5:05 pm

  9. I liked it and can’t wait for more. I liked him and was afraid he would be chowed down on. It will be interesting to see how they can make it over the long haul in a world with smarter zombies.

    Comment by Linda on June 8, 2012 @ 12:50 pm

  10. Glad to see the woman made it – things seemed pretty grim by the end of Irony. Looking forward to more. Going to be the grammar police though – try to keep to one tense throughout (the tense police?) For example, at the start of paragraph 2 he “crawled” (past tense) out of bed as he “does” (present tense) every morning…just a pet peeve of mine, but I’ll anxiously await more regardless!

    Comment by Orson on June 9, 2012 @ 2:04 am

  11. Orson, I’ve started a re-write on Part 3 and now that you’ve pointed out a flaw I will be extra vigilant in that respect. That’s what I appreciate from all of you is the constructive criticism. Thanks gang for the comments! 🙂

    Comment by FubarFrank on June 9, 2012 @ 7:51 am

  12. FF – I actually got physically nervous during the part of the story where Brian goes downstairs to his store and realizes that he hasn’t checked it for days. I have cleared houses, stores, and warehouses during the time that I was in law enforcement and I have to tell you, it is nerve racking. That part really got me. Good job.

    Comment by JamesAbel on June 23, 2012 @ 5:53 am

  13. I really enjoyed writing that part James and I used the oddest experience in doing so. As a child I would be sent to the barn to get something and as it was dark and dusty out there I always felt nervous. I just imagined him feeling the same way. 🙂 Appreciate the input James, Ladibug Out!

    Comment by FubarFrank on June 23, 2012 @ 7:58 am

  14. Fear the bug!

    Comment by JamesAbel on June 23, 2012 @ 8:01 am

  15. All hail the BUG!!

    Comment by Pete Bevan on June 23, 2012 @ 1:58 pm

  16. Excellent! Well done ,son. You had me cheering for the old guy, also. I kind of thought he might be based on your grandfather. Never knew the bit about the barn, though. I guess it would have been creepy for you. Anyway, a good read, thanks.

    Comment by Dad on June 25, 2012 @ 7:47 pm

  17. To anyone that may be interested, I have the re-write going for Part 3. I felt that I had more to give than what was there and to tell you all, I am extremely happy with the progress and it should be done soon. Mr Gren and the girl will be joined by our protagonist who I really relate to. Hope to send it in asap. Thanks all! You make it worth it!

    Comment by FubarFrank on July 6, 2012 @ 7:02 pm

  18. Awesome read.Reminded me of the scene from 30 Days of Night when they had to fight the lil vamp girl in the store.I can already picture Clint Eastwood playing the old guy in the movie.

    Comment by Ernie on October 21, 2012 @ 4:52 am

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