SEQUEL TO THE NOTHING MAN PART 2
A black rectangle, devouring light, boarded by dark red wood and surrounded by big stone bricks. It is the view that captures and holds my gaze. A porthole to another world. Out here I’m surrounded by frightful enemies, things that want to kill me, and by the worst type of betrayal, one of those things is me. My imagination, cruel and overactive, plays deadly nasty tricks on me. A simple doorway left open to a church that has stood resolute for over a hundred years mocks my easily tempted terror. Was the curtain of black broken, just briefly by movement, by a hungry monster loitering, waiting within for fresh death?
Hoping away the danger has never worked before but as I again procrastinate and survey the old building from the outside, with its strong iron gates and steadfast brick and black metal fence, I decide the risk will be worth it and hope that the goose bumps and adrenalin are wasted on a false image created by my own mind. Tired from endless days on the road I stumbled across this desolate refuge, a sacred house just off a country highway. A rest for a day or two somewhere secure is what I need. As the sun is slowly descending and sucking the remaining color from the day I decide it’s now or never.
As I approach slowly on precarious knees the uninviting doorway of my jitters, I can’t help but be taken back to the time of my youth. I am the wild eyed boy who jumps the last few feet to his bed for fear of the horrors blanketed in the shadows under it. The naïve youngster who felt the cold stares of his lifeless toys watching him and spent many a wide eyed night fixated on unexplained shadows that danced on his wall or a ghoulish noise that beckoned him from outside. But now as an old man I don’t have the luxury of dismissing my fears as nonsense or make believe. I am an old man who fears the dark, because my friends, monsters are real.
I want desperately for someone to open my bedroom door, switch on my all conquering light to scare away the night time demons and come sit softly by my side, squeeze my hand and assure me everything will be okay. A kiss on my forehead, a gentle brush from the back of tender fingers across my weary brow- Zombies aren’t real and off to a peaceful restful place I will go. As a child I found the courage to not call for my mother, to face my fears alone as I believed a man should do. I would close my eyes and force myself to sleep.
You would have thought by now after the spanning of so many years that it would be easier. But no, the war on fear is relentless and though I have won every battle with it, fear never weakens and I struggle to victory every time. All my life cowardice has dogged me. If it wasn’t the dentist or a conversation with a pretty girl it was work or money. They say there is nothing to fear but fear itself - rubbish, nonsense, especially now; you can fear zombies, starvation and madness. I don’t know who ‘they’ are but I name them fools.
Repeating my mantra under my breath, nothing to it but to do it, nothing to it but to do it I manage to trick myself again and against instinct and self-preservation I’m off. I move before I know I’m moving. A steady step behind myself, mentally trying to keep my fear at bay so my body can do what needs to be done I walk thru the veil of darkness and enter into today’s crisp nightmare.
My eyes deceive me? Or do they? I catch more disjointed movement just out of my periphery vision, low and quick scuttling across the marble stone floor. My brain is screaming for me to run, to hide, to survive but my body keeps calm and moves on. The only recognizable sign of my terror is the thumping noise coming from my chest. Slowly some color fills in the room, my eyes adjust to the darkness and silhouettes become shapes and then objects I can faintly see.
Purposefully and calmly I pace thru the center isle of the big open hall. He hangs arms outstretched, head crooked, legs dangling and face hidden. The first of the zombies I joke, looking down at me, eyes follow me wherever I go, nailed to a big wooden cross attached to the far wall. I try to ignore his asking gaze, putting one foot in front of the other, empty pews either side of me and the last of the daylight peeping thru the high arched stained glass windows. Keeping mindful of where the quickest exit is and ever alert I am armed with my machete, which I have named Ed. We have become close Ed and I. On these lonely days and nights we have kept each other safe. Ed knows the trick is to find the Zachs before they find you. Guaranteed there will always be one, you just have to find it. I nod to Ed, you’re right again Ed.
A sense of someone watching me sends shivers down my spine, I try to catch it but against my best efforts I cringe, a small victory for fear. The hairs stand on the back of my neck and I tell myself it’s just the look coming from the image of Jesus hung on the wall. That guy has always given me the hibee gee-beez. It’s not just my eyes and imagination that would play cruel tricks on me, my ears too join in on the devilish game. They are all on fears team and they tell me I hear a whimpering, the soft crying of a young child. Not a hungry moan or a dead clicking jaw but the sound of little life. Heart skipping and a new type of panic rising I am close to the front of the church. Ed weighs a tone but I hold him high and out front like I’m the statue of liberty. The podium where a beloved minister would have once stood to give sermon sits deserted knocked over on its side. From behind it came a noise. I stop perfectly still, not even brave enough to breathe.
Guaranteed there will always be one – from the direction of the door I heard the shuffle of feet. Undead bastards have been blessed with the skill of ninja stealth.
“Don’t move……” It speaks with a ladies voice – not undead. I realize I am tensing every muscle and so relax a little and take a breath, “…..or I’ll shoot.” It finishes, my shoulders rise back up to touch my ears again.
Slowly I lower Ed, my faithful machete friend, but do not put him down. Time slows down as my brain plays catch up. It has been awhile since I last heard another human voice and for the slightest of moments I wonder if I remember how to talk. A croak at first, followed by a slow and steady, “Please.”
I don’t know where to look. I don’t want to take my eyes off the podium for fear of what is hiding there but muscles in my neck strain because they want to turn in the direction of the person with the gun.
My mind is made up for me.
Pittery pattery – through a heavy drape curtain at the back of the stage came a moaning and a shuffling.
Skittery scattery – It had heard us talking and come without invite, lifting and pushing on the curtain it appears like a large child in a bad Halloween costume.
ZIP ‘round the corner – Guaranteed there will always be one.
Came Zachary Quack – Pulled out from the dark and woken for dinner a priest now a servant of the devil broke free from its purple velour cage. Dressed all in black bar its white collar it shambled drunkenly forward. It could see what I could not. It started in the direction of the crying podium.
Ed and I do not like guns. Guns are loud and loud is bad. Plus, you don’t need to reload an Ed.
I heard the bang echo and bounce of empty walls, and then I heard nothing else for a short while. I saw the Zach priest fall, half of his head now oozing down the drape behind him. I tasted the expelled gun powder in the air. I felt the brush of human skin as she ran passed me and I smelled fear but I heard nothing.
She’d forgotten me a moment while she tended to the little thing behind the podium. I made my escape, not from them but from the Zachs that would come from miles around, attracted to the loud noise like a ringing supper bell. Pausing just long enough at the door, about to enter back in to the dwindling light of day I turned to see the lady scoop up a young girl, recognizable straight away as mother and daughter. They would surely die if left here alone. Like the lonely dog and the coward that I am, I fled.
Salty tears smacked my lips, tears blurred my vision. Nothing would stop me. I drove headlong down a dirt road directly in to the setting sun. Dirt, bug insides, peoples outsides smeared and covered the windscreen. The suns glare making my windscreen a white wall. Even if I could have seen where I was flying too the link between my brain and my eyes had been momentarily disconnected. Through bad speakers Billy Idol sung. I found only one album in this vehicle when I procured it and it’s titled ‘Essential’. Irony is a bitch!
Here I am, running again. I had long ago given on up on, well, just on everything. My faith in the world and my own mind faltered, hideous death and vile creatures rising when they clearly should not. Bonds of love forgotten, friendship and family discarded, not by choice, by mine anyway. The universe allowed such evil and I thought it wrong. Darkness and fear ruled all. I wanted nothing more than to escape, from them, from me, from everything.
The little thing scooped up by her mother. Ringlets of gold, so small, so innocent, should not be tainted by this sardonic horror. Nothing else mattered to mother, just daughter.
No matter what I do, where I hide, they come. They ALWAYS come.
I was a father once. I was a husband too. The only thing I was ever good at.
Or so I thought.
In the middle of the road he stood, still, vigilant. A tall figure my focus breaking the horizon. My un-trusted brain has played foul me before. The figure of a man, if it was even there, did not move, not an inch, in its hand gleamed an object, a metal blade, a machete perhaps. A friend for Ed?
I was fast upon it, faster than I had time to think for. A man? A Zach? Ringlets of gold.
Two feet on the brake pedal, the tires gripped what they could of the dirt road. The front wheels dug in tight and the rear wheels slid sideways to the front. Billy Idol muses softly, eyes without a face, as my life flashes before me.
Silence……Slow motion…..Billy Idol…..
Tires spun freely trying to capture the clouds, and the sky had turned to red dirt, pitted with gravel and rocks. A strange feeling the feeling of weightlessness, it was a small sense of surprise joy. And then her again, she is always in my thoughts. Petite and tiny and special because she is not only a part of me but a part of my life partner, my wife. A blonde pair of delicate flowers that needed protecting.
The world comes back to speed harshly accompanied by noise and pain.
The passenger side of the car is gone after trying to swallow itself, folding inwards in a twisted mess of metal and showering me in a wave of shattered glass. I scream involuntarily but cannot hear myself over the crunching and contorting of car frame.
I should have been there for them. I should never have left. A good father works to provide. He does what he has to for the long term benefit. For his wife and for his child. What kind of a man of sound mind and emotion would leave them, even for a second much less days or sometimes weeks at a time. What a fool I was to…..
Pain, pain and more pain.
Everything in flashes this time, quick like a silent movie, sections of the film missing. The roof of the car comes down to meet me and warm wet splashes the back of my chair. My seatbelt does its best but force, momentum and gravity are all against it. I flail like a rag doll, limbs and debris thrash everywhere.
Memories to me are like open wounds, deep and painful, but I would not trade them for my life. Though I grip hope tightly and continue searching, memories for now are all that I have left. I am no longer flying upside down, trapped in the cabin of my wrecked car. No, I am instead sitting on an arm chair smiling and reading by the soft light of a lady bug shaped lamp. She smiles back at me, looking up from her pillow, adoring and trusting. I continue to read to her the stories of her favorite author, penned innocently by Lynley Dodd, the words of which plague me constantly about a cowardly dog and a mischievous duck, Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack. I run my fingers through the playful curls of sunshine colored hair, and lean in to press my lips against her wrinkled brow….
The angry road is not finished destroying my car as yet and is not happy that I have retained consciousness. For its last trick it tries to become one with the vehicle. A ringing in my ears drowns out all other noise and I feel as if my entire body has all at once been kicked. The seatbelt in a vain attempt to keep me safe almost tears me in half but it cannot stop the steering wheel from leaving its designated spot.
I walk out of my daughters room and there awaits my dear wife, bathed in light like an angel. She holds her hand outstretched offering it up for me to take it. I reach out, more than willing to accept it…
The curtain of darkness is lifted from my eyes slowly to reveal nothing but more darkness, upside down darkness but darkness nonetheless. The pain is constant and everywhere. I don’t know what part of my body to check first then I remember, the lone standing figure on the horizon.
My ears prick to attention, for now a noise stirs at the back of my gnarled vehicle prison. The rolling and crunching of gravel and broken glass under foot scares me in to a panic. Ed! I scramble about and make too much noise of my own. I find Ed and almost cry with glee. At least Ed will be with me at the end. The sound is lost. I have no idea where the owner of the feet has gone too. My breath is held tight and my ears strain to hear every noise around.
There! On the passenger side. The handle to the smashed in door is questioned but does not answer. Someone or something is trying to gain entry. It’s the not knowing that plays to my fear. My fingers find the belt buckle easily enough and I drop myself awkwardly and painfully to the ground careful not to land on Ed.
By divine miracle nothing is broken, as far as I can tell. The handle is given up on and I hear the owner of the boots scuffle and kick circling slowly around the rear of the car. The harder I listen the louder my heart gets and for every noise I manage to hear my breath quickens. My eyes clamped shut tight; mentally I visualize the worst type of creature, un-faced, here to serve me my due medicine, a heaped teaspoon of cowards’ guilt. I know where he is and I account his every step and movement. It is no surprise but is still a terrible fright, when in climax a strong weathered hand reaches in through the driver’s side window.
But it does not grope for flesh or tear at skin hungry for blood. It invites help. I am either too tired or too trusting. I give Ed his freedom before me, throwing him carelessly out of the shattered window and then I cry and cough and limp out from what would be my metal tomb. Thick red dust chokes the air and stings my eyes. Red mud cakes on my face, dirt mixed with tears and sweat. An almost black wad of it clumps on the back of my head and will do as a temporary bandage clogging and ebbing the flow of blood from my head wound. I wear dust like a cheap suit.
Snake skin boots greet my blinking eyes. Above them, dark and blood stained denim jeans. Flannelette, the material of the real man is tucked in and the sleeves rolled up. But his face, from every angle I cannot discern any noticeable features or remarkable qualities to his face. But it is strong and warm and I know that to be true. The low hanging moon eclipses him and he stands proud in a billow of troubled dirt. This man, the man distinguished by nothing.
He holds in one coarse hand a gleaming shiny metal blade, similar to my Ed but somehow faster better and stronger in appearance. In the other hand is my weary companion, Ed. An outstretched hand offers me back my machete. Still shaking with emotion and shock I welcome him back and nod my thanks.
The distant sound of echoing gunfire steals our attention, far too frequent it pops. There is no formal greeting, no friendly catch up or even cautious sizing up. No time to swap insurance details. We know what needs to be done. I look to Ed, we know Ed- Zachery what needs to be done. Armed with our machetes we take our leave from the wrecked car and Billy Idol as he tries to tell us “It’s a nice day for a white wedding.” At a pace faster than I have moved in years we head out of the frying pan and back towards the Zach filled pot.
Wobbly knees carry me. The muscles in my back try to seize and convulse in an attempt to tell me, yes, I was just in a car accident, yes, stopping would be a good idea. Pain keeps popping up in unwanted places, warnings that my body is not fully operational, that I should give in and look after myself. Two steps in front of me the Nothing Man glides effortlessly in his snake skin skates. So easy and simple a motion he makes it seem. My brain ignores my body: instead it swims in a place of freedom and understanding. Follow this man, help these people, be – a – man – nothing else matters.
I pictured them in my mind again, back at the church, the mother and her child, fighting off hordes of the hungry undead by themselves. But this time they are not strangers, I see my wife and my child.
The Nothing Man picks up pace. He wields his blade like a ninja warrior. Outside of my own body I watch him, my face painted an Edvard Munch mixture of pain and absolute awe. I watch as he ferociously, fearlessly cleaves the head of a Zach, burying his machete to the handle before seamlessly pulling out the shiny blade to plant in another. His blade sings thru the cool night air, a song so sweet, macabre and deadly.
Perhaps in that moment I gave up completely. Relinquished to the fact that I was going to die. Cared not anymore about myself or how this game of life would play out for me, for in that moment all pain was gone. Vanished without a trace, fear and any thought of failure, gone.
Breath came easily, muscles burned strong and powerfully. I ran on as if I was a young man, faster than when I was a young man. Everything in time, everything fluid, like the perfect machine. I held Ed in a firm white knuckled cement grip; he cut the sky and sliced the wind. The Nothing Man and I were no longer running just to help. We were charging in to battle, to open War on the Zach’s. I screamed an unintelligible roar. It was something primal and it felt good.
The wind played to our advantage, bringing the horrid stench of them to us, alerting us that we had company. It was a putrid slap in the face that I took direct offense to; the odor of them invaded your personal space. I was glad to feel anger instead of fear, I bathed in it. Ed and I lost sight of The Nothing Man as we went and introduced ourselves to a couple of Zachs who had come to investigate the noise of an old man bellowing death threats. We greeted them coldly and quickly, in their faces. It’s not like me to be rude but we could hear screams of panic and dread coming from the nearby church and we still had so many more Zachs we wanted to meet.
Looking up and wiping Ed on my pants I saw The Nothing Man disappear into the darkness of the church. The last of the waning sunlight was lost; a little moonlight had replaced it, but not enough. It would be near on pitch black in the church. I swallowed hard and ran.
The stench of rotted meat and brown almost cut me in half. At least half a dozen Zachs lay motionless by the entrance. I figured most of these would have fallen to the woman with the gun but maybe one or two were The Nothing Mans doing. What light there was played tricks on the eye. It stood still in the door and lit up the high windows, letting you know they where there but either the moon light chose not to help or it was not religious because it would not enter the church.
As I stood in darkness waiting for my eyes to adjust my life time companion tried to rear its ugly unwanted head but I pushed it down, deep down, no time for fear now. My heart rises up in to my mouth as I wait for that cold touch of an unseen dead hand or the warm waft of cadaverous breath. I wait and I imagine an ocean of them approaching me, they could be within a few feet or they could be an inch away?
I heard sounds of struggle from the back of the church but no clicking mouths upon me, not yet. Sweating and shaking I fought the urge to run blindly towards it, not because I was scared, I promise. It would have been easier to run and scream eyeless, shredding the air with Ed like a mad man, but it would do nobody any good.
After the passing of what seemed an eternity, finally, like before some color, not as much but a little, slowly filtered in to the church.
Ink blots of darkness, odd shapes, skinny, limbless shuffling figures headed towards me. Perhaps they could not see either and in their own confusion did not smell or hear me enter this sacred house. But now they were alerted to me, probably by my warm blood that gushed from several wounds so sweetly for them. The cold battery licking metal smell of my fresh lacerations lazily cut through the rank of Zachs. The dry clicking of dead mouths and moaning wanting hurting sounds of monsters turned and approached me. The odor of them coated my teeth and stung my eyes offending me beyond belief. My eyes could only see them as black, a deeper darker black than an unlit room. Black as if these soulless devils swallowed not only precious life but also sunshine and light.
I could see enough. Now was a good time to scream, now was a good time to let Ed out.
Like a choreographed dancer we moved, stabbing here, thrusting there, and hacking, so much hacking. Each movement was deliberate and effective. Without fear holding me back I was able to see and judge and make decisions – nothing to it but to do it.
The Zachs came. The Zachs fell. Ed and I were an unstoppable beautiful partnership. Before I knew it the room was silent, as quiet as a church. I imagined that the old chap pinned to the wall would have clapped if only his hands hadn’t been nailed down. Truly dead corpses littered the pews and aisle way. I stood amongst a sea of freed Zachs, panting, throbbing, and adrenalin burning my muscles. I still hadn’t found my wife and daughter and could not see the whereabouts of The Nothing Man. I hoped he had not accidentally gotten in the way of my cyclonic Ed swinging fury.
Then I heard it again, the whimpering, the little thing. I concentrated on the noise; it was fading, getting more distant. I followed it, stepping on and sometimes in Zachs, crunching and squelching my way I headed deeper in to the back of the church. There was no longer any point trying to be silent. I moved without hesitation bumping clumsily sometimes painfully to what I found to be a door. I paused, checked myself. I knocked. Movement and hushed tones worked their way out from behind the heavy old wooden door.
My mouth opened and awkward words fell out. “Hello……I’m alive……..are you?” No response, “I’m just going to go ahead and open the door now ok?” And just for good measure I added, “Please don’t shoot me.”
Creaking and groaning the door reluctantly opened. Huddled inside the cupboard space, two figures, shuddering in shock, weeping in fear hid, terrified. Before me was a mother and her daughter. Sunshine hair fell delicately on both their shoulders. My mind did not see strangers. Suddenly my armed turned to jelly. Ed fell limp from my hand, clanging loudly on the stone floor.
I noticed then that mother held in one hand a machete, covered in lumpy bits of Zachs. Similar to The Nothing Mans and similar to Ed. It was all over. I should never have left them, but I had returned for them and I had saved them and they would be safe. I had done all that. Everything came back, the car accident, the run and the orgy of death in the main hall. Exhaustion claimed me and I fell to my knees.
I cried a little. I wept openly like a babe. Ed glittered up from the floor, a shadow moved across his face – Pittery pattery – a cold dead hand clasped on my shoulder – Oh Ed, right again Ed – Skittery scattery – The weight of it pushed me forwards flat on my face, helpless – ZIP ‘round the corner – my hand twitched, aching for Ed – Came Zachary Quack.
Its mouth opened unnaturally wide, its rancid carrion breath scorched my face.
I relented to the monster, I had come back, I had saved them. At peace, no longer afraid, at last, I was with mother and daughter……..