March 08, 2006

NaNoWriMo - again, finally

Chapters 13 and 14 are in the extended entry.

You can find chapters 1 and 2 here.
Chapters 3 and 4 here.
Chapters 5 and 6 here.
Chapters 7 and 8 here.
Chapters 9 and 10 here.
Chapters 11 and 12 here.

There now, all caught up.

I know it's been awhile. No promises, but I'll try to get back into the once-a-week posting of this story. We're almost to the point where I'd lost a few chapters, so after this I'll be back to winging it.

Enjoy. Leave feedback. Thanks.

Chapter 13.

That night I tried to imagine where Ms. Halliday might have gone after crossing the field. I had a general idea of the lay of the land out in that direction, and it occurred to me that by following that streambed, you could possibly wind up fairly close, but behind the research laboratory. Before I fell asleep, I decided that I wouldn't volunteer that theory to anyone, but if Officer Ossie happened to offer me another ride, well, Mom couldn't be too unhappy with me if I mentioned it in passing.

As suddenly as the tension had built in our town, it seemed to dissipate. Posters stopped appearing overnight. Neighbors realized how petty they were being and became neighborly once more. Nobody beat me up again. It was as if everyone had, in one collective moment, taken a deep breath and counted to ten.

I still wasn't allowed to go over to Autumn's house, but she came over to ours every afternoon after school, and we did homework and one day after our first meager snowfall we made a pathetic snowman together in the front yard. We also learned more about being boyfriend and girlfriend, and I found out that I could make her tingle too.

I hadn't seen Officer Ossie lately, nor had Ms. Halliday visited the field again (at least on the days when Autumn had been able to follow her). Autumn was absolutely bubbly one day because she had happy news. The police had let them know the night before that a big break was about to happen in the vandalism, er, kidnapping case. But a few days later she seemed deflated because the authorities kept insisting that the big break would happen "any day now".

All of this was, as I'm sure you've already guessed, the calm before the storm. Or at least the next wave of turmoil to come crashing over the town. Once again, for some reason my family was the target. We'd minded our own business and not been a participant nor subject for the town gossipmongers. We'd managed, except for Autumn Crisp's daily visits, to completely separate ourselves from the local controversy. Yet still we found ourselves in the middle of "zombiegate", as some local reporter had tagged it (if you don't get the reference, look it up in the library: history section). And this time, there was no way we could ignore it and let it go away.

We were wakened from a sound sleep in the middle of the night by a banging on the front door. I had just pulled on my robe and stumbled into the hallway as Mom headed past me towards the front room. I stood there, scratching and yawning, when Mom opened the door a fraction and peered outside. Mom cried out, then immediately slammed the door shut again and stood there, arms akimbo and face pale, eyes wide as she leaned heavily against the door as if to hold out whatever it was she had seen on our front porch. She looked like she wanted to vomit. She looked like she wanted to pass out. It was a toss up as to whether she'd do either or both, and in what order. I was scared out of my wits, because I'd never, ever seen my Mom look like this.

Steeling myself to be the man of the house, I took Mom's arm and gently led her to the sofa to sit. Ms. Halliday, roused by my Mom's cry, appeared at the entrance to the room and, seeing Mom's shocked condition, moved to sit beside her, putting an arm around her and patting her arm in comfort. Ms. Halliday looked at me with dread and confusion in her eyes, for she realized that something, she knew not what, had frightened my Mom into her current state. I moved to the door and, grasping the knob and taking a deep breath, flung it wide open to confront whatever it was.

The porch was empty.

Just as I'd heavily exhaled (I hadn't even realized that I'd been holding my breath in anticipation), both Mom and Ms. Halliday cried out in unison. A split-second glance confirmed that the porch was empty, and the walkway and yard beyond, and then I spun towards the ladies to figure out what they had seen that I hadn't. As I turned, I came face to face with the cause of their terror. More accurately, I came face to arm with the cause, or rather, the arm that was the cause, because an arm, an entire, grotesque arm from shoulder to fingertips, had been nailed to our door with a large spike directly through the palm.

RAL had made it's reappearance in a big, big way, and judging by the announcement, they had decided that we were among their biggest enemies.

I stared at the arm for a moment, not really seeing it, but wondering how in such a short time and over such a seemingly innocent thing like walking a pretty girl home after school, things could come to this. One zombie-loving group scheduled regular intimidation and beating sessions for me, while another zombie-hating group had just begun their intimidation efforts. One side or the other had also tried to kill me, and I'd decided that it had to have been RAL, since ZAPT had already had several chances if they had actually wished me dead. Wasn't that a comforting thought? The group I actually knew something about (and the police knew too) wasn't the one I had to most worry about, it was the completely unknown and mysterious group.

Ms. Halliday called my name from behind me, and I shook myself out of my reflections enough to remember to close the door and thus hide the severed arm. I called Ms. Halliday over and quietly explained that I wanted her to call the police while I stayed and watched over the door. She looked at me questioningly, but she didn't know about the missing note that had lured me into the woodshop that day, and I was determined not to have another piece of evidence disappear right from under our noses. With a nod, she moved to the phone and made the call.

This was a thousand times worse than that night at the Crisp house, because this time it happened at mine. Whoever did this had threatened my Mom. Despite my best efforts, I kept slipping over the edge of reason and blindly raged about. When I'd calm down again I would remind myself that unless I was thinking clearly I wouldn't be able to protect Mom, but then I'd find myself thinking about the situation and once again be seeing red.

The police were there quickly and in great numbers, even though it was the middle of the night. Mom sat at the kitchen table, hands wrapped around a cup of tea and answered questions posed by two detectives. One of the two I'd seen the night Granddad had been kidnapped, the other had introduced himself as on special assignment from the state police. They asked their questions calmly and quietly, reassuring Mom that everything was going to be all right.

Ms. Halliday also answered questions, even though she'd come on to the scene late. It didn't sound as if she were able to shed any light on the matter, but I doubted that she was telling everything she knew. I was pretty positive on that point.

As I talked to another detective, I watched two guys in lab coats examine the arm nailed to our front door. I was fascinated as they took countless photographs from every angle and distance and then they taped paper rulers to the door and took even more pictures. The detective peppered me with question after question, scribbling notes the entire time. Once he learned that I'd been at the Crisp house the night the first zombie hand had been found, he wanted to go back and go over in detail everything that had happened since then. He seemed very interested in my "accident" at the school, and I told him that I'd watched over the arm until police arrived because of the note that turned up missing that time. I also told him about the beating I'd gotten at the hands of ZAPT, but I think he knew I was lying when I said I didn't know the names of my assailants. We also covered thoroughly my assertion that it was the RAL who'd done this, and why I thought they had also been responsible for the attempt on my life.

Before dawn the old doctor from the research lab arrived to examine the zombie arm. Once again they ruled out the possibility that it belonged to Granddad or the other kidnapped zombie, but it was disturbing that this arm was right handed, as was the hand spiked to the post near the Crisp house. Someone out there had at least two zombies, and maybe as many as four.

I also got the impression that the police were starting to treat this like more than simple vandalism or a series of trivial, unrelated events. As far as I was concerned, it was about time that they took this seriously.

The sun was already up before the police finished with their initial investigation. As soon as it was light enough, patrolmen fanned out through the neighborhood to look for anything suspicious that might've been missed in the dark. As a reassurance to my Mom, a patrol car was permanently assigned to our immediate vicinity, and would drive by the house at least twice an hour.

I wasn't even going to try to go to school, but I was much too wound up to go back to bed. In the meantime, I decided to write down everything I could think of related to the present circumstances, thinking that maybe by putting it down on paper, it might jog my memory or maybe let me see a connection that I'd been missing. That took several hours, and at the end I was yawning, and managed a short nap. When I woke up, Mom fixed us a late lunch and told me that Ms. Halliday had packed up her things and moved out.

Chapter 14.

Autumn stopped after school, her main news being that her mom was probably not going to allow her to come by any more. Our response was to sit close together on the front room sofa, my arm around her shoulders and her head leaning against me. We talked about the situation, and she actually had me laughing a little as she relayed the best of the rumors from school that day. By best, I mean craziest of course, and some were so wild and imaginative, you had to wonder at the type of mind that could dream up such scenarios. I also told Autumn that I was going to speak to Officer Ossie the next time I saw him about Ms. Halliday's walks out to that field and the possibility that you might be able to approach the research lab from behind via that streambed.

All too soon, it was time for Autumn to head back to her house. As luck would have it, we were saying goodbye on the front porch (tingles!) when the patrol car drove by. I waved it down and when Officer Ossie pulled over, I asked him to take Autumn home, and then I'd appreciate it if he could come back here, for I had some things to talk about with him.

I sat on the front porch and waited. When the car returned, Officer Ossie asked if I wanted to ride along for a bit, so I ran in and told Mom where I'd be. She was fixing dinner, trying to distract herself by keeping busy, and told me not to be too late. I ran out and climbed into the car.

As Officer Ossie pulled away from the curb, I asked him how he was doing after the other night. He looked a little sheepish and then apologized for not being more help. He went on to tell me that when he realized where he was, he was staring straight up at the stars. It took him a few minutes to collect his wits and crawl to the car. He was still dazed, and instead of calling in on the radio he found himself behind the wheel, sitting in front of the police station with the engine idling. When other patrolmen came out of the station and headed for their cars, they spotted him and that's when he realized they'd been looking for him. He hadn't answered the radio calls, he didn't remember hearing them. The police doctor said he'd suffered a mild concussion from the punch, and he'd been put on light duty status for most of a week. In fact, the closest he'd been to doing real police work was picking me up the morning after, because the chief knew we were friends and was hoping that I might talk about what happened and some leads would develop.

As we drove along, I told him about my suspicions about the RAL, detailing step by step what my thinking was and why I thought that way. He listened silently, and when I asked him point blank about what the police had discovered about the RAL, he told me that he really didn't have any information at all. I must have looked skeptical (probably because I was), but he insisted that he wasn't involved in that side of the investigation and anything solid that had been developed was being held very closely. That was a big if, because he hadn't even heard hints or rumors about it, which was unusual in and of itself.

Officer Ossie did agree that my reasoning seemed sound about the RAL. I changed tack and asked him if they'd found Mr. Brown. Once again, my policeman friend looked slightly embarrassed as he admitted that they had no idea where Mr. Brown was, but that they were actively looking for him. I remarked dryly that the police seemed to be doing a whole lot of actively looking without actually doing much actively accomplishing.

Figuring that since I wasn't learning anything anyways, I might as well ask anything and everything on my mind. I next asked Officer Ossie what they'd learned about the kidnapping of Granddad and the vandalism at the research facility. He surprised me by admitting that they'd gotten some solid leads there, and then confided that they knew of two people involved for sure. They hadn't made any arrests because the police were hoping that these two would lead them to the others or even to the kidnapped zombies. So far, those two had been laying low, staying close to where they were living and being careful not to have contact with each other nor anyone else. Officer Ossie hesitated, then told me that if nothing happened in the next couple of days, then one of the two would be very publicly arrested, in the hopes that it would drive the other into trying to contact his conspirators. It was a long shot, but at this point the police were getting a little desperate to make some progress.

I hadn’t been sure if I was going to mention Ms. Halliday and her trips to the “disappearing� field, but since he was confiding the investigation information, I decided to let him know about what Autumn and I had discovered (without mentioning Autumn just yet). I gave Officer Ossie directions, and we soon found ourselves parked at the edge of the field. Getting out and locking the doors behind us, we made our way across the field, I signalling to be quiet (just in case) and Officer Ossie taking careful note of the area as we walked along.

Coming up to the dropoff to the streambed, Officer Ossie looked surprised. He hadn’t realized that this was even here, despite the fact that the road was fairly busy and people passed by every day. He surveyed the area from the lip of the slope, and his experienced eye noticed the cave entrance. I explained that I’d already explored the cave, and that it was small and dead ended just inside. I didn’t mention the ladybugs.

When I told him that I thought the streambed might lead to close behind the research facility, Officer Ossie agreed that it looked like that might be true, and asked me several more questions about Ms. Halliday and how often she’d been coming out here. Then he surprised me by telling me that I shouldn’t come out here any more, and that neither should Autumn, because it might be dangerous if we were to get caught following Ms. Halliday. He told me that he was going to come back sometime in the next few days with some other officers and that they’d explore the area and follow the streambed. He promised me that he’d let me know what they discovered.

We walked back to the car and got in, driving down the road a ways, we turned around at the research facility’s parking lot and headed back into town. Officer Ossie dropped me off at my house and we said goodnight.

Despite the increased police presence, the Righteous Army of the Living made a big push over the next couple of days. Suddenly it seemed like their flyers were posted everywhere. Autumn told me that even with the ZAPT people watching their street, someone had snuck in and nailed another poster to the pole just down the street from their house. Mrs. Crisp had been livid, and went down to the police station and really raised hell.

ZAPT hadn’t been idle either, increasing their activities in response to the RAL. Unlike the mysterious group, ZAPT had decided to come out openly and several of their members were seen around town putting up posters and handing out flyers. Most people still avoided them, but I noticed that a few people would stop and talk to them. Gradually, their presence was coming to be accepted.

A third group emerged to make things interesting. Mrs. Partridge, the parson’s wife, had decided that the best way to calm the troubled waters currently stirring in our town was to drive out the troublesome elements. Of course, who the troublesome elements actually were was decided by herself, and I’d heard there was a merry row that happened when her gaggle of followers made an appearance at the Crisp house to insist that they move immediately because God wanted it that way.

I knew it was only a matter of time before Mrs. Partridge showed up again on our front porch, and I wasn’t sure whether I was dreading it or looking forward to it for the entertainment value.

In any event, Mrs. Partridge was gaining adherents every day as she talked to anyone and everyone who would listen. Her main point being that everything in town used to be calm and peaceful before the “zombie� problem arose, and that it was the Crisp family who had brought the trouble down upon us all. As for my Mom and I, the fact that Autumn Crisp was my girlfriend made an excellent excuse to tie us into the undesirable camp, and with God’s help the town would be rid of a whore and her evil spawn, who was obviously a bad influence on the wholesome and well behaved children in town.

I rather liked being described as “evil spawn�.

I didn’t like Mom being described as a whore, but she had three phrases that she always used that fit the situation. First, “if it looks like a duck� (being realistic, Mom was, charitably put, “easy�), the second was “sticks and stones�, and probably the key to everything else Mom ever did was “it’s what’s in your heart that matters�. Mom had a heart of gold and always had a kind word for everyone, so I wasn’t worried (too much) about Mrs. Partridge and her sheep. Thinking on it a little bit more, I figured that we’d be getting a visit from the Reverend Partridge any day now as well.

Little did I know that “any day now� would be that very afternoon, and that the Reverend would be accompanied by Mrs. Partridge herself.

When we heard the knocking at the front door, I got up from the table where Autumn and I’d been doing homework. Opening it, I found myself looking into the kindly eyes of the Reverend Partridge, and the not-so-kindly eyes of his wife. I honestly think that she was giving herself a headache as she tried to set me afire with nothing more than her gaze.

I smiled and held the door open, inviting them in. Mrs. Partridge turned crimson (and I would swear I actually felt a tiny smouldering sensation) when I asked them if they’d like some tea. The Reverend smiled behind his hand, apparently he’d found out from someone about his wife’s last visit and the humorous way she’d been routed before even beginning her righteous chastisement.

As they entered, I called out to Mom, letting her know that we had visitors. The whole time, Mrs. Partridge’s head scanned from side to side as if on a gimbal, trying to memorize every detail of our home. I think she was disappointed that we hadn’t been caught in mid-debauch or whatever it was she imagined went on. Reverend Partridge stayed by the open door and, pointing to the hole still visible, asked if that was where the zombie arm had been nailed up. At my nod, he asked if I’d like him to put a blessing on the doorway, and since I couldn’t see anything but good coming of such an act, thanked him.

While the Reverend spoke his words in the doorway, I heard Mrs. Partridge choke and sputter a little when Mom came into the room. To be honest, I think the reaction occurred when Autumn followed Mom in, bearing a tray with tea and cookies. I wasn’t too worried about Mom, because she’s tough, but I’ll admit I was watching carefully to make sure that Autumn didn’t burst into flames.

We all sat down and Mom served tea. As we talked, I realized what it was about the Reverend that I admired so. Everyone, no matter how important or influential (or not, as in our case), received the same genuine courtesy and respect from that man. He treated everyone as if they were royalty, without being patronizing about it. The Reverend Partridge was the Golden Rule personified, and I determined to make myself more like him.

After we’d sat for a short while and sipped and nibbled (Mrs. Partridge took one grudging sip and demurred on the cookies), the Reverend Partridge looked at his wife and she apologized to Mom for the things she’d said. It wasn’t terribly sincere, and the Reverend noticed that too but said nothing. After Mrs. Partridge spoke her words, she turned to me and apologized specifically for what she’d been saying about me. Her eyes were downcast the entire time, and it took her some effort to do it, but I’ll give her credit for actually apologizing (even though not one person in the room believed a word of it for a second).

I wondered if Mrs. Partridge would continue on with Autumn, but after running out of words to me she sat back down, still staring at the floor. Reverend Partridge told Autumn that he and his wife would be paying a visit to their house as well later that evening, and he’d appreciate it if she let Mrs. Crisp know beforehand.

I wondered if Mom would let me break her rule just for tonight, because I really, really, really wanted to be there to hear Mrs. Partridge make her apologies to Mrs. Crisp.

The Reverend and Mrs. Partridge stayed for a little while longer, and it was an odd feeling all around. Mom and the Reverend chatted away as if they were old friends (no, not that I know of, and I wouldn’t tell you if I did know), while Mrs. Partridge sat quietly and stewed. It was as if she emitted a chill field around her that defied anyone to feel comfortable and at ease, a field that her husband and my Mom seemed immune to.

I received a hearty handshake from the Reverend as they left, and I thanked him again for blessing our door. Mrs. Partridge barely touched my hand when I placed it out for her, she acted as if I were contagious or something. At this point, I felt more sorry for her than anything else, because it must have been a long hard life to get through with a soul as black as hers. With a final round of goodbyes, they were gone and I closed the door.

Turning around, I saw Mom and Autumn staring at each other, until both dissolved into giggles.

Posted by Ted at March 8, 2006 11:26 AM | TrackBack
Category: Zombies of Autumn

Yay! Great! More!

Posted by: Cindy at March 8, 2006 02:01 PM

It seems your boy got laid. Congratulations!

There's one error in continuity: At the beginning of Chap. 14, Autumn has been told not to visit Our Hero anymore, but when the Partridge Family (ha!) comes by, she's doing homework at his house.

Minor point--it's still a lot of fun.

Posted by: Victor at March 10, 2006 09:31 AM

This story is like oxygen, or more importantly Booze!

I can only go so long without a dose.

Keep 'em comin'!!!!!!


Posted by: BLUE at March 10, 2006 11:17 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Site Meter