Stitched Sunday

A later post than usual – I’ve been gallivanting off at a convention this weekend (Nine Worlds – thoroughly recommended for any UK fans of geekdom in all its amazing glory) so unreliable internet put paid to the normal schedule.  But I think you’ll find that it’s been well worth the wait…

We have two great stories based on last weeks inspirational pictures – the chilling Catherine & the Lanrete Loop by Mike L Lane and the excellent Waiting For One by Aiden Leingod.  And on top of that we have two brilliant continuing stories in Part 2 of In Dire Straits by Alisha Jordan and Part 10 of Child of the Apocalypse: The Harvest by Nick Paschall.

I’ll give you a day or so to recover from the chilling tales below, and then give you some more inspirational pictures for the next Stitched challenge..

Unless then.. Stay Stitched!

Two

Catherine & the Lanrete Loop – Mike L Lane

Catherine waited with eager anticipation, clutching her handbag and trying her best to stay clear of the crowd bustling through Lanrete Loop. She didn’t know how long she had been waiting, but time was irrelevant with the man of her dreams on his way. She eased her back as close to the brick wall as possible, careful not to get her white dress dirty as the people filed by. The slightest smudge on her gown could ruin the day and she had waited for this moment ever since she was a little girl. Peter was finally coming home and within the hour they would both be standing before a judge and taking their vows, their happily ever after in its infancy. She loved Peter with all of her heart and she would stand in the station awaiting his arrival until the end of time if that’s what it took to get him home. Their time together had finally come.

The station was filled with hundreds of excited voices. She couldn’t make out their words, the laughter and cheers rising and falling in jumbled heaps, but she knew what the buzz was all about. The war’s end was close and the people were thrilled for the first time in what seemed like ages. We had won and although this was indeed wonderful news, she was more excited by the letter she had received from Peter the week before. She pulled it from her handbag to pass the time, savoring every word her lover had penned to paper.

My Dearest Catherine,

I write this letter to let you know I will be home on November 8th, my war services officially ended. I do not wish to alarm you, as I am quite alright, but I was wounded and took two pieces of shrapnel in my arm and shoulder. Do not fret, my love, as they are superficial wounds and I have healed quite nicely. The war is nearly over and I am finally on my way home and into your loving arms should you still have me.

My marriage proposal still stands, now more than ever, and I hope you still love me as you did on the day we departed. I can recall the twinkle in your eyes when I asked and that blessed memory has kept me alive and safe in a wasteland of disaster and death. I pray that light is still in your eyes as I return and no other suitor has stolen the warm place in your heart for me.

I know your parents do not approve of me, sweet Catherine, and I will understand if you agree with them. I have very little money and no prospects for our future and your father is right in this matter. My station in life is far beneath you.

I cannot promise you wealth and riches like other suitors can, but I can promise you my undying love and with you by my side, I can do whatever I set my mind to as long as it makes you happy. I was a real rotter for proposing to you the way I did, uncertain of whether or not I would make it through this war alive and leaving you to worry for my safety, but I can promise you I will never leave your side again as long as you will have me.

Sweet Catherine, if you still love me as I hope and pray you do, I will be taking the Brightmire Line home on the eighth and when I dock at Lanrete Loop I hope to see your smiling face. Should you decide to meet me there it will be the happiest day of my life! But if you are not there, I will have my answer and wish you the best life full of the love and happiness you most certainly deserve. I won’t hold it against you, my love. You have my word on it.

Forever yours, Peter

A tear of joy leaked from the corner of Catherine’s eye and she quickly wiped it away with a handkerchief. She pressed the letter to her lips with a gentle kiss and placed it back in her handbag careful not to crumple it. She walked down the wall and peered around the sharp bend, hopeful to see the train coasting into the station. The tracks were empty and the tunnel silent. She had expected as much, but the anticipation was more than she could bear. The oversized clock on the station wall told her it would be another ten minutes before the train’s arrival. She had waited this long. She could last a while longer.

A man walked past her hand in hand with a round faced little girl, her red pigtails and bright freckles in sharp contrast to her pale skin. She looked up at her father with love and innocent admiration, the kind only a daughter can have for her father. He returned her smile and led her through the crowd. Catherine had felt the same way about her father at that age and it hurt her now to go against his wishes. She knew he only wanted the best for her, but she couldn’t make him understand. All the money and suitors in the world couldn’t make her feel what she felt for Peter. She couldn’t describe the feelings she had for him, not with any real accuracy. Just thinking about him released electric butterflies loose to lightly tickle the insides of her stomach.

“Mrs. Peter Sherman,” she said aloud with a burst of giddy laughter. The words made her flush a bright red and her ears burned. A woman and her three children looked over at her and she quickly ducked her head, embarrassed. She stared at her feet for a long while hoping their attention had shifted elsewhere. They had looked at her outburst as if she were mad and rightfully so. She felt crazy, but not in a bad way. By the end of the day she would have made the biggest decision in her entire life, all on her own. Her parents had always dictated her life up until this day and she had always been fine with it. Mother picked out her clothes and decided what she could and could not eat. Father had always determined what was best for her. What books she should read and what friends she could make. It had never bothered her, at least not until today. Today she was her own woman and by day’s end, she would be Peter’s. By tomorrow morning, they would have consummated the marriage. A fresh blush burned her cheeks and she couldn’t wipe the grin from her face if her life depended on it.

A loud cry rang out in the terminal and Catherine looked over to where the mother and her children stood. The youngest boy had tripped over another passenger’s luggage and was rubbing his knee and wailing at the top of his lungs. The mother rushed to help him up, embarrassment in her eyes as she apologized to the man and tried to sooth her son’s tears all at once. The boy was not truly hurt, but his cries sounded like a loon on the lake. Some of the people sneered at the mother and her wailing boy, but Catherine found the scene endearing. Some day she and Peter would have children and her heart skipped a beat at the thought. She would be a good mother, too, and Peter would be the best father ever.

The boy looked up at her, blood streaming from his eyes and she was so startled her back brushed against the station wall. His face was misshapen, like a tomato squashed underfoot. A flap of skin lay over his left eye revealing the fractured skull beneath. Catherine shook her head, refusing to believe what her eyes were seeing right in front of her. The boy had not fallen hard enough for such a horrid sight as this. She closed her eyes tight and clenched her fists, unable to bear the boy’s gruesome appearance without screaming. Her heart raced in her chest and the electric butterflies in her stomach turned to stones. She waited for the crowd to erupt into panic, fully expecting the mother to lead the charge with a bloodcurdling scream herself. Seconds passed, but only the typical murmur of the crowd could be heard between the pulse thumping in her ears. She chanced a look.

The boy was fine. His mother had pulled him to his feet and brushed him off. His eyes were swollen with tears, but nothing more.

“Is he okay?” she asked the woman, her voice shaky and tense. The picture was still burned into her brain, but she could see now he was perfectly fine.

“He just got a little boo-boo on his knee. Nothing a kiss from mommy can’t fix,” the woman said cheerfully. She bent down and kissed the boy on his forehead. An instant smile stopped the crying and spread across his plump cheeks. The woman turned back to Catherine with a broad smile. The skin on her face was charred and wisps of smoke curled up from her mouth and nostrils. Her right eye dangled from its socket on a bundle of exposed nerves. “They are so delicate at this age.”

Catherine recoiled from the woman’s mangled face in horror. She quickly pushed back against the wall and away from her in sheer panic. The woman reached out her hand to Catherine. It was stripped of flesh all the way up to her elbow.

“Are you okay, dear?” she asked. Scorched black goo bubbled from her lips and onto the floral print of her dress. “You don’t look so good.”

People in the crowd stopped and stared at her. Each face was mangled, bloodied and burnt just like the woman trying to steady her. She swung her handbag at the woman’s hand and her skin crawled at the thought of its touch. What was wrong with these people?! One man held his intestines in his hands like ropes. He tried to push them back into his body as he walked, but they fell out in spools at his feet. He shambled toward her and stepped on his own innards, yanking another spool free. The woman’s children all looked horribly disfigured now. The boy with the crushed skull stared at her through lopsided eyes. He brushed at the skin flap as if he were brushing his bangs from his face and reached up to hold his mother’s skin-stripped hand without a care in the world. The older boy stood behind him. His body was fine except for his gushing neck stump. It splattered the people as they walked by, but no one seemed to notice. His head lay several feet away lying on one ear like it was listening for the arrival of the train. The pigtailed, freckled face girl bent over and picked up her severed arm. She cradled it to her body like a baby doll and walked beside her father. He had been severed at the waist and moved forward on his hands, his guts streaming out behind him like blood-soaked ribbons. He stopped long enough to tip his hat at her.

Catherine realized she was screaming, but no one seemed to notice or care. The mangled mother had moved on, ushering her disfigured children to the ticket booth. The station was covered in blood and gore. It stained the concrete floors in dark maroon puddles and dripped from the high arches above in chunks of meat and crimson droplets. She was pressed tightly against the wall, all thoughts of soiling her dress long forgotten. She couldn’t move and though she could hear herself screaming, she found it hard to breathe. The ground rumbled beneath her feet and the station’s chandeliers swung violently overhead, but no one gave it a second thought. They carried on with their lives like everything was normal and Catherine believed her mind was unraveling.

The train rounded the sharp bend meant for five miles an hour at sixty, never once slowing. The screech of metal on metal drowned out Catherine’s screams and burst her eardrums. In the fraction of time it took for the second car to derail, twist free from the engine, plow through the station and pin her to the wall, Catherine realized what had happened to her.

Oh, Peter, she thought as a single tear streaked down her face right before impact, I would have waited right here on you forever. I think maybe I have.

A momentary flash of pain rippled through her body as the train buried her against the wall and then all thoughts sizzled out in a burst of blinding white light.

Catherine waited with eager anticipation, clutching her handbag and trying her best to stay clear of the crowd bustling through Lanrete Loop. She didn’t know how long she had been waiting, but time was irrelevant with the man of her dreams on his way. She loved Peter with all of her heart and she would stand in the station awaiting his arrival until the end of time if that’s what it took to get him home. Their time together had finally come.

Waiting For One – Aiden Leingod

Did I miss my bus?

I’m pretty sure I just missed my bus. The board says it’s inbound in four minutes. But I could have just sworn – oh wait. There it is. Thank God. Worried I was going to be late for a minute. Hope it doesn’t drive off while I’m running. I’d look a right idiot. Ah. The driver’s getting off. Typical.

Guess I’ll light a cigarette while I wait. Get my breath back. Damn. Of course there’s no smoking. Stupid sign. At least the benches are still uncomfortable. Like the silence. You could hear a pin drop at this wee hour. Not that you could see it mind, what with the frost and all.

Then what was that?

No need to get worked up. Probably just the pipes or something. On second thought, what if something is wrong? My breath seems to have come back. Wonder if anyone’s around. Bench is getting warm. Back’s sore too. Think I’ll find out.

Oof. Knees aren’t what they used to be either. All that heavy lifting. Retirement soon, hopefully. If management listens this time. Holiday out in the sticks might be nice once this is all over. Which way should I go. Like a ma –

That sound again.

Rhythmic tapping. Closer, louder now. More frequent. Morse code, maybe? No-one else around. Great. Fare jingles in my pocket as I stall. I’m definitely going to be late. Can’t be helped, I suppose.

Again. It’s coming from the wall. Can’t imagine workmen picking up tools. Could be in-between. Heard stories before about people buried alive. What I wouldn’t give for some peace and quiet. Ach. Bit dark.

I’ll have a shifty. Hold on to my fare. No jingling but still tapping. For – paint’s still wet! Good job I’ll be late. It’d better wash off. Or someone will pay, mark my words. Not even a sign out! Refurbished, what a joke; I’ve seen dives with better health and safety. No use crying over spilt milk.

Huh. It’s stopped. Has it?….Yeah. Stopped. Time to wait for this bloody bus again. Hmm. Shouldn’t be so hasty. Ah, sod it. If there is something wrong, it’s none of my business anyway. Back to the uncomfortable bench. Joints ache. A cigarette would be fantastic right about now. Oh, what’s the harm? Nobody’ll know.

Damn! Fare’s all over the shop. Wait. Tapping? Not sure. Can’t hear myself think, or see a thing in this light, come to mention it. And obviously my lighter doesn’t work. Can’t wait to get out of here. Silvers and coppers. One left. Maybe by the wall? Searched everywhere but. Not heard any tapping since.

Hang on. Were these always here? Is that paint? Smells like it. Probably still wet. Can barely make them out. More to the point – where do they go? Just what I need. Another mystery. Wouldn’t be surprised if my poor old driver suffered the same misfortune. Might even find a place to wash up.

Prints end outside a door. Maybe not. Handprints. Lots of them. These are darker though. ‘Maintenance?’ Think that’s what it says. Stupid font is smushed together. Not sure I should go any further. A cheeky eavesdrop or rule flouting is enough excitement these days. Not getting any younger.

I’ll light – tapping. Make your mind up already! Closer, louder than ever. Sounds as if..? Don’t want to get caught. Fashionably late is one thing. What to do, what to do..? Actually, where did my last copper go? Perfect. As for that cigarette. First try. Nice. Ah. Long overdue. Makes the next part palatable.

Bloody door’s heavier than it looks. Makes enough noise too. Only light source is right in front of my nose. Geez! The dust! Can’t hardly breathe. Must be covered in it. Tsk. Not flammable. One good thing. Still smells of paint though.

Absolutely cramped in here. No idea how long it goes on for. Come on! Lighter’s decided to pack in. That’s three attempts. All I’ve got is sparks. Cheap piece of disposable rubbish.

The tapping. Not behind another wall? No paint here, just cold stone. So close now I can taste it. Maybe’s it’s the bitter iron hanging in the air. Not good for the old windpipes. What the –

Who left that there?! Feels like….a stone? Don’t think anything’s broken. Wait. Another loose stone. Walls must be crumbling apart. What a waste. A glint of yellow, a dim light? Sight for sore eyes. These blocks weigh a ton. Half a mind to sue who or whatever is behind all this.

Can just about see in. Warmer behind here. Only slightly. Looks like pipes, nothing out of the ordinary. At the bottom, running out of light, but…that’s a hand, no doubt about it! His lighter still works.

…Is that a draft?

“Do you like what I’ve done with the place?”

Never turned around so quick in all my life. He stares at me, this man, not much older than me. Overalls covered in what looks like red pigment. I nodded. Truthfully, I didn’t. Who in their right mind would? But what choice did I have?

In Dire Straits – Part 2 – Alisha Jordan

He tossed the dish to the floor. Beth dashed down the hall where she noticed her bag and belongings scattered in shreds.

“She don’t like to share, so you best get what you can, while you can” he said sternly.

She could feel beads of sweat lining her forehead and upper lip, her body ached and her stomach twisted.

“Now!”

He kicked out one her knees making her fall to the floor. She landed on her side, scaring Beth, causing the dog to snap its jaws and growl aggressively.
Defeated, she lifted herself to her hands and knees. Beth looked from the broken woman in front of her to her food dish, then began to eat.

“Get in there” he raised his foot.

She crawled closer to the bowl and Beth stopped eating looking at her with a side glance, lips curled exposing sharp canines. Trembling, she reached for the bowl. Beth snapped at her hand, warm saliva landing on her face. She quickly retracted her hand and felt the boot dig into her ribs making her pitch forward into the dog. She screamed, tucking herself into a ball as Beth’s sharp teeth pierced the skin on her shoulder and arm painfully in a quick series of snarling bites.
Her good ear was pressed to the floor, so all she could hear was distorted, disdainful mumbles from her captor as he repeatedly kicked into the side of her body. Pain shot up into her spine and sparked in her neck, she felt Beth’s jaws clamp onto her forearm, shaking it aggressively as hot agony throbbed throughout her entire arm.

“Please!” she screamed desperately over and over, her own voice sounding as if she were under water.

Eventually she was lifted from the kitchen floor by her hair, Beth growled and snapped at her thigh. Blood coldly trickled down her arm and leg as she gasped for air.

“You’re a filthy mess” he spat in revulsion.

He dragged her through the tattered remains of her belongings near a staircase and into a bathroom. Dark burgundy hand prints slid down the tile wall of the bathtub, smears she could only guess belonged to the woman in the closet. He threw he against the toilet and reached down to turn the shower on. She held her knees into her chest, then buried her face into her thighs. The excruciating pain coursing through her body made her wish she was dead.

“Even the hottest water couldn’t cleanse your sinful soul.”

She felt wisps of hot steam against her shins and lifted her head enough to see the water streaming out of the shower head. She looked to the sinewy man standing above her. His face was contorted in disgust, in such a way she barely recognized him. There were no traces of the soft and kind expressions exuded to deceive her. Inviting hands now balled into white knuckled fists, slouching shoulders expanded with seething inhalations, and thin lips once exposing a warm smile now curled in a grimace exposing rotting yellow teeth.

He crouched in front of her until he was at eye level, “If yer a good girl and do what yer told, you won’t end up like the last whore in the closet.”

Tears welled and she nodded desperately. “Please,” she sobbed, “Please, I will do anything you want, please don’t make me go in there!”

“Oh, Sweetkins” A glimmer of the man she knew before being taken to his residence appeared, but quickly disappeared with a scowl. “You need to be cleansed, this shower will barely touch the surface, it will take a lot more than some hot water.” He stood, “Now get up and get in. If you don’t make me drag yer ass, then maybe I’ll give ya a towel.”

She stood slowly, trembling as he exposed a menacing smile through wide grey eyes, watching her intently. She looked to the filthy tub, the smears blurred by the steam. She began to lift the bottom of her shirt when he swatted her hand away in disgust.

“Yer clothes are as foul as the tarnished skin the good Lord gave ya.” He nudged her toward the tub, “It’s okay to scream, God Almighty will acknowledge the effort.”

She took a step towards the shower, the hot steam burned against the open wounds on her skin. She looked back to him and could see his patience was wearing thin. If she had a chance for survival, or if her death was impending, either way she would have to suffer. She stepped into the back of the tub and winced as the water hit her feet, she inched forward and wailed as the water scalded her body. She tucked her chin down and let the burning water run over her head. Her body convulsed with pain and she threw herself into the tile wall, slipping and landing on her back. It felt like hot razors pricking her skin, even through her clothing.

“I can’t!” she wailed only moments after laying on the floor of the searing ceramic tub, “Please, I can’t” she choked as the water entered her mouth and burned her lungs and esophagus.

He stood watching her, and leaned into the steam revealing a sadistic smile. She scrambled to her knees and let the boiling liquid torture run over her back with face tucked into her lap. He turned the faucet knob and the hot water slowly dissipated into a freezing stream. She lifted her face into the soothing cold spray of the shower and opened her mouth, satiating her thirst. Eventually she was so numb her skin felt like rubber and she was shivering with blue lips. He turned the water off and walked out of the bathroom, leaving the door ajar. She stared at the open doorway and considered an opportunity for escape until she remembered the sound of the locks and key.

“This is a test” the hoarse woman whispered through the walls.

A few moments later he returned with an old dirty towel.

“My apologies, laundry day was yesterday. As you know, I was a little busy. The Lord’s work holds priority.” He tossed her the towel, “As promised, one towel for good behavior. I’m pleased. Yer off to a better start than the last whore.”

The towel was crusted with blood, and the hardened fibers scraped against her skin as she tried to dry herself crouched in the tub. Her skin was as red as a lobster and still warm to touch. She prayed blisters wouldn’t form, but when she saw her feet she had doubts.

* * *

Many days passed and she sat in her room, or rather, her prison. Staring at a leather bound bible, she reflected on her last interaction with her captor while she poked at large water filled blister on her foot.

“Is your name even Boone?” She had asked one evening when he directed her to wash his feet with her hair while he read a paper.

“As sure as yer a whore.” He replied while turning a page.

“Why are you doing this to me?” She wrung out her hair and dipped it into a soapy bucket next to the one his feet rested in.

“I offered you salvation. You accepted. The Lord works in mysterious ways, Sweetkins. Time to hush now, yer interruptin’ my readin’.”

The crank was officially out of her system, the first time she’d been clean in over a decade. Yet if Boone had left some dope and a pipe in her vicinity, she would suffer punishment to smoke it. Anything would be better than living the daily torture she endured.
Wet chunks of dog food for meals, she had finally earned her own dish. Scalding showers leading into ice baths. her skin was littered with blisters and boils. She was sure majority of her ribs were broken as well as her nose and a few toes as well. He never tried to touch her sexually, only in malice. Even Beth was becoming accustomed to her presence, only snarling or biting when she was receiving a beating. Beatings which came out of nowhere, for no reason. She realized if she stood a little too tall, or spoke too loud, she would be struck by a bony fist or steel boot.

“You keep pickin’ at them boils and you’re gonna lose what little of that pretty skin ya got left” The hoarse woman’s voice called out.

She looked to the closet, Boone referred to her as Ivy. She and Ivy began having regular conversations while Boone was out of earshot.

“Shut up, Ivy. Mind your own damn business.” She poked a large boil and watched it ripple.

Ivy was beginning to leak out bodily fluids through her orifices, and one warm night when the smell was particularly treacherous, she tried to close the closet door but it hit Ivy’s forearm making the skin snap like a water balloon. Black and yellow liquid spewed out of the wound onto the carpet and drained the swollen arm until the skin looked like a purple lasagna noodle.

He tossed the dish to the floor. Beth dashed down the hall where she noticed her bag and belongings scattered in shreds.

“She don’t like to share, so you best get what you can, while you can” he said sternly.

She could feel beads of sweat lining her forehead and upper lip, her body ached and her stomach twisted.

“Now!”

He kicked out one her knees making her fall to the floor. She landed on her side, scaring Beth, causing the dog to snap its jaws and growl aggressively.
Defeated, she lifted herself to her hands and knees. Beth looked from the broken woman in front of her to her food dish, then began to eat.

“Get in there” he raised his foot.

She crawled closer to the bowl and Beth stopped eating looking at her with a side glance, lips curled exposing sharp canines. Trembling, she reached for the bowl. Beth snapped at her hand, warm saliva landing on her face. She quickly retracted her hand and felt the boot dig into her ribs making her pitch forward into the dog. She screamed, tucking herself into a ball as Beth’s sharp teeth pierced the skin on her shoulder and arm painfully in a quick series of snarling bites.
Her good ear was pressed to the floor, so all she could hear was distorted, disdainful mumbles from her captor as he repeatedly kicked into the side of her body. Pain shot up into her spine and sparked in her neck, she felt Beth’s jaws clamp onto her forearm, shaking it aggressively as hot agony throbbed throughout her entire arm.

“Please!” she screamed desperately over and over, her own voice sounding as if she were under water.

Eventually she was lifted from the kitchen floor by her hair, Beth growled and snapped at her thigh. Blood coldly trickled down her arm and leg as she gasped for air.

“You’re a filthy mess” he spat in revulsion.

He dragged her through the tattered remains of her belongings near a staircase and into a bathroom. Dark burgundy hand prints slid down the tile wall of the bathtub, smears she could only guess belonged to the woman in the closet. He threw he against the toilet and reached down to turn the shower on. She held her knees into her chest, then buried her face into her thighs. The excruciating pain coursing through her body made her wish she was dead.

“Even the hottest water couldn’t cleanse your sinful soul.”

She felt wisps of hot steam against her shins and lifted her head enough to see the water streaming out of the shower head. She looked to the sinewy man standing above her. His face was contorted in disgust, in such a way she barely recognized him. There were no traces of the soft and kind expressions exuded to deceive her. Inviting hands now balled into white knuckled fists, slouching shoulders expanded with seething inhalations, and thin lips once exposing a warm smile now curled in a grimace exposing rotting yellow teeth.

He crouched in front of her until he was at eye level, “If yer a good girl and do what yer told, you won’t end up like the last whore in the closet.”

Tears welled and she nodded desperately. “Please,” she sobbed, “Please, I will do anything you want, please don’t make me go in there!”

“Oh, Sweetkins” A glimmer of the man she knew before being taken to his residence appeared, but quickly disappeared with a scowl. “You need to be cleansed, this shower will barely touch the surface, it will take a lot more than some hot water.” He stood, “Now get up and get in. If you don’t make me drag yer ass, then maybe I’ll give ya a towel.”

She stood slowly, trembling as he exposed a menacing smile through wide grey eyes, watching her intently. She looked to the filthy tub, the smears blurred by the steam. She began to lift the bottom of her shirt when he swatted her hand away in disgust.

“Yer clothes are as foul as the tarnished skin the good Lord gave ya.” He nudged her toward the tub, “It’s okay to scream, God Almighty will acknowledge the effort.”

She took a step towards the shower, the hot steam burned against the open wounds on her skin. She looked back to him and could see his patience was wearing thin. If she had a chance for survival, or if her death was impending, either way she would have to suffer. She stepped into the back of the tub and winced as the water hit her feet, she inched forward and wailed as the water scalded her body. She tucked her chin down and let the burning water run over her head. Her body convulsed with pain and she threw herself into the tile wall, slipping and landing on her back. It felt like hot razors pricking her skin, even through her clothing.

“I can’t!” she wailed only moments after laying on the floor of the searing ceramic tub, “Please, I can’t” she choked as the water entered her mouth and burned her lungs and esophagus.

He stood watching her, and leaned into the steam revealing a sadistic smile. She scrambled to her knees and let the boiling liquid torture run over her back with face tucked into her lap. He turned the faucet knob and the hot water slowly dissipated into a freezing stream. She lifted her face into the soothing cold spray of the shower and opened her mouth, satiating her thirst. Eventually she was so numb her skin felt like rubber and she was shivering with blue lips. He turned the water off and walked out of the bathroom, leaving the door ajar. She stared at the open doorway and considered an opportunity for escape until she remembered the sound of the locks and key.

“This is a test” the hoarse woman whispered through the walls.

A few moments later he returned with an old dirty towel.

“My apologies, laundry day was yesterday. As you know, I was a little busy. The Lord’s work holds priority.” He tossed her the towel, “As promised, one towel for good behavior. I’m pleased. Yer off to a better start than the last whore.”

The towel was crusted with blood, and the hardened fibers scraped against her skin as she tried to dry herself crouched in the tub. Her skin was as red as a lobster and still warm to touch. She prayed blisters wouldn’t form, but when she saw her feet she had doubts.

* * *

Many days passed and she sat in her room, or rather, her prison. Staring at a leather bound bible, she reflected on her last interaction with her captor while she poked at large water filled blister on her foot.

“Is your name even Boone?” She had asked one evening when he directed her to wash his feet with her hair while he read a paper.

“As sure as yer a whore.” He replied while turning a page.

“Why are you doing this to me?” She wrung out her hair and dipped it into a soapy bucket next to the one his feet rested in.

“I offered you salvation. You accepted. The Lord works in mysterious ways, Sweetkins. Time to hush now, yer interruptin’ my readin’.”

The crank was officially out of her system, the first time she’d been clean in over a decade. Yet if Boone had left some dope and a pipe in her vicinity, she would suffer punishment to smoke it. Anything would be better than living the daily torture she endured.

Wet chunks of dog food for meals, she had finally earned her own dish. Scalding showers leading into ice baths. her skin was littered with blisters and boils. She was sure majority of her ribs were broken as well as her nose and a few toes as well. He never tried to touch her sexually, only in malice. Even Beth was becoming accustomed to her presence, only snarling or biting when she was receiving a beating. Beatings which came out of nowhere, for no reason. She realized if she stood a little too tall, or spoke too loud, she would be struck by a bony fist or steel boot.

“You keep pickin’ at them boils and you’re gonna lose what little of that pretty skin ya got left” The hoarse woman’s voice called out.

She looked to the closet, Boone referred to her as Ivy. She and Ivy began having regular conversations while Boone was out of earshot.

“Shut up, Ivy. Mind your own damn business.” She poked a large boil and watched it ripple.

Ivy was beginning to leak out bodily fluids through her orifices, and one warm night when the smell was particularly treacherous, she tried to close the closet door but it hit Ivy’s forearm making the skin snap like a water balloon. Black and yellow liquid spewed out of the wound onto the carpet and drained the swollen arm until the skin looked like a purple lasagna noodle.

apoclypse_34

Child of the Apocalypse: The Harvest – Part Ten – Nick Paschall

“Well, don’t let them,” Jaime continued, “always be a step ahead. I knew an old woman in a town back south, met her a few dozen times. Sold her magazines for her dead husbands old Glock Twenty-Three that I knew she couldn’t use without the local authorities stepping in and confiscating it. Well, she turned out to be infected; never even showed signs of any kind of issue, though she always did have poor eyesight in the time I knew her.”

“So, you’re saying hide it? Claim the scar is a dog bite?” Kale asked.

Jaime nodded. “Lying is normally bad, but in this case, it can be overlooked. If your life is in danger, you should lie to protect it. That’s the only thing you have left out here in the wastes, after all. Just one life to live, and in your case, you haven’t really even experienced it yet.”

“Grandpa used to say the same thing to me,” Kale said, “that I should experience life outside of Lincoln Grove, away from all the rules and control. I was always afraid to leave, but no him. He just wanted me to be happy.”

“Sounds like he was a smart man,” Jaime said.

Kale sniffled, but didn’t cry. They stood in silence for a few minutes, Jaime allowing Kale to regain her composure so that they could move on with the girl maintaining a clear head.

She’d be just like Amy or Jessica if we left right now, Jaime thought during the reprieve, useless in a crisis and more of a danger to themselves than the fucking zombies are.

After a while, Kale seemed to have calmed down and Jaime cleared her throat. “You good?”

“Yeah,” Kale said in a small voice, “I’m fine.”

“Yeah,” Jaime said, “good. Let’s get going then.”

They started jogging down the road towards Lincoln Grove, Jaime prodding Kale with questions about the community. The young girl revealed that the community was run by two older men, both of whom were former military. Together, they had their extended family act as the police for the community, keeping a rigid control over roughly two-hundred people using swords and steel. Guns were forbidden due to the noise they made, and crossbows were too difficult to fabricate en masse, so the citizens were stuck in a pseudo-medieval society where they all served as serfs to the elite.

“It sounds horrible,” Jaime said.

“It kind of was,” Kale said, jumping over some roots that’d grown up and out of the road from a tree that’d broken through the sidewalk and into an old paint store, “we had to get food by growing it ourselves, but the police took most of it as taxes. They’d always leave us with a note saying what we’d owe, and grandpa would swear about them later when he thought I was sleeping.”

“Just another day in the apocalypse, huh?” Jaime asked.

“I’ve never had any other kind,” Kale replied.

They continued in silence, the far-off clicks keeping their attention as they jogged past old buildings and traffic stops, through piled up rusted vehicles, and over crumbling concrete partially overgrown by weeds.

Lincoln’s Grove was a far quieter seaside section of town, the open air shops and bistros gutted from fires long since burnt out. The entire region looked like a fire had claimed a large section, cutting a swath through the area to pull down several buildings and scorch the pavement outside the inset sign bearing the name of the section of town. The sun was still rising in the east, approaching noon with haste; Jaime knew she’d have to hurry if she wanted to get her work done and return to the others before nightfall.

“Okay Kale, you got it?” Jamie asked, checking with the young girl.

Kale gave her an odd look. “I still don’t understand this plan,” she said, “won’t everyone want to hurt me like they did yesterday?”

“Not after they listen to what I say,” Jaime said.

“Okay… well that first guard post is up ahead, maybe a hundred yards. A guy with an old rifle uses the scope to watch for zombies and uses an old bird whistle when he spots things coming through this entry point.”

“So, we should hear him any minute now,” Jaime said, “let’s continue walking down the middle of the road, make ourselves nice and visible.”

The cracked pavement slowly gave way to trodden dirt, the large pieces of concrete having been pulled away while the flora had been burned. Charred remains could be seen, jagged stems of bushes ending in blackened ends.

Guess they didn’t want the zombies sneaking up on them, Jaime thought.

The chirping of a bird was the first indication that there was life, a trigger that prompted Jaime to pull her bow out.

When Kale looked at her with concern, Jaime gave her a look.

“Birds have so far been silent, despite the presence of free food,” Jaime said, thinking of the bugs that seemed to ooze from the corners of the town, “if I was a scout, or a guard, I’d use bird calls to let others know I saw something.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Kale said, “I was raised to work in the gardens, and Grandpa helped with inventory. We never met with guards.”

“Well I have a feeling we’re about to,” Jaime said.

Within the next thirty seconds, Jaime heard the snapping of twigs coming from a copse of trees further ahead, where two men wearing camouflage emerged. One was bald, wearing a poncho that was deep green and brown in color. The other was a teenager, a large crossbow slung over his shoulder. Both were frowning, eyes darting between Jaime and Kale.

“What do you want?” The old man called out, glaring at Jaime, “we chased her out just the other day with her grandfather, I can’t imagine the old man is thick enough to think we’d take him back after he stole from us.”

Jaime frowned, looking down at Kale. Kale rubbed her arm, giving Jaime a sheepish look.

“When we ran, Grandpa said he took some things,” Kale said.

“Great,” Jaime muttered before raising her voice, “her grandfather is dead, killed by zombies. I’ve come to try and barter for some information you have, while returning the girl to you.”

“Yeah well, we don’t want what you’re offering!” The older man called back, “so just turn around and march on outta here.”

“The girl needs a home, somewhere safe!” Jaime declared.

The teenager snorted. “Well, we need to be safe from her. She tell you she got bit?”

“So? She lived through the infection, means she isn’t a threat anymore,” Jaime said, knowing that the words were a slight embellishment, “she’s scared, and needs her home to be open to her again.”

“And you need information?” The old man asked, stepping in front of the teenager, “what kind of information?”

“Kale told me that you have a library,” Jaime said, “I’m looking for a few books, some specific subjects. I’m willing to trade services for them. I can gather supplies.”

“So can we,” the old man replied, “you’ll have to offer something better than that.”

Jaime frowned. She was about to respond when she heard it.

Coming on the ocean wind like a demonic lullaby, a distant sound that made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end.

Giggling… Jaime thought, straining her ears, it caught our scent, it’s following us!

Kale didn’t move, so Jaime assumed she hadn’t heard it.

“How about I kill the Giggler for you?” Jaime asked, annoyed at being forced into the situation, “he’s on his way, if you take Kale and leave me here to ambush it, I’ll kill it.”

“Shit!” The teenager cursed, looking around with wild eyes.

The old man sneered, “you’re bluffing. I don’t hear it.”

“Just fall back to a building with Kale and watch,” Jaime said, “we don’t have time for theatrics here, just give me a chance!”

The old man seemed to think for a moment. “Alright,” he said, “you got thirty minutes for the monster to show. If it doesn’t, we kill the girl, then you.”

Kale let out a slight sound at this but Jaime laid a hand to rest on her shoulder. “Deal,” Jaime called back.

“Jaime, I don’t want to go with them!” Kale exclaimed.

“You have to,” Jaime said, “the Giggler is coming, I heard him. He must have come back and caught our scent.”

“And you’re going to try and kill him? Alone?” Kale asked.

Jaime shrugged. “Playing it by ear, but yeah. I think I can handle it. I think I have a good seven or eight minutes before he crawls over to us, so hurry up and go!”

Kale hugged Jaime, whimpering into her stomach, “please don’t die. If you do, then those two will kill me!”

Jaime ran her hand over Kale’s red hair. “I promise I won’t die.”

Kale sniffled, but turned with Jaime’s urging and jogged off towards the men. “Alright, give me some space!”

“You got it lady,” the teenager yelled, the old man waiting for Kale to grow close. Once she was within arm’s reach, he grabbed her and ran off towards a dilapidated office supply store.

Jaime turned, and looked at the path they’d just come from, “I only have so long. Better make the best of it.”

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