Authors: John Evans
DEATH AFTER LIFE
Copyright © 2014 John Evans
Bloody Shame Publishing
All character appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or (un)dead, is purely coincidental. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.
This book is dedicated to my family, who have always supported my foolish forays into the arts even though I clearly lack the eye of the tiger. Thanks also to Karen Craig, my indispensable cheerleader and Bill Massa, who blazed this trail and shared his secrets to success. And, of course, thank you to Stephen King, without whom my nightmares may never have become fun, let alone money-making.
“It’s a fearful thing to love what death can touch.”
— 1752 epitaph in Wareham, Massachusetts
KING COUNTY GENERAL was 6.4 miles from the apartment building. This fact kept echoing in Tina’s mind as Jake eased her into the passenger seat of their faintly musty Chevy Impala and tried to make her as comfortable as possible. She found his rare display of tenderness powerfully endearing and smiled with a sudden urge to cry.
“Don’t forget your breathin’,” Jake instructed, rather sternly, to kill the moment. He paused however, to hold her hand and stare encouragement into her eyes. Tina knew the anxiety twisting her belly must be seeping into her eyes for him to take the time to do that.
It only compounded her dread.
“Just get me there….”
Jake nodded and hustled around to the driver’s side. He jumped in to start the car. He had to rev the engine a few times before it caught.
As they backed out of the packed-earth driveway, Tina’s gaze lingered in the throw of the headlights, which briefly illuminated familiar sights. She had the uncanny sensation that she’d never again see the squat concrete multi-unit they’d called home for the last seven years.
The day they moved in, the world had been a very different place.
The silhouettes of tall evergreen trees flashed by on either side of the windows. As her contractions quickened, it seemed to Tina that the trees formed a disconcerting tunnel that completely enclosed them.
Jake switched on the radio. A calmingly professional broadcaster’s voice filled the car.
“-preme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the False Cure Act will make illegal
claim of remedy or treatment, however well-intentioned it may be.”
Another voice chimed in. “Essentially, Bruce, the Court equates this with bomb jokes at the airport or threats against the President—”
Jake changed the channel. Tina, clutching her swollen midsection, shot him a peeved look.
“I was listening to that.”
“We need a road advisory,” Jake said in that peremptory tone she knew so well. Christ. In labor with their first child and she still couldn’t listen to what she wanted to. What was going on in the country was still important to her, maybe more than ever. Tina never would have married this surly and controlling man if she lived in her parents’ America. But these days security, in every sense of the word, was tops on every priority list.
Jake grimaced, making his irritable face, as he scanned through several of the syrupy Christian channels that seemed ubiquitous now.
It was in one of the moments when his eyes were on the luminous face of the satellite radio that the fallen tree appeared in the road.
“Jake!” Tina screamed, reaching for the wheel clumsily — her swollen belly got in the way. Jake looked back at the road, swerved too hard and the car was suddenly bouncing along the icy shoulder, rattling over tree branches and starting to slide.
Suddenly the shoulder dropped out from beneath their wheels and the Impala canted hard to the forest side, flipping into a glass-crunching roll that left the car upside down and wrapped around a tree.
When Tina regained consciousness (she had no idea how long she was out), it was the sticky tickle of blood dripping into her eyelashes that got her blinking. She was still buckled into her seat, upside down, with her hair dangling to brush the roof that was now a floor. Of sorts.
She groaned — pain shot through her legs in a relentless bloom of white-hot
Blood and amniotic fluid dripped steadily from her waist and legs, which were invisible in the crumpled chassis. The entire front of the car seemed twisted to encase her legs, and much smaller than it should be.
The world was a dizzying blur from her impact-distorted, upside-down vantage point. Everything was terribly wrong and possibly damaged beyond repair.
Her hands immediately shot to her stomach and she ran her fingers over the bulge she’d come to accept over the last eight and a half months. She knew her contractions had stopped, but she caressed her belly like a fortune-teller coaxing the future from a huge crystal ball. Nothing stirred within her womb.
Tears squeezed bitterly from her eyes and streaked into her hair. She turned her head (the most ambitious movement she could yet attempt) and it was then, as her vision cleared at last, that she saw what had happened to Jake.
He was sprawled halfway through the shattered windshield. Apparently he would have been propelled all the way out if it weren’t for the web of tree limbs to check his high-speed ejection from the car.
His ratio with the seat-belt was about 50/50 in normal times; it came as no surprise to Tina that in their unexpected flight to the hospital, Jake had again forgotten to buckle up.
This time, it had cost him.
Tina couldn’t see her husband’s face but it was clear from the wet-mop limpness of his body that bones were broken. His arms were thrown out before him, so it was possible his forearms had absorbed the brunt of his high-speed contact with the safety glass… That would have spared his skull from the primary impact. But the amount of blackish red blood pooling on the crumpled dashboard (it was actually steaming, in the late autumn air) told a different, darker story.
As the fact that Jake was dead slowly registered with her, Tina began to sob. He hadn’t been good to her, and some small part of her cruelly rejoiced at the prospect of never having to hear him scold her again, but he was Jacob Michael Cumberland and he deserved to live as much as anyone.
Tina cried for her dead husband for ten full seconds before the realities of the last three years inexorably thrust themselves to the forefront of her mind. Jake was dead. And that meant she was in a lot of trouble.
“Oh, God,” she breathed as the shock of this realization ran straight to her bones, where it became a chilling fear for her life. And that of her child, if their unborn daughter was somehow clinging to life within Tina’s stomach.
The mobile phone in her purse suddenly became the eerie center of Tina’s universe. The phone was her only chance.
She’d always prided herself on her focus of mind, when called upon to concentrate. Now she did that, reducing the world to the distance of four and a half feet between her and the handbag below.
She reached up to her waist and braced herself for the abrupt fall that should follow the release of her seatbelt. But when the click of the button yielded nothing but an increase in the pull of gravity on her upper body, she realized that it wasn’t the belt that was holding her in.
Tina blinked at the mangled footwell wrapped around her legs. They throbbed steadily with pain and dripped a disturbingly constant patter of blood. She was “trapped in the wreckage,” as a breathless anchor might say on the local news.
She strained her arm for the purse, reaching with everything she had. It was at this precise moment that Jake moved. Not the groggy, waking-up-from-a-head-injury movement that might have quieted her paralyzing surge of terror. Instead, his body merely
, the languid slither of a python moving into position to wrap its coils around a rat.
Tina’s eyes flashed back to the purse. Just out of reach. She tried to retreat into pure concentration but (
for the love of God!)
her dead husband was extricating himself from the windshield he’d just brained himself going through.
Tina kept perfectly quiet, as if it would matter, and looked around for something with which to hook the purse and lift it to her. Meanwhile, Jake made a guttural sound — somewhere between a growl and a whimper — and pulled his head back into the car. It made a sickly scraping sound as he heedlessly did more damage to himself.
Tina’s gaze inextricably flicked to the man beside her.
Jake’s face was gone — completely gone — and she was confronted with a slick red mass of tissue veined with glimpses of whitish skull. Worst were his eyes. Jake’s baby blues weren’t gone, but they weren’t blue, either. One eye was crushed into his head and the other popped halfway out. That one tracked her lazily, the pupil swimming in a sea of blood.
For better or for worse, this
bore no resemblance to her high-school sweetheart.
Tina lost it then, screaming wildly and with full throat. She flailed madly for the purse, simultaneously wriggling in her seat like a hooked flounder. There was no escape, however, as her agonized legs were still hopelessly tangled under flattened steel.
Jake tried to crawl over the gear-shift to her but his spine was separated in two places and he seemed to have no control below the shoulders. She was lucky there. He laboriously dragged himself along the dash, actually crawling over Tina’s purse. When he moved along, the handbag was suffused with cooling blood.
Tina searched madly for a weapon, anything she could grab and turn on the monster clambering after her. Nothing was within reach but Jake’s coffee thermos, jammed into the beverage holder. She fought to yank it out — its stainless steel had been dented in by the crash — and swung it back and forth, hammering back Jake’s flailing hands.
He groped for her wrists, clawing the air, and she pulled back for fear of being scratched by his nails. If that happened, it was all over.
As they stared at each other, Jake making hungry snuffling sounds through his mouthful of broken teeth, comprehension hit Tina like a thunderbolt.
She started to laugh, a brittle, deranged laughter that wholly drowned out Jake’s feral moaning.
He couldn’t reach her.
In his broken state, there was no way for Jake to lift himself high enough to get at her pinioned body.
She hung there for some time, how long she had no idea, and stared at him with a flood of contradictory emotions cycling through her. Relief, dread, sorrow and fury came and went, with dull shock gradually crowding out the rest.
She was just starting to double back and ponder her baby’s ominous stillness when, with a loud report, a bullet suddenly tore apart what was left of Jake’s head. He dropped limply. Tina looked at his still body, in that moment powerfully aware that this was as final an end as could be. Jacob Michael Cumberland, electrician, husband, father to be, decent pool player and indifferent lover, would walk the earth no more.
Tina saw that a man was pointing his gun through the window. About Jake’s age, he wore the uniform of a firefighter and looked shaken by what he’d just done.
A second official, more authoritative or just benefiting from not having pulled the trigger, knelt beside Tina and gave her legs a critical look. He was in his mid-20s as well and had the decisive manner of an experienced auto mechanic. The name on his blue coverall was “Felton.”
“Gonna need the jaws of life here.”
The gunman nodded, inexplicably paused to stare at Tina some more, and rushed off. If she twisted her neck as far as it could go, Tina could see their fire truck parked nearby. It wasn’t a full truck, the kind that came with ladders and Dalmatians, but one of those red minivans with flashers. A two-man crew.
“Thank you,” Tina said, meaning for saving her from what Jake had become, but Felton didn’t seem to hear. Her voice was weak, but she felt sure she’d spoke audibly. Anxiety crept into her as steadily as the tide.
have it,” she said, trying to speak clearly and strongly. “He didn’t get me. He couldn’t reach!”
The other fireman returned empty-handed. They conferred in an urgent whisper, just out of Tina’s earshot. At one point the more self-assured one raised his voice and she made out the words. “Un-fucking believable.”
Tina, as surreal as it seemed even to her, started trying to free her legs all by herself. It hurt terribly, and only made the blood spatter her face more rapidly. She realized that she had quite a bit of her own plasma on herself now, and stopped.
“I’m gonna be fine,” she said. “You can v-test me right now if you want. Just get me out of here!”