Authors: Hell of the Dead
HELL OF THE DEAD
Books by Erik Handy
Hell of the Dead
The Malice Below
The Creeping City
Copyright © 2012 Erik Handy
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without written permission from Erik Handy. For information, email [email protected]
"There's a lot of life in this jungle," Rosalo calmly told the six men at his feet. "In these mountains."
The six men were looking up at their leader, clinging to every word he spoke. Clinging and believing.
"There's also a lot of death. And that is why we are here, is it not? To be close to beautiful death. To respect its power."
The men nodded and murmured assent. One man dared to let his gaze drop down to Rosalo's still-bleeding hand. Lucky for him, Rosalo didn't notice.
"We are masters of death here in our village. We are masters of all here, death, life, our families we moved out here. We are even masters of those who do not believe as we do for we shall rule over the ignorant without question. Without mercy." Those last words came out with spite and spit.
The men shifted under the glare of those words. They knew whom Rosalo referred to and they knew what they would soon do before their leader gave the dreaded order.
"Now," Rosalo continued. "Bring me back my wife and son."
Marie dashed through the dark jungle as best she could with little Jean Paul in her bloody arms. For a moment, she worried about getting the blood on him. However, that moment of clarity gave way to the need to pay attention to her flight. The night was at its most dead. One misstep and they would catch up to her.
She ducked under a low branch, swatting away the wide leaves that billowed in her wake.
She took stock in that she was slowly descending the mountain where her village was hidden, descending to the valley of sorts where the town was. The slope was gradual, not really noticeable due to the hearth of foliage that pocked the land. If she fell, she wouldn't roll to her doom. The men chasing her would take care of that. She didn't dare take the sorry excuse for a road which would have made her break easier. No, the men would be scouring that path for her.
All she could think of was the path she was making and taking.
And the town.
Jean Paul gurgled once.
Marie looked down and saw that some of the blood had gotten on his delicate forehead.
Her husband's blood.
She sliced his palm during her escape from their village. An escape made foolhardy in the pitch black of night. An escape made possible by her desperation. She would have rather risked stumbling and falling in the darkness than remain with those monsters. who would do harm to her and Jean Paul.
She didn't know how Rosalo enthralled his believers, his men. Or her. He had become a devious manipulator, an outright tyrant with a gifted tongue who forced his will upon everyone in the village he founded. Had he always been that way, a master of force and fear?
She had to be near the town. Her only plan was to go to the church. She hoped it would truly be a sanctuary for her and her son.
She met the priest there once, a young man named Nolan. He seemed genuinely warm and bright, someone who unconditionally cared about people. A true stranger to these parts.
Rosalo wasn't impressed. He dragged her away before he openly scoffed the priest and his ideals.
Marie desperately hoped the priest wouldn't let her down.
Beyond the beating in her skull, she heard an indiscernible yell from close behind her.
A male voice.
Marie didn't stop. One of Rosalo's men must have seen her.
She couldn't let them get her baby.
She realized too late that she had broken through the jungle and was on the outskirts of town.
The town: a quarter mile wide, a quarter mile across. A dusty, sweltering square of small, squat shacks and barely standing wood and concrete -- for the important buildings like the constable's office and the bar/brothel -- structures clustered by dirt lanes. The church was among them, somewhere in the dangerous darkness.
The townspeople were mirror images of their dwellings. They didn't have a chance to be anything else.
Tonight, they slept or simply stayed out of sight. Staying hidden had its benefits. Like keeping oneself alive.
Marie took a second too long to reorient herself. She cursed herself and her panic.
Then it came to her.
She knew where she was and where she needed to be. She darted down a lane just as six men erupted from the jungle a few yards from her exit point. Six men who were looking for her and her baby.
The priest, Nolan, checked the front doors.
Unlocked. As they should be. It was a church after all. His mission was to spread the word of God here and hopefully save souls from the hellish lifestyle this part of the world was sunken into.
He left the dim lights on despite the generator drain. The church wasn't afforded an electrical hook-up by the local government. As far as they were concerned, this place was just another shack.
A church should always be lit, he believed. For the hopeless.
Despite his desire to fulfill his mission, he was a realist. The mission
hopeless. Even his predecessor, an old man named Bernard, thought this; even expressing himself when Nolan arrived a few months earlier. The old man's not-so-subtle dissuasions weren't enough to deter Nolan. This was where he was supposed to be. He saw this opportunity as Heaven sent despite the futility of it. Nolan wasn't blind to reality, but maybe, just maybe, he could affect one person for the better. If not, he would write a letter to his superiors as his predecessor had done and move on. Failure was acceptable if it was God's will.
"You'll never get clean," the old man had tried. "The water's too dirty."
Nolan had bitten his tongue. Father Bernard had been going on and on for too long. Nolan knew the man was unhappy, but he was old and this would always be an unhappy place for him.
Nolan walked in the present, smiling as he remembered what else Bernard said.
"Almost everyone here has HIV" was a good one.
He was almost to his bedroom in the back of the building when the front doors flew inward. He swung around and saw the woman cradling the blanket in her arms.
"Help me!" the woman screamed. The panic in her voice was itself terrified.
Nolan ran to the door although his brain wanted to rebel, ignore the woman, and run away. As he got closer to her, he could make out wet blood smeared on her face and arms. What happened to her?
The woman looked at him, but didn't see him. Terror blinded her. She looked familiar, but Nolan couldn't be sure.
Before he could act, she rushed to one of the pews at the front of the church. Sitting down, she began to whisper to the bundle, calming what Nolan deduced to be a baby.
Nolan peeked outside and scanned the quiet street for the source of the woman's plight. He braced himself to face anyone from a psychotic rapist to a jealous husband. He wanted neither.
To his relief, all was quiet. Even the bar at the other end of town was dead. Nolan mused that all the boozers must have passed out already. He sadly shook his head as he slammed the door shut and locked it.
"Ma'am," Nolan said as he approached the woman. He could clearly see that there was indeed a baby in the bundle. "There's no one out there. Who are you running from?"
The yellow lights flickered.
The woman was wiping the baby's face clean with a corner of the blanket.
She looked up at him. In broken English, she said, "You don't look like the priest I saw a while ago."
He smiled. He didn't. When he first arrived here several months ago, he was all about black and the collar. But the humid weather and the bleak atmosphere sank in and he traded his church garb for khakis and linen shirts.
"What's your name?" he asked her.
The woman tried to smile amiably. "Marie." She held her baby up proudly, yet protectively. "And this is Jean Paul."
Nolan smiled at the baby who had no idea of the predicament he or his mother was in.
"Who's chasing you?" Nolan asked, not really wanting to involve himself any further in her affair. He had to shake that off. This may well be the reason he volunteered to come down here.
The lights flickered again.
Then went out.
Marie shot up from the pew, eyes darting around the darkness.
Nolan couldn't hear the hum from the generator. In that silence he heard a million imagined sounds. Distant rushing water. Small creatures pittering across the roof. Something dragging in dirt.
"It's just the generator," he told her. He started to move towards the back rooms of the church to go check on it. "It's probably out --"
She hushed him so he could hear the voices.
Male voices from outside. Soft. Low. Focused.
It dawned on both that the voices were just outside the front doors.
Marie ran out of the worship room, into the back rooms where Nolan lived.
"Marie," he whispered as loudly as a whisper would allow.
She didn't come back.
The locked doors slightly buckled.
Whoever was outside was trying to get in.
A church should always be lit and unlocked.
Nolan regretted his little maxim.
A scream from where Marie ran tore through the church.
Nolan's trepidation fled him.
He ran into the back just in time to witness a chilling scene. Amid the ambient light from the windows that lined the cramped hallway, Marie stood with her baby clutched to her chest.
Blocking the trembling woman was a man. If Nolan could have seen the sneer on the man's face, his trepidation would have returned tenfold.
"Rosalo," Marie sobbed.
She swayed to the side, allowing Nolan to see the long knife in the man's hand.
Rosalo advanced on the woman. His every step was heavy, loaded with menace. His knife bobbed, as if accusing her of some misdeed.
"Rosalo," she repeated. Every syllable she spoke gnawed on Nolan's heart. "Please."
The priest wanted to do something, but couldn't motivate himself to act. He really wanted to run, but with the commotion at the front doors and this Rosalo blocking the way out the back, he was stuck.
Rosalo stopped a few steps from Marie.
The woman's labored breathing provided the soundtrack to this scene. In. Out. In sync with her pulse. The rhythm intensified the tension in the hallway.
"Marie," Rosalo flatly said. "Where are you going?"
Marie sobbed harder. Her flight ended here. Jean Paul was doomed. And her . . . the tortures and deaths of dissenting villagers came to her in one crushing cold wave. She took one step back from her advancing husband.
Nolan didn't dare move.
"Come now," Rosalo continued. "Do not run."