Chapter 2 – Calling Grey – A Carrion Book
If you haven’t read the introduction, or the first chapter, start here first.
– I’m planning to officially set the title next week, so don’t freak out if it’s not titled “Grey” when I share it. The artwork and title were both temporary while I’m getting them to a point where I’m completely pleased with them.
– If you enjoy the book, give it a share or a comment. Thanks! – Jeremy
“Come on dad! Get us out of here!” Emmaline said, quite a bit louder than she ordinarily would have. “I’m trying!” Her father said through clenched teeth. “Start dammit!” Jason turned the key in the ignition for the what had to be the tenth time since the old minivan had stalled in the deserted town.
“Emmaline,” her mother said in her best trying to be patient voice, “just let your dad work. You’re not helping anything.” “Mom! We can’t stay here! It’s not safe! C’mon dad, just get it to work. I’m freaking out!”
Her voice was taking on more and more of a frantic pitch as she spoke, but the old caravan sounded like it was slowly losing the will to try even one more time. Her dad muttered something about the battery and then punched the steering wheel.
Jamie, who had been the picture of calm assurance, startled at this. She was a beautiful woman. Still in her thirty’s, but the stress of the last 15 years had made her look ten years older. Or maybe it was just the fact that women no longer had the luxury of covering their age with makeup and hair color. That didn’t really though, Emmaline had never been to a salon. She had never wore makeup. Well, almost never, there was that time when a lady in the community had allowed her to put on some of the dark red lipstick. She had only been 8 years old at the time, but pranced around the entire camp for the rest of the day seizing every opportunity to exaggerate and overemphasize every word she spoke to draw even more attention to her newly found beauty.
She had even protested to the point of tears when her mother tried to wash off the last little smudge that was remaining when she put her to bed that night. Jason had finally intervened in the escalating battle, “Oh Come on babe, just let her wear it to bed. It’ll be gone by morning anyhow.” “Thank you! Thank you! Daddy! Thank you!” she jumped up from the bed and threw her arms around his neck, and you would have never known that only moments earlier she had been weeping as though someone was trying to pull her lips off. “Jason…” her mother said with that playfully condescending look. “Jamie….” He said right back to her. She remembered her dad grabbing both them and wrestling them to the bed where he proceed to mock fight and tickle them both until her mother threatened that she wouldn’t let him have any play time later if he didn’t stop.
At the time, Emma thought that was weird. Why would a person stop playing right now, just so that they could play later. Why not have all the fun right now. But apparently her dad had seen the sense in it because he promptly stopped and left the room with a quick hug and kiss goodnight.
That was nearly 8 years ago, and now she just watched as her mother, who was ordinarily so calm and together that Emmaline had grown to think of her as a complete bore took on a genuinely frightened expression. Even though she was obviously concerned, she tried to encourage her husband. “You can do it. You’re great at this kind of thing.” But Emmaline could hear the slight break in her mother’s voice that said so much more than her encouraging words did.
“Mom, I’m scared!” Her father shouted back at them, “Both of you, shut up! I can’t think straight!” At this, Emmaline became quiet and still, and deathly afraid. In her entire 16 years of life, her father had never screamed at her before.
They had left their camp in southern Michigan a few days earlier. Her mother had been a nurse before the outbreak. After the outbreak, her family made it to one of the safe cities in Illinois where she went to work in the hospital. The same hospital that was chosen to be the city’s serum house. Her dad told her one night during one of his long lectures about how she should be more respectful to her mother, that it was Jamie’s skills as a nurse that kept their family from being one of the many homeless beggars on the streets.
He explained that she had been brilliant. She was beautiful and strong. Her dad also said that she had inherited much of Jamie’s strong beauty. It was her favorite part of the story. As the hospital’s role in the city grew, so did her mother’s. She was not a doctor, but she had a way with people. Emmaline had since witnessed that skill in action. One night in the camp a giant of a man was beating up a teenage boy who had tried to steal something from his tent. Her mother ran up and stood one foot from his face and demanded him to stop. Emmaline was certain that the big guy would have killed the kid if her mother hadn’t intervened, and she had watched in awe as the enormous arm stopped mid blow and then slowly dropped to his side. He shoved the terrified kid away and gave him another solid kick with his boot for good measure. It seemed to be more of an attempt to save a little face in front of the crowd that was gathered than it was to inflict any real harm.
Emmaline couldn’t believe it. Her mother was as small as a child compared to this hulk of a man, but something about her seemed to tower over him. “Go back to your tent, David. He’s had enough. He won’t try it again.” Her mother spoke to him with a calm that was nothing short of heroic to Emmaline who knew that with a simple flick of his finger, he could send her mother flying across the street. Her calm didn’t in the least diminish the gentle authority that always followed surrounded her mother like some mystical aura. Exposed to this aura, the furious giant of a man transformed, it seemed, into a shy little boy as he replied in a deep southern accent that suited him well, “Your right ma’am. I’m sorry, it was… it’s just with all of the problems lately…” His words trailed off, and her mother gave him that smile which, with just a flash, could make all the world seem right, and then she turned and went back to work. Even though lately, she and her mother had seemed to argue more often than not, it was still a quality that she greatly admired.
It was that calm and beautiful power that had helped her mother to rise to one of the chief positions at the serum house in Illinois. She managed the blood scrubs as they were commonly called. She trained dozens of people how to perform the procedure that kept the living from joining the ranks of the undead beasts. According to her father, her mother was directly responsible for thousands of lives being saved. He had also said that she had worked relentlessly to stop the corporation from taking control of the hospital when they came to the city.
She didn’t have the heart to turn someone away from the treatment just because they were too poor, or too weak, or just too old to perform the unbearable labor that the corporation was beginning to require of anyone before they were given the treatment. Before her parents finally made the decision to flee the city, her mother had already started an underground serum house in their small apartment. People would come in at all hours of the night to receive the hour-long treatment that prevented the outbreak from overtaking their bodies. Emmaline’s thoughts recalled the night that the corporation guard had come to their house at 3:00 a.m. “My mother had been treating his sick daughter for several months. He came inside quickly and started talking to her and my dad in a quick and hushed voice. The next thing I knew, they were piling supplies into their minivan and the guard was escorting us to the gate.” My father later explained that someone in the corporation had found out what mom had been doing. They were coming the next day to arrest the entire family. When she was older, he also said that the guard who had helped them was probably executed the next day. The corporation had zero tolerance for dissension.
She remembered those days vaguely now. Her mother and father were afraid, but still not like this fear she saw overtaking them right now. While operating the underground serum house, her parents had learned of camps and communities far outside the reach of the city’s scavenger runs that operated outside of the corporations control. These camps were in desperate need of people who knew how to perform the blood scrubbing procedure, and her mother had been solicited many times and assured that they would be welcomed if they ever chose to leave the city.
That’s how they found their way to the small camp in Michigan, and that is where we’ve all been living, relatively happy, for the last 8 years. As I thought about it now, It was because of my mother’s compassion that we had been forced to leave the city, and now it was her compassion again that had once again caused us to leave the place I knew as home.
The Missouri camp we were heading to just outside of St. Louis, was in desperate need of someone who knew how to run a serum house. They had been attacked several weeks ago by raiders, and the serum house was emptied and the camp doctor taken.
Her father’s words momentarily interrupted her thoughts as he hollered, “Are the guns loaded?” “Yes. I mean, I think so.” Her mother answered in a timid voice that was far from her usual self. “Get ’em now! Now!” Her father shouted again.
Time seemed to take on a surreal quality. She felt detached as the events began to happen in slow motion. Even the sound of their voices became something far away as though she were hearing the sounds from someone else’s headphones or something.
Her previous thoughts continued. “It was because of mom that we left our home. She could never let other people just handle their own problems. That is probably what frustrates me most about her. She has time for everyone else. She saves everyone else, but to me she just seems like a stranger anymore.”
It was that stupid softness that had volunteered our family for this trip in the first place. My father had agreed, but he would have done anything that made her happy. She was everything to him. I think I resent them both for that.
“Emmaline, take this gun.” She returned to reality again to hear his voice. Her father was not shouting now, but she could tell that he more conscious of their dangerous situation than he had even been before when he was shouting. That awareness fueled her own fear even further, and now she returned from dreamland just long enough to take the 9mm semi-automatic Sig Sauer from her father and yell at her mother. “This is your fault!” She screamed through her tears. “We’re gonna die out here, and it’s all because you had to take care of someone else. What about us? What about taking care of us! I hate you!”
Somehow, it was this attack that brought back the strength in my mother. She looked at me with that calm power, it didn’t disguise the pain I had caused her, but it wasn’t able to break her. “Emmaline! Not now. We’ll find another car, and we’ll keep moving. You just need to be quite. We all need to be quiet right now.” At this point, she had fully regained her composure. “Check your gun.” She said with the detached efficiency that one of the camp commanders would have used. My father had turned around too at my outburst. They were both looking at me now, and I could see the disappointment in my dad’s eyes. My mother and I had fought plenty of times over the last several years, but I had never said that I hated her before.
He just looked at me. I think he knew I was just angry and scared, but he was disappointed. I could tell. There was nothing in this world that could make me feel so small as those times when he just looked at me like that. And right now, he was perhaps more disappointed than he had ever before.
He started to speak, but before the words left his mouth, his window shattered into a thousand pieces. Glass flew everywhere. Instantly, I was transported back into the realm of the surreal. Time nearly stopped, and the deafening noise became the faintest whisper. More like trying to remember a sound than actually hearing it.
My father didn’t have time to scream. He didn’t have time to react, the hideous beast lashed out with its long fingers and black claws as it ripped the entire front of his neck off. For a fraction of a moment, I saw him with that gaping wound that was already beginning to spray blood. For… for just that most minuscule slice in time, he just kept looking at me. That moment, that didn’t even last for one second, went on for an eternity as everything in the very makeup of my world I knew suddenly became an illusion that faded away.
Everything I had ever known to be real, became, in that moment, merely a trick of the mind to help us though this hell that we call living. In that instant, I became someone else. I was something else entirely. I had known pain before. We knew people who had died at the hand of these monsters. I had even watched some people die in the hospitals while helping my mother at the camp, but the pain I had known before seemed like happiness in comparison to gut wrenching horror that overtook my heart in that moment. I became pain. Everything about me was pain. Every thought, every emotion, every feeling was pain, and as suddenly as I knew that pain, I also came to know hatred. I hated these beasts with more hatred than I could have ever imagined. How could a child hate this much, but then I understood, in that moment, I was no longer a child either.
In that moment, I had experienced a thousand lifetimes of pain. I hated my mother for doing this to us. I hated my father for letting her. I hated myself for the last moment that we shared. I hated the fact that our very existence was an impossible attempt to elude the pursuit of death for one more day. God. Was there a god? In that moment I hated him, or her, or it, or whatever it was that wrote the cruel script for the role we were all destined to play.
“Jason!” my mother screamed as blood simultaneously sprayed my face. “Daddy! Daddy!” I screamed in complete horror. I grabbed for his hand to pull him away from the beast, but before I even reached it the world exploded again. I looked towards the sound, certain that I was about to see my mother torn apart before my eyes, but instead I saw the smoking barrel of her revolver.
I screamed again. My mother grabbed my arm. “Get out of the van. Move it! Now! We have to get out of here!” She was purely militant now. Her survival instinct had overridden her emotions. I had seen it at the hospital with patients. She would seem cruel and cold as she tried to save a life. Then, later at home, I’d hear her crying in the bathroom. “Daddy!” I screamed again and again. I screamed the word as though somehow it could undo what had just been done if only I could scream it loud enough. My mother had my door open and was pulling me now, but I was holding onto him as tight as I could. “No!” I screamed at her. “I won’t leave him!” Her reply was forceful and to the point, “He’s gone! The gunshot will have attracted more if they’re in the area, and we’ll be dead too if we don’t get somewhere safe.” I held his arm with all I could, which wasn’t much. He didn’t squeeze mine back. He didn’t turn his head towards me, and he didn’t show any expression of the sadness he should have felt at that moment. And the blood… everywhere the blood. The very will to live was evaporating from my body, being sucked out by the death that this existence is made of.
I began to collapse, but my mother slapped my face hard and jerked me free. “The office building over there. Run!” My body moved, although I am unsure how. Vaguely I was aware that I was running, but it wasn’t me. It was just that small trace of life within me that had overtaken my body when my own will had given up. It propelled me along beside my mother.
We ran through the abandoned town. The buildings were mostly store fronts. The windows were broken out of most of them, and their stuff they had once sold littered the streets.
Chairs in front of the furniture store. A lot of things I didn’t recognize on the ground in front of a building that said, “Ron’s Plumbing” above the entrance. As we ran, we passed cars that had been vandalized, burned, and abandoned. Some of them had bodies in them. I was used to seeing them. They were everywhere in the abandoned areas outside of the cities, but as my feet smacked against the pavement and my tiring legs were slowly bringing me back once again to reality, I couldn’t help thinking that my dad was one of those bodies now. It was too much, another switch flipped in my mind. I was numb. There were no more feelings. No sadness. No hate. Just numb.
The building my mother was leading us to was the largest in the small town. Most of the windows on the bottom floor had been broken out, but most of them on the upper floors looked in tact. I couldn’t tell what it was, because the entrance was on the front, but there was a door standing ajar on the side facing us. “The door. Run for the door,” my mother pushed out the words between gasps of air. “We can head to the top to find a hiding place and maybe look for help. There’s got to be lots of rooms on the top floors.” she words were coming in shorter spurts now. “We’ve just… got to find one… to hide in… and defend… until it’s safe. Run faster Emmaline!” My mother ordered.
I was steadily getting more and more ahead of her. I don’t know if it was her age, or maybe the trauma of the moment really was affecting her more than she was showing.
We were a block away when they screeched behind us. The sound was something like a human but also a little like a dying animal, or maybe a predator roaring in attack. I had heard it before, from a distance. The creatures sometimes tried to attack our camp, but ours was so well defended that they never made it through the barriers or the lookout posts.
It was something else entirely different when they were that close. I looked over my shoulder. My mother was a good 20 feet behind me now. I forgot my anger. “Run faster mom! Run!” I yelled. There were about 5 of them. They were about two blocks away coming up the street.
Even though I was pouring sweat, the sight of them sent a chill through my entire body. A couple of them were running upright like a human, and the others were running on their hands and feet like an animal. It was unreal though. They were so fast. They leapt over cars as they ran. One of them running on all fours jumped onto the side of a building and for a few moments seemed to defy gravity as it ran or crawled along the wall before jumping back onto the street.
What most astounded me though was their speed. They had to be almost twice as fast as we were. If I wasn’t so detached right now, I probably would have stopped running and just sat down in the street to get the inevitable over with. There was no way we could make it to the building, and even if we did they would be right behind us.
“We can’t make it I screamed!” I could barely scream now, my lungs and legs were on fire. “Yes you can! Run!” She yelled back. Her voice more powerful than ever. So much so in fact, that body obeyed it and I actually ran faster, even though my mind was now yelling at it to stop.
I ran. The door was impossibly far away, but it came closer and closer. I didn’t look back any more. I didn’t scream any more. I just ran, mechanically as though it was the only thing I had ever done, and the only thing I would ever do. I just ran.
When I finally reached the door, I couldn’t believe we had made it. I could still hear the beasts screaming, but they weren’t as close as I expected.
I turned around as I pulled the door open. “We made it!” She wasn’t there. She had stopped half a block away.
“What are you doing!” I yelled with more anger than concern. She turned around and began shooting. Like everything else she did in life, she was extraordinary at it. She hit the first two that were closest with one shot each. The first in the head, and the other in the chest. One of them slammed into a car crushing the rear windshield as it landed, the other rolled along the pavement in a heap.
She turned again. “Get inside and find a hiding place! I’ll be right behind you.” She was calm. She was powerful. In another of those moments that happen in a fraction of time, I thought of how strikingly beautiful she was. Her long black hair was blowing slightly in the breeze. With the shotgun over her shoulder and holding the revolver, she looked like something off of a cover of one of the old movies the camp had.
“Mom!” I yelled again. This time pleading with her. Her response was still militant, but someone held a quality of tenderness, “I’m right behind you, now go! I love you Emmaline. Go!”
She turned, and began to fire once again. As I looked away, I noticed the monster on the ground that she had shot in the chest beginning to move again. I knew that the only way to kill them was to shoot them in the head, or chop off their head, or burn them, or in some other way destroy their effing brain, but seeing it get back up after being shot in the chest with a 45 caliber revolver seemed to me to be more at odds with reality than anything I had ever witnessed before. More hate.
I entered the old office building and heard my mother fire off 3 more rounds, and then I heard another sound. It was the sound of the shotgun. She had used the 6 rounds in the revolver, but the shotgun sounded closer though. She’s going to make it I think.
I looked around the office for a place to hide. In the back there was a doorway with a sign above it showing a picture of stairs on it. The space looked as though it had been frozen in time. I ran to the stairwell and flung the door open. I’m beyond the point of exhaustion, and I honestly don’t think I can keep moving. Somewhere from some unknown source though I find the impossible strength, and I began to climb. Another thunderous echo of the shotgun. Followed by another. Was it closer? I think it was.
Climbing. 2nd flight. It’s so dark. I can barely see. My hands find the rail. There’s a small window on the 2nd floor door. Climbing. Light is gone again. Feel the rail. Shotgun blast. I shudder. climbing. step. step. step. I crash into something. I scream. metal all around me, crashing behind me. Metal, not flesh. climbing. I round the 3rd flight. I don’t know if I can’t see because it’s dark or because I’m losing consciousness. Am I passing out? climbing. Climbing. 4th. 5th. 6th, or was it the 7th. Shotgun blast. She was doing it! Of course she was. I burst through a doorway onto the top floor, whatever that was. I ran to the window. I hadn’t heard the shotgun again. I ran to the window. The ledge blocked my view. Did she make it in?
I began looking around the room. This floor was completely different from the other. The hallway was some kind of shiny stone on the floor, and the doors to the rooms each had gold-colored plates with names on them. I ran to the end of the hallway and turned a corner. There was an even larger door at the end of this hall that was carved and decorated. It looked strong.
I ran to it flung it open and slammed it behind me. I listened. I heard the screeching again. There was another blast. “Yes!” She made it.
Silence… More screeching… Blast! Blast! Howl. …another sound. Was that a scream? Silence. 10 seconds. silence. 20 seconds silence. 30 seconds. more silence. a minute. screech. everything went dark as I let go of reality and sunk into the blackness that was welcoming me.
Thanks again for following the book. My plan is to start offering a companion audiobook version for download also, so if that would interest you let me know.
Also, this is still a new endeavor for me, so I’m learning a few things… haha, a lot of things… as I go. As I said at the beginning of this post, I’m going to be changing to the ‘official’ title next week. In retrospect, I should have started with it, but not much I can do about that now. The artwork is still in progress, but I am confident it will be worth the wait.
Finally, this is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. It’s something I’ve never done before, so I’m still a little apprehensive about whether or not it’s worth the time and effort that goes into these. I put about 5 hours into writing this chapter on Sunday and then finishing the proofing.
Because of all that, you’re feedback means a lot to me! So first of all, thanks to everyone who has been giving it! You Rock! Second, please share it with anyone you think you might like it. Facebook it, tweet it, pin it, take out an ad on the local tv station and advertise it… whatever works for you.
Have a great week – Jeremy
Copyright 2012 Jeremy Binns – All Rights Reserved