Virgina horror story of two young girls facing reality that the monster outside may, or may not, be their father. Written by Kyle Moore.
“Do you remember when we used to play monster?”
Elizabeth looked over at her sister. The words pierced the thick dusky air, cutting through the oppressive humidity and curling shadows. Outside the last rays of a bloated, blood-colored sun scraped along the dust coated windows and seeped through the walls, promising a few more moments of baking heat before nestling beneath the horizon.
Most of the girl’s brown hair was tied up in a pony tail. Those strands that managed to break free of the hair tie were pasted to her head by sweat. Elizabeth remembered there was a time when it was said that Southern women don’t sweat, they glisten. So much for that. Cassie’s once light tan top was streaked with deep, dark streaks of gray-brown, and her faded black jeans blossomed with faint tell-tale plumes of dried salt.
Cassie’s eyes looked straight ahead, ignoring Elizabeth as she pulled her knees up to her chest and rested her chin on them. “Do you?” she prodded.
Elizabeth slid down beside her sister, paying little mind to a floor caked in dust and speckled in rat droppings. “Yeah,” she said. “I do.”
Cassie turned to look at her, her already light brown eyes catching the last slivers of a dying sun so they blazed a brilliant gold. She smiled, and Elizabeth knew it was not a happy one. “Me too,” she mumbled.
Elizabeth wondered just how far back Cassie remembered.
Elizabeth bowed her head, her eyes staring at her own scuffed and worn jeans without really seeing them. She was instead letting herself get lost in those early days when everything was so soft and pink and filled with warmth and love.
Their father had always been a goofy man with a pot belly and the complexion of someone who avoided the sun at all costs. He was the kind of man who wasn’t so much a man as a boy whose body kept growing long after the soul stamped its foot down and halted all progress on principle. This is perhaps why Elizabeth and her sister connected so easily with him. He could be stern at times—he would yell at them, and even spank on rare occasions. But more often than not all he seemed to really want to do was play with that same reckless abandon that was the proprietary domain of youth.
Elizabeth could even see him now, with half the blankets and sheets in the house draped over him, hanging down in swaying tatters as he lurched after them. He would growl dramatically and when he saw either of them, he would stomp and howl before charging, his heavy footfalls thudding throughout their house.
The memories of giggles filled Elizabeth’s ears as she remembered fleeing in mock terror from the blanket covered monster.
Cassie was always the smart one. She would try to make deals with the monster, giving up her sister’s hiding spot in lieu of becoming the monster’s sidekick. Their father would accept of course, and find Elizabeth who, back then, fell for Cassie’s gambit every single time.
He would tickle her until she couldn’t breathe, and, for fun, tickle her even more. Inevitably, when Elizabeth felt as though her lungs were on the verge of exploding, the monster would turn on Cassie, and surprise her by breaking their deal and tickling her until her sharp, high-pitched, screams filled the house and threatened to shatter the windows.
This would eventually lead to the two sisters teaming up and finding some way to beat the monster, usually by hitting it really hard with pillows.
“Remember the pillows?” Elizabeth finally said.
Her sister chuckled softly in reply. “He would get so… dramatic.”
This was true. He would scream and moan, those blankets whipping back and forth with each blow. After a few hits, one of the sisters would finally land the death-blow. Their father would howl in pain as he staggered, the blankets trembling with each over-acted movement until he collapsed on the floor.
“I remember the first time he did that, you thought you really killed him,” Elizabeth smirked.
“I did not!” Cassie spat back defensively.
Elizabeth shifted her gaze back towards her sister. She was so pretty, even with the filthy clothes and the moist sweat that cut through layers of grime. Cassie had her father’s eyes, warm and intelligent, but unlike their dad she was rail thin and olive-skinned. Elizabeth glanced at her own arms and recognized her father’s pale complexion.
“You even said it. ‘I killed him! I killed him!’ You ran through the house screaming that,” Elizabeth teased her.
Cassie scowled at her before looking away. Behind them, through the wall, there was a soft thud. Elizabeth stared intently at her sister, who made a point of not returning her gaze.
“I wasn’t talking about that anyway,” Cassie said. There was something shaky in her voice, and Elizabeth, feeling the tug of an older sister’s duties, felt the need to hug her. But no. Not now.
“Okay, so what did you mean?”
“I meant later.” Cassie looked back at Elizabeth. Elizabeth pretended not to notice the red rims around the younger girl’s eyes, or the glistening smears down her cheeks.
“You mean all those times at the park?”
Cassie nodded, and new, different memories engulfed Elizabeth. She smiled warmly. “He’s coming to get you Barbara,” she said in a low, sing-song voice.
Cassie snorted before responding in a high-pitched squeak, “Who’s Barbara?”
At this both sisters laughed. It was that special laugh, earnest and familiar, the stuff of shared inside jokes that have eased themselves into a warm, gold-tinted past. It was such an absurd memory, but one that, even now, had her in tears. And she was almost positive that these tears, at least, were tears of laughter.
Elizabeth never forgot that day. As with most, much of her childhood succumbed to the fog of an imperfect memory, but some memories, those formative moments, are crystallized, preserved in amber until deep into old age. This was one of those moments.
It happened in October. Thinking back, Elizabeth realized that was the year (she was, what? Ten? Yes, she was ten that year) when playing monster changed forever.
It was an abnormally hot autumn, even for southern Virginia which didn’t get good and cold until December. Their father, who normally preferred to spend the warmer months cowering inside with a well maintained air conditioner, had opted for a rare expedition to the great outdoors. In this case the great outdoors meant the playground half a block away from their house.
As Elizabeth sat on the dusty floor with her back against the wall, she could smell the smokey air of her childhood. North Carolina was on fire at the time, and a campfire aroma filled the atmosphere and turned the afternoon sun into an angry blood orange.
She remembered running around in the playground, her hands sticky from the popsicles their father gave the girls. She remembered Cassie, her normally chestnut hair ablaze in yellows and oranges in the strange smokey sunlight.
Elizabeth remembered her sister calling out, “Daddy! Let’s play monster!”
He had been sitting on the bench up until that point, an odd, soft smile on his lips as he watched the girls run around the brightly colored play-sets. At Cassie’s invitation, that smile widened, and he slowly pushed himself up to his feet.
Elizabeth had watched her father from the swings. When he stood the sun was behind him, turning him into a tall, black figure outlined in red-orange fire. He took one shambling step, and then another. The movement was out-of-place and jerky, somehow rendered in stop-motion animation. His form would lurch to life with a sudden jolt before hanging in time, slowed as though his muscles were confused, before crashing forward, each step looking as though it would end in disaster.
He had taken three or four steps before his voice came smooth and low, the words dancing in a haunting lilt. “He’s coming to get you Barbara.”
Elizabeth had stopped swinging. She was ten, a big girl by all accounts, and completely beyond being afraid of monsters. And yet, this transformation drilled deep into her center, curled up and turned into a tight little ball that felt like a scream trapped in her lungs. On that blank black canvas where her father’s face should have been, her mind etched the most horrific of details—jagged wounds weeping blood and gore, eyes covered in milky cataracts and swiveling insanely in their sockets, teeth crooked, yellowed, and pitted with time and decay.
She remembered wanting to scream, to run, and yet frozen, trapped in the hazy autumnal air like an insect that drank too long from the sap of a tree before becoming forever its prisoner. And then she heard it, a small voice, like a bell, the tone clear and yet confused.
“Who’s Barbara?” came Cassie’s eight-year-old voice.
The spell wasn’t broken so much as shattered. Their father’s lurching steps had stopped abruptly, and as he turned. Elizabeth could, again, make out his features, etched now in the sunlight. It was just their dad, chubby pink cheeks and a smile full of mischief that had been bended into a look of bemusement.
“’Night of the Living Dead?’” he asked hopefully as he looked first to Cassie and then to Elizabeth. He was met with young, innocent, but most importantly, blank faces. “No, I guess not,” he had concluded. “You’re mother would probably kill me, wouldn’t she?”
The memory faded away, and Elizabeth looked over to her sister. Her small and once delicate fingers grazed against black metal and ancient wood grain, her eyes staring at the object at her fingertips almost in a trance, but Elizabeth willed herself not to focus on it. Not to look upon it, even as the faint whispering sound of shuffling feet seeped through the locked door between them.
“The game changed after that, you know,” Cassie said without looking up. Her voice had a lazy, dream-like quality to it. It was the voice of a daydreamer stuck in class at two-thirty in the afternoon on a fine spring day.
“Yeah,” Elizabeth nodded. Her eyes drifted over to the dust coated window and the bloated red sun diving towards the horizon. “But that was just dad, you know? He was always into that kind of thing. I think… he felt it was kind of like his job. Get us into the scary stuff while we were young.”
“Guess so,” Cassie mumbled. Her fingertips kept skating over the cold black metal surface, back and forth. “He took the game serious enough didn’t he?”
“Yeah,” Elizabeth scoffed and nodded. She had become aware of a similar weight, pressed against her on the ground. Wood grain. Black metal. It spoke of a future that was coming too fast, and she violently pushed it out of her consciousness in favor of a past she still wished she inhabited. “I think he was having a lot of fun, but…”
Playing monster had become a special game for the two daughters and their father. And for his part, Elizabeth’s dad seemed to be trying to earn himself a spot as a zombie in a movie or TV show.
Back when they were just playing tickle-monster in their bedroom, their dad played up the growling and stomping about. It was almost a cartoon sketch of what a monster should be. But since the day he quoted the line from “Night of the Living Dead,” their father went for realism.
Whenever they went to play monster, their dad would start by letting his eyes go dead, staring emptily ahead and never centering on any one girl. His jaw would hang open; on some occasions he would even allow a rivulet of drool to slowly snake its way from his lips, finally coming to rest on his shirt in a dark, blossoming pool. Exaggerated stomping turned first into a limp and then into a subtle but effective shuffle. But the moans were the worst.
Their father worked his way up when it came to the moans. At first it would sound like he was clearing his throat, even coughing here and there (even now Elizabeth suspected the coughs were more a result of years of smoking and not part of the act). But eventually the strange noises that came from their father’s throat evolved, first into soft, low mewling before working their way up to slow, reverberating moans that ended in the most terrible rattle.
That was the thing about the moaning; it was believable. Elizabeth never admitted it, but she had had nightmares about those moans and the far away, dead look in her father’s eyes. As her father slouched around the playground, it was hard not to think that he really was the walking dead.
This would all eventually lead to the crescendo. The moans would again shift into growls that in turn shifted into speech. More specifically one word.
“Braaaaaaiiins,” Elizabeth caught herself saying in the dying light. For the first time in a while Cassie looked up at her, her eyes filled with anger and fear and accusation. “Sorry,” Elizabeth whispered.
The silence that passed between the two sisters was thick and ugly, filled by a black Armageddon of horrible memories. It was the kind of silence in which grudges festered and flourished, but Cassie’s look of anger cracked into a morose smile. “I get it,” she said. “He was…”
Her voice trailed off, unable to find words that could mesh with the strange emotions inside of her. Elizabeth could relate; that had been her life for the last year. She had gotten used to the feeling of being off balance—of normal causal emotional relationships being obliterated, turned into a rotting corpse parody of what she was used to.
“Do you think he took it too far?” Elizabeth finally asked, the question serving as an awkward kind of truce. “I mean…”
Cassie shrugged. “It’s how he was. I think, if things were… you know… normal. I don’t know. I think he wanted to make sure that when we grew up, he had someone who understood him—liked the same things.”
Elizabeth chewed on this for a minute. Outside the fat red sun finally kissed the horizon and lazy sunbeams filled with floating dust like glitter stabbed through the room.
Over time, whenever they played monster, the game kept changing. It had changed to the point where instead of tickling, when their dad caught either one of them, he would start gnawing at their scalp as moans of ecstasy rattled and hummed in his throat.
She had seen it on a number of occasions; Cassie always ended up getting caught eventually. At once, getting caught by the monster was hilarious and terrifying. The way their dad was so adept at letting his eyes fall dead, glassy, like those of a doll, and the way he could lifelessly open and close his mouth over Cassie’s skull—it was all so dreadful and uncanny, like watching someone get mauled by a marionette. And yet, it was still their dad—pudgy, with a face infused with good cheer. Elizabeth would sooner find herself more afraid of her own teddy bear than her dad.
Still, as the dusky light cast the room in a yellow-orange glow, Elizabeth found herself lost in the last time she remembered playing monster with her dad.
It was early winter in Virginia. The leaves had long since been shed by trees, leaving behind ashen husks that clawed at the skies with bare limbs like the bony fingers of skeletons. The grass crunched underfoot, frozen by the chill of the night before, and everyone’s breath hung in the air, thick and other worldly like phantoms before evaporating like fleeting memories.
They had gone to the park, so of course they were going to play monster.
No one else was at the park at the time, just the three of them, the sisters running around like lunatics among the swings and slides and the weird little things attached to springs that you rode like horses. Their father had started off this expedition to the park like he did most expeditions—sitting on the bench and watching the girls with soft, warm, amusement.
Elizabeth couldn’t remember who made the suggestion. In the years leading up to that day, both sisters had taken turns dragging their dad into a game of monster. All Elizabeth remembered was that not long after showing up to the park, they were running from the shambling man and his litany of low moans that vibrated along the soul, slowly biting into it like a rusty saw.
Cassie was the first girl caught. Their dad made a great show of dragging her down to the ground and “eating her brain,” before letting her go and wandering around the playground stupidly looking for his next meal
Elizabeth, who was usually pretty good at avoiding their dad, also got caught once. She remembered the feel of the mulch digging into her exposed flesh as he held her down and opened and closed his mouth against her skull. He cheerfully moaned, “BRAAAAAAAIIIINS!” until Cassie beat him off and Elizabeth could make her escape.
And then they were both fleeing, running from the ambling figure of their father, bundled up in old jackets and scarves, looking as much like a walking corpse as ever.
Elizabeth remember running onto the main play-set. It was large and colored a bright red, with several ways to climb onto it. Cassie was right behind her as their father was last seen by the swings. He was moaning and flailing so badly that one of his arms got tangled in one of the swings, allowing the girls a convenient escape.
The crisp air was filled with their giggles and gasps as they scampered up the opposite ladder, and tried to decide as a team what was the best part of the play-set to retreat to when Elizabeth let her eyes drift over to the swings again.
“Where’d he go?” she asked.
Cassie went from a crouch to full erect, her head swiveling as much as it could on her slender shoulders. When Cassie’s large brown eyes finally settled back on her sister, Elizabeth saw terror bubbling up in her little sister’s face.
Both girls ran from one end of the playground set to another. They didn’t dare call out, a terror that went unnamed clutching at both of their hearts. Elizabeth found herself torn between two completely different species of horror. On one hand, there was the sense of abandonment, the idea that they were now alone, and if anyone wanted to they could come along and pluck them from existence, and do with them whatever their dark, twisted imaginations could concoct. But there was a darker fear there, thicker, a kind of sediment of terror that drifted down to the very bottom.
Here, Elizabeth felt something irrational, impossible. She was overcome by the idea that their father was still there, but no longer—her father. Elizabeth’s lizard brain started to hum at his absence. Her eyes scanned the park. In her imagination, she could see her father lurking behind every tree and under every picnic table, only it wasn’t really him. His skin was now ashen gray, even green in some places, and his eyes; in the darkest corner of her imagination, Elizabeth pictured her father with shriveled eyes, white-green raisins sunk deep into his eye socket. That was if he had eyes at all. More likely she would just see hollow, blind pits lined with chunks of red and black meat that glistened in the dull overcast daylight. Elizabeth imagined yellowed fingernails and tattered clothes that were stained with sweat and blood and time.
Both girls stood on the play-set for a long time before either of them spoke. “Liz! Where is he?” Cassie asked.
“I don’t know,” Elizabeth had hissed.
“What are we going to do?”
Cassie looked up at her. Years later, Elizabeth would come to call that the “little sister” look. In her own head, Elizabeth took it to mean, “Okay Liz, you better come up with a better idea before I do something stupid, and I mean now.”
Elizabeth had just shrugged.
It was Cassie that made the first move. Back then, Elizabeth had been momentarily frozen in shock, but now, over ten years later, Elizabeth had gotten used to it. Cassie fed on instinct and impulse, and maybe that is what kept her alive as much as Elizabeth’s reliance on deliberation and caution.
Cassie grabbed Elizabeth’s hand and dragged her to one end of the play-set where, eventually, the two sisters decided to go down the big slide at the end and wait at the picnic bench until their father showed up again. Elizabeth couldn’t remember the logic behind this course of action—only that at the time it made perfect sense.
And so the two girls, one twelve, one ten (and a half thank you very much) crept along the reinforced brightly colored plastic to the spiral slide. The arch that stood guard over the yellow plastic that wound its way to the ground stood tall and aloof over the two girls. They looked at each other nervously under its indiscriminate blue glare, each girl daring the other to go first.
After much silent negotiation, most of which came in the form of threatening glares, Cassie agreed to go first, but only if she got to sit in Elizabeth’s lap as they went through. As such, Elizabeth sat down first under the royal blue arch. She tried desperately not to think about how the strange acoustics of the slide made her breath sound harsh—too loud—an ever-present reminder of her life and how fragile it was.
Once Cassie seated herself in Elizabeth’s lap, the harsh sound of their reverberating breaths became worse, almost an insanity, like a hive of bees sent spinning around their heads, threatening to sting over and over again until their bodies swelled with hot, searing, pain, promising only misery until death finally came with its hollow promises of release.
Elizabeth forced her arms to push off, to push them down the winding, slithery, yellow slide—towards the future that awaited them whether they were ready or not.
They flew. Elizabeth remembered feeling the wind on her face and the way the trees blurred around her as she and her sister wound their way down the slide. For a moment, the phantom of their father, the monster, was erased from their memory, and there was only the rush. Elizabeth and Cassie both whooped and cried, the exhilaration of speed had manifest in a buzz of pure joy and thrill. The world turned into a blur as the tan-bark of the playground became a reddish-brown haze while the yellow plastic slide promised more thrills ahead.
But a roar filled with hate and vengeance cracked the sky and sliced its way into Elizabeth’s heart. The world around her froze, and she realized that she had pushed her hands and feet against the edges of the slide without knowing it.
Cassie turned around and flashed Elizabeth with the biggest, most panicked, brown eyes she had ever seen. Despite everything that had happened since, Elizabeth still remembered those eyes.
Everything was as though it were encapsulated in ice. Every tree branch, every picnic table, every park bench, to Elizabeth, seemed encased in white and blue cages of timelessness. The snack bar, steel shuttered and desolate, appeared like a relic from a lost age, unintelligible to most.
And then there was a hand. It was pale, with pink blotches, and it snapped above the rim of the spiral slide. Both girls screamed, and the hand crashed down upon them.
They scrambled and tried to claw their way back up the slide, but on the left edge another giant hand shot up, each finger cocked and hungry, before it too crashed down, seeking their bones, their flesh, trying to tear them from the land of the living.
When the scrabbling hands found nothing but reinforced plastic, a pained howl erupted from beneath them, and Cassie and Elizabeth both quaked in fear, crying in each others’ arms. Their father, who had been careful in hiding under the slide the whole time, skittered up the slide like a snake, his large pink tongue dangling out of his unhinged mouth and wagging like the tail of a dog. Those dull, lifeless eyes hung to either side as they’re father clawed his way after the girls.
Elizabeth ran, her hand clenched down on Cassie’s hard. She could hear their footsteps banging against the play-set, and under that panicked machine gun rhythm she could hear their father slithering up the slide, awkward elbows and knees banging against the sides and sending hollow thuds reverberating throughout the contraption.
The girls had made it to the other end of the play-set when Elizabeth looked back over her shoulder. Their father’s head was just visible above the slide, his hair a tangled mess, and his dead eyes staring blankly past her. First one hand gripped the blue arch, and then another, and he pulled himself through, collapsing to the floor of the play-set with a heavy clamor. His mouth opened mechanically before he uttered a long, low groan that died in a gravelly growl.
The two sisters screamed again.
Elizabeth’s heart raged against her ribcage as she pushed her sister down the other slide, this one shorter and red. And that was when everything stopped.
Cassie didn’t go down the slide right. Elizabeth, in her terror, had pushed her little sister too hard and half way down, Cassie’s head banged against the slide before her whole body tumbled over itself. The little girl poured off of the slide and spilled onto the tan-bark into a silent crumpled heap.
Elizabeth couldn’t tell how long the silence lasted. Back then it felt like it went far too long. The horror of their little game had quickly been replaced as Cassie remained motionless on the ground. An ugly question bubbled to the surface of Elizabeth’s consciousness then, a question that stung at her eyes and hollowed out her chest.
Is she dead?
The question mark had just finished forming in her head, however, when a piercing scream followed by loud, pain-riddled crying filled the air.
Beneath her feet, the play-set quaked violently, and a new noise assaulted her ears—one crashing boom after another, each one racing closer and closer to her. Elizabeth had just enough time to spin around and see her father, face red, eyes no longer dead but wide with fear, and legs pumping like some frantic engine.
He didn’t even bother with the slide, instead choosing to leap over it and landing on his knees, coming to a skidding halt that exploded in a shower of tan-bark. His body hadn’t even come to a full stop when he was already scooping his big arms under Cassie, and drawing her to his chest.
“Sh-sh-sh-shhhh,” he cooed to her. “Baby, shhh, lemme see. Where does it hurt? Show me where?”
His voice was soft, gentle. Elizabeth may have caught a note of worry, but if she did, her father worked hard to shove it out of the way.
As he held her, she could see he had scraped his arms as he hit the ground. A single small stream of blood trickled from just below his elbow, but he didn’t seem to notice
Cassie had pointed to her forehead, and their father gently pushed her bangs out of the way. “Well,” he said, “you’re in luck.”
“It’s not bad?” her shaky voice asked hopefully.
“No,” he said. “You’re gonna have a healthy knot up there for a few days kiddo.”
“How is that lucky?” she asked, distraught.
Their father smiled warmly, hugged her tightly to his chest, and said, “I don’t eat scrambled brains.”
Elizabeth let the memory drift away into the twilight of the darkening room. That was their dad. Thinking back over all of the memories she had of them, that memory more than any pedestrian words she could imagine described exactly who he was.
Cassie’s voice cut their way through Elizabeth’s thoughts. “What do you think he would make of all of this?”
Elizabeth pondered for a moment. On the other side of the door she could hear more whispered shuffling and even a muffled bang before she filed that away, compartmentalized into the filing cabinet labeled, “Handle Later.”
“Scared like everyone else,” she finally answered. “I mean, everyone’s scared, you know, but…” Elizabeth ended in a shrug.
Cassie grinned. “At least part of him would think it was cool, huh?”
Elizabeth chuckled and nodded. “When he wasn’t scared for his life, yeah, he’d probably take a step back and think it was all kind of cool.”
The sisters fell silent once more, and for a brief, blissful moment, so too did Elizabeth’s brain. No real thoughts, just a small internal sabbatical from a year of terror and misery. Sadly, it couldn’t last, and the “Handle Later” filing cabinet in her mind loomed impatiently before her.
Her eyes drifted to the wood and metal object at her side, and she felt the words slither from her lips, lifeless, unbidden. “Are you ready?”
“No,” Cassie replied. Her voice was small, almost like they were kids again, running from their father as he played monster.
“I don’t think we have a choice,” Elizabeth said, hating the flat, dead tone to her voice. She wanted Cassie to argue, to validate her dissent. She needed her to.
“I know,” Cassie said, and Elizabeth felt herself collapse a little. Somewhere in the previous few fleeting seconds, they had crossed an imaginary threshold. The future, once comfortably some distance away, had somehow turned into the present. “Handle Later” turned into, “Handle Now.”
Elizabeth looked at the shotgun on the floor. She felt numb, like this couldn’t be happening, even as her fingers curled around its considerable heft.
“Do you have the key?” Cassie asked, and her voice sounded almost as dead as Elizabeth felt inside.
“Yeah,” she answered as she pushed herself back onto her feet.
The two sisters stared at the door while Elizabeth slipped her key ring out of her pocket. It slid smoothly into the lock and turned without the slightest of resistance. Her fingers curled around the dingy door knob, and she paused. She didn’t want to turn it. She didn’t want to push the door open and see what she knew was inside.
It wasn’t fair.
But they really didn’t have a choice. It wasn’t right.
A year of horror raced through Elizabeth’s brain. Headlines screamed in bold black and white, proclaiming that the stuff of movies and horror novels had become reality.
There was no origin story. No virus from some deep dark jungle, no super soldier project gone awry, no alien meteorite and no new street drug that carried horrific consequences. It just… happened. One day life was like it always had been, and the next day, people started eating each other.
People that were supposed to be dead instead started walking, decaying on their feet as they lurched after the living. As it turned out, what sealed mankind’s fate was that it all started in the hospitals. All those morgues filled with bodies ready to rise again—an army of the hungry dead risen in buildings filled with the weak and incapacitated to feed on and grow their numbers.
An actual zombie apocalypse. Humanity didn’t have a chance.
Cassie and Elizabeth survived by staying together and staying smart. They avoided the epicenters, avoided the riots and the looting, and took only what they needed and only when they knew the risk was manageable.
And it all culminated in this. In coming home. In finding the thing lurching silently just on the other side of the door.
Elizabeth turned the knob and pushed the door open.
Dim gray shafts of light spilled into the room on the other side, tracing lines over the ambling figure that awaited them. Its gray slacks scraped the floor, and its white button up hung loose over its trousers.
It was facing away from them at first, but the sound of the door creaking open must have grabbed its attention as it slowly started to pivot shakily on one leg. For a moment, as the light from the window caught its face, Elizabeth’s heart began to flutter.
He didn’t look… He looked like their dad. His hair disheveled, his face uncommonly thin, but intact. She recognized those soft eyes and his mouth that seemed to always curl into a smile full of mischief.
In that moment she half expected him to break into a wide grin. “Gotcha, didn’t I?” she could almost hear in the dusty air.
But without a single word he kept turning towards them, turning until the light caught the empty eye socket. He turned until Elizabeth saw the opposite cheek, the flesh ripped free in jagged gouges. His shirt, open, revealed a torso riddled with deep wounds. The flesh looked like it was torn out of him, and on one side the wounds were so bad that something thick and red and hose-like had started to swing free like a lolling tongue.
Revulsion filled Elizabeth as her gaze focused on his right hand. He was holding something, and as his dead eyes glared at them, he mindlessly brought whatever he was holding up to his mouth. A sickening wet squelch assaulted the sisters as his teeth tore into it, and in that instance, Elizabeth knew what must have happened.
Locked in this room after he had turned, their father must have taken to eating chunks of himself.
He chewed with loud, sloppy, wet slaps as he let the chunk of glistening flesh drop to his side. His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he swallowed, and then the quickly darkening air was filled with a low, soft, moaning sound.
Instantly Elizabeth felt hollow, the moan driving her back into her childhood, back to the days when this same figure would play monster, and chase after them with that exact, same, moan.
The shotgun slipped from her numb fingers, dropping only a few inches to the floor and resting against her knee. He’s coming to get us, Barbara,she thought, and knew then and there that she was his. She knew that he would slouch his way towards her, and this time, when he wrapped his hands around her head, she would feel first his lips press into her hair, only he wouldn’t stop there. She would feel his teeth, sharp and hot, cut into the skin. She would feel her skull crush under the power of his jaws, and she would hear the crunch in the strange acoustics of her own head.
Would she feel his teeth bite into her brain? Would she feel herself dying as his fingernails ripped blindly at her face and neck?
In moments she would know the answer to these questions, and maybe that was a good thing. Maybe the nightmare could be over.
The walking corpse that was once their father took one step and then the room exploded.
To Elizabeth’s left, Cassie’s shotgun barked to life. One boom after another erupted into the room as brilliant red clouds exploded from their father. Tears poured down Cassie’s cheeks as she reloaded, pumped the 12-gauge, and blasted the creature again.
Chunks of their father dissolved into red mist, breaking away in clumps like childhood memories until what was left was little more than mangled red pulp that collapsed to the ground.
Elizabeth collapsed with it, falling to her knees, her eyes riveted to the still corpse.
Cassie sniffed. Her spent shotgun clattered to the ground and she collapsed beside her sister, resting her head on Elizabeth’s shoulders.
They looked on in silence for the longest time. The last vestiges of daylight had finally seeped out of the world, and the remains of their father had turned into a cold black pile of shadows in the center of the room.
After a time, Cassie whispered, “Bye dad.”
“We’ll miss you,” Elizabeth added as she held her little sister.
And it was over. The job was done. Cassie wiped her nose with the back of her hand and trembled as she got to her feet. As she picked up her shotgun she chuckled, the sound coming harsh, almost cruel.
“What?” Elizabeth asked.
She was met with a jaded smile. “It was better when he just played monster.”
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