Chapter 1 - Somewhere in Texas… The fort…
1. Terror in the Darkness
The hallway was barely illuminated by the blue light shimmering up the stairs from the TV in the living room. The light flickered along the walls and ceiling, providing just enough light to make out her path.
Groggily, Jenni walked toward her youngest son's bedroom, which was located near the top of the stairs. She shoved her long dark hair out of her face and glanced down the staircase. Through the railing slats, she could see her husband, Lloyd, in the living room, where he spent most of his time at home staring at a plasma-screen TV. She could just make out the black silhouette of his head against the brightly-lit screen.
Warily, wanting to avoid alerting him to her presence, she hurried into Benji's room.
The Mickey Mouse night-light illuminated the room just enough for her to make out the form of her sleeping three-year old son. Resting in his racing car-shaped bed, his little hand was thrown over his dark blond curls, his lips parted as he softly snored. Smiling, Jenni knelt down and tucked in his Winnie the Pooh blankets around his body. He was just recovering from a cold. She wanted to make sure he didn't get chilled. Her fingers gently caressed his soft, full cheek then smoothed his curls back from his face. He resembled his father in coloring and facial features. She prayed every day that he did not have his father's violent temper or cruel streak. She wanted him to grow up and be a good, strong man who would love his family and protect them: not brutalize them and make them fear him.
A noise from downstairs startled her. She tensed, waiting for the sounds of Lloyd's footsteps on the stairs. Instead, only the distant hum of voices on the TV wafted up to the room.
Lloyd hated for her to “coddle” the boys. He grew annoyed with her checking on them at night and accused her of spying on his late night habits downstairs. Frankly, she preferred it when he remained down there watching his p**n , calling his girlfriends, and leaving her to sleep alone in their bed.
“I want you to not be like him,” she whispered to Benji as he slept.
“Don't be like him.”
She kissed Benji's forehead and breathed in his sweet baby smell.
She loved him so.
Drawing back, she looked over at the side table. There was an oatmeal cookie still on his plate, but the milk was gone. Both the boys enjoyed a nighttime snack before bed. She didn't see the harm in it.
She used all natural ingredients in the cookies and they were delicious.
Feeling a little hungry, she grabbed up the cookie and began to nibble on it.
Don't grow up to be like him, she wished.
He won't grow up, a voice answered her.
She frowned as she chewed the cookie. That was a horrible thought to think.
He doesn't live past tonight. You know that. Remember? “No,” Jenni whispered, pressing her hand to her forehead. “No.”
She didn't want to remember.
Images flashed in her mind: bloody, chaotic, and terrible.
“No,” she moaned. She closed her eyes and she stuffed the cookie in her mouth and chewed vigorously. It had lost all its flavor and gave her no comfort.
“What the hell are you doing?”
Lloyd's sharp voice startled her.
She looked up at him, trying to chew the cookie fast and swallow before he could see she was eating outside of the strictly-regimented diet he had created to keep her thin and beautiful.
“What the hell are you eating?” Lloyd's voice was terrible and his darkened form in the doorway terrified her.
She finished chewing and swallowed hard. “Nothing…I-”
“What did you do to Benji? Oh, God, Jenni, what the hell is wrong with you?”
Jenni looked toward her son to see his tender belly torn out and his intestines strung across the bed. One of her hands clutched the flesh tightly. Slowly, she raised her other hand to her mouth and felt that her lips were slick with blood.
“Jenni, what did you do?”
She began to scream…
Jenni woke and sat up sharply. Her heart thundered in her chest. In the dim light leaking in around the edges of the makeshift tent she shared with Juan, she could see that her hands were not covered in blood. Pressing her fingertips to her lips, she felt their soft, dry fullness and sighed with relief. Laying her forehead against her drawn up knees, she took deep breaths and tried to calm her wildly beating heart.
Juan's hand gently touched her back then withdrew. Jenni knew he was used to her nightmares and knew not to coddle her. She didn't want to be touched or calmed down after the nightmares. It often took her several minutes to gain full control of her senses and convince herself she was truly safe and far away from her dead family.
The blue tarp that made up the tiny tent rippled around her in the night breeze. A light from outside peeked through a tear in the top of the tent and cast a soft beam across her hands. They were clean.
There was no blood on them. All around her, outside the tent, she could hear people softly talking, snoring, coughing, and sneezing, as they, too, dealt with the night terrors that came with sleeping and dreaming.
Shoving her thick black hair back from her face, she took another deep breath. She slowly accepted the moment as her reality. Why her brain tried to convince her that she had not escaped the morning the dead took over she could not fathom. It was Lloyd who had taken Benji's tender flesh. It was Lloyd who had become one of the undead and destroyed their family and home forever. None of it had been her doing. She had barely escaped the house. Had it not been for Katie saving her, she probably would have joined the ranks of the zombie hordes. Katie had heard her screaming and driven up in that battered white truck to rescue her. Together they had escaped into the Texas Hill Country and found safety with a group of survivors holed up in a construction site in a small town.