Welcome to part fourteen of the current long story cycle (Cracked Windows). The links will be laid out in sections to cut down the total number we see on each post. You will be able to follow from week to week as needed when new sections appear.
Cold Death Approaches
His lungs crackled in the growing cold. Wracked with a coughing fit that stopped him a short distance from the stairwell, something scraped the floor behind him. A long scratch against pavement, not quite the whine of fingernails against a black board. The pulse of it crushed his ear drums. Jerome’s breath billowed out in an increasing cloud of frozen moisture.
He didn’t turn around to watch for its approach. His focus remained on the stairs ahead, though he had frozen in place. His thoughts screamed in an echo to run, but he had forgotten, had lost the will to move his legs forward. A heavy weight pressed against his side. His neighbor hadn’t taken the pistol from him.
Jerome wrapped his hand around the grip, a reassurance, though his doubts flooded to the surface of his thoughts. He knew this was a losing battle, but grew determined to make a mark against his impending doom. He turned to face the beast, as he drew the pistol and pointed it into the darkness.
The red eyes that still haunted him from his youth hovered further into the darkened basement. Their intensity grew as their source shambled closer to him.
His trigger finger had gone stiff with the cold. Jerome couldn’t pull it back. He wasn’t even sure that he had held his finger against the trigger. Conscious thought told him what needed to be done but he had forgotten how to make his finger respond.
The neighbor, the man that had carried him to the basement had positioned himself between the glowing eyes and Jerome’s pistol. A chill had ripped through Jerome’s body as sweat beaded along his forehead. So very cold, yet his body still responded to stress the way it always had. Frozen in fear and desperation.
The basement lit up as he found the strength to pull the trigger. The Remington belched fire at his neighbor. Jerome’s ears screamed shut in the fury he had unleashed. He watched in stunned silence as a welter of blood formed on the man’s neck. It was the noise of the blast, the sight of the wound, the realization that he could do something, anything, to free himself from the situation that brought him back. Jerome wasted no time watching the man fall. He raced up the stairs without looking back.
He had released the last of his blind fear at the top of the stairs. The bottles he had brought with him lay on the floor where he had fallen. Gas from most of them had spilled and soaked into the carpet. No longer drenched with the liquid, a dampness and the smell of fuel remained, waiting for a spark of hope. He found enough of the liquid in the bottles to fill a single one. A chance to end this here and now.
Rhythmic thumps of footfalls echoed in the stairwell. At least one of the creatures continued the pursuit. Jerome gripped the bottle in one hand as he searched his pockets for his lighter.
It had taken several flicks to get a flame and then ignite the scrap of cloth hanging from the bottle. As the flame grew the thing had reached the top of the stairs. She still wore the dress from her funeral, black cotton with purple and pink daisies. The memories rushed back again.
The woman’s flesh where it still clung to her bones had grown limp and white, the color of picked bones. Her eyes had rotted away, except the red dots of hate that filled the sockets now. Her jaw snapped open and closed as she shambled toward him.
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