“Fine, I’m up, you cocka-doodle-douchebag,” he says as he rubs the ‘tired’ from his eyes, “how’d I even end up on this God forsaken farm?” He stares at the ceiling of the single room while the ever punctual rooster does his daily routine from out behind the century old farmhouse. He was fully aware of why he was there, and of what he did to get himself there, he just wasn’t willing to admit it to himself. Nor was he willing to admit anything to some two bit Judge, in some half bit town. So when he got caught stealing horses from local stables, he wouldn’t plea to guilt. He had pleaded innocent, and said it with a sly grin painted all across his face, knowing full well no one within the sound of his voice believed a word he said. His sentence: three years of hard labor on the local prison-farm, owned by the very ‘just’ Judge of Talcum County. And that is how he ended here, on this pre Civil War farm, located about ten miles east of the Mississippi and about five miles from the nearest town.
He laid there in bed for a few minutes, as was his routine, while he waited for the guard to come in barking orders, which was not only the guard’s job, but his particular routine as well. He continued lying there, waiting to hear the horse come to a stop just a few feet outside of the front door, followed by the jingle-jangle of the guards boot spurs as he takes the five long-strided steps across the wooden porch. Then the inevitable swinging open of the door and barking of the previously said orders, getting things started for the day. But, this morning, there was no heavily-panted-neighing from the horse. There was no jingle-jangling. Or any orders. Besides the rooster, there weren’t any noises at all…
He stood up, threw on his raggedy prison numbered overalls and stepped into his boots. Fifteen minutes and no guard? he thinks to himself. He suddenly grew very conscious of a pit developing in his stomach, filling with uneasiness, and without admitting it to himself, filling with fear as well.
He walks over and pushes open the wooden shudders of the window. The slow creaking of the wood made him jump back a bit. He gulped, swallowing the fear back down to that ever expanding pit that was percolating in his stomach. He was scared for some reason, admittingly or not.
Out the window, he sees no other inmates in the field or any horse-backed guards hovering vigilantly over them. The Judges personal carriage was still out front next to the Oak tree. Be it either on the two hour ride to the court house that was clear on the other side of the county, or on the hour long ride to the local Church, the Judge and his carriage were never still there after the rooster had crowed and the inmates corralled. The young, panic stricken inmate had found it even harder to swallow now due to the added angst from the carriages presence.
He walks over and opens the door of his little shack. He sticks his head out, looks around and decides to step out. The sight of his lone shadow stretching across the porch without an adjacent shadow from a guard made the hairs stand up on the back of his neck. No inmate was ever on his own in this place, never. He looks down at his arm and notices goosebumps forming. As he feverishly tries rubbing them away he thinks to himself Goosebumps? Nah. He won’t admit to that either. Suddenly, from just behind the barn, he hears the galloping of a horse. He was relieved to hear the thundering hooves as they were getting closer and closer. He was relieved to hear anything at this point. But the sound also reminded him of what would happen if he was caught outside alone and unattended. So he turned around and hussled back inside, closing the door behind him.
Because of his back being turned, he didn’t notice the horse as it rounded the corner, with the lone stump of a foot, dangling from the stirrup. With the door being shut, he also doesn’t notice the chunks of flesh that look to have been bitten away from the horse’s hind quarters. And now, back inside of the single-inmate unit, he doesn’t notice as the horse collapses in the tall grass, just beyond the Oak tree. As the horse lies there, attempting in futility to grasp for air, the young prisoner who is now standing at full attention in the center of his dingy little room, also doesn’t notice that this horse has had its throat eaten away by what looks like human teeth.
He stood there panting; his heart was pounding in his ear and drowning out all other noises. But, surely, he thought, outside of the window is the horse, and any second ol’ jingle-jangle will burst through the door and spew forth the day’s list of work. Surely, he thought. Any second now.
His heart beat has slowed and his breathing is back to normal. Now, he’s all too aware of the absence of the galloping, returning things back to a state of utter silence. “Just what the hell is going on here?” The resounding silence offers no answer. From where he’s standing he can see out of the still opened window.
“Nothing.” he says in an attempt for his mouth to reaffirm his minds initial observation. He’s standing on the balls of his feet, leaning one side to the other, and craning his neck trying for a full view.
“Nothing? How the hell can there be nothing? There are seven guards and nineteen other prisoners that live on these grounds. Not to mention the occasional day worker who wanders in from back East in hopes of earning a day or two worth of wages. But, now there’s nothing; not a god… damned… thing…” He stood there having a full on conversation with himself just to fill the empty air.
“Where’d that god damn horse go…” he asks as he still cranes his neck and rocks back and forth on the tips of his toes.
“Ey there, Rooster, you still there?” he nervously asks. He tries to swallow but his mouth is dry, and hot. His tongue sticks to the back of his teeth. He tries again to swallow down that murky, pestering fear, but his throat being just as dry causes him to cough, and violently. Every cough forces out what feels like fire, which makes him only cough harder, and louder.
The loud hacking coughs are echoing on the inside of the tiny shack, and amplifying on the outside, nabbing some unwanted attention. As he is bent over desperately trying to regain control of his breathing, he doesn’t hear the low, rustling sounds of slow moving footsteps just outside of his window. He uses the back of his grimy hands to wipe away moisture that has accumulated around his eyes. Tears? Ah, bullshit.
Drawing in long, thought out breaths, he steadies himself. Lungs are still burning, eyes are still watering, but he dries his hands on his dusty pant leg and stands back up. As he does he hears a single step on the wooden porch, with its single jingle. He tries to regain his composure as best he can while in anticipation of the second step, with its accompanying jangle. This young inmate, who grew up rebelling against any and all authority, is now waiting for any kind of ‘badge’ to come bursting through the door. As he gives himself a quick once over of his appearance, he hears the second boot. But it’s not the routine step, followed by its jangle. This second step dragggs itself along the wood. The jangling spur hopping and skipping across the wooden planks as it sticks and unsticks itself. He looks down at the tiny crack of light pouring in from below the door and waits. Any second now, he thinks. Any second now.
***This is the beginning chapter of a Historical-Zombie Novel, featuring an antagonistic protagonist who encounters famed war heroes, turned either zombie-hunter or zombie, on his path to survival in a time when his nation is struggling to do the same.***