CHAPTER 1: Dark days
The world doesn’t end overnight.
Peoria, Illinois. The United States of America.
A sultry woman with jet-black hair and olive skin cocks her head and smiles at the camera. She and her co-anchor are making jovial small talk with each other. They share the same plastic smile but off air they share nothing but contempt for one another. They end their chuckling and stiffen up for the next story. The woman shuffles her papers.
“A woman who had been pronounced dead at her home by a doctor was found to be alive in a hospital morgue when a family friend working for the undertakers saw that she seemed to be breathing. The woman then began moving and attacked a family friend. Witnesses said she was belligerent and unintelligible,” the woman smiled at the camera.
“That is one crazy story, Lorelei. We hope the woman is in better health and out of the morgue,” her smarmy coworker chuckled.
Prisons across Japan have been executing mentally ill inmates, which is a clear violation of U.N. standards for individuals facing the death penalty. Despite numerous accounts documenting the issue, Japan's Justice Ministry official, Akiro Ishi, has denied all accusations.
Prisoners given the death penalty are often kept in solitary confinement, sometimes for decades, and are not told when their sentence is to be carried out until the morning of their execution. This method can lead to "significant mental illness," a London-based human rights group reported.
The group created major headline news but was unable to gain any ground on the situation. They, along with U.N. officials, were denied access to any prisoners on death row. Japanese officials were quoted as saying, “…a death sentence means death…mental illness is not a reprieve from punishment.”
What the report and subsequent articles failed to mention was that moments after execution the bodies of the executed returned to life. The families of the executed have yet to bury their dead.
Sean Ferral, a British Journalist was reporting on the aftermath of a NATO air strike when he and his interpreter were abducted. Seventy people died as a result of the air strike, many of which reanimated sometime after, though that information was never made public. Special Forces raided the bunker in which Ferral and his interpreter were kept—though neither of them survived the raid. The Ministry of Defense refused to comment.
Lacy, California. The United States of America.
The body of an 8-year-old girl, Sandra Binantu, was found stuffed inside of a suitcase in a pond near her home. Her Sunday school teacher, 28-year-old Melissa Chuckaby, who is also the mother of one of Sandra’s closest playmates, has been accused of her murder. Sandra’s family has been denied access to the body and has been instructed by federal authorities to “not make any funeral arrangements at this time.”
A fatal flash flood roared through the city, at least 30 people have gone missing. In a news conference at Istanbul's Disaster Management Center, Turkey's prime minister, called the floods the "disaster of the century." The prime minister blamed the high death toll on record rainfall and on developers, who have constructed buildings in vulnerable riverbeds and known flood plains. The Disaster Management Center is in the process of searching for the bodies.
Researchers have begun testing the H1N1 vaccine for contaminants after massive reports of side effects, and, in some cases, death. After 19 days, blood samples showed that most participants stayed or became even more susceptible to the virus and in addition had developed long lasting side effects including paralysis, heart palpitations, and even death. Researchers are baffled. The Center for Disease Control has issued a warning against taking the vaccine and is in the process of recalling all H1N1 vaccines. Vaccine related deaths continue to climb.
Across the world, the dead walk.
Many nations of the world have declared martial law, and the United Nations has declared a state of emergency throughout the world.
Many believe it is the end of times.
The incessant beep-beep-beep of the alarm clock jolted Scott from a warm and comfortable nook he managed to squirm into during the night. He lie nuzzled up with his wife and their cat, of which he calls Steamer, but Judy, his wife, calls Mister Butters, as it was the only name they could both agree upon. Scott, however, continued to call him Steamer, and on special occasions he’s been given the moniker of Captain Stank-Puss. Scott begrudgingly shoved himself out of bed, rubbing the glasslike crust from the corner of his eyes and straightening out his shorts which somehow managed to nearly twist around his lower half. He blindly fingered at the off switch and eventually found it, putting an end to the beep-beep-beep machine till it would go off again tomorrow morning and the two of them would once again square off like a couple of gunslingers in the old west. Steamer stretched slowly at the corner of the bed, eyeing up Scott as he pulled a plain white T-shirt over his head and exited the room. Once Scott was out of sight, Steamer laid down in the empty warm nook next to Judy and closed his eyes.
Scott walked into the kitchen and turned on the laptop computer that sat on top of a heap of business papers that neither he nor Judy could force themselves to do last night. Among them were three obituaries that needed to be sent to the local newspapers by 11:00 am today, concerning the three houseguests they have on tables downstairs in the basement. He walked over to the pantry and grabbed a coffee filter while trying to decide what flavor and of which brand he felt like having. After little debate he grabbed the half-empty pouch of New England’s Eye-Opener Blend, and began heaping spoonfuls into the filter. By the time it began brewing he was already opening up his web browser to read the morning news. He wasn’t surprised at the headline, but scoffed regardless. THE DEAD RISE, in big bold capital letters. For days there had been random reports and articles popping up in print, online, radio, and even television in regards to eye witness accounts of the dead returning to life. Scott dealt with death on a daily basis. He was born into a business of death, and if anyone knew anything about the dead it was him. And he had yet to see one get up and walk out of his home.
He was convinced it was the major media outlets’ way of cashing in on the popularity of zombie movies in the last few months. It seemed like a new one hit movie screens once a month, and Scott didn’t see the appeal—they weren’t the slightest bit realistic. A dead body almost immediately begins to enter into rigor mortis, which would make walking, let alone running nearly impossible. He found the entire idea laughable, yet there it was in big bold capital letters which meant it had to be true.
He read past the title, just out of curiosity, looking at the images, and the links to video clips. After reading the article he came to the conclusion that he found it interesting, and very entertaining. He wanted more. Scott loved a good read. He had a whole room dedicated to reading—it was full of books. Many of them were instructional and pertaining to his craft, but many more were science fiction, fantasy, and even a few horror books. Though if you were to ask him if he read horror books he would tell you no.
Below the article were links to similar stories. He clicked on the next one. He could hear the coffee maker hissing to a finish, and turned just in time to see the green light go on. He fetched a cup from the cupboard, the cup read I like it hot. He filled it to the brim and drank it black and bitter, returning to his laptop. He read the next article, and then the next one after that. He visited other sites, and eventually turned on the television—the news of the dead not dying was everywhere. He fetched another cup of coffee and sipped it as he stared blankly at the television. He was almost convinced the dead really were upright and mobile again.
Judy stumbled downstairs, scratching just below the waistline of her silky black shorts with Mister Butters following just behind her. She filled up a cup of her own and walked around to Scott’s backside. She patted her wild hair down, trying to tame it and look appealing. She hoped that maybe they could get a quick morning screw in before the day swept them away and left them too tired to do anything but sleep when it was over. She leaned over and was about to kiss his neck when she noticed the television. She sat next to him with the same blank expression. The two skeptics sat there trying to decipher if the news was real or not. And if it’s on the television, it had to be real, but it couldn’t be.
They polished off the pot of coffee while they watched the presidential address from an undisclosed location. The president read his notes calmly, as if he’d been practicing for days but had a subtle expression of hidden horror, which could only ever be conveyed by the best of actors or the truest of reactions.
They stared at the television, as if in a trance, then a noise came from downstairs. They turned to each other, the trance broken, fearful yet disbelieving as they stood up. What was downstairs would surely be the deciding factor between fact and fiction.
Leaving their empty cups behind, they headed downstairs. They passed the two large visitation rooms and the formal office for bereaved customer consultations. They passed a closet where they kept the embalming chemicals, and then stood quietly at the next door. They listened for a moment. Hearing nothing Scott opened the door, turned on the light and led the way downstairs.
The area was bright and open, two stainless steel tables stood at the center of the room, surrounded by cabinetry full of chemicals and equipment used to prepare the bodies of the dead for their eternal rest. They didn’t have a crematorium on the premises but Scott was hopeful that in the next three years they’d be able to afford one and the accompanying expansion to house it. To the right of the tables was a walk in refrigerator where the bodies of the dead were stored. It was closed, and that’s exactly how they both remembered leaving it.
As they stepped closer they could hear a thumping noise. It was a gentle noise, but one that began to repeat itself. As they stepped closer it became more erratic and forceful.
Scott paused, looking back to the steps, but since Judy stepped forward he had to as well. They now stood at the door, ready to open it. Scott stood near the lip of the door with his heart beating wildly and his mind filling with childlike wonder. Judy held the handle and readied herself to open it. Scott gave her the nod to open it, and she did.
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