By Frank D. Vincent
Stewart ran. He was sweaty, exhausted and out of breath, but still he ran. Although, to be fair, he wasn't so much running anymore as much as, stumbling forward with the awkward non-grace of a lifetime couch potato. The only reason he wasn't dead yet, was the state of his pursuers. Stewart wheezed and stumbled, his breath coming in ragged gasps. Drool flowed from his mouth, as he had long since lost the energy to breathe with his mouth closed. He was so tired that he just let it flow over his plump lower lip, occasionally taking a ragged gulp that would cause his jowls to quiver. Sweat soaked his blue graphic t-shirt. A horse collar ring of sweat stood out around his neck and the sweat rings under his armpits would shame a snake-handling preacher. But Stewart had reason to run. Reason to move like he had never moved before in his life.
That reason had to do with the three figures behind him. Now these figures are a ways back, maybe a half mile down the road, but our dear friend Stewart has been pursued by them for the greater part of three hours. His jeans are ripped at the knees and a little bloodied by several falls he has taken. His hands sting where he scrapped them on the gravel the last time he fell, when the old one nearly got him. Stewart throws a panicked look over his shoulder to see where his pursuers are. They are far enough away that he feels safe slowing down even further. Stewart's feet slow to a simple, stuttering shuffle-step of exhaustion. His ears pound with his thumping heartbeat and he curses himself for the thousandth time for not having taken proper care of his body. It is sheer dumb luck that he has even made it this far. Stewart casts another look back to gauge his distance from sure death and words form in a back room of his mind. A song heard long ago by the great Johnny Cash springs forward, and Cash's deep voice echoes, "And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts, And I looked and behold: a pale horse. And his name, that sat on him, was Death. And Hell followed with him." That sounded about right. Death had come to earth and hell had certainly followed.
Stewart slowed his walk to a stop and doubled-over, his hands clutching his knees for support. He cleared his throat and spat a phlegmy snot-filled glob onto the ground. His chest burned with each and every breath that rasped in and out of his inadequately exercised lungs. The spittle ran out of his mouth freely and he didn't care. If Stewart had been paying more attention to his surroundings and not just his known pursuers, he may have had time to react, but as it was, his three relentless pursuers had worn him down to nearly nothing and he never saw them coming.
Daniel and Raymond peeked out from behind the pillars of the overpass. They had watched the fat one rumble slowly up the train tracks and slow down, looking like he was ready to collapse. Daniel started to giggle.
"Shaddap ya' big dummie!" Raymond rasped in a hushed whisper.
Daniel swung his left hand up to his mouth and stopped short, almost stabbing himself in the eye with the long boning knife Raymond had given him. Daniel didn't know it was called that. He called it, 'Pokey'. Daniel looked intently at Pokey and grinned at the way the sunlight spun off of
it. Raymond took a tiny pebble from the ground and threw it at Daniel. The pebble struck the pillar and bounced harmlessly off of Daniel's sloped forehead.
"Get it ta'gether ya' big ole galoot." Raymond rasped, his voice just above a whisper. He swung his head in a quick sharp movement toward the fat man bent over his knees on the tracks. Daniel feebly nodded, his giggles quite worked out. Daniel didn't want Raymond to get Mad, when Raymond got Mad he made others make the bad noise. The stupid grin on Daniel's face slowly dropped away. Daniel hated the bad noise.
"Good," Raymond said as he nodded his head in quick agreement of Dan's seriousness. He couldn't have that walking load of stupid messing up another hunt. His Dark Traveller was back and Raymond had to fulfill it's needful call. He swung his eyes back to the fat boy sucking wind on the tracks. The Traveller told him he was the one, yessir, this one would do. Maybe, if he was lucky, this was THE ONE, the right one, the one that would satisfy the Need. The one to break the spell, so to speak. The hunt had become so much easier the past few weeks, easier but riskier. As society began to break down, Raymond's Traveller had awoken and began to hunger. The hunger grew, until he was pregnant with it. Never before had he been so swollen with the need of the Traveller. Never before had the desire been so strong. His cycle typically ran every three or four years. He was able to stave off his Traveller for that long by throwing himself into his work. Raymond was a fastidious employee, never late to work, punctual and timely. He worked quickly and efficiently, finishing one task and moving on to the next. He was a model employee, one that management had seen fit to recognize as Employee of the Month seven times in the past ten years. Raymond was the Lead Night Crew Manager for a medium sized janitorial company. In fact that's where he had met Daniel. Daniel was a little slow on the uptake, what folks used to call 'simple-minded' before all that politically correctness nonsense. But, he was as strong as an ox and dumb enough to do just what he was told. Raymond knew that he could order Daniel to do just about anything and he would do it, whether he wanted to or not. The Traveller whispered to him suggestions, things he might try, should they ever make the acquaintance of a female. Raymond licked his lips as his hitchhiker spoke poisoned honey to his mind and he knew what to do. He held out the aluminum bat to Daniel. Daniel's sad eyes looked at the bat then back at Raymond. Raymond gave the bat a single firm shake and nodded his head at the same time. Daniel looked like he might cry. Raymond felt the Traveller's disgust at the retard's weakness, the anger at his hesitation. The Traveller's strength grew and Raymond's hold on him loosened. The Dark Traveller fought his way forward.
Daniel saw Raymond's eyes change, one moment there he was, the next, his eyes were not his eyes, they were the other one's eyes. The Mad eyes. The Traveller spoke in a dim whisper, "Take it Daniel." It was not a question. "Take it and play ball, or I will get Molly and play with her. Just me and my little friend." He touched his free hand to the camping hatchet on his belt. Daniel shook his head violently from side to side, as tears began to form in his eyes. The Traveller had enough, it was time to end this game, he wearied of it. Raymond raised the bat with both hands above his head. He barred his teeth in a snarl of pure hate and drew his legs under him to spring at Daniel.
Raymond whipped his head to the side and saw one of the Unsatisfied gnawing on the fat boy's arm. Two more of the undead ran onto the lunchbox with legs and knocked him over, ripping and biting and rending his flesh with their hands and teeth. Raymond's snarl, changed into a sickening smile. He relished every agonizing scream and moan that came from the boy as he was torn into.
Daniel whimpered loudly as he held his hands over his ears. Tears streamed down his sullied face, leaving track marks in the caked on dirt. Raymond's hand reached over and covered Daniel's mouth. The Traveller watched the violence, felt the warmth of breath and wetness of tears on his hand as he quieted Daniel's sobs and felt pure satisfaction.