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Authors: Hope Sullivan McMickle

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BOOK: Compulsion
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Her pantry was already well stocked, but Leah stopped to pilfer canned goods, batteries, and a sizeable quantity of bleach from the grocery store on the edge of town before heading home.  She was a mile away from the cabin when she saw something blocking the road.  It looked like a deer carcass.  Another fifty yards down from the dead deer was a felled tree, crossing both lanes.  Without a long walk to retrieve the chainsaw from her garage, the road was blocked.  Leah stared at the obstructions, sighed, then turned off the idling engine. 

She thought briefly about her options.  The air was sticky with salt spray from the ocean and high humidity.  Moist, warm, perfect conditions for mold.  The Hazmat suit would slow her down if she wore it; she’d be faster and more agile without its cumbersome bulk.  But without the suit, her uncovered flesh would be exposed and vulnerable to airborne spores in what was clearly a high-risk area.  Deciding to take her chances, she exited the vehicle and shrugged on a backpack.  It contained the essentials: two bottles of drinking water, a few chocolate chip granola bars, flashlight, disposable masks and gloves, and a quart of Clorox.

Leah approached the dead deer, staring at it with a mixture of revulsion and curiosity.  She was thirty feet away when she became aware of a low, incessant hum.  The hum became louder with every step forward, and at some point she realized, with horrified fascination, that it was the buzzing of insects – horseflies, black flies, mosquitoes – anything and everything had come to feed on the carcass.  The pavement of the road was drenched red with blood in a twenty yard radius around the animal, and bits of sinew, flesh, and organs were strewn about like confetti and ghastly party favors.  Long, ropy strands of intestines had been pulled from the carcass like a magician’s hat trick.  A thick, coppery stench of blood, death, and mold filled the air, and Leah realized that something was completely, horribly wrong.  There were no mold spores on the carcass.

This deer hadn’t succumbed to the Rot; it had been mutilated. 

Leah inhaled sharply and turned to run back to the Jeep when sudden motion in her peripheral vision caught her attention.  Something staggered out of the forest twenty yards away.  A pair of somethings.  Between her and the Jeep.  Two other Rotters reeled out of a ditch beside her Jeep and were rapidly approaching it, arms outstretched, a low moan issuing from their mold blackened lips, forced past their swollen tongues. 

Even in her panicked state, the Leah quickly grasped the implications.  Obsessive compulsive disorder and cynicism, it seemed, had its advantages.  Never before had she seen the Rotters interact, or even seem to be aware of each other.  Driven by a mindless, insatiable desire to feed on flesh and to spore and propagate, the dead were nothing more than unthinking, moldering, reanimated husks.  But it appeared that the Rotters had been evolving while she’d been busy cleaning.  And these Rotters had laid a trap for her.

It took less than a moment for Leah to assess her options; spotting a cluster of Rotters emerging over a small rise in the road just beyond the remains of the deer, she decided to take her chances off-road.  Rather than get caught on the narrow path along Echo Lake on her left, she sprinted into the woods toward the Somes Sound, cutting a diagonal in hopes of eventually reaching Hall Quarry Road.  Her cabin was defensible; her current situation was not.

Leah plunged into the trees, fighting through the heavy low growth of brambles and ferns that tugged at her feet, threatening to trip her up.  A tree limb snagged her backpack, yanking her backwards, and she let the straps of her pack slip from her shoulders and abandoned the bag.  She could replace the items in it later.  She ran as fast as she could, knowing that a misstep or a sprained ankle could be a fatal mistake.  Heavy things crashed in the woods around her, branches snapped, and she held no allusions as to what those things might be.  The woods were full of Rotters.  She’d been surrounded. 

Leah hurdled a moss-covered tree trunk, then balanced on a weathered rock protruding through the soil and paused to catch her breath.  The wind blew gently on her face and neck, cooling her flushed cheeks.  Her forehead dripped with sweat, burning her eyes, and she swiped the back of her hand across it.  Black flies swarmed around her, feeding eagerly.  Their bites would raise welts would itch torturously for several weeks.  She’d scratch the bites until they bled and then dump alcohol on them when she got home. 

The sound of pursuit seemed to have slackened off.  Hoping she’d outpaced them, Leah sat down on the fallen tree, kneading the sore muscles of her calves.  They were already tightening up from this unaccustomed level of physical activity.  Her back ached and her fingers explored a spot on her scalp that felt like a deep scratch from the brambles she’d fought through.  It was a raw, soft spot, about the size of a half dollar.  She dabbed at it gently.  Her fingers came away bloody.  And black. 

She’d lost her backpack with the bleach she’d used with fanatic zeal to scrub and clean away the mold every day since the outbreak began.  Already she could feel the spores eating into the soft skin of her head, dissolving flesh, boring into her.  It wouldn’t take long.  They were already in her bloodstream.  The smell of pine surrounded her, and a gentle ocean breeze caressed her body.  Leah closed her eyes.  When the Rotters caught up to her, she let them feed.  It was almost a relief. 

###

 

About the Author:

Hope Sullivan McMickle is a horror fiction writer and a musician with a penchant for the things that lurk in the darkness, and of course, for the shambling, insatiable undead.  She resides in Indianapolis, Indiana.

 

BOOK: Compulsion
8.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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