Authors: Jean Marie Bauhaus
DOMINION OF THE DAMNED
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are made up or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead or undead, is purely coincidental, and really, if your life resembles this book, you have bigger problems than intellectual property woes.
Copyright © 2012 by Jean Marie Bauhaus and Daydreamer Publishing.
Version: May 1, 2014.
Cover design by Jean Marie Bauhaus. Cover images by Dundanim/Grybaz/Stocksnapp, courtesy of Big Stock Photo.
For Little Bit and Emma Grace.
You are missed.
Hannah cradled the newborn in one arm and looked down at the iron skillet in her hand, at the droplet of red dangling from the bottom, about to fall. It broke free, and her eyes followed it to the floor, saw it splash onto the linoleum tile. That bright spatter brought her back to her senses, and suddenly she became aware of the infant screaming as only brand new babies can, of the blood on her face, neck and hands, already turning sticky as it dried, and of her mother.
mother, lying on the floor with her skull caved in.
She gripped the skillet. “Shhh,” she said absently to the baby. She waited.
Her mother didn’t get up again.
Hannah breathed a sigh of relief, then sucked it back in sharply as the grief of what she’d done hit her like a swift kick to the gut. She dropped the skillet and spun toward the sink. Her last meal hit the drain as the skillet hit the floor. She stayed bent over the sink for a long time, retching even after her stomach had given up everything it had to give. Finally, she rinsed her mouth out, then grabbed a rag and wet it down before shutting off the water.
She slid to the floor, still hugging the baby to her chest. Dried blood and fluid from the birth still coated him, and he’d gotten more of their mother’s blood on him during the fight. Hannah hummed an absent-minded lullaby as she wiped him down. Then she tossed the bloody rag in the sink and leaned over to pull a fresh towel from a nearby basket. She swaddled the baby and held him tight, and for the first time since taking his first breath, he stopped crying.
“Noah,” Hannah whispered, tears burning her eyes and the back of her throat as she cradled her newborn brother. “They wanted to name you Noah.”
She lifted her gaze from the baby to her mother’s disfigured corpse, and her cries took over for the baby’s. She didn’t know what to do next. She wasn’t sure what was happening. And she didn’t understand how the whole world had gone to utter hell before the day had even begun.
“No!” her mother had screamed while fighting her contractions. “He can’t come now! Not like this!”
“I don’t think he’s giving us a choice,” Hannah told her. The bite on her mother’s arm bled heavily. Hannah retrieved the first aid kit from a nearby shelf and tore open a package of gauze. The distant part of her mind had already guessed what the bite meant, but that part of her had stopped communicating with the rest of her, the part that moved quickly to wrap the bite and then put water on the stove to boil.
For a long moment she just stood there, staring at the pot and trying to wrap her mind around everything that had happened. Everything happened so fast. Not even an hour before, she had been asleep in her own bed, and the biggest problem she'd had to worry about was whether she should head back to the university if the baby didn't come by the end of spring break. Then her dad shook her awake. The baby was coming, he'd said, but that wasn't all. He shoved a gun in her hand and told her to cover him as he carried her mother to the shelter; the big underground bunker he'd built himself out of shipping containers to protect them from terrorists or nuclear bombs or tornadoes. But not from this.
Neighbors, schoolmates. Friends. People Hannah had known her entire life, killing each other,
each other, getting back up and coming after them. “Aim for the head,” her dad had said, and she didn't ask how he knew. All of the training her dad had put her through, since she'd been big enough to wrap her hands around a pistol grip, kicked in, and there was only one imperative: protect your family and stay alive.
Except, he didn't. He was too weighted down with her pregnant mother to defend himself from the disfigured thing that had been their next door neighbor, Mr. Helton, when it dragged itself along the ground and bit right through his jeans to tear a chunk out of his calf. As her dad fell to his knees, he screamed for Hannah to get her mother, and she obeyed. She couldn't say how, but she got her mom to the shelter while the remnants of her neighbors piled on her dad.
His screams still echoed in her ears as her mother let out an agonized shriek, snapping Hannah back to the present. She hurried back to her mother's side.
Hannah was only in her second year of a four-year nursing program. She could calculate the dosages of medications and identify all of the organs on a human anatomy chart, but that hadn’t exactly equipped her to deliver a baby on her own, so she was mostly going off of things she’d seen on television. She found a knife and stuck it in the pot of water to boil, then gathered up several towels and took them over to her mother, who she helped to remove her underwear and get into position to push.
She pushed back the skirt of her mother’s nightgown. “I can see the baby’s head. I think it’s time to push.”
Her mom shook her head. She looked deathly pale, and dark circles had already formed beneath her eyes. “I can’t.”
“Mom, you have to. The baby will die if you don’t.”
“What kind of life will he have?”
The distant part of Hannah wanted to cry and scream and curl up next to her mother for whatever time she had left. But the part of her that was currently in charge took hold of her mother’s hands and said, “Look around, Mama. We’re in a safe place. Right now it doesn’t matter what’s happening out there. All that matters is what Dad sacrificed so we could all be safe. So
could be safe.”
“Will you keep him safe, Baby?”
Hannah nodded. “I will. I promise. But first he has to come out. You have to push.”
Her mom gripped her hand and took a deep breath. She bore down, screaming out enough grief and pain for the both of them in the process. The baby’s head cleared. It was covered in thick, dark hair, slick with blood and fluid. “That’s good,” said Hannah. “You need to do it again.”
Somehow, her mother found the strength to bear down one more time. The baby’s shoulders emerged, and Hannah’s mother fell silent. “One more time, Mom. Just one more push and he’ll be out.” She looked up to see that her mother had lost consciousness. “Mama?” She left the baby to check her mother’s vitals, but she couldn’t find a pulse. “Oh, God. Mom. Mom!” The distant part of her slammed back into her body with full force, and took over, shaking her mother. “Mommy, please! Please wake up!”
She didn’t respond.
It was over. There was only one thing Hannah could do.
Gently, she took hold of her brother's tiny shoulders and pulled. He slid out with less effort than she expected. She used the corner of one of the towels to clear his mouth and nose of fluid, and he took his first breath and let out a strong cry. Hannah left him lying on the bed next to their mother and went to retrieve the knife. The water hadn’t yet come to a boil, but there was no time, no need, to worry about disinfecting it. She only prayed that it wasn’t too late as she cut the umbilical cord, that the sickness hadn’t already spread. But as she examined him, everything about him seemed healthy and perfect. As the baby cried, Hannah sat down at their mother’s feet and joined him, cradling him close as her grief erupted in uncontrollable sobbing.
After what seemed like an eternity, she got her crying under control enough to reach over and pull her mother’s skirt down, to grant her a measure of dignity. Hannah gasped as her mother’s leg twitched. “Mama?” she asked, hope welling up in her chest. Her mother turned her head and looked at Hannah, and that well of hope dried up, replaced by a surge of fear at the sight of her mother’s lifeless gaze. Too transfixed to move, she just sat and stared as her mother sat up slowly, her expression a blank slate. Then she looked down at the baby, bared her teeth like an animal and lunged.
Hannah jumped up from the bed and backed away, holding the shrieking baby to her chest. Their mother’s movements were slow and clumsy as she climbed out of bed and lurched toward them. Hannah heard herself crying along with the baby, felt new tears sliding down her cheeks as she backed up against the stove. She reached behind her and grabbed the handle of the pot she’d placed there earlier. Pain seared through her hand as the handle burned her. Still lumbering toward them, the thing that had been her mother had eyes only for the baby. It gnashed its teeth as it came, biting the air as if in anticipation of biting into flesh.
Hannah grabbed a dishtowel and used it to grasp the pot handle. Shielding the baby, she flung the pot of now-boiling water at her mother. It hit her in the face, scalding her flesh and causing the skin to bubble and peel.
She kept coming.
Hannah scanned the shelter for something she could use as a weapon. Her gun still lay where she'd dropped it once they entered the shelter – on the other side of her mother. She reached behind her again and fumbled until her hand found another handle, this one cool to the touch. She grasped it and picked it up. The weight of the iron skillet felt reassuring in her hand as she raised it above her head.
The ground was rocky and hard, and it took longer than Hannah expected to dig a decently sized hole. She had to use the edge of the shovel to bust up some smaller rocks and tree roots, which made more noise than she liked. With every shovel of dirt, she would stop and scan the perimeter to make sure she was still alone.
She stopped digging at four feet. It was a shallow grave, but it was taking too long to dig, and she had to get back to the baby. It would have to do. She laid the shovel down and went to get her mother.
It was slightly easier to drag the corpse across the yard than it had been to get it up the steps and out of the hatch, but the maze of fallen bodies she had to navigate slowed things down. Finally, she reached the open grave. She didn’t pause to catch her breath. That would allow too much time to think about what she was doing. She rolled her mother’s body into the grave, sheet and all, then picked up the shovel.
A rustling, scraping sound came from the front of the yard, near the house. Hannah threw down the shovel and lifted the shotgun.
She didn’t see anyone, at first. Then she noticed movement low to the ground. Something crawled toward her. It pulled itself into a clearing, and as she got a good look at it, Hannah’s heart plunged into her gut. Grief and nausea overwhelmed her as she watched her father’s dismembered corpse drag itself along the ground with his one remaining arm. Half of his face had been eaten off, but she could still recognize him. She lowered the shotgun, and waited.