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The Long Dead Day

 

She said a dog bit her, but we didn't find the dog anywhere. It was a bad bite, though, and we dressed it with some good stuff and wrapped it with some bandages, and then poured alcohol over that, letting it seep in, and she, being ten, screamed and cried. She hugged up with her mama, though, and in a while she was all right, or as all right as she could be.

Later that evening, while I sat on the wall and looked down at the great crowd outside the compound, my wife, Carol, called me down from the wall and the big gun. She said Ellen had developed a fever, that she could hardly keep her eyes open, and the bite hurt.

Carol took her temperature, said it was high, and that to touch her forehead was to almost burn your hand. I went in then, and did just that, touched her forehead. Her mother was right. I opened up the dressing on the wound and was amazed to see that it had turned black, and it didn't really look like a dog bite at all. It never had, but I wanted it to, and let myself be convinced that was just what it was, even if there had been no dog we could find in the compound. By this time, they had all been eaten. Fact was, I probably shot the last one around: a beautiful Shepard that, when it saw me, wagged its tail. I think when I lifted the gun he knew, and didn't care. He just sat there with his mouth open in what looked like a dog's version of a smile, his tail beating. I killed him first shot, to the head. I dressed him out without thinking about him much. I couldn't let myself do that. I loved dogs. But my family needed to eat. We did have the rabbits we raised, some pigeons, a vegetable garden, but it was all very precarious.

Anyway, I didn't believe about the dog bite, and now the wound looked really bad. I knew the real cause of it, or at least the general cause, and it made me sick to think of it. I doctored the wound again, gave her some antibiotics that we had, wrapped it and went out. I didn't tell Carol what she was already thinking.

I got my shotgun and went about the compound, looking. It was a big compound, thirty-five acres with a high wall around it, but somehow, someone must have breached the wall. I went to the back garden, the one with trees and flowers where our little girl liked to play. I went there and looked around, and found him sitting on one of the benches. He was just sitting. I guess he hadn't been the way he was for very long. Just long enough to bite my daughter. He was about her age, and I knew then, being so lonely, she had let him in. Let him in through the bolted back door. I glanced over there and saw she had bolted it back. I realized then that she had most likely been up on the walk around the wall and had seen him down there, not long of turning, looking up wistfully. He could probably still talk then, just like anyone else, maybe even knew what he was doing, or maybe not. Perhaps he thought he was still who he once was, and thought he should get away from the others, that he would be safe inside.

It was amazing none of the others had forced their way in. Then again, the longer they were what they were, the slower they became, until finally they quit moving altogether. Problem with that was, it took years.

I looked back at him, sitting there, the one my daughter had let in to be her playmate. He had come inside, and then he had done what he had done, and now my daughter was sick with the disease, and the boy was just sitting there on the bench, looking at me in the dying sunlight, his eyes black as if he had been beat, his face gray, his lips purple.

He reminded me of my son. He wasn't my son, but he reminded me of him. I had seen my son go down among them, some—what was it?five years before. Go down in a flash of kicking legs and thrashing arms and squirting liquids. That was when we lived in town, before we found the compound and made it better. There were others then, but they were gone now. Expeditions to find others, they said. Whatever—they left, we never saw them again.

Sometimes at night I couldn't sleep for the memory of my son, Gerald, and sometimes in my wife's arms, I thought of him, for had it not been such a moment that had created him?

The boy rose from the bench, stumble-stepped toward me, and I shot him. I shot him in the chest, knocking him down. Then I rushed to him and shot him in the head, taking half of it away.

I knew my wife would have heard the shot, so I didn't bother to bury him. I went back across the compound and to the upper apartments where we lived. She saw me with the gun, opened her mouth as if to speak, but nothing came out.

"A dog," I said. "The one who bit her. I'll get some things, dress him out and we'll eat him later."

"There was a dog," my wife said.

"Yes, a dog. He wasn't rabid. And he's pretty healthy. We can eat him."

I could see her go weak with relief, and I felt both satisfied and guilty at the same time. I said, "How is she?"

"Not much better. There was a dog, you say."

"That's what I said, dear."

"Oh, good. Good. A dog."

I looked at my watch. My daughter had been bitten earlier that day, and it was almost night. I said, "Why don't you go get a knife, some things for me to do the skinning, and I'll dress out the dog. Maybe she'll feel better, she gets some meat in her."

"Sure," Carol said. "Just the thing. She needs the protein. The iron."

"You bet," I said.

She went away then, down the stairs, across the yard to the cooking shed. I went upstairs, still carrying the gun.

Inside my daughter's room, I saw from the doorway that she was gray as cigarette ash. She turned her head toward me.

"Daddy," she said.

"Yes, dear," I said, and put the shotgun against the wall by the door and went over to her.

"I feel bad."

"I know."

"I feel different."

"I know."

"Can anything be done? Do you have some medicine?"

"I do."

I sat down in the chair by the bed. "Do you want me to read to you?"

"No," she said, and then she went silent. She lay there not moving, her eyes closed.

"Baby," I said. She didn't answer.

I got up then and went to the open door and looked out. Carol, my beautiful wife, was coming across the yard, carrying the things I'd asked for. I picked up the shotgun and made sure it was loaded with my daughter's medicine. I thought for a moment about how to do it. I put the shotgun back against the wall. I listened as my wife came up the stairs.

When she was in the room, I said, "Give me the knife and things."

"She okay?"

"Yes, she's gone to sleep. Or she's almost asleep. Take a look at her."

She gave me the knife and things and I laid them in a chair as she went across the room and to the bed.

I picked up the shotgun, and as quietly as I could, stepped forward and pointed it to the back of my wife's head and pulled the trigger. It was over instantly. She fell across the bed on our dead child, her blood coating the sheets and the wall.

She wouldn't have survived the death of a second child, and she sure wouldn't have survived what was about to happen to our daughter.

I went over and looked at Ellen. I could wait, until she opened her eyes, till she came out of the bed, trying for me, but I couldn't stomach that. I didn't want to see that. I took the shotgun and put it to her forehead and pulled the trigger. The room boomed with the sound of shotgun fire again, and the bed and the room turned an even brighter red.

I went outside with the shotgun and walked along the landing, walked all the way around, came to where the big gun was mounted. I sat behind it, on the swivel stool, leaned the shotgun against the protecting wall. I sat there and looked out at the hundreds of them, just standing there, looking up, waiting for something.

I began to rotate and fire the gun. Many of them went down. I fired until there was no more ammunition. Reloaded, fired again, my eyes wet with tears. I did this for some time, until the next rounds of ammunition were played out. It was like swatting at a hive of bees. There always seemed to be more.

I sat there and tried not to think about anything. I watched them. Their shapes stretched for miles around, went off into the distance in shadowy bulks, like a horde of rats waiting to board a cargo ship.

They were eating the ones I had dropped with the big gun.

After awhile the darkness was total and there were just the shapes out there. I watched them for a long time. I looked at the shotgun propped against the retaining wall. I looked at it and picked it up and put it under my chin, and then I put it back again.

I knew, in time, I would have the courage.

 

"The Long Dead Day" was originally published in Subterranean #6. It was later collected in The Shadows: Kith and Kin, a collection of Lansdale's short stories published by Subterranean Press, and The Dead That Walk: Flesh-Eating Stories (Ulysses Press). "The Long Dead Day" 2007 Joe R. Lansdale.

Stumble-step back this way Thursday, October 26, for another shot to the head by Champion Mojo Storyteller Joe R. Lansdale!



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