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    Pallid Light: The Waking Dead -
    The world ends with the flip of a switch. The thundering storms strike across the world, searing the earth, leaving destruction in their wake. Few will survive. For the folks living in Temperance, Illinois the nightmare is just beginning. When the sky roils in luminous colors, the people of the small town begin to die, and Randall Clay decides to escape. What he didn’t expect was the dead to come back to life or the nightmare that came after that.
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    "[The Strange Cases of Rudolph Pearson] cleverly blends the horrors of the Cthulhu mythos, the atmosphere of hard-boiled fiction and the mysteries of magic and supernatural..."
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    The Anthology of Dark Wisdom: The Best of Dark Fiction -
    Featuring horrifying and fantastical tales from the eponymous magazine, previously unpublished works, and award-winning short stories, this anthology of macabre fiction explores the unseen folds of urban life, other places, and other times. From the monstrous to the psychological, these tales of fearlessly venture into the hidden world of the supernatural, where strange creatures stalk the night and eldritch investigators search for the unknown.
  • About Me

    William Jones has received Bram Stoker Award nominations, International Horror Guild Award and Origins Award nominations for his works. He is the editor of several anthologies, including The Anthology of Dark Wisdom: The Best of Dark Fiction, Frontier Cthulhu: Ancient Horrors in the New World, High Seas Cthulhu, and the Horrors Beyond Series. His book, The Strange Cases of Rudolph Pearson was selected by Editor Ellen Datlow as a "seminal" work for readers of Lovecraftian horror. He has also written a number of role-playing game supplements, and his writings have been translated into several languages. His most recent novel is Pallid Light: The Waking Dead. He lives in Michigan.
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Pallid Light – Novel Excerpt

Chapter 1

The room disappeared in a flash of blackness, hiding the apartment in a heavy gloom. I smiled. Dark places never bothered me. I’ve lived most of my life in them—sitting in cells, hiding in the shadows. No, the light had always been my problem. No matter where I went, I needed to bring my own darkness.

But tonight it wasn’t the city-wide power outage that sent something cold crawling up my spine. It was the strange lights.

A hard storm rolled in from the west, bringing with it streaks of lightning, booming thunder, and a thick curtain of rain. It also brought red and blue lights—neon heavens.

“Rand, you there?” The voice was followed by a hammering on my apartment door. Fat drops of rain exploded against the window. I waited a moment, watching the sky, the lights, the streets. Sensing the strangeness.

“Rand!” The apartment door rattled again. “Let me in.”

“Turn it down.” I dropped off the wooden stool before the window, and moved toward the door. My pace was slow, really just to taunt Cada. She lived in a constant State of Emergency. I thought about that. Funny how people lose it when anything unusual happens. But she was like that before the storm.

“What do you want?” I opened the door, leaning to the side, avoiding her fist as it missed its target. “Pretty good swing.”

Her blue eyes widened, eyebrows forming a hard line. “Why the hell didn’t you answer?”

“Just did.” I pulled the door wide, waving her inside. “You know, you look like one of those fish that inflates when you’re angry. Maybe a little cuter though.”

“I’ve been calling,” she said.

“Ha. Guess the phone is dead. Or maybe I threw it away.” I shrugged.

She hoisted a finger at me, then pointed a different selection at the window.

“Have you seen what’s going on out there? No power and half the city’s flooded. And you’re sitting here, playing hermit and joking.”

“Who’s joking?”

Thunder shook the apartment. Another wave of rain tapped against the windows like a million anxious fingers. And the strange lights glowered above the storm.

She stomped across the floor, running shoes squishing with each step. “While you’re here doing . . .doing—” she threw her hands in the air— “doing God knows what, everyone else is sandbagging, trying to keep the town from washing away. Think about it, Rand. No power. No lights. No alarms. And you. . . here. . .in Temperance. Alone. If anything happens, anything . . .you’re taking the fall.”

After I’d moved to Temperance, Cada Finch befriended me. She was one of those types who thought loners needed friends, when really she was the one in need. Always the hero of some lost cause. This time the cause being me.

Cada just wasn’t made for Temperance. I wasn’t either. But a small town in Illinois, skirting the edge of Lake Michigan seemed like the perfect spot for an ex-con. Yeah, I still don’t get the “ex” part. Once a convict, always a convict. Jackson, Temperance, choose your prison.

“So you’re saying the town thinks I’m going on a killing spree?” I flashed a smile, strolling to the fridge. Flattering.

“No,” she answered abruptly. It seemed like the rest of her sentence caught in her throat. “No, not that. But really weird stuff is going on and they’ll pin you for it.”

I laughed, pulled a beer out, twisted it open. “You think I give a damn?” Took a swig, and returned to my seat.

Water flowed down Bridgeway Drive. It already crested the curbs and was swelling onto the sidewalks. I looked at the sky, it still glowed in unnatural colors. Hues of blue and green with jagged red lines of lightning.

“Does that look like an aurora to you?” I pointed the bottle at the sky.

“It’s just lights reflecting off the clouds.” She approached me. Wet, short strands of blonde hair clung to her face. The sweatshirt and jeans she wore repeated the trick but with her rangy body. “I saw Gordon Cleary tonight,” she said matter-of-factly.

I gave it some thought. For a few seconds, I wondered which was stranger: lights reflecting off clouds during a power outage, or Cada seeing a dead man.

*    *   *

“I was at Greene’s store buying some Marlboros when the power died. Figured I’d need some batteries. Dave brought out a flashlight to help me find them, and that’s when Gordon walked past the front window.” Cada dug into her pocket, pulling out a crumpled pack of smokes. Water wrinkled fingers rifled through them. “Jesus, Rand, he was still dressed in his suit from the funeral home.”

She patted her pockets. I pulled out my Zippo. Her hands and face trembled as she tried to align the cigarette with the flame.

“Thanks.” Cada pulled deep and exhaled a stream of smoke, spilling out like dragon’s breath. “Dave didn’t see him, but I did. And he really wasn’t walking. It was more like someone was pulling him along like a puppet.” She took another drag. “Something’s wrong out there.”

Something did feel wrong, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Not quite yet. And I didn’t want to mention it to Cada until I knew what it was. That had always been my thing. All of my life, just before things went sideways, I sensed it. Handy, sure. Handy enough to get me locked away for murder. But thanks to a fucked-up system, I got out on a mistrial. That one I didn’t see coming.

“It was probably somebody pulling a joke,” I said. “Dead men don’t walk. . . except in prison.”

As if to counter my words, glass crashed downstairs.

“What’s that?” Cada asked. Her State of Emergency just went up a notch.

“Sounded like a window.” Plenty of experience with breaking windows. And whoever broke this one didn’t care about being quiet.

Cada started pacing again, puffing like a train. “Where’s the guy downstairs?”

“Eric? He’s mostly not home.” Actually, I didn’t care for the prick. He always eyed me. Definitely had an itch to see me locked up again. I wouldn’t be surprised to find newspaper articles about me hanging in one of his bedrooms, accompanied by thumbtacks with strings stretching back and forth showing my whereabouts. I knew his kind. They were the fucking crazy ones.

Mixed with the rumble of thunder was the crashing of furniture. Maybe a yell or two.

“Shouldn’t we check on him?” Cada asked, halting.

No. “Yep. Right,” I sighed. I went to the door, Cada trailing. “You stay here.” I gestured at the couch. “Keep a spot there. And if you hear me tell you to run, you move.”

Temperance was a small town. Certainly not big enough for this much mystery in one night. Hell, it wasn’t big enough for more than one apartment building. When I moved in, I hooked a second floor flat on a side street. It’d been a boarding house years ago, back when trains existed. I guess it’s what most people would call cozy. I called it fucking inconvenient. Dorothy Ford owned the place. And she wanted it to stay just the way it was in the 1800s—it’s that old. No cable, no satellite. A phone, and a useless rooftop antenna was as high-tech as the place got. Of course, I understood why an ex-con lived in Dorothy’s historical museum of dead thrills, but why Eric Walker? A man with an expensive car, nice suits, and enough money to vanish for weeks—why would he live there?

Like I said, I knew the type. He was hiding something. And as I marched down the narrow stairwell, I hoped his secret didn’t decide to pay a visit.

When I reached his door, it was slightly open. I peered through the crack. Glimpses of furniture, paintings on the walls, and shadows were visible in the sickly glow cast through the windows. Now and then, a brilliant flash of lightning uncovered a darker recess.

Pushing gently, the door opened with a creak that was quickly swallowed by the marching of the rain. To my left, one of the bay windows was shattered. A stream of water rolled over the jagged edges of glass, pooling on the hardwood floor.

From the bedroom I heard the tumble of something hard—muffled by the ceaseless rain.

“Eric?” Calling for him went against my every fiber. But I wouldn’t put it past him to be sitting on the other side of the door, shotgun leveled. Waiting.

He knew my history, like most people in Temperance. And like most, he didn’t like me. No problem, I didn’t like most of them.

With soft steps, I moved across the room. The only weapon I had was a pocket knife. Mostly useless. And if I pulled it, I was on shaky ground—prowling through a flat in the dark, uninvited. Not worth it.

I halted at the bedroom door. It too stood ajar, but the angle was wrong. Couldn’t get a view inside. I rapped on it once, and waited. I thought I heard mumbling, but in the roiling rain it was hard to tell.

Slowly, I pushed open the door. There lay Eric. Flat on his back, sprawled across the floor, blankets spilled over the bed, folding beneath him. At his sides were two locals. Teenage punks who wanted to be tough, but who were afraid to leave the protection of a small town. They liked to mouth-off at me, knowing all the while they were safe. And I’d never seen them when their eyes weren’t glazed. I’d dubbed them Stoned and Stoner.

They ignored me. Hunched over Eric’s body, they pawed at what remained of Eric’s insides. His gut was split—clawed open. And the two punks unraveled his intestines, gnawing and chewing them.

A knot formed in my stomach. And I’m the monster?

Blood glistened on the floor, gushing outward. Their wet faces shone in the greenish light of the storm.

This was seriously fucked-up.

Then one turned his gaze toward me.

Chapter 2

It was Stoned who clambered to his feet first, swaying back and forth. The other continued working on Eric’s eviscerated corpse.

The world spun for a split-second as I tried to understand what I saw. It wasn’t the blood, or the gore. I was used to that. I came from a world of darker horrors—decapitated heads in a bag, butchered torsos, knapsacks filled with limbs. And the agonized wails of the mothers and wives who discovered their loved ones. No, butchered bodies didn’t bother me as much as the horror-struck face of a mother who’d found part of her son in a bag, sent as a message.

And somehow this was different.

Stoned stumbled forward. A vapid gaze set on his face. Sneering lips revealed crimson teeth. Without him saying a word, I knew what he wanted. Another meal.

“You can’t be serious,” I said, pushing the door wide open. It bumped against a wall stop. “What a bunch of sick fucks. What the hell are you high on?” I wondered if Eric’s secret was some sort of designer drug.

A tepid growl came from Stoner. Maybe he was trying to talk, maybe not. I didn’t much care. What I did know was the guy downstairs who didn’t like me was dead, and was being eaten by two brain dead punks. Somehow, this was going to come down on me. That’s the way the world worked.

Then Eric sat up.

Shit!” I stepped back. “You’re alive?”

A thick red liquid spilled from his mouth, dribbling down his chin, stringing into his open abdomen. Guess that answered my question.

None of this fit together in my head. Everything inside me screamed, “Get out!” But there was that feeling. That dark chill touching my spine. There was also a thick stench.

I raised my hands. “Ok fellas, I’m leaving. Have at it.” I stepped backward, eyeing Stoned, who seemed to finally get his footing.

With Eric upright, the second teenager turned his attention to me. He struggled to stand, slipping on the slick floor. With each move, gore spewed from his mouth, followed by a guttural hacking.

I backstepped into the living room, already knowing how this was going to play-out.

Stoned bolted forward, as though spurred by an electrical shock. His arms reached outward, fingers clawing the air.

I sidestepped, lifting my booted foot and pushing it against his knee. It made a crunchy sound, then he squeaked. I grabbed his shoulder and pushed, sending him down, face first on the floor.

Keeping my eyes on the other two, I planted my boot on the back of his neck. “Stay there,” I said to Stoned, “or I’ll put you down.”

He gurgled. The others made growling sounds.

I pushed with my boot, thinking Stoned might warn the others away. Instead, he uttered nonsense sounds. Eric and his new pal kept coming.

In the ghoulish light they looked dead. And Eric, innards drooping to the floor, dark blood washing down his legs, by all rights should be dead. It made less sense with each passing moment.

My thoughts whirled as though the storm outside had entered my head. Things had become so unreal, I had no choice but to accept them. I knew how the cops would explain them later, and that explanation involved me.

I started to lift my foot from Stoned’s neck. Then I thought it over. Eric ambled toward me, guts dragging on the floor, a stupid half-smile on his face. There’s no good ending here.

“Fuck it,” I said. “Never liked you anyway.” I stomped on the kid’s neck. It popped as my foot pushed into the soft flesh.

In two steps I was on the next teenager. Maybe if I kept him alive he’d talk when he came down from his high. No. It didn’t work that way for you.

I grabbed his throat, pulling him forward, and clocked him on the head with my elbow. He dropped like a ragdoll. Meanwhile, Eric was still taking robot steps across the floor. He plodded ahead, one foot in front of the other, swaying from side-to-side like walking a ship in a storm.

Saving him time, I stepped forward, and hammered a fist into his nose. The bone cracked. Blood oozed. And he didn’t blink.

I looked at his blue and bloodied face. There was something more than emptiness there. I wasn’t sure what. Maybe a little bit of Eric. Maybe a little bit of what he was hiding. His lips turned upward ever so slightly into a snarl. And for the first time, I’d noticed a faint glow in his eyes.

“Not happening,” I said.

He reached out—arms slow and stiff.

I grabbed his thumb and twisted, expecting him to drop to his knees in pain. Instead, he clawed at me with his other hand, coming closer, teeth snapping.

His guts dangled from his abdomen. And he kept moving. Obviously, my mind was muddled. Of course he wouldn’t feel any pain—he was beyond that.

I didn’t know what Eric was hiding, but I had always sensed a darkness in him. Drug dealer, serial killer, kidnapper—didn’t make a difference. I saw it there, and despised it.

“Bad day for you,” I said. With a free hand, I clamped onto his collar, pulling his head back. He gurgled, red spittle seeped from his mouth. I released his thumb, locked both hands on his head, and twisted. His neck snapped. Finally his body stopped squirming. I pushed him away, letting what was left of him tumble to the floor.

This was not how I’d expected my visit to go. Thought I might help the asshole. Maybe this was his secret, I decided. Some kind of cannibal and drugs scene. But it didn’t make sense. He was a traveler. He’d keep his secrets far from Temperance.

I knew something was up before I’d arrived. I knew it the minute the storm started. And something told me this was just the beginning.

I had a few minutes before Cada started worrying and decided to go looking for me. I scanned the flat. There was no use trying to clean up. And all of this was still going to land on me, unless I found something pointing in another direction. I had the one teenager who might tell the truth—doubted that. Figured I’d look around the place. Maybe find whatever Eric had hidden. The situation was beyond the point of getting worse.

Knowing the tricks, I headed to the bedroom, skirting the macabre decorations on the floor. Checking the dresser drawers was a waste of time. Amateur stuff. I didn’t bother. But I did take his car keys sitting in a bowl on top of the dresser. I had to hoof everywhere, and it looked like I might need to move a bit faster unless things turned around.

Outside the storm persisted. Loud cracks of thunder shook the building. The rain continued its ceaseless dance upon the roof and ground. It created a constant thrumming.

I opened the closet. On the top shelf there was a shoebox. It was too obvious to hold anything damning—but I still hoped. Inside I found a 9mm Beretta, three magazines, and a half empty box of cartridges.

Probably has a permit. I took the pistol, pushed in a clip, and stuffed the rest into my pocket. Just then, a familiar feeling settled over me. How many times had I followed this path? Getting ready to run. It was supposed to be over when I was locked up. And I’d told myself it would never happen again when they let me out.

Like I said, I bring my own darkness with me.

Right now, things needed to keep moving. I had to keep those thoughts at bay. One after another, I yanked clothes from the rack in the closest, tossing them aside. Eric wasn’t going to make this easy.

Mixed with the tattoo of the rain was the sound of a footfall from behind. I turned. In the doorway stood Stoner, eyes hollow, jaw slack. His face was painted in blood, as was the hoodie he wore. One foot plodded forward. He burbled some sounds. Maybe they were words. I sensed a rhythm. A shape to them. It wasn’t English. Regardless, his intent was clear.

I pulled the pistol from my belt and chambered a round.

Chapter 3

I aimed the Beretta at the punk’s head. I was waiting for another roll of thunder to cover the sounds of the shot. I knew if Cada heard it, she’d be down in an instant.

Stoner lumbered closer. Rain snapped against the building as though expectantly tapping fingers. The pistol remained leveled.

It seemed as if I was lost in time. The blasts of thunder came every other minute. A few more steps, and Stoner would be on top of me. Looked like I’d be hammering him with the 9mm instead.

An odd question danced at the edge of my mind. I’d seen these two kids many times over the last year—but never at Eric’s. They roamed downtown, hung-out on corners. Both were the same height and size, and both perpetually wore caps or hoodies. Now, as Stoner approached, I wondered if he wasn’t Stoned instead. Yep, a stupid thought, but what else could I do while waiting to put two in the punk’s head.

“Rand!” Cada’s voice sounded.

Finally a snarl of thunder rattled the building, and I squeezed the trigger three times in quick succession. Stoner dropped like a rock. Or maybe Stoned. Didn’t much matter.

I snugged the pistol underneath the back of my belt. In seconds, I passed through the flat, reaching for the door just as Cada opened it.

“Nothing here,” I said. “Let’s go back.”

“You look outside?” Cada asked. “We gotta leave.”

“Sounds good.” I planted my hands on her shoulders and turned her around. We took the stairs quickly. “Before we plan anything, we need to talk.”

She laughed, but the sound was weak. “We can talk while we leave.”

I guided her into my flat, closed and locked the door. She stood before me, clothes soaked, blond hair pulled back in a short ponytail.

“You need to put on some dry clothes,” I said. “There are some sweatshirts and pants the bedroom. Oversized for you, but the drawstrings should help.”

She planted her hands on her hips. “Look out the window.” Her voice was calm, but it was the type of calm that came before panic.

“All right,” I said, pulling my T-shirt over the pistol stuffed in the back of my belt. I turned and looked out the front window.

Nothing tonight made sense. In fact, it was the kind of nonsense telling me something important was going down. Wasn’t random. I was just blind to the pattern, to the entire picture. It was beyond my reach, but in the recesses of my mind, I felt everything lock into place. Understanding it was the problem. Nonetheless, I felt it.

As I gazed out the window, I saw a parade of people marching past Dorothy Ford’s museum of dead thrills. A group better suited as cast members in a movie like Carnival of the Damned—a horrible flick Cada introduced me to. All of them were rain-soaked, clothes sagging, hair stringy. All of them stumbling as through they’d forgotten how to walk. All of them deathly pallid in the eerie light of the storm.

I stood and watched in silence.

“Uh-huh,” Cada muttered. “That’s what I said.”

“What the hell’s going on?”

“Got me,” she answered. “Looks like everyone’s had a brain flush. And look—” she moved to the window, pointing— “they all look like Gordon Cleary. It’s like they’re puppets being pulled along.”

She was right. And after seeing Eric, I was starting to think Gordon Cleary wasn’t a small town prank. Not unless everyone plodding down Bridgwater Drive was in on it.

I turned my gaze toward the sky, watching the aurora-like lights slither across.

“We’ve got to leave,” I said.

“You think?”

“All right. You can make fun later. Right now grab some clothes and food.”

Cada folded her arms. “There is no way I’m going out in that crowd. I don’t care how tough you are or act.”

I’m not going out there either. “Eric was gone,” I said. “So I borrowed the keys to his SUV.”

“You’re holding back. Something else is up. I can read it on your face.”

She was right. Most people avoided looking me in the eyes. But Cada was different. The minute she’d heard a convict had settled in Temperance, she was at my door, sizing me up and asking questions. And she had an eerie sense for when I was hiding something.

“What happened downstairs?” she asked.

I shook my head. “You don’t want to know. But it was along the lines of what’s going on out there.” I jerked a thumb at the front window.

Her face lit-up as though she’d been struck by lightning. “Do you think it’s in the rain? Some kind of virus or something? I’ve seen shows where storms have pulled dead fish and frogs out of lakes and rained them down on towns. Christ knows what’s in Lake Michigan. I’m sure there’s something out there that could make all of Temperance sick. . .” She let the words fade as her eyes dropped to her soggy clothes.

“It’s not the rain,” I said. And I believed it. “Your theory is scary enough to be true, but you’d be like the rest of them already.” I ushered her into the bedroom, grabbed a duffle from under the bed and started handing her sweats. “I don’t know what it is, but I think it’s got to do with those lights.”

I went to the closet and retrieved another duffle. Quickly, I dropped the two extra clips and box of cartridges in it. Then I stuffed it with clothes.

Mechanically, Cada crammed the sweats into the duffle bag, moving around the bedroom picking up random clothes I’d pulled from the closet.

I watched her for a moment. Anger burned in my muscles. I grabbed her by the arms, and gave her a quick shake. “Don’t try to make yourself like that. If you were like them, I’d know it. You wouldn’t just be standing around. There’s more to it than wandering the streets in the rain and staring.” I pulled a pair of pants out of the bag, placing them in her hands. “Go in the bathroom and put them on. I’ll pack, and then we’ll leave.”

“How can it be the lights?” she said softly.

“You’re asking me?” I laughed.

A knock sounded at the front door. I stepped into the living room, pulling the Beretta.

“Where’d you get that?” Cada asked.

They didn’t seem like the knocking type. Then it came again. It was soft, not like a cop’s knock—determined, urgent. There was no authority behind it. Those were the type of knocks I’d learned to dread. They were usually followed by the door bursting open and a band of police officers yelling.

“Eric gave it to me,” I said to Cada. “Get in the bedroom.”

“Cada, are you in there?” The voice was weak, but definitely male.

“Nate!” Cada yelled. She turned to me and repeated it. “That’s Nate.”

I shrugged. “Yeah. Right. Nate. Who the hell is Nate?” I didn’t trust strangers showing up with all of this weirdness going down.

Hard blue eyes fixed on me. “He’s my friend,” Cada said. “And you’ve met him before. He’s come here with me a couple times.”

The wimpy knocking returned. “If you’re in there, Cada, you got to let me in.”

Cada continued staring at me. There was no amount of hard façade she couldn’t penetrate with her gaze. “All right,” I said, stuffing the pistol behind my back. “But if he starts to act like one of them. . .” I jerked a thumb at the window and let the sentence hang.

“Hold on,” Cada yelled to Nate. She trotted across the room and opened the door.

Nate stood there, a gangly six-two or more, glistening midnight blue windbreaker pulled taut over his frame. He was all angles—elbows and shoulders and knees. Rain saturated jeans slipped from narrow hips. And a sopping mop of hair covered his eyes and face making him look like an emaciated Saint Bernard, or a far too thin John Lennon.

With spider-like fingers he parted his hair, adjusting his round glasses. Then I definitely remembered him. He was the John Lennon wanna be. Sometimes he played in small time bands, always impersonating Lennon—although most of the locals thought he was original.

Cada led him into the living room, tossing towels at him as she went.

I’d spent nearly a third of my life in prisons. Not much by most convicts’ standards—being thirty years old. But when you live the life I did, everyone looks old. Everyone except Nate. I’d never asked, but I guessed Cada to be around twenty-four or twenty-five. I knew she wasn’t jailbait, and that was all that really mattered. Not that we ever did more than talk and watch videos. Doing anything more than being pals just didn’t feel right. And even though I teased Cada about eating popcorn and watching old movies, I enjoyed it. Most people steered clear of me. Being with her made me feel human. In the end, there was nothing between us. Still, I didn’t like Nate. Given the present situation, I liked him even less.

“Can he borrow some of your clothes?” Cada asked. “He’s really soaked.”

A smile played across my face. “Sure. Whatever you can find. . .that fits. But not the leather jacket.”

“You guys seen what’s happening out there?” Nate shifted his gaze between us. “The whole town’s lost it. They’re pulling each other apart in the streets.”

“What are you talking about?” Cada asked.

Fuck. I saw the panic looming on the horizon. Didn’t need that now. Just wanted to get out of town.

“Oh yeah,” Nate continued. “People are gnawing on each other and walking around like they’ve been drinking Drano. Christ, it looks like most of Temperance has become zombies or something.”

“All right, put a plug in it,” I said. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Cada pacing. I turned to her. “We’re going to leave. And once we’re away from Temperance, we’ll figure out what’s happening. For now, pack and get moving.” I waved them into the bedroom. “Change in there with whatever fits you, John. And then finish packing those duffels.”

“Nate,” he said, ambling toward the bedroom. Cada stayed behind.

“The name’s Nate,” he followed up.

Pack,” I snapped. Nate vanished behind the door.

Cada looked at me wide eyed. “You saw it too, didn’t you? You saw them killing each other.”

“Saw some teenagers acting strange. Doesn’t matter. We’re leaving.”

For the most part, there was only one emotion alive inside me. The same one switched on for most of my life. Anger, or variations of it, were all I needed. On the streets of Detroit, or in prison, nothing else was necessary.

She wasn’t the hard as nails type. Most of the women I knew had two kids by Cada’s age, and either went for adoption, or sold them. They were hard. Their world made sure of it. Along the way, a few of them got lost in drugs, others escaped. Coming to Temperance showed me not everyone was empty.

Something rattled on the roof. It tumbled a few times, then faded into the wash of rain.

“Let’s get moving,” I said, adding some urgency.

“What was that?” Cada asked.

“Probably a branch or a shingle. Noting to worry about.”

“So we’re just leaving? That’s it? Driving away?”

I knew Cada didn’t have family in town. Although, I never bothered to ask why. Just seemed natural. But now I wondered. “Does Nate have anyone here?”

Worry lined her face. She swallowed. “No. He’s alone.”

A sharp resentment slashed through me. I didn’t care about these things because I traveled without baggage. What I should have done was simple. Walk out the door. Alone. All of this other shit was rotting my brain. It felt like I was watching the world through dark glasses. Blind and not sure where to go.

“They died when he was sixteen,” she continued. “Left him the house and enough money to play Rock Band for the rest of his life.” She clasped her hands, rubbing them as though they were cold.

Go. Leave without them. Not your problem. Just baggage to slow you down. The emotion I understood kindled inside me. I knew what Cada wanted to hear, and against my better judgment, I said it. “He can come with us.”

She smiled. “Thanks.” Then she ran into the bedroom.

None of this made any fucking sense to me.


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