The Shamblers - FULL VERSION!
By R David Fulcher
Summary: A teenager has a run-in with some local senior citizens.
The kids where I grew up didn't scare too easy. We grew up watching horror films, listening to heavy metal, and watching our older siblings get stoned, so I suppose that's why we enjoyed taunting the old people so much. Our moral compasses were out of wack, and the
biggest taboos were of course the most exciting. Perhaps at night, alone in our beds, or at church on Sundays we knew in our hearts that it was wrong to tease them just like talking back to our parents was wrong. Having this knowledge didn't keep us from doing either.
It's surprising to me now how much cruelty is carried in teenagers. Having the benefit of several years of reflection it seems as if my memories are someone else's, that someone else was saying
those things and acting that way in my place. But I know that it was simply the madness of youth gone awry in the worst possible way. I didn't just participate in the abuse. I led it.
It was the oldest of the old that were our targets, the ones that should have been in nursing homes but were too damn stubborn to go out gracefully. Somehow we at least developed the decency to leave the women alone. We never stopped to think that one day we would be in
their shoes. I think about that all the time now. But I am getting ahead of myself.
We called them the shamblers because of the way that they walked. A slowed-down half-shuffle that looked almost comical in its difficulty. They all wore the same clothes - plaid trousers (that's what they used to call them - trousers - never pants) pulled up to the waist, thick
soled black dress shoes, short-sleeved dress shirts, thick dark drugstore sunglasses, and a derby.
The day I remember is in summer and the shamblers weren't on my mind as I flew down Thacker Way on my BMX bike. The playing card I had clipped in the spokes kept time as I hummed some horrible song in my head, probably Ratt or Quiet Riot or some other 80's drivel
that I don't even own anymore. I flew right across the junction of St. Andrews Street without looking, popped over the curb, and cut through the Wilson's back yard to the woods. The bike path through the woods was complete with several ramps and creek crossings and it was my
newest favorite hobby outside of sneaking cigarettes with my friends.
The woods whirled past me, and I was exhilarated by the raw speed. I hit the jump perfectly. It was the landing that I missed. My front wheel was turned too much to the side and I flipped over the handlebars into the brush when it touched the ground. I lay there for several
moments, feeling sore in my shoulder but mostly feeling anger at the rookie mistake. The playing card in the wheel ticked several moments as the wheel slowed to a stop as if the bike was mocking me. I was just about to get up when I noticed something out of the side of my right eye. Remaining still, I cocked my head over to the right and saw one of the shamblers in the distance. The ramp was deep in the woods and I was surprised to see him way back here. He was looking intently at a briar bush, slowly probing its branches with his leathery hands for a secret goal.
I heard someone approaching as Charlie and Chris peddled up to me. "What's up, Tim?" I put my finger over my lips and motioned for them to come over.
"Do you have your slingshot?" I asked Chris.
"Sure. Never leave home without it," he said with a wink.
I nodded. "Good. Get it out."
"Which one is it?" asked Charlie.
"Old man Kensey, I think." I replied.
"How can you tell?" he asked.
"I can't for sure," I replied loading a nearby pebble into the pocket of the wrist rocket.
I pulled back the rubber straps to their full extension and concentrated on the distant target. There was a whoosh of air as the missile departed. Suddenly the shambler pulled back his
left hand in alarm as if stung by a wasp within the bush's interior. Another pebble grazed his derby before he turned to look our way. Then he began his strange walk towards us causing leaves and twigs to gather up in the bottom of his trousers.
"Let's get out of here," Charlie whispered.
"Load her up again!" urged Chris.
"Shut up! Let's see what happens."
Suddenly the old man stopped. He lifted his hand and pointed at me sending icicles straight to my heart. For once I was happy that he was wearing thick sunglasses so I would not have to directly bear his steely, hateful gaze. Instinctively my hands combed the earth for pebbles. Old man Kensey started shambling again.
"Uh, guys, he's getting kinda close," stammered Charlie.
"Shut up, wimp. Tim will get him, won't you Tim?" asked Chris.
I swallowed hard. "Yeah.I'll get him," I replied meekly, searching desperately for ammunition. My hand found something hard and dug it up despite its irregular shape. It could have been a fossilized seed for all I cared. I loaded the object into the hungry pocket of the weapon.
Kensey still advanced, the wide bottoms of his trousers making a terrible swooshing sound as he grew closer. My hands trembled as I loosed my bullet. The object hit Kensey square in the sunglasses, and he clawed at his eyes in surprise. That was enough for us. We scrambled over to our bikes and peddled like madmen out of the woods, towards safety and sun and a land without shamblers.
I fear that this narrative will cause you to pass judgement on us, but you must remember that we were just kids. What I mean to say is that it wasn't like we were really out to hurt anybody. We were just trying to have fun in our own twisted, sadistic way. We didn't know about heart attacks or cancer, or the loneliness that can come with age. Maybe if we had things would have been different. Then again, maybe not. I can't explain our behavior, but maybe you can if you remember back to when you were a kid yourself.
When I came home I locked the front door behind me. My mom, who always seemed to have superhuman hearing, noticed this. "Why the extra security, hon? Is there a prowler in the neighborhood?"
"No. I just thought we should be safe, especially since Dad's at work."
"Are you okay, Timmy? You seem jumpy. Maybe I should make you a sandwich?" she asked. Sometimes I wished she wasn't such a June Cleaver.
"No thanks, mom. I going to go upstairs and read for a while."
She came over and kissed me on the cheek. "Good boy. Let me know if you need anything."
"Okay. Thanks," I said, and vaulted up the steps. I spent many hours in my room blasting through asteroids on my Atari. I told my parents I didn't feel well when they called for dinner. Finally after leafing through a stack of comic books I began to forget about the silent threat issued to me by old man Kensey. My legs were sore from my frantic cycling earlier in the day and sleep slowly began to tug at me. I began to swing my legs over the bunk to close the blinds when my heart stopped in my chest. Standing on the street corner and gazing up through the window was old man Kensey, his arm raised in mute accusation at my bedroom. I quickly jumped off my bed and pulled the blinds shut tight. I sat there for many minutes by the window, my pulse racing and perspiration beading beneath my pajamas. I expected tapping on the glass at any moment like in that scene from Salem's Lot. Finally there was a knock on the bedroom door.
"Are you feeling better, hon?" my mother asked.
"Yeah." I replied.
"Okay. Don't forget to brush your teeth and turn off your light. Remember, bad things come to bad boys."
"I will. Goodnight." I thought about what she said all night: bad things come to bad boys. I thought about it all night until my thoughts were replaced by shambling nightmares.
The next day we were up to our same tricks. We had tied a long piece of twine around the base of Mr. Furman's birdbath and were waiting for an unsuspecting bird to land on the small basin. Suddenly the back door opened, and Mr. Furman shuffled out, cursing at us damn kids and shaking his cane. We were all the way back at the street sitting on our bikes and our escape should have been a milk run, but somehow the twine got tangled in my bike chain and I was unable to get going. I did manage to pull over the birdbath while trying to free myself. Chris and Charlie were already down the street and not looking back. Suddenly Mr. Furman's ancient, veined hand clasped my handlebars. I could not have been more terrified had he been holding a
fistful of cobras.
"Do you know what I see, Timmy? Do you know what I see when I look at you?" he asked, his rheumy eyes searching my own and his breath reeking of alcohol and cherry wood tobacco.
"N-No, sir," I replied.
"I see me. I see me!" he said. He then began laughing insanely, laughing like a tyrant on the brink of world domination. Ripping my handlebars free and letting my bike fall to the street, I stepped back away from him. "Don't let them get you, Timmy! Don't let them!" he shrieked. Suddenly he went silent and hurried back towards the house. I turned around and saw three shamblers watching us from the edge of the woods.
That night I was determined to discover the secret the shamblers kept in the woods. I decided not to include Chris and Charlie in my quest. Not only would they have trouble sneaking out, but trying to explain to them what I was looking for would cause me to be the brunt of endless jokes. Earlier that night I had taken the emergency flashlight out of the kitchen drawer. It now rested in my backpack as I carefully climbed down the ivy trellis that was attached to our wall. Soon I reached the edge of the woods and paused to listen and retrieve the flashlight.
Although I had spent all of the summers of my youth here in this woods I had never experienced it by night. It was alive with small sounds that caused me to madly spin my head in every direction looking for intruders. I could not use my flashlight until I had safely cleared the houses that backed up against the woods. Eventually my eyes got accustomed to the darkness and I was able to begin my way down the path. I could hear the creek running softly to my right and the summer breeze as it stirred the creaking tree limbs overhead. After a hundred yards or so I turned on the flashlight in order to illuminate the roots and rocks which littered the rough path. I had lost many bike tires to those hazards over the years. Finally I reached the ramp and paused
before cutting off diagonally to the briar patch. Something was dragging itself up the path towards me. I splashed the figure with light and saw a shambler slowly advancing on me, its hand pointing at my heart. I tripped over a root and crawled backwards in panic only to feel my
back collide with something solid.
I realized it was the legs of something standing in the path. I screamed out and ran off towards the creek. I took comfort in their slowness, and used the flashlight to pan each side of the woods as I ran. I didn't even reach the creek before I spotted another one standing there calmly at the water's edge, smiling a toothless smile in his shades and derby as the light revealed his position. I wildly spun the flashlight around in a full circle. Shamblers were advancing from
all sides, leaving no gaps in their human net. Trembling, I unfolded my Swiss army knife and waited. Suddenly the back of my head exploded with pain from the blow of a blunt object.
Dropping the flashlight, I fell to all fours and tried to concentrate on keeping my swimming vision centered on one spot on the ground to avoid vomiting from the pain and dizziness. Two shamblers grabbed me by the arms and dragged me over towards the path. I couldn't be sure how many there were.
We crossed the path, my knees getting battered on the exposed roots, and continued into the heart of the woods. We finally reached the briar patch where I initially spied old man Kensey several days before. Two shamblers were combing the bushes. Mr. Furman was there
watching them and calmly smoking his pipe.
"You!" I spat.
"Sorry, kid. I tried to keep you away. We all did."
I tried to rise up to my feet but the bony hands of my escorts kept me down. One of the shamblers brought something over from the bush.
"Timmy, we are going to put this insect in your mouth. You will not chew it or swallow it. You will allow it to make its way into your system." Mr. Furman instructed me.
"No chance," I stated flatly.
Mr. Furman lifted his cane up and pulled at the bottom. The wooden shaft fell away to reveal a slender blade silvered by the moonlight. Mr. Furman brought the blade up to my adam's apple and drew a hairline cut. "You will."
The shambler brought the bug towards my face. I quivered and the tip of Furman's blade dug deeper. "Open your mouth," he commanded.
In that terrible instant I saw the thing they wanted me to accept. It was a spider of rather strange design with a raised, spiked thorax and red spots running along its underside. My stomach rolled over on itself.
"Do it!" Furman hissed.
I opened my mouth. They dropped it, and I felt eight alien legs climb down my throat. My escorts held me tighter, bruising my shoulders, as I shook off a gag reflex. After a minute I could no longer notice the spider's passage, and I figured the worst was over. My escorts kept
their grip iron tight. Suddenly my internals were wracked with mind numbing pain, and I realized with horror that the spider was tearing its way towards my heart. There was a sickly warmth in my chest and I realized that I was bleeding from the inside. I began to cough up blood.
Time itself seemed to stop when the creature's mandibles penetrated the soft pink flesh of my heart. There was a brief period of euphoria as the venom radiated through my veins and arteries, providing warmth and strange intoxication. I thought it was the final release of endomorphs from my weary brain before death. But unfortunately my death was disturbed by a wave of violence far more brutal and terrifying than the first. My bones cracked and reformed,
my muscles tore and stretched, my hair and teeth dropped out. The pain was immense and unbearable. Just before losingconsciousness a shambler walked over and placed a derby and pair of thick sunglasses beside me.
My parents think I died that night, and for all intents and purposes the boy they knew as Timmy did die that night. I've got a new background now, one more compatible with my appearance. They know me at the home as George Tischer, former owner of a hardware store in
Arizona before retiring and developing Alzheimer's. No next of kin. It is almost unbearable to live in the same town and not be able to reach out to them, but sometimes I take a walk in the woods and plan a way to get back at the local kids that make my life hell.
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