Authors: Ember Shane
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 Ember Shane
All rights reserved.
Thank you to all my awesome beta readers: Rana Watt, Jodi Walters, Rachel Gross, April Midkiff, Tiffany Flick, and Tiffany Lovely. There is no fuel for a writer greater than that of an interested reader.
Thank you to Mary Jane Brown for reminding me why I love the art of story-telling. Thank you to Michael Stratton for reminding me that I wanted my turn in telling the stories.
Thank you to my sister, Cary, for humoring my love of paranormal fiction... and also reminding me of the importance of correct verb tense. Thank you to Mom for encouraging me to follow my dreams to write… even if it does involve zombies.
Most importantly, thank you to my son, Xavier, for waiting patiently every night that Mommy had to write just a few more lines. And no, that doesn’t mean you’re getting another raise in your allowance right now. XOXOX
Cover art acknowledgements:
When I was a kid, I always knew I was different. I could feel something burning down deep inside. I always imagined I would grow up to be special, maybe become the President, maybe a rocket scientist. What I did not expect to become was a leader of an uprising zombie army.
And yet, here I was... crouching in the night shad
ows, waiting to give the signal for the first wave of attacks. I glanced down the road to ensure my best friend Chuck remained hidden among the trees. You wouldn't believe how quickly things can escalate when humans find out they're being overran by the living dead. They tend to panic.
I crawled closer to the edge of lamplight and assessed the situation. A line of guards blocked the entrance to the zombie containment facility. I gave a hushed combat call, sending my first soldier shuffling toward the watchmen. If it was war Bradbury wanted, I was more than happy to oblige.
Four weeks earlier...
It was early September and the trees had already
begun to show a splash of color. It was unexpectedly cool for late summer, even for Maine, and I shoved my hands deep into my jacket pockets as Chuck and I wound our way through the parking lot at the community college where we attended. Carpooling was not only beneficial to the environment, but practical when you considered the overcrowded parking lot.
wanna come over?" Chuck asked as he opened the passenger door to my Prius.
I promised Dad I would help him clean out the garage today," I replied, angling behind the steering wheel. "Don't suppose you're free?" I shot Chuck a knowing smile.
"Don't suppose I am," he smiled back.
Chuck Johnson had been my best friend since grade school. Aside from the summer after sophomore year when we were both employed at Tom’s Video Rental, he has never done any actual labor. That is, if you count watching movies and hitting on customers labor. Chuck has never had to work for anything because his father is
Eliot Johnson aka "Gimpy" from Gimpy's Frozen Seafood and has allowed Chuck a more than generous allowance over the years.
I turned over the engine and pulled out into the line of cars waiting to exit the lot.
"Were you awake for
of lecture today?" I glanced at Chuck who gave a grunt as an initial reply.
"You know I'm not into all that psychology crap, Doyle."
"Aren't you at least into passing the class?” I shrugged. “And besides, it was actually kind of interesting today. He talked about the impact outside forces have on who we turn out to be."
"Oh, so it was part two of the nature versus nurture lecture that riveted you last week?"
"I mean, I just
don't get it, Doyle. Take serial killers for example. Whether they had crappy moms or ones that gave them butterfly kisses after milk and cookies every night, would it make a difference? Some people are just born with a dark spot on their soul."
"I don't know. It might make a difference. I guess we’ll never know how many would-be serial killers have
been stopped in their tracks by a butterfly-kissing mother, now will we?"
Chuck shook his
head. “There are some people that are just... monsters. And if you're born a monster than life has already written your fate."
"That's just it
. I don't know if I believe you can be born a monster."
We got to the front of the line of cars and I headed south toward Chuck's house.
Chuck hesitated before continuing, "What about baby crocodiles? With all the love and nurturing in the world, a baby crocodile will never grow up to be a koala bear. It is what its DNA says it is."
I couldn't help but smile in response. "But we are not baby crocodiles. People have free will to choose how they live their lives."
"True, but if there's such a thing as a
, there's not enough free will and positive influence in the world that can change the course of nature."
"Ok, Chuck, point taken."
Chuck stared at me in mock amazement. "Doyle Hawthorne, are you conceding that I, Chuck Johnson, may actually have a valid point?"
I rolled my eyes.
"You're still a smart ass."
A few minutes later we were pulling into Chuck's driveway. He ambled out of the car and bent to face me through the open door.
"Am I still picking you up at ten tomorrow?"
"Yeah, and try to actually do your homework
class this time."
"Ah, we'll see." Chuck threw me a wave and headed up the driveway.
I put the Prius in reverse and pulled back into traffic. I considered Chuck's "monster gene" theory all the way home. I supposed his argument held some merit, but I just couldn't accept it was that simple. To believe some children would grow up with an innate predisposition to cruelty was depressing. Free will had to count for something.
When I got home, I saw my father was already sorting through boxes in the garage. An abundance of junk and miscellaneous items had been purged onto the driveway. I looked up at the white, 4
bedroom, 2 bath Colonial I had grown up in. My parents had bought the house in 1990, two years before I was adopted, having faith that their little family would increase in numbers. It was a nice house in a good neighborhood with good schools. When traditional methods of conceiving a child had failed, they filed as prospective parents with Caring Hearts, a local chapter of a nationwide adoption agency. Four years after I was adopted, they also brought home a little girl that I now call my sister.
I climbed out of the driver's seat and walked over to my father, still concentrating on the scattered boxes.
"Where would you like me to start?"
"Hey, Doyle," he smiled up at me. "Anywhere would be great."
An hour later, we had made a considerable impact, with most of the original contents of the garage packed up for easy delivery to the local donation center.
"I'm going to head in for a drink. You want anything?" My father asked.
"Nah, I'm good."
I sat down on the floor and pulled out the next box in line while my father went inside. It was small and filled mostly with various receipts, cards, letters, and photographs, which I filed into their designated sorting piles. As I neared the bottom, I picked up a photograph I had never seen before. It was older than the other pictures in the box and had faded. There was a small tear in the corner. The picture was of a man and woman standing in what appeared to be a jail cell. The woman was holding a baby. I flipped it over to see if anything was on the back.
"William and Eva Clark 1970". I put down the picture and picked up the letter that had been directly beneath it. It read:
April 14, 1969
Dear Eva -
I'm sorry for having to relay bad news, but things are not progressing as the doctors had hoped. They say we cannot be trusted, but I am beginning to fear it is they who are keeping secrets. There's talk of increasing security measures and this might be the last time I'm allowed to write. I think about you constantly. I know I've apologized so many times that the words must make you as sick as they do me. But, again, I find myself begging for your forgiveness. I will never give you cause for fear again. You are everything to me. If I ever have the chance, I'll spend the rest of my life proving it to you.
I had never heard of any William or Eva before but Clark was my birth surname and I was intrigued by the letter. I reached into the box and pulled out the next in line.
February 16, 1969
Dear Eva -
Why won't you come see me? They tell me you can. They say I have to stay in handcuffs but that it's allowed. I can't make sense of anything. They tell me things I did and I can't believe it. Only you're not coming and I am beginning to wonder if it is something more than nightmares that I remember. I feel like I'm going crazy. Please come to see me and help me make sense of it.
I reached into the box and pulled out the last letter. It read:
I They tolded to me that I coUld wriTe you. I aM sorry.
I glanced over my shoulder, wondering if someone was screwing with me, waiting to see my reaction. These letters definitely had taken a turn for the creepy. But, as no one was behind me
, and I had unearthed this box myself from the floor of my parents' garage, I was inclined to believe in its authenticity. I grabbed my unsettling discoveries and went into the house.
I found my dad in the kitchen, drinking a glass of water at the table.
"Dad, what are these? I found them in a box," I said, fanning out the letters and photograph in my right hand.
As my dad registered what I was holding, his countenance fell.
"Sit down, Doyle," he said gravely.
I obeyed, grabbing the closest chair, feeling weak-kneed and nauseated suddenly. I stared at him expectantly. I couldn't imagine what he might have to tell me. I had known my entire life that I was adopted and that my birth parents had been killed in a car accident. I knew their names and that I had no other blood siblings. I couldn't think of what this new
, dark cloud over my past could possibly be to elicit this reaction from my father.
"That is a picture of your biological grandparents, your father's parents, taken shortly after your father had been born."
I stared down at the picture in my hand, willing my mind to become familiar with the faces, but it could not. They were completely foreign to me.
"In the late sixties," my father continued, "there was
My father paused here, as if after all of the 21 years following my adoption, he was still unprepared for the possibility of this speech.
"I don't know
the details, but your grandfather had had some sort of psychiatric breakdown. Whatever had occurred left your grandmother terrified. William had been institutionalized, during which, Eva had refused to see him until he reached his... maximum stability potential. Eventually, he was declared unfit to be released back into society. Shortly thereafter, William refused all visitation attempts by both Eva and Dylan."
I stared at the picture again, trying to see the face of the baby that was cradled in the woman's arms. It was the only photograph I had of my father. His face was partially concealed by a blanket and the picture had faded. It could have been a child's doll for all I could tell.
"Why have you never told me this before?"
come out with a tone of indignant betrayal which I had not intended. My father looked ashamed, a look he rarely wore. He bristled, shaking it off and embracing his confident manner once again.
"Your mother and I agreed not to tell you out of regard for your best interest. Nothing good could be gained by knowing your grandfather was mentally ill.
You tend to over-analyze things, Doyle, which isn't always a bad thing. But, in this case, we just didn't want you to become obsessed with it. This has nothing to do with you. You're not Doyle Clark. You're Doyle Hawthorne."
This has nothing to do with me?
It has everything to do with me. These are my grandparents!" I barked.
I immediately regretted my words once they were out
, but there was no way to take them back. I continued in a calmer voice, attempting to ease the acidity of my previous statement.
"What if whatever mental illness he had, I get? Aren't those things usually genetic?"
My father spoke softly. "Maybe we should have told you, but we did what we thought was best. When you were adopted, your mother and I were informed you were no more inclined to develop William's illness any more than we were. So we saw no reason to tell you. I'm sorry if you feel betrayed, but we just wanted to protect you."
What my father
said had made sense, but the sudden and unexpected information regarding my biological family was too new and disturbing for me to dismiss quickly. I needed to think.
"I'm going to go lie down," I said, heading to my room.
Quietly, I closed the door behind me and dropped onto my bed. It was still early, but I suddenly felt exhausted. I pulled the covers over my head and fell asleep quicker than I would have thought possible.