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Short Story – “Nothing so Certain as Death”

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In the tradition of many great authors, Corey Davis presents his short story, “Nothing so Certain as Death” in serial form. Check in every month for the newest installment.   

Part I

“Troy! Troy, boy, can’t you hear me?” Tim Robins called out. He rubbed his scruffy beard and wiped his weathered forehead, smearing axle grease across it as he did. Tim grabbed a small rag off of a counter beside him and wiped his hands. He looked around his small chop shop in search of Troy, but it was to no avail. A dim light hung above the cars propped up on lifts. Tools and oil littered the inside of the shop along with a few of his own workers. He sighed and tossed the rag back onto the counter from whence he’d found it. “Troy, gad’dammit!” Again, no response came. Tim grunted and walked over to Roscoe, one of his workers, who fiddled overtop of an engine block.

“Ros’, you seen Troy ‘round?” Tim inquired.
“Las’ I saw ‘im he was headed up’ta the roof ta catch a smoke.” Roscoe said without turning his head.
Tim nodded and turned toward the stairs. The shop had three levels; the maintenance area, the main office, and the roof. As his foot hit the first step, a buzz went off in Tim’s pocket. He slid his hand into his pocket and retrieved an old flip-phone. In one motion he flipped the top open with his thumb and looked at the small brightly-light screen. It had received a new text message from Patricia, Tim’s wife.

‘Are you actually coming home tonight, or are you going to have to pull an ‘all-nighter’ again? Please don’t let Tommy down, it’ll break his heart if you miss dinner tonight.’

Tim’s thumbs tapped at the small keypad to write his response. ‘Im sorry. ill be home as soon as i can ive just been busy lately. i love you.’ Tim finished his sentence and tapped the send key. In truth, Tim did feel bad for his absence at home. He missed his children, Tommy and Caroline, and he did miss his wife, though she did make his life hell from time to time. He spent more time with Troy than he did his own family. Though, Troy was his family. Years back, the exact date Tim could not recall, he had adopted Troy after his parents’ death. Troy had been young at the time, no more than five or six. Tim took him in as his own, and raised him as such. He prepared Tim and his wife to have true children of their own. But years had passed since that day, and Troy was his own man now, who didn’t thrive off of the Robins’ name in Brooklyn. He’d chosen to use his original surname, Moore. Tim offered him a job when he was out of high school and gave him damn good pay. It kept their bond strong, and Tim was grateful for that.

Tim passed through the second floor and up to the roof. He opened the door and took in the dusk New York cityscape. It was always Troy’s favorite time, just as the sun went down. Tim should have known this was where he’d find him, but he felt he must have gotten caught up in his work.

As expected, there Troy stood, bent over the waist-high ledge of the roof with a cigarette in hand. Troy was an average sized man. He had a rugged face, a smooth thin nose, short brown hair, and deep green eyes. His build was slightly athletic, though he never played sports due to his limited lung capacity, a dirty habit that he’d had since his freshmen year of high school saw to that. On this night, he wore a stained white tee tucked into worn blue jeans that were finished by khaki work boots. He took a deep drag off of his cigarette and ashed it over the roof’s ledge. Tim approached him from behind. He leaned over the edge beside him and relieved a heavy sigh.

“Long day?” Troy asked and exhaled his smoke.
“Somethin’ like that. Been worked to the bone fixin’ up them cars fo for the end’a the week.” Tim responded.

“That’s right. There’s that, uh, car show at this weekend, huh?” Troy took another drag.

“Yep. One too many come flyin’ in here, just expectin’ us to have’em done ASAP,” Tim shook and rubbed the back of his head.

“That all that’s eatin’ at you, ol’ man?” Troy tilted his head back and blew his smoke up into the air.

“Well, your mother’s been on my case again.”

“Why, ‘cause you haven’t been home? She’s gotta understand you’re busy,” Troy blurted out.

“I’d ‘a thought so, but I guess that ain’t the case,” Tim shrugged. “S’bout that time, T. You ready to roll?”

“Been ready.” Troy said, his last exhale of smoke a relieved one. He extinguished the cigarette’s tiny internal flame and and tossed the butt off of the roof, then turned around to follow Tim.
Tim smiled and nodded, then turned to head back to the stairwell he’d entered from. As quickly as he’d reached to top, so did he and Troy reach the bottom. When he arrived at the main floor, he let out a call to those who still worked on the cars. “Alright, boys. We’re headin’ out. Leave as ya please an’ be sure to lock up if you’re the last one out.” The men grumbled and some waved. Troy grabbed his tan jacket off of a stray chair in the middle of the work floor and shrugged it on. Together, he and Tim exited Robins’ Chop Shop.

Tim shivered slightly as a cold breeze blew through. The dusk had settled into near-night even more since he and Troy had been on the roof. Streetlights all along the street had lit up to provide the dark streets a dim light. Tim rubbed his already exposed arms and walked to the parking lot that resided directly across from the shop. Troy slightly zipped his jacket as he walked beside him. They were well into fall, and both realized it.

“Y’know, we’re havin’ dinner tonight if you wanna come,” Tim told Troy. “I’m sure your mother’d love to see you.”

“I might stop by. Can’t make any promises though.” Troy said.

“Well, if you figure it out, just let me know. Caroline’s even comin’ to this one. Hell, It’d make Tommy’s whole week if y–” Tim stopped his sentence and movement dead in his tracks. He squinted his eyes to make out a large dark shape on the ground. Tim walked forward to get a better view, and, when close enough, realized what it was he saw. A slender figure of an elderly woman. Tim suspected she had been mugged, which was not uncommon in this part of Brooklyn. Tim’s pace quickened as he ran to get to her side.

“Miss, are you okay?” He called to the fallen woman. Tim couldn’t distinguish what it was she had said in return, but saw that she was still alive when he skidded to a stop and crouched by her side. By this time, Troy had become privy to the situation and ran to catch up. Tim grabbed the woman’s shoulders and rolled her over. When he looked into her eyes, he saw no color. Only two vacant milky-white balls looked up at him. The woman’s jaw snapped at Tim. In shock, he released her from his grip and she clawed her way on top of him. Her jaw continued to snap at him. In a panic, Tim struggled to remove her body from his. He moved his arm to block her bite from his face, but instead gave her access to his forearm. The woman’s teeth sunk into it, crimson blood spilled from the wound. Tim let out an agonized cry in reaction.

“Dad!” Troy screamed. He rushed the woman and drove his knee into her head. She recoiled and fell off of Tim. Troy helped Tim to his feet as he reeled in pain from the chunk of skin that had been taken off of his arm. Troy could see straight through missing muscle to the yellowish-white bone beneath while blood spilled from the wound. “Come on, Dad. Come on! We gotta tend to that wound.”

Troy rummaged through his pocket and retrieved the keys to his car. He pressed the small rubber button that hung off of his keyring and unlocked his worn ‘73 Camaro. Troy slung his father’s good arm over his shoulder and helped him to the vehicle. Tim had lost so much blood already, Troy noticed, that the shock had already begin to set in. When they reached his car, Troy pulled the passenger side door open and helped his father into it, who had stopped his pained grunts and slipped into unconsciousness. He rushed to the driver side and promptly hopped into it, then pulled his seatbelt on. Troy shoved the key into the ignition and turned it. The car rumbled and roared to life. Troy gripped the shifter and put it in reverse. The tires squealed as he shifted it into first and took off down the road.

Panicked, Troy looked to his father. Blood still poured from the wound and he had nothing to bind it with. “Hang on, Dad. We’ll be home soon.” He said aloud, more to ease his own mind than his father’s. Troy looked to his speedometer now and again and it rose each time he did so. Forty miles, fifty, sixty, all the way to seventy-five. At this speed, he’d made it halfway back to Tim’s home. From there, he could find some gauze in their bathroom and wrap him up while his mother called 911. It was a plan, the best he could do for now. All he could hope for was that his father would pull through this. What had prompted the woman to attack him, he wondered, to take a bite out of his father’s arm. Regardless of why, it had happened and all that mattered now was getting him patched up.

In the seat next to him, Tim shuffled in his seat. Troy glanced to him, then to the road. “Dad, can you hear me?” He asked. “You okay?”

Tim gave no response. He continued to shuffled and scoot back in the seat until he hunched over. His head twitched to the left at the sound of Troy’s voice. Tim grumbled and turned to him. Troy continued to drive. He turned his attention to his father and raised a brow at him. “Dad, you o–” Tim lurched at Troy, arms outstretched and reaching for his face. Troy took one hand off of the wheel and forced his father’s hands away.

“Dad, what the –” Tim’s hands came back once again. Troy’s hand jerked the wheel left. The Camaro veered off of the road and slammed into a stop-light. The full force stop ejected Tim from the car and out the windshield. His head smashed against the ground outside and halted all movement. Troy was forced back into his seat by the seat belt he’d wrapped around himself. His head slammed against the wheel and sent him into a daze. When he’d finally settled in his seat, the more he kept his eyes open the harder it became to. He gripped the shifter and reversed the car. The tires ripped up the dirt and grass beneath them as they pulled the car back to the road. Troy shifted once more and sped off toward his old home. He couldn’t comprehend what it was that compelled his father to attack him. His own flesh and blood clawed at his face. Holy crap. Troy thought as the weight of what happened finally hit him. His father, one way or another, was dead. Tim Robins, dead and left on the side of the road. How would he explain that to his mother? He wondered how he’d tell it to his adopted brother and sister. Caroline was not much younger than Troy, only by a rough six years. She’d take it the hardest, fully able to comprehend it. But Tommy was only ten, how would he react? His father, gone. Forever. Troy shook the haze out of his eyes and focused on the then-and-now.

Troy slowed the vehicle as he closed in on the Robins’ residence. He pulled into the driveway and unbuckled himself. Troy quickly darted out and left the keys in the ignition. He rushed up the front steps and through the door of the small white house. He was greeted by Patricia and Caroline. They turned to him, confused by his haste. Troy gulped and panted after he slammed the door shut behind him and locked it. He coughed and walked to the couch. Troy reached down and snatched the remote control.

“Troy, what’s going on?” Caroline asked. She brushed back her blonde hair and looked up at him.
“Why are you out of breath?” Patricia asked.

Troy shushed them and flipped through the channels. “I need to check the news. Right now.” He stated plainly. Troy finally stopped on channel three. A news report took up the full screen of the mounted plasma screen. A reporter stood before a hospital as ambulances sped in and out by the minute.

“–and the amount of new patients being admitted into the hospital has substantially increased. We have no official total, but casualties are estimated to be in the thousands already. Reports are flooding in of men and women attacking civilians in the streets, biting and seemingly eating their victims. There is no information as to what caused these outburts, but–” The reporter stopped and turned her attention to something out of the camera’s view. “Oh my god,” she said and started to run in the opposite direction of whatever it was she had seen. The camera became shaky as whomever the operator was began to run alongside her. An abrupt and violent cry came out of the reporter. The camera turned back to her. What it captured was the woman forced to the ground, with a pale humanoid monster digging into her skin with its bare fingers. A horde of similar creatures rushed past her and after the camera operator. His breaths became audible on the camera’s microphone. The camera suddenly flew and fell to the ground. It rolled and spun until the cameraman was in view. Several creatures dug and bit into him, while the rest pulled on his limbs and attempted to devour each one. The camera feed went off and a blue screen followed. White text rolled up from the bottom of the screen:

 

ATTENTION: DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HOMES. AN DISEASE OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN HAS RESULTED IN THE DEATH AND REANIMATION OF ANY AFFECTED BY IT. SYMPTOMS INCLUDE: YELLOWING OF SKIN, HIGH FEVER, LOSS OF BRAIN FUNCTION, AND DEATH. A BITE FROM THOSE AFFLICTED BY THE DISEASE WILL RESULT IN DEATH AND REANIMATION. DO NOT APPROACH THE AFFLICTED. LOCK YOUR DOORS AND STAY INSIDE.


Troy pressed the power button and turned the television off. Patricia and Caroline watched in horror. Patricia turned up to Troy, her worry written on her face. “Where’s Tim?” She asked.

Troy closed his eyes and shook his head. Patricia’s eyes welled with tears as she burst out into a sob. Troy winced in anger at his adopted father’s death and stormed into the kitchen. He couldn’t console her, he’d never been good at that type of thing. Anger was his coping mechanism. Troy balled his hand into a fist and pounded it into the kitchen wall. His fist went through the drywall. He pulled it back and huffed where he stood. He shook his head and as hot tears formed in his eyes. Troy wiped them clean and continued to sob as the full loss set in.

“What are we going to do?” Caroline asked from the dimly lit archway.

Troy turned around to face her, his face concealed by shadow. “I don’t know yet,” he grumbled. “I… I guess we just wait it out. Through the night and if… if no one comes for us in a few days, we go looking for them.” He shrugged.

“Not much of a plan.” She responded.
“Do you have anything better?”

“Didn’t say I did,” she said and crossed her arms. Caroline rubbed her arms in her thin black jacket. “You have to tell Tommy, you know. I… don’t think he’d take it from anyone but you.”
“I know.” Troy said. “I know. Is he in his room?”

“That’s usually where he goes when he gets home from school… ‘Till dad got home, at least.” She told him.

Troy nodded at her and walked out of the dark kitchen and down the hallway directly to its left. Tommy’s room was in the back of the hall. Troy thought of how he could explain it to him with each step he took. The five second walk felt as if it took five years to finish. No matter how he cut it, no response felt suitable to give Tommy the news. Troy reached the door to Tommy’s room and grabbed the metal handle. Slowly, he twisted it and pushed the door open. There Tommy sat, at his desk with a pencil in hand and a blank paper before him. Troy walked up behind him and took a hard swallow before he broke the silence that filled the room.

“What’cha drawin’, Tom?” he asked.

“Superhero,” he responded.

Troy bent down next to him and looked at the picture. Finely done, the man on the front had short blonde hair and a cleanshaven face. His chest had the symbol of a wrench on it, on top of red tights with a flowing black cape. Troy struggled with what came next when he saw the striking resemblance the hero had. “Looks like dad,” he choked out.

Tommy shrugged and set his pencil down, then turned to Troy. “I’m glad you came…” He titled his head and looked Troy’s pained face over. “Is… something wrong?” he asked and raised a brow.

Troy took another hard swallow and rested his hands on both of Tommy’s shoulders. “I don’t know how to say it, Tom… but… Dad’s–” he stopped a moment to collect himself, “–Dad’s gone, Tom. He’s not comin’ back.”

“Dad’s… he’s dead?” Tommy asked. Tears filled his eyes and he looked up to Troy. Troy’s silence was response enough for Tommy. “No. No, I don’t believe you…” he turned away from Troy, “And get out of my room!”
“Tom, I–”
“Now!” He barked.

Troy recoiled and nodded. Tommy’s denial and harsh attitude cut him, but he understood. Troy stood up and walked out of the room. He lightly shut the door behind him and pressed his index finger and thumb to the bridge of his nose. It was too much to handle. Patricia still sobbed on the couch, now with Caroline to console her. Troy sighed and walked to the door of his old room. He twisted the handle and opened the door, then shut it behind him once he’d entered. The contents were exactly as he’d left it. Model cars lined his shelves, and posters decorated his walls. He walked to his one-person bed and sat down on it. Troy dropped his head into his hands and felt his emotions swell once more. Hot tears spilled from his eyes. There was nothing more he could do today, he’d figured. Troy looked at his watch in the dark room and made out the time. It was already well past eight. He laid back on his old bed and let his head sink into his pillow. Troy closed his eyes and let unconsciousness wrapped his mind. Maybe whatever the next day held would be better than this.


***********

 

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Short Story – “Nothing so Certain as Death”