It was a completely different world at that house. Brad, Shannon, and Max were like one of those regular “All American” families you’d see on TV. Their house seemed to be frozen in time, unaffected by what was going outside their property, no broken glass, no boarded windows. They were self-maintained with a well that supplied them with water, a power generator, and lush garden with plump tomatoes, leafy greens, herbs and spices. They even had a coop full of at least 7 chickens.
Flowers and vines climbed up the sides of the house, stretching as far as they could to be close to the sunlight. The smell of death that seemed to engulf the rest of the world could hardly pierce the thick wall of sweet-smelling spices and flowers encompassing the house. It was almost too incredible to believe.
It was only in that room where the young girl rested in her bed on the verge of death that the scent of Jasmine couldn’t overpower the stench of rotting flesh around the wound in her shoulder. The antibiotics weren’t going to help her. The wound was already septic.
She hadn’t exactly been bitten Brad and Shannon explained as we sat down at the kitchen table after they’d shown us around the property. Max was sitting in silence, a frown on his face listening to the conversation. Nora, Shannon’s mother, was bustling around the kitchen preparing dinner and making adjustments for the unexpected guests. Tank was lying at my feet gobbling down some mixture of leftover deer meat, sweet potatoes, and rice. Nora was at the counter chopping away at some lettuce while the meat sizzled in the frying pan.
“Max and I were hunting for whatever we could find out there,” Brad explained. Abbie and Shannon were here tending to the garden, Nora was inside pretending the whole world hadn’t gone to Hell as usual. It was only a matter of time before the outside made it to our door.
There were four of them, big, strong; two men and a woman. Shannon’s an excellent shot, handles herself real well in most cases, but the circumstances this time,” he paused and lowered his head. Shannon patted him on the back.
“I couldn’t take on all four of them myself,” Shannon continued, anger streaking her voice as her eyes narrowed and stared straight into mine. “If Abbie had been inside…I should have made her stay inside,” Her eyes softened and she lowered her head for a moment before returning to an enraged expression of a mother wolf protecting her children.
“I told her to get back and pointed my gun at them, but they had three guns on me and one on Abbie, What was I supposed to do,” her head lowered again, weighed down by the heaviness of her shame for not being able to protect her family weighing it down.
Brad looked at Shannon with forgiving eyes, “You did what you had to sweetie.”
Shannon offered a reluctant smile before continuing, “I dropped my gun, just like they said. Abbie was only 10 feet away, but if I moved…” a sinister smile crossed Shannon’s face. It was only there for an instant, but that instant told me that something wasn’t right.
“Bastards got what they deserved,” she spat.
“What’s that supposed to mean,” Ethan chimed in.
“Uh, after dinner,” Brad suggested as Nora placed a large bowl of brightly colored vegetables on the table.
Shannon continued her story as we each scooped salad onto our plates, “They took us inside, made us sit on the couch in the den. Mom was somewhere upstairs, they hadn’t found her yet.
They started talking about the last house they were at as they rummaged through our things. Another family up the road, started talking about the awful things they did to them, how badly they beat and tortured them, how much they suffered. That’s when I noticed the necklace dangling from the woman’s wrist.
It was an ivory rose pendant, surrounded by pearls. It was old; Janice’s. She was our neighbor down the road, Abbie used to play with her daughter, we would go into the city every other weekend and have lunch and go shopping, just the girls. She was loved that necklace so much, it belonged to her grandmother, it was all she had left of her. Now this woman had it wrapped around her wrist.
The clasp was broken; there was still some blood on it. She had to tie the chain in a knot. My stomach was turning and I was afraid of what they would do to me and Abbie….and mom.
It was the older man, not that old, maybe in his 40’s. He’s the one who spotted the pictures. He started questioning me, asking where the rest of my family was. I told him they were dead, he didn’t believe me. Said, ‘two little ladies couldn’t survive out here on their own for this long.’ I was shaking and trying to keep Abbie close. She wasn’t really scared yet, just confused.
‘Mom, why did you say daddy and Max are dead,’ she asked me.
They gathered around the couch then, as the older one started getting angry.
‘See now, you shouldna lied to me like that. I’m a sensitive guy,’ the others laughed. ‘and when my feelings get hurt, I need to vent my anger somewhere!’
He grabbed Abbie and put the gun to her head. I screamed and tried to reach for her, but one of the others held me back, laughing while I struggled. She’s was crying and calling out to me. I kept screaming; I couldn’t do anything. I’d never felt more helpless.
I thought we were gonna die until, but…” she looked at Brad to finish the story.
“But Max and I were already in the house,” Brad took over.
“We came back in time to see them going inside. We climbed up the side of the house and were lucky enough to catch Nora before she went downstairs. Max and I went to the attic and Nora waited for our signal with a shotgun at the top of the stairs.
We loosened some floorboards and made a small opening while they were making noise down here. Got some rope, I held one end across one of the more sturdy beams while Max lowered the other end through the hole.
Floorboards were getting old. I was going to replace them before all this happened.
Max hooked a noose around the neck of the man holding Shannon and gave me the signal. I jumped, smashing through the floor hanging onto the rope so tight my hands were bleeding. The force of my weight bursting through the floor was enough to snap the guys neck on the other end of the rope. I came down on top of one of the other men, only knocked him down and disoriented him though.
I’d let go of the rope as soon as I hit the floor and the other guy’s body dropped behind Shannon. She was already after the woman while I was getting up.
The guy beneath me rolled into the back of my legs and sent me back down to the floor. He was pounding my face, Shannon and the other woman were slamming each other into walls and furniture with their hands at each other’s throats half the time.
I managed to bring my knee up into his stomach and push him off enough to put a boot to his face. Crushed his nose pretty good, his blood was spilling out all over the place, but he still kept coming at me.
I was still on my back when I saw Nora coming into the den. I kicked the guy in the stomach with both feet this time, forcing him backwards. Nora got off a clear shot with the 12 gauge straight into his chest and pointed it at the man holding Abbie.
Shannon finally got in a solid hit and knocked the other woman to the ground. She went ballistic. Grabbed the fire poker and started bashing the woman’s face in, screaming at her like an animal. By the time she was done she was covered in the other woman’s blood.
The man still had Abbie though and none of us were making a move. You could feel the tension rising in the room as he tried to bargain with us, her life for his. He was outnumbered and still trying to give orders. All of his friends were dead on the floor and he still thought there was a way out.
He started backing up towards the door holding Abbie up with one arm so Nora couldn’t fire the shotgun at him without risking hitting Abbie. Shannon and I didn’t have any guns on us, he was gonna walk right out that door with our baby.
Shannon was screaming at me to do something when the butt of a rifle swung from behind and clocked him upside the head. He dropped Abbie, and she got spun around and stood there shaking and sobbing, just staring at the man, too scared to move.
He started to wobble before falling to one knee. Max was standing behind him with the rifle. We would have all been in the clear, but this guy was a stubborn bastard. He started trying to get back up and when he realized he couldn’t he raised the gun and fired one shot. Just one shot right before Max hit him again, straight through Abbie’s shoulder.”
Brad and Shannon both sat with their heads low now, Shannon hunched over her plate, hardly touched her meal; and Brad leaning back in his chair was scraping at the plate with an empty fork pushing food around. Max hadn’t said a word or even picked up his fork after Nora had served the meal.
“I’ll never forget that scream,” Brad’s tone was solemn.
“We tried to keep the wound clean,” Shannon added, staring down at her plate. “She started getting a fever yesterday morning. We should have left sooner to get the medicine.”
“You’d do anything to save your daughter,” I asked; rhetorical question of course.
“Without question,” Brad replied now leaning forward in his chair.
“Absolutely,” Shannon raised her head.
A knowing smile formed on my face and Ethan turned and raised an eyebrow, “You know something?”
“Maybe,” I replied placing my fork on my now empty plate and directing my attention towards Brad and Shannon. “I think you had something to show us.”
“Caught on to that did you,” Brad seemed a little surprised.
“Well you did say ‘after dinner’ and it appears to be that time. Just seems odd you’d say that and then go ahead and tell us that whole story.”
Brad looked over to Shannon who nodded an acknowledgement back at him.
“Well then,” he sighed and rose from his chair. “Let’s get to it.”
Max stayed in the kitchen helping Nora clean up after dinner. Tank kept them company while Ethan and I followed Shannon and Brad to the basement. A wall of putrid smell burst through the door as soon as it opened. Somehow they’d managed to keep it insulated enough so that the smell didn’t seep into the rest of the house. Ethan gagged and covered his mouth.
Brad flipped on the light and the steps creaked as each person moved into the basement. The smell only got stronger with each step. Shannon shut the door behind us.
It looked like there was a massacre down there. The floor was just dirt, but there were trails of blood leading over to a workbench surrounded by pools of blood. Chunks and pieces of body parts too mangled to determine which section they’d been hacked off of.
Following the trail of blood dripping over the edge of the tabletop was a gruesome looking chipper smeared with blood and bucket filled with red and black sludge. Directly in the center of the room and bound to a sturdy beam was a barely conscious man facing the carnage of the workbench. His hair was matted with blood, and his face was heavily bruised with deep gashes.
“We’ve been mixing them with the mulch,” Brad explained kicking the foot of the man on the floor. He grunted and mumbled a few unintelligible words while trying to lift his head. His head barely moved.
Ethan, finally succumbed to the churning in his stomach and spewed his dinner all over the floor.
“Guess we should’ve did this before dinner,” I joked.
“Really?” Ethan gasped wiping his face.
I chuckled a little and turned to address Brad and Shannon, “Just to be clear; anything to save your daughter?” Still rhetorical, but it never hurts to ask.
“Yes!” Shannon spoke with certainty.
“Of course!” Brad added.
“All I needed to hear.”
Satisfied with their answer I spun around and jammed my heel into the side of Ethan’s leg, sending him screaming down onto one knee. The last thing he saw as he looked up at me with a mixture of anger and confusion was my fist coming towards his face.