where the writers are
Funky Town

            The news started spreading on Monday.  By Tuesday every student in Habrigvale High had heard the news.  Two of their very own, Nathan Andrews and Stacey Lane, had discovered what was labelled the find of the century by the teenage populous.  Nathan and Stacey, one of the more infamous couples in Habrigvale High, had trekked into the forest that surrounded the small town in western Ontario to do what most teenage couples do when they trek into the woods.  Afterward, though Nathan refused to admit it, they were lost.  In roaming, trying to find a road of some sort, they stumbled across the ghost town that, by Wednesday of the same week will have earned the name Funky Town.  There, they found the remains of an old access road, which was heavily in grown but enough of it remained that they were able to find their way back to town.  Nathan had been smart enough to mark the entrance to the access road carefully.

            When Thursday rolled around, the plans were finalized.  Funky Town would officially be christened in with the party of the year.  The entirety of the small town would host a party for the entire high school and local college (for word had reached there shortly after the town gained its name).  Of course the event was B.Y.O.B., but anyone in Habrigvale who drank yet remained underage had some connection to get some booze, whether it was an older brother in the college or a good friend who worked at the local LCBO store.  Needless to say, that store had a very profitable week, and by the time Friday came around, people had a hard time finding any hard liquor that wasn't already purchased.

            And yet none of the authorities caught on.

            The party was set for Saturday night, and quickly became a bring-a-date event.  It was not necessary, but everyone enjoyed asking their date "Won't you take me to Funky Town?" in a singsong voice, mimicking the song to which the town was named after.  The song even began playing on the radio, someone mistaking all the talk about Funky Town for a sudden resurrection of the song.  And in a way, it was, but for complete different reasons.  By Thursday, everything was planned out.  Everyone knew where to go, or who to go to, to get to Funky Town, and everything but the booze had been supplied; there were stereos supplied, various furniture was brought out and several generators were supplied for power.  Even the access trail was cleared away somewhat so people could drive there in their pick-ups.

            Everyone was checked, ready to go.  This would be the event of the year.

#

            "Dude, you have to ask her out.  You can't go to Funky Town alone, and this is your perfect opportunity!"

            "I know, I know, it's just...  I don't know," Mal said to his friend, Dillon, across the table from him.  His eyes, though, were on the girl sitting a couple tables down from him in the cafeteria, enjoying a small slice of pizza brought from home.

            Malcolm Atkinson was doing his final year in Habrigvale High.  He was planning to go from there to the University of Toronto to pursue a B.A.  in English.  From there he would continue on to a career in journalism, aiming for a steady job with the Toronto Star.  But that was all in the future; Mal's current concerns were on Funky Town and asking his three year crush, Kelly Barnett, to ‘take him down to Funky Town', in as many ways of the phrase as you can take from it.

            In fact, he was so focused on her, across the cafeteria, focused on asking her out--or rather, getting the courage to do so--that he went to take a bite from his burger and completely missed his mouth, smearing ketchup on his cheek.  It wouldn't have worried Mal much, except that Kelly chose that time to feel his eyes on her and glance back, to see a messy haired 18-year-old with a large smear of ketchup across his face.  She turned away, just quick enough for Mal to miss her expression.  It had either been disgust or the beginnings of laughter, or worse yet, both.

            Dillon Weber, Mal's best friend since grade five, threw a napkin at him.  He quickly wiped the ketchup off his face, but it was too late; the damage was done, she had seen it.  Mal gulped, laying down his burger and gripping the edge of the table.

            "Alright, alright, I'm going to go do it."

            "Seriously, dude, you'll be all the better.  I mean, what's rejection from a girl who hardly notices you anyway, right?"

            Encouraging words, but Mal pushed them out of his head.  He set his jaw, pushed off the table and focused only on the task at hand.  She was three tables away, but that distance seemed so far now, as he stood up.  Would he get to her before lunch ended? That dreaded bell would ring before he was even halfway there.  Yet if he ran, he would look even more like a fool than he had with ketchup all over his face.  No, he had to walk, walk now, and not stop until he met up with her.

            One foot at a time, he began the journey.  One foot in front of the other, careful of shoelaces, of garbage cans and anything that he could trip on that would make him seem like a fool.  He was done with that, he was the fool no longer, he was the man.  He was the guy who got the girls.  He was...  there.

            Kelly Barnett looked up at him, as did the group of friends surrounding her.  He was there, and she was expecting something.  There was no turning back now.  He would do this, he had to do this, and it was his destiny, his fate.  That he wound up there, now, was the preset course of action, and he would succeed.  By God, he will succeed!

            "Kelly...  I was...  well I was wondering if you would..." Oh no, he was stammering.  He was at a loss for words.  Future reporter for the Toronto Star, whose columns would be read by thousands, hundreds of thousands of people and they will all look up after reading them and think that was a good article, was now at a loss for words.  "I was wondering...  if...  I could...  takeyoudowntoFunkyTown!"

            Well, he had said it.  It hadn't been very coherent, but he had said it.  It was out there, now, and he was going to suffer the consequences or reap the benefits.  He really hoped for benefits

            Kelly blinked, caught off guard by the abruptness of the question, or the jumble of sounds that seemed like a question, Mal couldn't tell which it was.  Had she even understood? He was pretty sure the words Funky Town had come out more coherently, so perhaps she can put two and two together and get what he was asking.  It wasn't like she was a failing student; she was going for valedictorian, for Christ's sake!

            "Mal, I...  well I'm already going with Dustin." A bombshell.  But Mal should have expected it.  Things were going to perfectly, of course they would fall into the routine of the girl getting with the rival.  Well, Dustin was not really Mal's rival.  He was the male valedictorian, and...  well the cliché would say he's a bully, but he really wasn't.  He did, however, have this way of making you seem inferior just by acknowledging your presence.  Like his words to you were an act of charity, that you should feel privileged.  And the guy didn't even have an ego, it was just...  just how things were with him.  Every school had a Dustin.

            "Oh, alright then," Mal resigned.  Dustin had the girl, there was nothing he could now do to change that.  Mal turned and started walking back toward his table, his confidence popped like a balloon; like the Hindenburg when it hit the ground.

            "Oh, Mal!" Kelly's voice! Maybe, just maybe, there was a chance.  Perhaps she saw the way Dustin was and- "You still have a bit of ketchup, right there," she said, pointing to her own cheek.  Mal quickly rubbed it away, but it made no difference.  A small red blotch was rubbed away from the scarlet his cheeks had become.

#

            With the slowness of anticipation the rest of the week passed by.  Funky Town was the talk of the school, there was never a conversation where it didn't come up.  People were already scouting it out for the party, determining where they'll put their coolers, chairs, where they'll hang out, or where they'll take their dates once the mood was right.  The town was alive again, for the first time in many years, and completely inhabited, by day, by students.

            It wasn't much of a town, more a village than anything.  There was one main street that ran from access road to forest, where it had gone once was now lost.  About a third of the way down the street from the access road another street intersected with the main one, and then another at the next third, both of these roads ending in forest at either end.  The outermost buildings--small, one storey houses--were grown in as the foliage worked its way inward.  Toward the main street, buildings grew in size, both outward and upward.  There was the remains of a store at one intersection, and a bar at the other.  The bar was quickly becoming the headquarters for Funky Town, and the only building that was truly worked on.  Some of the houses had been cleaned up, but not reworked, nor refurnished.

            In finding a common interest, alcohol, and a place where this interest could be exploited to any end, the teenagers of Habrigvale had come together and worked more efficiently than ever.

            By the time Saturday evening rolled around, the bar had been almost completely restored and the houses surrounding it were almost to the point where someone could live in them once more.  That was the area the efforts were most focused on, and the further away from the bar one got, the worse the condition of the buildings was.  In total there were five restored buildings of the thirty four buildings in the town itself.

And no one questioned why such a discovery had gone unfound for so many years; why this town was not on any records of Habrigvale when it was only a twenty minute drive down the access road.  Just far enough for convenience, yet far enough away that even the music at full volume would not be heard in town.

            Nor could any screams be heard.

#

            The music that came from the bar could be heard even from the extremities of the town.  The bar itself was crammed with people, as was the majority of the main street.  The houses immediately surrounding the bar were treated as the lounges, with the music muffled just loud enough inside that it could be treated as background noise.  The upper floors were used for other activities, most of the bedroom doors were shut and locked fairly soon into the night.

            Mal sat in one of the lounges, taking casual sips from a beer.  He was not a heavy alcohol consumer, but he did indulge from time to time when the situation called for it, and this, being one of the biggest events of the year, called for it.  Sitting across from him was Dillon and a few of Dillon's friends and their collective dates.  They were passing a couple fairly large joints around, but Mal passed them on whenever they came to him without taking a toke.  He was more focused on the window, staring just over Dillon's shoulder.

            Through it he had a view of the street right in front of the bar.  And it was there, ironically, where Kelly was now dancing with Dustin.  A very provocative dance in a very provocative outfit, unfortunately for Mal.  He took good long gulp from his beer (he had bought half a dozen for the occasion) and tried to distract himself in the conversation going on between Dillon and his friends.  However Mal was completely lost; they were either talking about a hockey game they had seem, or the politics of China.  Either way, it was the incoherent discussion of a weed-influenced mind and Mal couldn't contribute anything on the same level.

            So, trusting Dillon and co.  to remain where they were, or at least not to leave their cooler unattended, Mal finished off his beer, took another one and left the lounge area.  He had no idea where he was going, but it would probably be more entertaining than listening to Jared Cobb's big conspiracy theory on why China refused to free Tibet (which was due to heavy influence from the Soviet Union as they prepared for their return).

            He wandered out of the house and into the crowd.  Everyone had something to drink, and it was hard to move without something spilling on you, but Mal worked his way through, toward the music.  And toward Kelly.  He was in no mood to talk to her, because that would mean talking to Dustin as well, but he did want to examine that outfit she had on a bit more, and try and figure out how it was staying on with the hustle and bustle of the large crowd.

            He quickly found it was impossible to stand still in the crowd.  It was an ocean of human beings, and there was a heavy current.  Mal gave up trying to fight it and let himself get swept away after searching in vain for Kelly.  She had likely been taken by the current, or by Dustin.

            Mal's beer was lost to the crowd when he was pushed hard into another guy.  He didn't mourn its loss; there was enough smoke in the air that he had already picked up a second-hand high, combined with the three beer he'd already cleared away, he was in a good state for someone who didn't drink very often.  The music took control and he began to dance; the current taking him from partner to partner, and being as it was, he was grinded on by at least a half a dozen different girls over the course of five minutes.

            It wasn't until he was grinding with one particular brunette that he snapped out of whatever state he had been in.  It was Kelly.  Somehow the current had taken him to her, and Dustin was nowhere in sight.  And she was grinding him! Though, for fairness's sake, she was taken by the music just as everyone else was so she probably hadn't noticed it was him, or didn't care, or maybe she did and she still kept doing it.  How he hoped it was the last one.

            Luck was with him.  The song ended and so did the strength of the current, and he was able to remain next to Kelly; just as a slow song began playing.  Everyone started finding their partners, and Kelly turned around to face him.  Him! She, the girl of his dreams, who had just grinded on him, was now looking for a slow dance with him! He was beginning to feel butterflies; perhaps life was going to change with the discovery of Funky Town, that Habrigvale was facing a paradigm shift and people like Mal got the girl, not people like Dustin.

            "Oh, hey, Mal!" Kelly exclaimed, and Mal could smell the drinks on her breath.  Or perhaps it was in the air, as there was a lot of alcohol...  everywhere.  She was definitely past a buzz, anyway, but Mal wasn't about to pass up the chance.  And those three beers and the second-hand high definitely helped him find his words.

            "Oh, hey, Kelly.  Would you care to dance?" He said, suavely offering his hand.  She took it, and then moved closer to him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders.  His found her hips, her perfectly curved hips, and their bodies began to move to the music.  Mal fought back the butterflies in his gut and focused on moving his feet to the beat.  The last thing he wanted was to step on her feet, though she probably wouldn't notice.

            "Are you enjoying yourself?" she asked, look up at him.  He had about half a foot on her, so she had to look up, and he looked down and into her wonderfully hazel eyes.

            "Much more now, I have to say," he responded, offering her a coy smile.  Her reply was much better, instead of saying anything she pressed herself closer to him.  "Where's Dustin?"

            "He ran off with Heather King, that two-timing bastard."

            Luck! O praise the Gods of Luck that shine down upon him! Kelly was slow dancing with him, pressing herself against him, her date had run off on her and the current had put Mal in the perfect position! Fireworks were exploding somewhere and Mal figured he must've passed out drunk or something that all this would happen so well.

            "Shame," it was all he could manage, anymore words and he would explode with excitement.

            They continued to dance closely for a while, and Mal's heart sank as he recognized a cue in the song and knew it would soon be over.  And then the current would start up again and he would be taken away from Kelly.

            The song ended, and couples started breaking apart all around them.  Kelly began to move away from him, but kept her arms around his shoulders.  She looked up at him, and he looked down at her, their eyes meeting, his blue and hers hazel, staring deeply into each other.

            And then they kissed.

            Mal's heart exploded, and he was sure she would feel it.  Her lips were now against his, and his against hers! Her eyes were closed and she was pulling herself closer to him...  or him closer to her...  either way, they were pressed together.  Mal was sure he was passed out by this point, and even pinched himself behind her back.  No, he was there, this was actually happening!

            Sure, her breath tasted like a mixture of beer and rum, but she had kissed him.  Was that really taking advantage of her while she's drunk, or was it her taking advantage of him?

            Who cared?

#

            The kiss lasted forever, yet not long enough.  Kelly broke it first (Mal wasn't even thinking of breaking it when it happened) but did not break the proximity she had on him immediately.  She took his hand, and began leading him with the current.  They broke free of the crowd and continued on.  Mal was in a dream-like state; obediently following her tug as she led him...  well she was leading him somewhere private, so that surely meant only one thing.

            They began to move away from the lights, and it was getting darker around.  Mal's eyes quickly adjusted, as they always did in darkness.  He blamed years of being force-fed carrots by his mother.  Just out of the light's circumference, Kelly moved for the door to one of the houses.  It wasn't completely restored as some of the others, but someone had done some work on this house.  There was a string of Christmas lights inside, leading up the stairs.  And that was where Kelly was now leading Mal.

            There was someone else in the house, in one of the bedrooms, but they were harmless.  Mal could tell from the noises, though they quieted down a bit when they heard footsteps down the hall.  Kelly paused in the hallway for a split-second.  Mal could tell she didn't know where they were going, or at least, she didn't know exactly where.  Upon deciding a room, she led him in.  He kicked the door shut behind him, but didn't have time to lock it as Kelly led him straight to the bedside.

            And they locked lips again.

            This time she kissed with much more ferocity, and to Mal's surprise, much more tongue.  He met her in kind, letting instinct and scant experience take over from here.  It didn't take long for them both to find themselves in their undergarments, and even those weren't on for much longer.  Mal was enjoying every moment of this, especially when they went down on the bed.  She felt warm and fragile underneath him, her flesh soft against his.

            It was wonderful, and afterward, when they were finished making love, she laid on him and they lay together on the bed.  She was out like a light before long, the alcohol mixing with fatigue and allowing her to pass out.  Mal, however, remained awake, listening to the music not far in the distance.  The other people in the house must've either left or quieted down, for he didn't hear them anymore.  His arm was wrapped around her, and he paced her breathing, smiling to himself.  Of course, when she wakes up, hung over, naked and in bed with him it might be a different story, but he was happy in the situation they were in there.

            The music in the streets, the sound of the crowd and the overall atmosphere of the town slowly became hypnotic.  Mal felt his eyelids getting droopy, his own exhaustion was taking over.  And he succumbed to it without resistance.

            He had no idea how long he was out, but he suddenly snapped back to consciousness.  He felt Kelly still lying next to him, her steady breathing, and he still heard the music from the bar.  There was no telling how long that party was going to last.  Sighing to himself, he cracked open his eyes with the intent of watching Kelly until sleep took him again.

            Of course he got something completely different.

            When he opened his eyes, what he saw stopped his heart in its tracks.  Standing over the bed was a large man, wearing ragged clothing.  He was dirty, with several days growth on his face.  Eyes as black as pitch stared down at Mal, but it wasn't the eyes Mal was looking at, but rather, the axe poised and ready for the downswing.

            "Oh shit!" Mal cried, and his reflexes took over.  The axe began its downward arc, and Mal rolled to the side.  His hands dug into Kelly and he pushed her off the side of the bed, quickly falling down over her.  She awoke upon hitting the floor with a startled shriek.  Her eyes wide and wild, she looked for the cause of her descent onto the wooden floor.  And of course Mal, as naked as she was, was on top of her instantly.

            "Mal?! Get off of me!" she cried, but Mal ignored her.  As soon as he had landed, he whipped around, expecting the man with the axe to be standing over them, ready to finish them off now that they were trapped in the corner.

            But the man wasn't there anymore.  Nor was the axe, and there was no damage to the bed, where Mal was sure the axe would have hit.  Mal got up, ignoring protests and questions from Kelly, and examined the bed.

            "What're you doing here? What am I doing here? Why are we...  oh God, did we?"

            It was actually getting annoying and hard for him to ignore, but there were more pressing issues.  Had it just been a waking dream? He's heard stories of people waking up still dreaming and seeing things.  But it had seemed so real, and he had been able to move.

            "Is this a joke? And what's with the rude awakening? Mal? Answer me!"

            "Kelly, did you see a large man standing over the bed?" The question sounded absurd even as it left his mouth, but Mal had to ask.  She had landed on her back, he had landed face down, so she had a better perspective than he did to see if the man fled.  But...  a man that size, Mal would have surely heard heavy footsteps if the man really did retreat at the speed with which he needed to disappear that quickly.

            "What? No! Mal, that's creepy! That's it, I'm leaving!" Kelly declared, quickly going about gathering and donning her clothing.  Mal would have cared, had he not just imagined, no, he didn't imagine it, that man was too real.  He had heard the man breathing, those heavy, raspy breaths.  But how could he not be there now?

            "Good bye, Mal, I hope you enjoyed yourself.  It won't be happening again."

            Well that was one problem gone.  Mal knew he was going to hate himself for that come the next day, but right then he had narrowly escaped death.  He wasn't caring much about Kelly's ungrateful attitude.  Let her run to Dustin, let her tell him all about how she'd been taken advantage of in an inebriated state.

            Mal laid back down on the bed.  It felt the same as it did before, but with a little less weight on it without Kelly.  There was no axe hole in the mattress, or the sheets, or the pillow (all of which were brought in for the night).  He rested back, lying like he had been.  The man had been right there, at the food of the bed, but he disappeared in an instant.

            Mal's mind played the whole scenario over again and again as he shifted restlessly on the bed.  Pretty soon he had thought the situation through until he was sure it had just been one of those waking dreams.  With this certainly in mind, he slowly drifted off again, not in the mood to return to the party now that the situation with Kelly began to sink in.  Once again, his eyelids drooped and he was asleep.

#

            There was a girl laughing.  Or was she crying? She sounded young, only a child.  What was she doing around here anyway? This town was no place for children, especially not tonight.  There were a lot of people, most of them drunk by now, and who knows what they would do if they found a young girl.  The world was a twisted place sometimes.

            Mal opened his eyes and sat up.  The crying was coming from the corner of the room, but the light from the halls cast that part of the room in deep shadows.  Mal began to slide out of bed, but realized he was still naked.  He grabbed the sheet and wrapped it around his waist, holding it there as he skirted the corner so that the light wasn't deepening the shadows.  Sure enough, though it was hard to make out, he saw a small figure curled up in the corner.

            "Hey, what's wrong, little girl?" he asked, aiming for the most sincere tone he could muster.  The girl didn't move, didn't even jump with a start at his voice, but continued to cry.  He moved in closer, his eyes adjusting to the darkness of the corner with unnatural ease.  It was definitely a young child, by the size of her Mal estimated she was between the ages of eight and ten.

            As he closed in, the crying stopped, as did the convulsions that wracked her body with each sob.  Mal took a step forward, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end.  Something wasn't right here, and he could sense it.  First the axe attack, now a random little girl in his room.  Sure, both times he fell asleep the door had been unlocked, but twice in a row?

            "What's wrong, little girl?" he asked again.  This time the girl stood up.

            "They're going to hurt me," she said, in what was on the most chilling voices Mal had ever heard.  When she spoke, it went through his spine and gave him goose bumps.  It was devilishly calm, cold, yet was still the voice of a child.

            "Who are?" he asked, still persistent.  Despite the voice, this was still a child.  He hoped.  He really, honestly, swear to God, cross his heart, hope to die, stick a needle in his eye hoped that she was still a child.

            "Mommy and Daddy."

            Again the voice spoke with such a cold-hearted tone, the kind of calmness one hears out of a criminal who has accepted their position on death row.  When Mal heard that voice, he wanted to do nothing more than run all the way home, curl up in his bed and not even peak out of the blankets until he was sure the sun was up.

            However the situation at hand had him as the adult here.  This was a small child, and her parents were aiming to hurt her...  for whatever reason.  He had to remain mature, reminding himself that everyone was afraid sometimes.  He reached out his hand and put it on the girl's shoulder.  She whirled around as soon as he touched her.

            Mal fell backward, and began scrambling.

            The girl was staring at him with pure-white, pupil-less eyes.  From the corners, there were no tears, but she was weeping blood.  It also ran out of her mouth and nose at an alarming rate.  And he was pretty sure her ears were bleeding as well.

            Mal backed off as much as he could, ignoring the sheet as it fell away, leaving him naked on the floor.  His fingers gripped at the floorboards and pulled him as fast as his feet pushed him.  He hit the edge of the bed and jumped in fright.  The girl continued to watching him with those awful eyes.

            "They're coming for me now, can't you hear them on the stairs?" Her voice was coming from all around him now, even as her mouth moved.  When it opened, a spray of blood spurted out and hit the floor with the same splat noise as if it were water.

            Mal's hand inched up the bed, looking for a hold to pull himself up and over, to put something between him and this...  this demon of a girl.  His hand reached the top of the bed and he began hoisting himself up, until it landed in something warm and wet.  It was a strange sensation, and caused Mal to jump forward, landing on the floor.  He scrambled around and looked at the bed to see what he felt.

            On the bed was the maimed body of the little girl.  She had been hacked up with several swift chops (probably with an axe) to the torso, to the point where some of her organs were showing.  The head itself was missing, a clean cut right off.  Mal screamed, and then remembering the girl in the corner, he whipped his head around, but she was gone.  Without anything there, he began scrambling toward the corner, turning around as he went to watch the maimed body.

            It was sitting up in the bed.

            One foot slipped out, then the other.  Blood was oozing out of the wounds, and intestinal fluid and even the intestines themselves.  They slopped around like something out of a bad horror movie, except they were real.  Mal hit the corner and tried to make himself as small as possible, clenching his eyes shut.  Make it go away! Make it go away! Make it go awa-

            His eyes opened wide from the nightmare, and lying against the same pillow as him was a decapitated head, the head of the little girl.  It stared at him with those pupil-less eyes and the blood continued to ooze.

            "Please, help me!" came the voice, the chillingly calm voice.  "Please help me!" The second time it came as a shriek and Mal was rolling out of bed.  He fell to the floor as he had with Kelly before, but scrambled around.  Just as before, when he looked, the...  the ghost was gone.

He was in the room alone, daylight shone in through the window.  The music was gone; the only noise was the slight breeze outside rustling through the trees.

Mal sat against the wall, breathing heavily.  His skin was clammy with sweat, his heart was racing and his eyes darted wildly.  There was definitely something weird here, these were not just dreams.  The girl had been maimed by an axe, and he had been attacked by a man with an axe.  Had that been the girl's father?

Dear God, what happened in this town?

Mal began to calm down.  There was no immediate threat, what he had seen, they were ghosts.  Ghosts couldn't harm people, could they? They were showing him a message...  or something like that.  He had never watched or read much horror.  This was all so strange.

He went about the room, gathering his clothing that had been scattered the night before.  A pang of regret struck him, that he had ruined any chances.  It seemed like all his dreams were about to come true, and then he threw it all away when he threw Kelly to the floor.  His intention was the best; he thought they were being attacked, but she had not seen...  shame.  Mal shrugged and put on his shirt, sitting on the bed to tie his shoes.

His cellphone beeped from the pocket of his jeans, a reminder that he had a text message.  He jumped, caught off guard.  There was no cellphone signal out here; it was totally secluded.  Perhaps it had managed to pick up one bar somewhere along the lines.  He reached into his pocket and pulled it out.  Indeed, he did have an unread text message, probably from Kelly telling him never to go near her again or something.  He flipped the cellphone open and hit the VIEW button.

And then cast the phone to the floor.

It was a picture text, and staring at him from the small screen of his Motorola were those pupil-less eyes of the little girl, her bloody face watching him with an expression of agony.  Mal stumbled backward, staring down at the phone.  His mouth was opened, but he couldn't manage any noise.

This was too weird.

After a moment, he approached the phone, gingerly kneeling down and closing it.  When he opened it again, the picture was gone and he was back on the home screen.  He turned the phone off, not wanting to receive anymore ghost texts out here in the middle of nowhere.  Once it emitted the little turning off jingle Motorolas had, he closed it and slid it into his pocket again, making a mental note not to touch it if it goes off, since the cellphone was off.

The door in the hall where the other people had been was still closed.  The Christmas lights that had been strung up in the hall were still there, still glowing futilely against the sunlight that splashed over the walls and floor from a window at the end of the hall.  The floorboards creaked under Mals's feet, something he hadn't noticed when he was dragged there by Kelly the night before, half-drunk and semi-high with music blaring throughout the town.  He continued along down the stairs and through the hallway on the first floor.

There was a woman sitting at a table in what must've been the kitchen.  She was crying, and the sound sent yet another chill down Mal's spine as it reminded him all too much of the crying little girl from his dream.  The woman's face was hidden in her hands.  For a moment Mal teetered on his heels, unsure if he should see what was wrong or run.  He was about to start running when the crying stopped.  The woman stood up, her head bowed so that her hair blocked her face.  Now Mal was sure this was another ghost, but he was frozen in place.

"My daughter, my poor little daughter," said the voice, with the tone of the little girl in his dream but the pitch of an adult woman.  She walked, though shuffled would be the better term, toward Mal.  His feet were locked in place, his knees frozen.  His mind urged himself to move, urged his body to work, but he couldn't.  The only thing he could do was watch in horror as this figure came toward him.

And then she looked up.  The mother wasn't crying blood like the daughter had been, but blood still oozed down her face, from a hole in her head.  It looked like a bullet hole.  She looked at Mal, looked into Mal's soul with pupil-less eyes as terrible as those of the daughter.

"My daughter!" the woman shrieked, and lunged at Mal.  His body worked suddenly, and he brought his hands up to his face, an instinctual reaction.  His knees became weak and he fell back, eyes clenched shut.  The woman never landed the final blow, and when Mal opened his eyes again, she was gone.  He was sitting on the floor, in a patch of sunlight, all alone in the hallway.

"Why me?" he asked no one in particular, and the question was beginning to really dig at him.  He got up and walked hurriedly to the door.  It wasn't locked, so he opened it up and stepped outside.

It was quite easy to tell that there had been a massive party here the night before.  In all their preparation, the students of Habrigvale had forgotten to bring garbage cans to the town, and thus there were crushed cans, broken bottles, used cigarette butts and all sorts of mess all throughout the streets.  It was almost a sickening sight.

The sun was high in a cloudless sky, and a warm breeze blew down the street.  It was a nice day for October.  The trees were a beautiful golden color with touches of flaming oranges and reds mixed in.  The overall town was a beautiful place, if one didn't look at the condition of the roads.  The smell of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana smoke still lingered in the air, but the breeze was quickly helping alleviate it.  One peculiar thing that stood out to Mal was the fact that there was no one in the town.  He had expected to come down and see people passed out everywhere, but since he'd woken up the only people he'd seen have been...  well...  dead ones.

"Hello?" he called out, really hoping in doing so he wasn't waking up more of those spirits that have haunted him in his brief journey from the bedroom to the front door.  So far there's been a man who killed his daughter with an axe, the daughter who had had her head cut off, and the mother who must've shot herself afterward.  There was a picture of what had happened forming in Mal's mind, but why it had happened, why he was seeing all this, which was a different question all together.

Avoiding the broken glass, he began to trek down the road.  If everyone had left, then he had a long walk back to town.  He had originally gotten there in Dillon's SUV.  It was a twenty minute drive; anyone willing to walk that had something wrong.  Mal began to feel sorry for Stacey and Nathan, the two who had originally found Funky Town.  They must've been in the woods for a long time to have stumbled across it.  But at least they had each other for company.  Mal's company was a little less lively...  literally.

There was no movement whatsoever throughout the town.  The trees on the outskirts blew in the wind, but the interior of the town was as still as the grave.  Not something Mal was particularly enjoying, but he managed to distract himself from the thought by focusing on where his feet went.  There was so much trash in the streets that he found himself walking on the lawns to avoid hurting his feet with broken glass or chances of spraining his ankle by slipping.

"Hello?" he called out again as he approached the middle of the town.  Once again there was no answer with exempt from a gust of wind.  It sent a chill down Mal's spine at how this town, the night before, had been the center of chaos and now it was a ghost town.  Once again.

"Anyone?" if he kept calling, he might wake up anyone left behind like he had been.  At least then he'd have someone.

"If you keep shouting like that you'll wake the dead," came a voice behind him, causing Mal to jump and whirl around.

The voice had come from Cassie Mackinson.  Mal recognized her from school, she was in his grade.  She was also the last person he wanted to meet in a place like this.  She was one of those Goth people, who wore excessive eye shadow, dressed in all black, unique looking outfits that made them stand out in crowds.  For example, standing behind Mal, Cassie was wearing a black form-fitting dress (at least she had to form for something like that) littered with white ribbons, with purple stripped stockings and black heels.  Her eye shadow was a deep purple, her nails painted red and her arms hidden behind elbow-length, finger-less black gloves.  At her side hung a blood-red shoulder bag adorned with many variations of plastic skulls.  She was a rainbow of morbid colors.

"Cass, hey," he said nervously.  Despite the whole Goth thing she had going, at least he had some living, human company now.

"You didn't run like the rest?" she asked.  Her tone was strangely similar to the cold, calm voice of the ghosts, but there was also something human about it.

"What do you mean?" When he thought about it, Mal found her presence strange.  She was not one of those people you see at parties very often, especially not the likes of Funky Town's party.

"Last night, around 4 AM, everyone ran off.  A bunch of people saw the ghosts, and ran.  And they took vehicles, which meant more people had to leave.  The town was empty pretty fast."

"Huh...  so why are you still here?"

"Oh I've been seeing ghosts all my life.  And I came in my own vehicle, so I didn't need to leave when my ride did."

"You have your own vehicle?" If he could bear her, even though she wasn't intolerable, he could get out of this possessed town himself.

"Did you see the ghosts, too?" she asked, with a strange combination of hopefulness and disappointment.  "Tragic, isn't it."

"You could say that...  listen, do you think I could get a ride with you out? Mine must've left too."

"Oh, no, I'm not leaving yet."

"What? Why not? There's nothing left here except ghosts!"

"Exactly! Ghosts are the spirits of people trapped to our realm by something.  I can't just leave without trying to help these spirits find their way to the other realms.  I mean, that poor little girl!"

Mal had to admit.  It made a bit of sense, yet he didn't want it to.  Cassie was one of those crazy Goth girls; she wasn't supposed to make sense.  She was supposed to ramble on about dead people, vampires and how she was in Hell, and it was supposed to be meaningless.  But after what he'd seen, Mal could not ignore her, could not put off her words as meaningless.

"And how to you propose doing that?" he asked, frantic as his ride was looking slimmer and slimmer.  And thoughts crossed his mind about the walk home.  What if the town was not the only haunted place? What if the woods around it were haunted? He could encounter all sorts of things while walking, and he'd be in the middle of nowhere! It was a frightening thought, and led him to a choice between two evils.

"There's something trapping them here, some unfinished deed or perhaps something was disturbed by the party last night."

He'd much rather the evil that involved another human, even if it was Cassie.

"Actually, I was wondering that.  What were you doing at the party last night? I didn't think you went to parties like this."

"I've been doing some research.  This town was completely abandoned, and there's no reports anywhere on why.  I found it strange, so I've been investigating it all week.  Just happens that I was here yesterday when the party started."

Once again Mal was taken by surprised at how much sense she was making.  There was definitely something wrong if the voice of reason was Cassie.  She didn't exactly have the best reputation for being in tune with reality.

"Have you found anything out, then?" The quicker they ‘freed the spirits of the villagers', the sooner he could get out of there and invest in some good therapy.

"Before the decorating committee really tore into the town and it became impossible to find anything, I did come across this," she said, reaching into her bag and pulling out an old book.  "It looks like a journal of some sort.  I've marked the important parts."

She held it out and Mal took it from her.  It was leather-bound, with small tabs coming from the top, multicolour Post-Its that were beginning to curl on the ends from being stored in her bag.  He opened it up to the first marker.  It was all hand-written, in very neat cursive on un-ruled pages.  He read over the first line with disbelief.  It was dated to October 17th, 1866.  Over a hundred years ago.

"Go on, read it," she urged, and Mal looked over the cursive.  It was hard to read, but he quickly got the hang of it.

#

October 17th, 1866

Screams echoed throughout the village last night.  This morning they were confirmed to have come from the Coles residence.  Their daughter has been really sick recently, so the screams have been attributed to the sickness.  Still, I find it strange.  Annabelle wasn't at school today, and once the rumours hit the student body, the most absurd stories began to rise.  It was very hard to bring order to the class after recess, when they were all excited over the many stories they've been hearing of Annabelle's condition.

#

October 22nd, 1866

Annabelle's yet to come to class.  I went to the Coles residence today after class was over to bring her homework.  Mr.  Coles told me that Annabelle was asleep.  When I inquired about her condition, Mrs.  Coles began to cry.  Mr.  Coles told me Annabelle had just come down with a terrible fever, but it was looking like it might break soon.  As I left the Coles residence, Thomas Pratcher, the village's doctor was on his way up their walk, but instead of carrying his medicine bag, he carried the Good Book under his arm.  I found this very odd, but did not ask about it.

#

October 30th, 1866

Once again I find myself writing about Annabelle.  She has become the talk of the town.  That poor girl has more rumours going around about her condition.  She has yet to show up for class, but I've been routinely bringing her homework to her.  So far none of it has been returned, but I shan't punish her for this.  Her screams echo through the night on occasion, sending a chill down my spine which I do not like.

#

November 5th, 1866

Thomas Pratcher has been seen coming and going from the Coles residence at all hours of the day and night.  Mr.  and Mrs.  Coles have not been seen in several days and they do not answer their door.  The rest of the village seem to be afraid of walking in, that they might disturb a crypt or tomb.  The windows have been boarded up so that it is impossible to see inside.  The only person who seems to know what's going on in there is Thomas Pratcher.  I'll try to talk to him tomorrow.

#

November 8th, 1866

Pratcher was hard to persuade.  I managed to sit him down under the oath that all information I hear from him is completely confidential.  What I heard from him was unbelievable, but he assured me it was the truth.  I find myself sitting now, writing this with a scotch in my other hand, scotch which I have not touched in fifteen years.  Yet it tastes good now, as I drink from my cup in hopes that it'll change the situation.

#

November 14th, 1866

Class has been hard to teach.  I stand in front of it, looking over the youthful eyes of the students and wonder why Annabelle had suffered this affliction.  This possession.  I have kept my word, I haven't told a soul what I heard from Pratcher, yet it seems the villagers are slowly figuring it out on their own.  Poor Annabelle, I pray for her now every night, the Good Book on one side and a glass of scotch on the other.  Two things I've not divulged in for many years: religion and alcohol, yet they seem to be the only reprieves from these tormenting thoughts.  God help her.

#

            November 17th, 1866

            A gunshot echoed throughout the village this morning.  It woke me up with a fright, and I quickly gathered my housecoat and slippers.  The shot had come from the Coles residence, and I feared the worse.  I got there the same time as Pratcher, who ran straight into the house and left the door open.  Many people gathered around the walk, but I was the only person brave enough to step inside to investigate.  The sight was horrible.  The house smelled like death and rot, with little light.  There was an eerie chill in there.  Not even my scotch, which is getting lower by the day, can take away that memory.  On the floor, with a bullet hole in her head was Mrs.  Coles.  Her face was wrinkled and aged ten years in the past couple of weeks.  Mr.  Coles was kneeling over her body, screaming worse than those we hear of Annabelle nightly.

#

            November 26th, 1866

            Besides the screams nightly, there has been little to tell of Annabelle's condition.  Last night, however, the screams stopped.  I was lying in bed in eerie silence when there was a knock on my door.  It was Thomas Pratcher, and he was covered in blood.  I quickly brought him inside and offered him a glass of scotch, which he gulped down.  When I inquired to whose blood he was covered in, for he had no visible injury, he broke out in tears.  His story was ghastly, and afterward we drank a fresh bottle of scotch between us.  Annabelle is dead, her father took his axe to her last night.  Pratcher said the body kept on moving until the head was severed.  They took it to the church and locked it away in the basement.  Pratcher says this was necessary, but I still feel terribly for Annabelle.  The poor girl never did anything to anybody.  But hopefully this ordeal is over, and her soul can rest with the Lord now.

#

            December 1st, 1866

            The village is getting sick.  I, myself, have developed some symptoms.  Pratcher has had his work cut out for him these days, getting little rest.  He confides in me, and my scotch (I've ordered more from Ottawa) and tells me that he is getting very weary.  He gets little sleep, and has been getting sick himself.  It seems nobody is free of this sickness, which has yet to be diagnosed.  Three deaths have been reported thus far.  We're unable to send for aid, as the horses have been struck with delirium, and are unusable.  Many of the farmers have had to shoot their horses.  There is no one in the village well enough to be sent for aid.  I fear the end draws near, as we are cut off from the world and its medicines.

#

            December 7th, 1866

            Thomas Pratcher is dead.  He passed away this afternoon, simply collapsed while treating one of the other villagers.  School has been cancelled and I've been hard pressed to find the energy simply to get out of bed.  Even now the pen feels heavy in my hand.  I shall go rest.

#

            December 7th was the final entry in the journal.  Mal read over the last entry again, just to confirm what he'd read.  There was an ominous silence settling over the area, as Cassie waited for him to finish reading.  He closed the book, holding it out for her to take.

            "So...  what does this mean?" he asked as she slid it back into her bag.

            "This village was killed off by a plague.  It was not abandoned, that's why all the spirits remain.  I found this journal in the house next to what must've been the schoolhouse at one point.  It belonged to the teacher, if I read this correctly, and that makes sense.  He would be the most educated man and the one likely to write everything down or even be able to write everything down, considering the date."

            "How do you plan on freeing these people, then?" He couldn't believe he was saying it, but all the evidence pointed toward this actually being viable, as strange as it seemed.  "And on that thought, where are all the bodies?"

            "That's been bugging me, too.  But considering this little girl had been possessed, we're dealing with dark forces.  Chances are they just got up and walked away.  Likely to the church, where the head is," she said, so calmly, like it was just another day in the life of Cassie Mackinson.  It almost made Mal sick.

            "You mean we're dealing with zombies?" he asked with a gulp.

            "Most likely."

            "Are you sure you can't just drive me back to town and then come back?"

            "No.  The ghost sightings started last night, and I didn't come across any before then.  This means that the party disturbed the presence of whatever evil entity exists here, and in order to free the villagers we need to take care of the entity while it is awake."

            Now she had lost him, and he was beginning to think she was making it all up as she went.  Still, he wasn't about to walk back to town with this ‘evil entity' awake and angry, or whatever.  He'd much rather be with the one person in the area, and even better, the one person in the area who had any idea what was going on.

            "How do you plan on freeing those villagers, then?"

            "They're being kept here by the evil spirit, which was unleashed first upon Annabelle.  Thus it still lingers from some part of her.  Since it's mentioned in the journal that her body kept moving until the head was severed, then I can assume the head is the key.  And it's kept in the basement of the church."

            "Alright," once again she was making sense, but one problem arose in Mal's mind.  "Where's the church?"

            Cassie had an answer to that one too.  "Since the village has been gradually growing in, we're not seeing the extent of it.  There're more buildings on the outskirts, hidden in the trees.  The church must be one of them, located down one of the roads.  I can only assume that it would be the main road, as the church was the center focus of villages these days.  It would be kept outside of town only to make room for a cemetery."

            "What's the meaning of life?" Mal asked, since Cassie seemed to already have an answer to everything.

            Of course she had one for that question to: "To die, of course.  All life ends with death, ending once it reaches its ultimate goal."

            Mal didn't believe that as much as he did the rest of her facts.  But she was a Goth girl, so he accepted it as a typical Cassie answer.

            "So down the main road then?" Mal asked, looking down the road toward the trees at the end.  He desperately wanted to go the other way, back toward town, but not alone.  Cassie responded by simply starting to walk, and Mal fell into step behind her.

            "Why didn't you just go get the head sooner? Like when you found the journal?"

            "Because I didn't realize the spirits of the villagers were trapped here.  Not until last night, when everyone ran away because of the ghost sightings."

            Was there no question this girl was not prepared for? Mal shrugged off the thought and focused on the trees up ahead.  It was a bright, sunny morning, so he had no difficulty identifying the remains of a building inside the trees.  However there were many more shadows there, something Mal wasn't too fond about.

            The trek down the main street was nerve-wracking.  Cassie walked with complete confidence, focused straight ahead without a word.  Mal, however, found himself looking around.  In every window he was seeing faces, decayed and pale, watching them, the liberators, march down the center street, a spectacle that would bring the entire village to watch.

            An entire village of ghosts and zombies.

            The forest was thick for the most part.  There was the skeletal remains of the road, the old tracks visible with the least amount of vegetation.  It still made going tough, but Mal was content with it.  Around them, in the trees, he was seeing things moving.  Shadows, mostly, but he had the distinct feeling that there were things in the forest he didn't want to meet.

            Since he was watching the flanks, Mal bumped into Cassie, both of them just barely able to keep their balance.  She had stopped for something, allowing Mal to continue right into her.

            "What'd you stop for?" he asked, but she raised a finger to her lips and pointed upward.  Mal followed her finger and stumbled when he saw it.

            From a decent sized tree, staring down at them was a man.  Or he was a man at one point.  Now he was a ghost, with a broken neck, hanging from the tree from a noose.  His eyes had that pupil-less stare, but Mal knew it was on them.  He could feel it on them, or on him, as a shiver ran through his body.

            "So you see it too?" Cassie asked.

            "You mean the...  dead man? Yeah," Mal responded, his voice shaky.  He didn't have the best of nerves, to say the least.  Every October his high school had a haunted house set up for Halloween.  Mal had never gone through it, even though he knew everything in there was done by his fellow school-mates.

            "Alright, let's go."

            "But...  do we just leave him up there?"

            "Of course.  How do you propose on getting him down? That rope doesn't connect to anything; you're seeing the after image, an incorporeal spirit stuck there because he cannot get free of his noose." That answer made no sense to Mal, but once again, as with all of Cassie's strange answers, he simply accepted it.  It was the only thing he could do in the situation.

            They followed the remains of the road carefully, always making sure the tracks were identifiable.  If they lost them, they would backtrack until they found them and look even more closely to the foliage for signs of the ancient, worn path.  Soon enough, Mal could see the old, rotten steeple of a church.  But it wasn't the church he noticed first, it was the smell.

            It was terrible; he had never smelt anything like it before.  He couldn't place it, so to counter it he pulled up on his shirt to cover his mouth and nose.  It was an old trick used from the early grades onward to defend oneself from the smell of a nasty fart or some other disgusting smell one might encounter in a school setting.

            "That's the smell of decayed flesh," Cassie said, interpreting his actions for what they were.  She didn't make any move to cover her nose, but Mal supposed since she knew what it was she must've encountered it before.  He had no idea what kind of stuff she was into after school; he had never seen her at parties and only rarely did he pass her in the streets or see her driving about.

            The trees cleared away.  It was not an abrupt clearing, but the trees on either side of them slowly showed more and more signs of death, until the last wave was made up completely by dead trees.  They were standing in a clearing now, the middle of which was the church.  The other half of the clearing, behind the church, was a large graveyard, cut off by an old, rotted fence.

            The graveyard must've been full, for covering the clearing between them and the church doors were dozens upon dozens of old, rotting or rotted corpses.  Mal barely fought down the urge to vomit at the sight.  He keeled over and his jaw locked open, ready to regurgitate the contents of his stomach, and if there had been anything there he might've actually vomited, but as it were he kept the ground clean.  Cassie simply stood, examining the field of dead as he was on the ground.  She seemed completely unaffected.  Mal almost sensed a sense of giddy enjoyment coming from her, though her face remained expressionless.

            Once Mal had recovered, he stood up.  In his time on the ground, he had gotten used to the smell; he was standing by Cassie's side with his shirt down.  He still smelt it, but now that the urge to puke had passed, he could stand it.

            "They're the villagers," Cassie said, and Mal agreed.  Where else would such a massive amount of corpses come from? What was eating him was how there was still meat, or even bone.  They were over a hundred years old, far from mummified or preserved, yet the best term to describe some of them was juicy.  And apparently it was eating at Cassie's mind too.  "They still look recently deceased."

            "Any idea how?"

            "I can only assume it has something to do with the evil forces that haunt this area.  They could have been around and walking recently, for all we know."

            That made Mal nervous.  They had to cross a field of corpses to get to the church.  That alone was bad, but if the corpses suddenly decided to come to life, or unlife, whichever, then they were screwed; royally screwed.  Once again Mal asked himself if this was worth it, but in doing this he ensured he'd get safe transport back to town through the haunted woods that might be full of actual, moving zombies instead of still-as-the-grave corpses.

            "Come on," Cassie said, taking a stride forward.  She hesitated, or paused, for a second, before continuing on.  Mal thought she might have paused out of fear, until he took a step forward as well.  It was like he'd walked into a solid wall, only not quite as tangible.  It was a strange feeling, an aura of some sort.  They must've been standing just outside this...  evil presence.  Mal was stunned for more than a second, and when he recovered he had to take up a quick jog to catch up with the fearless Cassie, who strode confidently through the field of corpses.

            Murphy's Law was a bitch.

            The sun shone down on them from a brilliant blue sky, a cool breeze blowing the scent of rotting flesh straight at them.  Birds chirped far off, unfazed by this evil presence that the two people were walking through.  It was an all-round beautiful day, despite the dead, despite the rising corpses, not making a sound, unlike the tradition moaning of a zombie from the movies.  They had reached the middle of the enclave of death, and that seemed to have triggered the corpses.  As one, they rose, effortlessly rising. 

Mal screamed. 

Cassie laughed maniacally. 

Mal grabbed Cassie by the arm and made a run, straight for the church.  It was human nature to seek shelter when caught in the open, and the best shelter around was the church.  Mal ran straight as the zombies began to close their trap.  Arms grabbed at Mal, ripping his shirt and jeans, tearing his flesh.  Cassie was still laughing.  What was she laughing about?! The zombies continued, and Mal was blocked off.  Yet he charged forward, shoulder first, ramming zombies out of the way as they clawed at him.  But he was determined to make it to the door.  And he had almost broken through the zombie mass when he tripped.  Or rather, a zombie had grabbed instead of clawed, holding Mal back as his feet went forward, causing them to run straight out from under him and throw him to the ground.  Cassie was pulled down with him, stumbling and landing on top of him.  She was still cackling giddily.

Mal felt the zombies clawing at her, gathering in on them, packing tightly, all of them wanting a part of them.  He saw blood running, unsure whether it was hers or his, as they were both being clawed at.  Mal struggled with Cassie's weight on top of him.  He finally caught a break, his feet finding a grip.  He grabbed Cassie's arm and pushed off the ground with his other arm, pulling her up quickly as more zombies clawed at his back, at his hair, his ribs, anything they could get.  He got Cassie up and began pushing through the zombies.  The pain was excruciating, but he had to get to the church.  Just a few feet.  A few more feet and they'd be free.  His vision was starting to blur, his body going numb, but he kept putting one foot in front of the other, determination driving him, dragging Cassie's weight effortlessly.  His shirt was shredded and fell off of him, his bare flesh becoming a bloody mess.  His free hand shot out, grabbed the door handle and yanked.  The door came open, and he fell inside.  He pulled Cassie in, then turned around and shut the door behind him, crushing a zombie's arm in the process.

The immediate trouble over, Mal slumped against the door.  It felt cool and wet against his back, and stung his many claw marks.  Most of them were superficial, just deep enough to draw blood, but he had a few bad gashes.  He put those thoughts aside, and looked around.

The church was dimly lit, pews running up and down either side of the center aisle.  It was unremarkable, like any church should look like.  There was an altar with melted candles at the end, a giant cross holding a carving of Jesus had fallen off the wall and now leaned against the alter.  The windows at the end were stained glass, while the ones lining the sides of the church were normal, and looked out over the graveyard that surrounded three sides of the building.  There were no zombies at the window, and they weren't trying to get into the church; at least, there was no knocking and pounding at the door, nor any breaking of the windows.

Mal looked at Cassie, his eyes shooting wide open in shock.  He took a step away, struggling to keep his footing.  If he fell there, he wouldn't get back up.  But at least he was standing, which was more than he could say for Cassie.  She was lying on the ground, in a growing pool of blood.  Her face was frozen in that maniacal fit of laughter, her mouth wide open and eyes staring lifelessly down the center aisle, tears of blood running from them.  Her clothes were shredded like Mal's and her large bag had been lost, but unlike Mal she had a large, bloody gash across her neck.

"Oh, great, now I'm alone," Mal said, and laughed slightly.  At least he wasn't being mauled by zombies anymore, though some of the cuts they had inflicted needed to be bandaged.

"Hope you don't mind, Cass," he said out loud as he began to tear strips off of her dress, wrapping them around himself so that they covered up the particularly bad wounds.  His mother had once insisted he went to the Boy Scouts.  He had attended it for a while, and, luckily, he had learned some basic first aid.  The wounds would need to be cleaned, but for now the impromptu bandages would have to suffice.

He was very careful about tearing strips of the dress.  He wanted to leave Cassie some dignity, so he kept the dress in the best possible shape he could.  Once he was done tending to himself, he pondered Cassie's situation.  Gripping under her arms, he hoisted her up and dragged her into the church.  He placed her on the furthest pew back, sitting her up.  Once she was steady, he sat down next to her and looked up at the altar.

"Quite a mess we're in, isn't it? Stuck here, in the middle of these woods, where cellphones get no signal and zombie Mormons are outside waiting for us," he said, laughing again.  "Maybe if I find that head.  The journal said it was in the basement here somewhere."

He sat for a moment longer, staring at the altar and at the stained glass windows depicting various saints, before standing up and brushing himself off.  He was in shit-shape, but still able to go.  At least there were no zombies or ghosts in here; it was strangely peaceful.  Of course, the evil aura was stronger than ever, and as he thought about it he felt it pulsating.  Strange, how tangible it was getting, that he could probably grab a handful of evil out of the air and throw it at the zombies.  Maybe have an evilball fight with them.  This made him laugh as he scanned the walls of the church for a door.

There were two such doors, hidden on the side walls toward the front.  Mal walked up the center aisle, a strange serenity settling over him.  There was no noise there, just a calm silence that echoed throughout the church.  It rained down from the rafters that supported to old roof, and Mal enjoyed its feel as it washed over him, pausing and simply looking upward at the ceiling.

The old rooted wood let down a few rays of sunlight from the outside into the church.  It was like rays of holy light, like you see in movies.  A divine presence and all that, yet the only presence Mal could feel through the silence was that of the evil, pulsating.  But which door was it pulsating from? He stood, focusing on that evil as it defiled through him, focusing on the waves of nausea and disgust that washed through the church, looked for the center.  He felt violated, he felt hopeless, destroyed, lost in the darkness, the waves washing away all that was good from him.

But he didn't care.

His focusing on the aura paid off, and he centered it, or believed he had, on the left door.  Quickly skirting around the altar, he approached it and knew he had made the right choice.  The pulsating was stronger, the waves of evil almost taking him off his feet.  It was strong, but then, it was binding an entire village to this realm, preventing them from leaving both in body and in soul.

He was starting to sound like Cassie.  And look how that turned out for her.  He glanced back at her, sitting still in the pew and staring ahead, her eyes distant and lifeless.  Blood still flowed from the gash in her neck, and from multiple gashes all over her body.  Her dress was shredded, not just from the zombies now but from Mal.  He bowed his head, asking her forgiveness.  Then a horrible thought crossed his mind.

If the villagers are trapped because of this evil presence, does that mean Cassie's trapped too? What if she gets up, now, and tries to eat him like the rest of them outside? He had the entire church length between them, but there was nowhere to run.  And if he died here, would he be trapped? Trapped for eternity, or until someone tries the same thing he was trying, and succeeds.  That could take years, decades, centuries even!

Mal gulped, turning away from Cassie's body and putting his back to the terrible thoughts.  He focused ahead, at the door in front of him and what was beyond it.  His hand reached out and gripped the old, brass handle on the door, and he pushed.  It took a bit of force, a hundred years of mould, rot and so forth holding in place, but the same rot was also what gave away and opened it with a wet cracking noise.  Instead of opening with the hinges, the door simply fell inward.  It continued to fall, hitting the stairs and scattering dust, then continuing down into the darkness.  Mal heard a crash, and a huge plump of dust drifted up from the bottom.  Once it had all settled, Mal took to the stairs.

He stepped carefully down, each stair creaking dangerously, but none of them giving in.  Considering the circumstances, he almost expected the stairs to suddenly collapse into a massive slide and throw him into some sort of death trap.  But that didn't happen, nor did the stair collapse.  His eyes quickly adjusted, as they always do, to the darkness.  When he got to the bottom he saw that the door had slid down and collided with the bottom door, the second falling with the force of the first and now they both lay on the floor in a heap of broken, rotting wood.  Mal gingerly stepped around them.

The smell of rotting flesh was strong down here, though it was different than that of several dozen corpses lying in the sun.  The air was damp, and Mal could feel a chill over his shirtless torso.  He looked around, studying the room.  His eyes were good in the dark, but only to a certain extent.  The further into the basement he went, the darker the shadows became, until he was completely immersed outside of a small rectangle of light back the way he had come.

Mal reached into his pocket and pulled out the cellphone.  Pausing for a moment as he ran his fingers over the keypad until he found the rough location of the one he wanted, he jumped with a start when the starting jingle played and the screen lit up.  Afterward he laughed at himself, turning the cellphone and using it as a flashlight.  It worked surprisingly well in the deep darkness, giving the hallway an eerie dim glow.  It was an ancient, stone hallway, with the rotted remains of a carpet along the length of it.  There were three doors on either side of him, and one at the very end of the hall.  He knew which one he had to go to, the pulsating evil aura becoming very concentrated the further down the hall he got.

He didn't look at the cellphone, not once, as he approached that door.  It was rotted in place, as were the last two doors he had passed through, and he had no doubt when he opened it, it would fall forward or break in front of him or some other destruction after its final use.  It didn't.  His hand clasped the door handle and he pushed it open.  The door hinges creaked and it swung inward, but remained standing.  Mal didn't think anything on it as he was hit by an intense wave from the pulsating evil.  He stumbled backward, then braced his feet to the floor and continued forward once again.  No point in hesitating, not at this point.  He needed to get that head and...  well he'll figure that part out when he got there.  For now, he'd get the head and get the Hell out of there.

And there it was, sitting on a pedestal-like stand, the cellphone casting it in its dim glow.  The face was definitely that of a young girl, with brown hair that cascaded down around it.  It was distorted, however, in an eternal, gruesome silent scream.  Mal looked at it, and it looked back at him.  He could sense something alive inside of it, or at least, something was there; something angry and trapped, an animal in a corner.  He paused and examined it, waiting for something to happen, waited for the head to move, the eyes to flicker or the mouth to form some words.  Something, anything to break the terrible stillness of the world, the silence had changed from serene to uncomfortable, hellish even.

"Say something!" Mal yelled at the head, his own voice echoing throughout the room several times over.  He clutched at his temples, each echo amplified around him, pounding at his head.  He dropped the cellphone to the floor, where it cast its dim glow upward.  On the screen was the pupil-less face of the same girl who stared at him now from the pedestal.  The cellphone flickered and died.  The door behind him slammed shut, the sound echoing as his voice had.  The darkness was absolute, the silence was deafening and the moisture in the air was stinging.  Mal's head throbbed.

"What do you want from me?" He shouted into the darkness, his voice echoing.  Around him, from the utter blackness that was the room, he saw those same pupil-less eyes, forming everywhere, forming in the shadows, so defined, staring at him.  And there was laughter.  It echoed tenfold, and the echoes echoed another tenfold.  There were a hundred, a thousand, a million mouths laughing in the darkness at him, the sound becoming one steady noise.  It drove Mal to the floor, he covered his ears as his head felt like it was about to explode.

"I'm here to free the villagers, here to cast you out of this world and throw you back to the fiery pits of Hell!" He shouted against the noise, the words coming to him from nowhere and catching him by surprise.  He didn't know who he was talking to, or what was going on.  His body started to rise, kneeling up and then standing.  The laughter continued.  He took a step forward, his body controlling itself.  "Free the souls you have held, free the soul of poor Annabelle!"

Cassie? He felt her presence around him, she was...  guiding him? Controlling him? He didn't know what was going on, all he saw were those eyes watching from the darkness and all he heard was that horrible laughter.  He took another step.  The laughter stopped suddenly, the silence striking Mal as if it were a tangible force.

"No!" A great voice shrieked, the words echoing throughout the room.  "The girl's soul is mine! These people are all mine!" And the laughter started again.  Mal's hands slammed against his ears, trying to hold it back, but it didn't even muffle the sound which was resonating through his head, shaking the very fibers of his being.

"Let them go!" He shouted, outmatching that great, demonic voice that had answered.  He felt his consciousness beginning to fail, but his body kept on moving.  He was watching all of this happen as if from far away, the only thing reaching him was the laughter, that one steady stream of laughter from a thousand mouths.  Two thousand pupil-less eyes in the darkness with a thousand mouths laughing perpetually, deafeningly, mockingly.  He took another step forward, his hands coming down from his ears.  They reached forward and gripped the sides of the head in the darkness.  His muscles retracted and he began to lift the head from the pedestal.

The laughter stopped.  The eyes blinked out.  Even in the darkness, Mal could see what happened.  The eyes of the head rolled down from inside the skull, the jaw cracking as it stretched to its limits and a piercing, shrieking scream was set loose from that mouth.  It was the scream from a little girl with all the forces of Hell behind it.  The scream came from the demon, and from Annabelle.  It came from the villagers outside, from the village itself.  The world around him was screaming, and Mal took the head.  He took it from the pedestal, turned around, and marched back out of the room.  Up the stairs he marched, the scream continuing to resonate from all around him.  He was back in control of his body, fully conscious, and determined.

The church wasn't quite as serene as it had been when he'd gone down into the basement.  The screams continued as he hit the top of the stairs and stepped into the church proper.  The stained glass windows shattered inward, showering him with glass.  It stung him, cut him, but he kept going.  Only, there was something blocking his way.  When he stepped into the center aisle, he was staring straight at the father.  The man who had attacked him the night before, who had caused him to roll himself and Kelly out of the bed, was standing between him and the door.  His clothes were ragged, his face bearded and tortured, and in his hands was a bloody axe.  The same axe that he had used to severed the head Mal was now carrying from his daughter's body.  But this wasn't the same man; this was the man's corpse, the man's tortured soul.

The two of them stood completely still, and the scream seemed to die off a bit in the tension of the moment.  Mal eyed his routes from the corner of his eyes.  He could flank left or right, but the zombie's position allowed him to move to the same side.  On the same token, if the zombie moved, Mal could take the opposite route to get away.  It was a stalemate as Mal stared down this seemingly sentient zombie.  He didn't feel any fear, he didn't feel the pain of his multitude of slashes and gashes, he only felt a strange calmness that kept his mind clear.

And then the door to the church collapsed.  In came more zombies, many more, the dozens that had killed Cassie.  Cassie, whose body was now marching with them, her head lulled to the side.  They spread out, taking either flank and leaving only the path down the middle, blocked by the axe man, free.  Mal watched them move, slowly lumbering around the pews.  There was no chance of getting through them this time.  Not with the head to look out for and in such an enclosed place, so Mal began down a slow march down the center aisle, his eyes focused on that wicked, bloody axe.  He could not die here, not now, not with the head in his hands.  He would be trapped, tortured for eternity while the people who would be his saviours avoided to town with extreme prejudice because they had seen the ghosts.

The axe man stood still as Mal approached him.  Darting down between the pews was out of the question, as the zombies that had been filtering around were beginning a slow, lumbering shuffle down through.  The circular trap was enclosing once more, and this time there would be no escape.  Not here, Mal knew, if they got him, they would not let go.  They would not just claw, they would grab, bite, scratch, tear and break Mal into pieces.  He would not become a zombie, he would be minced and stuck there with the rest of them.

He got closer and closer to the axe man, until finally he was in striking range.  The axe came up as predicted, and swung toward him with incredible swiftness.  Mal jumped back, barely escaping the blade and beginning to reconsider his course.  He took a ginger step forward and this time the axe came down toward him in a quick vertical chop that he narrowly dodged.  It twisted in the man's hand and swung around in a horizontal slash that would have taken Mal in the torso had he not stumbled while dodging the vertical chop, falling into the aisle between the pews.

With that same swiftness the axe shifted again, coming down vertically once more.  Mal rolled, barely clearing the space underneath the pew.  The axe struck and cleared clean through it, breaking the pew.  The man lashed out, kicking the smaller chunk aside and revealing Mal.  The axe came in before the man even recovered from the kick, and Mal felt it slice the air just inches away from his arm as he rolled again, under the next pew.  The sentient zombie seemed to fill with rage, grabbing the pew Mal was under with one hand and tossing it to the side of the church.  With one great heave, this man had uplifted and tossed aside an entire church pew, knocking down several approaching zombies at the same time.  Mal saw his opening.

The axe came around, but Mal was already scrambling.  He got to his knees, fell forward, then quickly got his feet braced and moved at a run.  The zombies were still getting up where the pew had struck them, leaving an opening in their ranks.  An opening that Mal rushed for.  The rest of the zombies were closing that hole, that one ray of home that would lead to Mal's freedom.  If they did, he would not get out of there alive.  He sprinted, his feet pumping, his messy brown hair, blood-stained and damp with sweat blown out back.  He ran, with all the energy he had left, he ran for that opening.  And he was almost through it, almost to freedom, when a zombie's hand grabbed his foot the instant before he could raise it from the ground for his next stride.  He stumbled, tripped, fought to keep his balance, but in his attempts he redirected his course.  The wall was upon him, and he smacked into it at full speed, head first.

The world spun, his vision blurred and began to darken as he fell to the floor.  His nose was broken, he was sure, and a steady stream of blood was flowing.  He fought for his consciousness, knowing if he lost it he was screwed.  With one hand, for the other held a death grip on that moist, half-rotted, screaming head, he began to pull himself along the floor weakly.  His stumble had given him plenty of room between him and the zombies, and he could see blue sky just outside the door of the church.  Just outside, to his freedom.

He felt sleepy, he just wanted to give up, to slump down and let the darkness take a hold of him.  At least he wouldn't feel any more pain.  At least he wouldn't be hearing that nonstop screaming that had been ringing in his ears the entire time.  At least he would be comfortable, away from zombies, unaware of the moment when they finally took his life away from him.  When his body became chunks of meat and his spirit, his ghost, remained on the ground, intact and unconscious.

A foot stepped in front of him, and he could see that bloody axe dragged along the ground.  Looking up, it was the axe man zombie, the father, looking down at him with pupil-less eyes.  Where did their pupils go when they died? Mal laughed a little as he imagined, half-conscious, a large pile of pupils hidden in that other door in the church.  Why hadn't he run for that? Why hadn't he gone in and started squishing people's pupils like they were little slugs.  That would probably be what it felt like, stepping on a dead person's pupil and squishing it with your sneaker.

The axe was in the air.  Was he moving in slow motion or was the swiftness gone now that Mal was on the ground and helpless? Mal couldn't tell, but the axe was only just getting to its peak.  It would come down, that blade, dull from a hundred years of lying around, would collapse his skull, or perhaps sever his jugular.  Either way, he would feel the moment it happened, and feel his life draining away.  There was no way that axe would make a clean cut as it had for the head.  The head Mal now brought up in front of him as a last effort to stop the axe.  To Hell with the villagers, he would get out of there and write about them or something if he survived.  They were already dead anyway, who needed to risk their life to free them?

There was a moment's pause where everything stood still.  Mal felt zombies grabbing at his feet, saw the axe begin its descent, heard the scream from the head he raised to his defence.  There were birds still chirping outside and a cool breeze was blowing in through the open door.  The sun's rays beamed in through the roof and lit up the church through the open, broken door.  Everything suddenly seemed so peaceful, so calm.

And then the axe fell.

It struck the head, cleaving through the forehead.  Mal pushed it to the side to redirect the axe blow, which finished in the floorboard a hair's width away from his head.  The halves of the head fell from Mal's hands, and the screaming had stopped.  A massive shockwave pressed Mal against the floor hard, and he was sure he broke a rib.  His arms were blown to either side and pinned, his shoulders dislocating from the blast.  The zombies around him were pushed back, then slumped to the floor, lifeless once more.  The axe man above him fell on top of him, knocking the wind out of his broken body, luckily missing the broken rib that would've punctured a lung had the man fallen just a few more inches closer.

That was when Mal lost consciousness.

#

He had only a short dream.  He was standing in center aisle of the church; it was fully restored and quite beautiful.  The young girl, Annabelle, stood by the altar, a bloody mess with her intestines oozing out of her torso.  Then, slowly but surely, Mal watched her wounds close up.  Her pupils restored in her face and the blood dripped away until she was once again an innocent little girl, untainted, uninjured, and happy.  She flashed Mal a smile, then faded away.  No ‘thank you', no ‘you did good' or ‘you can now go home', she just faded away to nothing.

Mal opened an eye, then the other.  He coughed, and it hurt.  Then the rest of the pain washed over him.  His arms, both shoulders dislocated, were sprawled to either side of him.  His legs were torn to shit, and most of his makeshift bandages were bloody remains of material.  His nose was broken, dried blood covering his face and his head was throbbing from a concussion.  But there were no zombies.  Mal laughed, standing up with a lot of effort and completely ignoring the pain.  He laughed, looking around.  There were no bodies anymore.  Just an old, rotten church.  He laughed as he walked out the door, the evil presence gone.  Laughter filled the air as he trekked back through the grown in remains of the village until he got to the village proper.  He continued to laugh even as the brave souls from the party returned to examine the village, in one large group.  He laughed as they rushed to his aid.

And he continued to laugh until he lost consciousness again, this time on a stretcher being put into an ambulance.

What followed when he awoke was a complete blur.  People asked him questions about what happened (which he answered completely truthful), others checked on his condition, on his mending bones and healing gashes.  Before he knew it he was on a chair in an office, his mother crying as his father held her, listening to the words of the official who sat on the other side of the desk.  There were papers exchanged, signed, and Mal was taken away.  It was all a rush, a blur, and before time caught up with him he found himself in a padded room.

And then he continued to laugh.