I bolted for the “toe” of the shoe and the boys’ stairs.
I didn’t know where the old woman was but knew I could outrun her – especially on stairs – and climb well enough to jump and scale the banister, if the going got tough. I chose stairways in random, almost reactive, ways, usually opting for ones with the greater light for seeing any approaching danger.
As a result, I’d no idea where I was in the boys’ quarters when I heard a resounding thud that echoed throughout the stairways. Taking no chances, I ducked inside the nearest door, intending to stay until I was reasonably sure the coast was clear. There was a rough, but sturdy table immediately in front of me, a lit candlestick at each end, illuminating the room.
This wasn’t a room for any of the old woman’s charges. An adult – make that two adults, most likely a married couple – lived here. A fairly substantial double bed stood just beyond the table, neatly made, covered with an eiderdown, with a pair of matching wardrobes standing on the other side of the bed. One was clean and dusted, though the door was wide open, revealing a pair of trousers, two work shirts and what appeared to be a well worn but mended dress suit. The other wardrobe was dusty and neglected, its door only slightly ajar in a way that revealed what appeared to be women’s dresses, but not sufficiently to divulge any further details.
In a corner next to the man’s wardrobe was a cylindrical pot or can containing a few steel rods and pokers; a strange sort of pointed object, too long and sharp to be a trowel, almost like a Roman gladius, but too short and squat; and a number of brushes, consistent with being a chimney sweep.
I heard a heavy footfall climbing the stairs and stole, as quickly and silently as I could manage, to the canister with the brushes and other implements, picking up the trowel, or sword, or whatever it was, and slowly edging my way back across the room.
The object was heavy enough and sharp enough to do some real damage, even in my hands. If anyone came in, I was ready.
The footfall grew closer and closer – then stopped outside the door. I stood against the wall in the corner, behind the door should it open, not daring to breathe, ready to take on anyone who entered by surprise.
All was silent for at least a minute, maybe more. Then, the footsteps resumed up the stairs, though I remained stock-still for another two or three minute.
As I did so, I heard the rusting of fabric for the first time, at 10 or 15 second intervals, like wind going past curtains or drapes. Only there were no curtains, and there were no drapes. There wasn’t even a window to decorate with curtains or drapes. It took a while for me to realize that the sound was coming from the fireplace, cold and dark, without flames burning within. By the light of the candles, I could see two swathes of fabric wedged into the chimney, but the light was too dim to give me any greater specificity.
Curious, I came over and inspected them further, but it was still too shadowy. I pulled on the fabric to no avail, finally resorting to several strong heaves.
Then, both they and the object to which they’d been attached fell from the chimney. My stomach lurched, ready to retch as I stared in horror.
The two pieces of fabric were the over and under skirts of what had once been a woman, although this was now confirmed for me only because of her long, matted auburn hair. Birds and heaven knows what else had been feasting on her for quite some time. The face was half-eaten away, only holes left where the eyes and nose had once been and most of the mouth gone. The teeth beneath glistened in the candlelight. What hadn’t been eaten was deeply chewed with bites and gouged with peck marks. The rhyme began to echo in my head:.
Eeper Weeper, chimney sweeper,
Had a wife but couldn’t keep her.
Had another, didn’t love her,
Up the chimney he did shove her.
I backed away slowly, but I wasn’t going to run – not yet. I grabbed the gladius-trowel tightly.
With Eeper Weeper and the Ax Wielder inside, it didn’t take a genius to know that I was safer outside, zombies or no zombies; but, even if it meant having to remain beside the hideous corpse of that pitiful woman, I was not leaving the room until the coast was clear.
I silently opened the door a crack, just enough to see if anyone or anything was waiting quietly outside. There was no one. I dared expand the opening a full inch and looked as far as I could, both upstairs and down, from the landing by the door. Nothing. With a last look at the corpse to spur me on as quickly as possible, I bolted from the room, speeding down the stairs at a pace I’d have normally found out of the question to reach, much less sustain
© 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
The Bluebottle Boys (Volume One) and Walking Backward for Christmas: A Tale of Woe from Soggyhall are each now available from Amazon Books. The Bluebottle Boys (Volume Two) is expected to be available shortly. The next novel of the series, By Good Angels Tenanted, will be available later in 2018