Written for Friday Frights: Theme Undead Killer Kids.
The Hungry Dead
by Lisa McCourt Hollar
Lightning flashed, sending streaks of electricity across the sky. Christine heard a loud crack and just barely turned the steering wheel in time to avoid the falling tree. She slammed on her breaks and came to a stop.
“Thank you, Lord,” she said, sending a quick prayer heavenward, before getting out of her car to inspect the situation.
“Damn,” she said, staring at the huge oak that was obstructing the roadway. Ignoring the rain that was pelting her, she took hold of one of the branches and tried to pull it out of the way of her car. When it didn’t budge, she tried to pull harder, but the tree was too big and Christine, too small. Christine sighed. “I guess I’m not going to be able to get around that.”
She hurried back to her car, relieved to see that Dawn was still asleep in the back. She smiled, watching the seven year old suck her thumb. She’d been trying to get her daughter to give up that habit, and while awake, Dawn was making progress. In her sleep though was another story.
Pulling her phone out of her purse, Christine pushed the on button and then a series of numbers. Frowning she watched the screen that just read connecting, over and over, but wasn’t making any progress. The problem, she realized, was that there were no signal bars in the corner.
“Just peachy,” she grumbled. “Well, only one thing to do.” Putting the car into reverse, Christine backed up and then turned around, heading back down the road. As she did, Dawn whimpered, and Christine wondered if she was having another bad dream. After a few moments, the girl sat up, gasping for breath.
“It’s okay, Dawn,” Christine said. She pushed on the breaks and pulled off to the side of the road. Once stopped, she turned around and stroked her daughter’s hair. “It was just a dream.”
“Can I sit up front with you?” Dawn asked, looking around.
“I suppose. Here, let me help you with the seatbelt.”
“Where are we?” Dawn asked, once she was strapped in and they were once again moving down the road.
“Greeley Chapel,” Christine said, turning off the road they were on and onto one that was a little narrower.
“Dawn, it’s just a road. Besides, there’s a tree blocking the main route, so I have no choice.”
Dawn just looked at her mother with big brown eyes. When Christine refused to turn around, the seven year old stuck her thumb in her mouth.
“Dawn… your thumb,” Christine reminded her.”
“Something bad is going to happen,” Dawn said, but she pulled her thumb out and pushed her hand under her leg.
“I wish your dad had never told you that old story… and that’s all it is, an old story. There are no such things as ghosts.”
Dawn didn’t answer, she just stared ahead watching the rain. Christine decided to let her sulk. The divorce had been hard on her. Christine had tried her best to shield her daughter from the fallout of her father’s indiscretions, but she was only seven. Dawn had questions that Christine wasn’t prepared to answer and others that she just couldn’t answer, such as, “Why did daddy go away?”
Christine was angry at Robert for his affair, but she loved her daughter. She had willingly agreed to a generous arrangement that gave him time with Dawn every other weekend and several nights during the week. Robert hadn’t even attempted to see his daughter, not even once in the six months since the divorce.
The famous Cry Baby Bridge was coming up and as they approached the crossing, Dawn began to moan.
“Please turn around,” she pleaded.
“Dawn, you are being silly. It’s just a bridge. People cross over it every day with no problem at all.”
“But it’s dark now.”
“They cross over it at night, too.” Christine sighed. She didn’t want to play into her daughter’s fears, but maybe she could use the story to get her to see reason. “You know the legend, Dawn. The bridge is only haunted at midnight on Halloween. Right?”
Dawn nodded her head.
“Well that was three months ago. So there’s nothing to worry about, right?”
Dawn shook her head, no. Christine sighed and steered her car onto the bridge. Dawn started crying harder, but Christine chose to ignore it. When they got across, then she would see how silly she was acting. Tough love, facing your fears and all that. Damn Robert for even telling their daughter that old story and then twisting it. He couldn’t just leave it with a baby crying at the bottom of the bridge, a ghost of the child lost in a tragic accident, he had to embellish.
“There are more children there, Dawn. Teenagers from a school bus accident and others… some that have committed suicide, jumping off the bridge, runaways… and those that died trying to prove their bravery by visiting the bridge on Halloween.”
“Robert, stop it!” Christine had tried to warn him, but he didn’t listen. There was something mean spirited in him. He enjoyed scaring Dawn and his mouth twisted up into a grimace when Dawn had innocently asked, “What happens to them?”
“They are killed by the children that live under the bridge.”
“ROBERT THAT IS ENOUGH!”
But it wasn’t the end of it because Dawn’s nightmares began that night. Greely Chapel was the shortest way into town for them, but because of Dawn’s fear, she had to take a different route every time she was in the car.
“Mommy…” Dawn whimpered and then she screamed.
“Dawn, calm down!” Christine glanced at her daughter for just a moment, shocked at the terror in her eyes. “What is the matter?” She asked, turning her gaze back to the road and then slamming on the brakes for the second time that night. Stretched across the bridge were a dozen children, ranging in age from young, maybe three or four year old, to teenagers. She recognized one of the coats as a varsity jacket from one of the local high schools.
“What the hell…”
“They’re going to kill us, mommy.” A chill went down Christine’s spine. No longer crying, Dawn sounded eerily calm.
“No, they aren’t,” Christine said, trying not to sound agitated. “There must have been an accident. The road conditions are certainly bad enough.” She looked around trying to see if there was a bus or car off on the side of the road, but she didn’t see one and the side of the bridge was intact; no vehicle had gone over the side. And then she heard a baby’s cry.
“The baby is hungry,” Dawn said.
“Where?” Christine examined the figures silhouetted against the next lightning flash and saw that one girl held a baby in her arms. “Oh dear!” Christine opened the car door and stepped out. “Do you need help? That baby shouldn’t be in the rain. Neither should any of you for that matter. It’s cold. It will be a tight squeeze, but I think you all will fit…”
Christine turned to open her back door as the children moved towards her. The girl holding the baby moved ahead of the group and Christine noticed she was walking with a limp.
“Are you hurt? I don’t see a car, did you have an accident further down the road?” She smiled, trying not to sound nervous. Something about this situation didn’t seem right. “If so, you’re heading the wrong way, if you wanted to find help. Nothing that direction but country…”
She stopped talking and frowned. Another flash in the sky had shown the girl’s leg was broken. Bone protruded from the skin and the limb was bent at an angle that should have prevented walking. Then she saw the baby. Maggots wriggled in and out of a head that had been caved in. One eye was gone and the other red from broken blood vessels.
“Oh my…” Christine shut the back door and climbed back into the driver’s seat. “It’s going to be okay, baby,” she said to Dawn.
“They want me to join them,” Dawn said. Christine took her eyes off a young boy whose head was turned completely backwards and looked at her daughter. She was trying to unbuckle her seatbelt. “Keep your seatbelt on. You are not going out there!”
Christine put the car into reverse and attempted to back up, but the wheels just turned and they sat in place. She looked in the rearview mirror and saw that there were more children behind her. Some bodies looked fresher than others, some were rotting and had skin falling off. She remembered the show that Robert loved to watch on AMC, Sunday Nights about the Undead. That’s what these children were she realized, undead.
“But how did Robert know?”
She would never learn the answer. The driver’s door window shattered and bony hands reached in and pulled her towards the opening.