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Authors: David Berardelli

And darkness fell

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And Darkness FellByDavid Berardelli

And Darkness FellCopyright © 2013 David BerardelliAll Rights Reserved

Published in ebook formatby D Street Booksa division of Mountain Lake PressMountain Lake Press

Converted byeBookIt


ISBN 978-0-9885919-2-9

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic ormechanical means, including information-storage and retrieval systems, withoutpermission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, whomay quote short excerpts in a review.

To the memory of Kylie, whose passing inspired me to write this.ContentsPART I: THE BATTLEFIELD




EPILOGUEABOUT THE AUTHORWhen the light of life and happiness was destroyed, the darkness came, bringingwith it an insatiable lust for death and destruction.

All that will exist from now on will be despair, and a cold nothingness thatwill forever chill the bones.When the living can no longer feel the despair or the cold, they will know theend has finally come.

PART I: THE BATTLEFIELDONEBeneath the blood-red sunset, a six-car pileup forming a grotesque sculpture oftwisted metal and broken glass blocked the interstate.

I slowed the van and veered right until I reached the shoulder. The shortbarreled, .38 Special revolver rested on the console beside me. If someonepopped out of the wreckage and lunged, I could easily shoot him.

The bitter irony of it all nipped at my bones. Not long ago, I would havecalled 911. But now, since there were no more ambulances, I handled allemergencies with a gun.

I could see only three bodies. The others probably lay dead in the back seatsor beneath the vehicles. A woman slumped behind the wheel of the smashedsilver SUV, her long dark hair a heavy shroud covering her shoulder and arm.Two men in light-colored sweat shirts and baggy sweat pants lay on their backson the pavement. Splotches of blood covered their faces and shirts. No onemoved.

A black handbag lay among the shattered glass, its contents strewn sometwenty yards from the crash site. A crushed tan suitcase jutted out beside a flattire. A shabby brown teddy bear sat in front of the SUV, gazing up at thedarkening sky.

Staying clear of the broken glass, I eased onto the shoulder and crept past,until the bodies showed up in my side mirror. Just as I’d moved past thewreckage, a glittering gun barrel directly to my left made me cringe.

A young man sprawled on his left side beneath the rear bumper of anoverturned sedan. He lay perfectly still, his left arm outstretched, a revolverpointed in my direction.

Instinctively I reached for the .38 but thought better of it. I wouldn’t need it.The boy’s glazed eyes were pointed in my direction but did not flicker or blink.His hand was open. The gun barrel rested on the macadam. He was dead.

I accelerated, avoiding the mirrors until I was confident the tiny, glintingnightmare behind me had disappeared from sight.A couple of miles later, I decided it was safe to start breathing again.

Twenty miles north of Jacksonville, small towns and boroughs peppered thewooded areas flanking the interstate. Years ago, many of these places werereduced to shadows of what they once were, as progress stripped them of theirdignity. Their anorexic remains had become grim remnants of a time long past,when the world was smaller and quieter and moved along at a much slower pace.

According to my grandparents, life was much more tolerable before thecomputer age stepped in to change the world. Microwaves hadn’t been invented.Cell phones weren’t even thought of. Television provided only a handful ofworking channels. Telephones often had party lines to contend with, and officeworkers frequently had to rely on their memories, common sense, and other skillsto get the work done.

Nevertheless, life trudged on, and people were content and happy with itslimitations.My grandfather believed life began deteriorating when the huge, sprawlingmonster called Interstate 95 bulled its way into our lives, slicing deeply into theearth, leveling land and trees, destroying homes and farms, and burying this quietway of life beneath thousands of tons of pavement.I’d never been a fan of the interstate. In the past, I’d avoid it wheneverpossible, choosing country roads as a much more restful—and safer—alternative.But when ninety percent of its traffic vanished, travel along the roadway changeddrastically, turning into something much more frightening.I zipped through the Jacksonville area, drove for another ten minutes, andtook the first exit. I’d been driving for several hours and needed to stretch mylegs as well as take a whiz and hunt for money and weapons. I went straight upthe ramp and that dreaded highway quickly disappeared behind a cluster of dirtybrick buildings and a row of corroding tenement houses.I crept down the debris-cluttered street, carefully avoiding bottles and brokenglass. A couple of skinny dogs trotted along the sidewalk, searching for foodscraps. Cars, vans, and pickups lined both sides of the cracked pavement. Somewere fairly new while others appeared much older, abandoned long enough tobegin their slow deterioration into misshapen husks of rust and grimy glass.The two- and three-story houses lining the block had also begun their journeyinto death and decay. It didn’t take long. Their windows were filthy, their paintpeeling. Shingles had pulled loose, some still clinging to sections of exposed tarwhile others had simply given up and dropped to the ground. Trash, toys, rustylawn furniture, and skeletons of vehicles on blocks littered the overgrown frontyards.Halfway down the street, I found a place to park. I wasn’t afraid of blockinganybody—I hadn’t encountered another vehicle all evening. Still, I didn’t want tobring attention to myself. People usually stop what they’re doing and stare if theysee something strange or unusual. And if they’ve never seen you before, they’rebound to be suspicious if you show up in their neighborhood. I didn’t see anyonewandering about, but I knew better than to lower my guard. I wasn’t about to riskmy life on the off-chance that someone might be lurking in the shadows.As I pulled into the vacant space and switched off the engine, I realized atonce I’d been correct in my thinking. Two large, beefy guys sat watching mefrom the now-tall grass in front of the brick house across the street. I hadn’t beenable to see them through the wild hedges obscuring the view at the corner, but assoon as I’d passed the collapsed picket fence separating the properties, there theywere.They were obviously brothers and close in age, maybe twenty-five. Theywere fairly dark, their scraggly long hair the same color as their unkempt beards.They wore bib overalls, and each gripped a beer can. They probably went close tothree hundred pounds apiece, and I doubted they’d have any trouble pounding meinto hamburger. On the other hand, if they’d been doped, I wouldn’t have toworry; by the time they decided I was a threat, I’d be long gone.I thought about trying a different house, but I really didn’t want to waste thetime—the pressure in my bladder had increased, and I squirmed in my seat.I watched as they both hoisted their cans to coax some drink into theirmouths. The process was excruciating. They took at least ten seconds for each toraise the can, another five to tilt it, nearly ten seconds to swallow the mouthful,and another ten to lower the can. About thirty seconds after all that, they bothbelched.Nope. Nothing to worry about—at least from those two. The house could beanother story.I twisted farther around toward Reed, who was sitting in the rear seat amidthe canned food, beer, and other stuff I’d stolen before leaving St. Cloud thatmorning. He sat quietly, his head tilted to the side. He was probably listening tohis friend again.“Reed?”He turned and focused his small, light-blue eyes on me. Reed always gave methe impression he’d just awoken, even if we’d been talking only seconds earlier.That was okay. Reed wasn’t normal by any stretch. But that didn’t matter.Abnormal had been the norm for some time.“Reed, have him check out the house, the one over on the right, where thosetwo big guys are sitting.”He turned and stared out the passenger window then went right back to hislistening mode. I should explain at this point that he was listening to someoneeven though no one else was there. But as far as Reed was concerned, the voicewas real—just as real as I was.“Well?”No reply. When he listened, he blocked out everything else. Reed wasn’t amoron. He was actually very intelligent and well-educated, but his attentionfocused on things others couldn’t fathom. Like Elwood P. Dowd, that lovabledipsomaniac played by Jimmy Stewart in the movieHarvey. Dowd claimed hehad an invisible friend, too, a six-foot rabbit. I had no idea who or what belongedto the voice Reed heard. I didn’t know if he was listening to a leporine six-and-ahalf footer, a stacked blonde, or one of those voice-generating computers I saw onan old TV show.It didn’t matter; the voice was real. I’d seen clear evidence of it.“It’s okay to go inside?”“Don’t know,” he said in his soft, high-pitched voice.“What did your friend say?”“He doesn’t hear anything.”“He can’t tell if anyone’s in the house?”He shook his head.I tried evaluating the situation. Judging by their actions, the two out on thegrass probably had been doped. Families usually ate the same foods and took thesame medications, so anyone inside the house probably would be in this samecondition.“I guess I’ll go in, then. I need to make a pit stop. How about you?”Reed shook his head.That was another thing I couldn’t understand about Reed. He seldom had touse the bathroom or stretch his legs. He’d rather sit back there and listen to thevoice. Reed didn’t eat or drink much, either, but you expected him to use thebathroom once in a while. I’d only seen him slip into the john once since we’dhooked up, but that was only because I’d done something that made him sick tohis stomach.“Want anything special if they’ve got food?”“An apple would be nice.”“Anything else?”“A peach. Or maybe a banana.”“You having a regularity issue?”He frowned. Reed wasn’t the best audience for the casual one-liner.“It was a joke, Reed.”He didn’t reply, and his silence made me wary. I didn’t think he’d keepanything from me, but his blank expression made me wonder if I should evenbother with this place. I could just piss in the bushes, and I could always look forguns and money somewhere else.On the other hand, it was getting dark, and I didn’t want to be caught in astrange place at night. Some sections still had working street lights; this onedidn’t. If they’d been working, they would already be on, and those guys sittingin the front yard probably wouldn’t mind if I just took a leak at the corner. Still, Ineeded to do some hunting while I was there. I needed stuff that could substitutefor cash.When most of the ATMs went down, cash became the only form of moneyacceptable—cash or something of intrinsic value. If I found another gun, forexample, that could substitute. Of course, you could never have enough guns.Gas stations had become the most dangerous places in the country. Luckily, Iwouldn’t have to stop for a while. I’d filled up the tank south of Jacksonville andstill had plenty left.Which brings me back to that house. I thought it would be a safe bet. Two ofits occupants were obviously doped and getting drunk out in the front yard. Theywouldn’t be able to move fast enough to catch me. Also, I wouldn’t have to worryabout encountering a locked back door. A flickering light showed in the sidewindow. I assumed it was from a kerosene lamp.Reed suddenly looked worried.“What’s the voice saying now?”“You might wanna take a gun with you.”I stiffened. “Trouble?”“He saw something move inside, but says it’s small.”Small? That could mean anything from a cockroach to a baby pit bull.My pulse raced as I grabbed the .38, which I’d found in a house I’d raided inSt. Cloud. I hadn’t fired it yet but was familiar with the caliber.I shoved it in my back pocket and hoped I wouldn’t need it. I hated killingpeople. I hadn’t done it in years and promised myself long ago I’d never do itagain. I didn’t know certain grisly events beyond my control would soon preventme from keeping that promise.My heart thumped as I climbed out of the van.The jumbo twins watched me as I circled in front of the van, stepped over thecollapsed fence, and trudged through the weeds. The one closest to me loweredhis hand in the grass.I froze. My imagination went crazy. He might have been reaching for a gunhe’d brought with him. Or, maybe he was bracing his arm so he could get up andrush toward me. He might even have rigged some sort of homemade booby trapfor trespassers, and was about to toss it at me.I hoped I was being ridiculous, but I had good reason to be scared andconfused. It had been weeks since I’d encountered anything remotely normal.Judging by the events of the previous six months, I strongly suspected nothingwould be normal ever again.I forced myself to stay calm. If they came at me, I’d sprint back to the vanand get the hell out of there. If they were doped, I’d have plenty of time to driveaway. Even if they drew guns, their slowness and lack of coordination wouldprevent them from getting a clear shot.Still, I’d be in real trouble if I’d mistaken their condition. I’d alreadystumbled across several people who appeared doped but actually weren’t. I’dseen this many times in the work force, under normal conditions. People came towork hung over and strung out all the time. Some managed nicely, getting theirjob done and leaving at the end of the day without suffering any consequences.Others didn’t do so well, stumbling about and spending most of the workdayhiding, or in the john.Nowadays, being doped meant the difference between life and death.Heads tilted, the jumbo boys continued watching me in confusion.Reasoning is nearly impossible when you’re doped. Getting one’s brain tofunction becomes a horrendously slow, painful process. It’s like getting a car tofire up on only one spark plug.One of them slowly hoisted his arm again, coaxing more beer into his mouth.He belched, lowered his arm, and continued watching me.I waved. No response.Keeping my eye on them, I trudged through the weeds. Just as I reached thecorner of the house, they both hoisted their arms and waved slowly andawkwardly, as if their arms weighed half a ton.I veered around the corner, cautiously climbed the loose wooden steps of thedeteriorating porch, and stepped through the front door.Kerosene lamps sent flickering shadows that danced across the walls of thefoul-smelling kitchen. An old woman sat in a rocker in the corner beside thestove, crocheting. She wore a stained flowery dress, white socks, and smudgedwhite tennis shoes. Her head was lowered. Her matted, curly white hair obscuredher face. She didn’t look up when I walked in.“Hello,” I said softly.No reply.“You wouldn’t mind if I used your bathroom, would you?”Although I could barely see her arthritic fingers moving, the old womancontinued her work. Gaps and holes ruined the center of the afghan in her lap.Yarn hung in loose loops all over the works. She’d obviously been at it a while.She probably had been thinking clearly when she started but began failing as timewent on. The bottom section of the afghan, neat and uniform, did not match herrecent efforts. I guessed she’d remain in the rocker until she could no longerfunction and die before anyone noticed.One of the kerosene lamps lit up the wooden table in the center of the room.A loaf of moldy bread and a few tins of sardines covered a small section of itsstained surface. Something had spilled recently. Flies feasted on it.I saw no fruit on the table or on the kitchen counter. Reed would have to waita little longer for his fructose fix.Stepping over hordes of busy roaches, I crossed the filthy linoleum floor andopened the fridge. The pungent smell assaulted my nostrils. The food on theshelves had already reached the beginning stages of putrefaction. Thetemperature inside matched that of the kitchen. I should have realized by the deadstreet lamps that this family had lost power. Finding food would becomeincreasingly difficult. The people who could still function would use coolers orfreezers, loading up with any ice they could find. Reed and I would have to becontent with canned stuff.I slammed the fridge door, but the old woman didn’t flinch. She was eitherdeaf or would react to the sudden noise after I’d gone. Or, maybe she was just soengrossed in her work she didn’t care. I took a few deep breaths to rid my lungsof the foulness, but the air in the kitchen was only slightly better. I had to get outof there shortly or I’d be sick.Then I heard a soft noise and turned to it.A little girl stared up at me, her large brown eyes glazed.Small--just like Reed said.About ten years old, she was dressed only in a stained pink tee shirt and filthywhite undershorts. She was also barefoot. Her greasy dark brown hair clung toher forehead and cheeks. Her face was smudged with dirt, her nose glossy withsnot. She obviously hadn’t been near bathwater in a while. It figured. Their waterhad also been shut off.“Mind if I use your toilet?”She slowly raised a bony arm and extended it toward the archway beyond thecabinets.Dodging more roaches and a mouse nibbling on something, I took a kerosenelamp down the hall. Dirty clothes and food wrappers littered the carpet. The foulodor followed me from the kitchen.The bathroom was the first room on the left. I went in, closed the door, andgagged at the stench. The toilet lid and seat were up, the basin brimming withfeces. Holding my breath, I depressed the flush handle. Nothing. I tried again.Silence.

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