Chapter Eleven: Aria Stephenson
There was a peculiar girl at the window of the church. She was dressed simply in a white dress. She looked like a fallen angel with the backdrop of the stained glass window and the rest of the church. When she looked around, she didn’t seem glad to see that we weren’t the zombies come to take her away. Then again, she didn’t look much of anything. She wasn’t happy, nor was she sad. She wasn’t scared or excited. The only other explanation was that she was very good at hiding her emotions. A song came into my head at that moment, and I sang it quietly as I walked beside Jason with Kyle slung over his shoulder.
“Don't fret precious I'm here, step away from the window. Go back to sleep. Lay your head down child. I won't let the bogeyman come. Counting bodies like sheep to the rhythm of the war drums. Pay no mind to the rabble, pay no mind to the rabble. Head down; go to sleep to the rhythm of the war drums.
Pay no mind what other voices say. They don't care about you, like I do, like I do. Safe from pain and truth and choice and other poison devils, see they don't give a fuck about you, like I do. Just stay with me, safe and ignorant. Go back to sleep. Go back to sleep. Lay your head down child. I won't let the bogeyman come. Count the bodies like sheep to the rhythm of the war drums. Pay no mind to the rabble, pay no mind to the rabble. Head down; go to sleep to the rhythm of the war drums.
I'll be the one to protect you from your enemies and all your demons. I'll be the one to protect you from a will to survive and a voice of reason. I'll be the one to protect you from your enemies and your choices son. They're one in the same. I must isolate you, isolate and save you from yourself. Swaying to the rhythm of the new world order and count the bodies like sheep to the rhythm of the war drums.
The bogeymen are coming, the bogeymen are coming. Keep your head down, go to sleep, to the rhythm of a war drums. Stay with me, safe and ignorant. Just stay with me. Hold you and protect you from the other ones. The evil ones don’t love you son, go back to sleep.”
Before either Jason or I could say anything more, she spoke. “Hello. I take it that you’re believers also?” Her question almost certainly required an answer, but what could I answer to that?
“What would you say you must be in order to be a believer?” I said in a tone that I hoped would make me sound as though I knew what I was talking about, because as it stood, I didn’t have a clue. She could be talking about unidentified bloody flying objects for all I knew.
“I assume you’re here because you believe that this apocalypse has to come to earth by the hand of God, and that the reason he’s brought this upon us is to eradicate the sinners and the heathen of this world. That all the people such as ourselves who have never sinned and are true believers are safe from the condemning hand of god. That those that have been tempted by the devil are damned to live no longer in this world. That by the end of the apocalypse, a pure, perfect world will be all that is left.” She paused for a moment to breathe. “I also assume that the reason you’ve chosen the church as your sanctuary is because you’ve realized that it is a direct line to god, and so that being able to talk to God directly, you’re able to show him you aren’t to be condemned like the rest. Am I assuming correctly?”
I didn’t know what to say to that. She was saying that innocent people were being tortured and condemned to the depths of hell rather than being able to live on this earth undisturbed? She was mad. Insane. What she was suggesting was that innocent six–year–old girls who hadn’t even had time to sin were damned. I was going to give this stupid cow a piece of my mind.
“Look here missy.” I started, angrily. I didn’t manage to get very far though, since Jason butted in.
“Actually,” he said quickly. “We are. Although we’re new to this and we were attacked many times by the zombies on the way here. What would you suggest would be the best way to deal with an attack such as that when being a believer?” He managed to make his voice sound genuinely interested. Looking at the girl, he flashed a smile, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“Well. They’ve come to get the sinners, correct?” She searched our faces for some sort of agreement. We nodded and played along. “So they wouldn't need to go after you.”
“Well, you see now…” Jason was stumped. He didn’t know what to respond with at all.
“We think it was an accident.” I covered for him. “They attacked absolutely everyone. Even people we know for a fact are devout Christians who have never done wrong in their lives. At all. Like the vicar. We saw him in town before. Unfortunately, the zombies managed to get to him before we could help him. He’s dead now.”
She took the news well. In fact, there was no change to her face when I told her. I was lying, of course, but she wasn’t denying it or even showing any emotion on her face. The next thing she said made me really angry. “I suppose he sinned then. You never can tell who is telling the truth. But God can.” The way she said that last sentence annoyed me so much. She really believed this rubbish?
“Now see here.” I shouted. My voice echoed loudly around the empty hall of the church. “You’ve no right to be going around during times like these while innocent – yes, innocent – people are being slaughtered where they stand. Now if you don’t mind, my best friend, who just happens to be the person I love has been knocked out cold because of those… those zombies out there. There is no way you stand there and say we’ve never sinned and that we’re pure and all these lies. I fought for my life. So did Kyle and Jason.” I gestured generally towards their direction. “So you know what? Shut up. Just shut up. If I hear another word from your lips before I speak to you next, I’ll personally throw you to the zombies. Okay?”
I finished my rant and turned around to face what I thought was going to be Jason laying Kyle down. What I actually saw was Kyle looking at me with wide eyes and Jason shying away sheepishly. How much did he hear?
“Kyle! Are you okay?” I gleefully yelled and rushed to hum, embracing him in a hug. “I thought I might’ve lost you… I don’t know what I’d have done if I had. Oh my god. Kyle!”
“I’m okay. At least, I think I am. I don’t really know to be honest.” said Kyle roughly. He tried to move the shoulder that had been smashed by the bat and he screamed in agony. My face screwed up with worry. “Remind me not to do that again.” He said after a while.
“Erm. Kyle?” My face blushed beetroot red as he looked into my eyes. His curly brown hair fell across his face slightly and his hand moved towards his face slickly to move it away. “How much did you hear of that then?” I whispered.
“All I heard was you saying that you fought for your life and that so did Jason and I.” he tried.
“No Kyle. You heard it all, did you not?” I blushed. He was a rubbish liar. “It's okay. I know when you’re lying, remember? Or have you now got amnesia or something?”
“Or something.” He replied, cracking a smile. “I can remember everything fine, but I really didn’t hear what you said before that. What did I miss? It isn’t my head that has something wrong with it. It's my shoulder, remember? Now who’s amnesia?” I missed the sound of his voice. He’d only been out for fifteen minutes or so, but I thought I might never hear him again. I gave him an even bigger hug than I had before.
“I –" Before I could say anything, something in my pocket vibrated. My phone? What? Why was my phone working while all the electric had been cut off? Reaching into my pocket, I could only stare back at the puzzled looks I was being given. Who could possibly want to stop and text me during an apocalypse?
After an agonizingly long wait – skinny jeans aren’t the best pants you can wear for easy access to pockets – I managed to fish it out. My hands trembled and I had to wipe the sweat from the palms of my hands onto my top. I opened the message and after reading it to myself, I read it aloud.
“Well done. You have survived stage one. I will help to guide you through this apocalypse, but only if you can complete the tasks I set you. First of all, I will allow you to rest in the church overnight, but in the morning, I’ll send my instructions along. Why should you trust me? I hear you say. My answer is this: who else is there to trust? Make sure to have a good night’s sleep. You will need it.”
By the time I’d reached the end of the text, my voice was shaking. I tried to check the number. Expecting it to be blocked, I wasn’t surprised when no number came up. After a second though, the screen went black and in white writing, a number flashed across the screen.
The devil’s number? I didn’t understand. What was my phone doing? Why 666? Was it a message? A sign? Or was my phone just faulty? Why were so many weird things happening to me? To us?
Kyle was first to speak. “We don’t really have much choice, do we? We’ve got to do as this mystery texter wants.”
“Actually, we do. We could go out there and beat the living daylights out of all the zombies. We could win. Or we could stay here until they all die off again.” Jason joined in.
The peculiar girl went to speak, but I barked at her, killing the words in her throat.
I shook my head. “Kyle is right. We couldn’t take on the thousands of people that are zombies already or are being recruited to their ranks. There are way too many people on Earth for us to even imagine. We’d never be able to kill that many. There is just no way it's possible. I say we stay here and await orders. We can’t do anything else.”
“Aria’s right. We should set up here for the night.” Kyle agreed.
Jason raised his eyebrows. “Oh… So you two are an item now?” he teased. “I knew it. I had my suspicions. I was right!”
“Oh shut up.” I said, rolling my eyes. “Come on Kyle. We’ll explore the best place to sleep while Jason gets to know the religious nut who thinks we’re all damned. Does that seem fair? Yes. Then let us go.” I didn’t even leave a gap for Jason to argue. It will serve him right for arguing and teasing me.
As we walked away down the aisle, I turned back once to see Jason standing there with his mouth wide open, staring in disbelief at the peculiar girl. The last thing I heard was him saying, “So… You think the world is condemned… okay.”
Echoes of our footsteps bounce around in the huge hall, the carpet running down the middle of the aisle failing to muffle anything. “Where do you think we should go then?” I asked Kyle. “I mean to sleep.” I said quickly. “You know. All four of us. Tonight. Because the person who texted me told us to sleep here. Erm. Yeah. You’re welcome to jump in at any time you know. You’re allowed to stop me from being embarrassed and looking like an idiot. It is all right then. Say nothing. It isn’t as though I mind. It also isn’t as if I sound like a loony. Talking to myself and what not.”
I looked over at him and he chuckled slightly, his face blushing. “What am I supposed to say?” he said, growing serious. “We’re in the middle of town, in the middle of an apocalypse. I’ll ask again. What am I supposed to say?”
“Just stopping me from sounding insane would help.” I pleaded playfully.
“But you are insane.” Kyle pretended to be confused. “You want me to lie? Tut tut. I thought you were better than that.” He cracked a cheeky smile in my direction.
“You know that isn’t what I meant!” I shouted, a little too loudly. I lowered the volume of my voice. “Anyway. Where should we sleep? That was the original reason for us going around some old church.” Kyle gave me a cheeky wink. “You know very well I meant all four of us to sleep. Not just us two. That knock on the head has given you a much dirtier mind!” I said, sighing.
“Oh! Look at this!” His voice and face lit up like a small child’s on Christmas day. Running happily, he leapt up onto the platform from which the vicar would give his sermon. With a gleeful smile, he stepped up and leant into the microphone. “Testing, testing. One, two, three.” He tapped the end. Not to my surprise, it wasn’t working. Most likely to do with the electricity being cut off. His face fell when he put together the pieces of the jigsaw as I’d done seconds before him.
“Come on.” I turned to go.
“Wait. What is this?” His hand reached down and picked up something that was laid onto the slanted top of the podium. It looked to be a plain white envelope. Slowly, he turned it over and read whom it was addressed. I knew it couldn’t be good when his face crinkled with worry.
“What does it say then?” I asked impatiently. “It probably isn’t all that important anyway.” I said dismissively.
“Apocalypse Survivors.” Those words stopped me in my tracks.
“Well? Open it then!” I said, worriedly. “Come on. What is the worse that it could be? It isn’t as if it has rattlesnakes or anything inside. Just open the damn thing!”
“I don’t want to. I’m scared.” His voice shook slightly and he didn’t make any attempt whatsoever to hide that shake.
“Hand it here then.” I took the envelope from his hand and examined the writing on the front. It was large and very scrawled. Turning it over, I began to rip open the top. The tearing noise of the paper bounced around the walls like one of those crazy bouncy balls everyone used to love when they were little. You know? The ones that once you threw, you had to wait for a week before they finally stopped bouncing.
Finally, I pulled out the folded up piece of paper inside. I gulped and looked at Kyle for support. I don’t even know why we were so worked up anyway. It was probably just something for someone else. Then I remembered the writing on the front. I worked up a nerve to unfold the paper and I quickly skimmed over what it said.
“So?” asked Kyle hurriedly. “What does it say?”
I passed it to so he could read it. The words played over and over in my head. They were the lyrics to a song, but the letter was signed. It read:
“Aria, Kyle, Jason and Martha,
You think you can tell Heaven from Hell? Blue skies from pain? Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail? A smile from a veil? Do you think you can tell?
Will I get you to trade your heroes for ghosts? Hot ashes for trees? Hot air for a cool breeze? Cold comfort for change? Will you exchange a walk on part in the war, for a lead role in a cage?
How I wish, how I wish you were here.We're just a few lost souls swimming in a fish bowl. Year after year, running over the same old ground. What have we found? The same old fears.
Wish you were here.
The Fifth Horseman.”
The letter was a play on a song that I knew. Wish you were here by Pink Floyd. Most of the words were right, but some had been changed to suit this “The Fifth Horseman’s” wants. What freaked me out on the whole more than anything else, was that our names were on the top of that letter. Well, I knew that mine, Kyle’s and Jason’s were right, so why would the name of the religious nut at the front of the church not be called Martha?
I turned to face Jason and the peculiar religious nutter who I thought was called Martha. “You!” I shouted. “Yes! You girl. Not Jason. What's your name? Is it Martha?”
“Right. That proves it. This guy is serious. I bet he’s the same one that sent the text message as well.” I was quite shocked. How did this guy know anything about us? It was insanely disturbing. “We’ll check out the vestry and see if we can scavenge something soft to lie on when we go to sleep on the pews. Does that sound good to you? Then when we’ve done that, we can tell Jason about the letter. Maybe we can tell this Martha too.”
Nodding in agreement, Kyle led the way to the vestry where we grabbed as many different clothes and other soft material things to sleep on for the night.