A sickly green miasma descended from the heavens, and hovered menacingly for several moments over the tombs of Terrace Leigh Cemetery, before slowly seeping into the ground. Each minuscule droplet of moisture carried with it, a singular ghastly intent to disrupt the cycle of life and death. Through sod, dirt, and rock, it invaded the worm-rotted coffins, pervading the eternal sleep of the dead with its monstrous design to create perverse abominations from the peaceful slumber of death.
Gradually, the decayed remains of the long dead cadavers began to stir inside the cozy confines of their interment, feeling an awakening to a life that seemed strange and foreign to their limited capacity to produce rational thought. Nothing remained of the humanity that once existed in their being, except for an all-consuming desire to satisfy a hunger, to feed upon the warm-blooded flesh of the living. Unto that need, they dug and clawed their way out of their tombs, reaching through the dirt of the grave to touch upon the outer world of the living once more. The first hand emerged from the ground, followed quickly by the other. At length, more hands and arms arose from their earthen rest, and the tombs of Terrace Leigh shook, as the ground gave up its dead.
Asher sat in his parlor, endeavoring to understand the intense feeling of dread hanging over him like a caliginous pall of impending doom. The night, peaceful yet eerily silent, offered nary a trace of evidence to support the apprehensive specter that held him in an inexplicable grip of fear, yet there existed a sense of something vile and reprehensible lurking unseen under the darkened canopy of the night. An opened bottle of laudanum and the scent of freshly smoked peyote suggested his feeling nothing more than paranoia inspired by the consumption of substances whose purpose was to create a mind-altered state. Still, the feeling ran deeper than the effects of any intoxicant, causing the very marrow of his bones to quiver with fright.
In an instant, the specter of the night turned from its eerie silence, falling into the grasp of an unwonted ill wind that blew with a ferocity that shook his log cabin to its very foundation. Ghastly, distorted shadows lumbered about in a shambling gait outside his window, filling his mind with thoughts of the spectral dead taking part in a dance of death, possessing both macabre and elegant qualities that adorned his fright with a sense of beauty. Closer and closer the shadows ambled in awkward movements neared his house, casting silhouettes on the wall resembling something less monstrous and more of people in dire need of assistance. Casting off the restraints of fear, Asher resolved to do the neighborly thing, and venture outside to render aid to those in apparent need.
Opening the door to his home with a guarded deportment, his studious gaze examined the situation outside with a hesitant scan. A thick and pale green fog engulfed his vision, its density preventing him from being able to distinguish much more than the outlines of seemingly disfigured forms clumsily milling about his grounds. The dark figures uttered unintelligible grunts and groans, but nothing that even remotely resembled lucid speech. Curiosity led his feet to carry him toward the mysterious beings outside, as a loud and frantic voice inside his head pleaded for him to tarry inside the safety of his home.
“Are you in need of assistance?” his disquieted voice penetrated the profuse and sickly hued miasma. “Come inside and find warmth and sustenance, neighbors.”
A solitary figure froze in mid step, and then raised its head, as if harkening to the sound of his voice. Slobbering, incoherent sounds emanated from its mouth, and it began to advance on him in unwieldy footfalls. The cautionary voice resounded in his brain in a fretful tone, yet he offered it no heed, standing his ground awaiting the form to approach through the sickly green mists, which obscured the figure’s true appearance. Gradually, the creature’s repugnant features began to show through the dense fog that pervaded the air, filling Asher with aghast, for the image that began to materialize was something that should not be, something wretched and putrid, an abomination resurrected from the bowels of Hell. Shock and revulsion held his feet frozen to the spot where he stood, unable to heed the fear screaming in his thoughts, and flee into the protection of his house.
With its mouth agape and displaying its gray stained teeth and its rotted breath permeating the air with a foul stench, it lunged at him with ravenous intent. Fear released him from its paralyzing daze, as the desiccated mouth neared his shoulder, granting him the freedom to sidestep the assault, and shove the putrefied corpse to the ground. Drawing a Colt pistol from its holster, he emptied the chamber into the spirited cadaver’s chest. Shriveled flesh exploded in a fine dust and bones shattered, yet the wretched abomination remained animated, struggling to return to its feet.
“What manner of wicked creation of Lucifer are you?” Asher posed in disgust, casting a stare of loathing toward the squirming being.
His attention fixated on the decrepit wretchedness writhing on the ground, he neglected to notice the figures approaching him from the cover of the thick miasma. A skeletal hand comprised of mostly denuded bone touched his arm, immediately turning his eyes to gape upon the desiccated eyes of emptiness and ravenous intent, desirous of nothing more than feasting upon his flesh. Shoving his way past the latest assault, his focus set deeper into the mist, he observed several more dark figures shuffling toward him with an awkward gait. In the distance, he spotted many more converging upon the home of his neighbor and frequent paramour, Sadie.
The voice of self-preservation fell into silence, realizing the dire peril that neared her stoop. Resolve sent him in a frantic sprint through the walking corpse laden miasma toward Sadie’s house. Pushing and shoving his way through the feeble and boney arms, covered with patches of rotted skin, that wished to grasp him and the repugnant decayed teeth longing to taste of his warm and living flesh, he quickly made his way to defend the woman of his affections.
Standing at her door and observing the gathering mass of corpses, he struck it repeatedly with an anxious fist. “Sadie! Open the door…For God’s sake hurry.”
“Asher?” she queried in a bewildered tone, through the closed door, “What brings you here at this indecent hour?”
“By all that is holy, open the door and I shall explain it to you…Just please. Grant me entry to your home before it is too late.”
As soon as he heard the sound of the bar being removed, he barged inside, slamming the door shut behind him, and secured it. “There are vile abominations outside…Depraved corpses released from the pits of Hell with a hunger for human flesh.”
She cast a harsh glare upon his countenance, scrutinizing his demeanor in minute detail. “Have you fallen into the designs of laudanum and peyote once again?”
“Yes, but no. These things are not born of inebriation. They are terrible and very real,” he insisted through a trembling mien.
Sadie opened her mouth to discount his claim, but fell silent, interrupted by the sound of broken glass, as a pair of decomposed arms reached through a window. Turning a horrified visage toward Asher, her lips trembled to speak. “What manner of evil have you brought to my home?”
“I brought nothing, save for myself to defend you from these wretched things. With God as my witness, I give you my word; these foul creatures had already placed their designs upon you before I had decided to intervene,” he avowed, gazing upon her with a solemn expression.
The sound of shattered glass returned, sending both their stares toward another window. A pair of skeletal arms of mostly denuded bones had reached through the pane of glass, and struggled to pull the remainder of its desiccated body through the opening. There arose a disturbance at the door, as a horde of the creatures began pushing against it. Asher and Sadie looked on in horror, as it began to pull free from its hinges and buckle inward around the bar that secured it. A thud was heard near the first window that had been compromised, whereupon they noticed a wriggling corpse with both its femurs snapped like broken twigs, scooting along the floor toward them. Then the entire wood structure began shaking, as the undead corpses began pressing their combined might against is outer walls. Dust rained down from overhead and the rafters began creaking and groaning under the intense strain being placed on the house. A grim realization struck them with bone chilling terror; the house could not endure much more force placed against it before it crumbled under the duress of the pressing escapees of the grave.
Setting a horrified façade upon her, Asher knew that their only chance to extricate themselves from a certain death in the decrepit jaws of the hungry dead was to flee the house into the woods where their agility and quickness would serve them well against the limited dexterity and slow feet of the army of corpses.
“No, Asher!” she refused in an adamant mien. “There are too many for us to fight.”
“Your house is near to collapsing, Sadie. If we tarry here much longer, we will be overrun by those monstrous things,” he reasoned with her in an unyielding intonation. “Outside, we will at least have a fighting chance. In here, we will have no chance at all.”
One of the beams supporting a section of her roof broke loose and fell, striking the floor behind them with a loud thump, sending her flying into his arms. “How do you propose we flee the house?”
“There appears to be much fewer of them on the backside of your house. If we use the back door, we should be able to escape into the woods, and make our way to town for help.”
Asher and Sadie stood at the back door, listening with great interest to the sounds on the other side. Having no means by which to know with any certainty, he estimated the number of hungry corpses awaiting them upon exiting to be one or two. Releasing a deep breath and grasping her hand tightly, he opened the door with a sudden and violent push, and stepped outside, pulling her with him. To his dismay, the assessment of the danger had been underestimated. Though only one of the vile beings had been pushing against the door, four others milled about a few feet behind it. No sooner had the pair set foot outside the door; they were beset by assaulting hands and snapping teeth of the ravenous dead. Pushing the clumsy assailants aside, one by one, he made his way toward the woods where speed and agility would be to their advantage, dragging a frightened Sadie along with him.
Entering the tree line, he noted the darkened forms of several creatures through the thick and green miasma, meandering among the tall native elms that populated the densely wooded area. Though each of the foul corpses presented a dangerous obstacle that must be overcome before they could reach safety, having them scattered throughout the tall brush and trees was preferable to having to fight their way through a horde of them, especially with a terrified Sadie in tow. Avoiding one or even two of them at a time was much less daunting than having deal with many of them assaulting from every conceivable angle.
Weaving their way through the trees, moving as quickly as their legs could carry them, they were set upon by three putrid corpses, who happened to appear unexpectedly from behind the massive trunk of a mighty elm. During the assault, Asher lost his grip of Sadie’s hand, and then lost track of her whereabouts, fending off two of the creatures that held his arms in their desiccated grip. Pulling away from one of his two rotted assailants, his feet became entangled with a fallen limb, and he fell to the ground, pulling the other hungry corpse on top of him. Lying on the ground with snapping jaws mere inches from his flesh, he desperately held it at bay, as his free hand sifted through the high grass and broken branches, seeking anything he could wield as a weapon.
A cry of terror rang out through the woods; he reasoned could have only originated from Sadie, created a sense of urgency to extricate himself from his dire situation. Though not the weapon for which he had hoped, he grasped a smallish limb, near to the length and girth of a rifle barrel, and began striking his assailant’s head. Unfazed, the corpse continued pressing its attack.
Another scream, of a more desperate inflection than the previous, added to his desperation. Employing a new tactic, he began stabbing at the partially denuded skull with the limb. A well-placed stab in its dehydrated eye penetrated deep inside its cranium. It froze for a few brief moments, and fell off him, lying on the ground motionless. Springing to his feet, he raced to Sadie’s aide. One of the creatures had her pinned to the ground, its snapping teeth poised to sink into the soft flesh of her throat. Retrieving a thick limb from the ground, he smashed the corpse’s skull with a mighty blow.
“Are you hurt, Sadie?” he queried, extending a helping hand toward her.
“Not especially, Asher. At least, I do not believe I suffered any serious harm. I’m more frightened than anything,” she responded, as he pulled her to her feet.
“The barn is only a short distance away. I’m going to hitch the horse to the wagon, and get us away from these things,” he stated, pulling her into a protective embrace, as his eyes anxiously scanned the area between them and the barn.
The horse pulled the wagon down the beaten trail at a full gallop, as they sped toward the safety of the town. Asher held Sadie close to him, sheltering her from the chill in the air. Her skin was cold to the touch and there existed a clamminess about her, giving his thoughts a start. Bringing the horse to a halt, he observed her ashen and expressionless countenance and the distant stare in her eyes. His trembling fingers felt her neck for a pulse, discovering it to be weak and intermittent. In a panic, he instructed the horse to return to a full gallop.
Nearing the town, he felt Sadie jerk and convulse. Then she fell limp for several moments before, to his relief, she began to stir. Glancing toward her, he noticed the pallid hue of her face had deepened and her eyes held a wicked darkness. Her mouth opened, releasing a snarling growl, and before he could move to resist, she sank her teeth into the tender flesh of his throat.
The wagon pulled into the unsuspecting town with its undead passenger and another, dead, but awaiting the infection to run the course of his body, and instill it with a depraved lust for the taste of living flesh. From that one small town in the west, a plague would grow and spread throughout the land.