Catching Hell (Novella Series #20)
by Greg F. Gifune
“Keep your voice down, they’re probably still on our asses.” Billy struggled to his feet and did his best to force the emotion and fear away.
“Let’s go, get up. We’ve got to keep moving.”
They followed the stream a while, running when they had the wind and walking when they grew too tired. Although they neither saw nor heard any sign of the townspeople, they continued on without stopping for close to half an hour.
Just when it seemed the forest was endless, they reached a break in the trees and found themselves standing before an enormous field of tall,
untamed grass, the waist-high blades swaying gracefully in the rain and wind. Perhaps two hundred yards away, an old and obviously abandoned barn stood rotting in the middle of the field. Beyond it and the far side of the field was more forest.
With jagged spears of lightning stabbing the ever-darkening sky and thunder throttling the earth, they ran across the field. Into the open. Into the rain. Wading through the grass, their legs grew weaker, their chests burned and they were barely able to breathe. But still, they forced themselves forward until they’d reached the barn.
The building, long deserted, was rotted and littered with numerous wounds in the roof and walls. Rain trickled through the openings, running in constant currents through the cracks and spattering the dirt floor to form small pockets of puddles throughout.
Billy and the others scrambled through an opening where the main door, a large sliding panel, had once stood. It now hung to the side and had nearly broken free of the building altogether. They collapsed to the ground in unison, their labored breath audible above the sounds of the mounting storm, pounding rain and constant trickling and dripping.
After a moment, Billy regained his feet and inspected their surroundings. Although the barn hadn’t been used in some time, it retained something of a livestock and manure smell, and remnants of hay and old bags of feed lay scattered about the dirt floor and in the corners of a few dilapidated stalls. He looked next to the high roof, squinting as raindrops splashed his face. Glimpses of the darkening sky shown through the multiple fractures, but otherwise it looked intact and would provide sufficient sanctuary, albeit temporarily. He moved to the remains of the door. Outside, the field they’d crossed was empty. If the townspeople had followed them, they were either hidden in the forest or crawling unseen through the tall grass.
“Are they coming?” Alex asked breathlessly.
Billy ran to the opposite wall, found a hole and checked the hundred or so yards of field in the other direction. It too was empty, the forest beyond it dark and blurred by rain. “I don’t see them anywhere, but we can’t stay here long, there’s no way to defend or secure this place. Too many breaks in the walls and roof, too many ways in, too many directions to keep an eye on. Hurry up and catch your breath.”
Stefan pulled his loafers off and rubbed his bare feet. Hardly conducive to running, the shoes had already caused the beginnings of several blisters. “And where, exactly, do you suggest we go?”
“There must be something beyond those woods.”
“Right. More woods.”
“Sooner or later they’ve got to come out somewhere.”
“I don’t care how far we have to go,” Alex said, “just so long as we stay ahead of those crazy freaks.”
Suddenly, from a dark corner of the barn came a deep but quiet male voice, barely discernable over the relentless rain and occasional thunder.
“They’re not crazy,” the voice told them. “They’re damned.”