Pia
Manning

Erotic Romance Author

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Just For Fun!

I write erotic romances, but I love horror stories too. The Just For Fun page features stories that I hope are fun reads for you too, even if they’re not romances, erotic or otherwise.

Shedding Tears

A ghost story


by Pia Manning

Author Pia Manning's scary short story "Conspiracy Theories", imageThe universe has a wicked sense of humor. That thought floated through my head while I bumped and lurched my way down the long dirt driveway leading to my new home. The realtor, a small squirmy man with gleaming white teeth, had shown me the place, once, about two months ago - at dusk.

I confess. I’d searched for a new home for weeks, and had run out of patience with the process. So much so that that by the time he pushed open the door and waved me inside, I pounced on the property just to end the search. We wrote a contract on the spot. I didn’t even hesitate when he lifted his bony shoulders and mumbled, “A buyer’s market…” when I asked him why such a low price on lakefront property.

Now I had to live with the consequences of my impatience.

My erstwhile canine companion, Molly, pushed her furry face between the front seats. I reached up and fondled the feathery soft hair around her ears. “Just a few more minutes,” I reassured her, “and you can get out and run around.”

I had lucked into a fantastic deal. Recently updated with an open concept layout, the house’s main living area overlooked the lake. Secluded, the property included fifteen acres with a large shed, also known as a pole barn. A mix of majestic pines, paper birches, sturdy oaks and sugar maples grew between my house and the road. If not for the rumble of the occasional truck driving by I might have forgotten the road was there.

The place had felt tranquil. Birds sang, the wind played tag with the huge white pines that studded the property. No neighbors would ring my doorbell with plates of cookies or advice on where to shop. No kids road their bikes past the house, trying to catch a glimpse of their new neighbor. For the most part, I felt like LMOE, or in my case LWOE - last woman on earth.

Just what I needed to regroup and recover. The divorce had been soul shattering.

# # # #

I rinsed the coffee pot one bright June morning when agonized sobs permeated the atmosphere. The sound was nowhere and everywhere at once. I turned off the water and listened. Standing on tiptoes I peered out the window over the sink. The heavy green foliage blocked my view beyond the backyard.

My dog’s growls added to the noisy chaos, causing goosebumps to race up my arms. I whirled around. My German shepherd’s glare was fixated on something outside. I exhaled in a rush. Whatever produced the heart wrenching, yet not quite human, cries wasn’t in the house with me.

“Okay Molly, let’s go take a look.” I ran my hand across her back attempting to soothe her. When I opened the slider, she barreled past me and stood at the yard’s edge. She stared toward the pole shed with her hackles raised and teeth bared. I stepped out to the deck and walked the length of it. No unearthly sounds assaulted my ears now. I thought it strange that the only noise came from my bare feet slapping the wooden boards. No singing birds or buzzing bugs broke the stillness. “Sorry Molly. I don’t know.” I scratched her head and we went back inside.

# # # #

One sunny July morning Molly and I walked down the driveway to retrieve the mail. I stood by the mailbox flipping through the envelopes when an old battered pickup truck pulled up. Its red paint had faded to a pink hue, and the dents and scrapes told a tale of hard use. The man behind the wheel looked about forty. He had a pleasant round face and wore an old yellow t-shirt with a seed company cap perched on his head.

“Hi there. You the new people?” He reached into the truck’s interior and pulled out a bottle of maple syrup. “Here ya go-housewarming gift.” He handed it to me with a grin. “I’m Mike Larsen. Live up on the corner there. Oh, I make that syrup there.” He pointed at the bottle.

I thanked him for the syrup and introduced myself. Like people do, we got to chatting about odds and ends.

Then Mike asked, “Did they tell you about the fire and murder?”

“Uh, no. No, they didn’t. What happened?”

“Well, an older lady, Letty Bauer, lived in one of them trailer houses there for forty years or so. Gawd, she was a character. Not the brightest but she meant no harm. She loved her cats did Letty.”

“And she was murdered? How?” I remembered the real estate agent’s vague answers about the property’s history and low purchase price.

“Oh, you betcha. Her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend moved into your place, next to Letty. Few months later Letty’s place burnt to the ground. We all run over and tried to help, but too late. Flames run up higher than those pine trees. That house went up quick. I remember when the ambulance took her away. No lights. No siren. Nothing left to save.”

“How long ago was this? Is her daughter in prison?” How horrible, I thought.

“About a year ago. Nope, the daughter got away with it. She didn’t want to sell the place, but then the county raised them taxes. Cost her too much to stay. We all know who did it, but hard to prove. Whelp, nice meeting ya! Gotta go!”

“Ya, you too, and thanks for this!” I waggled the syrup bottle.

Mike waved and drove away. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the level of betrayal it took to burn your mother to death. The ugliness of her fiery death stood in sharp contrast to the beauty of the Northwood’s day. I rubbed my arms, shivering even in the July warmth.

I heard the crying several more times over the next few weeks. Molly always growled and glared at the shed. Sometimes she paced the edge of the yard, snarling, but never ran over to it. I knew I should investigate the source of the weeping, or at least try to. But it scared me plenty. Just thinking about going inside made my heart drum so hard I swore I heard it plainly – like a sound from outside of me instead of inside. Then it burned to breathe and I coughed so hard I choked on the very air that I desperately needed. I dreaded the day I would have to enter that shed.

But I knew that day was coming.

# # # #

Summer ends in northern Wisconsin weeks before the calendar says ‘Fall.’ First frosts often occur in late August, and September sleet isn’t unusual. One evening in September, I wandered around the property as the sun dipped behind the line of pine trees on the far side of the lake. Tendrils of white mist drifted over the water. An autumn chill foreshadowed the bone deep cold to come.

I needed to use that pole shed to store my kayak and a few other things that I wouldn’t use again until spring. Screwing up my courage, I tied the kayak’s tow rope to my four-wheeler and dragged the kayak to the shed’s yawning entrance. The gap had once enjoyed a proper door but now was little more than a break in the corrugated steel. The exterior, composed of rippled sheet metal pock marked by bullet holes and rotting facias didn’t look like much. But, well, it was all I had.

Idling the ATV, I peered inside. Tree trunks, crooked like an old man’s spine, supported the roof. The weight of it had ground the trunks into the dirt floor. Someone had nailed old license plates to a beam. The wind picked up causing loose sections of sheet metal to rattle and set long abandoned spider webs swaying.

I kept thinking that it must have witnessed the fire that killed Letty.

This evening, Molly, usually my constant companion hung back. “Come on girl, it’s okay, you can come in,” I coaxed using my best baby voice. She paced outside the door and whined, but refused to come closer. A sob disturbed the silence. What was that? I thought, searching the darkening corners to find the source of the sound.

Silence. Dead silence. Nothingness. Creeped out, I dragged the kayak inside, turned off the ATV and fled. Molly loped beside me.

# # # #

The cool September nights gave way to October’s pleasant Indian summer days. Every small town held a fall festival and the local papers advertised pre-Christmas craft sales. Farm stands filled with apples and pumpkins competed for buyers. If they hadn’t already, the summer people hurried to secure their cabins and leave. The grasshopper was about to fiddle his last song.

The small apple orchard on the property had outproduced itself. The boughs hung so heavy with fruit that I had to prop them up with 2x4’s lest the branches broke. The tomato plants had also proved to be prolific. Most of their leaves had withered leaving behind bright red fruit that soaked up the sun. Thus far I’d avoided using my ATV and the heavy metal garden cart that I hitched to it. But with Indian summer ending, I had to harvest all the remaining vegetables before the kill frost ruined them.

That meant I had to get the four-wheeler and cart from the shed. My dog ran ahead and the ATV’s keys dangled from my hand as I walked to the entrance and peered in. On bright days when the sun shone overhead, weak light filtered in from the small nail holes in the roof where the sheeting was failing. Although the light created shadows where there had only been inky darkness before, it didn’t help much. The darkness beckoned. I did not want to answer. 

Deep breath in, deep breath out. One foot in front of the other, I coached myself. Just go in and get the damned thing. My big dog sat beside me. She nuzzled my hand, willing to provide comfort and reassurance, but only from a safe distance.

I’d left the ATV in the rear of the shed. Now I wished I’d left it outside. You got this, I told myself and stepped into the shadows. At first, the only sounds I heard were the buzzing of paper wasps nesting in the rafters and the warning calls of barn swallows as they swooped around their nests. I wondered if they negotiated some sort of treaty: If you don’t sting me; I won’t eat you.

An orangey-gray tail darted out from under some old boards thrown haphazardly against the back wall. At least that’s all I glimpsed of whatever animal had taken shelter. I stood, my hands on my hips, and thanked the powers that be I hadn’t spooked a bear looking for one last entree before settling in to hibernate. 

Then I heard it. The heavy wobbly breathing of someone about to cry. I tried to ignore it. Focus! I chided myself sternly. Start. The. Machine. You won’t hear it then. The hiccupy sounds grew louder with each step I took. By the time I was sitting on the four-wheeler it had morphed into full-fledged crying.

Molly threw her head back and howled. 

My hands shook, but I managed to get the key into the ignition. The engine fired on the first try and I roared out of the shadows and into the sunshine. I stopped and looked back at the shed. The dog nuzzled my leg. Relief washed over me. 

And then I felt stupid. There I sat, on a beautiful sunshiny day while the birds sang and a soft breeze played peek-a-boo with the white cotton clouds. And I was afraid to go into my own pole barn. It was ridiculous. I knew that. I also knew that the four-wheeler and cart now owned their spots in the garage.

I didn’t know what to do. Calling the police wasn’t a reasonable option. “Yes officer, my shed is crying...Well no, there’s nothing in there but there’s something crying in there…” Right. 

But still. Something was terribly wrong. Outbuildings should not cry.

I succeeded in avoiding the shed until a November storm uprooted a long-dead tree and blocked my driveway. I needed to clear a path through the debris wide enough for my car. That meant I had to retrieve the chainsaw I kept for just such an event from the shed.

Fabulous.

“C’mon Molly!” Those words were more a plea than anything else. “Please don’t cry, please don’t cry,” I whispered my mantra. The saw sat on the ground about twenty feet from the door. Taking a deep, albeit shaky, breath I started threading my way between the kayak and the wall. I had no sooner passed it when the crying began again. I felt rather than heard something thud behind me. The kayak had rolled over, uncovering a small cat.

The cries morphed into loud wails. Shivering, I closed my eyes. My heart thundered in my chest. I forced myself to open my eyes and study the cat. 

She had curled into a ball, making herself impossibly small. Her hair had fallen out in patches, revealing areas of badly infected skin. I advanced, trying to walk without spooking her. The crying lessened the closer I got to her. It stopped when I reached her.

She looked rough. The outline of her ribs showed through her sparse fur. Shivers racked her body in a futile attempt to generate warmth. 

“Hey pretty baby.” I spoke in a quiet voice, hoping not to scare her into running away. “Is this your last stand?” I stroked her fur with one finger. 

She startled and raised her head. Pus crusted in the corners of her eyes. Green goo leaked from her nose. She rubbed an infected ear against my finger and tried to purr. 

“Awww baby,” I crooned. “You don’t have much left, do you?” I slid my hand underneath her small body and gently picked her up. She lay still in my palms, trusting, or unable to fight anymore. I didn’t know which. I unzipped my coat and tucked her against my warmth. 

I stood. I felt the shed, or whatever dwelled there, watching me. Waiting.

Author Pia Manning's scary short story "Conspiracy Theories", image

“Letty?” 

Sob.

“I’ll take care of her. I promise. I can’t do anything about how you died or why, but I can do this. If that’s why you haven’t moved on, you can now.” I thought for a moment. “But I understand if you want to stay, that’s ok too.”

I grabbed the saw and went inside to call the vet.

Author Pia Manning's scary short story "Conspiracy Theories", image

*Note*  There is a shed. There was a fire. The cat, Belle, lives with me.  

Conspiracy Theories

I live in Wisconsin. I relaxed. Maybe the zombies aren’t here ... 


by Pia Manning

Author Pia Manning's scary short story "Conspiracy Theories", imageIt started in my friend's kitchen. She does hair in her house. Sits you down on a chair right in front of her sink. She always has done business this way. But see it wasn't really a hair salon so she didn't stop when covid forced every other business to close. She works cheaper than the regular beauty shops, but you gotta put up with her talking on the phone and her youngest two always fighting and getting into things. If they was my kids…But anyways, I went over to her house on accounta I needed a haircut. And all my grays colored over so I don’t look like an old lady.

So, we got to talking about the whole covid mess. She heard from another client (Can you imagine? We’re sitting in her kitchen next to her dirty dishes and we are clients now. Lah Tee Da!) that the Chinese made the virus to help the Republicans win the election. See it wasn't supposed to kill anyone at all. Well, not really. It was just supposed to make Democrats itch all over when they went to vote, if they voted Democrat. Well, Republicans too but I don’t know no elephants who want to vote for a donkey, lol.

I just laughed and rolled my eyes. But no, she said it was all true cuz one of her other client's husband owns a drugstore (Lydia I’ll bet. She’s always bragging about her husband and how he’s so important.) and they have a toy aisle in the store and he talks to the Chinese all the time cuz he buys their toys and sells them in his store. And this Chinese toy sales rep said so. About the virus I mean.

But something went wrong. Really wrong. Instead of making your skin itch, it dug into people’s lungs and made their lungs itch. Cuz you can't scratch your lungs; they just get all red and fluidy. And then those people die cuz they can’t get no air. But wait, she said, it gets worse. Some of those that died didn't die. They were really asleep or something but when they woke up, they was zombies. I didn't dare interrupt her when she had her scissors in one hand and my hair in the other so I just sat still and let her talk. Even though I thought she was nuts. But you never know. I mean she knows people who know people. Get me?

She washed out my hair, dried and fluffed it. I didn’t have time for her to use the curling iron. I run errands on Tuesdays, so I paid her and left. I had to go to the Zoom-mart next cuz I needed some stuff. When I got there, I almost turned around and drove back home. No one comes here on a Tuesday morning, but today cars jammed the lot. Wednesdays get busy cuz they stock Tuesday night but I always find a spot close to the door on Tuesdays. I circled the parking lot and then drove up and down the aisles looking for a place. Rude people in those big pickup trucks – you know the ones; they take up two spaces all the damn time -honked their horns and tried to bully the littler cars outta their way. Coupla times I seen fist fights by the empty cart return. One guy grabbed a cart from a little old lady and took off running toward the sliding double doors.

I finally found a spot-beat out a woman in a Hummer. She yelled “Bitch!’ at me when I got out. I flipped her off. That’s when I heard all the sirens. At first, I thought maybe the cops and rescue was coming here. One of those guys having the fist fight had blood all over his face. Everyone else musta thought so too. They all got real quiet and stopped to watch a bunch of cop cars stream by. But they didn’t turn in here, so everyone got back to fighting.

I decided a shopping cart wasn’t worth a broken nose, so I hurried past all the cart corrals. I hit it just right too. One of their courtesy patrol guys pushed a few carts inside those flaps that lead outside to the loading docks. I grabbed the first one and watched the auto door glide open. A lady in a wheelchair wearing a Zoom-mart blue shirt greeted me. I always try to smile at those greeter people. Be nice my mom always said.

People with carts and baskets milled around in the aisles. A few had a basket dangling from both arms, and others even shoved their groceries into those eco-friendly totes they sell up at the check-out instead of regular bags. The baskets and totes didn’t work too well with those big packages of toilet paper or pop. I eyeballed ‘em and wondered if they was gonna pay for their stuff or try to make it out the door.

I roamed up and down the aisles looking for the things on my list. I needed the basics, nothing fancy, but the shelves didn’t have much and what they had left was shoved way back to where I had to stand on tippy toes and stretch to reach it. I turned down another aisle and saw three neighbor women I knew with their carts circled holding a gossip party next to the canned tuna.

“Ya hey, Kayla. Ashley. Lynnie. What’s going on in here?” I worked my cart into the circle.

“You don’t know?” Kayla asked. “Wow, I thought everyone knew.”

That’s Kayla. Can’t just tell ya what you asked. No, she has to look big by making a production out of it. “No, I don’t know. All the shelves are empty.”

“It’s the zombies! The dead’s rising,” Lynnie whispered looking over her shoulder like she expected a dead guy to creep up on her.

“The what?” I asked. Here I thought they’s talking about their boys’ football game last Friday night. Well, those boys played like zombies, that’s for sure.

“Zombies!” Ashley and Kayla shouted at once.

“Oh, hell no!” I’d better get another box of tampons, I thought right away. And toilet paper.

“Oh, hell yes!” Kayla again. “It was all over NewsFlash this morning. The dead are rising. Don’t you watch TV in the morning?”

“Not really.” I hated NewsFlash. They screamed the news. It gave me a headache. “I did hear a lot of cops driving fast down HWY 8 with their sirens blaring. The zombies?” I still didn’t believe it.

“Oh yes. You’d best grab what you can before everything’s gone. My Joe told me to get here, get shit and then get my ass home,” Kayla nodded like a wise old woman.

“I guess I’d better get to it then. Bye!” I untangled my cart and moved on down the aisle.

“Good luck! I hope you make it!”

“You too, Kayla,” I called over my shoulder. She didn’t see me roll my eyes.

I steered my cart up and down the aisles tossing stuff into it whether we needed it or not. Figured better safe than sorry. A whole ton of people with their mouths hanging open stood around staring at the big screen TVs in the electronics department. Sure enough, NewsFlash was playing on most of ‘em. I stopped to watch.

BREAKING NEWS!! Those words kept flashing across the bottom of all them TVs at the same time. But they didn’t say what the big news was. Figures, that’s NewsFlash for ya.

But then the announcer screamed, “This just in from New York City! A report from our correspondent on the ground Bingo Martin! What do you have for our viewers Bingo?”

The camera panned across a cemetery. Waves of smoke from the police shooting and the burning zombies rolled over the ground. Man, those flame throwers really put out the heat! The smoke thickened while I watched, but I still made out the graves’ headstones and angel statues. And the zombies. They staggered out of the smoke and lumbered towards the camera. Maybe they was making a movie or something. But I didn’t think so. I kept watching along with the other shoppers as Bingo began his report.

“Well Drake as you can see the cemetery is emptying and all the dead people are out here eating the live people!” Bingo kept looking over his shoulder while he yelled at the camera.

The lens jockey switched away from Bingo and focused on a grave. The headstone shook and wobbled, and the grass poofed up. I watched a dirty hand shove through the ground. Then the other hand appeared. We all stared as the fingers twitched and then grasped and dug at the dirt. I wondered how the guy’s pinky ring stayed on the way he clawed the grass apart. The hands disappeared, the ground heaved again and a head appeared. The man’s face reminded me of an old apple that rolled behind the milk in the refrigerator and nobody noticed it for two weeks. The face had shrunk, sunk and wrinkled. He only sorta had eyes. Mostly black holes, but that didn’t stop him. He scrunched and dug and worked to free himself. Finally, he put his hands flat on the ground and pushed himself up and outta that grave. I almost started clapping for him, but I remembered not to just in time.

Bingo kept on talking but had to yell to be heard over the sound of the gunshots and the zombies moaning. Their moan sent chills down my spine. Them people they dragged down and ate screamed and begged louder than anything. Every now and then a flame thrower guy singed a live guy by mistake. They screamed pretty loud too. Groups of moldy deaders just grabbed the alive ones and dug in. It took a while before the zombies ripped out a throat or tore into an artery. The really unlucky ones had a dead guy latch onto a hand or foot first. Took them a long ten or fifteen minutes to die. Sorta messy too-all that blood.

We all cheered when we saw one woman get bit and then fight her way from the corpse’s clutching fingers. He didn’t have much skin left. Or clothes. The corpse I mean. That lady, she made a fist and then POW! hit him in the jawbone and knocked his head off. His skull rolled around on the ground, jaws still snaping away. She ran ten feet and fell. I thought she tripped but no, she landed in the grass and then started shaking and moaning. Her eyes rolled back in her head and kinda disappeared. Her skin turned gray and she peed on herself. The cameraman filmed her entire transformation into a zombie.

I gulped. No way to fake that.

“The police have formed a line and are attempting to clear the cemetery. They are engaging the zombies with bullets, billy clubs and tazers. The zombies are taking incredible damage. But neither bullets, bats or amps are killing them! They get back up and continue rampaging!” Bingo hollered into the camera lens.

“BING!” the cameraman yelled. “Watch out!”

We all watched in horror as Bingo Martin closed his last report for NewFlash-or anyone else in this lifetime-with a scream. 

Well, that got everyone moving.

I didn’t want to shop anymore after that. I mean, who could even look at hamburger? I pushed my cart up front to check out and groaned. The line waiting to pay was backed up to the fitting rooms cuz Zoomy World didn't have enough ladies checking people out. And I hate doing that check yourself out. I always screw it up and have to flick on the light and wait for a team member, lol. So, I waited and guarded my cart against the roamers who didn’t get their groceries and kept grabbing stuff outta everyone else’s carts.

I made it to the magazines, candy and lip balm and only lost a package of socks. The lady in front of me started getting her stuff outta her cart. Then she put a bunch of dish towels up and the checker couldn’t find any price tags on them. Aww geez. Everyone groaned. The old girl argued that they were on sale for 99 cents each, but the checker wasn’t having it and flipped her light on anyways, and we all had to wait for someone to come over and do the price check. Then she didn’t know how to work the chipper reader on the little machine either. Sigh.

But while I stood there, I browsed those magazines that have pictures of three headed snakes and alien celebrity babies on the cover. Today their big headlines screamed: Zombies!! and Undead Take Over New York City! and Buried Alive? Zombie Claws at Coffin Trying to Escape. There was a big picture of this EMT guy in uniform with a stethoscope listening to a coffin. Holy! Crap! I thought. I don’t live in New York. I live in Wisconsin. I relaxed. Maybe the zombies aren’t here yet. Then I remembered all the sirens and cop cars. I needed to go home and lock my doors and windows.

The lights flickered just when the checker, her nametag read ‘Mae’, gave me a tired “Hi.” I tossed a few things on the belt, and the lights went out. The belt stopped, and that meant the little machine that takes my bank card stopped working too. Great. I shook my purse. Sounded like maybe five quarters, six dimes and some pennies jingled in the bottom of it. I stood, waiting, but the lights didn’t come back on.

Mae shrugged. “Go for it.”

I swept all the items I’d just put on the belt back into my cart. “Hey, maybe you should leave too,” I told Mae. “It’s gonna get ugly in here soon.”

Mae grimaced. “Ya, no joke there.” She flipped off her ‘open’ light and waved the people behind me through.

I swung my head left, and then right. Good. No ‘management team’ members lurking to arrest me. The greeter lady in the wheelchair was trying to force her way through the automatic doors. I yelled to her to move. I angled my cart, took five steps back and slammed into the door. That sorta worked. My loaded down cart forced one side to open about a foot. No way the wheelchair lady or my cart could roll through. I moved back cuz I wanted to try again, when I heard a man behind me shout.

“Wait ladies!”

He held a crowbar in one hand and a baseball bat in the other. Mr. Tool (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) wound up and took a couple of practice swings. He stepped up to the door and unleashed with the bat. KAPOW! Home run. The shattered glass tinkled as it fell. He cleared the jagged pieces around the edges with the crowbar. He turned to us and smiled, bowed and then waved his hand at the opening.

All the glass crunched as the greeter lady and I rolled over it. I hope she didn’t get a flat tire.

I loaded my stuff quick like into the car cuz there were roamers out here in the parking lot too. One little shit monkey-climbed up the side of some lady’s cart and tipped it over. All her groceries rolled away. In a flash people picked up her food and took off. She screamed for someone to help her, but I didn’t want to leave my stuff alone and chase after hers. So, I kept my head down. I felt real bad when she started crying though.

I slammed my trunk lid down just as a convoy of olive-green trucks blew by on 8 heading back towards town. One was a pump truck like the fire department uses to bring in water. Another had a bunch of priests riding in it. I couldn't be sure cuz they hauled ass, and I only caught a glimpse of their hair and robes flying out behind them when I looked up. But who else dresses like that?

The last truck in that line broke away and turned in to the parking lot. It slammed to a stop with a squeal. A dozen soldiers jumped out.

“Company, form up! Weapons ready! Prepare to advance!”

Those soldiers lined up quick when the head guy yelled. They had their swag on for sure. Then one guy sneezed. Twice. And swiped at his nose with his sleeve. Two seconds later the others had him surrounded.

“I ain’t sick fellas! I ain’t got it. It’s just an allergy!” He yelled to the others.

Didn’t matter. They opened fire. But they’s standing in a circle, so they shot the sick guy and each other too. Figures.

I wondered why the army had showed up. Or maybe they’s National Guard weekender boys. That meant Wisconsin had zombies now too. Well, shit. And a pack of priests meant trouble at the Cemetery of the Divine Redemption. Or Cemetery of the Divine Dollar I called it. The only people buried in that ground paid serious money for the privilege. No way around it, I had to drive right by the place to get home. Double shit.

I settled into my car and backed out. I didn’t have no trouble making a left turn for once. I scooted way out and checked, but no cars coming. In any direction. That can’t be good I thought, but I turned out onto 8 anyway. I hit the first of them damned traffic circles over by the casino. You have to drive slow through there on accounta all the traffic turning left, but today even their parking lot had cleared-a first. Their marquee flashed on real quick. One flash about some country singer from twenty years ago and another flash showing a picture of their wild game buffet. A door opened and a man staggered out holding a bare leg. He took a took a bite and shook his head back and forth. The leg swung around and walloped him in the back of his head. I watched him chowing down in my rearview and damn near ran off the road.

I cleared the traffic circles and broke out to an open stretch of HWY 8. No sheriffs in sight, so I sped up and turned on the radio hoping to catch some news. The Emergency Broadcast System warning blared from my speakers. Jesus! That could wake the dead-if they weren’t already awake.

“This is the Emergency Broadcast System. This alert has been triggered by authorities in your area. Everyone is instructed to return to their homes or other safe site and shelter in place. All state borders are now closed to through traffic. Return to your homes and stay there.”

That warning noise blasted again, and the alert replayed. I turned off the radio. Way up the road red and blue lights flashed and other vehicles packed the sides of the road. A soldier stood in the middle of 8, legs spread wide with his hands up. I slowed down and stopped behind another car.

The Divine Dollar stretched across a raised patch of ground. It reminded me of those raised vegetable gardens you see sometimes. Someone spent a lot of time, energy and cash, hauling in all that dirt and smoothing the ground. A black wrought iron fence surrounded the graveyard. Every foot or so arrow head lookin’ spikes poke at the sky. A fancy gate arches over the main entrance. Cedar trees surround the graveyard while maples, birch and oaks shade the graves.

But the best thing about the Dollar is the flowers. No tacky plastic roses or fake ivy. A large planter hangs from a wrought iron hook near the headstone of each grave. Every planter overflowed with red, orange and yellow fall flowers. Ivy or some kind of vine trailed from the pots. The graves all lined up even steven, and they swapped the flowers out each season. I liked when they mixed the Christmas poinsettias and pine cones best.

But today the place was a mess. Cracked and broken headstones lay like drunks next to newly opened graves. Flowerpots dangled at crazy angles, bounced by the wind. I closed my car vents. The place stunk. I had the breeze to thank for that. Graves yawned, dark and empty after having given birth to more zombies.

I watched the soldiers form a line and shoot zombies. Buttons, bows and bones flew everywhere. I mean, most of those deaders were just bones in suits and dresses anyways. Those guys in camo flamed and shot their way across the DD mowing down every zombie they found.

I didn’t see no reason to hang around. I needed to go home, unload my groceries, lock everything up and call my husband.

I’d forgotten about him.

Roger worked for a company that sent him all over the county inspecting tracks for the railroad. He followed those tracks no matter where they took him-towns or country. Didn’t matter. Sometimes the tracks ran right next to a church cemetery. I bet he didn’t know about the zombies yet. Unless the zombies already found him poking at the railroad spikes and switches.

I just put my peddle to the metal when a soldier in green camo stepped out in front of me waving his arms. I screeched to a stop. He knocked on my window and I rolled it down, but just a crack. He had a face like one of the rocks in our field. All hard looking and square.

“Where to ma’am?” His name tag read Warrens.

“Home Mr. Warrens,” I told him. I knew being a military man and all the “Mr.” wasn’t right, but I don’t know army ranks.

He reached into a big pocket on his thigh and pulled out a small bottle of water. “Take this.” He squeezed the little bottle through the crack and let it go. It dropped into my lap. “I don’t know if it’ll help you. It didn’t help them much.” He jerked his chin toward the cemetery. “But the priests blessed it and all.”

Holy water works on vampires, not zombies, but I didn’t wanna be rude. I thanked him and wished him luck. I threw the holy water into my purse and took off down 8. Only empty road lay ahead of me. There’s always traffic on 8, but not today. The emptiness of it gave me the creepers. I wrapped my head around the fact that zombies were real. By now, I believed.

I pulled into my garage with a giant sigh of relief. I quick closed the garage door and fumbled with my house keys. I unlocked the door and stood in the laundry room real quiet like and listened. I heard the car engine ticking behind me. The furnace grumbled as it kicked on, so I waited a few more minutes.

“Roger?” I called out. I tippy toed to the edge of the room and listened again. Nothing. I hurried to unload my groceries and put stuff away. Then I called my husband cuz I wanted him to come home. Now. I waited impatiently, swaying back and forth, while the phone rang. C'mon. c'mon I thought. Answer.

“Hi. This is Roger Farraday. I’m not available…”

Shit. 

I waited a few more minutes thinking maybe he left his phone in the car and hadn’t heard it. I tried again. Roger please. Answer...then he did, I think. All I heard was grunts and crunching. “Roger, stop chewing the damn ice cubes.” He always does that and it drives me nuts. He moaned in my ear.

The garage door rumbled open.

Horror short stories by various authors novel "Hell's Mall", featuring Author Pia Manning's short story "Bridal Mall", cover image

Hell's Mall:

Sinister Shops, Cursed Objects and Maddening Crowds (Hell’s Series)

Buyer Beware! Something’s fishy at the bridal mall, an arcade develops a will to win and the jogging goes on forever. At Hell’s Mall all your shopping nightmares come real.

Featuring the tormented, terrifying work of eighteen talented writers: Marc L. Abbott, Oliver Baer, AJ Bartholomew, Alp Beck, Loretta H. Campbell, V Peter Collins, Teel James Glenn, Amy Grech, April Grey, Carol Gyzander, Rayne Hall, Pia Manning, Carole Ann Moleti, Nicolas C. Rossis, Phillip T. Stephens, Nikki Tait, Steven Van Patten and Jake TS Wryte.

Come for the shopping,
stay for the screams!!!

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