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This is Issue #42 of Step by Step. This the sixth and last issue of Volume Seven.

PrayersEdit

Carter Jameson had died. The sky outside was free of clouds.

One minute—Lyle was heavily breathing. His face was full of sweat. He stood unmoving in the kitchen, watching Carter's body, watching it not move. He was completely frozen—was it that he was petrified?

He needed to be afraid. Without that sense of danger, he would of died in the sewers. Malik would still alive. He would have left Nolan for himself. He wouldn't have fought Brock and Carter when the two attacked him—Brock holding him with his arms behind his back and Carter punching him in the gut.

All five of the senses overreacting and his heart swelling. He saw Nolan with the axe down, now looking outside. He saw what he hadn't wanted to see. Those were Anarchist flags—Lyle had no time to understand them. But he was scared. And intimidated.

Dennis started to move. "Run."

"What Dennis?"

"We should escape now while we can."

"No."

Fight or flight—Lyle was fighting.

"Did Derek or you find a weapon?"

"No. That's why we need to run."

"They shot Carter," Nolan said.

"Man, he was going to kill you." Derek said. "Too bad I didn't get to see it when it happened."

"You don't want to see it."

"He almost killed us three times."

"He was still a human."

A noise in front of the cabin. Something moved in the light outside. Two men were standing near Carter. One was in front of the corpse.

"What's he doing?" Nolan asked.

The man snapped a photo of the scene.

But it was dark. And very dark. It would get darker before the sun came out. Lyle turned to Nolan, who was still in front of the door.

"Get out of sight."

"We need to move. Get out of here. Dennis is right."

Lyle was still thinking. But with a man who had killed two other men dead, how many choices did this man have?

Not much. Also, not much time.

He heard the bang of the rifle before the bullet struck the wall behind him.

Another attempt on his life.

"Not this again." Nolan said.

"We're not going to stay here."

"Lyle, you coming?"

"What choice I have?"

Nolan never had time to respond—a volley of unexpected shots hit the door in front of him.

There was a cloud of dust.

For a moment, Lyle thought he had lost his friend. "They want us. They want to kill us, too."

Nolan ran for the back door, and so went the panic.

Lyle's mind was racing, so filled with thoughts. He glanced out the kitchen window, then nevermore, holding his Marlboro-starved chest. Oh, how Lyle would beg for one boring night.

Where would they go?

Back to Indianapolis? That would take all night.

Back to the town? Had they no other option?

Lyle went for the drawers next to the stove, pulling out the first one before looking through it, furiously investigating. He pawed through the other below it. Two seconds later, he found what he longed for. Not water to quench his thirst, not a cigarillo to hold his hunger, but a serrated kitchen knife that wanted blood like Lyle wanted peace.

He looked out the window—another bullet tore through the window.

He held the knife tighter.

Looked to the side. No Nolan.

Looked back. No Derek.

Dennis Johnson was there. The fear had him, was strangling him.

"Get out of here, Dennis!"

Another storm of bullets ran through the window.

Dennis tried to speak, but his voice was trembling.

It was when Drake Wilson kicked in the door that he ran.

Adrenaline—the taste of metal in his mouth. Lyle moved through the kitchen, Drake looking through the living room. The sizable man lifted his rifle, had Dennis in his sight, and put one finger on the trigger.

That was his mistake—his error of not checking what was to his right.

Lyle ran into him, running him into the wall. He was a hungry bear, threatened and provoked. He was concentrated on this man, not the others outside. He barely heard the next barrage of bullets—the two struggled.

Drake pushed Lyle away.

Lyle hit him in the face.

Drake hit him back.

Lyle's hand went for his face, grabbing his cheek. Blood ran hot on it.

"Why are you doing this?"

No response.

Drake Wilson moved forward.

Psycho. He was fighting a crazy man.

Oh, what a pity.

Lyle raised the knife—the threatening blade rose high, with thirst—and fell with bliss.

One final bout of gunfire.

The blade never tasted the skin of Drake's neck.

The world paled around Lyle Jackson.

He froze, the taste of blood now in his mouth. It wasn't fair. The knife hit the floor. A new-born pain blossomed in his abdomen. It wasn't fair.

He looked down, and the horror and more followed.

He couldn't react—Drake hit him right in the face.

Lyle Jackson fell back. He caught himself, grabbing his belly, his fingers turning red. He looked around, saw the backdoor open, and ran to the outside.

He expected to be dead.

Ten seconds. He started to count.

He arrived at the door, breathing rapidly, trying to stay elevated. The blood was rushing to his head—he was shot. The bullet was in him, the shock was tickling and running through his veins. He fell onto the door, grabbing it for support. He couldn't look back.

Five seconds. He kept running.

Cleon Smith shouted, screaming for him to run.

Wilson shouted that he would be dead by sunrise.

Being shot isn't all pain and ache, it's about the shock. How one reacts to it, physically and mentally. Left for dead on the sidewalk, paramedics had applied CPR—what saved him—and taken him to the hospital. He'd had a collapsed lung, and that led to him coughing up blood for a week.

He had survived worse.

One bullet in his gut was nothing.

Three. He looked down, investigating his torso. He collapsed into the brush, struggling to move through the thick green atmosphere.

The bullet didn't hit him in the gut. But where, oh where, in his right lung.

He was short of breath. He fell to the dirt ground. He stopped counting, ceased to think. His instincts were trying, trying a lot. The pain was a down payment—the darkness prevailed.

On his back, he was now the prey.

There was a twenty foot distance between him and the cabin.

The men, the murderers were going to leave. He wouldn't not die because they said different. He would go to that cabin, dress himself in bandages, and find a bed to rest.

He was exposed. He felt sleep coming to him, his best and worst dreams visiting him. He heard whispers, increasingly loud whispers.

An animal. After all, Lyle had ended up as food.

He looked at the sky, so dark, once more.

Carter was dead.

He was not.

That was his last thought before passing out.

Then he was back.

He awoke grabbing his chest. There was something biting his chest. He was huffing, puffing, madly breathing in and out. There was darkness all around him, so real, it felt like a dream. A nightmare. He was scared, not because of the possibility of having a bullet in his lung, but because of the feeling of relaxation drowning him in a sea of panic.

He breathed in, calm. Had he been wrong? He let go of his chest. He couldn't look to see where he was. He saw orbs of white—yellow stars against a sky that was paper black. It was a crime to not know where he was. He touched the ground, expected to feel dirt and grass, did not want to feel that, but touched wood instead.

Oh Jesus.

The people had taken him. They had come back, found him bleeding to death, and had taken him under the cloak of night.

Or had this been all a mirage? A figment of his imagination—perhaps, he had fallen here after the first bullet was shot. He opened his eyes. It had been so real. It must have been real.

"Don't move."

A light bulb crackled to life above him. At first dim, the room soon welcomed clarity. Lyle found himself in a small room, next to him was a small hole that could have been a window. There were no walls in this room—it was an attic. The attic of a farmhouse where the killers of Carter Jameson worked.

They were going to take care of him.

He gulped.

"Don't move, Lyle." The voice said. "I'm sorry about the pain."

What?

Lyle turned himself over, his mistake, for a bitter arrow of pain stabbed him in the side.

"Here," Dennis said. He walked over to his friend, hunched over, and gave him a water bottle. "Drink up, it's good for you."

"Dennis?"

"Yeah?"

"I can't believe it. You saved my life."

"No, Lyle. You saved mine. I ran out of that cabin thinking I'd leave it in a body bag. With a bullet in my back. I turned my back, and there you were, fighting to get the man's rifle. Or something. You tried to kill him. You wanted to kill him, I could tell."

"But I should be dead. Am I dead?"

"I thought at first that you were going to choke on your own blood. It looked like a shot to the belly, but then it looked to me like they shot you in the lung. I broke one of my ribs once and it cut my lung. You don't have a collapsed lung, and you aren't dying."

"I'm not going to die? But—"

"No. They didn't shoot you in the butt. I think the bullet's lodged in your ribs. I ain't a doctor, but I did my best. If you felt like you were on fire while you are asleep, that was me. Sorry."

"Sorry?" Lyle said, the pain in his chest dying. "Dennis, I love you man."

"Hey, take it easy man. You're in no shape to be giving hugs."

Lyle held out his hand. And Dennis shook it and smiled.

"Nolan? Derek?"

Dennis went silent.

The room was so silent for a moment.

"I found Derek lying in a pool of blood. Looked like they emptied a magazine into him."

Lyle shuddered—"Really?"

"I'm playing with you, Lyle. I didn't find them. I hope to God that they're fine, hope more that they're walking together. But I know now that you're scared, Lyle."

"I'm not scared."

"If I wasn't with you now, you'd be pissing your pants."

"How long has it been?

"An hour or so. Oh, I don't know. What can I tell you?"

"What can you tell me, Dennis?"

"Where do I start? With how apparently everyone wants to see us die? The wrong hand we've been dealt? The dead walking? The walking dead?"

"Tell me about this farmhouse. Are we far from that cabin?"

"I walked with you on my back for about an hour."

"The town siren?"

"It stopped thirty minutes ago."

"Could be that they found Nolan and Derek."

He looked out the window and saw a field of corn. The night and stars were aplenty. In the distance, he saw a few suburban homes.

He drank the water.

Drink up.

Carter's alive.

He can feel it.

"I'm going to trust you, Lyle."

"With what?"

"I want to escape. Get out of this town."

"This isn't a normal town."

"I figured that."

"And the world outside is no better."

"What are you trying to say?"

Another chug of water.

"Lyle?"

"Indianapolis is dead, man. Don't you see?" He left the bottle on the floor. "There is no Indiana for now. It's just us and the dead."

"And?"

"There's only a few things we can do, only a few options on the table. We escape and get eaten, or we stay here and try to survive."

"That's all we can do?"

"Turn off the light."

"Huh?"

Off in the distance, but near—a loud rumble.

A bang.

Another—louder than the last.

A moan. Someone was moaning.

"Did you hurt the owner of this house, Dennis?"

"Yes. I slashed his throat with his own knife."

"I can't believe you."

"Don't. I'm still a liar. And you're still afraid."

"And we don't know what's making that noise."

"Got that right."

"You going to have the injured black man check?"

"I can do it. I've had my life in danger so many times these days, anyways."

"Hey, don't be like that."

Dennis turned around. Looked around. It was too dark now. The night was like a hungry stomach, slowly growing madder and madder. Until it reached a point where it was fed. The night had eaten Carter Jameson, so ferociously, that it had thickened and grown fat like the satisfied beast it was.

A monster had eaten a monstrous soul.

He gulped. Hardly knowing the man, Dennis had never seen the past side of Carter. For a entire day, this Carter was thirsty to draw their blood. Now he was dead—a fallen beast. But the police had barely given Carter a chance. They arrived, rifles out, rebellious flags out, and had blasted Carter to hell. That had been their motion. To kill.

On his way to a hole in the center of the attic, he kept thinking. The more he thought, the more horrible it sounded. Those men were not the police. It's horrible. They're killers out of a sweaty, hot nightmare.

"Lyle? Who were those men?"

"What?"

"The ones that killed that man."

"Psychos. And that was the mayor's nephew with them."

"Rockefeller's?"

"And it can only mean one thing."

"What's that?"

"We're on their menu tonight."

"What about the others?

The devil continued moaning below them.

"To be honest, sometimes there's more than one answer to a question."

A moment of peace passed. Dennis grabbed the ladder and jumped down the hole.

One minute passed. Lyle started to drink water. The blessed water, blessing his throat, mind, and soul. He thanked Dennis, rested his head on the wooden wall, and stared out the window. One thought ran through his head, which for now was at peace—there was nothing to worry about.

They could escape—against staying here, Lyle prefered getting out of this town.

Lyle breathed in his most desperate of hours. The noise of peace at last.


The night has grown cold. Across Main Street, at one-thirty in the morning, there is a large silence that has grown fat and aged like fine wine, waiting for a fire. A little truck with a black and red-stained flag in the bed rode down the street, stopping at the police station. The door on the left side opened. Drake Wilson, with a rifle in his hand, got out. The harsh winter of this December had less snow and more chill. The door on the right side opened. Another officer got out. The blue man was a giant, tall yet big at the waist, with a handgun dangling from his waist.

"Sure is lonely," Gary Beekman admitted.

"Aren't you used it to, Gary?"

"I miss the old times."

"We're fine now."

The air still smelled like gun smoke. The two passed the police station. The street was very silent. Very dark. They stopped at the alley between the bookstore and the station. A man, short now but strong in his heart, stood in the middle. He turned around, showing them the accident.

Wayne's body still resting on the fence. His hands were still holding the fence.

"Good evening, boys."

"Hello, Red." Drake said.

"How the hell did you let this happen?" Gary said.

"What's wrong, Beekman?"

"This man died because of you."

"He died for our cause. I think Carter Jameson killed him."

"While trying to kill a few criminals."

"Those four men are evidence, Gary."

"Jackson was evidence," Drake said.

Drake told him, informing him about what happened after killing Carter. Cleon, his own nephew, had saved his life. With a bullet that had killed Lyle Jackson. Red Smith exhaled. It was growing late, soon the band would be dismissed for the night.

"You didn't kill him."

"He should be dead now. Or died on his way to the hospital."

"You don't get it. What stopped you from putting a bullet in his head?"

"Me and Cleon were sure he'd die within the hour."

"And the others? What about the others?"

"Gone."

Red Smith swore. "I want you and Gary to take Wayne's body to the funeral home. Get him dressed, leave him with the others. Carter, too."

"The band?" Gary spoke. "It's very late."

"I know it's late." Red said. "That's why I need the band out here. I want them to leave no rock unturned."

"What about that sergeant?"

"Send an officer to the motel."

"The connection? There's no connection. The telephones, computers, and televisions don't work."

"Leave that to the side. Doesn't matter now. It's better, too. A blessing in disguise."

"We already have your brother in the morgue," said Drake Wilson.

"And your brother?" Gary said.

Red Smith gulped, swore, and exhaled. "Take care of him. In the morning, I'd like to speak to the public about tonight."

"And now? Do we get the band together now?"

"Again. I'd like to see four more bodies in that funeral home."

"Christ," said Drake. "And if we need you, Red?"

"Thank Christ none of us died," said Gary.

"Don't thank Christ now," Red Smith said, gutturally scoffing at the thought of him allowing such a thing to pass after his brother's death. From the looks of his dead body, Red was told, it would've taken him a minute to bleed out. Such a man like his brother, of a good moral heart who had respectfully refused to submit himself to Red, the bringer of dawn now, did not deserve such a death, in Red's eyes, which were now masking what sinister thoughts he had in his head about getting rid of Jackson and his friends. "The dead rise up and so did we, that sounds right to me. It's almost as if, don't you two suppose, that it was meant to be?"

"I agree wholeheartedly," Drake Wilson said. "So, where'll you be if we need you?

Red Smith bit down on his lips, holding back any visible signs of anger. "I'm going to be with my dead brother who passed away a frank moment ago," he said, and all three shook heads and then shook hands before departing.


IssuesEdit

Step by Step: Act Five
Way BackEcho, EchoBansheeBalls-UpNot DayMidnight's King
Step by Step: Act Six
Only DreamAwakeSleeperAll CloudUnder SkinBates
Step by Step: Act Seven
Lay UnderRawLostBad MoonMonstersPrayers
Step by Step: Act Eight
GetHit ItFast LaneMondayPassoverBe-All and End-All
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