This is Issue #46 of Step by Step. This the fourth issue of Volume Eight.
"Christ!" The shout of a man, left behind, alone, but not all alone. Dennis Johnson awoke to the sight of burning metal, hot air, and hellish heat which strained his lungs and face. For a while, he had been almost dead, knocked out for a slight second, yet now he surely felt as though he was truly dead, for all around him was the great fire of hell, a punishment for all his sins from when he still lived in the land of Chicago, far away and far too close now as the flames burned up all around him. "Damn, hot damn!" Dennis realized that the truck was on its side, and through the orange air, he also realized that he was a part of the burning truck, for his shirt had gotten stuck with the wheel. He struggled to undo the knot, the flames rose once more, and as if the devil had kissed him, the flames roasted his bare abdomen, forcing Dennis to scream out in rage. Undoing the knot, full of pain and thirst, he landed on one of the seats which was a bed of flames in all respects.
He looked around, through the hell on earth, and couldn't find his friend. "Lyle? Hey man, are you—?" His eyes wandered over to the windshield which had a huge hole in the glass. Flames were all over the windshield like ants on a sandwich. Dennis got up from the seat, the fire burning his hands and fingers, and what felt like a cloud of bees stung one side of his face as the flames rose again. He swatted at the flames near the broken windshield, yelling violently, working desperately, trying not to burn alive in what could very much become his tomb, for time was not on his side.
"The bringer of dawn, we call upon you!"
Dennis finally broke through the flames, pushed out through the windshield, and took in a deep breath of fresh air. They're eating my legs, Dennis thought. Those dead people are eating my legs. Just then, the flames took hold of his legs, biting at his skin and consuming the flesh, and Dennis leapt out of the truck, climbing over the truck and falling onto the road. He was in such a wreck—his legs were totally numb while his chest and one side of his face were nothing but pain. Breathing roughly, he rose his head and looked down the road.
"O, bringer of dawn, we call upon you now!"
Dennis stared at a bunch of figures walking over to him, their weapons cutting through the darkness. Behind them were police cars with the same black and red-stained Anarchist flags inside, and a cold sweat broke out on Dennis' skin.
"We call upon ye, bringer of dawn," Drake Wilson continued, arriving at the wreck with three other wicked men, unseen by Dennis beforehand, for they were familiar faces.
He saw Cleon, Blaine, and a rough-looking man—Dennis was now among killers, children and fools.
"It's him," Blaine said, raising his bat and pointing it at Dennis is such a threatening way. "It's him—where's his friend at?"
"What does the bringer of dawn say?" Drake spoke, walking forward before stopping to examine the weapon in his hands, a devilishly black baton. "I believe he says that nobody is in that great fire of his and is still breathing."
"I believe so," the other man quipped.
"I'm with Ray and the bringer of dawn," Drake continued, staring deeply at the baton, an embodiment of what power Red Smith had bestowed upon him, not by grace, but through the cause.
"He's dead!" Dennis shouted. "I left him behind, I'm all that's left!"
"Even he agrees with the bringer of dawn," Blaine said.
"Are you one with him, the bringer of dawn?" Cleon asked Dennis, producing his own weapon into view, a mighty aluminum bat. "He is the king, he who desires death tonight."
"A sacrifice," Drake finished the sentence, lifting up the baton. "You're it."
"You're dead where you are," Blaine said.
"Come at me," Dennis groaned, lifting himself from the road. "Who the hell do y'all think you are, and what the hell is a bringer of dawn!"
As if the bear had been poked with a stick, Drake and the others got into formation and made a line in front of Dennis and the burning truck, weapons out like spears, waiting to attack. Behind the truck were more of them, more of their people, soldiers of the bringer of dawn in their trucks.
"Does he dare speak like that?" Blaine said.
"A disgraced man looking for grace by disgracing Red Smith himself," the man named Ray said, spitting every word out in a fit of madness, his eyes never moving off Dennis. "Swine!"
"That's man you're all talking about, Rockefeller?" Dennis got up on his feet and walked, limping, towards the men. "You all and Rockefeller can kiss my stinking ass."
"He's just asking for it!" Blaine shouted. "Let's go get him!"
"Swine," Drake said, lost in the madness. "Swine!"
The four henchmen waited two seconds before Dennis collapsed onto the ground.
And then Dennis got up and began walking forward once more.
"What if he makes it all the way this time?" Blaine said. "Do we just—?"
Dennis got within five feet of the four men before falling back onto his knees. By then, the other soldiers of the cause had left their trucks and were beginning to arrive at the wreck.
"Get him boys," Drake Wilson said, noticing that Dennis could go no more beyond that. "He'll die tired now," he cried. "Sick him, boys, get him!"
Dennis inhaled once again and thought about his little girl, and then the men were upon him. He wasn't sure who hit him first, but what hit him first was a locked fist that knocked him off his knees. With new pain blossoming throughout his jaw, the metal of a baton bit the back of his neck with such fury that he let out a scream, crying out while more batons landed on him. Soon he was on the road and all he could do to protect himself was cover his face.
One man grabbed Dennis by the back of his shirt, bringing him up on his knees.
Nearby, Cleon Smith brought up his bat and struck Dennis across the head, instantly knocking out a few teeth. Blood splattered onto the road.
"Oh God, oh God!" Dennis yelled, staring upward at the grimly gray sky.
Lines of wine-red blood formed down his face and neck, much like sweat, or a man's tears. "Oh God, please have mercy on these men!"
"Swine!" Drake Wilson, beforehand calm and sanguine, now swelling with rage. "Swine, swine, nothing but swine!"
"Finish him," the nephew Cleon Smith said, walking around Dennis in circles. "Who's going to do it? You, Blaine?"
"I got him," Blaine said.
"I can do it," Cleon said, dismissing the lesser man, bringing the bat up once more above Dennis, and taking one final breath at twenty-five minutes till five in the morning, he looked down at Dennis for one last time. "Did I hurt you good, man?"
"I forgive—!" Dennis tried saying, panting as blood dripped down his face.
"You and your friends are bad people."
"I forgive you, this ain't you, boy!"
"Go the hell."
"No, I won't—!" Dennis spit before the cold hard aluminum bat cut through the air and crashed against the back of his head with a sickening crunch of bone breaking, knocking him into the road. Dennis stopped breathing, stopped moving, the life had left his body, and Cleon felt a hand, which belonged to Drake, start to pat his back.
"You got him good, son."
Cleon, the bloodthirsty nephew, looked at the other men who flooded the street and stabbed the air several times with his bat.
"For Smith's Ferry!"
The others cheered.
"For Smith's Ferry."
"For the bringer of dawn!"
"For the bringer of dawn."
The crowd erupted in cheer and happiness.
Cleon looked over to Drake. Both smiled in unison.
"One less enemy of ours," said Cleon.
Nearby, Lyle Jackson had become speechless. He had watched the entire thing unfold, a spectator to the madness, and more importantly, a survivor of the night. He had the revolver not under his chin now, not pointing at the henchmen, but in his hand. He could see, from the window, all what Dennis had assumed, that the street was full of people, full of henchmen. Lyle did see the four men, standing over Dennis' body, and saw as well hundreds of people in the streets, all suddenly chanting and cheering in the name of Red Smith, the bringer of dawn.
The entire street was full of demons, laughing and cackling as unholy hyenas do as they surround a fresh kill. Lyle watched them from afar, of course, eagerly as Drake Wilson and the three others, children and fools, walked towards their trucks and left Dennis's body behind. Upon reaching his truck, and Lyle never looked away, Drake jeered at the crowd with his baton and exciting the crowd once more, which ferociously and noisily had awakened the neighbors and would strike fear into the undead.
The walking dead, where where they now, Lyle wondered whilst raising up the fat revolver and leveling it on Drake, whose life rested upon such a gun. Nolan, Derek, and even Joseph were gone. The crowd roared once again and Drake drove the truck over to the wreck. Lyle realized that the crowd was cheering rather so violently now, like bloody Aztecs during a sacrifice, because they too knew that the bringer of dawn was nearby.
Drake Wilson stopped the truck by Blaine's burning truck and the three henchmen, children and fools, lifted up Dennis's body and placed him inside of the bed of the truck.
By then, Lyle's eyes had begun to sting once. He let go of the revolver, letting it fall onto Tom's floor. Oh, poor Tom. Christ, oh poor Tom. Lyle looked around the room, all at once dizzy and afraid, fearing the many invisible eyes on the four walls surrounding him that were staring down at him. Nobody, Lyle remembered then, lights a lamp and leaves it beneath their bed, rather they place it on a lampstand so those who enter may, and Lyle began to quiver with fright and guilt, so those who enter may see the light.
Lyle glanced at the wall once more where Tom had etched his true mission into. This room, Lyle felt then, must have been Tom's hideout. He must have known that he was being watched, for he was a stranger in a strange land. Or, rather, this room was Tom's watchtower where he would spy upon the band from the same window to be witness of their midnight antics. It made sense, though it made too much sense for Lyle all at once.
Suddenly, the pain from all his wounds quelled, seemingly they forget themselves within the wounds, and disappeared. Lyle felt peace, peace once again, oh Lord. Even his ribs felt better, the aching around his lung stopping. He was seeing something in the room with him, turning around, all his hairs went up and his eyes found themselves on two figures. Wyatt. Was it Wyatt? No, for one of the figures was Nolan Brackenbury, holding a woodcutter's ax above the figure. The room suddenly stunk of swampland, dirt from the countryside. A man, the other figure was screaming, on his back on the ground with his hands raised up at Nolan who was about to let the woodcutter's ax fall into the man's skull.
"Any last words, creep?"
"What the hell is this about!" the man cried.
"You know why we're here," said Nolan. "You're a son of a shit, yeah. A drug dealer, like the mayor told us, selling drugs to small-town kids. Kids, really?"
"Your apartment was full of narcotics," said Nolan. "Mayor says a few kids have been seen talking with you in alleys, is that right?"
"No, he's wrong. All wrong, you're all so wrong!"
"And you're a man of his words, right," said Nolan. "A terrorist with a trigger-finger when it comes to threats, right. You wanted to burn down some houses, scare the hell out of this town, and see how they'd react. Looks good on paper, if you think about it."
"No, I wasn't!" Tom pleaded, dropping his hands out of the air. "You can't listen to Rockefeller, you just can't. He's a liar, a damn liar!"
"Too late," Nolan said, pulling the woodcutter's ax back. "You've already got blood on your hands."
No, Lyle thought. He would have screamed then, but that would have been the death of him. He already knew how it had ended, Lyle sighed, with the ax landing perfectly on Tom's head, murdering the man who had dared cross Red Smith, the boss-man. He, Lyle, was hungry—he had found a bag of rice cereal near the mattress. He would, eventually, submit himself to eating the whole bag, but then he would thirst. He would eventually, after several minutes of searching, come across some water inside the room to drink. Then, of course, that thirst would be taken care of, and only the thirst for revenge would remain.
But now he was still processing his friend's death. Still digesting it, replaying it back and forth, and every time he did he remembered leaving Dennis alone in that truck.
Lyle crawled away from the window, tossing himself onto the mattress. At first, he couldn't come to close his eyes for the night. He wondered about Nolan and Derek, had they found shelter for the night or not. Moreover, his friend Joseph, whom he still considered a friend of his, was out there. In all honesty, the thought that frightened Lyle most was that the only sane people in this town now were those who had come from the city, from King's Church, from Summercreek.
Lyle, all by his lonesome, began to cry—the ground was cold.
And dark was the night.
|Step by Step: Act Five|
|Way Back ☢ Echo, Echo ☢ Banshee ☢ Balls-Up ☢ Not Day ☢ Midnight's King|
|Step by Step: Act Six|
|Only Dream ☢ Awake ☢ Sleeper ☢ All Cloud ☢ Under Skin ☢ Bates|
|Step by Step: Act Seven|
|Lay Under ☢ Raw ☢ Lost ☢ Bad Moon ☢ Monsters ☢ Prayers|
|Step by Step: Act Eight|
|Get ☢ Hit It ☢ Fast Lane ☢ Monday ☢ Passover ☢ Be-All and End-All|