by Norsebard











Written: for the 2015 Royal Academy of Bards Halloween Invitational.


CAUTION: This is not a happy-go-lucky tale.


- Thank you for your help, Wendy Arthur :D


As usual, I'd like to say a great, big THANK YOU to my mates at AUSXIP Talking Xena, especially to the gals and guys in Subtext Central. I really appreciate your support - Thanks, everybody! :D



Description: For two young women en route to a fan convention in Chicago on Halloween, a stop-over in the two-horse town of Salvation, Illinois turns into a living nightmare when they uncover hellish, nocturnal activities in the small community…










When the clock struck eight in the evening on Friday, October 30th, darkness had fully descended over a deserted country road going through a small town in southern Illinois. A metallic-green Ford came out of the gloominess and slowed down to adhere to the local speed limit of twenty-five miles per hour as it rolled onto the town's only street.


The vehicle only had one working headlight, but the street lights that cast an ominous, orange glow down onto the blacktop helped the driver see where she was supposed to be going - or not, as it turned out.


The twenty-seven year old Krissy Buchanan pulled her car to a halt and clicked on the little button to roll down the power window. Sticking her head out to survey the situation, she looked at the deserted, two-horse town with a deep frown etched onto her forehead. Glancing at the covered sidewalk to her right, she noticed the entire row of shops had all been closed for the night, including the bar and grill they had stopped in front of.


Grunting, she moved back inside and took the telephone her car-mate, the twenty-six year old Rachel Horowitz, held up for her. "Hello, Mr. Cassill… okay, we left Interstate fifty-seven like you said we should. We followed a winding country road and ended up in the middle of nowhere… it's a ghost town. Hell, it's not even that. There's nothing here. No mechanic, nothing."


'I don't understand that. According to my information here, Speedy Auto Rentals is supposed to have a service partner in that town. Are you sure you took the right exit, Miss Buchanan?'


Both women rolled their eyes at the comment. "Yes, Mr. Cassill. We rented a car with a GPS, remember?" Krissy said and pinched the bridge of her nose.


'Oh… right.'


"Yeah. We're in Salvation, population ninety-three… or so it says on the sign. But there's no mechanic."


'Uh… what was the problem with the car again?'


Without bothering to cover the telephone, Krissy let out a deep sigh that told the man at the help desk exactly what she thought of him. She looked to her right at Rachel who chuckled in return. "The right headlight has gone out and there isn't a spare bulb in the trunk although there's supposed to be a full set of various spares according to the rental contract I signed," she said, explaining the mishap for the third time in a voice reserved for giving dimwitted folks the lowdown on something.


'All right.'


When nothing further came over the line, she sighed again and turned back to shoot Rachel an exasperated glare that earned her another chuckle. It took several seconds before the man from the Speedy Auto Rental help desk came back in her ear.


'So you can't change the broken bulb by yourself, Miss Buchanan?'


"Well, if we had a damn spare, I could change that little sucker in three minutes flat!" Krissy said and smacked the rim of the steering wheel with her free hand. "But we don't, so I can't!"


'All right…'


"Look, we were en route to a motel up on Interstate fifty-seven, but you know damn well we'll get a fine if we drive on the Interstate with only one headlight. I can't afford that. And that's what we need the mechanic for!  Or a gas station… or a supermarket… but this is a damn ghost town, Mr. Cassill!"


'Well, Miss Buchanan, I'm afraid I can't help you…'


"Yeah. Okay. Whatever. Thanks for nothing," Krissy said and closed the connection. Sighing, she gave the telephone back to Rachel and looked the younger woman in the eye. "Jeez, I'm sorry I got you dragged into this mess."


Rachel chuckled and shuffled around in the front seat so she had a better view of the driver. Like Krissy, she was dressed in black jeans and a Chronicles of the Empress long-sleeved T-shirt, and much like the pair of women's symbols that dangled from a metal chain around Krissy's neck, two thin Yonnae bracelets graced her wrists. "Oh, that's okay, Krissy. This is the sort of shit we have to  endure when we're afraid of flying, right?  We've got… oh… eighteen hours to get to the pre-reg at the convention center. The Empress Halloween Con can't start without their two biggest fans!"


Nodding, Krissy pretended to type a message on a keyboard. "Hi, RepoGrrrl… I'm looking for a roomie and a car-mate for the Chicago con at Halloween. I'm gonna rent a car 'cos my old one won't make it all the way there. You interested?"


"I was and I still am. We're gonna get there, Krissy. In the meanwhile, look at the upside," Rachel said and pointed over her shoulder. "Two people, two rows of seats. Two blankets, sodas and sandwiches in the trunk. We can sleep here just fine. I did that a couple of years ago when my GF kicked me out."


"Yeah… I suppose," Krissy said and rubbed her brow.


"Wanna listen to some more Empress while we think of what we're gonna do?" Rachel said with her finger hovering above the on-off button on the sound system.


"Yeah, why not. I could do with a shot of energy right now."


Rachel grinned and pressed the button. Once the system was up and running, she selected the USB-drive that she had inserted into the appropriate jack. Soon, the evocative title music of the Chronicles of the Empress TV show filled the speakers from the ripped MP3-files.


"Oh, we better get off Main Street before the local sheriff will bust us for loitering," Krissy said and put the shifter in Drive. She was about to pull away from the curb when a door opened some twenty yards further down the street.


The cone of light that escaped the opened door illuminated a sign painted on glass that said 'Vacancy: Second floor apartment to let for one night or more.' An elderly woman in a blue, flowery dress stepped out onto the sidewalk and draped a shawl over her shoulders. Shivering slightly from the evening chill, she began to fiddle with the door like she was closing for the evening.


"Man!" Krissy cried and pointed out of the windshield. "Salvation in Salvation!  Hold onto your seat belt, girl," she said and stepped on the gas which made the rental Ford lurch forward.


The elderly, gray-haired woman jumped in surprise as the car came to a halt right next to her, and she put a hand on her chest like it had spooked her. Her nervousness didn't ease up as Krissy bounded from the car and ran up on the sidewalk.


"Good evening, Ma'am," Krissy said while pointing at the glass sign behind the older woman. "Do you still have a vacancy?  My friend and I need a place to stay for the night."


"Uh… uh… good evening," the older woman said, glancing nervously at the rental car and the other woman sitting in the front seat. It was clear she gawked long and hard at Krissy's colorful T-shirt that showed two women locked in a romantic embrace framed by yellow and orange flames.


"We'll pay cash," Krissy continued, digging into her pocket to find a wad of ten-dollar bills that she had withdrawn from the ATM for just such an eventuality.


The elderly woman looked at the bills but seemed unsure of how to respond until Rachel rolled down her window which let the acoustic version of the Love Theme out into the evening. The crisp, romantic tones of a violin and a cello working together to paint a picture of the deep love between the Empress and her beloved Caid Barlin made the older woman's face light up in a smile. "Oh, what lovely music!  Why yes, the apartment is still vacant, dear. It's thirty dollars for a single night. Now… normally, I'd ask you to furnish a deposit of a hundred dollars, but young ladies who listen to that kind of wonderful music won't pose any problems, I'm sure."


"Thank God," Krissy mumbled and unrolled three ten-dollar bills from the wad. She gave them to the older woman who stuffed them down into the only pocket her dress had. "I'm Krissy Buchanan, and this is my online friend Rachel Horowitz. We're on our way to Chicago for a fan convention," she continued, giving Rachel a big thumbs-up.


"Oh, that's nice, dear. I'm Mrs. Muldoon, but you can call me Ellen. You can just leave your car there. Nobody will bother it during the night."


"That's great."


"Do you need a hand with your luggage?"


"No, thank you. We only have a couple of suitcases," Krissy said and went back to the rear of the Ford to retrieve their items. She was soon joined by Rachel who snatched her windbreaker and two blankets, as well as the picnic basket she had provided with the sodas and the extra sandwiches.


After reopening the door to her house, Ellen Muldoon stepped aside and watched the two younger women carry their suitcases and the picnic basket inside. "It's up the staircase, second floor… you can't miss it. The key's already in the lock. It actually says 'apartment to let' on the door!"


"Thank you, Mrs. Muldoon!" Rachel said as she put down the basket in front of the wooden door. Grinning, she removed a piece of cardboard that said the same thing the older woman had just explained. "No vacancies," she continued as she turned the handle and stepped inside with a yawning Krissy in tow.




The small, homey apartment wasn't the Ritz, but it was clean and neat - in short, top-notch for the price. Beyond the single-unit main room that saw two separate beds down the back and a dining table arrangement up front at the window overlooking the deserted Main Street, it had a kitchenette and a bathroom with old-fashioned but faultless plumbing.


In the hour that had passed since their arrival, Krissy and Rachel had finished off a round of sandwiches and Cokes, and had made the two beds so they would be ready for bedtime.


While Rachel watched a third-season episode of the Chronicles of the Empress TV show on her tablet, Krissy shuffled into the bathroom to brush her teeth and change into her night gear.


She was tired after the long drive, but the two white, oblong pills she held in the palm of her hand wouldn't help with that. Instead, they'd give her insomnia that she would have to counter with a sleeping pill or two. She cursed the pills to hell each and every evening, but the chemicals did in fact help straighten out the bazillion thoughts that always raced around in her mind.


Sighing, she filled a cup with cool water and downed the two pills - for once, the sleeping aids would have to wait. As always, the taste was on the bitter side of things, so she scrunched up her face in disgust as the pills went down.




Going back to the bedroom, she came to a dead stop and let out a startled "Whoa!" that made Rachel look up from the goings-on in the episode.


Krissy checked out her own night gear which consisted of a black Huntress Caid Barlin Signature Edition tank top over a pair of blue boxers and finally her beloved red socks - she knew they looked stupid but she needed them to keep warm during her bouts of insomnia - before she let her eyes run down Rachel's sleeping clothes.


"Whoa…" Rachel echoed as she glanced at her white Huntress Caid Barlin Signature Edition tank top that covered a pair of red boxers. She didn't wear any socks which left her blue ankle tattoo of a ceremonial sword in plain sight. "Old, married couple or what?  Good thing Mrs. Muldoon didn't see us like this… she'd think we were on our honeymoon or something."


"Yeah… it was bad enough with the matching jeans and T's," Krissy said with a grin as she turned off the lights in the bathroom. She shuffled over to her own bed and flopped down on it. It creaked and groaned under her weight, but the sheets were clean and the mattress was fairly new.


She tried to watch the episode playing on the tablet's small display for a couple of minutes, but despite it being one of her favorites from season three, she was too tired to stay interested. Yawning, she shuffled around and got herself comfortable on the pillow which wasn't too bad.


The yawn was mirrored by Rachel who soon rubbed her eyes. "Naw, gotta catch some shuteye," she said and added a bookmark to the episode. With the tablet shut down, she rose from her bed and padded over to the dining table to let it cool off overnight.


Krissy cast a brief glance at the bare legs and wiggling hips of her roommate, but pushed it all as far away as possible. There was a time and a place for fun, and this wasn't it. Besides, she and Rachel were just too similar - and butch - for anything to come out of it apart from endless power play.


Rachel yawned again and shuffled back to her bed. Sitting down, she prepared the alarm clock app on her smartphone to give out a signal at seven AM sharp the next morning. " 'Night, Krissy… don't worry about waking me up. Unless someone drops a nuke, I'll be fast asleep from now on," she said and swung her legs up into the bed. After getting comfortable under the blanket, she put her arms behind her head and glanced over at her roommate.


"Okay. 'night, Rachel. Sweet dreams. Like I told you, I'll probably do some walking around before I take my sleepers. It's lights-out over here," Krissy said and worked the little knob on her bedside lamp.


"And here. Have an easy night," Rachel said and clicked off her own lamp as well.


The darkness that filled the room brought a stony silence along as its companion. Rachel's breath evened out within a few minutes, and the younger woman was soon off to the land of Nod.




As always, sleep wouldn't come to Krissy. The first fifteen minutes turned into half an hour, then a full hour, then another hour. Soon, her telephone read two minutes past one in the morning on Saturday, October 31st.


"Shit… Happy Halloween, Krissy," she whispered as she sat up in bed. With her socked feet down on the carpet, she propped her head up on her arm and let out a long, heartfelt sigh.


Insomnia was something she had been forced to live with since her late teens. For more than a decade, taking medicine had been a necessity for her in order to silence the frantic voices that would scream inside her mind at all times. The nocturnal loneliness gnawed at her soul, but she knew - from a painful experiment some time back - that abstaining from taking the pills was worse.


Rachel mumbled something in her sleep as she shuffled over onto the other side.


Krissy chuckled and got to her feet. She made another slow, shuffling tour of the small apartment until she ended up at the door to the bathroom. The plastic jar with her sleepers called out to her, telling her how silly she was to walk around in the gloomy darkness when she should be sleeping. Heeding the call, she slipped into the bathroom to take her customary two pills.


When she came back out a scant minute later, odd shadows played across the ceiling. The shadows appeared to be created by something moving through the cones of light down on the street, so she shuffled over to the window and pulled a snippet of the curtains aside to check it out.


Before she had a chance to see what went on, Rachel began to utter strange, moaning grunts in her sleep down the other end of the small apartment. Krissy sniggered out loud and let the curtain fall back down. "Jeez, who's she dreaming about?  Oh shit, this is embarrassing," she mumbled, moving her hands up so she could stick her fingers in her ears in case the moans turned worse.


They did, but the mumbling that followed made a chill trickle down Krissy's spine. Over the course of the next minute, Rachel's incoherent grunts grew more articulate and began to resemble words.


"Come to the field… embrace the light… come into the circle… embrace the light," the younger woman mumbled in a chanting voice that didn't sound like her own.


Over at the window, Krissy bared her teeth in a nervous grimace. "Wow, this is getting way creepy… what's gotten into her all of a sudden?  That must be one hell of a nightmare…"


As the moans and mumbled chanting continued, Krissy once more saw the odd shadows playing across the ceiling. She turned back to the curtain in a hurry and tugged on the cord that pulled it apart.


The sight that greeted her from down on Main Street sent a bucket of ice water washing over her, and her heart thumped so hard in her chest she needed to pant to keep up with the need for oxygen.


A large group of people, perhaps more than fifty, shuffled along the street. Moving slowly and erratically like they weren't in control of their actions, they all seemed to head towards the same point further up Main Street and thus out of Krissy's field of view.


Young and old; men and women - they all moved like mindless, zombified sleepwalkers. Their mouths were moving, but it wasn't until Krissy managed to get the reluctant window to open that she could hear they were chanting the same words Rachel uttered from the bed: "Come to the field… embrace the light… come into the circle… embrace the light," was repeated over and over from the chilling group.


Movement behind Krissy made her gasp out loud and spin around. Pushing herself up against the wall next to the window, she found herself face to face with Rachel, but it wasn't the woman she had spent many hours with in the car on their way there - or rather, it was her body, but clearly not her spirit.


Rachel's pretty face was contorted into a hideous mask, and her eyes appeared dead and empty in the faint light that came in through the window. Her skin had turned waxen and ghoulish, and she moved in the same erratic pattern as the people down on the street. The she-creature shuffled closer and closer to Krissy but suddenly stopped and began to chant the same words uttered by the sleepwalking citizens of Salvation.


Krissy clutched her hands to her mouth as she took in the gruesome sight of the zombified woman in front of her. She tried to move herself even further backwards, but her heels and back were already at the outer wall. Her entire body jittered and she was unable to let out even the tiniest squeak; all she could do was to stare wide-eyed at the grotesque, humanoid creature in front of her.


From one moment to the next, Rachel lost interest in her and turned for the door. Krissy let out the explosive breath she had been holding and leaned forward to put her hands on her knees. Adrenaline was coursing through her from the shock, but it wasn't enough by far to compensate for the deep fright she had just been through.


As the alien form that had once been Rachel Horowitz shuffled towards the door, Krissy remembered she had locked it and that she had put the key on a sideboard by the TV set. Whipping her head around, she eyed the shiny key that was still where she had put it. It didn't take a genius to figure out that if the creature couldn't leave, it would come back at Krissy, so she jumped over to the sideboard and snatched the key.


She weighed the heavy, old-fashioned brass item in the palm of her hand for a second or two before she ran over to the door, beating the hellish creature to it by inches. Slamming the key into the hole, she worked the lock and depressed the handle to make the door open up.


The creature didn't even look at her before it shuffled out of the small apartment and down the staircase using stilted, awkward motions.


Krissy slammed the door shut and stormed back into the center of the room. She clutched her head to try to get a grip on reality, but she had so many conflicting thoughts going on at the same time that she couldn't make heads or tails of the horrific world she had been thrown into without warning. Panting from the fright, she stared at the dark room with wide, spooked eyes that didn't allow her to see much.


After a few seconds, she jumped into her jeans and donned her long-sleeved T-shirt in an almighty hurry. Her ankle boots were next and she sat down on the soft, nearly unused bed to tie the shoelaces. She had left the window open, and the chanting from below sent another bucket of ice water over her head as she fumbled with the laces.


"Come to the field… embrace the light… come into the circle… embrace the light," was repeated ad nauseam by the many different voices down on the street.


"Don't they ever shut up?!" Krissy croaked in a shaking voice. She had managed to tie a neat bow on the left boot, but her fingers were trembling too much to make one on the right.


Stuffing the laces into the boot to get it over with, she jumped to her feet and looked around in a panic. "The tablet… gotta take the tablet… and the rest of our money… and our telephones… and the car keys… where are the car keys…?  Oh God, I can't leave Rachel here… if she's even still alive. What's going on in this awful town?!  Salvation, my ass!"


The words had barely left her mouth before the small apartment was lit up by a strong, bright-white light that seemed to originate beyond a cluster of trees across Main Street. As she watched the scene unfold holding a hand up to shield her eyes, the light pulsated and turned from bright white to off-white to tan to a dirty yellow and finally to orange before it reverted back to bright white in a matter of seconds.


The luminous object gained altitude until it cleared the crowns of the trees and hung in the air like a brand new star. The atmosphere was filled with an otherworldly hum that was strong enough to drown out even the chanting that still came from the sleepwalking zombies down on the street.


Krissy stared wide-eyed at the flying object as its powerful searchlight changed from one, strong beam to four smaller points of light. Each point of light repeated the sequence from the main beam by cycling through the various colors until they settled on bright white.


Down below, the zombified population of Salvation had stopped shuffling and was gazing up at the flying object. As it began to glide further up Main Street, they all followed in their erratic, awkward style. Krissy happened to look down at the right moment and caught a glimpse of Rachel's white tank top as the younger woman staggered her way along the paved Main Street still only wearing her sleeping outfit.


"God only knows what's gonna happen to her…" Krissy croaked, wringing her expensive Chronicles of the Empress T-shirt in her hands. "I can't just leave her here… she might be beaten, or raped, or killed… or abducted!"


A strong hand of fear as cold as ice squeezed her heart, but she hurried over to the door and looked down the staircase. Everything was quiet save for the chanting from the street, but even that was fainter there. She broke out in a full-body shiver when it dawned on her what she was about to do. After briefly resting her forehead on the cool jamb to gather every last ounce of courage that she could find within her, she slipped out of the door and down onto the street.




The once deserted street was awash with zombified sleepwalkers following the light in a lazy shuffle. They didn't pay any attention to the living woman who had suddenly appeared on the sidewalk, but the chilling sight was enough to make Krissy's breath come in gasps and her heart thump hard in her chest.


A peculiar stench hung in the air; she knew it, but couldn't identify it. It was vaguely like sulfur, but not quite - more like a mix of sulfur and vinegar. Whatever it was, it made her crinkle her nose in disgust.


Krissy didn't know what would happen if she cried out for her new friend, so she piped down and kept a close eye on the white tank top some thirty yards further up Main Street. If nothing else, the zombified people didn't walk so fast she would lose sight of them.




She followed Rachel at a safe distance for nearly two hundred yards until the group of staggering sleepwalkers turned left onto a gravelly path that led off from Main Street. The bright light in the sky had showed them the way the whole time, but came to a standstill above a dirt field.


Hovering in mid-air, the powerful searchlight on the flying object once again cycled through the many colors before it paused and turned into the four, smaller points of light.


The crunching produced by the gravel under Krissy's boots sounded like thunder in her ears, so she ran off the path and ducked down behind two fresh tree stumps to follow the action without being seen.


The zombified sleepwalkers just stood there in a circle. Since nothing happened, Krissy had time to count the mindless creatures and came to the frightening conclusion that nearly the entire population of the small town was at the dirt field. Eighty-six of the ninety-three regular residents of Salvation had arrived at the site, even the elderly Mrs. Muldoon who wore a hairnet and was dressed in a salmon-colored sleeping gown.


While Krissy watched the creepy scene, the lights went out on the flying object, leaving the field, the sleepwalkers and the tree stumps she used for cover in an inky blackness. Gnawing on her knuckles, she ducked as far down behind the stumps as she could while she waited for her eyes to re-adjust to the darkness.


Up above, four red running lights became visible on the flying object. First, the lights resembled the sign of the cross, but they soon changed into a star and finally a crescent moon before they became diffuse and formless. Moments later, a beam of blinding white light exuded from the craft and formed a shaft that reached all the way down to the ground. The sleepwalkers continued to chant as they closed their ranks and created a living circle around the light.


Krissy whimpered in wide-eyed terror as she watched a group of the residents shuffle closer still to the shaft of light. From one moment to the next, the people vanished. "Alien abductions!" she croaked into her well-gnawed knuckles. "I knew it!  I need to find Rachel before she's sucked up… I need to save her!"


Rachel's white tank top fell in with the bright lights surrounding the field, so it wasn't easy for Krissy to spot her new friend, but she eventually did. Much to her horror, Rachel had shuffled forward to be next in line to be sent into the shaft of light. Before Krissy could move from her spot, Rachel stepped ahead and was engulfed by the blinding light.


"Oh God, no!" Krissy cried, jumping to her feet. She stared at the spot where Rachel had been, but there was no sign of the friendly gal anywhere - she had been pulled clean up into the craft.







Krissy had no idea what she should do except the most basic, which was to get the hell out of Salvation while she still could. Her outburst had attracted the attention of several of the supposedly sleepwalking residents, but so far, they didn't move towards her. She wasn't about to let the chanting, mindless creatures get too close to her, so she took off in a fast run to get back to the car.


Stopping with a screech on the black pavement, she yanked at the door handle on the front door of the rental Ford but remembered too late that it had a car alarm. As the single working headlight flashed and the infernal, electronic racket began to play from under the hood, the first of the zombified residents turned onto Main Street and began to shuffle towards her.


She groaned and patted down all her pockets in an almighty hurry to find the keys. The search was fruitless, because - in a flash of brilliance - she had put all their keys in the same bowl on the sideboard next to the TV. That way, they only had to look in one place the next morning when they packed up to head onto the Empress Halloween Con. When she had wanted to let the zombified Rachel out of the apartment, she had taken the brass key for the front door, but not the car keys.


Krissy rubbed her face and cast a worried glance at the sleepwalkers closest to her who were a young man and a slightly older woman. Both wore regular sleeping outfits which only made the whole thing even more ridiculous and farfetched. They didn't seem threatening as such, but they were walking straight for her. "I can outrun 'em, but where the hell should I go?" she mumbled, looking up and down Main Street in the hope of finding a safe haven.


"Man, this is creepy… so unbe-friggin'-lievable creepy…" she continued, rubbing her numb face. She was about to run upstairs to pack their stuff when she happened to look beyond the two nearest sleepwalkers. Someone wearing red boxers and a white Huntress Caid Barlin Signature Edition tank top had just turned onto Main Street. "What the F… that's Rachel!" she croaked, moving away from the rental car.


Krissy took a fumbling step down the paved street to make sure she wasn't seeing things. Leading a small group of zombified residents, Rachel Horowitz came shuffling back from wherever she had been. Her condition hadn't improved, but at least she was back, and in one piece.


Grimacing, Krissy took off in a fast run to get to her new friend before even worse things could happen. She gave the first two sleepwalkers a very wide berth - and found out they ignored her completely - before she reached the staggering Rachel.


The current look of the friendly gal still gave Krissy the chills, but she gulped down her terrors and reached for Rachel's shoulders. "Girl… girl… listen to me!  Rachel, are you still in there?  Please answer me!"


The sleepwalker just moved on like nothing had happened.


"Rachel!  Stop!  Listen to me!" Krissy cried and gave Rachel a strong shove on the shoulders to get her to stop. She did, but only for a few seconds. Once the obstacles were removed, the zombie continued forward like it was moving in another dimension altogether.


Krissy rubbed her numb face over and over trying to come up with a plan that would save her new friend's life or sanity - or both.


Rachel shuffled across the paved Main Street and up onto the covered sidewalk. Staggering along, the zombie moved past store after store until she reached the door for Ellen Muldoon's little hotel. Letting out a few inarticulate grunts, she turned left and walked into the stairway with Krissy in hot pursuit.


Staring in wide-eyed terror, Krissy watched the younger woman climb the stairs one clumsy, fumbling step at a time. "This is insane… am I hallucinating the whole thing?" she mumbled, slapping her cheeks to make sure. She certainly felt the slaps, proving she was wide awake.


When the zombie reached the landing, she turned right and shuffled into the small apartment like she had only been out to buy groceries. Inside, she turned left and headed for the two beds. The sheets beckoned, and she came to a swaying halt in front of her own bed. The blankets and the pillow had fallen onto the floor when she had left earlier, but it didn't matter to her.


Just as Krissy gave the brass key in the front door an extra twist to make sure it was locked, Rachel seemed to give up the ghost. Grunting, the sleepwalker fell forward like a boneless creature. She hit the mattress flat on her stomach which made the old springs let out pained creaks and groans.


"Oh God, Rachel!" Krissy said, hurrying over to the bed to see if the friendly gal had injured herself. Instead of any injuries, Rachel smacked her lips and let out a gentle snore.


Krissy stared wide-eyed at the serene woman who was now soundly asleep. It all became too much for her to handle, and she fell down on her knees with a whimper, thumping into Rachel's bed as she came down.


The shaking stirred Rachel awake, and she turned around to offer her roomie a dark glare. "Krissy… what the hell?" she whispered and fumbled over onto her back. "Are you okay?  What are you doing down there?  Are you sick or something?"


The sound of a human voice made Krissy whip her head up and stare at the younger woman. Gone were the dead eyes and the waxen skin. Rachel had returned from wherever she had been, and she had come back as the person she had been earlier. "Rachel?!  Oh thank God," Krissy cried and grabbed hold of her new friend's ice cold, bare legs just to be on the safe side.


"Whoa… hey… you wanna tell me what… what the hell you've got going on there?" Rachel said and tried to pry Krissy's strong, warm hands off her legs.


"You were a zombie!" Krissy cried in a trembling voice. "You've walked halfway across the damn town on your bare feet and you were sucked up into a UFO!  Just now!  There were dozens of zombies there… young and old… everybody!  Mrs. Muldoon was there, too. The whole town… you were chanting… God, it was so creepy. Don't you remember anything?!"


The results weren't slow in coming. Rachel's face once again contorted into a hideous grimace, but this time, it was from not believing a word the other woman was saying. "What the hell are you talking about?" she said and finally managed to get the strong fingers off her legs. "My feet are sore and cold, yeah, but… a UFO?  And zombies?  What the hell kind of pills did you take, Krissy?"


Krissy bolted to her feet and ran over to the window. "If you wanna see what I'm talking about, just come over here and look!  There are zombies everywhere down there!  Come and see for yourself!" The curtains were still apart, and she leaned halfway out of the opened window to find a good specimen for the doubting woman.


"The hell I will… you must be outta your damn mind," Rachel growled, reaching down to the floor to retrieve her pillow and the blanket.


Krissy let out a matching growl when she realized that Main Street was now devoid of zombies. No sleepwalkers shuffled around down there, and no bright lights hovered in the air apart from the old, dim street lamps. "What?!  No… no, that can't be!  Where did they all go?  There… there were zombies all over the damn place down there. Where did they go, Rachel?!"


"You're asking me?  They're probably in bed like all decent zombie-folks oughtta be at… shit, ten to two in the flippin' morning!" Rachel said and put away her telephone. Grunting, she pulled the blanket up under her nose to protect herself from the freakish behavior of the older woman.


Krissy smacked her fist into the dining table which made the tablet dance about on the smooth surface. "They. Were. There. And you were too!  Just now, you came back up the stairs walking like a… like a… damn zombie!  You don't remember anything, do you?"


"Krissy, you're a very sick woman," Rachel said with a growl. All thoughts of sleep were blown away by the preposterous comments, and she swung her legs over the side of the bed and began to gather her clothes. "Jesus, this is my life in a flippin' nutshell. We've spoken online for several years!  You never gave me this kind of freaky vibe… I'm going downstairs to sleep in the car. I'll pay my share of the expenses like we agreed upon, but as soon as we hit the convention center tomorrow… shit… later today… I don't want you anywhere near me!  You hear what I'm saying, Krissy?"


"Look, Jeez… Rachel, I can understand your worries, but as crazy as this sounds… it's all true!"


The two women stared at each other across the dark room before Rachel stuck her fingers in her ears. "La, la, la-la, la, la-la, I can't hear you," she chanted, turning away from the frustrated woman at the window. Once her jeans were zipped and buttoned, she forced her feet into her boots and tied the laces. "Hey… my feet really are sore. I'm telling you right now, Krissy… if I find out you've been doing funny business with me while I was sleeping, I'm gonna sic the cops on ya. You hear me?"


"I haven't been anywhere near you, for cryin' out loud!"


Rachel harrumphed and slipped her jacket over her sleeping tank top. She stuffed the rest of her clothes into her suitcase and slammed the lid shut. "Now gimme my tablet and the car keys and I'm ready to go downstairs."


"Rachel, listen," Krissy said and rubbed her damp brow. "We should get the hell out of here while we still can. I know what I saw… and it was creepy to the Nth degree."


Getting up from the bed to get her tablet from the table and the keys from the wooden bowl on the sideboard, Rachel nodded hard at the older woman's words. "You certainly got that part right… but the creepy shit is in here, not out there. See ya at first light… and you're gonna be driving all day. I don't wanna turn my back on you."


"Oh, Jeez!  Rachel, for Pete's sake…"


"Bye," Rachel said and worked the brass key to get the lock to release. Once it had - with a sturdy clunk - she tore open the door and blasted down the stairs.


Krissy threw her hands in the air but decided against following the younger woman. She could beg for forgiveness, but it would only make her look like a pathetic fool. Instead, she closed the door and rested her forehead against the cool, painted surface. "You won't be safe down there…" she mumbled and let out a dry, bitter laugh.


A couple of minutes went by where she didn't know what to do with herself. Sleeping would be out of the question for the rest of the night, even if the two pills she had taken to battle the insomnia had begun to work their chemical magic on her system.


Sighing, she shuffled from the bed and over to the window. Down on the street, Rachel had turned on the rental car's interior lights while she tried to make herself comfortable across the back seat. By the way the Ford rocked and rolled, it appeared to be less easy than they had predicted it would be.


Krissy didn't feel like watching TV after the fright she'd had with the mindless creatures, so she pulled out one of the dining chairs and sat down. After a little while, she leaned forward and put her head down on her arms. That would undoubtedly be the only rest she would have for the remains of the night.




A penetrating smell of something vile trickled in through the opened window and swirled around Krissy's nostrils. It tickled her nose, so she reached up to rub it. A moment later, she realized the smell was an unpleasant mix of sulfur and vinegar.


Jerking upright, she stared around in the darkness to get her bearings. She could remember fragments of a dream so she was certain she had been sleeping, or at least dozing off, but she had no idea what time it was so she could confirm it. The foul smell still permeated the apartment. The stench made her push the dining chair back and move over to the window to see if the UFO had returned - if it had, the zombified sleepwalkers wouldn't be far behind.


The rental Ford was still parked below on Main Street. All the windows had misted over which meant Rachel Horowitz was still inside, no doubt sleeping on the back seat.


There was no sign of a UFO anywhere in the sky, but even as the thought ran through Krissy's mind, she noticed a blank field hovering above the cluster of trees across the street. The stars were out in force all around - but not inside - the strange, blank blob, confirming that something was amiss.


Distant chanting suddenly sent her heart into her throat. Opening the window fully, she leaned out as far as she dared and looked up and down the deserted street. Sure enough, a group of ten or so sleepwalkers shuffled towards her location, not to mention towards the rental car below the window. "Rachel… oh, wake up… wake up!  God, I knew she wasn't safe down there!" she croaked as she left the window behind and raced over to the locked door.




Downstairs, Krissy jumped out across the covered sidewalk to get to the car, but as she did so, the UFO revealed itself by turning on its powerful searchlight and aiming it directly at her.


With a wild cry escaping her lips, she ducked down behind the Ford to get out of the firing line in case the UFO turned up the heat even further. Peeking over the edge of the door, she could see Rachel lying curled up in something akin to a fetal position on the back seat. She didn't seem any worse for wear, but appearances could be deceptive.


The UFO remained stationary in the sky for a few seconds before it turned off the searchlight and began to drift back and away from the street. The four red running lights were turned on, as were the four, smaller points of light on the front of the craft. Like before, the red lights flickered into resembling the sign of the cross, then a star, and finally a crescent moon before they became diffuse. Soon, the smaller lights cycled through the sequence of colors like Krissy had seen it do earlier.


She took that as her cue and bolted upright. As the first of the sleepwalking zombies came within eighty feet of her, she grabbed hold of the car door expecting to yank it open. When the handle didn't do anything, she realized that Rachel had locked the doors from the inside.


The alarm couldn't be activated with someone inside the car, so the annoyed woman had pushed down the four locking pins to secure the car the old-fashioned way. "No!" Krissy groaned, looking at the advancing line of sleepwalkers with a growing sense of panic bubbling up inside her. "Rachel!  Rachel!  Wake up!  You gotta wake up!  They're here!  The zombies are here!" she cried, slapping her hands against the car's windows over and over to stir the sleeping woman from her slumber.


Nothing worked; Rachel was still out cold.


Krissy took a step back and let out a frustrated groan. Clutching her head, she kept an eye on the zombies while she used the other to search for something she could use to smash a window so she could get Rachel to safety. She couldn't find anything, so she had to settle for the next best thing: kicking her boot hard against the lock on the front door on the passenger side.


Her perseverance paid off when the lock finally gave up the ghost after the twelfth attempt. Yanking the door open, she moved her hand back behind the center column and pulled up the locking pin on the back door.


She switched her position in an almighty hurry and jumped into the back of the rental Ford. With her knees resting on the seat, she slapped Rachel's bare legs thoroughly to make the woman come to. Only then did she realize she was almost too late.


Rachel's pretty face had once again contorted into a mask of hideousness, and her skin had turned gray and ghoulish. The only difference from the last time was the frightening fact that Rachel stared back at Krissy with wide eyes that had turned into deep pools of raw, unbridled fear.


"Oh… God," Krissy croaked, shying back from the gruesome sight.


It was evident Rachel had lost the ability to control her voice, but the fear and panic playing in her eyes proved that she was still in there, somewhere. The look of fear only grew worse when her lips and vocal cords began to work on their own in an early, inarticulate version of the chanting.


"I gotta get you outta here… gotta… gotta get you to safety before they get here," Krissy croaked as she wrapped her arms around Rachel's legs and began to pull the stricken woman off the seat. The younger woman was heavier than she appeared, and with the poor working position, Krissy's back sent out distress calls almost at once.


Groaning and grunting, she managed to drag the unresponsive Rachel across the seat and force her bare feet down on the hard ground outside the car. "Come on… come on, girl… please work with me," she said as she tried to wrap Rachel's arms around her neck. "Please… please work with me… I can't carry you up to the apartment…"


Rachel seemed to understand the request though her limbs wouldn't obey her all that much. She couldn't keep her head straight on her shoulders, but at least her arms did find their way around Krissy's neck.


"Good!  Good… come on, they're almost here," Krissy said and pulled the near-dead weight out of the car. She tried to get into an upright position, but Rachel's legs refused to help carry her, so they both lost their balance and fell against the Ford. "No!  Rachel… please!  Please work with me… please… we need to… need to… oh, come on… we don't have much time…"


The frantic pleas were heard as Rachel finally put one leg ahead of the other to shuffle across the covered sidewalk with Krissy's help. The two women staggered over to the door with the chanting from the many zombified sleepwalkers ringing louder and louder in their ears.




Climbing the stairs took far too long. The vanguard of the zombies had already reached the door down at the sidewalk before Krissy and Rachel had even made it up to the first landing. The unresponsive Rachel tried all she could, but her limbs fought against her will and slowed them both down.


"Rachel, come on… they'll catch us!" Krissy groaned in a voice that grew more agitated by the second. When it became painfully obvious the younger woman wasn't in a state to do anything to help them along, Krissy bent down and tried to pick her up in a fireman's carry, but her back cried out its displeasure even before she had a good grip on the cold, sluggish limbs. "Oh God, we're not gonna make it…" she croaked, looking up at the door to the apartment that was still far out of reach.


Eerie chanting filled the staircase from below, and that gave Krissy a strong kick up the rear to make a final push. Groaning out loud, she wrapped her arms around the torso of the sluggish Rachel and dragged her up the next flight of stairs until they reached the landing outside the door. She hadn't had time to lock it when she bolted downstairs earlier, so she pushed it aside with her boot and staggered inside.


The chanting was far closer now, but Krissy didn't realize how close the first sleepwalkers were until her sixth sense told her someone was reaching out for her. Shrieking, she let go of Rachel and spun around - and came to a dead stop when her wide eyes fell on at least twenty zombies who had shuffled up the stairs. They were right there, close enough to strike.


Men and women, children and elderly; they all chanted the same, eerie message that she had heard Rachel utter earlier: "Come to the field… embrace the light… come into the circle… embrace the light…"


"Go away!" Krissy cried and slammed the door in the faces of the first zombies. While she fumbled and bumbled with turning the brass key to lock it, the wave of sleepwalkers began pushing against the outside of the door. Harder and harder they pushed, and harder and harder Krissy struggled against their advances.


She was strong, but not strong enough to counter the combined strength of three male zombies who were at the head of the group. Working together, they barged their way past the roadblock, sweeping the door aside and swarming into the apartment like a pack of locusts.


Manhandled back by the wave of attackers, Krissy screamed at the top of her lungs. Her unbridled panic turned to fiery anger, and she threw wild punches and kicked out at the nearest sleepwalkers to show she wasn't defeated yet.


She managed to score several direct hits on the zombies closest to her: a man her age got a boot to the gut, and a woman only a few years her senior received a knuckle sandwich on her chin that made her head spin around.


Although the people she hit fell back, all the aggression didn't help her since she was outnumbered more than twenty to one. Each time she managed to literally punch a hole in their ranks, other zombies filled the gap and came at her once more.


Through all that, Rachel had remained passive.


Panting from the exertion and the frightening experience, Krissy stared in wide-eyed panic at her new friend and saw that her eyes were still pools of raw fear. For some reason, the transformation hadn't been fully effective; her body had been claimed, but her mind had somehow been overlooked.


It was clear Rachel tried to struggle against her hostile body, but she couldn't stop herself from staggering closer to Krissy and chant the same, eerie message let out by the other sleepwalkers. Her arms moved up with a jerk like they wanted to throttle their lone opponent.


"No!" Krissy cried, giving up the unequal struggle and jumping into the farthest corner of the small apartment. The advancing army of zombies followed her with Rachel at the head of the pack. Krissy didn't want to hurt her new friend, so she threw herself down into the corner and rolled up into a trembling ball of humanity.


The zombies came to a stop but continued chanting the creepy message in a variety of voices: some high-pitched, some deep, some clear, and some gravelly. One by one, they turned around and left the apartment. Rachel didn't stay behind but left with the others of her kind.


Down on the floor, Krissy broke out in a full-body tremble as relief washed over her. Her breath was nothing more than a series of erratic gasps, and it took her nearly three full minutes before she even dared to think about getting up.


The apartment was quiet and clear of any dangers. Sitting up, Krissy let out a croaking sob and began to rub her eyes and her face. The sound of many voices chanting drifted in through the opened window, but the group of sleepwalkers was already shuffling down Main Street, presumably headed for the dirt field where they had been earlier in the night.


Trembling all over, Krissy clambered to her feet and staggered over to the window. She needed to grab hold of every piece of furniture she could find on her way there or else she would take a tumble, but she finally made it there and leaned out across the windowsill. Once more, she caught a glimpse of Rachel's white tank top as the younger woman shuffled along the street with her mindless companions.


Krissy sighed and rubbed her face. There was nothing she could do, other than to get away while she still could. "Goodbye, Rachel," she whispered before she turned back from the window to begin collecting their things.







A few minutes later, Krissy ran down the staircase and threw her hastily packed suitcase onto the back seat. Slamming the rear door, she ran around the back and opened the trunk. Rachel's tablet and suitcase were already there, along with the reed picnic basket that carried the last sandwiches and sodas. The trunk smelled like cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce, and it made her stomach churn.


Grimacing, she took a plastic bottle of Coke and closed the lid on the basket. While she moved up to the driver's side door, she gulped down half the soda in one go to get the sugar rush she needed for the escape. Once she was full, she put the bottle in the cup holder between the seats.


"You better start… please start," she mumbled as she twisted the ignition key. The rental Ford came to life with a roar before it settled down into a steady hum. The gauges and the computerized trickery on the dashboard all showed she was good to go.


But her right arm wouldn't work the gearshift. All it could do was to flop down from the ignition key and land in her lap like it wasn't hers at all.


Unable to understand why she suddenly couldn't use her arm, she moved the left one over to aid the reluctant limb, but she let out a long, terrified moan when the skin on her right hand felt dead to the touch.


A voice began chanting at the back of her mind. Quiet at first, it soon grew in intensity and volume. Her vocal cords began to work on their own, forming incoherent, inarticulate grunts that made no sense until she heard herself utter "Mmmm… emmm… emmmm… embrace the light!" in a throaty, unnatural voice.


Her heart nearly exploded in her chest when it dawned on her what was happening. Somehow, the controlling voice from the UFO had penetrated her mind and was in the process of zombifying her like it had all the other residents of Salvation. Groaning out loud, she opened the car door and staggered outside. Her legs weren't strong enough to carry her, so she fell down onto the pavement and landed with a hard thump. "My… medicine… gotta… get… to… my… medicine…" she croaked, dragging herself across the coarse road with her good arm while she still could.


Her jeans and her expensive long-sleeved Chronicles of the Empress T-shirt were torn and dirtied from the rough treatment, but she had more important things on her mind. By stretching up, she could just barely reach the door handle with her good hand, but she managed to whack herself over the head when she yanked the door open.


The suitcase with her medicine mocked her by being just out of reach. It was lying right there on the seat on the far side of the car, but it might as well be a million miles away. Groaning, she dragged herself up onto the seat and scooted closer to the suitcase.


She had considered locking the case, but now she was glad she hadn't. "Emmm… embrace the light… come into the circle… emb- emmm- embrace the light," she croaked as she used her good hand to work the click-locks on the metal case. Flipping the lid open, she rummaged through her clothes and the other stuff until her fingers bumped into the plastic pill jar.


Opening it, she managed to spill half a dozen pills onto the upholstery and down into the footwell, but three remained in the palm of her hand. With the last of her free will, she gulped down the pills and rolled over onto her back to ease their way down.


"Embrace the light!" she chanted in a clear voice, jerking around on the back seat as the alien being reached into her mind and took control over all her faculties. "Come to the field… embrace the light… come into the circle… embrace the light!" she cried, convulsing from the frightening sensation of having someone else inside her mind.


She eventually convulsed so hard she rolled off the seat and fell down into the bottom of the car. She smacked her forehead against the edge of the suitcase, but she didn't feel a thing. Chanting in a loud and clear voice, something rocked her back and forth like an unseen hand wanted her to leave the car.


Being stuck down in the gap behind the front seats made it impossible for her to go anywhere, and the chanting grew more and more frantic as the master controlling her limbs discovered she couldn't adhere to the requests sent to her brain.


Krissy's voice broke and grew frayed as the chants continued unabated. The alien inside her head screamed at her to get up and join her companions at the dirt field, but she was locked down and powerless to move anywhere on her own.


The voice wasn't silenced until the pills she had taken began to work. Little by little, control over her limbs and faculties returned to her, and the incessant chanting grew weaker until she realized she could stop without having her master telling her she should continue.


"Oh… God," she croaked, rubbing her throbbing forehead with her left hand. Her right arm still felt odd - like it was asleep - but the sensation slowly came back to it. She was aching all over like she had just been in a wrestling match. She had a bleeding abrasion on her forehead, and her vocal cords had been shredded by the insane chanting, but she was alive and back in control of her own being.


Clambering up on the back seat, she stared at the many white pills that littered the upholstery. "If they brought me back," she croaked in a hoarse voice that caused her to cough, "maybe they'll help Rachel too… if I can find her… God, I need to try…"


Though her head was buzzing from the rough experience, she found the plastic jar and began to scoop up the many pills she would need to save her new friend.




Armed only with a plastic jar filled with little, white pills, Krissy Buchanan went on the hunt for the woman she had met and spoken to on various websites and message boards for several years. Hunched over like her big hero, the Huntress Caid Barlin from the Chronicles of the Empress TV show, she ran down Main Street keeping a sharp lookout for the first of the zombified sleepwalkers.


She didn't meet any before she reached the dirt road that led off from the paved street, but the reason was delivered in gruesome Technicolor when she found the entire group of Salvation residents standing in a circle at the foot of a blinding white beam of light.


Mirroring her earlier actions, she ducked down behind the same tree stumps she had already used for cover once. She could hardly believe her eyes as a group of three people - two women and a man - stepped into the beam that shone down from the UFO and evaporated in an instant. A split second later, they were replaced by someone else who had been up in the alien craft.


Rachel didn't seem to be anywhere near the foot of the beam, so Krissy rubbed her numb face and hunkered down behind her cover. She could wait.




A few minutes later, Rachel Horowitz returned from her involuntary trip to the flying object. From one moment to the next, she appeared among the other people who had yet to visit the craft in the sky.


Krissy's lips became thin lines in her face as she zoomed in on her new friend. Rachel didn't seem physically harmed by the violation, but if her mind still hadn't succumbed to the alien control, she would have experienced everything as a living nightmare.


The friendly gal just stood there like a statue for a brief while before she set off back across the dirt field. She staggered along on wobbly, unsteady legs, but managed to get clear of the waiting sleepwalkers. Moving erratically, she shuffled along the path followed by two others who had just come down from the craft as well.


Behind the tree stumps, Krissy clenched her fingers around the jar of pills and got ready for the most difficult part of her rescue mission. Rachel was aiming straight for her, but the two zombies she brought along could potentially be a risk to them.


The zombified woman came closer, closer and closer still. Krissy held her breath as she poured three pills out into the palm of her hand. She wished she had brought the half-empty bottle of Coke to help wash them down, but the risk of the unresponsive woman choking on the brown, sticky liquid was too great - the pills had to get down on their own.


When Rachel was close enough, Krissy gulped down her fears and jumped out to intercept her friend. Though Rachel didn't respond to her rescuer, the two zombies behind her grunted out loud and began to shuffle towards the living woman. "Shit… shit, shit, shit!" Krissy mumbled, trying to force Rachel's lips apart so she could shove the three pills inside.


One look into the sleepwalking woman's eyes proved that she had been taken over fully, but that posed the least of Krissy's problems. More zombies had noticed something odd was happening to a member of their fellowship and had begun to shuffle towards the two women.


"Mmmmm!" Krissy croaked through her clenched lips. "I'm sorry, Rachel… this is gonna hurt me just as much as it will you," she continued, yanking Rachel's jaw down. When the lips separated with a sticky smack, she shoved the pills inside and pressed two fingers against the sides of Rachel's throat to provoke her to swallow.


She let out a sigh of relief when she watched Rachel gulp down the pills, but that was all the celebration she had time for. The other zombies had come far too close for her liking, so she raced away from Rachel to get plenty of distance between herself and the mindless creatures.




Coming to a halt at the rental car, Krissy spun around and stared back at her new friend who had yet to move. "Come on… come on, Rachel… move!  Move, for cryin' out loud!  Move your legs, girl!  Get to the car before they catch you again!" she cried, waving her arms in the air to earn the attention of the female zombie in the white tank top.


Rachel seemed to listen because she put one leg ahead of the other and began to stagger away. Her shuffling walk went fine for the first ten paces and she was able to inch away from the shuffling zombies behind her, but then she faltered and came to a halt.


"Oh, no…" Krissy groaned, throwing her arms in the air in frustration.


Letting out an un-zombie-like cry, Rachel fell down on her hands and knees. She shook her head several times like she couldn't understand one word of the situation; then she leaned back on her thighs and began to rub her face.


"Oh!" Krissy croaked, realizing that the pills Rachel had ingested were already reclaiming control over her mind. It was supposed to happen, but not that fast - and not so close to the other zombified sleepwalkers. "Hell!" she croaked as she took off in a fast run to get to her new friend before the mindless creatures could.


Rachel had leaned forward again by the time Krissy came to a screeching halt in front of her. As the younger woman looked up, it was clear by the shocked look on her face that she had come fully back to life once more. Her eyes were red and shiny, and she had dark, unhealthy blotches on her cheeks. "Krissy… God… you were right… you were- I'm so sorry I didn't believe you…" she croaked in a trembling voice. "What… what's happening?  I'm… I'm-"


"Save it for later, Rachel!" Krissy said and grabbed the younger woman by her arms. "Right now, we gotta hustle before those creatures there catch us!"


"Cr- creatures?" Rachel said and looked over her shoulders. It didn't take but half a glance at the nearest zombie for her to let out a trembling shriek and stumble to her feet.


"Yeah, those creatures," Krissy said and pulled the weak woman the rest of the way into an upright position. "Can you run?  No, forget I asked… can you walk?  Or just crawl?  We need to get to the car and get the hell-"


"Watch out!" Rachel cried, pointing at a new group of zombified sleepwalkers who swarmed onto Main Street only half a dozen yards behind the two women.


Krissy groaned and wrapped an arm around Rachel's upper body. "Hustle!" she cried, dragging the younger woman with her whether she liked it or not.


Grunting out loud, Rachel moved her legs and began to stagger along the coarse street in a jerking, erratic fashion.




Moaning, groaning, huffing and puffing, Krissy and Rachel staggered back to the rental car the fastest Rachel's bare legs could carry her. Unfortunately, it wasn't particularly fast. Now that she could feel the pain shooting up from the abused soles of her feet, she let out a constant stream of whimpers and even the occasional imaginative swearword.


"Oh hell, more of those freaks," Krissy mumbled as she saw another group of sleepwalkers come at them from further down Main Street. She and Rachel only had thirty yards to go to reach the Ford, but she wasn't sure they were going to make it.


"Wh- where are my boots… and my… my clothes?"


"In the car where you left 'em…" Krissy said, nodding at the rental car.


They shuffled on in silence for another ten yards before Rachel let out a croak and looked up at the woman helping her. "I'm… I'm so sorry I doubted you… you were right… were right all along…"


"Ah, forget it. I wouldn't have believed it either… come on, we're almost there… just a little bit further to go, Rachel."


"My feet are bleeding… we'll get blood on the upholstery…"


Despite the bleakness of the situation, Krissy let out a screeching laugh at Rachel's priorities. There were zombies ahead of them and zombies behind them. More zombies could be lurking behind every corner, and the UFO was still in the area judging by the whiffs of sulfur and vinegar that trickled down Main Street - but Rachel thought about their deposit at Speedy Auto Rentals. "I'm sure they can scrub it off… oh, we're almost there…"


The fender of the metallic-green Ford was finally close enough to touch, and Rachel used it at once as a crutch. Leaning against it, she let out a long moan as she lifted her feet off the ground to look at the sorry state of her soles.


"Damn, girl," Krissy said, scrunching up her face at the sight of the jagged stones that had carved their way into the skin, and the blood that trickled the other way, coloring the pointy gravel crimson. "You'll need a tetanus shot… damn, that looks painful…"


"It is," Rachel croaked, shuffling around the car. She glanced in through the windows to check for unwanted zombie-company before she opened the door and fell down into the front seat with a bump and a long groan.


Krissy took that as her cue and jumped in behind the wheel. After checking the view behind them and out of the windshield to see what the zombified sleepwalkers were up to, she put her fingers on the ignition key and hoped it was as quick to respond as the last time she had tried.


Twisting it, she scrunched up her face into a mask of worry, but she released a long sigh of relief when the engine came to life without any problems. Once more checking the mirrors and out of the windshield, she let out a pained cry when it became obvious what the sleepwalkers were doing.


"Oh… hell," she croaked at the sight of at least twenty of the mindless creatures forming a perfect half-circle around the vehicle. Shoulder by shoulder, the zombies shuffled closer to the Ford. Still thirty paces out, they raised their arms like they were getting ready to break down the car piece by piece to get to the two women.


"We're in trouble…" Rachel croaked, burying her face in her hands.


"We've been in trouble ever since we left the damn Interstate," Krissy said, looking over her shoulder to see if the circle of mindless humans was weaker there - it wasn't.


The sleepwalkers began chanting all over again, but though their voices were muffled by the rolled-up windows, it sounded like they were delivering a new message. Rachel and Krissy glanced at each other with matching worried expressions.


"What are they saying?" Krissy said, rolling the driver's side window down an inch to hear better.


"Embrace the light… stop the infidels… embrace the light… come into the circle… believe… believe… believe… stop the infidels… embrace the light…" came back at her from the massed ranks of zombies.


"I hea- heard that up there… in the craft!" Rachel suddenly said, slamming a hand down onto Krissy's arm. "I remember now… I couldn't see any details, everything was pure white, but I felt a presence there… something alien. Not human. I could only hear my own voice chanting, b- but there was a presence there… in the background. I f- felt it all around me… it touched me… caressed my body… but it wasn't unpleasant… more like… almost like water engulfing you when you're swimming…"


"Aargh… creepy," Krissy said and promptly got the shivers. "What the hell are they trying to achieve, anyway?  Invade the Earth?  Why choose Salvation, of all places?  Why not-"


"There's the UFO!" Rachel howled, pointing straight past Krissy's nose.


The flying object came in low and slow just above the crowns of the cluster of trees across the street. Within seconds, it turned on its searchlight that illuminated the Ford to such an extent that Krissy and Rachel had to shield their eyes.


A strange headache entered the two women's brains along with a bout of lightheadedness and acute dizzy spells. Their limbs suddenly turned to lead, and they had a hard time sitting upright on the seats as the strong light shone directly into the car.


"Come into the circle!" Krissy and Rachel suddenly said as one being. They stared at each other in wide-eyed panic as the alien voice overpowered the medicine and tried to worm its way into their brains.


With the last of her free will, Krissy put the shifter in Drive and mashed her foot down on the gas pedal which sent the Ford lurching forward and out of the cone of light. Somebody screamed in her ear when the heavy car mowed down one of the sleepwalkers as it blasted down Main Street, but it didn't matter at that point.


Once they were clear of the powerful beam from the UFO, the alien presence released its grip on them which allowed them to regain control over their minds and bodies. Krissy hurriedly slammed on the brakes, and the motion made the car almost stand on its nose. Coming to a screeching halt a hundred yards down Main Street, it veered to the left and ended up sitting across the paved surface at an oblique angle.


"I don't wanna die here," Rachel croaked, grabbing the seat belt with both hands and clicking it into place. "We need to go back to the Interstate… we'll be safe there…"


Krissy didn't answer. Her heart was in her throat as she took in the gruesome sight of a middle-aged woman lying motionless on the road. She had run her over and had most likely killed her. The breath she had been holding back came out in an explosive burst, and she rubbed her clammy brow with a trembling hand.


"Did you hear me, Krissy?" Rachel said in a voice that grew in volume and intensity as she spoke. "We need to go through them… now!  Now, before it's too late!  Please… please, Krissy, just drive!" By now, she was screaming and tearing at Krissy's Chronicles of the Empress T-shirt.


"Yeah… we… w- we better…" Krissy croaked, but she was interrupted by another frantic cry that came from Rachel.


"The UFO is coming around!  Go!  Just go, Krissy!  Now!" the younger woman screamed, pointing out of the windshield.


Pulling her lips back in a horrified grimace, Krissy mashed the gas again and turned the car straight. The engine roared and the vehicle quickly picked up a great head of steam. They were already going at more than sixty miles an hour by the time they reached the thick circle of sleepwalkers.


At the last moment, her conscience overruled her foot on the gas, and she spun the steering wheel to the right to try to evade the residents of Salvation. She wasn't a stunt driver, so she lost control of the rental car which went into a sideways skid through the gravelly verge at the side of the street. She slammed on the brakes, but that made the tail end swing around to the right, and the front of the car point straight at the zombies.


A head-on collision was inevitable. Krissy screamed at the top of her lungs at the many gruesome impacts that rattled and shook the Ford as it plowed into the zombies. Once more, she mowed down the sleepwalkers like they were traffic cones on a parking lot - but they weren't, they were human beings unfortunate enough to be under the spell of a powerful alien presence.


Bones were fractured, clothes were torn and heads were crushed as the heavy vehicle blasted through the living circle still going at a speed greater than fifty miles an hour. The grill, the light clusters, the fenders, the front of the hood and the windshield were damaged, buckled and cracked, but the car sped on like nothing had happened because Krissy kept her foot on the throttle out of sheer, unbridled terror.


In the car's wake, nine people lay motionless like broken puppets on the coarse, cold asphalt.


Krissy's scream petered out and turned into a heart-wrenching groan. She kept her foot on the gas, but though she looked ahead, her eyes had misted over to the point where she couldn't see much. "I've just thrown my life away," she croaked after a little while as she steered the rental car through the first stretch of the winding country road, going at high speed to get back to the Interstate.


"It was an accident!  And it was them or us!" Rachel said, craning her neck in all directions to check whether or not the UFO followed them.


"Nobody's gonna believe that… nobody. Mrs. Muldoon saw the car… and maybe the license plate… she spoke to us… she knows who we are…"


A grim shadow fell on Rachel's face as she turned around to look Krissy in the eye. "That doesn't matter now," she said darkly.


"How can you say that?  Rachel… we're-"


"You mowed her down. She's the one who cracked the windshield. I saw her."


Yet another bucket of ice water fell over Krissy as they sped along the country road. Her stomach churned hard, and she had to clench her jaw to stop it from spilling over. "Oh… God… no…" she croaked after a few seconds.


"God doesn't know Salvation exists," Rachel said grimly, once more assuming her job of scouting for the UFO. So far, they were in the clear. "Just go… we'll pull over somewhere so I can change clothes and wash my feet. Then we'll dump this crate and claim it was stolen. We'll hitch a ride if we have to… but we gotta get the hell away from this place. You hear me?"


Krissy grunted and kept the foot on the accelerator. She gulped down a bitter lump that had formed in her throat. Tears stung at the corners of her eyes, but she reached up and wiped them away with an angry, little gesture. Twenty-four hours earlier, her life had been okay on the whole, and she had been excited about seeing her favorite actresses and all her online friends and acquaintances at the upcoming convention. Now everything had gone to hell. "I hear you… but… we can't pretend it didn't happen… I just killed a bunch of people…"


"But we're alive!  Fair trade."


"I don't think they were gonna kill us, Rachel… you came back to normal after the first time… we should have waited for dawn-"


"Listen, Krissy," Rachel said and put a chilled hand on the driver's thigh. "You weren't up in that craft… I was. I didn't wanna go there, so I was violated. You saved my ass, and I'm thankful for that. Sometimes, we just have to react with force when we're threatened."


Krissy didn't have anything to say to that other than a grunt. She glanced up in the rear view mirror where the last images of the hellish Salvation faded away in the gloomy conditions. Hunkering down, she tried to push it all out of her mind and concentrate on the road ahead.




High in the sky above the fast-moving metallic-green Ford, a diffusely-shaped blob swept across the heavens and blanked out the stars. The craft turned on its four red running lights that cycled through the three regular symbols - the sign of the cross, a star and a crescent moon - before it came to a stop and hovered in mid-air.


After a brief while, it returned to Salvation where it slid over the many bodies littering Main Street. The remaining zombified sleepwalkers had all returned to their homes so the street was devoid of life of any kind.


The craft turned on its blinding white beam of light and began to slide silently across the paved road. When the beam reached a body, what was left of the human being was sucked up into the flying object, removing it fully from the physical plane.


One by one, the dead bodies of the ten people Krissy had run over were removed from the street, leaving behind a serene, deserted stretch of road. With the clean-up operation complete, the craft turned off the beam of light and slid across the road to its base just beyond the cluster of trees. There, it turned off all its running lights and lowered itself down onto the ground to wait for the next nocturnal phase.


It had all the time in the world. Though the two young women had managed to flee, they would be back sooner or later; the seed that had been planted in the womb of its visitor would see to that…