The Road to Home by Jack Wallen

The Music Be The Food flash fiction event continues with round four. This time, the song is one of my all-time favorite American hymns, “The Road Home”, by Stephen Paulus. This particular take on the piece of music is performed by Conspirare and the lovely soloist, Melissa Givens.

Give a listen to the tune and then read the next flash fiction piece, by Jack Wallen.

The Road to Home

He walked through the dusty road; past long-since dried-out wells, into and out of ghost towns once populated by a joyous and friendly humanity. The ground was broken and hot, with each step a cloud of dirt rose to greet ankle and shin and ever-so-often to be picked up by a lonely wind and powder his face.

It had been months since his last encounter with the living, when the voice of God sent him on his journey toward what the survivors hoped and prayed would be their next destination, their Mecca. The location had no other name than Home. To any living human to have ever heard speak of the promised land, there was only one path to home.

The Road.

It was rumored Home was bereft of the damned and dead; unfortunately, not one soul had yet to complete the journey and return with word of salvation. But like clockwork, once a year, a new savior was sent on the journey to walk The Road to Home.

He’d packed light, not wanting to burden himself, assuming provisions could be found along the way. Had he known how wrong that assumption would prove to be, his pack would have been full to bursting as he set off.

“Two days,” he mumbled through dry and cracked lips as he tilted his canteen to allow a single drop of water to fall into his waiting mouth. “That’s the last of it.” He made to toss the canteen, but thought better. “Might well be the last of me.”

To the right, an overturned stage coach lie in pieces, the carcasses of horses a feast for flies and carrion crows. His pistol slipped from its holster, in hand and pointed toward the carnage. The hell-spawned beasts hide, they always did, to spring upon the unsuspecting passerby and devour them, bones and all.

“I wasn’t meant to end like this,” he whispered. “Six bullets, six bullets, six bullets.”

A rumble rose from one of the downed horses, torn flesh fluttered in an unseen wind. The traveler froze, his arm parallel to The Road, ending with its deadly device pointing toward the festering, rotting beast. The surrounding air was hot and ripe with death. Breath held, he stood, nerves steeled against the overwhelming dread. I will prevail, he thought in the stolen moment.

From between broken ribs, the beast appeared; it’s head slipping through the fissure in the horses hide. Milky orbs stared into a blinding nothingness. The tale was told they couldn’t see, only smell and hear. That was unfortunate, as he knew the stink of his skin was powerful enough to carry on even the stillest wind.

The creature pulled itself from the hollowed out carcass and slipped to the ground, bending at awkward angles sure to break bone and tear meat. And yet, the thing moved with the agility of a cat and the purpose of a snake.

This ain’t right, he thought. They’re supposed to be bumbling, shambling monsters.

A hissing moan spilled from the clacking jaw of the beast as it strode over the dusty earth, heading straight for him. The creature’s jaw seemed to unhinge as it released a sound from deep within its throat.

“Zommmmbie,” the thing seemed to enunciate from a dried up tongue and tattered lips.

“The name’s Wyatt,” he responded through clenched teeth. “Time for your return to Hell.”

A single bullet cracked through the forehead of the beast and exploded from the other side in an oily, blackened rain. When the walking disaster dropped, Wyatt released a long-overdue stream of breath, his lungs recoiling at the effort.

The sight of Wyatt’s pistol never left the thing’s head, for fear it might rise for an encore or two.

“Five bullets,” Wyatt whispered and then mumbled, “Zombie. Is that what you call yourselves? Or is that your name for us? Never matter, beast. Something as dreadful as the likes of you needs no name.”

Wyatt circled around the downed coach, hoping to find some morsel of food or pouch of water. When nothing revealed itself, Wyatt kicked at the dirt and set boot to road once again. He’d only been on The Road to Home for a few short months and yet it felt like years of wandering had worn at his heels. “To hell with the creatures,” Wyatt whispered, “starvation’ll take me down first.”

With a heavy heart, and even heavier limbs, Wyatt shuffled onward. “Please lead me to Home.” The words were followed with the humming of a familiar hymn, one he’d last sang at church with his lovely wife beside him in the pew. The sermon was simple—survival. The preacher praised Wyatt for taking on the work of God to save the people of Gulch Valley. The choir sang Wyatt out the doors, With love in your heart.

Deep down, he knew this to be a mission of suicide. But the people, his people, needed a hope he and his mission could deliver. Whether or not he returned with good tidings of life beyond the surrounding death, at least for a time the people of the town he loved would hold hope in their hearts. In the unknowing there could be life. They had faith in their savior.

“I ain’t no messiah,” Wyatt mumbled as he kicked up a spiraling cloud of dust. “Good as dead.”

Ahead of him, on The Road to Home, a wall of dirt rose. He knelt and placed his palm to the road, shocked to feel no rumble of carriage. “There’s a way,” Wyatt started a prayer. “After wind, after rain, in the gold of day; through the air, there’s a voice I hear a-callin’ my name. Come away, rise up, and follow me.”

Wyatt stood, fairly certain what strange horror approached, and leveled his gun toward the storm of dust and death.

“Five bullets. Four for them and one for me.”

From the swirling mass of brown air, a horde of the creatures peeled, arms raised and teeth bared. A quick count revealed the monstrous gang numbered in the dozens. In a quick instant, the idea hit Wyatt like a stone to the head. He raced to the upturned carriage and tucked himself inside the rotting horse. The earth rumbled on and the gathering of beasts raced past. Once in the clear, Wyatt pulled himself from the putrescent cave, dropped to his knees, and dry heaved until his gut ached for release.

“Five bullets,” he mumbled through retching. “Four for them, one for me.”

Slowly, awkwardly, the man rose to his feet, swayed on his weakened legs, and started the journey anew. The Road to Home held little promise, but with love in his heart, Wyatt knew he belonged here, serving as a beacon of hope for those he held dear.