Dark Flower, Chapter One

“Jon? Jon, there’s some guy bitching out front, saying that you need to look at his car. Like right now.”  

All you could see of Jon was his lower half, his legs poking out from underneath the car he was currently working on, and he was not budging either. “Well, either tell him to wait or get Greg to handle it, I’m busy,” he said, his voice muffled.  

The younger mechanic shifted uncomfortably, glancing back to where the impatient customer was waiting. “Greg’s already on his lunch break, and he said it had to be you. He told me to say you owe him for that sandwich at Em’s?” He said.  

“Then tell him to fuck off, I’m in the middle of another job- wait, did you just say sandwich at Em’s?”  

Jon hauled himself out from under the car, his hands and face smeared with grease. He clambered off the ground, cracking his back and grumbling something about being too old to keep getting up and down like that. He walked to the front, where a man in a suit made a dramatic show of looking at his watch. “So, you need me to look at your car? Right now?” He asked.

The man cleared his throat. “Yes, right now. I don’t have time to waste,” he replied rather snappily.  

There was an awkward silence before Jon pulled the taller man in for a bear hug, the other chuckling and wrapping his arms around Jon. “Small fry, you should’ve told me you were coming!” He said.

“That would ruin the surprise, I’m in town picking up a contract and decided to see if you were still working here,” The businessman said, giving Jon a hearty pat on the back before pulling away.  

“Give it a few months, I’ll find a way to get fired.” Jon looked over at the younger mechanic, now clearly confused. “Conner, get over here! Meet my brother, Michael,” He said.  

Conner slowly approached. “Brothers?” He repeated, glancing between Jon, white with wrinkles by his eyes and dark hair with a silver beard, and Michael, black and cleanshaven minus a goatee with a few gray hairs.  

Michael nodded. “We’re twins,” He replied, watching Conner sputter for a moment before he was unable to hide his own chuckles.  

“Quit messing with the kid,” Jon said, smacking Michael on the arm, “we were foster siblings for a year, maybe two.”

“Year and a half, we had two Christmases together,” Michael reminded.  

Jon nodded before glancing over at Conner. “Listen, I’m clocking out early, tell Greg if he has a problem with it we can talk later. Let me get cleaned up and I’ll take you to this lil place called Blue Goose. It’s not Em’s, but it’s good enough…”

~*~

Blue Goose was a small diner not even a block away from Jon’s work, and with its quick service it was Jon’s favorite place to have a bite during his break. The place was mostly empty, save for the brothers, and the only sound other than their chatter and laughter was the news quietly playing on the TV hanging on the wall. The perfect place for them to catch up.  

“So, this will make six months at Greg’s Autoshop?”  

Jon nodded as he took a long sip from his soda. “Mmm, yeah. It’ll be my seventh in a week. Greg knows not to push my buttons, he knows I’ll do my best work without him micromanaging,” He said.

Michael nodded. “So, no more repeats of the can of beans incident?” He asked.

“Listen, Bartlett was asking for it. You pay my overtime or you stop wasting my time. ‘sides, I missed anyway.”  

Michael chuckled. “You’re an idiot,” He said.  

Jon grinned roguishly. “I’ve never been good at swallowing bullshit, you know that. You’re the people person,” He said.

The waitress came by to drop off their plates, Michael quietly thanking her before popping one of those fries in his mouth. “Hot!” He waved off his mouth as he hurriedly chewed, his older brother snickering quietly. “… But good, almost as good as Em’s.”  

“Mmhmm, what did I tell you? Just don’t burn your mouth again,” Jon said, taking a bite out of his burger.

Michael ‘mmhmm’d’ as he took a deep drink of root beer to soothe his burnt tongue. “So how’s Lola doing? Think you’ll take that road trip across country to meet Marilyn and the kids soon?” He asked.

Jon’s chewing stopped and Michael sighed. “When did you break up?” He asked.

“Two weeks ago,” Jon said after swallowing, “she freaked out a bit when I brought up the road trip and I saw our relationship wasn’t going anywhere worth a damn. We’re still friends… hopefully. I’ll make the trip myself when Sammy’s summer break starts. How’s she doing? First year of highschool treating her well?”  

Michael nodded as he cut a piece from his fish. “She’s a good kid, I think being on the gymnastics team is helping. She can base a three high now,” He said.

“Really? … Small fry, you know I don’t know what a three high is.”  

Michael fished his phone out of his pocket, flipping through several photos before turning the phone around to show his fifteen year old daughter with another girl on her shoulders, and then another girl standing on top. Jon whistled. “Damn! She’s one tough kid. Pity any guy that thinks he can push her around,” He said.

“Well…” Michael paused for a second before he nodded. “Yeah. She can probably kick my ass now if she wanted. But she won’t, she’s a great kid.” Michael slipped his phone back in his pocket. “Bit stubborn though. Thinks she’s older than she is.”  

“That’s my girl,” Jon chuckled, “Always stand up to the man. How are the little ones?”   

“Not when the man’s her father,” Michael barely suppressed rolling his eyes, “You can be a bad example sometimes. Kailey’s loving first grade, she keeps trying to bring home all her friends. And Tricia’s going to daycare now, since Marilyn’s back to work. Misses her like crazy.”

Jon sighed. “Man, I hate living so far away from you and your family. These girls are growing up whenever I blink.”

“Tell me about it. It feels like Samantha should be the one in first grade, not Kailey. Time flies when you’re not paying attention,” Michael’s eyes twinkled as he smiled. “They can’t wait to see you again though. Especially Sammy.”

Jon perked up before he picked his burger back up. “Eat up, small fry. You can crash on my futon tonight, save the money on the hotel room,” He said.

Michael groaned. “Please tell me you got a new one, yours smells like something died in it…” he trailed off his eyes landed on the TV. “Huh, that’s unfortunate.”  

“Hmmm?” Jon glanced up at the news report, the footage showing some sort of wild man struggling and twitching as he was bound down to a stretcher. “Oh shit, rabies. Didn’t think humans still got that.”

Michael shrugged. “Just takes an animal bite. Disease can take years to incubate if the wound’s far enough from the head- hope that EMT’s inoculated,” He grimaced as the man spat at the face of one of the medics. “Jesus, can they even show that on TV?”

“Probably good for ratings.”

~*~

Michael wasn’t even sure what woke him up at first. He blinked blearily, instinctively grabbing his phone and turning it on. The screen flashed 2:21 AM at his face and the sudden impact of light was enough to drag him from his doziness.  

Then he heard someone pounding at the door and a woman screaming.

“Ohmygod, let me in please! He’s coming! Help! He’s gonna kill me! Help!”  

Michael bolted for the door, whipping it open to have a woman soaked in blood collapse in his arms. Michael caught a glimpse of someone coming down the hall and immediately dragged the woman inside, slamming the door behind them and twisting the deadbolt shut. “Jon! Jon, wake up! Help me over here!” He shouted.

Jon came out from his bedroom, pulling a shirt on as he flipped on the light. “What the hell is going… on… here…”  

Michael dragged the woman over to the couch and sat her down. Her upper arm and shoulder were mangled, ripped open and her blood soaking the threadbare couch she was laid on. “Oh fuck, Jon, call 911,” He said, grabbing onto his pillow and ripping the pillowcase off, pressing it against the bleeding. “Miss, stay awake. You’re going to be fine. My name’s Michael, what’s yours?”

The girl’s head lolled to the side as she tried to focus her eyes onto Michael. “Em… Emma, I’m Emma. Just getting home from a shift… some crazy b-bastard just sunk his teeth into me… there’s so many outside… am I gonna die?”  

“No, no,” Michael reassured her as he pressed harder against the gushing wound, “You’re gonna be fine, Emma. My brother’s calling for help right now. An ambulance is going to come, and you’re going to be just fine.”  

“What do you mean you can’t send someone right now?! You’re fucking 911, get someone here! There is a girl bleeding out over here!” Jon looked ready to pitch his phone across the room before he froze by the window. “Shit, Michael, better take a look!”  

Michael managed to crane his neck back far enough to see Jon ripping open the curtains and his heart nearly stopped.  

There was at least a dozen people out there, hobbling around and looking just wrong with how their heads were angled on their necks and how they walked. Jon’s face went nearly as white as Emma’s and he swallowed, lifting the phone back to his ear. “Is this happening everywhere? There’s some freaks outside, I don’t know what’s wrong with them but something’s not right… all right, I’m on thirty-second street, where the hell is the nearest emergency room, I’ll take her myself… okay, thanks. Stay safe.” Jon hung up and looked over at Michael. “Okay then. Michael, get your shoes on. I’m getting my gun.”  

Michael managed to wrap the pillowcase around Emma’s ripped up flesh the best he could before scrambling to throw on some jeans and shoes. Jon walked out a second later, putting on a jacket before he grabbed his keys. “Grab her, I got your back,” He said.  

Michael nodded as he picked up Emma, the girl now bordering on unconscious as he cradled her in his arms. She couldn’t have been much older than twenty, her face now almost a shade of gray. “She said the guy that did this to her was in the hall,” Michael warned.

Jon nodded before he undid the deadbolt and cracked open the door. A second’s pause felt like a lifetime before Jon turned back and nodded. “He’s gone. Let’s book it.”  

The pair walked out of the building, Michael just a few steps behind Jon as they hurried over to his car. Jon paused for a moment before pointing towards the dumpster. “Over there,” He hissed.  

Michael looked up to see someone facing the dumpsters, their head slumped to face the ground as they remained unrealistically still. Jon swallowed before he unlocked the doors, opening the back one and gesturing for Michael to get in. Lowering Emma down so she could sit in the middle, the woman’s groaning being one of the few indicators she was still alive, Michael crawled in after her and resumed applying pressure to the wound. It seemed to be working, or at least Michael hoped it was.

Jon slammed the door behind them and the man’s head shot up, their body twisting around towards the source of the noise and Michael’s blood ran cold. That man wasn’t just wrong, he was gross. Flesh flapped off his exposed cheekbone, the right eye dangling from the socket. His remaining eye was bloodshot and swollen, but it was focused right on Jon, and with a hiss the stranger started stumbling across the parking lot.  

Jon froze for a second until Michael cracked the door and shouted, “Move your ass!”  

That got him moving again, the older brother practically diving into the driver’s seat and his car only turning over twice before revving up. With a screech of the tires Jon tore out of the parking lot, nearly slamming into that stranger who just continued to watch them go as they tore down the streets.

The dark streets were occasionally broken up by more people shambling about, all of them with the same bloodshot eyes and the rotting flesh. Jon nearly ran over two more of them that just refused to move, like they didn’t even acknowledge the danger, only barely screeching by getting into an accident with cars that were just as much in a hurry. Michael just watched the streets fly by, the only person he saw that didn’t look like a mess was a street artist working on their newest piece on the brick wall of a hardware store. Idiot kids doing idiot things, what else was new.  

There was no parking left in the emergency room parking lot, so Jon just stopped his car as close as he could to the entrance and bolted out of the car, Michael picking up Emma again as they hurried into the emergency room.  

The nurse up front took one look and spouted out, “Shit, another one!?” She got to her feet and helped Emma to a chair, the girl groaning and relieving Michael that she was still alive. “Who is she?”

“Emma,” Jon swallowed, “She lives just a few apartments down from mine, in Wellbrook Apartments. Came in freaking all kinds of out, bleeding like this. Said some guy attacked her.”  

Michael just shook his head. “What the hell is going on out there?”  

“I don’t know, but thank you for bringing her,” The nurse snapped her fingers to get the attention of some exhausted looking medical staff.  

Emma grabbed Jon’s, scaring him half to death. “… Feed…” With shaking hands Emma grabbed the collection of keys and Hello Kitty key chains on her belt, freed them and slapped them into Jon’s hand, “Feed Barley. Please.”  

“I will,” Jon said, giving her uninjured shoulder a pat. This seemed to satisfy her and she let herself be taken away by the medical staff.  

The nurse glanced at the two. “Either of you hurt?” She asked. When she got a shake of the head from both of the brothers, she just dashed off, leaving them alone.  

Jon gripped the keys in his hands before he headed out the door, Michael right behind him. “She used what might’ve been her last words to tell you to feed her pet?” He asked.  

Jon laughed. “You’re never going to be the dad that’ll get Sammy a puppy,” He said as he hurried into his car. Michael got up in the passenger seat this time, not looking back to see the bloodstain.

As the pair drove back, Michael saw that the street artist was gone, a smear of blood on the ground where he was, his picture of what looked like a black lotus flower only half complete. He just shook his head as they made their way through bizarre streets to get back home.

The stranger in the parking lot earlier was gone, although neither man tried to focus too hard on the blob of flesh on the ground that may have been his dangling eyeball. They walked into the apartment building silently, Jon gripping Emma’s keys in his hands. “And I think this is her place,” He finally said as he stopped in front of a different door.

He put the key in the lock and turned it, poking his head inside to see a positively enormous German Shepherd sitting right in the kitchen, his head cocked to the side as the person on the other side of the door was certainly not his owner.  

Michael looked in and nearly choked. “Doesn’t your building have a weight limit on dogs?” He asked.

“We do, no one cares. Here, Barley,” Jon squatted down and offered his hand forward. “Come here, boy. Your momma’s gonna be back soon, but I’ll take care of you until then.”

Barley hesitantly stepped forward, his black snout giving Jon’s hand a sniff before his floppy pink tongue slipped out the side of his mouth and he plopped back on his haunches.  

Well, Jon would do until his owner got home, Barley supposed.

Chapter Two

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