azombiewrites: (War of the Worlds - Tv Series)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: Dance on Through
Fandom: War of the Worlds (TV Series)
Genre: Hurt/comfort, Horror, Science Fiction.
Rating: PG
Main Characters: Lt. Col. Paul Ironhorse, Debi McCullough, Dr. Suzanne McCullough, Dr. Harrison Blackwood and Norton Drake.
Disclaimers: Based on the characters created by Greg Strangis.
Challenge: Written for The [livejournal.com profile] spook_me Multi-Fandom Halloween Ficathon 2015.
Prompt: Boogeyman
Picture Prompts: #1 and #2
Author's Notes: Story title snagged from the song 'Dance on Through' by The Human Beinz.
Chapter Word Count: 6,801
Total Word Count: 30,738
Status: Complete

Summary: Responding to alien transmissions, the Blackwood Project find themselves embroiled in the legend of the Boogeyman. Children are disappearing, abducted during their thirteenth year. The local inhabitants are certain a boogeyman is behind their disappearance but Blackwood believes the aliens are involved. When Debi, in her thirteenth year, is threatened, Ironhorse risks his life to keep her safe.





Dance on Through
Chapter Four



Appearing in front of Ironhorse, a magician’s trick, it stood tall, cloak drifting behind it, movement formed, no breeze felt. Ironhorse struggled to a stop, heels scraping across the floor, balance shifting forward, able to stay upright. Debi slapped up against him, before falling back, her grip on Ironhorse’s belt keeping her off the floor. Hearing Debi’s fear, her breath quick and harsh, Ironhorse stepped back, a slow movement, gaze held firm, unable and unwilling to look away.

Its arm snapped forward, long fingers curling around Ironhorse’s throat, pulling him away from Debi. Body lifted, space created beneath his feet. So much like last time, Ironhorse suddenly aware of what was about to happen, not looking forward to it, not wanting to lose consciousness, not again, certain his skull wouldn’t survive any more blows; one concussion on top of another not always a good thing.

The thing paused, its face shifting forward within the cloak, the shadows retreating. It came closer. Ironhorse tried to move away, turn his head . . . anything. Couldn’t move within its tight grip. It lifted its thumb, pressing it into Ironhorse’s right cheek, using it to turn Ironhorse’s head away, forcing his eyes to look somewhere else. Heart pounding, imagination running wild, Ironhorse unsure of what was about to happen . . .

Debi was looking up at him, her features frozen with fear, her fingers still wrapped around his belt, still holding on . . . still trusting him, even in his current predicament. Whatever was about to happen, he didn’t want her to see it. About to voice a warning, to tell her to look away . . . tell her to let go and run . . . to follow his Grandfather . . .

It tucked its face against Ironhorse’s throat, drew in a long breath through its flat nose, sniffing the sweat on Ironhorse’s skin, the touch turning Ironhorse’s stomach. It snatched its head back, screaming in anger and frustration. Grip held firm, it pushed Ironhorse away, turned his head back, holding him up, their gazes level.

Words spoken, the tone filled with silent anger. “Where is he?”

Taken by surprise, Ironhorse frowned in confusion. What the hell?

“The man who protects you. Where is he?”

Movement on the other side of the thing, not the children. A flicker of blue denim. Its grip around Ironhorse’s throat grew stronger, tightening, pulling him closer, putrid breath ghosting across Ironhorse’s skin. Pain began to crawl along the back of his skull, pushing deep, words whispered so only he could hear.

“If I can’t take you, I will take the child.”

You kill people.

Not thinking, only reacting to the words, Ironhorse struck upward, palm of his left hand slamming up against the thing’s jaw. Its head snapped back, slowly returned to its original position, a smile creeping over its face. Ironhorse gripped the handle of the knife, drawing it back . . .

It tutted, tongue clicking against its teeth.

It was going to retaliate. “Debi! Let go. Now!”

He could only hope she had listened, done as he’d asked. No time to find out, already moving through the air, his body hitting the wall. Only thrown a short distance but there was enough strength used to make it painful, the wall cracking beneath the onslaught. He felt his shoulder give under the impact, grateful when it moved back into place. He could only go one way; down. Ironhorse fell, collapsing onto the floor, the knife falling from his fingers. Lurching up onto his knees, he tilted, falling forward, hands reeling, searching for something to stop his body from going back down. He had to fight back . . . trained to fight back, to defend . . . Debi.

Something struck his right side, pulling the air from his lungs, a painful gasp, throwing him off balance once more. Bones giving in, cracking, the pain tearing through his torso, Ironhorse landed on his back. He curled his knees up, rolling onto his undamaged side. Fuck, that hurt. Eyes tearing with the pain, making every attempt to get back up, Ironhorse searched for its position. It was moving in toward him, intent on creating more damage.

“Leave him alone!”

Debi went to his defence, Ironhorse not sure, if he should be angry, fearful or damn proud. It was a stupid move on her part but he couldn’t help but admire her courage. Debi a distraction, it turned away from Ironhorse, attention now on someone else. Body cramping with the pain in his chest, his lungs fighting for breath, Ironhorse watched, waiting for an opportunity.

It moved quickly, distancing itself from Ironhorse, no longer interested, as it grew closer to Debi, hovering over her. Debi stepped back, nowhere to go, her back against the wall. So close to Ironhorse but so far away.

Debi screamed.

It took Debi’s hand, pulling her away from Ironhorse and down the long hallway. Debi fought back, trying to pull herself from its grip, too young to have enough strength to break its hold. Even if she had the strength, she wouldn’t have managed it, the thing too strong.

“No . . .”

Aware of the danger, the threat of more physical violence, Ironhorse looked for his battle knife. Treacherous fingers wrapping around the hilt of the knife, Ironhorse ignored the pain and shifted his body until he had the wall against his own back. Using the wall as a crutch, he used his knees and pushed himself up. He clenched his jaw against the pain circulating through his side, chest tight with his struggles to take a deep enough breath to get air into his lungs.

Fear fuelling his body with adrenaline, Ironhorse moved. How he managed it, he didn’t know; too much pain, too little breath, his body weak. Condition of his body not stopping him, Ironhorse kept moving, now close enough to strike. He reached forward, free hand grabbing its left shoulder. Digging his feet in, Ironhorse pulled it back and with his right hand, he drove the knife into its back; contradicting movement, the thing moving backward, the knife moving forward, his aim accurate, the blade cutting through what Ironhorse hoped was a spine. Making the decision to leave the knife where it was, Ironhorse turned toward Debi.

A deep growl in its throat, it let go of Debi and reached behind its back . . .

Not waiting to see what happened next, Ironhorse grabbed Debi’s wrist and pulled her toward him. Turned her away from it and pushed her forward, ahead of him, Ironhorse keeping his body between Debi and the thing behind him.

“Run.”

Debi hesitated, fingers of her right hand reaching for the belt around Ironhorse’s waist. Taking her hand in his, Ironhorse began to run, giving Debi no choice but to keep up. He could feel each step, cracked ribs moving in a way nature had never meant them to move, the pain becoming almost unbearable. Breath already short, it caught in his chest . . . so close to the group of children. No time to stop, not willing to look back . . . not willing to take the time to slow down, allow Debi the courtesy of closing her eyes.

Ironhorse kept her in front of his body, urging her forward when she did begin to slow down. About to pass the small horde, Ironhorse shifted his position, putting himself between Debi and the kids. He felt their limbs, their shoulders brush against his side . . .

A bone, numbing chill shot through his body, joints in his limbs seizing. Ironhorse stumbled, fell, landing on already damaged ribs. The coldness in his body quickly forgotten, Ironhorse cried out when the pain exploded across his side and chest, fractures turning into clean breaks; bones snapping so loud Ironhorse could hear the sound over the blood rushing past his ears.

Pain the center of his attention, Ironhorse allowed his head to slump forward, forehead bouncing off the floor. Used the last of his remaining breath to curse his luck, their situation, his failure. Voice loud, the language colourful, he swore until he had nothing left. He could no longer breathe. Silently cursed his stupidity, wasting his breath for no other reason than to let out his frustrations. Losing control of your emotions in the midst of battle was stupid and risky and he’d done just that, his training thrown out the window.

Damn, stupid idiot.

Cursed himself one more time just for the hell of it.

Debi, his only reason to keep going, pulled at his shoulder. She was yelling at him to get up, tears sounding in her voice, her fear heavy in her tone. She must have thought he was leaving her . . . again. He tried to move. Couldn’t. It felt like his side was on fire, ribs set alight and left to burn. Wasn’t even sure he wanted to move, too aware, knowledge gained from previous experience . . . the pain not always worth it.

Words fighting to break through his barrier, Debi continued to yell, did something that tore at Ironhorse’s heart . . . she began to beg.

“Please, Colonel. Please don’t leave me. Please!”

Debi was worth it. He had to keep going . . . for her. This was who he was. He would die to protect her. Felt damn sure, that was how this was going to end, with his death . . . with Debi’s, it was inevitable but he would stay alive for as long as he could. Keep Debi alive for as long as he could and when the time came . . .

“Please, you can’t leave me here. Colonel, please.”

Fingers wrapped around his ankle, the pressure becoming painful, the touch so cold he could feel it through his jeans, the leather of his boot. It wasn’t Debi, he knew that much, the twelve-year-old in front of him, doing everything she could to get him moving. Fear gripped his heart, the anxiety biting painfully. It was so hard to breathe. Curiosity was going to get him killed . . . he wasn’t a damn cat; lifted his head, the movement slow, his head aching with the effort. About to look back over his shoulder, Debi’s warning, her voice telling him not to look, stopped him, his imagination taking over.

Ironhorse felt his body shift, moving backward, a violent tug on his ankle. Shit. Pain spiked through his side, his chest. He clenched his jaw, struggled to breathe through the pain, his head falling forward, smacking against the floor. Managed to take a short, quick breath through his nose, drawing a foul odor into his sinuses. It was gut wrenching, a smell of piss and shit . . . Closed his eyes, tried not to think about what these kids had gone through before they . . .

Debi screamed at him, revealing her own fear and frustration. “Get up!”

Found it so difficult to disobey, her fear driving him forward. He pulled back, drawing his knee up beneath him, the hold on his ankle reluctant to let him go. No option. No time to be careful, Ironhorse rolled over onto his back. Tried to ignore the pain squeezing his chest, a difficult thing to do. Lifted his head, looked down at his leg. Breath catching in his throat, he regretted his decision to move, wishing he’d stayed where he was, the image in front of him burned into his memory; he would never forget it.

She looked frail, skin so pale, limbs so thin but her grip was strong, her fingers long. Hair blonde, her blue eyes now black, mouth open wide, her scream silent. Easy to recognise, so much like Debi. This child’s face was on one of the missing children posters on the table back at the Dance on Through Motel. If he didn’t do something, if he didn’t stop Debi’s possible future from becoming a reality . . . she looked so much like Debi.

Another tug on his leg, so brutal he could feel it in his hip. Stomach churning at thought, Ironhorse drew his other leg back and kicked out at the child, heel of his boot striking her forehead, her skin shredding away from bone. Leg dropping back to the floor, Ironhorse could only stare, guilt ripping through his chest. It didn’t matter she looked dead, chest so still. It didn’t matter she intended to cause him harm. None of it mattered; he’d caused injury to a child.

Moving closer, she snapped her jaws at him, revealing small, white teeth. Fingers crept along his leg. Swallowing the guilt, he kicked out a second time. Her left cheek collapsed beneath the blow. He hated this. Kicked out again, her neck snapping. She let go, fingers uncurling from his ankle. Right cheek resting against her shoulder, she sat back in a crouched position and stared back at him, waiting.

Ironhorse felt numb, the pain in his side, his chest a distant memory.

You kill people.

If there had been any chance of bringing them back . . . if he managed to kill the Boogeyman, return the kids to their families . . . if there was any life left in them . . .

“Colonel! Get up!”

Damn pushy.

It wasn’t easy. Body trembling with emotion, Ironhorse struggled, fought damn hard to get back up onto his feet. A simple thing so hard to do. Debi helped, keeping him balanced as he wrestled his way back up, pulling him away from the group of children. They were watching him, black eyes staring at him. It made him uncomfortable . . . unwell. Standing on unstable legs, his balance crooked, Ironhorse felt dizzy, still nauseated, head aching . . . a tight vice squeezing his skull, pain in his side returning with a vengeance. He raised his right hand, palm against his forehead and tried to take a breath. A small amount of success, air trickling into his lungs.

He jerked with surprise when he felt something against his waist, realized it was Debi taking up position, holding onto his belt. Wasn’t sure if he could handle it, pain snapping at his side every time she would pull at the belt. Slow to comprehend, he finally registered the fact Debi was standing next to his injured side. If she did pull on the belt, the pressure would be against his other side. Damn kid was smart, very aware of what was happening around her.

Far enough away from the pack of children, Ironhorse decided to take a moment. Told himself he needed to make some ground rules, instil in Debi the need for her survival, her life more important than his. Ignored the fact that he didn’t think he could go any further, ready to drop and die where he was. He had to make her see reason.

“Debi,” said Ironhorse, stopping their movement, turning Debi so she was facing him. He wanted to lean over, be at the same level so he could look her in the eye. Knew that if he did, he would keep going down, aware he wouldn’t be able to get back up. “The next time I go down, don’t wait for me. Keep going. Follow my Grandfather, he’ll show you the way out.”

“No.” Debi shifted her gaze, looking back at the children. “No.”

Decided honesty was his best chance. “Debi, I’m--”

“No.” Turning away from him, Debi pulled on his belt, Ironhorse automatically taking a step to follow her.

Ironhorse grabbed her arm, forcing her to stop, turning her body but she refused to look at him. “Debi--”

“We have to keep going,” said Debi.

“We can’t. I can’t. Not like--”

“Your Grandfather will be waiting.”

Deep breath.

Except he couldn’t take one.

Small, shuttering breath instead.

“Debi--”

“I like him.”

Damn it.

“You’re starting to sound like Blackwood.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“No!”

He had expected tears, an expression of fear. Not this. Not her ability to behave so much like Blackwood, her stubborn betrayal leaving him breathless. Ironhorse looked back down the hallway. The children still gathered in a group, returned to their previous positions, bodies swaying, their heads twitching, now impartial, interest in Ironhorse lost. Turned to his right. Saw his Grandfather standing a short distance away, waiting . . . waiting for them.

“Move it, soldier!”

Snapping his head back toward Debi, Ironhorse narrowed his eyes. Unfazed, she looked back at him. He knew what she was doing. Too damn smart for her own good. She was taking on the role of the protector. That wasn’t her job. It was his. He didn’t need protecting . . . He could see the doubt filling her eyes, worried she’d done the wrong thing. Ironhorse wanted to wipe the doubt away. He gave in, caved under that expression. Kids, they were worse than civilians.

“You’re right.” For now. “We stay together.”

“Can we please go home now?”

We can try.

Not trusting his voice, Ironhorse nodded, wrapped his arm around his broken ribs and began to move down the hallway toward his Grandfather, following when he turned and walked away from them. They moved slowly, not fast enough, Ironhorse unable to increase his pace. Debi, more patient than he deserved, stayed with him. She didn’t drag him forward, not wanting to force him into moving beyond his endurance, encouraging him, soft-spoken words, her tone confident in his abilities.

Every step caused a stab of pain to flow through him, gathering with intensity across his ribcage. Tried to hide his limp, his entire right side still burning, his leg giving way beneath the weight of the pain. Breath short, his lungs empty, the effort to take in air too much of an effort. He knew he was close to breaking point . . . too close. With every step, all he wanted to do was stop, collapse into a heap and stay there. His body kept hesitating, taking longer each time, each step becoming too difficult, the pain becoming unbearable. He felt light-headed, his strength ebbing away. He just needed to last a little longer; last long enough to get Debi back home.

His Grandfather stopped in the middle of the hallway, turned his head, gaze staring at the wall. Not just a wall . . . the outline of a door. The way out? Ironhorse paused, waited, mind expectant, body weak. If it came back now, when they were so close . . .

“Debi . . .” said Ironhorse.

“No.”

Damn it.

His Grandfather smiled.

Was everyone was against him?

Knew if he stopped to think about it . . . then yes, everyone was against him.

“Stay behind me,” said Ironhorse, not caring that his tone reflected his anger. Damn civilians just didn’t give a crap about orders.

“You’re angry with me.”

“This isn’t the time.”

“I’m sorry,” said Debi. “I don’t want you to die.”

He knew it was wrong to ignore her but they were running out of time. If that thing was going to come back, it will be now, when they were so close to a means of escape. Ironhorse breathed through his nose, little air getting into his lungs. No smell of decay, his nausea remaining in its current state; very unpleasant. The Boogeyman not close, it was time to move and they had to move quickly.

Clenching his jaw, Ironhorse took a step forward . . .

A rush of hot air behind them. They staggered forward, the air a physical movement, carrying enough strength to create a reaction. Ironhorse stumbled as he looked back over his shoulder. It was there, standing so still, its cloak a soft wave of motion; the small group of children gathered behind it. Holding Ironhorse’s battle knife in its right hand, it tilted its head to the side, an aggressive tick made.

Ironhorse pulled Debi’s hand from the belt around his waist, pushing her toward the door. “Go!”

“Colonel?” She didn’t go far, quickly moving back to his side, her refusal to leave him fuelling his anger.

“Damn it, Debi. Do what I tell you!”

Tears in her eyes, Debi let go and ran to the door. Ironhorse tried to stay close, to keep up with her. He staggered to the wall and using it as a physical support, limped his way to where Debi was stubbornly waiting for him by the door. Her expression forced the anger to drain away, guilt and regret nudging their way into his soul. He shouldn’t have yelled at her, nothing he could do about it now . . . always making people angry. If they just did, what he asked. Why did they always have to argue, refuse to obey a simple instruction, especially when all he was trying to do was save their lives. Civilians.

She was still crying when he nudged her aside, gentle in his intent. Fingers gripping the doorknob, he glanced back, the thing still standing there, still watching. What was it waiting for? The metal was cold, chilling his flesh, the feeling walking the length of his arm. He opened the door. More afraid of keeping Debi behind him, Ironhorse took her arm and pushed her into the room, stepping into the dark space behind her and closed the door.

The shadows were pale, faint enough to allow them to see. His Grandfather stood on the other side of the room, back to a wall. Ironhorse watched as his Grandfather turned, took a step and disappeared through the wall. It had to be the way out. This was it. It was now or never.

“Go. And don’t wait for me.”

She looked up at him.

“I’ll be right behind you,” said Ironhorse. “I promise.”

No hesitation, Debi followed his instructions, slowly making her way across the room. Her footsteps soft, she stumbled. What little breath he could take in caught in his throat. Ironhorse stepped forward, away from the door. Debi regained her balance and continued, reaching the wall in a matter of seconds but it had felt like hours. Still stubborn, she turned around to face the room . . . faced Ironhorse and waited, an obstinate expression on her face.

Vulgarity on the tip of his tongue, Ironhorse stepped forward and carefully made his own way to the other side of the room, feet catching on the floor every time he looked behind him, gaze searching for the threat he knew was coming. His lungs ached to take in a deep breath, anxiety causing them to work overtime, chest hitching. Surprised when he made it to Debi’s side without any hindrance other than his own body.

What in the hell was it waiting for?

Reaching out, a tentative touch, Ironhorse splayed the fingers of his left hand against the wall, a large dark stain beneath his fingers. He expected it to give way under his touch, for his hand to fall through, instead, the wall felt warm, peaceful. . . solid. This couldn’t be the way out. He let out a breath of irritation and defeat. His Grandfather had led them to a dead end.

Run

Run where? Into a solid wall? Then it hit him, a hard slap of understanding. They couldn’t just step through it, they had to take a running leap of faith. He was convinced, not sure, if Debi would be. He turned to face her, a quick glance around the room first before settling his gaze on her.

“Debi,” said Ironhorse.

She looked up at him, still so trustful, even after his show of anger. “I don’t care if you promise, Colonel. I don’t want to leave without you.”

Tried to keep a calm facade. “We can’t just step through the wall. We have to run and jump . . .”

Her expression changed, confusion taking control. She looked away from him, taking a moment, allowing her brain to try to comprehend his words. He’d done it often enough himself, hard to think when someone was staring back at you. Taking too long, Ironhorse gripped her shoulders with a soft embrace, a gentle shake to gain her attention. She stumbled, her balance shifting. Something was wrong.

“Debi?”

She turned her gaze back to him. Blinked, the movement so slow, her eyes a darker shade of blue . . . too dark, a change of colour.

“I don’t feel well,” said Debi.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

They were running out of time.

They had to leave. Now.

It made no sound, Ironhorse only recognising its company when it shifted through the shadows, its form darker than the shades of black and grey. Ironhorse stepped forward, drawing Debi behind his body, his last act, a final attempt to protect her. He reached for a weapon, the gun tucked into his belt, fingers grasping the butt of the Beretta, grateful he hadn’t lost it earlier. Knew it wouldn’t be any help, not against the thing standing in front of him but . . .

Ironhorse had two choices; take the risk to try to escape or he could end it here and now. He didn’t want Debi to turn, had promised her he wouldn’t let her end up like those other kids. Ironhorse knew he wouldn’t survive another confrontation. Wasn’t sure Debi would be coherent enough to take a running jump through the wall while it was distracted with him. He wasn’t sure about anything anymore . . . no longer certain he could get Debi back to her mother. Decided it might be best if he did the right thing . . .

A bullet to her brain, a quick and painless death . . . if Debi wasn’t already beyond help.

It clicked its tongue, tilted its head.

Ironhorse understood; it knew what he was thinking. It would stop him before he could pull the trigger. It would stop them if they tried to escape through the wall. Failure heavy, his shoulders slumped, his body sagging. It was over.

Smiling, it stepped closer. Waited.

He knew what it was waiting for. Debi was turning. It didn’t need to do anything, not unless Ironhorse tried to carry out his intentions of making it all so much easier for Debi. Even more difficult, he had to do it without it or Debi knowing. If Debi came to the realisation that after everything they’d been through, he was going to kill her . . .

It rushed forward. Ironhorse raised his weapon in response, an automatic reaction, grimacing when the movement caused the pain to rip through his side.

It stopped, so close, hesitant. Something wasn’t right.

“Shoot it in the head,” said Debi, her voice hoarse, sounding like an experienced smoker.

He couldn’t take his eyes off the thing in front of him. Couldn’t look at Debi. So quick, it would reach Ironhorse in the blink of an eye. “It’s not a zombie.”

Its head twitched as it took a step back, its gaze shifting to the side, away from Ironhorse.

No, it couldn’t be that simple.

A flash of blue denim and grey hair in his peripheral . . .

It feared his Grandfather?

If it was so afraid . . . his Grandfather capable of doing something to stop it. Why didn’t he do anything to stop it? Ironhorse felt sick with confusion, too many questions without answers.

“Shoot it in the head.”

He had to do something. If he could distract it, long enough to turn the gun on Debi . . . Ironhorse pulled the trigger, his aim true, the bullet smashing through its forehead. It staggered back, fell, collapsed onto the floor.

Seconds passed, Ironhorse fighting his balance, his own body tilting, the recoil of the gunshot almost enough to send him to his knees, shock and adrenaline keeping him upright. He waited. No real understanding as to why. He should be moving, escaping through the wall . . .

A basic necessity to be sure, Ironhorse needed to know it was dead. He had to know it couldn’t continue. A strong need to understand it couldn’t move on to another town. He couldn’t leave, not until he was confident it couldn’t take any more children. He needed to know he hadn’t failed, that Debi would be safe . . .

It didn’t move, so still, its cloak motionless.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” said Ironhorse, the words whispered, afraid if he spoke too loud, it would move, retaliate, kill him, leaving Debi on her own to turn. He couldn’t believe a bullet to the head had killed it. Couldn’t believe it had been that easy . . .

“I told you.”

Pulling his gaze away, Ironhorse looked back at Debi. She looked pale, sick, a thin veil of sweat on her skin. Pain etched in her features, her body shook and her legs trembled. Aware of what was about to happen, Ironhorse moved, not quickly enough, Debi collapsing onto the floor.

No. Please. No.

Dropping his weapon, Ironhorse fell to his knees beside Debi and cradled her in his arms, against his chest. He checked for a pulse . . . if she died now, so close . . . Still alive, heartbeat so slow, so weak. No time left. They couldn’t stay any longer. Ironhorse could feel his own weakness, still dizzy, the vertigo stronger than it had been, the headache still living at the back of his skull, the nausea still rippling through his stomach. Killing the thing hadn’t been enough, this place, this environment draining the life from their bodies.

Preparing himself, Ironhrose took a breath, not enough air getting into his lungs. It was going to be brutal, he knew that, no doubt more painful than he could ever expect but he had no choice; Debi dying just a little bit more with every passing second. Using his knees, Ironhorse pushed himself up, taking Debi with him, her body held in his arms like a small child. Pain erupted in his side, clamping around his chest, a small whimper escaping. He could feel the darkness creeping toward him and breaking through the edges of his consciousness . . . closed his eyes . . .

Not now.

Snubbing the pain, the need to fall down and stay down, Ironhorse took a moment, allowed his body to gain control over the threat of a loss of consciousness. Limbs trembling, legs making their own threats, the darkness retreated, clarity returning once more. The pain grew, pounding against his ribs; worried he’d caused more damage, sharp bone tearing through muscle or worse, his lung.

It didn’t matter, so ready to give his own life.

Ironhorse stepped back, giving himself enough room and before he could think about what he was about to do, what the result would be to his own injury, he made a silent plea and ran toward the wall. It seemed to open up before him, giving him a glimpse into another world . . . his own world.

Heart clenching with relief, unaware of the movement behind him, Ironhorse jumped through the door created. Breath torn from his lungs, he had only one thought; this was going to hurt like a bastard-son-of-a-bitch.

The distance short, Ironhorse already turning his body; if he landed on his feet, he wouldn’t be able to stay upright beneath the weight of Debi and the pain gorging itself on his insides; his intention to land on his back, Debi protected, kept safe from injury.

He could feel her warm breath against his throat; hear the scream of surprise from her mother . . . feel the pain explode when he landed on his back. Pretty damn sure, he’d blacked out for a second or two. Slid across the floor, the carpet rough beneath him, coming to a stop when his head slammed into something solid and unmovable. Damn. Almost as painful as the landing . . .

“Debi!” Suzanne moved forward, disregarded Ironhorse and tore her daughter from his embrace.

Tried to tell himself Suzanne was emotional, grateful to have her daughter back.

“Colonel,” said Norton.

Gaze following the direction of the voice, Ironhorse looked up. Grimaced when he found Norton’s features hovering above him. Realised the unmovable object was Gertrude. Swore. He’ll be in trouble if he caused any damage.

“Nice to have you back.”

It was nice to be back but he couldn’t pull in enough air to speak. Lungs already starving the landing hadn’t helped, only making things worse. He blinked, keeping his eyes open such a difficult task. Had to make sure Debi was all right. Couldn’t breathe. The pain beyond anything he’d endured previously, head and side screaming for attention, one trying to outdo the other. Panic bubbled inside his chest, the anxiety sending him into a different kind of hell, one he had never experienced.

“Colonel?”

He struggled to breath, to pull in a breath, even a small amount, anything that would satisfy his lungs. He knew his lungs weren’t the problem, his diaphragm seizing but he couldn’t stop the increasing panic. Everything hit him at once, physically and mentally, body crossing the line of accepted hostility; it could tolerate no more. He needed to relax and wait it out. His diaphragm would start working again.

“He’s hurt,” said Debi as she tried to pull herself from her mother’s arms, Suzanne reluctant to let her go.

Debi’s voice a great relief; she was going to be fine. Ironhorse closed his eyes.

An open palm on the side of his face. Not enough strength to open his eyes to see who it was. Didn’t really care; too busy trying to take in a breath. Couldn’t, the panic increasing. He thought he would die a violent death, a fate he’d accepted long ago. Didn’t think he would suffocate to death on the floor of dirty motel room because his damn diaphragm refused to work.

“Relax, Colonel,” said Blackwood, his right hand against Ironhorse’s cheek, a touch of encouragement.

He was trying. Still couldn’t breathe, each attempt causing the pain to stab through his side. His panic continued to grow, his limbs jerking with the effort. A subconscious movement, Ironhorse raised his arms, his hands, fingers clawing at his throat . . .

“Ironhorse!” Blackwood wrapped his hands around Ironhorse’s wrists, pulling them down, keeping them out of the way. “I’m sure you’ve been through something like this before. Relax. Small breaths.”

No. He hadn’t been through anything like this before. Hadn’t known what it was like to suffocate. The closest he’d come was in Vietnam when CS gas was used to try to draw the Viet Cong out into the open, a sudden change of wind direction sending Ironhorse and others into hell. The gas non-lethal it had caused disorientation, made it difficult to breathe . . . lives lost as a result, so many men unable to defend their positions. Ironhorse had been lucky, tucked away, hidden from the enemy . . .

Eyes snapping open, the memory unwelcomed, Ironhorse took a breath. Flinched back from Blackwood’s close proximity, breath catching, a cough rising up into his throat. He tried to swallow it down, a losing battle. The cough ripped from his throat, he could do nothing but grimace, eyes watering with the resulting pain. Ironhorse rolled onto his left side, curling his legs toward his chest, arms embracing his side.

“You’re okay,” said Blackwood.

No. He wasn’t. Not even sure he would be. Ironhorse took stock. Noticed he felt the same, vertigo and nausea still active, blow to the head the probable cause, Gertrude’s metal frame causing more damage. If he didn’t have a concussion before, he sure as hell had one now.

Blackwood reached beneath Ironhorse’s shoulders and tried to pull him up. He let go, shocked when Ironhorse cried out, grunting in pain when he fell back to the floor.

“Sorry,” said Blackwood.

“Just . . . leave me here.”

“No can do, Colonel. You’ll be more comfortable on the bed.”

“No . . . damn it, Blackwood,” said Ironhorse, desperation lacing his voice. “Please just . . . just give me a . . . damn minute.”

“Giving orders again, Colonel?”

Ironhorse glared at Blackwood, expression weak from pain. He saw the fear and worry in the man’s eyes, Blackwood trying to hide behind his words, failing miserably, his emotions clear, expressive.

“Where are you hurt?” said Blackwood as he patted Ironhorse’s shoulder, willing to wait but wanting more information.

“Ribs are . . . broken. Hard to breathe.”

Blackwood looked to the other side of the room, the man standing beside Norton fidgeting, nervous fingers worrying themselves into a knot. “Harold, is there a doctor in this town?”

“Ask him if he saw my son,” said Harold.

Ironhorse closed his eyes, hiding his emotions behind closed lids. Now wasn’t the time to reveal what he’d seen in that other place. A distraction needed, his own physical needs not enough, said something he knew would get everyone’s attention, including Harold.

“Debi needs a doctor,” said Ironhorse. “She’s sick.”

“I feel better now,” said Debi, finally managing a successful escape. She pulled away from her mother and rushed to Ironhorse’s side.

Ironhorse looked up at her, smiled. She smiled back at him. Debi did look better, her skin no longer pale, the sweat drying on her skin. The pain he had seen was gone, so was the fear, her eyes blue once again. She was okay, alive. He hadn’t failed her.

Looking up at Blackwood, Debi said something that had Ironhorse cursing softly, his words muted as he turned his face into the carpet, hiding his face from everyone. “The Colonel stopped breathing.”

Blackwood put a hand on Debi’s thin shoulder. “He’s fine now. He just had trouble breathing there for a minute.”

“Debi,” said Ironhorse, an attempt to deflate the situation. “Don’t . . .”

“No. He stopped breathing in there.” She pointed toward the wall. “For a few minutes I think. I thought he was dead. I thought he turned into a zombie.”

“Harold,” said Blackwood, voice snapping with fear. “Get a doctor. Now!”

Nodding, Harold turned away and walked out of the room.

Ironhorse decided he didn’t want to argue. He really wasn’t feeling well.

“Colonel, let’s get you up onto the bed. We can sit you up. It’ll be easier to breathe.”

Hands, arms gathered around his shoulders, lifting him with a strength he didn’t have. A short, sharp breath, Ironhorse gritted his teeth and clenched his jaw. He wasn’t ready, the need to stay still so strong. He didn’t want to move. They didn’t give him a choice. A stab of pain through his side, wrapping around his chest, a painful embrace. He whimpered, the pain too much.

“Sorry, Colonel,” said Blackwood.

Ironhorse wasn’t sure he was.

Balance tested, they raised him up onto his feet, his legs unable to take his weight. He didn’t need to. They walked him to the bed, his feet shuffling along the floor, Ironhorse struggling to help. Lost his vision, his awareness, his knees buckling . . .

. . . came back seconds later, his body already laid out on the bed, upper body resting against the head board. Sighing in relief, Ironhorse opened his eyes. Flinched away from the face too close to his own. Suzanne leaned over him, a curious expression on her face, her eyes full of emotion. She pressed her palms against his face, a hand on each side. Moving even closer, Ironhorse unsure of what she wanted, Suzanne touched her lips to his forehead, a gentle kiss. Embarrassed, he closed his eyes, opened them when she moved away, removing her lips from his skin, her hands from his face.

“Thank you,” said Suzanne. “You saved her life. Brought her back. Thank you.”

Incapable of finding his voice, Ironhorse could only nod, grimacing when the pain rolled through his skull.

“What happened in there?” said Blackwood, standing over the bed, looking down at Ironhorse.

A short breath, ribs protesting, Ironhorse tried to find his voice, about to speak, interrupted by Debi.

“We killed a fucking zombie,” said Debi.

“Fucking A,” said Ironhorse, closing his eyes, staying awake was becoming a difficult process.

“A zombie,” said Norton, wheeling Gertrude closer to the bed.

“As in ‘Dawn of the Dead’, Mr. Drake and we’ll have a conversation about that later.”

“You want to borrow the video?”

Ignored the question, his mind and body shutting down, Ironhorse allowed his thoughts to drift . . .





Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Chapter Five


Master Fan Fiction List

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