The marching band streamed down the hill in perfect lines. As they approached the grandstand, the drum major cued the players. The drums, trumpets, clarinets, and all the other instruments those high schoolers held proudly in their hands, burst into song. But it wasn’t an upbeat version of some popular pop hit or even an inspirational patriotic piece: They began playing the dark bars of a requiem.
My son was somewhere in that formation with his saxophone. It was always hard for me to pick him out, what with them all dressed in identical white and orange band uniforms—barrel chested coats and over-sized hats with orange and yellow plumes waving off the tops.
Even though I knew that my son had never practiced such a dismal tune, at first the haunting music didn’t seem out of place. It was a week before Halloween, after all. The streets were lined with proud parents, sitting on blankets and colorful folding chairs. Kids were playing in the nearby swing set and slides. Dads and moms held their cell phones out in front of them, recording the bleak tune.
But as I watched the crowd turn from cheering and excited to quiet and confused, I knew my hunch was right on the mark.
The slow, low dirge rolled through the leafless trees and chilled the fall air. Dead leaves danced around me, some prancing into the streets. The animated leaves somehow seemed ominous and I was oddly drawn to the lazy arcs they made in the breeze.
The leaves acted panicked, or at least alarmed. I doubt the leaves were retreating, fleeing the scene, desperately trying to catch a tail wind out of the park—but they might have been.
What a silly thought to have when I should have been focusing on my performing son.
I was near the edge of the street, anticipating being a good dad and videotaping as he marched by. But my cell phone dropped to my side as I watched the leaves and the eerie song filled my head. It had a puffy, hypnotic effect.
My wife stood beside me, her long black hair was bunched up in the hood of her orange sweatshirt, spilling out the sides. She had been beaming moments earlier, but now her expression was flat. I could tell she was trying to discern what the hell kind of music they were playing. My ten-year-old daughter, none the wiser, jumped up and starting clapping along, pigtails wildly bouncing out of tune.
The two lead girls holding the school banner marched past us and I barely noticed them. The half dozen or so flag girls paused right in front of us after that, and I noticed them. And no, I don’t mean I was ogling over them in their leotards, but I wasn’t captivated by a stunning flag show either. I was transfixed by their eyes.
Oval of grays.
That’s the only way I could explain what I saw. No pupils. No irises. Just cloudy voids, staring at nothing, probably. I looked at my wife, but she was too busy trying to locate her son, still being the proud parent.
I had checked out of that role.
The girls were twirling and spinning their flags while the band belted out the musical lament.
I nudged my wife. She had spotted Stephen and was waving, so I got the annoyed look. “Cindy, look at their eyes.”
Before I could explain, the tall thin blond, not four feet from us, flipped her flag over, gripping it like a lance, and charged. The pointed tip sunk into the chest of an elderly man sitting two people away from me, the silver staff tore through his green canvas chair back. The man choked and crumpled over.
The girl withdrew the makeshift spear; the flag was wet and clung to the slick pole. Her expression was unchanged. I jerked my daughter into my arms and pushed my wife away from the band. The music died off and was replaced by screaming families.
The band dispersed; each member on a hellish quest. Chaos exploded in the park.
I saw a brass tuba crumple as it struck a woman in the head, her body abruptly falling to a sitting position. Cymbals became spinning blades, slicing into victims. People were fleeing, hustling toward their cars or anywhere but the park.
The possessed killers didn’t have any expression on their faces-no remorse or even rage. I surmised the kids had to be under a hypnotic spell.
That’s when I noticed the drum major, still standing in the center of the road, still conducting. It was a chilling sight. He was like a statue with moving arms. I knew he had to be the key to all this insanity, but what could I do?
We fell back. I tripped over a toppled wheelchair. There was blood smeared on the seat and backrest.
To my right, a flute player sat perched on a large woman. At first glance, I thought he was performing CPR on her, but I hurled my breakfast when I realized he was driving his silver weapon into her chest over and over.
Vomit spewed all over my daughter, who was clinging to me, head pressed deep into my chest. I grabbed my wife by the arm and tried to take off. But she stopped, causing my arm to jerk.
“Stephen!” She screamed and looked back at the carnage.
I was so busy trying to save my family and get the hell out of there, I forgot one member of my family. My son. Where was he? Better still, what was he doing? I didn’t really want to know, but I scanned anyway.
People in white pants and orange coats were spread everywhere, swinging and stabbing with their instruments. Bodies were all over the place; like so many dead fish washed ashore.
My heart was pounding.
“Take Kelly,” I ordered, thrusting my daughter into my wife’s arms. “Get to the car.”
I ran into the crowd without another word. Ducking, I barely missing a bent, twisted trombone arching across my path. I stumbled on the road. Catching myself, my hand slopped through a thick wetness. I wiped the hand on my jeans but still my hand was coated red and peppered with gravel.
For a crazy, heroic moment, I considered tackling the drum major. Somehow, I could take him out and stop all this madness. Maybe that wouldn’t have worked. I wouldn’t know, because I chickened out. I told myself it was more important to rescue my son.
Shake some sense into him; snap him out of his trance. Get him home.
A body rolled in front of me. A bone was jutting out of his throat. A black bone. As I stepped over him, I realized it wasn’t bone at all. It was a broken off piece from a clarinet.
Another man, wearing a torn drum as a straitjacket, ran past me screaming.
I tracked him for a moment until my horrified eyes stopped cold.
There was my son, grayed-out lifeless eyes and all, glaring at me. Blood splattered band uniform. He gripped his saxophone like a baseball bat and was panting. Most of the keys were missing and the opening was bent inward, stuffed with glistening patches of hair. He wouldn’t be making music with that any time soon.
‘Stephen!” I cried, holding out my hands. I had no idea what to do next. “Stevie!”
He marched forward, closing the space between us. Yes, I said marching, as in boot-top high and perfect cadence.
He swung the sax; I dropped, feeling the whoosh just above my bald head. I sprung from my crouch and pummeled him. His expression didn’t change. Sitting on his chest, I stared into his soulless eyes and saw nothing I recognized.
God help me, I punched my son. Nothing happened. His baby blue eyes didn’t come back. The haze remained like a hard frost on a cold morning. I punched him again and he at least stopped resisting. I hurled the saxophone as far as I could.
I wasn’t leaving him behind, so I slung my unconscious son over my shoulder and hauled ass through the rampaging monsters destroying the patrons of our peaceful park. My only prayer was that my son didn’t wake up before I got him back to the car.
I threw him in the trunk, while my wife jumped out and began protesting and cussing. I slammed the lid closed and got in the car without a word. She stopped yelling, climbed in, and we sped away.
That was the first hour.
By the third hour, most of the band members had vanished, gone hunting for greener pastures perhaps. Searching for more victims. But that wasn’t the biggest problem. No, the worse thing was that the dead started waking up.