For forty plus years, Gunther had avoided being in charge, opting to retain the position of deputy rather than take many offered promotions to the rank of full fledged marshall.
As Ophelia henpecked away at him, he was reminded why he hated situations like this. Being left in charge meant he had to listen to everyone whine and complain.
“This is ridiculous,” Ophelia said. “What kind of a man leaves his bride in the middle of…of…whatever’s going on?”
The Reverend hiccuped then poured himself another drink. “The end of the world is nigh! The Almighty will cleanse the earth of all sinners!”
“I’m sure Rain will be back as soon as he can,” Gunther said. “He just had to rescue…”
Ophelia was about to open her mouth but she thought better of it when she saw Sarah sitting by herself in one of the pews, sobbing.
“…the whore,” Ophelia whispered.
“So?” Gunther asked.
“Don’t tell me you approve,” Ophelia said.
“Don’t whores deserve a rescue too?” Gunther asked.
“Disgusting,” Ophelia said. “Absolutely shameful.”
“Repent all ye sinners,” the Reverend said as he took another belt. “For we shall all soon be judged unworthy in the eyes of the Lord.”
“Reverend,” Doc said. “Can you stick a cork in it? You’re scaring the women folk.”
The Reverend lowered his voice but kept boozing and mumbling biblical verses to himself.
“I always knew Slade was yella,” Blake said. “That coward hightailed it outta here first chance he got.”
“Shut your trap, Martin,” Gunther said. “You’ll never be half the man Rainier Slade is and that’s why you’re always on a tear about him.”
“How’s that?” Blake asked.
“You’re jealous,” Gunther said.
“That’s crazy talk,” Blake said.
“You don’t got the guts strap on a gun and hunt down outlaws yourself so you badmouth a man that’s braver than you are just to make yourself feel better about it,” Gunther said.
“Them’s fighting words,” Blake said.
“Maybe,” Gunther said. “But them’s also truthful words.”
Blake moved towards Gunther. Townsend put his hand on Blake’s shoulder.
“Settle down,” Townsend said. “He’s pegged you right.”
“You’re taking HIS side?” Blake asked his old friend.
“No,” Townsend replied. “But there’s no use fighting over it. Slade has obviously abandoned us and now we have to figure out what to do next.”
Gunther slapped his head at the stupidity. “Holy shit.”
Doc splayed out in a pew and rested his head on Annabelle’s lap. He felt some relief as his companion stroked her hands through his hair. His stomach was still unsettled and he’d broken out into a cold sweat. Annabelle noticed his forehead felt cold and clammy.
“Pardon me,” Doc said. “I must protest at these assaults on Mr. Slade’s character. In the short time I’ve known him I’ve seen nothing but a man of steely reserve and remarkable fort…”
He coughed again. A loud hack.
“Maybe we should leave without him,” Ophelia said. “We’re sitting ducks here.”
“No one’s going anywhere, Mrs. Hutchins,” Gunther said. “And could you step away from the window?”
“Why?” Ophelia asked.
“It’s…” Gunther closed his eyes for a second, irate that Ophelia was making him explain something so obvious. “Because it’s not safe. There might be more of those creepy crawlers out there looking at you right now.”
Sarah’s sobs grew louder. Gunther looked at Annabelle.
“What?” Annabelle asked.
The old man pointed his head at Sarah.
“Oh,” Annabelle said. “OK.”
Annabelle got up out from underneath Doc and held up his hand. She pointed Doc’s hand toward Gunther.
“Huh?” Gunther asked.
“Well I can’t comfort two people at once!” Annabelle protested.
Gunther was hesitant. “You want me to…”
“Yes,” Annabelle replied.
Disgusted, Gunther rolled his eyes as he took Doc’s sweaty hand into his.
Annabelle walked over to Sarah’s pew and put her arm around the bride.
“Shhh,” she said. “It’s all going to be ok.”
Gunther made an effort to follow Annabelle’s lead.
“Umm,” he said to Doc. “There, there…”
“Oh thank you, Mr. Beauregard,” Doc said. “How I adore your kindness in this most trying time.”
“Nope!” Gunther said. He let go of Doc’s hand, letting it plop down on the patient’s chest. “Nothin’ doin.’ I’ve only held the hands of two men in my life. One was my father when I was a little boy and one was a sergeant getting his leg amputated on the battlefield. Call me when you need to get a limb hacked off.”
“Hellfire and brimstone,” the Reverend said. “The heat will be excruciating.”
Doc swiped the Reverend’s bottle. “You’re cut off.”
Blake rested his hands on his big brass belt buckle. “I’m in charge now.”
“What?” Gunther asked.
“I’m in charge and I say we all go,” Blake said. “I’m not going to die waiting for Slade when we all know that lowlife is never coming back.”
“He’s coming back,” Gunther said.
“And what if he doesn’t?” Blake asked.
“Then who’s stopping you?” Gunther asked. “There’s the door. Leave whenever you want.”
“You don’t think I won’t?” Blake asked.
“I don’t give a shit,” Gunther answered.
“Maybe Slade’s dead,” Ophelia said.
Sarah heard that and buried her head into Annabelle’s shoulder, crying away. Gunther grimaced at Ophelia and pointed at the bride.
“Oh,” Ophelia whispered. “Maybe Slade’s dead.”
“We all heard you the first time,” Gunther said. “And it’s a bit early to start thinking the worst, isn’t it?”
“Is it?” Ophelia asked. “We need to be prepared for anything, especially when the man we’re all depending on has..”
A cold and slimy undead hand punched through the window, spraying out pieces of glass. It covered Ophelia’s face, muffling her attempts to scream.
“Son of a bitch,” a dumbstruck Blake said.
Gunther came to Ophelia’s aid just in time to see a grotesque, burned up head poke its way through the window, preparing to turn the maid of honor into a meal.
The old man smashed the Reverend’s bottle against the wall to create a makeshift knife. He jammed it into the monster’s forehead, pushing it through until he hit brain. The creature let go of Ophelia and collapsed on the porch outside with a thud.
“Oh thank God,” Ophelia said as she struggled to catch her breath. “You saved my…”
Another set of hands…and another…and another…six filthy hands in total grabbed Ophelia by the face, waist and legs and yanked on her. Gunther grabbed Ophelia’s hand and pulled back with everything he had.
Doc stirred at the commotion. He stumbled on wobbly legs and grabbed Ophelia’s other hand. Annabelle ran over and found a place on Ophelia’s arm and pulled.
Sarah took one look and hid under the pew.
“Aw shit,” Blake said.
The Reverend was too drunk to care. Townsend eventually walked over to lend a hand but it was too late.
The old chubby lady’s shrieks pierced everyones’ ears as she was ripped to pieces. Gunther found himself holding one bloody limb. Doc and Annabelle held the other. Both arms were dropped and the would be heroes backed away.
One of the damned had an eyeball hanging out of its socket. It feasted on a big hunk of Ophelia’s flesh, drenching its lips with blood. Then he and the other two undead slowly turned their heads towards the smorgasbord that awaited them inside the church.
“Don’t…make…a…sound,” Doc said as he slowly backed away, using very small footsteps.
Gunther and Annabelle followed suit.
“I suspect they are like grizzly bears,” Doc whispered. “Only when they suspect you are running away will they pounce.”
The damned creatures growled. One undead had a face that was burnt up like a piece of charcoal. He put his leg over the windowsill and crawled inside.
“Well fuck that theory,” Gunther said.”