Priscilla ‘Peanut’ Doxley was not one to back down from a bet. And the bigger the prize, the harder she fought to win. But sitting here in the ruined kitchen of Mottlewood Farm, her bravado was a clear mistake. The sweet stench of the unpicked fruit rotting away in the orchards wafted in on the cool night breeze. The smell made Peanut’s stomach heave.
“No wonder they never came for the bodies,” She said aloud to the darkness. “No one could tell they were dead.” Peanut shuddered as her imagination conjured up the slow deaths suffered by the Mountcastle family and their loyal servants after the doors to the estate were sealed. Last month,after three decades of isolation, local officials received an alert that the atomic lock on the house had been opened. The skeletons were scattered throughout the mansion. Many were abed, but more were found in ignoble positions including one maid who left bloody claw marks on the main doors. They were each missing the left hand and the pelvic bones.
“At least they aren’t New Dead,” Peanut muttered. The New Dead were the corporal ghosts that manifested after the Return. Each person was accounted for except a boy, Maceo. There was speculation that he survived in the house feeding off the dead, then finally broke out. But more likely the boy crawled into some hiding place to die.
“Or they ate him first,” Peanut eyed the corroding pots piled in the sink suspiciously.
“What are you doing here?”
Peanut’s head whipped around so fast her neck cracked. The man before her was definitely a Mountcastle.
“You can’t be here,” he said, emerging from the darkness of the house. He wore a space steward’s uniform smeared in putrid fruit. “We have to get you out past the orchards!”
Peanut put her hands over her mouth to block the smell and to hold back the vomit filling her mouth.
“I won’t hurt you,” he said, touching her shoulder with his crude bionic left hand. His face was marred by deep slash marks.
Suddenly an earsplitting howl came from the depths of the house.