Zombie: A zombie series from W. G. Sweet

By W.G. Sweet The dead rise and begin to take over the world

Zombie

Zombie: Outbreak by W.G. Series: Zombie, Book 1. Price: $2.99 $1.20 USD. (60% off!) Words: 62,780. Language: English. Published: August 31, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Horror » Undead, Fiction » Fantasy » Epic I am here in this farm house that Lana and I found a few weeks back. By myself. Lana is gone. I sat down here to write this story out before I am gone too. Maybe that sounds melodramatic, but it isn’t. I know exactly what my situation is. We have been to Manhattan, outside of it, you can’t go in any longer, and we came from Los Angeles, so we know: It’s all gone, destroyed, there’s nothing left…

Zombie: Origins by W.G. Series: Zombie, Book 2. Price: Free! Words: 77,610. Language: English. Published: February 25, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Epic, Fiction » Science fiction » Apocalyptic At six foot three and nearly two hundred ninety pounds I don’t usually fear much. But that day I did. I realized there are some things you had better fear if you have half a brain in your head. It didn’t matter that I could walk through Central Park unmolested. Something was on the wind. Something that didn’t care who it touched: Did not respect physical size.

Zombie: Mission Zero by W.G. Series: Zombie, Book 3. Price: $2.99 $1.20 USD. (60% off!) Words: 59,360. Language: English. Published: February 25, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Apocalyptic, Fiction » Horror » Undead The Zombie Killers are the men and women who keep the new settlements safe for the other survivors. Those in the Nation and those in the Fold, and the many independent colonies that would not be able to exist without their help and intervention. They are the ones who search out supplies, fight the Zombie Plagues so that the others can live in safety…

Zombie: The Final Mission by W.G. Series: Zombie, Book 4. Price: $2.99 $1.20 USD. (60% off!) Words: 63,070. Language: English. Published: January 31, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Horror » Undead, Fiction » Science fiction » Apocalyptic Zombie: The Final Mission Watertown N.Y.: Pearl made her way out of Watertown after escaping from project Bluechip where she had been held captive. She made her way to the Nation early on, becoming one of the builders of that society, but Pearl has a secret that will change the Zombie Killers and The Nation forever… The Final book in the Trilogy…


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Yellowstone from author Dell Sweet

Yellowstone

By W.G. Sweet

A natural disaster that may bring humanity to its knees. Super volcanoes, super earthquakes, the likes of which no living person has ever seen. Not a maybe, but an absolute certainty, and it is not the first time: Seventy four thousand years ago the same catastrophe reduced the human population to a few thousand; will it be any kinder this time? Follow Jack and Maria as they try to stay alive…

“The Yellowstone Caldera.” He raised his eyes, “Familiar with that?”
“Yellowstone Park?” Sammy said.
“Yes. Back in 1930 the Army did an exploratory survey of that area. What we came up with was that there was a section of the Rocky Mountains missing. Looked at from the top of Mount Washburn it was easy for the team to see that the largest crater of an extinct volcano known to exist lay before them.”
“I guess that’s about what I thought,” Sammy agreed.
“Yeah. We all think that. Except it is not true at all because the Yellowstone caldera is not extinct, it is active. There have been several warnings,” he shrugged. He clicked the button on his desk and the monitor came to life. “All the red areas are spots where the surface pressure has increased. There were, at one time, many active volcanoes on the north American continent.” He clicked a button and the map changed to a view of the European continent with many of the same red shaded areas.
“All over the Earth… Higher pressures. Up until a few days ago the brainiacs were still arguing over whether this could even happen.” He laughed. “Call it the Earth’s way of cleansing itself.”
“But it’s not an absolute, right?”Sammy asked.
“Don’t start sounding like the scientists.” He reached below his desk and came up with six small silver cartridges. Each had a red button mounted on the top with a protective cap over the button itself. He clicked a button on his desk, and a picture of destruction appeared on the screens. “That picture is an hour old. That is… Was, the Hawaiian chain.”
Sammy stared at the monitor. “How can that be, I mean everyone would know about it.”
Weston nodded. “And that would be true except the satellites are out, shut down to avoid damage. That is the official word.” He clicked the button on his desk and the monitor went dead once more. “The Yellowstone caldera is going to erupt sometime in the next few days. Not a maybe, not an educated guess: It has already started. We have had a few small quakes, but the big stuff is on the way.” He rolled the cartridges across the desktop; Sammy and John caught them.
“Super volcanoes… Earthquakes that modern civilization has never seen… The last super eruption was responsible for killing off the human population some seventy-four thousand years ago: Reduced it to a few thousand. And that is not the biggest one we have evidence of.” He paused in the silence.
“So we do what with these? Can they harm us?” John asked.
“Harm you, kill you? No, but it will protect you the same as anyone else. There is enough in a single cartridge to infect about five hundred million people,” Weston said quietly.
“Whoa,” Sammy whistled. “Why infect… Why not inoculate? And why six cartridges… Three Billion people?”
“Be glad they decided on this. They have some others that will kill everybody in the world in a matter of days.” Weston nodded at the raised eyebrows that greeted his remarks.
“It can stay alive in a dead body for days, even if the body is frozen. Same stuff is being released across the globe. Great Briton… Germany… Australia… West coast just a few hours ago. Manhattan has already been done. I want the two of you to head out from here. One of you head west, the other south. Go for the bigger cities… Water supplies… Reservoirs, it doesn’t matter.” He rose from the desk. “I’ll see you out.”
The two stood in the hallway for a few seconds; quiet, except the slight buzzing from the fluorescent lights.
John shrugged as his eyes met Sammy’s, waiting.
Sammy pulled a quarter from his pocket and flipped it into the air. “Call it, Jack.”
“Tails,” John said just before the quarter hit the carpet.
Sammy bent forward. “Tails it is. You got it, Jack.”
John looked down at the carpet. “West, I guess.” John said.
Sammy nodded, looked down once more at the quarter and then both men turned and walked away toward the elevator that would take them back to the surface.


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America The Dead: The Fold 2 Apple Books

EARTH’S SURVIVORS AMERICA THE DEAD: THE FOLD TWO

Copyright 2020 Lindsey Rivers

All Rights Reserved

Additional Copyrights © 2010, 2012, 2015 by Wendell Sweet.

All rights reserved, foreign and domestic

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your bookseller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

LEGAL

This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living person’s places, situations or events is purely coincidental.

This novel is Copyright © 2016 Wendell Sweet and his assignees. Dell Sweet and Geo Dell are publishing constructs owned by Wendell Sweet. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission.

Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.

NOTICE: This material is not edited for content


THE FOLD TWO


Prologue

Rochester New York

Leaving

While Jimmy searched out Hank Nelson, one of his ex-police buddies who had been helping to coordinate things, Frank set off with Gary to find Jessie. Jimmy could fill Hank in, and Jeremiah had gone over to the television station to set a plan in motion, that they had all agreed upon. Frank needed to find Jessie. He couldn’t leave without seeing her, even if it only made it harder for him, and she was also part of the plan they had come up with, and, she needed to know about the children, Frank reasoned.

He found her with Lisa and Connie, in the old County Court House building, setting up the make-shift Red Cross kitchen for lunch.

“Frank,” she asked when she saw his red eyes, “what’s wrong?”

“Nothing is,” Frank said, mildly, “but I need to talk to you…” he looked over at Bessy, the formidable woman who had run the kitchen on her own for three days, “Bessy?” he asked.

“Go on ahead,” Bessy said, “we’re just about finished here anyhow. Jessie, go on ahead, Lisa and Connie can help me serve.” The old gray-haired woman nodded her head sternly at Jessie as she spoke.

Frank waited until they were outside before he spoke. Gary had followed them out, but walked a short distance away. “First,” Frank said, “I love you, Jessie, I do with all my heart, and I should’ve already said it.”

“Jessie, we, Gary, Jeremiah, Jimmy and I have to leave. I can’t tell you all reasons right now… it has to do with something I know about those caves, but we have to go, Jessie. We have to.”

“Okay,” she said in a low voice, as she brushed tears from her eyes, “just come back, Frank…” she burst into tears as she finished. Frank took her chin in his hands, and gently lifted her face to his.

“Jessie, do you trust me?” Frank asked.

“Of course, Frank!” she was crying harder but her voice had taken on a rough edge, a panicked pleading was mixed in with it.

“Jessie, trust me, it’ll be okay, I swear it,” he said.

“I believe you, Frank, and believing will help me hang on,” she replied.

“I… I wanted to say something else, Jessie… Something.”

She put one finger to his lips and stopped his words.

“Frank… Not at a time like this… I don’t trust emotion in a time like this.”

He looked at her for a second and then nodded. He turned to Gary and nodded decisively.

The three of them walked quickly toward the television station, meeting Jimmy along the way.

“All set?” Frank asked.

“All set,” Jimmy answered, “Hank, will see to things here.”

They walked in silence to the station, and Jeremiah met them at the door. “Think it’ll work?” Gary asked him.

“No way to know, but it can’t hurt,” Jeremiah responded.

Two hours later, Frank, Jeremiah, and Jimmy, as well as Gary, were standing at the village of Fairport’s main dock.

“Several to choose from,” Gary said, as he stared out over the muddy banked channel.

“At least they’re not all in the mud,” Frank agreed. “Makes me wish we had John with us. I’d feel a heck of a lot better with him steering us out to the lake.” They had gone to John before they left to find out which was the quickest way to get to the lake, without chancing a trip through the north side of the city. John had suggested Fairport, because of its man-made channel that served the lake.

“Well, let’s do it, Gentlemen,” Jeremiah said, as he walked across the concrete lip of the channel, and out onto a short pier. A length of yellow nylon rope was still bound, although it was pulled tight, around a wooden piling, and Jeremiah followed the rope to its ending, at a fairly good sized fiberglass speed boat about three feet below them. Lilac City Baby, was stenciled just below the port side in script. After carefully untying the knot in the nylon rope; holding it tightly against the wooden piling as he did, allowing the tension to slowly bleed off, Jeremiah jumped down the three feet to the deck.

“Well?” he said looking up, “you guy’s gonna just let me float away?”

The remaining three men jumped down to the deck, as Jeremiah made his way back to steering console.

“No keys,” he said frowning.

“I can fix that,” Jimmy said, “lemme see…” he reached his hand under the panel, and emerged with three pig-tail ends of wire. “I learned this at the jail,” he said, as he slid two of the wires together, “listening to a kid we had in one night, talking about how he did it.” The small red indicator light to the right of the switch lit up. “Now,” Jimmy said, as he touched the remaining wire to the already connected two. “Presto-chango,” he finished as the electric starter began to whir, turning the in-board motor over. He reached to the throttle and edged it forward slightly, while still holding the wires together with one hand. The engine caught, and the low burble of the motor came to him from the exhaust that bubbled up from the rear of the boat. “No probleemo,” Jimmy said, as he released one of the wires. “I don’t however, know how to drive this thing,” he finished sheepishly.

“I do,” Gary volunteered, “I owned one like it.” He took over the controls and slowly backed the boat away from the dock, turned it around, and headed down the channel toward the lake.

“Owned your own gravel pit,” Frank said, “I guess you were pretty well off if you could afford a boat like this.”

“That I was,” Gary said, “but I ain’t sorry I don’t have it all still, Frank… In fact I’m glad I don’t. It was too much of a headache. When this is over I’m retiring.”

Frank chuckled. “Me too, Gary, me too.”

Twenty minutes later they were leaving the channel and entering the lake. The sun rode high in the warm air, and Jeremiah asked, “How long did John say it would take to get there, Frank?”

“Two, maybe three hours tops,” he replied.

“Gee, Frank, how come we didn’t think of this?” Gary asked, with a smirk on his face.

“Dunno, should have,” he said laughing. It felt good to laugh, he thought, and he was pretty sure none of them would be laughing once they got to Fort Drum.

“How are we going to do it when we get there?” Frank asked, to no one in particular.

The laughter died down quickly, making Frank wish he hadn’t asked.

“We’ll see when we get there,” Jeremiah said, “all we kin do, Frank.”

“How close you think you can get us, Gary?” Jeremiah asked.

“Well, if the town’s flooded like I think, we’ll probably be able to take it right into Watertown, and probably most of the way to Fort Drum. From there I guess we hoof it, guys.”

Frank checked the clip in the nine mm machine pistol, before he spoke. “You really think we’ll need these, Jeremiah?”

“I’m ‘fraid so, Frank, we can hope this Jeffery’s guy ain’t there, I doubt he is, but there’s the other guy to contend with… He may know we’re coming, he may not. Hopefully Jessie and Hank can fool ’em for a while… No telling, Frank, but I’m sure we’ll need ’em,” he checked the clip in his own weapon when he finished.

The machine pistols were fully automatic, and each held a two hundred round clip. Jimmy had liberated them from the evidence room of the Rochester Police Department’s downtown office, along with several spare clips, and more than two thousand rounds of additional ammunition. “These will do the job,” Jimmy had said, “if anything will.”

The machine pistols had been taken in one of the many raids on drug houses on the city’s north side, Jimmy had told them, as he had pointed out a room that to Frank looked as if it could hold a small banquet.

The room had been filled to overflowing with weapons of all types, including what looked to Frank to be an Army issue fifty mm anti-aircraft gun. “They use those?” Frank had asked, incredulously.

“Those and anything else they can get their hands on,” Jimmy had answered solemnly.

I wonder if we should have bought the anti-aircraft gun, Frank thought now, as he watched the calm blue-green water of the lake slip by. “I hate the thought of having to use this,” he said, as he slipped the gun into a leather side holster that had been with it. The holster had obviously been custom-made for the previous owner of the weapon and included a long slit in one side that allowed the weapon to be holstered with the clip in place. The initials A. S. were burned into one side of it.

“So long as you use it when the time comes, Frank,” Jeremiah said. “Don’t hesitate, just do it, it’s us or them.”

“Oh I wouldn’t hesitate, Jeremiah,” Frank said, “I just won’t like it while I’m shooting it.” He frowned, but in truth the weight of the gun against his hip was comforting.

Gary pushed the throttle forward as they left the shallows of the lake, and began to move across the dark blue waters toward Fort Drum. Frank relaxed back into one of the vinyl boat seats, and let the wind flow through his black hair. Had it ever smelled so sweet, or felt so good, he asked himself. Probably not, he told himself. He wondered if maybe that was the way it was though when you were about to die. If suddenly everything began to look a lot better, he supposed it was. He couldn’t rightly say that he felt as if he were going to die, but he couldn’t say he didn’t either. He looked around at the others. Gary had a grim smile plastered across his mouth as he leaned into the rush of wind, piloting the speed-boat. Jeremiah was sitting in the seat across from Frank, idly picking at a loose thread in the cushion, a worried look on his face, and Jimmy was leaned back in a backwards facing seat directly in front of Frank, with his hands clasped behind his head and his eyes shut. Frank tried but he could not shake the doomed feeling that had clutched him. It wouldn’t let go, no matter what he tried to think of besides where they were going, and what they were going to attempt to do. He couldn’t shake it, the grip was too tight.

Jeremiah turned and spoke. “Seems like the end don’t it, Frank,” he said in a matter-of-fact voice.

Jimmy opened his eyes and leaned forward as Frank spoke. “It does at that, but I’ve never had much that I cared about in life except my kids, and now Jessie; and now God. I don’t want to die, but it isn’t something I’m afraid of anymore.”

“I feel about the same,” Jimmy said, “no kids, no wife, I thought being a cop was all there was,” he shook his head, “I’m in no hurry to die either…” he shrugged his shoulders, “It won’t make me avoid it though, or walk away from it, I’m in it to the end.”

They both looked at Jeremiah as he spoke. “It ain’t so hard to die. It ain’t something I want to do again though. At least I know there’s something there, and it makes a big difference far as I’m concerned.”

“What’s it like, Jeremiah?” Jimmy asked, echoing the same question that Frank had been thinking.

“I don’t know as I kin explain it well enough…” Jeremiah replied, “It’s sort of like what you think it is. Like…if you think it’ll be hangin’ around in a cloud all day, and talkin’ to angels, I guess it could be that for you,” he paused. “For me it was playing checkers. It was something I used to like to do, and never had time for. I played a couple of games with my dad…” his voice broke softly, “he hadn’t changed a bit, still cheated’. It also means spending time with God, talkin’ to him if you want to. I played checkers with him too, beat him on occasion, course I think he let me. It’s everything you think it is, that’s the best I kin say toward explaining it,” he paused, and sighed. “One thing is life does have a bit on it. The taste of a cold beer, food, Maggie, feelin’ hungry even, life does have something on it. But death ain’t a bad place at all, you kin live there and have it agree with you.”

“That’s a good thing to know, Jeremiah,” Frank said quietly, “if it’s what you say, I guess it isn’t half bad then.”

Jimmy had once again closed his eyes and leaned back against the seat. “It’s a damn sight better than I thought it would be,” he said softly.

“What the hell you worrywarts talking ’bout now?” Gary called out, over the sound of the wind.

“Just life in general, Gary’,” Frank answered. “How you doing?” Frank asked of Gary’s back. “Why can’t you put this thing on auto pilot or something?”

Gary stared over his shoulder at Frank, a look of disgust mingled with a smile on his face. “This boat doesn’t have it, that’s why, mister smarty-pants,” Gary yelled above the wind. “The throttle will stay open, but the steering won’t lock, we’d go around in circles.”

“Gee, so touchy,” Frank said with a smile, as he got up and steadied himself. “I’m gonna watch the water go by, I guess,” he said to Jeremiah as he walked away. He moved slowly up to where Gary stood, and stared out over the water. The waves were choppy and Frank could feel the boat skipping over them. They were hugging the coast line, about a mile out, he figured, and from here the world looked beautiful, he thought, it looked like nothing at all had happened. The vast expanse of water was entirely empty though, and that shattered the illusion. “Worried, Gary?” he asked.

“Nope, I ain’t,” he replied. “I’m ready as I can be, and I ain’t a bit afraid,” he added. “You?”

“We talked about it…” Frank said.

“Heard most of it,” Gary returned.

“What do you think, Gary?”

“Same as you, Frank, it’s a big comfort to know.”

Frank nodded his head, and the two men fell into a comfortable silence as the boat skimmed over the water toward Fort Drum.

Rochester

Jessie

In Rochester, Jessie sat in the small studio, staring intently at the television. Beside her John was silent, watching the recording that Frank and the others had viewed earlier.

She had never promised Frank she wouldn’t, and she wanted to see for herself what kind of a monster they were sent to deal with. They watched it all, and as they did the paleness that had crept into Jessie’s face turned red, and her eyes reflected the anger that was building within her. John reacted similarly, and Hank who was also with them refused to watch after the first few minutes, preferring instead to stare idly at the ceiling, as if inspecting it for damage, until the recording finished.

Willie Lefray

In a small run-down apartment on Hudson Avenue, on the north side of the city of Rochester, Willie Lefray sat talking to Alfred Harding.

Al had been with Willie since the day he had arrived in Rochester. Al was devoted. Totally devoted, and Willie knew he would balk at nothing he asked him to do. He stared at the slight red-haired pimple-splattered young man that was Alfred Harding, thoughtfully, before he spoke.

“Today, Al, today. Take three or four of your guys with you. Do you think you can handle it, Al?” Willie asked.

“Oh yeah, Willie, sure, sure I can,” he responded.

He’s like a fuckin’ puppy dog, Willie thought, before he spoke. “Okay wonder-bread, it’s on you. You get that bitch, and you get her alive, understand?”

“Sure, sure I understand, Willie, what’re you gonna do to her, huh? Gonna kill her or something, Willie?” his eyes shone with adoration as he spoke.

“Don’t worry, Al, tell you what, you want to do her first, Al? Before I do what I have to?”

“Oh sure, Willie, that would, you know, that would be cool, I think,” Alfred answered fairly drooling with anticipation.

“Okay, Al, calm down. Now tell me what you’re gonna do,” Willie asked.

“Sure, Willie,” he answered. “We’re gonna sneak in, and we ain’t gonna kill nobody unless we hav’to. We’re gonna get this Jessie and we’re gonna bring her back to you… Not hurt,” he added hastily.

Willie took a long swig from the bottle between his legs. “Good, Al, very good, now get the fuck out of here and get ready, ’cause in just a few, you’re going,” Willie said.

“Sure, I’m gone already, Willie,” Alfred said as he got up and beat a hasty retreat out of the living room, and through the front door.

Willie listened as the door slammed shut behind him, and took another long pull on the bottle.

He had run out of the white powder. He could settle for cocaine, he supposed, there was a virtual glut of it just laying around waiting to be picked up, but after the magic white powder that Luther had given him, cocaine was nothing.

He had fully expected to be dead by now, and it baffled him that he wasn’t. He hadn’t eaten in ten days or better, and he’d had nothing to drink that didn’t contain alcohol in at least as many days. He sighed. “Fuck it,” he said aloud, as he took another swig from the bottle.

The phone on the coffee table suddenly burred, and Willie nearly choked before he managed to swallow, and then quickly snatch the phone from the table.

“Yes,” he said into the phone, in a small voice. “Yes, today, Luther,” he set the phone back down and got serious about killing off the half empty bottle, “No place to hide, nowhere to go,” he muttered as he drank.

Jessie

Jessie was angry…No, she corrected herself, pissed off big-time, not just, or only mad, pissed off big-time, in big capital letters. She envisioned it in her mind, PISSED OFF BIG-TIME, that’s what she was she told herself, as she sat at the small table and stared at the blank screen of the television monitor.

John spoke. “You okay, Jessie?”

“No, I’m not,” she said, “I’m Pissed off… Big-time,” she said vocalizing the thought. “What a rotten piece of shit he is,” she said, referring of course to Luther.

“Yeah, he’s a piece of work all right,” John agreed with a sigh, “you’ve got to let it go though, Jessie, we have things to do, and you can’t allow your anger to get in the way of it.”

“I know that, John,” she said, still angry, “I’m trying to get a handle on it, okay?”

“Okay,” John said soothingly, as he got up. “Want some coffee?”

“Yes,” she replied, a little bit calmer, “that might help.”

“Be back,” John said, as he walked off.

Hank had stepped out a few minutes before. When Jessie had finished watching the recording she had been steaming, and it had scared him.

Hank liked things nice and straight forward, and in his mind women didn’t get that mad. Why, women were kind and soft and gentle, like his mother, he reasoned, things like that. But they were never angry, they never swore like Jessie had, and men were never afraid of them either, he had told himself as he left the room. Maybe it would be a good idea if he just took a short walk, he had convinced himself. In fact it was time to take a walk… A long walk. Time to lay low maybe, he told himself.

Jessie drew in several deep breaths, as she sat at the table, and once she felt she had herself under control, she snatched the disc from the machine and forced herself to set it down instead of throwing it across the room, which is what she wanted to do. “Prick,” she mumbled under her breath, as she sat the disc down. She reached across and picked up the disc that Frank, Gary, Jeremiah, and herself, as well as Jimmy, had made before they left. She slid it into the machine and hit the play button, then leaned back into her seat to watch it.

ONE

Watertown

Frank

Frank turned from staring out over the water and asked, “How much longer you think, Gary?”

“Twenty minutes, maybe less,” he responded, after checking his watch.

Frank turned. “Almost there guys,” he said. Jeremiah and Jimmy walked forward and stared out over the water.

“It’s changed a bit,” Gary said, “we should already be on dry land, and, as you can see, we ain’t.”

“That bad?” Jeremiah asked.

“Not if we want to save time it ain’t,” Gary replied, “the closer the better, I just gotta be careful is all, don’t know how deep it is here.”

“Seems pretty deep to me,” Jimmy said doubtfully.

“Seeming deep, and being deep, is two totally different things,” Gary said, as he dropped the throttle to a low idle. They coasted slowly up what looked to be a wide and calm river.

“This is new,” Gary said, a trace of wonder in his voice “looks like it might be what used to be White creek. If it is, we’ll be coming in a lot closer than we figured to be,” he finished.

“How’s that?” Frank asked, feeling foolish.

“White creek comes right into Fort Drum, is why, and if this is it, we’re coming straight into… Damn if it ain’t!” he said pointing ahead. “That’s the water tower, and soon as we get through these trees, I’ll bet ya dollars-to-donuts it says Fort Drum on it,” he finished excitedly.

“Well, how far from here to that Jeffery’s place you figure?” Jeremiah asked.

“Mile, maybe mile and a half,” Gary answered, smiling. Jeremiah started to turn to Frank. “Be about forty hours left,” Frank answered, before he could ask.

The boat coasted through the trees, and they all read the lettering on the water tower, slapping Gary on the back as they did.

“Good navigating, Gary,” Jimmy said.

“Fine, that’s for sure,” Jeremiah said also. They all knew they were trying to hold the lighthearted mood that they had just acquired seconds before, they knew as well that it was no use. It was time to be serious, lives, not the least of all their own, were at stake.

Frank jumped to the grassy shore, caught the rope Jeremiah threw to him, and pulled the boat in closer, tying it off to the thick trunk of a nearby tree.

“Think that’ll be okay, Gary’?” he asked as he knotted the rope, and the remaining three men stepped ashore.

“I take it you were never in the Navy, Frank,” he said, as he looked over the three square knots, Frank had used. “It ain’t going nowhere I don’t think. The rope’ll break first, Frank.”

Frank put one more knot in the rope to be sure, before he looked up and then followed Gary, who was shaking his head, away from the boat.

“What?” he asked, as he caught up to him.

“Nothin’, Frank, I was just bustin’ your chops is all,” Gary replied smiling. They walked up to a vine covered road. Or at least it looked like it had been a road, Frank thought, as he joined Jeremiah, and Jimmy.

“What’s with the vines?” Jimmy asked.

“Don’t know, but they’re everywhere, Jim,” Gary replied, “started the same night the bombs fell… Jeremiah?”

“Don’t know any more than you do, walked over a whole bunch of them myself. Wasn’t something He thought to let me in on,” Jeremiah replied. “Which way, Gary?” he asked, as he looked up from the vines, and down the road in both directions.

“Left,” Gary replied, and started away. The others stood for only a second, and then fell in behind him. 

Jessie

Jessie watched the recording that was due to be transmitted in little over four hours. It was an old ruse, probably wouldn’t work, she thought, but it had been the best they could come up with on short notice.

The six of them, John included, stared grimly at the camera. Their reasoning had been simple. If Luther was aware that they could transmit, then he had probably been, and would probably continue, monitoring their broadcasts. The recording was set up to appear live, and the speed with which they had recorded it heightened that quality.

Frank stared grimly into the camera and spoke…

“…We felt we needed to inform you of something that developed earlier today,” he began. Behind him a large screen lit up and began to replay carefully edited parts of Luther’s recent broadcast, as Frank spoke. The clock behind Frank read 6:00 PM, and the hope was that Luther would buy it as a live transmission. If not it would all be for nothing…

“…Think it will work?” John asked from behind her as he re-entered the room.

“No,” she replied, “I don’t, at least not entirely. Can somebody like him even be fooled?”

“I don’t know,” John said tiredly, “if he can’t be fooled, maybe he can be confused. I mean he can’t be all seeing, and all knowing… he’s not God.”

Jessie’s eyes brightened. “Maybe then,” she said hopefully.

“Maybe,” John agreed, “just maybe.”

They watched the rest of the short ten minute recording in silence. It consisted of showing the edited recording, while Frank talked about their need to discuss it with everyone else, and a short plea for more time at the end. They made no mention of Luther’s demand to turn over five of the assembled group. It had been Frank’s suggestion to leave it out, but Frank did say they were considering his demands, which left it open to Luther’s interpretation. At the most, they knew, it would only buy them a few extra hours if Luther went for it, but those few extra hours might allow Frank, Jeremiah, Gary and Jimmy, to get to Fort Drum.

They also knew that once Luther realized that he had been tricked, he might push the button right then. The whole thing’s a crap shoot, Jessie thought, as the recording ended, and she turned off the machine.

She looked at John. “No way to know,” he said, as if reading her mind, “but it beat’s doing nothing.”

“Jeremiah thinks they’ll come at us today from the north side,” she said.

“When did he say that?” John asked, surprised.

“After Frank went for coffee, he told Hank, I guess. He didn’t want Frank to know. Hank told Jimmy too, and Jimmy told him to make sure that I was aware. Jeremiah told him to tell me I should make myself scarce,” she said, “wonder why?”

“No telling with him, but… If it was me he had said that to, you can bet I’d be making myself scarce,” John said thoughtfully, and then continued. “Odd though that Jeremiah didn’t tell you or me directly,” he shrugged. “I believe I’ll just keep an eye on you today, if you don’t mind,” he held up his hand when she began to protest. “I’m not saying you can’t handle yourself, Jessie, but two is better than one any way you look at it,” he favored her with a stern look. “I mean it, Jessie, if he said it, even if he didn’t say to us directly, he didn’t say it to hear himself speak.”

“Okay, “she said, “you win. You can babysit me, John.”

“That makes me feel better,” John said. “I’m an old man, Jessie, but I spent a lot of years in this city dealing with the bad elements of it, I can hold my own, and then some if I have to,” he patted the .38 that was holstered at his hip as he finished speaking.

“I intend to stay right in here today anyway,” Jessie said, “I want to make sure nothing goes wrong when we broadcast that recording.”

“Well in that case,” John said, getting up from the small table, “I guess I’ll go get us some more coffee,” he walked off as he finished speaking.

“Thanks,” Jessie called after him.

Willie

Willie Lefray leaned back into the worn old couch in the living room of the house on Hudson Avenue. The empty bottle lay in shards in one corner of the room, where Willie had flung it. He had drained the last drop from the bottle, and then flung it against the wall when he realized there was not another bottle to replace it. He had of course called Mike in from the front porch, and had him dispatch someone to liberate a new supply from one of the many liquor stores that dotted the avenue. Whoever he had sent would be in hot water when they returned though, Willie promised himself, they had already been gone for more than three hours. How long does it take to follow simple fuckin’ directions and go to a damn liquor store, Willie wondered. Probably forever, he told himself. Especially with this bunch of morons he was saddled with.

He debated calling Mike back in to find out what was taking so long, but rejected it. Mike was dumber than Alfred, he knew, and Alfred was a frigging moron. A creepy moron, but still a moron. Actually, Willie thought, the guy scares me a little. He looks like a little kid, and even acts like a little kid. Sort of naive, maybe even innocent-looking to someone who didn’t know better. Willie knew, however, that it was nothing but an act. Alfred was a straight out nut-case, and the calm kid-like demeanor could change in an instant, without warning.

The kid was also loyal. Well, not loyal, he reasoned, more like devoted, or fanatical. Alfred embraced evil and death, more even than Willie himself did.

The day Willie had arrived he had dismissed Alfred out of hand, simply because of that kid-like quality. Alfred had begged Willie to make him one of his right hand men, the friggin’ kid had been in tears over it, and Willie had jokingly told him that all the positions were filled, and that if he wanted in, he would have to kill his way in. Willie had figured that would satisfy the kid. Either he would be killed trying to take out someone, or he would simply walk away, and Willie would have bet ten to one on the walking away. Either way Willie didn’t have the time for him.

But, no sooner had the words been out of Willie’s mouth, than the kid had turned quickly, cat-like almost, Willie thought, and slit the throat of one of the guys Willie had bought with him. The guy had been standing there laughing at Alfred. At how pitiful he looked, and a second later he had been gagging on his own blood, and trying to hold his neck together, before he crashed to the floor.

Yeah, Willie thought, Alfred was a nasty little bastard all right, and he had no doubt that he would manage to bring the woman back.

The phone call from Luther had been short and to the point. Get her, but get her alive. “It should be easy, even for a no-brained fuck-up like you, Willie,” Luther had said. “After all, Willie my sweet, I did the hard work for you, I lured their big shots away, I opened the door and left her alone, and I think you should be able to handle one old man, hmm, Willie, think you can handle it?”

Luther had an inside man over there, Willie correctly guessed. He had no idea who, and hadn’t asked, but whoever it had been had told him that the four men, who in Luther’s estimation held everything together, were gone. While Alfred went for the woman, Willie himself would lead a small army right into their midst. There wouldn’t be anyone, or anything, to stop them, Luther had assured him.

Willie planned to be sneaky about it though, he already had snipers stationed close to the roadblocks. They were so stupid that they didn’t even try to hide behind their barricades. They just walked back and forth, like they were on guard duty at a friggin’ factory somewhere. Apparently, Willie thought, they didn’t take a threat from the north side seriously. After today they would though, Willie promised himself, and smiled as he did.

He got up from the worn sofa. “MIKE, where the fuck is that little bastard you sent to the liquor store?” he yelled, as he opened the front door. If the little prick didn’t get back soon, there wouldn’t be time for another drink before he’d have to leave.

Jessie

Jessie stood up from the small table. It was nearing 6:00 PM, time to play the tape. John had left ten minutes before to get them some fresh coffee, but hadn’t returned yet. What’s keeping him? She wondered, as she walked toward the hallway. She was almost to the door when a red-haired wild-eyed looking kid came running through it, nearly knocking her over.

“Ma’am…Miss Stone, ya gotta come quick, ya gotta, they’re coming through the barricades, and they got John, Ma’am, they got… you gotta come quick!” the kid said in a panicked voice.

The kid was clearly scared witless, Jessie realized. “Calm down, calm down,” she said as she grabbed him by the shoulders, and shook him. The kid was carrying what looked to be a machine gun, Jessie saw. What the hell are they doing putting a young kid like this on guard duty? Jessie thought angrily.

“Miss Stone?” the kid asked still sounding panicky, “you are Miss Stone I was supposed to come get, right?”

“Yes, now calm down,” Jessie said sternly, turning away from the kid and heading toward the table where she had left her gun, “just let me get my…”

“Good,” the kid said from behind, cutting her off. “Real good.”

Bright stars exploded in her head, cutting off the rest of what she had been going to say. WHAT… she thought, as she crumpled to the floor. She was dimly aware of the sound of gun fire, before she passed out.

Hank Nelson entered the room just as Alfred clubbed Jessie in the back of the head with the machine gun. Alfred quickly reversed the gun and aimed it at Hank.

“Hey!” Hank yelled in surprise, and then looked fearfully to the gun in Alfred’s hands. “Hey, don’t kid, I’m on…”

Alfred didn’t let him finish. He squeezed the trigger and in a split second Hank was cut in two by a hail of bullets.

“Fuck you,” Alfred spat, as Hank fell to the floor. Two men appeared in the doorway behind him, Alfred whirled around cat-quick but lowered the weapon once he recognized them. “Pick her up, let’s go,” he ordered. The two men quickly did as ordered, and followed Alfred out into the hallway. They passed John’s lifeless body in the corridor, where Alfred had let it fall, after he had snuck up behind him and clubbed him in the back of the head as he had Jessie. He had slit John’s throat, almost before he had hit the ground, and so he had made no sound whatsoever. Alfred kicked an empty paper coffee cup, resting by one of John’s outstretched hands, out of his way as they trotted by.

Outside, in the late afternoon air, the sound of gun fire reverberated through the Streets. It was audible now, even inside the building. Alfred mowed down a group of seven people with the machine gun, who had been crouched fearfully just inside the doorway to the building, as he came upon them. None of them had the chance to return fire, or even turn around, and Alfred, followed by the two men, trampled over their bodies as he pushed through the doorway and out into the street.

The South side of the city was in the grip of a battle that had begun two blocks away, when Willie himself had taken out the patrolling guard, and then quickly rushed through the barricade, toward the War Memorial.

All was not going as planned however, as a heavily armed group in the County Court House building had pinned them down before they had been able to take the War Memorial, and that had allowed the people in the War Memorial, to react.

As a consequence Willie’s group was rapidly falling in numbers, and although he did not wish to, he would have to drop back, or risk losing all of his men if Al didn’t show soon. He had just started to draw back, when Alfred came trotting out of the television station, in a deafening roar of gun fire. The kid had done it, Willie realized, as he saw the two men running behind him, carrying a slumped form in their arms as they ran. He could see even from the distance of the two hundred yards that separated them, that the form was female, and he was quite sure that Al knew better than to bring him the wrong woman.

As Willie watched, one of the men carrying the woman was cut down by gun fire, and Alfred quickly picked up the fallen mans’ burden and continued forward. Willie was torn, Alfred had to make it through in one piece with the woman, or Luther would have Willie’s balls, he had told him as much, and Luther didn’t bull-shit.

The gunfire from the Court House, and the War Memorial was restrained somewhat, but they apparently had more than a few shooters who could aim well enough to miss the woman. When they were less than a hundred feet away, the kid went down, and the remaining man struggled to get the woman over his shoulders and continue on. Willie hesitated, only an instant longer, and then leapt up and sprinted for the man. Chips of asphalt flew all around him as he ran. The War Memorial crowd was trying to stop him from reaching them, he realized. But gunfire was nowhere near as bad as Luther, so he kept on, marveling that he hadn’t yet been hit, as he ran the last few feet and grabbed the woman’s body along with the other man.

He felt the man behind him go down just ten feet from the safety of his small band of disciples, and he felt as well the ripping of his flesh, as three rounds caught him in the back. He stumbled the last few feet pushed forward by the impact of the rounds, fully expecting to finally drop dead as two men rose from behind the barricades to take the woman’s body.

He had done it, he had reached safety, he realized, and he had also caught three solid rounds in the back doing it. That made him happy, as he wanted nothing more than to lay down right here on the pavement and die, it would feel so good, so right, he thought, as he began to ease toward the road. His hands were clasped across his stomach. What’s left of it, he thought. He could feel his insides trying to squirm out through his fingers.

Good, he thought, very fuckin’ good. Very, very, good. So, how come I’m not dead? he asked himself.

Takes longer, his mind whispered, this ain’t a friggin’ movie.

Okay, fine, he reasoned, this ain’t a movie. But how come it don’t hurt even, huh?

Shock, his mind told him.

Well fuckin’ fine, but…

Two of his men squatted and quickly picked Willie up, just as his eyes slipped shut. “His gut’s is hanging out, Tommy,” one complained, gagging.

“Shut up and get going, we ain’t leaving his body here, no way.”

The two men ran off down the street, and deeper into the north side of the city, carrying Willie’s body between them as they ran.

Frank

Frank crouched low, looking over the layout of the Jeffery’s farm along with the others, from a thick stand of trees that came up to within one hundred yards of the rear of the house. The barn and the twin silos were even closer, maybe two hundred feet, he estimated.

A heavily bearded, biker type stood on the rear porch of the farm house, casually picking his nose, while simultaneously, drinking a can of beer. His machine gun resting against the porch railing less than two feet from where he stood.

“That guy’s got to go three hundred pounds,” Frank whispered, as he watched him.

As if he had heard him, the biker suddenly tossed his thick greasy hair out of his eyes, and looked out toward the woods, directly, it seemed to Frank, where they were hiding. Frank held his breath and waited, mentally kicking himself as he did. If he had heard him though, he certainly didn’t act like it. He suddenly crushed the beer can in one fist, threw it out into the yard, where it joined countless others, turned heel and walked to the opposite end of the porch. Once there he lowered his wide bottom into a rusted green metal deck chair, and propped his feet up on the rail of the porch as he lit a cigarette. The machine gun still rested against the rail on the opposite end of the porch, perhaps twenty feet away, Frank saw.

“Piece a work, ain’t he?” Gary whispered, to no one in particular.

“That he is,” Jeremiah whispered back.

A foggy belch, along with the hiss of an opening carbonated beverage, could be plainly heard from the rear porch in the quiet mid-afternoon air.

“Real pig too,” Jimmy whispered, “if he drinks enough we might be able to just walk over to those silos.”

“That’d be nice,” Frank whispered back.

“Gonna have to try for it soon,” Jeremiah said, “maybe now’s the best time, he ain’t got his rifle. Might not get a better opportunity.”

They had spent over an hour crouched down in the trees hoping for a good opportunity. Trouble was, Frank thought, we still don’t know if there’s anyone inside the house. The biker was the only one they had seen so far, and he had not ventured into the house once while they had watched him, so they had no idea what to expect if they tried to move on the silos. There could be, Frank thought, a whole house-full of re-enforcement’s just waiting to come out of the rear of the house. Jeremiah was right though, he realized, they had to make a move soon, either that or wait for night fall, and none of them wanted to do that.

“Lets’ do it,” Frank grunted decisively as he slowly stood up. The other three men stood up with him.

At first the biker type seemed not to notice them as they slowly walked from the woods. The way his feet are propped up, Jeremiah thought, he might not be able to see us. Two steps later though, the biker suddenly jumped up and began to sprint for the machine gun at the opposite end of the porch. All four of their machine pistols chattered at once, and before he had made it more than ten steps, he was cut down. Frank ran as hard as he could toward the silos behind Jeremiah. Jimmy and Gary brought up the rear. They all dropped to the ground once they reached them, and scurried around behind them.

Although the silos protected them from the gun fire they expected, they also blocked their view of the house. They heard nothing, no doors suddenly slamming open, no footfalls, but that didn’t mean they weren’t already closing the distance to the silo, Frank knew.

“Gonna check,” Frank grunted, as he belly crawled around the side of the silo so he could see the house. No one was in sight, and he could make out the prone body of the biker behind the spindles of the porch railing, where it had fallen. Frank stared at the house for a few minutes longer, before he crawled back around the silo.

“Looks good,” he whispered, “can’t be certain, but nobody’s come out yet.”

“We have to check it though,” Jimmy said, “no telling for sure until we do.”

“Yeah,” Gary agreed, “I don’t want to get inside this silo and then find out that we were wrong, that there is somebody in there.”

“It don’t make sense,” Jeremiah said, “that they’d put the guy out here alone… Not if it’s really important anyhow.”

Frank looked at the silo. It looked like an ordinary see-it-any-day-of-the-week sort of silo. He had seen hundreds just like it back in Seattle. He looked down at the base of the silo. The base was just concrete. Could be Peter’s lied, his mind whispered. It might be just an average ordinary silo, and he didn’t feel like getting his ass shot off for an average ordinary silo. The door however, was around the front, and like it or not, they would have to be reasonably sure the house was empty before they entered, or they would be trapped, he realized, like fish in a barrel. “Lets’ go,” he decided, crouching low as he ran around the silo toward the house.

The house was empty. The house was completely empty. No people, no furniture, no nothing. The only thing that was in the house were three cases of beer piled just inside the rear door, that matched two on the rear porch, apparently to keep the biker type happy. Along with a deep midnight blue Harley sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, its chrome winking, even in the muted light falling through the windows of the kitchen. Other than that it was completely empty. They searched the attic, basement, and found nothing. After the quick search they trotted past the body on the rear porch, and back out to the silo.

“Here goes,” Frank said, as he shot the padlock off the silo door they had hidden behind. He turned the knob and the door swung open. The door was not lead lined, Frank noticed, the pristine interior of the silo was empty. No silage, and definitely no missile, and no false bottom either, the floor was solid concrete, they crawled around the perimeter and checked on their hands and knees to make sure.

“Other one,” Frank said, “it must be in the other one,” he finished, and bolted toward the other silo, with the others close behind.

The second silo had a small key-pad installed into the solid metal door, with both a green and a red indicator light. The red indicator light was pulsing steadily.

“Bitch, what do you make of it, Gar’?” Frank asked.

“Looks almost like a simple house alarm type setup,” Gary responded.

“I wouldn’t try shooting it off, Frank,” Jeremiah cautioned, “could be maybe it would set off some sort’a warning.”

“Believe me I wasn’t entertaining the thought,” Frank responded dejectedly, even though he had been thinking of doing just that. “Does anyone have any idea on how we can get in?”

The silo was connected to the barn, or at least to Jimmy, who had been looking it over, it appeared to be. “Through the barn maybe?” he offered, “looks to be connected to me.”

They circled the entire barn twice, before they came back to the double sliding front doors. From a distance they had appeared to be ordinary doors, but up close they could tell that they were not. They looked to be better than ten inches thick, and that was only what they could see. The sliding mechanism was only for show, the doors either swung inward, or outward, it was hard to tell, but they definitely did not slide. The windows were likewise fake. Within ten feet they had been able to tell they were nothing more than painted replicas. The weathered wood siding was also a sham, Gary discovered, after he kicked the side of the barn in frustration. One rotting board had fallen to reveal the thick concrete shell of the building beneath.

“Well, one thing’s for sure,” Gary said, “there’s something in there, or they wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble of disguising it so well.” He stepped back and stared up toward the roof of the deceptive building. “Might be maybe another way in though,” he said, gazing upward.

The other three men stepped back and looked up as well.

“Through that air vent you thinkin’?” Jeremiah said.

“Might work,” Frank agreed.

Jimmy’s eyes flew open. “I saw a ladder, one of those aluminum jobs around the back,” he exclaimed.

“I saw that myself,” Frank agreed, as he followed Jimmy around the building. They were back in a few minutes carrying the long ladder between them. Jeremiah helped set it up, and then began to climb it toward the top.

The others were positive, at first, that Jeremiah would come tumbling back down the roof to the hard ground.

The roof pitch was steep, and once he had left the ladder he’d had a bad moment or two before he gained his balance. “Don’t worry, I ain’t goin’ to fall,” Jeremiah assured them once he regained his footing, “I climbed my own barn roof more times than you could shake-a-stick-at, and this one ain’t near as steep.”

Still, the three remaining men on the ground were apprehensive, until Jeremiah gained the top of the roof, and the large turbine-type air vent. He seemed to test the solidity of the mounting once he reached it, and then called, “Look out boys, she’s comin’ down.” He twisted the round steel top, the muscles in his arms standing out, crouched down, and let the top fall free, as it came loose with a high squeal of metal against metal. The top tumbled end over end to the ground, the turbine still spinning, until it hit the ground and burst apart, no longer an air-vent, but a small pile of shiny scrap metal.

“Well, what you waiting for?” Jeremiah called down, a smile on his face. “She’s open straight into the loft, come on.”

The others wasted no time in climbing the ladder, and they dropped the six feet to the loft floor, as Jeremiah had, once they had crawled through the now open vent.

The interior of the old barn had been as extensively modified, as the exterior. The entire upper loft area still resembled an actual barn, but below that was where the real renovations had taken place. The entire one hundred foot by forty foot space was completely open, and steel girders now supported the weight of the structure, instead of the massive hand hewn beams that had once done the job.

Excluding the small loft, that had been left intact to facilitate easy access to the roof vents, heating ducts, and electrical conduits, eighty feet of the structure rose unobstructed to the ceiling from the concrete floor thirty feet below. There was no sign of equipment, military or otherwise in the building, it was empty, and the pristine off white of the concrete seemed to bear out the feeling they all had, that the renovation had been fairly recent, and whatever equipment that had been destined to be installed in the structure had not been.

“Looks more like an aircraft hangar than a barn,” Jimmy said, as he stared down into the well-lit space. The building was obviously powered by some electrical source, but no tell-tale sound of a generator could be heard within the structure, and they had heard nothing outside that would indicate the presence of a power plant either. In fact the only sound in the building itself, was the low buzz of the florescent lights suspended from the steel girders.

“You think it’s powered from the caves?” Gary asked.

“Has to be,” Frank responded. “Unless there’s a sound proofed building close by that we missed, and I doubt that,” he finished, and shrugged his shoulders. The empty building echoed their voices, seeming to amplify them as they spoke,

Has to…has…Be…be, and that tended to make them speak in whispers, to avoid the eerie echoes of their own voices.

The barn was extremely oppressive to Frank. He had the feeling that a full scale war unfolding directly outside the building would not be heard, and it was almost as if the building ate the sound of their voices, or absorbed them into its walls after it bounced them around.

“I really don’t like this place much,” Frank said, vocalizing his apprehension.

“Me either… Lets’ see what we got, and whether we kin get into the silo,” Jeremiah said, as he began to climb down a steel ladder to the floor below, “then lets’ get out of here.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Frank said, as he followed. Jimmy scrambled down next, and Gary followed at a slightly slower pace nervously clutching the steel rungs as he did, as though they would suddenly disappear.

“Hey, you comin’, or what?” Frank called up teasingly, as Gary slowly descended. He regretted it a few seconds later as Gary turned his sweat slicked face to him. “Scared a heights a little,” he said through clenched teeth.

“Sorry, Gary, take your time,” Frank said apologetically, as he mentally chastised himself.

To Gary the thirty feet to the concrete seemed more like a mile, and until he finally set one foot on the cement floor, he had been convinced that the ladder would either suddenly fall away, or his own fear would cause him to lose his sweaty grip on the iron rungs, and he would plummet to the cold concrete far below. “Unreasonable, I know,” he said with a shaky voice once he was standing beside Frank. “Unreasonable or not though, I never been able to shake it. Goin’ up ain’t much of a problem, but comin’ down…” He finished, shaking his head, with more than a trace of embarrassment.

“I wish you’d told me, Gary you could have stayed up there, or outside, and I sure as hell wouldn’t have kidded you about it, I feel like a real ass,” Frank said, concern in his eyes.

“Oh sure, I stay outside and get my ass shot off, while you guys get to do the fun stuff,” Gary said in a serious voice. “No thanks, we’re stickin’ together. I’ll deal with the ladder, it ain’t so hard going up, only comin’ down,” he finished smiling. They walked toward Jeremiah and Jimmy at the rear of the structure.

The silo did have a connecting hallway to the barn, but another key-pad, complete with a flashing red indicator light, protected the steel door of the silo, just as the one outside had.

“Any suggestions?” Frank asked.

“Maybe you’ll have to shoot it off after all,” Jeremiah said, a frown settling on his face.

“Maybe I can take it apart,” Jimmy said, as he bent and began to study the key-pad, “gimme that pocket knife of yours, Gary.”

Two slotted screws appeared to be all that held the small black device to the wall. Using the edge of one of the smaller blades Jimmy carefully unscrewed the key-pad, and gently started to ease it away from the wall. The mounting screws were apparently an intrinsic part of the alarm system, for as soon as Jimmy lifted the key-pad a loud braying siren began to wail in the building. “Damn!” Jimmy yelled, and dropped the key-pad as though it had burned him.

“So much for surprise,” Jeremiah yelled above the braying of the siren, panic in his voice, “We better take out the door if we’re going in.”

Luther

Eleven miles away, Luther sat mesmerized by the pulsing message on the monitor. He was replaying for yet another time just exactly how he would enter the remaining codes, and launch the missiles from wherever they were buried in the huge underground complex.

He had men searching them out, but there were miles of underground roads, tunnels, corridors, and natural rock passages to search, and it would take forever for them to search them all. He could only hope that they would stumble upon them in their searching. After all, the law of averages must be tipping in favor of it, he thought, they had already searched better than half of the complex itself.

It still made him angry that their location had not been known to him. He had known several other things. He had known of their existence, hadn’t he? So why was it he didn’t know where they were? He supposed it didn’t matter, not really anyway, as everything was close to being over, and regardless of where they were, they would still do their intended job.

He was anticipating word from Willie later on this evening, concerning the woman. Her capture was assured though, he knew, and Willie would not really be telling him something he didn’t already know, rather just confirming it for him, and once he had the woman, he would have them all.

Another thing that really pissed him off was that he was not positive of where the four men were. He had been able to see them leave Fairport he had even been able to glimpse them briefly as they sped across the lake. After that though, he had not been able to track them, and had no idea where they had gone. But they would have to come here eventually, wouldn’t they? After all they were seeking the missiles, and they had left Rochester.

So far they had not been spotted trying to enter the caves. They would be, he assured himself, and the orders he had issued concerning them were to shoot to kill, on sight, no fucking around. He had no doubt that he would be in possession of their bodies by night fall, and once he was, he would punch in those codes, and send the fools in Rochester a little present.

He didn’t question why in his mind it was so important to him that their top people were dead or at least captured, before he sent the missiles. It was just part of The Plan. His Plan and he had thought it out carefully. Plans were important, and once a plan was devised it was even more important to stick to it. Follow it. See it through to the end. He wanted their deaths to be more personal, he wanted to look at their dead bullet-riddled bodies, and maybe stomp what was left of them, or order their remains torn to shreds.

Yes, he decided, as he watched the screen, torn to shreds, ripped limb to limb. “Yes indeedy,” he said aloud, and shuddered with delight.

He was still thinking of how much he would enjoy the little scenario he was playing out in his fevered mind, when the screen suddenly went blank, and then a split second later began to flash a new message. The wide grin that had been plastered on his face, suddenly slipped as he looked at the screen.

SECURITY BREECH ZONE 7…….

INITIATING POWER DOWN SEQUENCE IN TEN SECONDS.

ENTER COMMAND CODE SECTOR SIX, ZONE SEVEN TO

ABORT POWER DOWN SEQUENCE NOW __

A small cursor blinked, waiting for the requested input.

Now what the fuck did that mean exactly? Luther wondered, and where the fuck was sector six, or zone seven for that matter? And just what the fuck was going on, he asked himself. Power down what? Sector six and zone seven? Did it mean that the four men had somehow managed to enter the underground facility undetected? If so, Luther assured himself, somebody’s balls would be hanging from his belt. They would join several others he had skewered, that now hung suspended from a leather thong at his waist. Fucking-up was not allowed, and the punishment he had devised for it, was a powerful deterrent. As he watched, still puzzled, the screen changed once more.

INITIATING POWER DOWN NOW.

ESTIMATED TIME TO POWER DOWN SECTOR

SIX TEN MINUTES.

ABORT COMMAND ON STANDBY.

A small computer generated digital clock appeared in the upper left hand corner and began to track the time second by second.

Slowly it began to dawn on Luther that the termination might be referring to the missiles. That maybe sector six, zone seven, might be where the missiles were located, and that possibly the four had not only broken into the underground facility, but that they may also have found the missiles, and that maybe, just maybe, they were trying to disarm them, and if that were the case, it couldn’t be allowed, it just could not. Because, he told himself, well because it couldn’t, because…Well, because that wouldn’t be fair, that would be cheating, and even that old bastard who was passing himself off as God wouldn’t cheat, would he? Could he?

No, Luther decided, he was too much of a goody-two-shoes, for that shit, and besides, he didn’t know how to cheat, that was… Well, that was just the way it was, he reasoned. Only I can cheat, it had always been that way, and… and… Well, anything else wouldn’t be playing the game fairly, it would be… cheating, and cheating was no fucking fair, no fucking fair at all, and… So, it couldn’t be, it was against the rules. Not allowed, but… Just in case he was thinking of cheating, not that he could, he assured himself, but just in case, just in case that old bastard was trying to be crafty, hadn’t he better try punching those codes in right now? Hadn’t he better? He glared at the computer screen. Yes, he decided, just in case, not that it was possible, but… “Just in case,” he whispered, as his fingers deftly punched the terminals keyboard, and entered the final codes. “Just in-fucking-case,” he whispered again. He was rewarded with a new screen for his efforts, as the old one blinked away.

TERMINATE POWER DOWN SECTOR SIX ZONE

SEVEN? Y/N __

The screen asked, as the cursor blinked, waiting for input. He quickly punched Y on the keyboard and was rewarded with yet another screen.

CONFIRM ACTIVE LAUNCH STATUS Y/N __

He pushed Y once more.

ENTER LAUNCH COORDINATES_________

Luther referred briefly to a small blue book he had liberated from the base commanders safe. He punched in the specified code for an in-country launch, and then entered the required coordinates.

SPECIFIED COORDINATES INDICATE

10% SURVIVAL RATE THIS FACILITY.

TERMINATE/PROCEED T/P____

Luther pressed P, and the screen went blank. 

Frank

Frank emptied the full clip of the machine pistol into the steel door, which seemed to absorb the bullets rather than bounce them back at him which had been his concern. The heavy steel lock-set blew apart and fell to the floor. Smoke and the smell of burnt gunpowder hung heavy in the air. Jeremiah wriggled his fingers into the bullet-warmed opening that had once contained the lock-set, and tugged sharply. The door swung slowly open, and they stepped inside the silo.

Luther

Luther had begun to panic. A new screen had not appeared, and just what did that mean? He wondered. He refrained from touching the keyboard, or the monitor, although he would have liked to, he was too afraid he would not be able to control himself, that he might just rip the keyboard from the station and smash it to bits, and if it didn’t respond soon, he was afraid he would, and what would that do, and… The screen blinked back on, interrupting his thoughts.

CALCULATING SAFE-FLIGHT STAND BY.

The screen blinked.

Now what the fuck did that mean? Luther asked himself. What was safe flight, and how come it had to calculate anything, and how come it wasn’t just launching the fucking missiles, and this is really beginning to piss me off, and… The screen changed. 

Frank

Frank stepped into the silo behind the others. The smoke was heavier inside the room, and the stench of sulfur dioxide was almost gagging in its intensity. The room however was not so obscured by the smoke, that he could not see that it was empty.

“There ain’t a damn thing in here,” Gary said, echoing their thoughts, “now what d’you make of that?”

Frank was examining the walls of the silo. What had appeared to them to be solid brick on the outside, was not. “Fiberglass cast,” Frank said, “it’s fake, this isn’t a silo…” He had been about to say more, when the floor beneath his feet suddenly began to tilt. “Out!” Jimmy yelled in surprise. “Its’ under the damn floor, get out!”

Luther

Luther stared at the new screen.

SAFE-FLIGHT INSTALLED.

DESTINATION.EXE INSTALLED.

SYS LOC.EXE INSTALLED.

INS.EXE ACTIVE.

24:12:06 TO LAUNCH.

The clock-like entry began to run backwards second by second, as Luther watched in anger.

“NO!” he screamed into the room. “Right fucking now, not twenty-fucking-four-fucking-hours, RIGHT NOW!” He fought to control his temper, and forced his hands to release the key board.

NOW,

He typed out with a jab of one finger, and pressed enter. The terminal beeped, but other than the small beep, nothing happened. He forced his anger down, typed,

TERMINATE,

and again pressed enter. Other than the same small beep, nothing happened. His hands spasmed and he once again grasped the keyboard. One finger jammed the enter key, and a rush of beeps issued forth from the terminal.

NO, he told himself, as he ripped the key board loose, and rocketed it into the screen. The screen imploded with a bright orange shower of sparks.

“NO, NO, FUCKINGFUCKINGFUCKING,” he screamed as he pummeled the monitor with his fists.

Frank

As the four men watched from the relative safety of the hallway, the concrete decking tilted to one side, and a slim white missile glided out of the abyss below the silo. Before it was entirely out of its dark prison, the fiberglass silo began to tip and then crashed to one side. All obstructions removed, the missile, along with its launch mechanism, glided out of the dark socket, and rose majestically into the late afternoon air. Once fully extended the launch assembly swiveled, and canted the missile to an almost flat trajectory, then the hydraulic machinery fell silent. The missile was aimed to the southwest, Frank saw, directly at Rochester.

Ten seconds later the same heavy thudding of hydraulic machinery, came from the direction of a field behind the barn. All four men sprinted to the outside, and around to the rear of the barn. A second missile was rising out of the field, impossibly white against the back-drop of the deep blue afternoon sky.

They watched in silence as the missile swiveled, and assumed the same nearly flat trajectory as the first had. When it was finished the silence seemed deafening in its intensity. Frank broke it.

“We’re screwed,” he said softly, a defeated look on his washed out face, “it was all for nothing.”

“What about trying to find the wiring and cutting it?” Jimmy asked, with no trace of hope in his voice.

“Never get to it time,” Gary said softly, his eyes locked on the missile that had magically risen from the field. “And where would we look?”

“Why ain’t it launching?” Jeremiah asked, Shouldn’t it oughta?”

“We’re screwed,” Frank repeated, as if he had heard none of the other men speak, as if he were totally alone, and really only speaking to himself. “We are screwed.”

Jeremiah’s hand shot out, and smacked loudly against Frank’s cheek. “We ain’t screwed, Frank, so don’t say we are, we ain’t,” his eye’s flashed with anger. “It ain’t launching, Frank,” he repeated as though he were speaking to a child. “And if it ain’t launching,” he continued, dropping his voice to a calmer level, “we ain’t screwed.”

“He’s right, Frank,” Gary said, with a note of hopefulness in his voice, “there ain’t no steam, or whatever that stuff is you see when a rocket gets launched. There ain’t none of that comin’ out the bottom… they ain’t launching, least ways not yet they ain’t.”

Frank shook his head and looked at the missiles, first one, and then the other. “Can we disarm them somehow? Turn them away from Rochester somehow?” he asked.

“We kin try,” Jeremiah said, “but we don’t want to get too near ’em. In fact maybe this is too close, anybody know?”

“If they’re nukes, we’re way to close,” Gary said, “but who gives a shit, I don’t. If they launch they’ll kill a hell-of-a lot more’n just us four. I vote we try, if it kills us… so be it. I’d rather die trying,” his face was grim and determined when he paused and looked around at them. “Well,” he asked, “what’s it gonna be?” 

Luther

Luther was standing in the Main Operations Room. His mangled hands dripped green fluid onto the white composite top of the partition he was leaning against, as he watched the wall of screens. The fluid bubbled and hissed as it ate its way through the top and ran down the sides.

The room was nearly empty, save Luther himself, and some of the computer jocks. He had sent everyone else searching for the four men he was convinced were somewhere in the facility.

All of the screens were in countdown mode. They had switched automatically as soon as the last sequence of numbers had been entered.

If Luther had been in the operation room before the change-over, when the screens were still monitoring outside cameras, and if he had been looking at one monitor in particular, he would have seen the objects of his wrath, as they had stormed the Jeffery’s farm, and killed the biker that had taken up residence there.

Luther knew about the biker. He had been informed by Willie himself two weeks before when the man had moved himself into the farm house. “Willie,” he had said, with a sneer, “who gives a shit about a farm house?”

Willie, who had thought at first that it might be important, had immediately dismissed it, and told the control room personnel not to keep track of the farm.

Steve Iverson, however, had kept track of the man in spite of being told not to. The biker seemed to be up to something, and Iverson hoped that he would be the one to figure out what. Today the watching had paid off, and Luther would have known what had transpired, if he hadn’t ordered one of the men in the control room to shoot Iverson, who now lay dead on the floor by Luther’s feet. Iverson had watched the whole thing, and had been in such a hurry to tell Luther, that he had forgotten to ask permission to speak.

Luther had been far to consumed with anger, to listen to someone who did not even have the courtesy to wait until he was asked to speak, and so had ordered Iverson shot, without ever knowing what sort of information he was so eager to depart.

Far better to nip disobedience in the bud quickly, Luther thought, as he gazed down at Iverson’s crumpled body.

Once he had been able to calm down, he had wondered briefly what Iverson had wanted to say, but only briefly, and then his attention had been drawn to the screen-wall, and the count-down clocks that they showed.

He knew for sure now, that he had been cheated, but it was still salvageable, he told himself. He had called Willie, to make sure that they would get the woman, impressed upon him how severe the penalty would be if he didn’t, and then had allowed himself the joy of watching the screens count down.

It could have been worse, he reasoned, the missiles might not have set at all, the old bastard might have jinxed that too. But he hadn’t, and if he had to wait a few hours so what, hadn’t he already waited for thousands of years? What was a few more hours compared to that?

“Nothing at all,” he whispered calmly into the quiet room. “No big deal.” No sooner had he spoken the words out loud, when all the screens in the Operations Room went blank.

Frank

“We do it,” Frank said, as he stared at the missile in the field and sighed. “Gary’s, right, four of us, or all of them.”

“How come there were no warnings,” Jimmy asked, “shouldn’t there have been those triangular warning plaques inside if they’re armed with nuclear war-heads?”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Gary said, “but what else would they be? I don’t have a clue, ‘less they’re chemical war-heads could be some sort of regular war-head. Maybe even CFP’s. Trying to figure out what it is, ain’t gonna help us at all,” he said, as he turned and started toward the missile behind them. The others followed, and when they reached the missile, they began to circle it. Taking their first real look at it.

They had been too panicked before to notice much of anything, other than, it was white, it was big, and it looked like death, and it was the last thing they had really wanted to see, even though they had come here to find it.

The launching mechanism was almost as big as the circumference of the silo had been, and the massive steel girder-like arms that protruded upward, cradling the missile securely, also held two thick cables of wires that entered the body of the missile about twenty feet from the ground.

“What happens if we cut those wires?” Gary asked, as Jeremiah and Frank left to get the ladder they had used to climb onto the barn roof.

“Wouldn’t it blow up?” Jimmy asked.

“It ain’t like a bomb, like you see defused on TV,” Gary answered. “Least I don’t think it is. But I ain’t sure if cutting those wires will do the trick. It might not. I think though, that they might be to guide it… I wish to hell I knew for sure, but I don’t, I’m guessing. But it’s a place to start, I suppose.”

Frank and Jeremiah came back around the barn with the ladder, and leaned it up against the smooth surface of the Missile, adjusting it so it fell just below the cables that entered the body.

“I’ll go,” Jeremiah said, as he started up at the ladder before anyone could protest. He gained the top of the ladder, and gently pulled at the bundle of wiring, after first peeling back a protective rubber hood that shielded the wires where they entered the missile. The wires did not budge.

He looked down at the upturned faces of the other men. “Looks to be a special sort of plug-like thing can’t see how it releases though.”

“Probably don’t ’till it launches,” Gary said gloomily, “cut the buggers, Jeremiah, if she blows, she blows, we got nothin’ to lose.”

Jeremiah began to cut, and as he cut each wire all of them cringed, expecting the missile to suddenly explode. When the steel blade of the knife grounded out one of the wires that was obviously hot, the resulting shower of sparks caused them all to cry out. The shock nearly knocked Jeremiah from the ladder, but he managed to loosen his grip on the knife and hold on. The knife fell to the ground below, the blade distorted and notched where the high voltage from the wire had arced into it, the plastic handle smoking.

Frank was up the ladder quickly, and only half way up did he remember that the ladder was metal, and if… If nothing, he told himself, as he continued to climb.

“You okay?” he asked, once he had gained the top of the ladder, and grabbed Jeremiah’s jeans to steady him. “Come on, let’s get down from here, come on, Jeremiah, back up, I’ll hold you.”

Once they had reached the ground, and Jeremiah had shaken his head several times, he began to feel somewhat normal again. He didn’t remember Frank climbing the ladder, and he didn’t remember coming down either. He picked up the knife, which was still warm to the touch, and looked at it. The blade was curved, almost hooked now, and he could clearly see the notch that the wire had burned into it. The plastic wood grain of the handle was nearly smooth too.

Other than a small burn in the palm of his right hand, and a slight vibrating sensation in that same arm, he felt okay, he guessed, and he certainly looked a lot better than the knife did, he reasoned. “I think I’ll live,” he stated matter-of-factly, as he let the knife fall back to the ground, “anyone have another knife?”

Gary pulled one from his front pocket, and Frank grabbed it before Jeremiah did, turned, and quickly climbed the ladder up to the bundle of wires. “Don’t be a friggin’ hero,” Gary called after him, “for God’s sake be careful,” he warned

Frank had no intention of being anything but careful. He slowly pulled each wire apart, making sure it couldn’t touch any others, as he finished cutting all but the last wire. “Now what?” he asked, “if I cut the last one the cables gonna fall, and if it hits the beam, or the ladder…?”

Jimmy scrambled up the ladder and supported the cable as Frank hacked through the last wire, then they carefully backed down the ladder. About ten feet from the ground the cable came up short, and Jimmy was forced to let go of it. They both jumped, as he released the cable, and landed in yet another shower of sparks, as the cable swung against one of the steel girders support rods. It stuck fast, at first, welding itself to the rod. But its own weight pulled it free within a few seconds, and it swung out and away, ending up far from the girder, where it slowly swung to a halt.

“Lets’ do the other one,” Frank said, as he and Jeremiah carefully pulled the ladder down.

Twenty minutes later they were finished. Frank had taken a great deal of care with the second cable, to be sure there was no repeat of the first incident. They had taken the ladder down, and left it in the field.

“I wish I knew for sure if those wires being cut will stop ’em from launching,” Gary said glumly, as they walked away from the missiles. They sat on the long rear porch of the old farm house and stared out at the missiles that sat gleaming in the late afternoon sunlight.

“I don’t see why they haven’t launched already,” Jimmy wondered aloud.

Frank pulled a case of the beer close to him, opened it, and they each took one, sipping quietly, as they stared glumly at the two slender white needles that rose from the farm.

“I’m going back,” Frank said at last. “If they launch on the way… fine. If they don’t, maybe I’ll be able to see Jessie once more before they do. I sure don’t want to just sit here and die, or wait to die,” he finished solemnly.

“How long before radiation can kill you?” Jimmy asked in a resigned voice.

“Maybe a couple of days at the outside,” Gary replied. “But, we’ll probably wish we were dead long before that,” he paused. “Might be that they ain’t nukes,” he continued hopefully, “but if they are, I guess we’ll know soon enough. Maybe within a few hours, as close as we was to ’em.”

“Well,” Jeremiah said, “seems to me that if they were nuclear warheads, that silo would’ve been lead lined. Don’t that make sense?”

“Yeah!” Jimmy said enthusiastically. “It should’ve been and it wasn’t, just fiberglass, and that wouldn’t have been any protection from radiation, and the Army had to have had guys working here, right?”

“Okay,” Frank said, “maybe so, but if they aren’t nuclear, then what are they?”

“Maybe conventional,” Jimmy said, still enthusiastic.

“Probably chemical,” Gary followed, “and if they are, it probably won’t matter where we go, or what we do…The wind will spread it everywhere. I ain’t so sure we killed ’em. I ain’t so sure they ain’t gonna launch.”

They sat in silence, sipping at the warm beer, staring at the missiles.

“Then we have to do more,” Frank said, a determined look on his face. “We have to make damn sure they don’t launch.” Frank looked around at the farm.

Besides the barn, silos, and house, there were two other outbuildings. Both were falling down sheds really, they didn’t look to him to have been converted for use by the Army. “Listen,” he said “farms have tractors, right? You ever see one around here, Gar’?”

“Always used to be,” he answered, “what’re you drivin’ at, Frank?”

“I think he’s thinkin’ about pushin’ those babies over,” Jeremiah answered. “That about right, Frank?”

“Yeah, it is. I mean they look as though they’re only resting in those launchers, don’t they? It shouldn’t be too hard to tip them up and over, would it?”

Jeremiah was already up and walking toward one of the sheds. “Could blow ’em though. You think, Gary?” he asked, as he walked away.

“Could, but you’re gonna do it anyhow ain’t you,” Gary sighed, as he got up and followed.

“I am at that. Course it’s been a while since I was on a tractor. I hope this time ain’t like the last,” Jeremiah said.

Gary looked over at Frank. “Beats me,” Frank said as he shrugged his shoulders.

The first shed was empty, but the second yielded the tractor, and not the old International that Gary remembered, but a new-looking John Deere model.

Jeremiah started the tractor, after locating the keys on a peg just inside the shed door, and drove out into the field, coming to stop underneath the slim missile. He raised the bucket slowly until it clinked softly against the metal underbelly, then slowly gave the up-lever little nudges, until the missile lifted about a quarter inch off the launch cradle. He jockeyed the tractor forward, and carefully lifted the bucket simultaneously, raising the missile higher as he did. The tractors front tires began to sink into the ground once the full weight of the missile was on the bucket, and the missile screeched as it swiveled up from the launch mechanism. Jeremiah cramped the wheel full right, as he backed slowly away, and just cleared the launch arm with the forward most part of the missile. He lowered the bucket as he continued to reverse, transferring the full weight of the missile onto the front of the large tractor, and dragged it the remaining few feet, up and over the launch assembly. The rear of the missile reached the edge of the launch arm, and they all held their breath as Jeremiah slowly reversed, and the missile came free, crashing rear first into the ground.

The impact buried the rear of the missile a good foot into the ground. But it did not explode, or start ticking, or whatever the hell it was that missiles did, Frank noticed with relief.

The second one was even easier, due to the concrete pad of the silo, and the much harder ground surrounding it. Less than an hour after they had begun, they were finished, and once again seated on the rear porch of the old farm house.

“That was nut’s,” Gary said, “nobody would ever believe it if we told ’em. In fact if any of you guys had told me I’d help do something like that, I would’ve told you, you were soft in the head.”

“Yeah,” Frank said smiling, “but we did do it, didn’t we? Can you believe it?”

“Only ’cause I did it,” Jeremiah said.

“Surprising what fear can make you capable of,” Jimmy said softly.

“I’ve read stuff like that though,” Gary said, “people lifting” cars off loved ones, things like that, fear is a mighty strong motivator all right.”

“Well if you ever write a book, you can add this to it,” Frank said, “chapter seven four scared men dismantle two nuclear bombs. Should sell like hot-cakes.” He stood as he finished speaking. “I’m going back, how about you guys?”

“Only thing to do, we’re done here,” Gary agreed.

Jeremiah and Jimmy stood, and the four men began to walk back toward the road, away from the farm.

“If it kills me; if it was a nuclear job,” Gary said, as they walked away, “I don’t care. It was worth it.”

“Is it a good idea to go back?” Jimmy said, suddenly alarmed, “could someone else… Well, could someone else catch it, are we, like, contaminated or something?”

The question brought them all to a sudden halt in the middle of the vine covered road.

“Don’t look at me,” Gary said, as they all turned toward him, “I don’t know, I really don’t,” he paused for a second. “He’s got a good point, and I ain’t got a clue, ain’t that a bitch?”

“Lets’ not go jumpin’ to conclusions,” Jeremiah said calmly. “If we are, going back ain’t gonna make a real big difference. Nothing saying we gotta leave the boat once we get there, especially if we take sick along the way. It’s a good three hours back, and as close as we were I think we’d be feelin’ it by then. If we’re sick… We just stay on the boat in Fairport, we don’t get off, so we can’t make anybody else sick, if it is catchin’,” he finished.

“If we aren’t sick?” Frank asked.

“We play it by ear, I guess,” Jeremiah replied. “But staying here ain’t gonna help us at all, is it?”

“No, it sure ain’t,” Gary agreed.

Jimmy seemed calmer, as he agreed, and Frank nodded his head as they struck off down the road, back to the boat. Silence descended between them as they walked. Even once they had started the boat and Gary had piloted them out into lake, the silence still held.

We’re waiting to see who gets sick first, Frank thought, as the boat plowed through the water.

When darkness finally descended a few minutes later they were all relieved. The darkness was good, Frank decided, they didn’t have to look at each other as they waited.


America The Dead: The Fold 2. The Fold begins to grow from discontent and becomes an enemy #iTunes #Horror #Survive https://books.apple.com/us/author/w-g-sweet/id1156638419


America the Dead podcast on Apple Episode Twelve

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Episode twelve of the popular America the Dead series: The survivors go out looking for vehicles and find death instead. During the destruction death was loose and causing its own destruction to people who may have survived if someone had not decided their time was through…


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Prison 101:15

STOP! This material is NOT edited for content. It is not fiction. It contains explicit language and descriptions of real situations. It is not suitable for minors, and may not be suitable for people who easily disturbed…


MESSHALL

I was in the mess hall with a work crew one day. I had been working with this crew for a couple of years. The way the movement worked in this prison, the work crews were fed after population, or pop as we called it.

What it amounted to for us, was that we sat for quite a while, while the mess hall emptied out, so our C.O.’s could come and pick us up.  In a Max inmates don’t move unescorted. No officer, you sit and wait. In a medium you go everywhere on your own. Sitting and waiting on your officer in a max mess hall you ended up seeing a lot of the crazy stuff that goes on.  After all you’re stuck there, there isn’t much to do but watch.

While we’re sitting there, I watched this kid keep getting into a beef with an older guy. The older guy would nod his head patiently, and walk away from the kid, but the kid would chase him down, and start the shit all over again. The old guy put up with that for a good fifteen minutes, before he turned to the kid and warned him off.

The four of us on the work crew, sat and wondered what might happen next. But the kid walked away, and the old guy went back to working. I just made up my mind to watch something else to pass my time, when the kid came back from the kitchen and threw a punch at the old guy. The old guy backed up, pulled a pen from his pocket and stabbed the kid in the eye with it. The mess hall was locked down for the next four hours and we were stuck there sitting at a table by ourselves for most of that time.

Another time, a bad one, I was sitting in the mess hall with the Carpentry shop crew. And two men got into an argument. The argument went back and forth several times, the one guy would run his mouth to the other, and the other would say some slick shit back. Eventually the mess hall emptied out and it was just four of us waiting to get picked up.

At that point the mess hall workers come out and mop, pick things up, clean tables, so it isn’t unusual for them to be walking around.

So the one kid comes back carrying an aluminum tray in his hands. He says nothing as he walks up behind the guy. The guy senses him and begins to turn. The kid takes the tray and slams it into his eyes. Blood went everywhere. They had to call in a specially trained Bio Hazzard crew to clean up. The state police showed up. Markers were set by every blood drop and photographed. We sat there through the whole thing.

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America The Dead: Zombie Fall Apple Books

EARTH’S SURVIVORS AMERICA THE DEAD: ZOMBIE FALL

Earth’s Survivors America the Dead: Zombie Fall is copyright © 2016 Dell Sweet. All rights foreign and domestic reserved in their entirety.

Cover Art © Copyright 2016 Wendell Sweet

Some text copyright 2010, 2014, 2015 Wendell Sweet

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your bookseller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

LEGAL

This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons’ places, situations or events is purely coincidental.

This novel is Copyright © 2016 Wendell Sweet and his assignees. Dell Sweet and Geo Dell are publishing constructs owned by Wendell Sweet. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission.

Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.

NOTICE: This material is not edited for content


PROLOGUE

Before The Plagues

New York: Rochester

John Simmons

The sidewalks below him were crowded. John stood at the apex of the steps that led up to the old court house. It was impressive. He looked down at his hands, shifting the small silver canister from hand to hand, rolling it across his palm, treating it as though it were just a small fascination to occupy his mind, when in fact he knew it was something more. He didn’t know what, exactly: He wasn’t paid to know what. Maybe someone up the ladder knew what, he didn’t, and it was likely he never would, but it was something more than just a shiny little object to occupy his mind.

He had done hundreds of these small jobs. Little things. Little things that probably meant nothing in the scheme of things, at least that’s what he had always told himself. A little mental salve to prevent an infection of the larger truth. Little things he never heard a single thing about later on. Little things, but he suspected this time, this job was not a little thing at all. He suspected this was a big thing. He suspected he would hear about this one down the road. He suspected this one would come back to bite him in the ass.

The trouble was, in for a penny, in for a pound. It all mattered. He had taken job after job where he might leave an item on a park bench. Drop off a set of wheels in the middle of the desert. Switch a suitcase at an airport. Little jobs. Little jobs and he had never said no. Never complained about them. Never turned one down. And so here he was about to press the activator on a small, silver canister that might do anything. Anything at all. And was he worried about that? Yes, he was.

It was not so much worry for himself. He didn’t really believe the thing would blow up. He didn’t truly think they would take him out that way, if there was ever a reason to take him out, that was. He quickly shut down that line of thought. He had too much to worry about right now without starting a whole new avenue of doubt.

So, no, he did not believe it would blow up. He believed it would hiss and release a giant cloud of some sort of toxic gas: Gases even, he amended. Waste, poison, something, but if that were the case how could he safely set it off and not be contaminated himself?

The instructions were to walk to the top of the courthouse steps, depress the red button, and then toss it away. No specific direction, just away. It apparently didn’t matter. And, he thought now, wasn’t this exactly the way some terrorist would do it? Do an attack? A poison gas attack? An unclassified viral attack? He had seen a few movies, this was the way he would do it if he was writing the script. The girl beside him spoke.

“If this is going to take much longer you’re gonna have to pay more. I know I said I would be cool, a fifty, I mean, but standing around here is wasting my time. I got places to be. I got…”

He cut her off. “And you ain’t got no money yet. And if you do want the money then you need to shut the fuck up.” He went back to his self observation. A second later he looked back at her. “Hey, hey,” he soothed. She had begun to pout. Just another street girl with a habit and too much time on her hands to feed it.

“Look…” He waited for her to look at his hand. He held the small vial upright. “Do me a favor, okay? I was looking around because, well, because I want a picture right here. Now all you have to do is push this little red button… Aim at me, it’s got a little camera in there…You can’t see it, it’s one of those new ones… Like them spy ones? So all you got to do is point it at me and then press the button.” He held the canister and looked around. She tried to take the canister from his hand and he snatched it away.

“Goddammit, Dude, You want it or not?” She stamped her foot exactly like the spoiled child she was and was destined to always be.

“Yeah… Yeah I do. Just… See that corner over there? The top of the stairs? That little what-do-you-call-it hollow between those two pillars? Wait until I get there and take the picture.” He handed her the silver canister and started away.

“Hey! How the fuck am I spos’ed to tell? There ain’t no screen thingy, what-the-fuck-it-is?”

He turned back and smiled. “Just face it to me and do it. It’s not supposed to have a thing, screen, just do it.”

She turned the canister to her face. It was only about four inches long, maybe an inch thick. It didn’t look like a camera at all. She turned it back to John and clicked the button. Nothing, not even a click. It didn’t work. It was bullshit just as she had thought.

John froze when he saw her push the button, but nothing happened. Nothing at all. She had pushed it just a few inches from his nose. No odor. No vapor he could see. No anything. He pulled it from her fingers and flipped it back and forth. The red button was depressed now and although he tried to work a thumbnail under it to pull it back up he couldn’t do it. He bought it closer to his nose, nothing. No odor. He pressed it to his ear. No hissing. It was dead. A dud. Whatever it was it did nothing at all. Maybe it had even malfunctioned. He hefted it a few times and then let it drop from his fingers. It hit the stone step below him with a small metallic clink, and then rolled away to the edge. It dropped to the next step, but it didn’t have enough momentum to find its way across that step to the next. He turned back to the girl.

“You broke my camera,” he told her.

“Did not, and that ain’t no fuckin’ camera anyway. You think I’m just stupid?”

“I do think you’re stupid. You broke it. You broke it and so I ain’t paying you. In fact, you should pay me for breaking my camera! Besides which, you pressed it before it was time. You fucked the whole thing up. I shouldn’t pay you shit. Not a fuckin’ dime.”

“Yeah?” she asked. Her eyes were wet, but they were also hard. She looked around at the crowd. “That’s okay, because you know what?”

“What?” John asked. He smiled. She was stuck and he knew it.

“What is, I’m fourteen. Fourteen. And I bet you if I was to start yelling right now, oh, something like rape. If I was to say Rape!” She raised her voice a little and a nearby couple flashed their eyes at the two and slowed.

John flinched and drew back from her.

“Yeah, see? So, now if I was to do that I bet your tune would be different. I just bet it would.”

“Twenty,” John said. His smile was gone.

“You said fifty. Fifty is what you said, and it should be eighty.” She picked eighty out of a hat. It was three more dimes, and three more dimes was a lot better than five. “It is eighty. It’s eighty because you tried to rape me!” She raised her voice once more and John’s hand plunged quickly into his back pocket. He flipped a fifty and three tens at her from the wallet he had quickly pulled free, and she had to scramble to catch the money. Two of the tens fluttered to the stone step below her and she flashed a hard smile at him. The couple that had cut their eyes at them were now stopped and staring at the two of them. A cell phone appeared in the woman’s hand and when John met her eyes there was something there he didn’t like at all. The girl scooped up the money, muttering as she did, and John headed down the stairs two at a time. A few minutes later he had blended into the crowd and was making his way away from the downtown area.

ONE

September 15th year one

Mike sat quietly on the stone ledge, feet dangling over the edge, watching the sunrise. Patty and Candace were both on post and Mike expected them to come down from the top of the pass in just a few minutes. He sipped at his coffee as he waited for them.

He was midway up the ledge, just below the wider ledge that fronted the cave, before him the valley spread out in all directions. You could see the mountains where they blocked one end and sent the valley into a long right hand curve, but even that was several miles distance from where he sat. It was a huge expanse of land, and it was only a small part of the land that was available to them.

There were three large metal barns within sight, constructed from the steel buildings they had bought in with them. There were two smaller steel structures, one that housed the school, the other their small power plant.

That building sat next to the stream, further down the valley, and held the power generator they had bought, and two large diesel engines from two of the flatbed trucks.

It had taken three days to get the trucks down there. Using a winch on the pickup and the third stake bed as an anchor, but, they had done it. The two diesels were soon to be hooked into the main power supply line so that when the wind power was not enough they could run the diesels for supplementary power. The stream itself generated power, but the current was not fast enough, or strong enough to fill their needs. Coupled with the wind power it was more than enough. Backed by the two diesels to turn the generators, they would be fine year round

They intended to add solar panels eventually to provide on demand power and to take the load off the water turbine on sunny days. The power that wasn’t used could be stored in a bank of batteries. Another item that was needed. Items, Mike corrected himself. Plus wire, lots and lots of wire. Because, although the power plant was working, there were only a few lights here and there and only very close to the plant, most of the other dwellings, and the cave, were without power.

The other dwellings were made of stone. Like the power plant, they had Tim’s remarkable mind to thank for the stone and concrete walls. He had read about the power plant and put it together. He had read and understood the formula for cement and made it.

The first few batches were not the best, but they worked well enough, and after that he had shown Ronnie, Patty, David and Mike how to mix the batches. The stone buildings had gone up fast after that.

It took the longest to build the roofs, they were nearly all wood and they had not thought to bring a sawmill, although Bob was sure there had been a fairly large portable one at the farm equipment store.

They had remembered chain saws and oil, and Tim had used an illustration in a project book to build a small Sawmill using one of the larger chain saws. It worked well enough, but ate into their gas supply, which was very low. Even so it had allowed them to build dwellings, another barn, milk house, and slaughterhouse.

The concrete had allowed them to build a long stone wall that sat at the edge of the ledge that fronted the cave and the sheer drop off to the valley below. They had built a chimney for the smoke hole, as well as another wall at the front of the cave to close it off and protect it from the rain and snow they expected. Rain for sure, they had already seen that. They would know more about the snow in just a few months. Mike hoped to be back by then.

He pulled a small notebook from his pocket and wrote… “Base type radios.” He then tucked the notebook away. The notebook was the only way to do it, otherwise he would forget too many things and…

“Hey, babe,” Candace said. She and Patty walked side by side down the pathway from the top. They were both showing, at nearly six months along, and that was the main reason that he and Ronnie would be going along with Nell, Molly, Tim and Annie on the re-supply trip, and Candace and Patty would be staying behind. He stood quickly so she would not try to bend to kiss him. Candace was even larger than Patty and already uncomfortable. He kissed her and held it for a moment.

“Any more of that coffee,” she asked.

“At home,” he smiled. “All you want… Patty?” He offered.

“Nope,” she stood smiling. “I’m going home to my man. With you two leaving tomorrow I have forbidden him to go anywhere else today or tomorrow. I don’t want him to forget me,” she said. She smiled but couldn’t quite hide the worry in her eyes.

“I had the same idea,” Candace said. “Believe me,” she said, kissing Mike again. “He’s not going to forget about me.”

Patty laughed, “You guys,” she said. The three of them continued down the path to the valley floor, past the pool and on down the flagged pathway to the stone houses.

They left Patty with Ronnie, and headed to the next house in line. The inside was still only sparsely furnished and smelled of the fresh cut pine that had been used to build the roof and wall studding. They had to make everything they owned, and it took time. Another thing they had not thought of, furniture. A few simple chairs or beds. They would remember this time though; they were on the list.

Candace stayed on the front porch while Mike went in and started the coffee. The flowers in her little garden were in bloom and the fragrance was strong on the morning air. Mike came back out to find her sitting on the long porch swing he had built for her, fashioned from heavy rough cut planks and sanded smooth with sandstone, watching the sun continue to rise.

He handed her, her coffee, and then carefully sat down beside her so she wouldn’t spill it. She was quiet.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Mike said.

“You don’t have a penny,” she said smiling.

“Well, you know, if I did,” Mike said.

“I’ve been thinking about you leaving. I wish I was going, but I’m also glad to be pregnant with our baby, still I’m going to worry about you while you’re gone,” she took his hand and held it.

“A month, month and a half tops, and we’ll be back. I wish you were going too, but to be honest I’m glad you’re not. Bouncing around those trucks, you and Patty both? No, not at all. Sandy was right to say no. So, I’m gonna miss you, but we’ll be back with a bunch of stuff to keep you busy through the winter and probably the next few years.”

“Oh yeah,” she said. “Which reminds me, computers.”

“Computers,” he asked.

“Yeah, it would be so helpful to have a few. For the farm, school, teaching the kids. The power project, but also for my music. You did that right… Computers? Used to program them,” she asked.

“Yeah, and I didn’t think I’d see them again, but you’re right they would be useful,” Mike agreed.

“Can you program,” she asked. “You said so, right? Can you write a program like Tim wants for the powerhouse?”

“Well, I’m okay with HTML, C, Java, but not so hot with C++. But, I don’t have to be, Janet is,” Mike told her.

“Janet,” she asked.

“Yeah, she worked as a data processor. But she wrote several data base programs to do specific work. Not like macros or scripts you write for databases, but real programs,” he said.

“Babe, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, but will you get them?” Candace smiled.

Mike smiled and pulled out a notebook. “How many were you thinking,” he asked.

“A few dozen. A little more maybe and the stuff to hook them together?” She said.

He wrote it down and then re-pocketed the notebook. “You got it, Babe. And I’m sorry for the tech-speak,” he smiled and kissed her. “Now, didn’t you say something about spending time with me, before I left?”

She leaned over and closed his mouth with her own. “Come with me,” she said softly, pulling him from the porch swing and into the house…

There was no head of what they had named ‘The New Nation’ and then immediately abbreviated to just ‘The Nation,’ instead they had chosen nine members from among themselves and formed a representative panel. There were also no formal meetings, but when something needed to be decided or discussed the nine of them got together and hashed it out.

They would be down to six, losing Mike, Ronnie and Nellie to the expedition, but they decided there was no real reason to appoint someone to take their places while they were gone. It was so rare for them to even meet that there should be little reason for that to occur while they were gone. “And if it did?” Patty had asked.

“Well,” Bob had said. “Six could decide every bit as well as nine could.” And that had been the end of it.

Instead of remaining in the dark ages as some had been concerned about, Bob and Janet had been all for nearly any and every modern convenience they could find. Bob had balked at telephones though when Tim mentioned how easily it could be done.

“We have radios. I for one don’t want to have to answer the phone so young Tim here can sell me a subscription to the local paper,” he had joked. But the point had been made, even with Tim, and he had immediately turned his attention to radios. Base radios. More power. No Batteries. Radios, Phones, they were the same thing to Tim’s mind. A cell phone could fit in your pocket. The clunky radios they carried now could not. Bob would come around once he saw how much easier a cell phone would work. They were nothing more than a glorified radio anyway. Tim decided not to mention his argument to Bob though. Maybe later.

One of the first decisions the panel had made was to use the cave for a meeting place, clinic, and storage. There were several dry, cold storage areas. The passages went on forever it seemed. The ridge that lead away into the distance, and formed a natural border for the valley, was honeycombed with caves. Most of them connected to the main cave. At least the ones they had explored. Probably, Mike had opinioned, they all did. It was just a matter of exploring them and mapping them out.

There were also underground rivers, steep narrow passages that went deep into the ground. They had blocked off anything truly dangerous within the first few months.

Sandy and Susan had decided to build their own home into the stone overhang. It only made sense, Sandy had said. The clinic was in the cave. The herb racks. The medicines. They were both working their way through several books to learn as much as they could about herbs and the natural healing properties of the trees and plants around them.

Tim and Annie had chosen to live in the cave too. Tim needed the space for the projects he had going. He moved from one thing to the next. He couldn’t wait to get his hands on a few computers, and he was sure he could easily learn whatever Mike and Janet were willing to teach him.

Sharon was learning to nurse from Sandy. She was also finding her background as a veterinarian’s assistant in demand. She was fascinated with plant and herb medicines and was as eager as Sandy and Susan to learn it.

Cindy had stayed in the cave because of Sharon. She was like a mother to her. Whatever had needed to click had. Cindy was impressed with the veterinarian skills Sharon had, and eager to learn from her.

Cindy’s other hero was Molly, who could do just about anything to a motor or any other mechanical thing. She was learning mechanics from Molly and animal husbandry from Sharon. It filled her days up. Made her feel useful. And she rarely thought of her old life any longer.

The large main room in the cave was used as a gathering place by all of them whenever they wanted to get together. It was this space that had been closed in with stone, and a heavy, solid plank door protected the interior from the elements.

Down in the valley, two of the barns held most of the animals, several head of cattle and bison grazed in the valley. They were still fed grain to keep them dependent and close by. The others, mothers who were through nursing their calves, were moved to a separate part of the barn and joined the milking team. They now had twenty-four milkers, and a steady supply of milk, cheese and butter.

The other half of the barn held chickens and rabbits. They had separate areas in the same space, and both reproduced very quickly so they had a constant supply of fresh meat. Some weeks more than they could use. But It was easy to use the far, colder reaches of the caves to keep the meat cold. The cold storage was not enough to keep the meat frozen during the summer but it did keep it cold enough to keep the meat fresh a few weeks at a time. A permanent smoke house existed farther down the valley and took all the excess meat and turned it into dried meat. Highly concentrated protein that could be stored for months. They were working on pemmican so that it could be stored indefinitely, as long as it was kept dry.

The egg supply was also constant with fresh layers coming along all the time. The beef cows were free to graze the valley floor. A short section of stone wall had been erected to close off the exit at the far end of the valley where a second, longer valley ran for several miles, eventually opening into untold miles of grazing lands past the mountain range.

That closed in several miles of the main valley. The sides of the valley climbed to ridges that were far too steep for any animal besides a mountain goat to climb. The area that held the houses and the ledges that led up to the caves was fenced off.

The horses shared the valley. They tended to prefer the closer proximity of people. Several horses were stabled in the second barn along with oxen teams. Some of those horses were used for field work along with the oxen, but there were about a dozen horses that were used for riding and herding the beef cows.

Spread out in the valley there was a small herd of moose and another of deer. Both by-products of the cow chow they had used to lure the cows and horses. An even smaller herd of Bison had stayed in the valley. The question in everyone’s mind at first was whether any of them were cross mate-able. Because the moose bulls were constantly chasing after the cows when they came into heat. They took the questions to Sharon.

“Moose and Cow, No,” Sharon said. “Cow and Bison, yes.” She had laughed it off. But soon after that they were blessed with the first Beefalo calf, and more, she suspected, were on the way.

The third and fourth barns in the valley were used for storing grain and hay they would need to get through the coming winter.

Angel was pregnant, but not by The Dog. The Dog had no fear when it came to chasing off the Wolves and Coy dogs that came down into the valley on occasion. Even the occasional mountain lion. They usually came for the deer, the cows were too large for them. But the calves were not. And they had lost five calves to them. The Dog may have had no fear but at fifty pounds he had been no match for the wolves.. The smallest coy dogs were close to eighty pounds, the smaller wolves closer to a hundred, and the larger ones bigger by far. Most often The Dog ended up on the bad end of things. Torn up, but still game for the next fight. The problem, as Sharon saw it, was that they needed a much bigger dog.

Angel was also a mix, but a much bigger dog. Some sort of Saint Bernard mixed in, Sharon thought, and then crossed with either a Malamute or a wolf. Malamutes were close to wolves in size, some even bigger. They had been bred as freight dogs in Alaska back in the early 1950’s, and had actually come from breeding domestic dog breeds back to wolves.

Sharon had not come up with the solution, Cindy had.

They had both been present when one of the larger male wolves had tried to take down one of the nearly full grown calves they had bought into the valley with them. They were nowhere near as big as a full grown cow, but they were very nearly.

The wolf had been no match for the calf or the calf’s mother who had been nearby. The mother had hit the wolf from the side and broken its spine. She had also delivered a few well placed kicks before herding the calf off. They had checked the calf over and used some antiseptic cream on its belly where the wolf had tried to rip it open, and then let it return to its anxious mother. That was when Cindy had noticed that the wolf was still breathing. Very shallowly, probably not for much longer, but it was alive.

They had, had Angel tied up to keep her away from The Dog who was making a general pest of himself because she was in heat.

“Too bad,” Cindy had said, “We didn’t get him to mate with Angel first.”

Sharon had smiled. “Cindy, you’re a frickin’ genius!”

“How so,” Cindy asked.

“Well. He’s not dead. Everything is working… We can make it work.” Sharon had said.

Cindy looked down at the wolf. “Hold him up?” She was trying to imagine how it might work.

Sharon laughed. “Okay. I take it back. You’re not a genius… How did I show you to do it with the bulls?”

“Oh…” Cindy smiled as it came to her. “You think it will work,” she asked.

Sharon shrugged her shoulders, but continued to smile. “Go get the gloves. Let’s find out.”

“Eww,” Cindy said. “I’m not too good with that part.”

“Time to get better, my dear,” Sharon laughed.

As it turned out it did work, an unconscious wolf or not. A little help from a turkey baster and a few weeks later Angel was pregnant.

The lions were another problem. Sharon had no doubt that a few more crossbreedings would produce dogs big enough to keep the wolves at bay, but they would be no match for the mountain lion, or lions, whichever it turned out to be. Bob had done some tracking and he was convinced it was at least three different lions they were dealing with.

And the problem with that was the children.. The lions seemed only to come around at night, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t come around during the day. So they had set a trap, leaving the fresh remains of a beef cow, and Candace along with Tim had sat up most of two nights in a row. The second night had been the payoff.

Two of the big cats had come down to feed on the cow’s carcass. The cats had been nervous and so they had let them both settle in for a few minutes before they had brought both of them down. They had had no other trouble since then. The furs along with all the other game they shot went up to the cave to be cleaned, stretched and turned into usable leather and fur.

Janet had both Tom and David learning how to prepare and tan the hides. She herself had only ever done it on a small scale, so it was somewhat of a learning process for her too. But there were already some wearing leather vests, pants. Janet herself wore nothing but leather now. Tom and Lilly both had begun to wear only leather, and that had convinced Annie, who was very close to Lilly to try it too. Arlene had already been wearing leather and Janet opinioned that in a few years they would all probably be wearing leather.

Candace and Patty were hoping to build a loom or a spinning wheel long before that. Or have someone build it for them if they couldn’t do it themselves. But both of them had already begun wearing leather. In all truth, Candace told Patty, she liked the way the leather felt on her. It was completely different from cotton, and she wasn’t so sure that Janet was not right. Patty had laughed, but a few days later she had been wearing a leather shirt top that Janet had made for her, and extolling the virtues of leather herself.

In a little over five months they had made the valley into a home. All the prejudices that some had had about living off the land, going back to nature, or simply staying alive, had gone by the wayside. The fields they had cultivated would be ready to harvest in just a few weeks. Corn, beans and other vegetables. And there were acres upon acres of wheat fields to harvest.

The power station, although doing nothing more than powering a few lights right now, would soon be powering their homes and the main meeting area in the cave. Lights along the pathways. Once they had wire they could make it work for what they needed. The hard work to wire it all would willingly be given as it had been to build what they had so far built. They were all behind what they were doing. They were behind each other.

They had found that the gradual slope of the stream down to the pool made an excellent water slide. Children and adults alike enjoyed it. It had been used daily through the long, hot summer months.

Candace and Tim, along with Molly, Lilly and Cindy had put together a little band. Guitars and hand built drums as well as a flute that Lilly had gotten Ronnie to make for her from a pattern in a book. They got together a few times a week and provided music for the shared evening meals on Saturday and Sunday.

The shared weekend meals had been organized by Lilly. She had also set apart an hour on Sunday morning for a church service. It had started with just she and Annie, and now encompassed most of the people. It was like no service in the old world. Lilly would simply read something from her bible or something from some other spiritual book she had. Bob, Sandy and Janet would speak a little about the Creator and the Great Spirit. Ronnie explained a little about the Qua-ran and the Muslim faith. Not really sermons, they would point out, just food for thought.

Janet would make a huge group breakfast that just happened to coincide with the end of their service. That had been the beginning of their day together. And it turned into a weekly service.

From there it had seemed natural to Lilly to plan an afternoon community meal together. It was simply easier for everyone than planning many separate meals. Everyone was so busy throughout the week that they rarely had time to sit down together and talk. Sometimes they didn’t see each at all.

Not everyone made it to the community gathering every week, but no one missed more than one week unless something unusual was going on. It was the one time where no one had to do anything except relax and talk. Enjoy each other’s company. Catch up on projects and ideas.

The musicians played, or sometimes Annie, Lilly and Tim would play music they had collected and bought with them. But with the power as yet not hooked up and batteries getting scarcer and scarcer, most often it was live music.

A dozen groups of people had found their way to the valley and joined them. They monitored the CB, FM and VHF bands and spoke with other groups on a nearly daily basis. They also kept up with the news in the outside world. How bad the cities had gotten. The plague of the Un-Dead that seemed to have swept what was left of the country. It made them grateful for their growing community and the safety they had within the stone ridges of their valley.

Time was flowing by, and everyone was beginning to find their place in that flow once more. The community they had envisioned was becoming a reality and evolving as it grew.

Mike and Candace lay in the big bed in their bedroom. He had one ear up against her stomach listening, trailing his fingers lightly across the swell of her stomach he did.

He had felt the baby move a few times in the last couple of weeks. It was something that choked him up inside. So much emotion he didn’t know how to express it. But that was only his thoughts. Candace could see the love spread across his face and color his eyes. It showed in his smile, in the way he touched her, in the way his eyes misted over.

The baby kicked him in the ear.

“Holy cow,” he said lifting his head up quickly. “Did you feel that?”

“Yeah, Baby, I did.” She laughed and smoothed one hand across his hair as he lowered his head back down to her stomach again.

“That was so… Cool… This is one of those times, Baby, that you never forget,” he told her in a voice that was hushed and filled with awe. He went back to lightly trailing his fingers across her belly, over the swell and back down the other side. It was something Candace had told him relaxed her. And it did this time too. She fell asleep stroking his hair.

Nellie lay with her head on Molly’s shoulder. She rubbed her flat stomach with her palm as one finger drew imaginary circles around her belly button. “I’m trying to imagine this with a bump,” she told her.

“Well it will be soon, Honey” Molly told her.

“Are you afraid? … Nervous?,” Nellie asked.

“A bit. They say you forget the pain right after. So…” Molly said.

“I’ll bet it was a man who said that,” Nellie said.

Molly laughed. “Janet says it’s like that. But you want to kill every man in the world for a little while… While it’s happening,” she said.

“She said that,” Nellie asked.

“Yeah. Just like that. Said she would have kicked herself in the ass for letting Bob do it, but she wouldn’t have been able to get up to do it.” Molly told her. They both laughed. “But afterward? She didn’t care. Like right afterward too. She saw her daughter and she said the rest just didn’t matter anymore. You know?”

“I can guess… I can’t get pregnant… Or, I never did,” Nellie said.

“It’s our last night alone,” Molly said. Her hand slid down the length of Nellie’s body.

Nellie let her own hand trail off of Molly’s flat stomach and onto the bed. She pushed herself up, straddled Molly’s stomach and kissed her slowly.

“I love you so much,” Nellie told her. She kissed her again.

Ronnie pulled Patty to him and held her as they both allowed their breathing to slow and their hearts to quit pounding.

“I don’t think pregnant ladies are supposed to be… Uh… To be that… Active,” Ronnie said.

Patty smacked him on one arm. “You… This one is,” she said.

“Are you going to miss me…? Really miss me,” he asked.

She smacked him again, leaned her head down and bit him lightly on the chest. “Do you want me to show you again,” she asked.

“Jesus! You’ll kill me, Patty,” Ronnie told her.

She rolled off him and curled into his side. “How did you feel about becoming a daddy?” She asked him. His hand was tracing patterns across her stomach.

“Babe, you know how I feel.”

“No, you… The other child that will be yours… Molly’s?”

“Oh… I… I guess I feel kind of weird. I don’t know exactly how I should feel. When they asked I wasn’t sure. But when you were okay with it, I was okay with it. But it was an abstract, you know? It wasn’t really real until I did the thing for Sandy and she did whatever she did with it… Then… Then it was different… That’s part of me, Babe. I mean really part of me. I don’t know how I feel… Proud? Nervous times two? Looking forward to it? Wondering how I will feel when I see that child and know that it is part of me,” he finished quietly.

Patty rubbed one hand across his stomach. “They said the baby will know,” she said. “It probably won’t feel so weird once you’re used to it.”

He nodded and touched her belly. “But this baby? This one will be spoiled rotten… A man who had nothing just a short time ago, and now, soon, I’ll have two little people who are part of me to love and be loved by.”

“The babies,” Patty said.

“That makes three. I was talking about you and our baby. We’re one, you’re part of me and I’m a part of you. Old Testament, New Testament, Qua-ran, they all say the same thing. We become one. So, there’s you, a part of me… And the baby, a part of us… And the other baby that is part of us as well… A lot of love for a man who had nothing at all.” He let one hand travel over the swell of her stomach and downward.

“And what exactly are you doing now,” Patty asked.

His mouth planted little kisses on her stomach as he worked his way down.

Arlene’s Journal

It’s the night before the six will leave to go back to the outside. I think of it that way… The outside. This place is something I have never had. So much love, so much caring, it overwhelmed me for the first little while. That and the other. Having to kill a man. But it was worse for those who stayed behind when we made our way to this place. If they had not stayed to fight the rest of us would not have been able to get away. David told me what it had been like for them. They had to kill too. They had to kill children that were controlled like puppets. Deadly puppets to be sure, but a puppet is a puppet… a slave.

And now we’re sending them back out again into a world that can’t be any better than it was. It’s worse in some ways. We didn’t have to deal with the dead. The radio tells us they have taken over most of the bigger cities. I just can’t imagine it. But we’re sending them out tomorrow, and all so that we can live a little better. Nothing that we absolutely have to have. We have everything we could ever need right here. But to live better.

To live better we need other things. It makes me wonder if we have changed all that much after all. I hope it is not a move toward the old society. I really hope not. Enough negativity though. They’re going. I voted yes too, and there are things they will bring back that I asked for too.

On a lighter note I think almost every woman in the Nation is pregnant. I guess that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. Me, Patty, Candace, Lilly, Annie. Jane, Alice and Amber are pretty sure. There are so many more people here. It seems almost like we grow every week. Maybe we do, come to think of it. Oh and now Molly too, and I wonder who the father is? But how would I ask Molly without sounding too nosy or even insensitive? Babies and more Babies, and thank God for them. They are our real crop. We joke about that, how in a few weeks it will be time to bring in the corn and that’s our crop, but our real business, our real crop, is babies.

Sandy and Susan are thinking about it too, only they both want to get pregnant. They’re trying to decide who goes first. God bless them.

Sometimes I think I am a long way from my roots. In another respect it seems to me that I have spent my entire life trying to get to this place… This condition… And I am so glad that I am here.

May God go with ours tomorrow as they go back to the outside. Keep them safe. Bring them right back to us.

Lilly’s Journal.

I am as big as a house. Seven months, two to go and I cannot really believe it because I am so big. How much bigger can I get?

Tom dotes on me bad. I mean he waits on me hand and foot. I am still teaching day times, but I take it easy late afternoon and evenings.

I would have never believed that anyone would want to leave this and go back into the world. I think of this place as set apart. Out there is the other world… The old world with all of our garbage still there. I only hope and pray they have a safe trip.

Ouch! This kid kicks like a football player!

Our life here is good. So good. Thank you, God.

Watertown, New York

They came from the hill. They came from the many graveyards that dotted the city where they had hidden in fear. They came from the surrounding countryside and made the journey to the small northern city. The wolves followed them from the tree lines, shadowy alleyways and doorways of abandoned buildings, but they kept their distance. More and more they turned and made their way out of the city, leaving it to the dead.

He led them, his limp was gone entirely. His body had finished the major changes that being un-dead bought with it. He had come from the barn outside of the city, looked down at the blackness of the valley that the small city lay in, and he had known it was time.

Miles away another lead a similar group, beyond that another, and another, across what had been the United States and beyond. Across the lands, the oceans, the continents. The living were through. The dead were the inheritors of this world now, the living squatters hanging on to something they had no claim to.

He scented the air while his gathered around him. Over one thousand, and nearly that on the other side of the city waiting for his command. He knew the numbers exactly, eighteen hundred seventy-three, but the numbers were unimportant, the time was important. Their time. The end of the old time. It was on the air. In the air. He took a step forward and those behind him surged, only to stop once more when he stopped, careful to leave him space. Careful not to bump or jostle him. For such a large crowd they were nearly completely silent.

He scented the air. There where hundreds of the breathers hidden away. Hundreds that believed they were safe. He knew where they were. He knew what they considered safe. But it was safe because he had allowed it to be safe. The time of safety for the living was at an end though.

He knew he would lose some of his own, but he knew those he took would raise to join him. It was ironic really, if the breathers could only look at it that way they might be able to see it in an entirely different light. A gift. And a gift was really what it was. How often did you wish you could live forever? How often had he wished it? So, here it was and they were running from it. Afraid of forever or afraid of passing through death to get to forever?

He looked over the dark city. The breeze that passed his face told him about those hiding. It also told him winter was on the way. Bad for the breathers, but not for them. Cold was life. Heat was the enemy. Cold was something to be embraced, longed for, fought for, striven to attain. Heat was the destroyer of that life. The coming winter would be good for them, they would come together and move to the larger cities.

He took a step, another, and began the walk down the hill toward the darkened city. The thousand behind him moved as one, following him down the hill. No fires burned. No lights shone. He could smell the stink of the breathers. It repulsed him and yet it drew him at the same time.

He could smell smoke on the air. The breathers needed their warmth, but it would only lead his to them more easily. They had their fear of fire, but they had a bigger fear of him. A fear of what he would do if they did not succeed. There was another death. Another death that was permanent. He had set examples, and he could set more, but the deeper into the process they were the more in tune with him and his needs they were. They did not need examples. They knew the consequences and they understood them completely.

The walk down the hill was pleasant. The air became even cooler as they descended into the valley that held the small city, the scents of the living clearer. He stopped near a crumbled store front on the outskirts of the city itself. A crossroads, or what had been a crossroads. The others stopped behind him. Waiting.

The main road stretched away into the city itself. To the left and right the buckled and overgrown blacktop stretched away, finding alternate ways into the city. He said nothing, but those behind him began to divide into groups, some to the left, some to the right. A few minutes later, the cold blue moonlight shining off the cracked and tilted roadway, they started on their individual ways. A few minutes after that the intersection was empty, as though they had never been there at all.

She ran from the doorway of a falling down building, one of the several that sat at the crossroads, the children under her arms and pressed closely to her. They were really too big to carry, and she would not be able to run for long, but she had to put as much distance between herself and the dead ones as she could, and the kids could never keep up with her…

She had not heard them come but she had sensed something wrong, the way any mother will, and she had crept to the front of the crumbling building and peeked out the shattered window, hiding herself in the shadows as she did. They were everywhere. She had nearly screamed aloud in her fear, but managed to reign it in because she knew it would lead to discovery. They would come for her, and if they came for her whether the kids hid or not they would be finished. They couldn’t survive without her. She had clamped one hand across her mouth and faded back further into the shadows.

At first she had refused to look. Afraid that they would somehow know she was watching. But she couldn’t stand not knowing where they were and what they were doing. Were they, even now, creeping toward the building? Was one peering through the shattered glass and into the shadows where she was hidden? Her eyes flew open. No. But, she had nearly convinced herself that it was true. They had stood motionless in the road. A vast group. Several hundred. Maybe more than a thousand. Maybe more than that.

Some did not look dead at all, they seemed almost as alive as anyone else. The differences were there though. You could not put that many living people in one place and maintain absolute silence. Humans… Living humans, she had amended… Were these still humans, she had then asked herself? She pushed her own question aside. She didn’t really care. The point was humans… Her kind of humans, would not be that silent. Would not be able to be that silent.

This crowd had stood stock still. Hands dangling at their sides. They looked stupid, but she knew they were far from stupid. She had been watching. They were not smart, far from it. She had watched them stand still and wait while someone lined up a rifle or pistol and shot them. Wasn’t that stupid? To her way of thinking it was. But when she had thought about that she realized it had been some time since she had actually seen that happen. No. They were smarter than that now. Not as fast or smart as a human… There was that word again, but didn’t it mean that there was something about them that she didn’t consider human? Something in them that bothered her so much that she could not look at them as humans? Something…

She had watched, careful not to make any noise. The children were in the back, in an old freezer room. A heavy steel door closed and locked with a padlock. Even now they could be calling out to her and she would not know. But, that meant that the Zombies also would not know. Could not know. She hoped that they were not upset. Not worried. That they had not missed her. But she had been relieved that she had thought to close and lock the freezer door. It had occurred to her though, that if anything happened to her they would die in that freezer. No one would know they were there. No one would come for them. They would be frightened, scared… She had pushed it away and watched the dead where they stood, hands dangling, and faces blank. They looked stupid. They looked stupid, dammit, and they should be stupid! But they weren’t.

She had watched from the shadows as a few minutes later they began to move away. No words passed between them. They made very little noise even in their leaving. Feet scuffing against the roadway, their clothes rustling slightly. No more than a whisper on the wind, and she had wondered what it was that had bought her from her steel prison in the first place… Intuition. Had to be.

She had waited a few moments after they were gone. The moonlight was cold. Her breath fogged lightly on the air. She was terrified, she found. Still terrified she corrected. She had taken to doing that. Correcting her own words as if she was someone else. She had worried at first that it could mean she was going crazy. But she had decided that it didn’t matter if she was crazy or not, didn’t matter in this world because the entire world was crazy. So what was the problem with a little more crazy? None, she had decided. She could go on correcting herself forever. Her heart still hammered in her chest. Hard… Bam… Bam… Bam… it’s a good thing they had not been able to hear it.

She had looked out at the roadway. Empty. Not a sound, but something bothered her about it. If they knew she was here they would come back. They would. And if they were gone it would be best to leave right now. Not wait until they came back and found her… Killed her, she modified. Yes… Killed her. And the kids… Or leave them to starve to death in the old freezer… Or… Could they figure out the lock mechanism? Could they? They were smarter, but were they that much smarter? Maybe they were. Maybe…

She had turned and ran to the freezer. Panicked. Knocking aside a stack of boxes as she went. The sound loud in the silence. More than loud. Overwhelming. Sending her into a frenzy. She nearly snapped off the key getting it in the lock. Her breath coming hard and fast. Creating pain behind her rips. That sharp pain she associated with running too hard for too long. And her breaths were unsatisfying, she couldn’t seem to get enough air. And then the key had slid home, she had twisted the padlock, shot it from the door and let it fall to the floor.

The kids had been sleeping, but they had come awake quickly as she pulled them from the floor and began dressing them.

“But mommy, I’m sleeping… I’m tired,” Danny had complained.

Jessie had just stared blankly. Blinking her eyes and looking around.

“Honey,” she had told Danny, “We got to go… We got to… Don’t fight me, Baby. Give me your foot.”

“Is it the dead guys,” Jessie had asked quietly, her eyes serious. She had held Jennies eyes and refused to let them go.

“Yes, Baby. Yes. Now come on. Get yourself dressed for mommy… I have enough with your brother. Get dressed, we got to go.”

Jessie had nodded and began to dress herself. She had turned to Danny as she dressed “’member them dead guys?” she had asked him.

He had stopped squirming and looked seriously at his older sister. “Yeah,” he had breathed.

“Well they might get us if you don’t hurry up… Making mamma take too much time… They eat little boys first too.” She had turned away and began to tug on her sneakers. Danny had stopped fighting and had actually began helping.

“Wrap your arms around Mommy and hold tight,” Jennie had told them. She had been a big woman just a few months ago, now she was maybe a hundred pounds. Maybe it would make her faster, but she didn’t believe her own words, and the little voice inside her head continued to chatter along about running in boots, and she should have changed to sneakers, and… She had shut it down, peered out through the shattered window at the still and empty street. Jessie had reached down and turned the knob on the door for her, and she had stepped back and the door had swung inward. A minute later and she was running through the shadows at the edge of the road. A deep stitch in her side.

He came from the shadows and chased her down. It was so easy. One of the things that had been slow to change but amazing once it did, was strength and endurance. There seemed to be no real limits or end to his energy. Something in the way this body used energy as opposed to the way the old body had. It was exhilarating, and thrilling too, as he nearly instantly outpaced her and came up alongside her. The fear, the stench of living flesh. It was overpowering. It could drive him crazy if he allowed it, but he would not allow it. He reached out, enfolded her in mid stride, and threw her to the ground.


America The Dead: Zombie Fall. A trip into the outside world proves disastrous for the Nation #iTunes #Apocalypse https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/earths-survivors-america-the-dead-zombie-fall/id1096254189?mt=11


America the Dead Audio Podcast Episode 11

This is the audio only version of the America the Dead podcast… Episode 11

Audio on Apple: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/dell-sotofo-com-wendell-sweet/id1496549819

https://americathedead.com/ATD-AUDIO/ATD-11.mp3

America The Dead: Apple Books

EARTH’S SURVIVORS AMERICA THE DEAD

Copyright 2020 Dell Sweet

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This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living person’s places, situations or events is purely coincidental.

This novel is Copyright © 2016 Wendell Sweet and his assignees. Dell Sweet and Geo Dell are publishing constructs owned by Wendell Sweet. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission.

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NOTICE: This material has not been edited for content


FOREWORD

Some people think that writers craft stories, write them specifically as told to, or as circumstances dictate them to. And there are writers who do that. I don’t. I write what comes through to me. What stories I see when I sit down and begin to write. It is that simple for me. Most times I am along for the ride. If that makes me a lesser writer, or a pawn, so be it. I have always suspected there is more to writing than we know there is. Maybe we who write are only conduits to some other place.

This group of stories about people surviving a catastrophic world changing event and rebuilding their society has been with me since my early teens when I first wrote about it. Many things have come along in my life, changed me, the circumstances of my life and even the way I live it, but the story has always been there: A constant for me.

Dell Sweet 03-04-16

Glennville One

Prologue

Year Two

January 15th

The Nation

“As long as it never freezes around the wheel it will be fine,” Tim said. “It will still work.”

“If it doesn’t freeze solid?” Tom asked.

“If it doesn’t freeze solid,” Tim agreed. “But it may… We’ll have to see,” Tim added.

“It shouldn’t,” Josh said. “I have never known the rivers and streams to freeze solid in my area, and we’re much farther south here than I was. Plus all the changes that have happened: Two extra hours of sunlight every day would make things warmer, not colder, wouldn’t it?”

“Might do something,” Tom agreed. They were discussing whether the power house could continue to operate through the winter. Whether the stream that fed it would freeze solid and stop the wheel from turning.

“Well, what I’ve done is simple enough,” Tim said. “I’ve just vented the water that keeps the generators cool right back out, just down from the wheel. That’s why no ice is forming anywhere around the wheels. That should keep it from forming, but if the entire stream freezes solid then we’ll have to shut down the plant, no flow, no go,” Tim said.

“We’re going to keep the flour mill open?” Josh asked.

“Keeps the water flowing, keeps the ice from getting a foothold. All we do is take out the drive shaft and the machinery doesn’t move, just the big wheel outside,” Tom said. “Now the sawmill, that’s almost non-stop. I suppose that eventually it will slow down as soon as everyone has built a home, or we finish up projects we want to build, but for now it’s full production every day.”

“I can’t see a day when it wouldn’t be,” Josh added. “People are coming in every week. Slower now, but they’re coming.”

“You should think of something else we can use the flour mill for in the winter, Tim” Ronnie said. “There has to be something.”

“Lots of stuff,” Tim said. “But the smartest would be to generate our heat from there. A small boiler system could heat everything in the valley. Add a laundry center, or hide washing, processing, which could use the steam heat too. Use the water power when we need it to grind flour, which is really only about a month and a half out of the year, use the water after that to drive steam into the valley. The two won’t conflict with each other.”

Tom was nodding. “One thing though. Move the hide processing far away. Down the valley somewhere where it won’t contaminate our ground water: Where the stench won’t be with us all day every day. I’d really move it completely out of the valley if we could.”

Mike added his agreement. “How hard would it be?”

“Not very,” Tim said. “I’d put the steam boiler in another building, close by, just run the pumping system from the mill building. We have tons of pipe we bought back. I’d run that pipe about two feet under the ground and right directly under the path we use in the valley. At two feet we should be insulated from most heat loss, but there will be an accumulative effect that will keep the path free of snow or ice. Sort of like a heated sidewalk. A bonus. We can top the path with gravel, install good drainage too so it doesn’t end up a muddy mess.”

“Then I’d build the wash house, hide houses separate too. It’s just a matter of running pipe to them. We would have our mill; our steam for heating and hot water all from the same building,” Tim said.

“Tim, what did you do in the old world,” Mike asked.

“School… Video games, little innocent hacking,” He answered. He blushed as he spoke.

“And how did you learn all of this?” He let his hands rise to take in the entire settlement.

“Oh… That… I like to read. I have a memory that works kind of funny. It’s like this: I read something and it goes into my head. Maybe I read something else, other ways to do the same thing. That goes into my head too. Then I visualize it, like I’m actually doing it… Maybe a few times, maybe more, but I see how it works. I see the way to do it. I see the mistakes I could have made too. So when I really do it, it’s like I already did it, I already know how,” he said. He looked prepared to be disbelieved.

“Really?” Mike asked.

“Really,” Tim answered.

“I can see that,” Ronnie said. “I’ve done pretty much the same thing in my head when I’m doing construction work. I work it out in my head and I have it. I didn’t trust it at first, but eventually I came to look at the work I was doing in my head as the same as really doing it.”

Tim was nodding in agreement.

“I’ve never tried it,” Mike said, “but I will: Apparently it works.”

“Why don’t we get together tonight, have dinner together and discuss it, vote on it,” Tom suggested.

“Candace will be up there anyway,” Mike said.

“She and Patty are up there helping with the new work on the clinic, germs; concrete sealed floor, plastic walls… They aren’t doing the work all alone, more like directing it. Steve says it will be a big deal… Cut down on infections,” Ronnie said.

Mike nodded. “So, she’ll be there anyway.”

“They’ll come to a meeting?” Tom asked.

“Positive they will. It’s a good idea. We’ll get all of us together and get it approved,” Mike agreed.

They walked out onto the path that lead back up to the cave. A team of horses was passing by, slowly pulling a sledge piled high with logs toward the sawmill that was farther up the valley. Chloe, who was driving the team of oxen that were pulling it smiled and waved as she passed them by.

Lilly waved to Chloe as she passed her a little further down the road, as she waited to cross the slushy path. She was coming from the cave and heading to the school that sat on the other side, the ridge side of the path, nestled up against the steep sides of the valley where it was protected from the winds. The snow next to the path was hard packed. The snow in the field was three feet deep, and there was at least three months of winter left.

A second sledge came following the first, Joe Stevens waved as he approached her where she stood. Tom had hitched a ride from the flour mill, hanging onto the back of the sledge. He peeked around the back of the sledge and smiled. She couldn’t help but return it. He jumped off now as he neared her, and walked across the sloppy path, taking her hand.

“May I,” he asked as he helped her to cross the path. “Going back to the school,” he asked as he walked beside her holding her hand.

She stopped, stretched onto her tip toes and kissed him.

“Yep,” she told him as she began walking once more.

“Is that any kind of English for a teacher to be using,” Tom asked.

“Yep,” Lilly told him and smiled.

“Hey, where’s my kid who’s usually glued to your hip?” Tom asked.

“Annie’s watching him. He fell asleep after he had his lunch,” Lilly told him.

“Nice lunch. Lucky kid,” Tom said with an affected leer.

“Yeah, well, when he’s done with them you’ll get them back,” she said laughing as they walked across the path.

Tom laughed too. “Got a lot to do?”

“Half a day of school. Kids will be back from lunch in just a few minutes. I just stopped off at home to get something to eat myself,” she said.

“Well, I have more to do with Mike and the guys anyway… I just saw you and wanted to see you, you know,” Tom said.

“Yeah? Well, I know what’s on your mind and we’ll see about that later on,” Lilly told him with a smile.

Tom grinned, watched her walk back to the school, and then turned and walked back to the power plant where the others still stood.

When he reached the power plant and jumped up onto the boardwalk all three of the others were looking up toward the main cave. They all looked concerned.

Tom walked closer. “What’s up?” He asked.

“We have a visitor,” Mike said. He jumped down from the board walk and began heading toward the cave with the others.

“Visitor,” Tom asked as he hurried to keep up.

“Rollie,” Ronnie said. “The trader? He’s bringing our new doctor and a whole wagon load of supplies.”

“Debbie Jenkins has post this morning down the valley. She said he passed by her about an hour ago, so he should be popping up over the ridge directly,” Mike said.

“Came through the old state park entrance,” Ronnie told him. “Says the road all the way in is good... Clear.

“Parkland,” Mike said.

“Right,” Ronnie agreed. “I guess I’ll never remember the name if I don’t keep it in my head. Anyway, Parkland called the day before yesterday. Told us he had gotten there and would be leaving in the morning; that would be yesterday morning. Not bad time for horses pulling a wagon.”

“Hell no,” Tom agreed.

“Who’s the new doctor,” Josh asked.

“Emmett Stiles,” Mike said. “Older guy, don’t know much about him. Candace talked to him more than anyone else. Says he’ll fit right in if he’s anything like his radio personality is.”

“Huh,” Tom said.

“Huh exactly,” Josh agreed.

They made it to the top of the pass just in time to watch the sleigh approach the steep grade that would bring it to the top of the pass. An older man sat high on the wagon, driving a team of four oxen. The other man sat across from him. The trader drove the horses easily up the incline and onto the broad terrace that fronted the cave.

The man, somewhere south of sixty, Mike thought, set the brake on the sleigh and then looked down at the five men.

“How do,” The man said.

“All right,” Ronnie said.

The other man smiled and nodded hello.

“I imagine you’d be Rollie,” Mike said as he offered a hand. “And you would be Emmett.” He shook hands with the doctor also, and helped as both men climbed down to the ground.

“Rollie drives a fine wagon, well, sleigh this time of year, but I don’t recommend this kind of travel over long distance. This thing need shocks… Something.” He laughed as he massaged his back with both hands and then stretched and yawned.

“Well, you better hope these folks want you or you might find yourself walking back,” Rollie said and laughed.

They all laughed and Mike introduced the others. “This is Ronnie, best carpenter we have here. This here is Tom, takes care of our farm with Josh, who actually is a farmer and shows us how to do things right. And this is Tim who knows pretty much everything else.” They all shook hands and said their hellos. His eyes were drawn to the huge tarp covered load, the wagon and then the Oxen. “You’ll stay a while?” Mike asked.

The man’s eyes had caught the electric lights spaced along the tunnel that lead into the cave. The tunnel now ran right down the right side of the main cave. It flowed in a curve all the way to the other side of the mountain and the second cave where it emptied out in the main cave area. You could use the doors there and the built up earthen ramp to continue right down into the third valley. He nodded and then shook his head.

“Yeah… Yes, I thought to stay a bit and rest a little. So… You do have electric. Amazing. I know of no other place that does, excepting Alabama Island, and they are barely up and running with it. I was sure you had it, electric I mean, and so I banked on it: Added a few items you might could use… There a place where I can put up the oxen?” He asked.

“Sure,” Tim said. He helped the man disconnect the team and then he and Josh excused themselves as they lead the team down into the valley.

Candace, Patty, Sandy and Susan came from inside the main cave.

“Hello,” Emmett Stiles said As Candace stepped forward. He used a walking stick, but did not seem to need it for anything more than an affection. His black hair was long, twisted into a pony-tail that hung between his shoulder blades. A smile rested on his full mouth, his skin a light brown.

“Candace, Doctor Emmett Stiles,” Mike said. He turned and looked from Candace to Patty. “Doctor, my woman, Candace, you two talked over the radio. And my friend Patty, Ronnie’s woman. Ladies this is our new doctor. Come to us from Johnson Crossing.”

Sandy overheard the introduction from just a few feet away where she had been looking over the wagon and hurried over with Susan.

“This is Sandy… Susan. Sandy is our nurse. She took over the load after Jessie left,” Mike said.

Everyone said their hellos and Emmett turned to Sandy.

“I wanted to meet you, Sandy. I have heard so much about you,” Emmett said.

“It’s nice to meet you, Doctor. Candace told me all about you,” she said.

“Emmett.” he lifted his eyes to include everyone. “Emmett is easier on my ears.”

“Emmett,” Sandy agreed.

“Sandy,” Emmett said. “Maybe you could show me around? … You too Susan, of course.”

“Absolutely,” Sandy said.

Rollie spoke up as they walked away.

“She’s telling a different story… Just so you know,” Rollie said in a low voice.

“Who,” Mike asked.

“Jessie. Radio, incoming on a relay a week or so before I left. Says you ran them out in the middle of the night… Says they were lucky to make it out alive. Not all did, in fact.”

Ronnie shook his head and laughed. “Try to do someone a favor and it bites you in the ass. “We walked them out, allowed them to go when we caught them about to go on their own with nothing. Gave them weapons, food,” He shook his head in disgust.

“You called it though,” Mike said. A sad smile curved the corners of his mouth downward. “You said it would get switched up and it did….” He turned to Rollie. “We’ll talk more later… Maybe others will want to hear what she said.”

“How’s a cup of coffee sound?” Tom asked a few seconds later to break the uncomfortable silence.

“You got coffee?” Rollie asked.

“Well, instant,” Tom admitted. “Coffee is gold here. We hope to grow some next year though.”

“Now see, that’s why you need me. I think we can help each other a great deal,” Rollie said.

The door opened behind them and several people flooded out of the cave and surrounded them. Ronnie made introductions as Mike kissed Candace on one cheek.

“Well,” Mike said as things quieted down. “Come on in and let’s get some coffee in you.”

“All right,” Rollie agreed. He turned to the sleigh and in a second one corner of the tarp was loose and flapping. A second later he had thrown it back over the load. Boxes upon boxes, Mike saw. Rollie reached in the midst and pulled out a large sack and then an old fashioned coffee grinder. The smell of ground coffee hit him on the constant wind that blew over the pass and down into the valley. Rollie turned back with a huge smile on his face.

“Let’s make the coffee real. And let’s call this a good will gift to you folks,” he said, holding out the old fashioned coffee grinder and the sack of beans.

“Okay then,” Mike said and laughed. He took the grinder and Ronnie took the sack of coffee beans. They walked into the cave together, the crowd all talking at once.

Snoqualmie Settlement

Washington State

April 28th

Year Two

The Fold

“Easy, Frank,” Gary warned, “you ain’t got but two inches, and you’ll be over the damn edge of the roof.”

“No sweat, Gar’,” Frank replied. “That about where she needs to be, Joe?”

“Looks sweet to me,” Joe answered smiling.

“Frank! For God’s sake be careful, you’re going to fall, I just know it,” this from Annie on the ground.

No I’m not, not unless Joe pushes me I’m not,” Frank said, and laughed.

“Oh, when you get down from there, Franklin, I’m going to swat that smartness out of you for good,” Annie called up, sounding relieved.

“She will too,” Frank whispered to Gary.

“I heard that,” Annie said from below.

“Shove it up just an inch, Frank,” Joe said.

Frank shoved the solar panel back up, estimating the inch Joe wanted.

“Good, right there, now hold on for just one second…” a heavy thunk sounded as Joe drove a nail into the roof, through one of the panels tabs. “Two more, Frank…”

thunk … thunk.

Gary was holding the side. “’Bout done, Frank. Got ‘er?”

Frank smiled, “Easy as pie…” his foot slipped, and he slid backwards. Gary’s arm shot out quickly, a startled gasp came from Annie below. Frank held onto the panel, instead of holding the panel, and just hoped Joe had enough nails in it. One foot slipped off the edge, the other held however, and the slide stopped.

thunk … thunk.

“Okay, Frank, you can let go,” Joe told him, and looked up. Gary had him by one arm. Joe bent and quickly drove another nail into the roof.

thunk, thunk, thunk,

Frank pulled himself up carefully, with Gary’s help, and then sat down on the rough shingles.

“I didn’t know,” Joe said.

“Neither did I,” Frank told him. He laughed uneasily.

“Honey?” from Annie on the ground.

Frank leaned over the edge of the roof. “I’m fine, Hon. I think I’ll just sit here for a minute though if you don’t mind.”

“Well damn, Frank, lean over the edge and fall off why don’t you!” He drew back.

Joe handed Gary the hammer and the apron full of nails, and began to work on the wiring. He popped the end of the panel open, fished the cable through, stripped it, and began to finish the circuit.

“Uh, uh,” Frank said. He took the hammer and the apron, and began fastening the bottom of the panel. Gary’s arthritis was bad: Bad enough that he shouldn’t even be up here, and he was afraid of heights too.

“Suit yourself, Frank,” Gary said, obviously relieved.

Joe twisted the wire-nut on the last three ground wires, wound a short length of electrical tape around them, and closed the panel front. “That’s it,” he said, as he stood on the sharply pitched roof.

thunk … thunk

“Me too,” Frank said, handing the hammer back to Gary. Gary turned and dropped it over the edge, close to the house, the nail apron went the same way.

Joe grinned. “Let’s go try it,” he said.

Seven months of scrounging solar panels, back-up batteries and wiring, and now the moment of truth. Joe waited anxiously while Gary negotiated the ladder, a slow trip. Gary did fine going up the ladder, it was down that was hard, he knew.

Frank waited nervously beside Dell, Annie, and Peggy on the ground, until Gary finally reached the end of the ladder. Joe fairly flew down behind him, the excitement evident on his face. They all walked inside the cabin.

It was the largest cabin at Snoqualmie settlement, built the first year with some help from Jeremiah and Anson, when they had come up. They needed a large cabin, so that all of them could get together. Snoqualmie had grown a great deal in the last year. Joe and Becky had bought Dell and Peggy when they had come cross country from the east. Six months later Frank had come without Jessie. Shortly after that Annie had come and they had become an item: Jessie had come on her own, but she had not stayed long. Lisa and her man Sam, six other couples had followed. Now there were better than seventy people here in the first encampment, and over three hundred in the small valley by the lake: The numbers kept rising.

In addition to the larger cabin, there were seven others scattered in a semicircle, and more than eighty down closer to the lake. Most had been part of an old summer camp for kids. Joe walked to a large electrical panel, mounted just inside the doorway, and waited for the others to catch up.

The panel held the main breaker. They had wired the eight cabins with florescent lights. No outlets, they didn’t have enough panels for that yet. Six large sodium lights ringed the cabins outside. Joe hesitated, his eyes locked on the overhead light fixture. “Here goes,” he said, and then flicked the main breaker.

For a split second nothing. And then, softly, a low hum, almost insectile, as the fluorescent light stuttered to life.

Gary levered the front door open. The sodium lights had a sensor switch that would automatically turn them on at dusk, but Joe had installed an override switch next to the door. Gary flipped the switch as he stepped out the door, and the sodium arc lights glowed softly. Within five minutes they were at full power, shining brightly in the late afternoon air.

“Think it’ll run anything else?” Dell asked.

“Eventually, if we can hunt up a few more panels,” Joe answered smiling. “We did it, can you believe it?”

“So long as you don’t want to build a nuclear power plant next, Joe,” Gary said and laughed. The others joined in, their laughter rolling across the clearing As they turned to walk back to the cabin they heard the sound of a motor on the quiet mountain air.

“Damn,” Gary said as he dodged inside the cabin and came back with an armload of rifles.

He passed them around as the motor grew louder.

There was one road into the old forest preserve, and none of them had heard the sound of a gas motor in close to a year, the entire settlement used horses. Their outpost was the entrance into the actual settlement a half mile distance deeper into the forest, spread around the lake.

Joe took a rifle from Gary. He ejected and checked the magazine, then slammed it home once more. The rifles were the real deal, full auto at the flip of a switch, taken from some dead soldiers they had come across on one of their excursions for supplies.

Sarah ran Snoqualmie settlement: She had since Jessie Stone had left more than a year before, and had never come back. Snoqualmie had risen from a disorganized settlement of outlaws, desperate men and women, to a respected settlement that was ruled with a somewhat iron hand.

He could clearly hear more than one motor now, maybe three, Joe thought. Frank looked over at him and arched his eyebrows, but the truth was that Joe had no idea who this might be. There were gangs from the larger cities that sometimes raided the smaller encampments, but none had ever come this far out, and Snoqualmie was far from small. Over three hundred people were here. Armed men and women. Gardens were planted. Houses had been built. It was home and they all felt the same about it. No gang would be taking this place from them, stealing their children, raping their women, murdering their men. It was a question that came up often living so close to what was left of Seattle Washington. It was why the rifles had been picked up, cleaned, and put into service. It was why this house was the outpost you had to pass to get down into the actual settlement.

Becky came from the house with her own rifle. She took up a position by a tree on the other side of the main road where it turned in from the old park road and then angled down toward the lake and the settlements. The motors grew louder as the vehicles turned the last corner and rolled out into the clearing that fronted the house. Three sport utilities that had seen better days, Joe saw. Their drivers shut down the motors and silence fell on the day. The tick of cooling motors came to Joe’s ears. The door on the closest sport utility began to open and Beth called out from across the yard.

“I would step out unarmed if I were you,” Becky told them. The others in the yard had raised their own rifles and pointed them at the door and the person who was stepping from the sport utility.

A short woman stepped out, long black hair, black-lensed glasses covered her eyes. Joe began to lower his rifle. She stripped off the heavy leather coat she wore and tossed it back into the truck. She pulled the glasses down her nose and stared over them to where Becky stood, a wide smile on her face.

“Oh god, no way,” Becky said. Her voice caught as she lowered her rifle and moved toward the woman where she stood next to the truck. “Jessie… We thought you were dead, Jessie. We thought you were dead.” she told her when she reached her. Becky wrapped her arms around the smaller woman and hugged her tightly.

“I get that a lot,” Jessie joked. She made room for Joe as he came over and wrapped his arms around the two of them. “I get that a lot,” Jessie repeated.

April 11th 1952

Jeremiah Edison

Jeremiah Edison drove the old tractor carefully down the side of the slippery hill. It had been raining for close to three days, and it didn’t look as though it was going to let up right quick, he thought.

The rain was causing all sorts of problems, and not just for him, he knew, but for the cows as well. The biggest problem was the creek, and the only way the creek wasn’t going to be a problem was to unplug the thing.

He sat on the tractor as it slipped and slid its way down the hill through the gray sheets of rain. Jeremiah let out a sigh of relief once it reached the bottom. For a second there, he had been sure both he and the old tractor would end up in the creek, but God was smiling on him today.

He slipped the worn gearbox into neutral, and sat looking at the rush of muddy-brown water. The creek was a good four feet above the point of flooding, and he wasn’t sure it was a smart move to try to put the tractor in that. The tractor was sure footed, but so was a goat, and he’d seen more than one goat end up on its ass. But there wasn’t anything else for it. If he didn’t move the trees that were clogging the creek, and flooding it out and over the banks, then he might as well just sit back and watch a couple more cows drown.

Jeremiah knew cows, pretty much anyhow, and every one that he and Maggie owned were just as stupid as any other cow he’d ever seen. The cows didn’t understand flooding, they didn’t understand how the water could weaken the banks, and so the big dummies just walked on down to the creek, just like any other day, and got swept away when the bank crumbled under their weight. Three days of rain and four dead cows, and though cows were stupid, they weren’t cheap.

Jeremiah sat in the pouring rain and stared at the creek. Normally, the creek was no more than eighteen inches deep at the most. Course normal wasn’t what it was today, he thought, and wishin’ it was wouldn’t make it so. It was his own damn fault, he reminded himself. Two of the trees that were clogging it had been there last summer, and hadn’t he promised Maggie he’d take ’em out before fall? He had, but he hadn’t, and so here he was in the pouring rain fixin’ to half kill himself to get ’em out.

Looked like the best way, Jeremiah thought, might be to try and snag the biggest one right from the bank. He squinted as he shielded his eyes to peer through the rain. One thing was for sure, sittin’ on the tractor and thinkin’ about it, wasn’t gonna get it. Reluctantly, Jeremiah climbed down off the tractor and edged closer to the bank. The rain was coming down hard, but the section he stood upon seemed solid enough. “Probably what the cows thought,” he muttered as he moved closer.

He walked back to the tractor, unwound a long section of chain from behind the seat, and walked back to the creek. The top of the bigger tree was sticking a good three feet over the bank, and he was glad that it was. He could see that the water was rising faster, and moving along quicker, and he had no wish to get any closer to it than he had to. Quickly, but carefully, he wound the chain around the tree and pegged the links with an old bolt to hold them. Looks good, and solid as well, he thought as he slipped the other end of the chain over the bucket. He genuinely didn’t want to try and turn the tractor around. In fact, he thought, as muddy as the ground was, he’d be damn lucky just to get it back up and away from the creek when he finished.

He gave an experimental tug at the chain, and then climbed back up on the tractor. Carefully, without grinding the gears any more than he surely had to, he shifted into reverse, played the clutch out slowly and brought up the slack in the chain.

“Well God?” He asked, looking skyward, “You keepin’ a watch down here? I could sure use a hand about now, Lord. Amen,” Jeremiah finished.

He let the clutch out a little further, playing the gas pedal as he did, and let the tractor go to work. The over-sized tires spun, caught, and the tractor began to slowly back up the steep bank, pulling the tree out of the muddy water as it did. Jeremiah released the breath he had been holding, and just as he did the chain snapped in two. Jeremiah barely had time to register what had happened when the old tractor flipped, crushing him beneath it.

THE STORY OF THE FOLD

ONE

February 26th

Year One

Jeremiah Edison

Jeremiah Edison stared at the squared board lost in thought. If he moved to the right, he would surely lose two checkers. Maybe, he thought, as many as four. Moving to the left would not help either. There was actually only one semi-safe move to make, and that was straight ahead. But even that move could put a hurtin’ on his few remaining checkers, he thought. Nothing to do for it though, but move it, and see what happened.

He stared into the thoughtful eyes of the older man across the table, trying to read them. No good, he was a master at hiding his thoughts. His face was calm and carefully composed, not so much as a smile played at the corners of his mouth.

Jeremiah gave in and decisively moved one checker forward and then leaned back into his chair, waiting to see what the older man would do.

“Well, I see you have left me little choice, Jeremiah,” the older man said. He picked up one of his own checkers and carefully slid it forward as he finished speaking.

“That was what I was hoping you’d do,” Jeremiah said grinning as he jumped two of the older man’s checkers.

“No doubt about it, Jeremiah, you’re just too good for me,” the older man replied. He smiled widely, and pleasantly, and then changed the subject. “How about we take a short break, Jeremiah, maybe go for a walk. You must get tired of beating me all the time?”

“Well,” Jeremiah replied, “I kind ‘a get the idea you let me beat you sometimes, but sure, I wouldn’t mind a break at all.”

“I would never let you beat me, Jeremiah. It is a good thing we don’t play poker though. I might gamble the entire kingdom away trying to beat you,” the older man replied laughing. “Besides I have my reasons for wanting to take a break right now. I see it like this, if you and I take a break, maybe once we return your concentration will not be so keen, and then maybe I will win one of these games for a change.” He rose from the small table as he finished speaking. “Ready, Jeremiah?”

“Yep.”

Jeremiah closed his eyes. He could have kept them open, and a few times he had, but the trip was unnerving enough without adding the visual aspects to it. Not that there was anything to see except darkness for the split second they would be traveling, he thought. Still…

He opened his eyes. They had actually only been shut for less than a second, but in that space of time they had traveled a considerable distance, or at least seemed to have. The small table that had been before him was gone, replaced by a lush green valley. A calm blue river flowed across the valley floor far below. He followed it with his eyes as it wound away in the distance.

“It’s beautiful,” Jeremiah exclaimed, “but will it still be…?” He let the question trail away.

“Yes it will, as will several others, Jeremiah, but it need not be this place, there are so many to choose from,” the older man informed him. “Come.”

Jeremiah blinked, and when he opened his eyes they were standing in a high mountain meadow. Wild flowers covered the meadow, and a large, summer-fat herd of deer grazed peacefully among them. A large buck raised its heavily antlered head and stared at the two men, but perceiving no threat went back to grazing the field.

“This is also beautiful,” Jeremiah said quietly.

“It only matters where, Jeremiah. There are so many. There were even more, and there will be again.”

“I’ll have to tell Maggie about this place, and the other,” Jeremiah replied, still watching the deer graze.

“You should, Jeremiah. In fact, there will be many things to tell her. Things she will need to know, Jeremiah.”

“Tonight?”

“Yes. The time is short.”

“I was afraid of that,” Jeremiah said slowly.

“There is no reason to be afraid, Jeremiah.”

“I know that. I guess I mean afraid, as in I wish it didn’t have to happen.”

“I knew what you meant, Jeremiah, but it is necessary. As much as I would wish that it was not, it is.”

Jeremiah nodded his head slowly. “I know.”

The two men stood in silence for several minutes, watching the deer in the field. It seemed so peaceful to Jeremiah, a good place to be, a good place to live, and that made it harder to accept that most of it would soon be gone. The older man spoke, breaking the silence that had fallen between them.

“Would you like to look at some others, Jeremiah?”

“I believe I would at that. I think I’d like to look at as much as I kin before it’s gone, I guess. Does that sound wrong?”

“No, Jeremiah, it does not, I too wish to look… Ready?”

Jeremiah nodded, but did not close his eyes. Darkness enveloped him, and a sense of speed. The absence of light was complete; he could only sense the presence of the older man beside him as the traveled through the dark void.

Bluechip

Watertown, New York

Richard Pierce

Far below the small city of Watertown New York, Richard Pierce sat working before an elaborate computer terminal. He had just initiated the program that managed the small nuclear power plant hidden deep below him in the rock. The nuclear power plant fed project Bluechip, and something else that was hidden from him. He wondered about that briefly but shut it out.

The government had designed all of this project precisely that way, to be unconnected. So that any one person or group working on a particular section would not know what any other group or person working on some other section was actually doing. It made things difficult at times, but he supposed it was for the best. When it came to the government and what they did, it was sometimes best not to know.

A small handset beside the computer station chimed, and he picked it up and listened. He did not speak at first, but as he listened a smile spread across his face. “Very good,” he said happily, when the caller was finished, “keep me advised.” He set the small handset back into its cradle and turned his attention back to the screen in front of him. The plant had powered up just as it was supposed to, no problems whatsoever, and that made Richard Pierce extremely happy. Two more days tops, he thought, and then maybe I’ll get out of this dump.

He supposed he should feel honored that he was even here. It was after all one of the biggest projects in the country, albeit top secret, but he could not help the way he felt. He was close to a mile underground, totally cut off from everything and everyone, and he hated it. If he had a choice, which he had not, he would never have come at all, but he had written the software that handled the power plant, as well as several other sections of the military base and that made it his baby. There were a couple of small bugs, mainly due to the fact that no one had been allowed to know what the entire program was supposed to do. The way the rewrites were going however, it looked as though he would not be stuck here anywhere near as long as he had originally thought, and that was something to think about. He had begun to feel that he would never leave this rock bound prison, and wouldn’t that be a real bitch.

Gary Jones

At a large gravel pit on the outskirts of Watertown New York, Gary Jones carefully maneuvered the wide mouth of the loader bucket over the dump box of the truck, and pulled back on the lever closest to him to release the load. Ain’t this something, he thought, as he slowly topped off the dump box, barely 10 AM and we’ve already sent out twenty-seven truckloads of gravel to the base.

Six men out sick, and another forty truckloads to deliver before five tonight. What in hell are they doing with all this gravel? He wondered. It was a question he had asked many times before, and still had not gotten an answer to. Uncle Sam paid well though, and on time to boot, so he guessed he probably shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. He signaled the driver, and he pulled away with a whoosh of air as he released the brakes. Another dump truck lumbered up to take his place, and he pushed the questions out of his mind as he began filling the box.

Seattle Washington

Harvey Pearlson

In Seattle Washington, Harvey Pearlson sat at his wide mahogany desk and talked quietly into the phone.

The extravagantly appointed office was located on the top floor of one of Seattle’s most highly regarded newspapers. Pearlson had worked his way up from the bottom, after starting as a carrier in 1955, sixteen floors below.

“No,” Pearlson said quietly, “I don’t want to know. I just thought that maybe it could be handled in some other way.” He listened for a few minutes nodding his head as he did.

“Yes, yes I see, but?” He rubbed his eyes as he listened. “No, I don’t,” he said emphatically, “I happen to like him a great deal, and if you give me the time…” The voice on the other end of the line cut him off, and he once again listened quietly.

“I see,” he said, once the voice had finished speaking. “No, I do understand. I won’t. Do you think I’m that stupid? Give me a little credit here, will you. You wouldn’t even be aware of it if I hadn’t called you in the first place, for Christ’s sake.” He listened for a few seconds longer, then hung up the phone.

There was no reasoning with Weston, he told himself, he was going to do what he was going to do. For Frank’s sake, he wished he had never called him at all. Too late now though, he told himself, far too late. After all, he had done his best to swing Frank away from the story, but Frank Morgan was not a man who could be easily swayed, and, he told himself, unless he wanted to find himself in the same circumstances, he had better just shut up and let it go. He reached over and thumbed the intercom button.

“Cindy?”

“Yes Sir?”

“I’m going to be out the rest of the day, Cindy, and if Frank Morgan calls looking for me, you don’t know where I am, correct?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Anything important comes up you can reach me on my mobile, Cindy.”

“Yes Sir, Mister Pearlson.”

Harvey Pearlson picked up his briefcase and left the office. Whatever Weston had in mind, he wanted nothing to do with it, and he didn’t want to be available for any sort of questions that might arise either. It was unfortunate enough that he had started the whole ball rolling; he had no intention of sticking around to see where it ended up stopping. No, he told himself, the lake was the best place to be. The only place to be, and he intended to stay there until the whole thing blew over just as he had been told to.

He took his private elevator down to the garage area, walked across to his Lincoln, and drove out of the parking garage, turning right on Longwood. He passed a hooker standing at the corner of the building, and thought just how bad Longwood Avenue had gotten as of late. He would have to speak to the security people when he got back from the lake. Putting up with the hookers that had taken over the avenue at night was one thing, but broad daylight? Standing right in front of the frigging building? No, something would have to be done, and if the security people couldn’t take care of it, maybe he’d speak to Weston. After all, he owed him one now, didn’t he? He pushed the thought away, signaled, and pulled out onto the loop. In an hour he’d be at the lake, and then he could forget about the whole mess, for today at least. He eased the car up to sixty, and leaned back into the leather upholstery to enjoy the drive.

Arlene Best

Arlene watched the Lincoln drive away. It was cold, far too cold to deal with anything that wasted time. The avenue may still be a respectable area during the daylight, but at night it was a completely different place. It had been in decline for a few decades. Most of the older nearby buildings had been turned into low income housing ten years back. The junkies, prostitutes and runaways had come on the heels of that, and they had never left.

Arlene had been hanging around the garage entrance hoping to catch Frank Morgan. He worked as a reporter for the paper, and more than once when she needed some help with the runaways, he had helped. Today he was nowhere to be found, and if she stayed around the front of the building much longer hoping to catch him she would probably find herself in jail for the night. She pulled her collar a little closer, turned her face into the stiff wind that had sprung up and headed back to her apartment just down the avenue.

Jessie Stone

Fort Drum, New York

Doctor Jessie Stone moved through the clinic quickly, her eyes falling on the many faces: Mothers, children, all waiting. She passed the desk, nodded at Vera who held her eyes for a moment.

“Give me five minutes, Vera, then start sending them…” She caught the concern in Vera’s eyes. “One in particular?” She asked.

“Little girl… Infection, maybe pneumonia,” she shrugged. “Sounded bad to me.”

Jessie nodded. “Then send her in first, Vera.” She pushed her way through the doors that lead to the back area and shrugged into a gown before grabbing the first chart off the board and beginning to read.

Los Angeles

Willie Lefray

The wind kicked up along Beechwood Avenue in L.A.’s red light district. A paper bag went rolling along the cracked sidewalk: Skipping over Willie Lefray’s feet where he stood watching the traffic… thinking. One trick… The right trick… Somebody with money and he could call the night good. Just enough to get a good high… Or enough to get enough shit to get a good high tonight and maybe a good high tomorrow when it all wore off and the jingle jangles set in? … Maybe, he decided. Maybe. Willie stood watching the cars as the paper bag bounded over his feet and tumbled along the avenue.

Watertown, New York

Frank Morgan

Frank Morgan flipped the map back onto the passenger seat of the small red Toyota Prius and glanced at his watch.

He had figured the trip from Syracuse to Fort Drum would take about an hour and a quarter. He hadn’t, however, counted on the traffic. The whole day can’t be great, he thought. The trip into Syracuse International had gone well. One short connection in route and other than that the whole trip had been uneventful. But now he had to deal with this. Something up ahead was slowing the traffic down, and he was pretty sure he knew what the problem was. Still, if he lost much more time, it would probably be close to dark when he arrived in Fort Drum, and the possibility of arriving after dark, and trying to find the house didn’t appeal to him.

Frank eased the Prius out into the passing lane, and slowly coaxed the car up to speed again. He had been right; the problem was the same as it had been coming off the thruway from the airport to get on route 81. Army convoys, and if you didn’t get around them quickly, you could spend forever in the left hand lane. He had learned that lesson the hard way coming off the thruway. Not only couldn’t he get around them, at first, but when he did eventually get around them he hadn’t been able to get back in for the exit to Route 81 north. He had ended up heading south instead, and had wasted twenty minutes getting turned around and back to the northern exit.

What the hell kind of military base needs that many trucks, he had wondered. It was a question that actually didn’t need to be answered, but he answered it anyway. The base doesn’t, the caves do. They may unload at the base, but I bet they just drop the load and ship it into the city at night, he told himself.

He stared out the window of the car, and looked over the traffic as he passed it. Jeeps, dump trucks, and tractor-trailer combos carrying who knew what. All of them heading to northern New York, he knew. He also knew that the airfield, at the base outside of Watertown, had been quite busy as well, the convoys of trucks weren’t their only supply source.

Frank reached towards the dashboard and fished a cigarette out of the pack that rested there, lighting it just as he passed the last olive-green truck on his right. He tossed the lighter into the plastic console, and it landed with a hollow plastic bong. At the same time, he pulled back into the right hand lane, and leaned back into the seat as he took a long pull on the cigarette.

From what he had been able to determine from the map, and what he already knew from his investigation, the military base was about twenty miles north from Fort Drum. Jimmy, his reporter friend, was right, it didn’t seem as though any of the trucks would be passing through Fort Drum on their way to the base. Watertown was only about nine miles away from the base though, and that was where the loads would end up. Not in the city actually, he reminded himself, but under the city, and he hadn’t found that little piece of information on the map. The map said exactly nothing about the caves.

When he had first started to seriously investigate the base, he had gotten the first hint of the caves from one of his informers. The informer was an ex-private turned junky, who had been stationed at the base when the project had started. The rest he had gotten from the articles he carefully culled from the Watertown Daily Press, and Jimmy, an old friend who worked at a Syracuse paper. Some things could be hidden, but there was always a clue if you knew where to look.

The first article he had read had seemed harmless enough, but coupled with the information he’d already had, it had been intriguing. The United States Army had purchased some abandoned property from the city to use as a storage depot. The story had gone on to say that the land was close to the old train depot, and the base would benefit from the purchase as they would no longer need to truck shipments from the base to the depot every time they used the rail yards. The ex-private had tipped him off about the caves, which also happened to be located on the same piece of property.

Even then, it still hadn’t made a lot of sense to Frank. What would they save? They would still have to ship whatever came in there, to the base. Wouldn’t they?

In other articles, most of which had been written years before in the Watertown paper, he had learned what the property actually consisted of, and at first it had seemed like an unlikely purchase. It hadn’t been all that hard to dig up the old articles, especially with the help of his friend in Syracuse. Although Watertown had its own local paper, the Times Reporter in Syracuse, which was only seventy miles away, often reported on the events that took place there.

It had been an easy matter of looking through the archived data files, pulling the stories that pertained, and with the help of an internet connection, the reporter friend sent the stories to Frank in Washington via e-mail. He had learned most of what he knew about the actual property from those stories, some of which dated from the early thirties.

The property was located on the river bank in the heart of the down-town section of Watertown. It consisted of a stretch of road that began in the center of the city, and then extended out of the city along an old set of rail road tracks. An old defunct coal company and some run down out-buildings were also included. Perhaps the most important of all, an abandoned series of caves that ran under the city. The city had bricked up the caves decades before in response to the community.

In June of 1935, a large group of school children, along with two adults who supposedly were well acquainted with the caves and their various twists and turns, had set out on a field trip to explore them. They had never returned. A subsequent search had turned up no trace of them at all. Three weeks later the city had sent a Public Works crew to brick up the entrance, and it had been closed since.

When the Army had bought the property it was considered unsafe, and had pretty much been allowed to go to seed. The road leading out of it had likewise been closed off some years before, and the area had become a hangout for young kids and vagrants. On any given night the police ended up being called to the area several times, and the city had debated for years about what they should do with the property.

When the Army had offered to purchase the property, the City Council had considered it a Godsend, and had been more than happy to sign over the deed and accept the check they offered. It had seemed to be the end of it. Frank had read later articles, however, that seemed to indirectly touch on the property. There was an increase in traffic after the sale, and an unusual amount of security that surrounded the site.

The local paper had down-played it to normal, or as close to normal as they could. Watertown had always been a military town, and so most of the complaints of increased traffic, were actually seen in a good light. Increased activity at the property might eventually mean more jobs, and in a depressed economy, which depended heavily on the nearby base, anything the Army did was always reported in a positive light. As far as the local paper was concerned, there was nothing negative to report.

So the real clues had come from the Syracuse paper. Franks’ friend, Jimmy Patrick, kept in touch, and had contacted Frank whenever he came across anything that was related to the smaller northern city. Syracuse itself had had tremendous problems, initially, with the traffic.

When Frank had called Jimmy, he had only wanted to know what he knew about the place. But after Jimmy had told him about the traffic problem, he had asked him to keep in touch, and he had. He had also filled him in on everything else he knew about Watertown. As he drove along, Frank mentally ticked off what he knew about the northern New York City.

The Black River split the city in two, and there were four bridges that spanned it. Three of the four also spanned the property that the military had purchased, and those three bridges were new. When they had been replaced, the road that ran to the old abandoned coal mine had been blocked off and abandoned. Ironically, or maybe not, Frank thought, the Army Corps of Engineers had done all the work.

The result was a small discarded piece of property, with its own road leading in and out, in the heart of the city. It was bound on the south side by the Black River and the north by a sixty foot rock ledge that rose just behind the old historic downtown district. That was, besides the caves, what Frank knew about the city itself. Jimmy had seemed to have caught Frank’s enthusiasm for the mystery, and had also sent him other articles he found as well.

Some of them, although at first glance seemingly innocent, were quite revealing about what was actually going on in Watertown.

The first one Jimmy had dug up and sent him, was from the Public Notices section of the Syracuse paper.

“I thought it was kind of strange,” Jimmy had said, “that they didn’t print the notice in the Watertown paper.”

Frank had read the long notice carefully. It boiled down to a statement of facts concerning the property in Watertown, and the Governments intended use of it.

The whole notice hadn’t made a lot of sense. It seemed to be saying that they intended to invoke the privilege to the mineral rights that had been deeded to them along with the property. It also stated that the Army Corps of Engineers had decided that the closed caves would need to be reopened for a feasibility study, to determine whether they could be used as a storage facility. It had been the first direct mention of the caves at all.

The notice went on to say that since this would involve transportation of, as well as disposition of, excess material from within the caves, the Corps had asked for, and via the printing of the notice, been given permission to begin the process without the necessary permits. They were also granted permission to transport radioactive materials to and from the site, the notice stated, and had like-wise been granted a waiver of the Clean Water Discharge Act, to allow undisclosed drainage into the Black River.

Subsequent notices and articles had detailed contract awards for “unspecified” electrical and plumbing work, along with contracts for per-piece orders of drywall and lumber. Another notice Frank had read, contained contract awards for concrete and asphalt to a Texas corporation. The amounts were unspecified, and were listed as needed for road repair, and sub-wall replacement. Jimmy had thought some of it was unusual, and probably even illegal, and although Frank had agreed, there was not much that either of them could do without further proof.

Jimmy had also told Frank that the Army had been building up the area for some time and that from what he’d been able to determine, they had begun work on the caves even before they had completed the purchase of the land.

They both suspected that the notices were only a cover for some larger project the Army was carrying out, and the radioactive permits bothered him a great deal. Jimmy had promised to stay in touch, and he had, up until last week.

Last week he had sent Frank two stories that had made no sense to Frank then, and still didn’t.

The first had been a story clipped from Military Times concerning a Major Richard Weston. Major Weston had been appointed special liaison to Fort Drum three years before: Since then he had dropped off the radar. No mention of him in any further announcements until last week when he had been named director of Special Projects and some obscure military think tank: Project SS.

Jimmy had been unable to dig up anything at all on Project SS. What it was: Where it resided; who belonged to it or even what they were discussing. He had dug up a few more articles on Richard Weston. One named him as Director of Special Projects in the Airborne Germ Warfare Division of the Army’s special services wing. That was a little known outfit that seemed to have its roots somewhere back in the Vietnam era… Cambodia. Some airborne chemicals that were sprayed on U.S. Troops who were in a country they were not supposed to be in in the first place: Sprayed from cargo planes that may have been Chinese, or may have been American. Hushed up. Nothing but rumors, but Weston had been appointed to a committee to look into it. A committee that, as far as Jimmy had been able to find, had never issued a single ruling or finding of any kind at all.

The second article Jimmy had sent seemed to have no correlation at all. It was a translated article from Ecuador. The gist of which were numerous incidents of villagers near the small town of Esmeraldas, seeming to come back to life and then becoming violent: Also hushed up after just a few mentions in local and international papers. Nothing more. No explanation, something that Frank knew Jimmy hated.

Frank had tried to contact him at work several times, but to no avail, and the messages he left were not returned. He had tried calling Jimmy at home and his cell as well, and had only been rewarded with his voice-mail. That had seemed strange to Frank as well. Jimmy was a damn good reporter who knew the value of answering his phone whenever it rang. At work, at home, in the middle of the night, it made no difference. Jimmy always answered the phone. Jimmy wasn’t answering and now instead of four rings before voice-mail, the phone was directing to voice-mail after the first ring.

He had even tried contacting Jimmy’s editor, but he had refused to talk to him. He hadn’t given up though, and had tried to call just this morning before he had flown out of Washington. His call was put through, but all he had gotten was a steady busy signal at his home, and when he had called his work number, a business like secretary at the paper informed Frank, in a matter-of-fact tone of voice, that Jimmy had left just the day before on an assignment. When he had asked her where he had gone to, her voice had gone even more business-like, and she had told him the paper did not give out that sort of information. Just when Frank had been about to try a different, more tactful approach to find out what was going on, she had hung up on him. The whole thing weighed heavily upon him. He had vacation time coming so he had taken it. He had three weeks to figure out what had happened to Jimmy and what was going on that was so secretive that everyone had decided to keep their mouths shut.

Frank inhaled deeply from the cigarette, and then tossed it out the open window.

That was why he was here. None of it figured. The base itself had thousands of acres of land, so why did they need more? Why the caves? And what the hell had happened to Jimmy? After nearly a week of hearing nothing from Jimmy at all, he had called in the middle of the night. Awakened Frank from a sound sleep: That had turned out to be the last time Frank had heard from him, and that last conversation with Jimmy had been a hurried one, late night, cryptic, Jimmy had sounded worried.

He had located an employee from the new base that had given him some information he wasn’t sure he should believe. The new base, according to this source, was a top secret virus facility. They were working on a virus that could build a better soldier and they had made a huge breakthrough a few months before. Finding a compound that could help the average soldier survive much longer without food and water in combat conditions. He had kept the kid talking most of the night, doing nothing more than buying the beer at a busy downtown bar that was geared toward the nearby base as most of them were.

Most of what Jimmy was told sounded unbelievable to him, but he had passed it on to Frank anyway. The kid had even come up with a code number for the Virus, SS-V2765. Frank had jotted it down on a pad, the rest of the conversation he had filed away in his head.

The Watertown paper had come out, just last week, with a long article that had been picked up by the wire service. Frank had read it, and wondered why they were suddenly going public about the caves. The Army was now saying they intended to convert the old caves into a large underground storage area. Frank already knew that from the Syracuse paper though, and he didn’t believe it was that simple. The rest of the story was bullshit, as far as Frank was concerned, and actually didn’t say a much of anything. Certainly nothing he hadn’t already known or suspected. The article actually seemed to serve only one purpose, and that was to mention that they were doing something with the caves.

Why would they feel the need to do that? Frank wondered. Had the Army found out that he and Jimmy had been digging into the base? Is that why Jimmy was nowhere to be found? Had they scared him off somehow?

Frank didn’t believe it was possible to scare Jimmy off of anything he was determined to find out about, so if they hadn’t scared him off, what the hell had happened? It all raised a lot more questions than it answered, and once he had lost track of Jimmy it had made it personal to him. He needed to know what had happened to him, so here he was cruising down the interstate, twenty-eight hundred miles from home, to find out. And even that had not been an easy thing to accomplish.

The airlines were running without reliable satellite communications. Apparently most of the world was, and it touched on every aspect of his life. How fast he could get information: Where he could get it from. How, or even whether he could book a flight, and when he might expect to get one back.

Frank supposed it had everything to do with DX2379R, an errant meteorite that was supposed to come very close to earth later tonight or early tomorrow. All the best minds said it would pass so far away that it would be nothing but a tiny blip in the history books, and he had too much on his mind to be concerned with that too. After all, if it were going to pass too close or hit and cause damage, they would know it. It was yet another case of overreaction. The cable news channels had so much competition that they tended to blow all the news out of proportion. So much so that the real things going on in the world were often overlooked entirely.

That was how they had nearly ended up with a joke for president a few years back. Inattention to the real things. The countries Entertain Me attitude. The other side effect was what he was witnessing right now. Everything slowed to a crawl. The internet superhighway went down, or clogged. Satellites became unreliable, or switched offline when they overloaded. Like cars passing a bad accident on the highway: Everyone had to slow down to get a look.

His hand reached automatically for the cigarette pack on the dash and just as abruptly stopped. I’ve got to cut back, he thought, that’s the second pack today. He wrestled with the urge for a full thirty seconds and then gave in. To hell with it, he told himself, I’ll have plenty of time to quit once I get settled in at Fort Drum. In fact, I’ll probably be so busy that I won’t have time to smoke at all, he lied to himself. Once again the lighter hit the tray, and Frank settled back into the seat, mentally ticking over what he knew, or suspected, about the caves.

As Frank neared the exit for Fort Drum, he mulled the possibilities over in his clouded mind. He had just flipped the turn signal on to exit the interstate, when he felt a shimmy begin at the rear of the car. It quickly turned to a deep pounding vibration as he slowed the small car and pulled to the side of the road.

Frank climbed out of the small cramped car, and, walking to the rear, stared down at the flat tire that he knew was there. Muttering under his breath, “Damn rental car,” he returned to the front; retrieved the keys, and unlocked the trunk to search for the spare he hoped was there. It wasn’t.

Frank locked the small car, and taking his laptop bag with him, set off in the direction of the exit to find a service station.

Joe Miller

Two miles away, Joe Miller tossed a steel clipboard onto the passenger seat of his Camaro as he pulled into the long driveway at 6620 Main Street, in Fort Drum.

Joe hadn’t seen the old brick house since three weeks before, when he had been sent out as part of the clean-up crew from Bud Farling’s real estate agency. The house had looked horrible then. The windows and doors had been boarded up, and the now graceful grounds had been choked with weeds.

The old house looks damn good, he thought. He hadn’t been there himself for most of the work as Bud had kept him busy with his other properties. Joe tended to get most of Bud’s work, probably due to the fact that he was dependable, and showed up every day ready to work. To Bud, Joe knew, that meant a great deal. A low whistle escaped his lips as he stared at the imposing estate, which had always seemed so forbidding before.

The van that he usually drove was in the shop for the third time in as many weeks, so he had come in his own car. This time it was the transmission, and Bud had been downright pissed about it. Not pissed at Joe though, the van was old, and, Bud had told him, he supposed he’d have to buy a new one soon.

When Bud had asked if Joe minded driving his own car out to the house to put in the locks, Joe had told him he didn’t mind at all, and that considering the way the van was constantly breaking down lately, he felt better taking his own car. At least that way he wouldn’t end up walking like he had last week when the van had broken down in the middle of nowhere.

Joe Miller actually had a large amount of expertise in home repair, and it had always seemed to him that all the different aspects of it had been easy to learn. He had made Bud a lot of money, and he worked as a sub-contractor so Bud could work him as many hours as he wanted without having to pay overtime.

The arrangement worked out well for both of them. It meant Bud could count on Joe, and because of that he paid him well.

Joe had no family, so even if Bud called in the middle of the night with some emergency at one of his properties, it wasn’t a big deal for Joe to get dressed and take care of it.

Joe retrieved the new locks from the seat and headed towards the front door. The keys had already been mailed to the man who was renting the property, Bud had explained.

“Just remove our master locks, and swap ’em out for these,” Bud had said, “And oh, don’t forget to bring the keys and the master locks back with you tomorrow.”

Joe had lost a set of the master locks a year ago, and Bud had never let him forget it.

Whenever Bud had a crew working on a property, the master locks were used. That allowed everyone to come and go whenever they needed to, and all the tradesmen that worked for Bud had a master key. It had come in handy on several occasions.

The keys fit all the rental properties Bud owned, or managed, as well, and Joe couldn’t count the times that had come in handy to him. Half the time when there was a problem with an apartment, it was usually reported by one of the other tenants, and nine times out of ten, the tenant who lived in the apartment wasn’t home. The master locks solved that problem nicely.

Joe reached the door; slipped the master key into the lock, and entered the house. He squinted in the gloom, peering cautiously inside at the shadowy hallway.

The old house had long had a reputation of being haunted. Joe didn’t necessarily believe it, but he had always found the old house to be unnerving.

It still seems spooky in here, Joe thought as he stepped into the entrance way. Stupid though letting this old house get to me. He couldn’t explain why he suddenly felt nervous about entering the house, and he glanced nervously back out the doorway at the driveway, where the Camaro sat gleaming brightly in the late afternoon sun.

The light stupid, he reminded himself, turn on the fracking lights.

He turned his attention back to the hall, and let his searching fingers locate the switch, and with a small push of the old button-style switch the lights came on.

Soft shards of light flickered across the walls of the entrance way, from the large chandelier, suspended from the old tin ceiling in the middle of the entrance way. Joe carefully edged the door shut with the heel of one scuffed work boot, and stared child-like around the room as the splashing patterns of light danced on the dark mahogany of the walls.

The wood panels reached more than twelve feet to the old tin ceilings, and intricate flowing lines covered the tin panels in an ornate flower design.

The dark walls were divided with carefully scrolled moldings, which broke the walls into squared sections, and a matching mahogany stairway curved away from the dark gray marble flooring, towards the upper reaches of the house.

He could make out the darkened upper floor where the staircase ended, and a small balcony that looked down over the entrance way.

To the left of the staircase, at the end of the long entrance way, massive double doors were set into the wall. A smaller single door led off to the right, directly across from those doors, which was the kitchen area, he knew.

To his immediate right, was another set of double doors, and directly across from that a graceful arch led into the living area. He knew that the doors set into the wall at the end of the hall led into a formal dining area, which also had a small door that opened into the kitchen area. The doors to his right opened into a large den, with book shelves from floor to ceiling, and a massive stone fireplace.

Joe had seen it before, when it had been stuffed full of the dusty old furniture that had been left in the house when the owner had died. The house had been tied up in probate court for years, Bud had explained, and so everything had been left pretty much untouched.

He hadn’t been here when the final cleaning had been done however; he hadn’t seen just how imposing, and elegant, the house actually was, without the dust and dirt that had covered it, and to him the transformation was astounding.

Joe carefully set the cardboard box containing the new locks on the floor by the front door. He decided that he wanted to take one more look at the house before he put in the locks. He walked down to the far end of the dimly lit entrance way, pushed open the double doors at the end of the hall that led into the dining area, and sent his left hand skittering across the wall for the switch. Sparse light from the hallway fell through the doorway and beyond.

Suddenly, a silver flash swept from the darkness towards him. His hand was still looking for the light switch, and his mind did not immediately register what it was.

WHAT? His mind cried out in alarm as his eyes watched the shining flat arc sweep towards him.

A knife? …At me? …Why?

“Not real,” he muttered aloud backing away, but his hands came away from his chest with bloody drops clinging to them. His eyes watched as a disembodied hand plunged the knife deeply into his chest again.

Hand, he thought… Is that my Blood?

The hand with the knife flickered quickly out of sight into the darkness, only to reappear a split second later and plunge deeply into his chest once more.

KNIFE …KNIFE …KNIFE! His mind screamed.

Two men stepped from the shadows. The larger one still held the knife threateningly in his hand as Joe slumped to the floor.

NO… He tried to say, but found he could not.

Strong hands closed around his wrists and were joined by others as his bleeding body was lifted from the floor. He tried to scream, but he found he could make no sounds. His chest felt as though a large boulder rested on it.

It doesn’t actually hurt, he thought, but they could have killed me, and I can’t breathe well, and, WHY?

His chest hitched once and stopped.

Can’t breathe, he thought, and next… The bastards did kill me! They did! They did…

He seemed to be falling into a dark void, and he could not see, but he could hear, he realized.

They’re scared, he thought, they’re, Scared. Oh, isn’t that funny. They killed me, and they’re scared.

He could hear them talking in hushed tones.

“Do you think he’s dead?” One asked.

“Maybe,” the other replied.

I’m not! Joe tried to scream.

“Well he sure as shit ain’t breathing…”

“That don’t make him dead, you idiot,” the other one, with the deeper voice replied, “I read where it takes four minutes for the brain to die, he could start breathing again or somthin’.”

“Well…” The one with the whiny voice began.

“Shut the hell up and let’s get going,” the one with the deeper voice said, cutting him off.

Who said that, Joe wondered as if it made a difference? Are they picking me up? Why? He couldn’t tell if they were picking him up or not. In fact, he couldn’t feel anything, he realized, and it was beginning not to matter to him. Is this what it feels like to be dead? He wondered.

“Are you sure he’s dead?”

“I told you I don’t know.”

“Well the bastard’s looking right at me is all, and it bugs me,” the smaller man whined.

Joe knew that they had to be lying, because he couldn’t see them. I can’t be dead ’cause I can hear, and I can’t be staring at them, ’cause I can’t see anything, Joe thought as he tried to open his eyes.

“He ain’t fuckin’ dead! He ain’t! He ain’t…”

The panicked scream was brought about by the flicker of his eyelids as Joe had tried to open his already open eyes, and was cut short by a sharp slap delivered across the face of the terrified smaller man, that Joe heard perfectly well.

“Shut the fuck up Eddie, just shut up ya fuckin’ baby.”

Eddie shut up.

“I stabbed him nine fuckin’ times,” Bobby Lawton, the bigger man insisted, “he’s dead already… Okay?”

Nine Fuckin’ Times? Nine fuckin’ Times, you’re dead already, Joe’s mind informed him.

Joe felt nothing during the trip through the kitchen to the car, which was parked at the rear of the house.

“Open the damn trunk,” Bobby said.

They had carried the body out the back door, to where they had parked the Cadillac earlier.

“Open the damn thing…It’s not locked, just lift up the lid,” the voice continued as Joe listened.

I gotta tell them, Joe thought. I ain’t dead, and they can’t put me in the friggin’ trunk.

HEY! Joe tried to scream, I ain’t dead, and you can’t put me in the trunk!…I’m claustrophobic, I can’t stand tight places!

But his lips would not move, and his throat would make no sound. His lungs could pull no air into his body to make his throat work, he realized.

I’ve got to replace the locks, he reasoned, please… Please? He pleaded as the trunk lid slammed home.

Fuck you, he thought, just fuck you, I ain’t dead! He was tired though. Very tired it seemed.

Joe Miller did not feel the bumpy ride to the old Jefferey’s farm, and he did not feel the dirt and stone striking his face as he lay at the bottom of the shallow grave. Joe was dead. Oh yes, he was truly dead indeed.

Eddie pushed dirt quickly into the grave they had hastily dug, when they had reached the farm. Back at the house, after they had put the body in the trunk, Bobby had gone back inside to clean up the mess while Eddie had gone out front to bring the light green Camaro the guy had been driving, out back. The guy had looked awful young to Eddie. He hadn’t looked old enough to be a reporter. Either way he was going into a hole. The second one in as many weeks, but Tetto, Alice as Bobby liked to call her behind her back, paid cash. She gave them the details both times. If her facts were wrong that was her problem. This one was going right into the ground next to the other reporter from last week. And now here he was filling the hole. They had a regular little cemetery going on up here in Jefferey’s back forty.

Probably went to college, his mind told him, college kids get all them easy jobs anyhow. Probably how he got the job.

It had never occurred to either of them to check Joe’s pockets. After all, it was the right house, and there sure as shit hadn’t been anyone else there, Eddie had reasoned.

They had ditched the car off one of the dirt roads, which honeycombed the woods that surrounded Fort Drum. It would take some time for someone to find it, and that would give them some time to dispose of the body, and for things to settle down a bit.

Eddie bent harder into the shovel, spraying dirt down into the hole. Whoever said it was easy to kill someone with a knife, was sure wrong, Eddie thought, the guy’s eyes were still open when we opened the trunk!

Bobbie’s voice broke into his thoughts.

“Hey Ed, I’m gonna go call Alice,” he said, “let her know, you know, so we can pick up the money later on… Finish that and hang tight. I’ll be back.”

“Yeah?” Eddie asked. “Why don’cha call her Alice when you talk to her,” Eddie laughed.

“Ha, ha, funny man,” Bobby said.

“Rip your balls off and feed them to you if you did,” Eddie muttered as he launched another shovel full of dirt down into the hole.

“Maybe I’ll tell her, I dunno, you know,” Eddie was saying, ‘Hey, you know I’d like to bang that Alice Tetto. I really would.’… Maybe I’ll tell her that, smart-ass.” Bobby didn’t wait for a response simply got in the car, slammed the door and drove away.

Eddie watched Bobby back the big car down the narrow dirt road, and out towards the main highway. After a few minutes, he bent back to the task of filling in the grave, wishing he had never said a word about Alice Tetto.

When he was done he spread a couple of handfuls of leaves over the ground; sat down nearby, and smoked while he waited for Bobby to come back.

Frank Morgan

Frank Morgan had found a run-down-looking gas station at the end of the exit, just two miles outside of Fort Drum. An old rusty Chevy truck, with a newer-looking Holmes 220 wrecking unit mated to the back, was pulled part way into one of the bays with its hood sticking up into the air.

Not good, his mind told him, not too good at all.

It turned out to not be bad at all though, at least not with the wrecker.

“Just lookin’ her over, friend,” the old gray-haired attendant, and as it turned out, owner, said.

“‘Placed the plugs, is all. Just checkin’ the timing to boot.”

The old man had disconnected the timing light and slammed the hood back down with a rusty protest.

“Yuh, she’s jess fine,” he said, “What can I do ya for?”

He had taken Frank back to the car, hooked it from the rear; turned it around, and towed it back to the station. His young son had watched the station while they were gone.

Getting the car back had been no problem. Getting the tire replaced had been. He’d had to send the kid into the city to pick up a replacement, and the kid had seemed to take forever. 

Frank supposed he was lucky though as the old man had just gotten the tire place on the phone before they closed, and had persuaded them to stay open until the kid could get there. The old man had said he could call a cab if Frank wanted him to, but Frank decided to wait for the car. After all, he thought, I probably won’t get there any quicker.

It was full dark by the time the kid got back with the new tire, and after 11:00 pm. before the car was off the lift and ready to go.

The old man gave him directions to the house after Frank had paid the $250.99 bill. No wonder the tire place stayed open late, Frank thought.

He pulled the small car out on the road, and two blocks down, made a left on Main, and began looking for the house. When he reached 6620, he pulled the small car into the driveway and parked it in the rear, in the old garage. He once again picked up the laptop case, along with one battered suitcase he had brought with him, and headed for the rear door.

The key would not fit in the lock.

Frank tried the knob, and breathed a sigh of relief when the door swung open into the shadowy kitchen area. He set down the suitcase, and felt along the wall with his hand until he located the old-style push button, and thumbed the switch on.

The kitchen floor was wet, he noticed, and a sharp pine odor lingered in the house, mingled with something else he couldn’t quite place. Must have just finished cleaning, he thought, maybe they didn’t have time to change the locks yet.

He picked up the suitcase once again, and nudged the door shut with the toe of one shoe as he walked off into the house.

Much nicer than I thought it would be, he marveled as he entered the front hallway from the kitchen area. He climbed the staircase to the second floor and tried the first door he came to.

It opened on a large bathroom, and an old claw foot tub stood gleaming in one corner of the room. The room was finished in an off-white color. The narrow wooden slats that comprised the lower wall, were broken about four feet from the floor with a decorative molding, and then finished to the tin ceiling above him with contrasting flowered wallpaper. Frank closed the door and moved further down the hallway.

The next door opened on a huge bedroom, decorated in the same style as the bathroom had been. A large four poster bed dominated the room, flanked on either side with dark oak dressers, which matched the bed. The linen, as promised, looked fresh.

Frank set the suitcase down and placed the briefcase on one of the dressers. He stripped off his jacket and hung it on one of the corner posts. Pulling his cellphone out of his pocket he muttered as he noticed that he had no service. “Figures” he muttered, and then headed down the stairs to see if the phone was working.

He wanted to call Maggie and talk to the kid’s tomorrow. He had called that morning before he had left, and Tim had extracted a promise that he would call as soon as he could. They’re in bed by now, he realized, looking at his watch.

He wasn’t sure if there were two, or three, hours difference, but he knew it was earlier there than here. Either way it didn’t make much difference, he decided, they would probably either be in, or getting ready for, bed, so there wouldn’t be any sense in calling tonight. The phone call could wait until tomorrow morning, he was beat. His body felt it as well, he realized as he reached the bottom of the stairs.

When he had come through the front entrance-way, on his way upstairs, he had turned on the lights as he went, and he could see another set of switches by the front door. Must be a three way switch, he thought.

Over the years, he had replaced a lot of things in the house back in Richmond Beach, and light switches had been among them. You can’t own a house and not learn about maintenance, he thought. After Janey had died he had kept up the house himself, rather than call a repair man every time something wore out, or became broken. His eyes slipped down from the switch-plate, and he noticed a small cardboard box sitting on the floor by the front door, and walked over to investigate.

The box contained a screwdriver, and two new-looking lock-sets. He picked up the screw driver.

Nice multi-bit job, he thought, bet whoever left it is wondering what the hell they did with it.

Frank tried the keys he had been given to the house, and they fit in the new locks that were in the box.

He sighed, “Whoever they sent to clean up and put the locks in, forgot the locks,” he said aloud.

To hell with it, he decided, I’ll swap the locks out myself if I can.

At first he was a little pissed off that they had forgotten the locks. They did do a good job on the cleaning though, he thought, and I would probably only get the guy in trouble if I called Bud and complained.

Frank used the screw driver to remove the old locks, and after examining them, switched the cylinders and replaced them. The holes were new, and the dead bolts were the same brand, so it was an easy job to accomplish.

He put the screwdriver back in the box, along with the old locks and pushed it back into the corner where it had been below the light switch.

Whoever left that screwdriver will probably come back. At least for that, Frank thought. Maybe I’ll give Bud a call tomorrow, I don’t have to mention the locks, I’ll just tell him whoever he sent left some of their tools here.

The thought reminded Frank that he had come down to check the phone. He walked into the living room and picked up the old rotary dial phone to check for a dial tone. A familiar hum told him that it did indeed work. He replaced the receiver on the hook, and, turning the lights out as he went, climbed the stairway to the bedroom. He was beat, and sleep came quickly, even in the unfamiliar surroundings.

He met old man Peters, who lived across the road, the next morning.

Willie Lefray

Los Angeles

Twenty feet away from Junior’s Palace on Beechwood Avenue, the prostitutes were just beginning to show up in force, waiting for the early morning traffic. Willie Lefray sat with his back against the wall of an alley: A needle ready, and a speed-ball cooking over a tin of shoe polish. There was a bum sleeping a little further down the alley. Willie ignored him, watching the mixture in the blackened spoon begin to bubble, melting together.

Two days before he had been sitting in a diner off Fourth avenue south waiting for his world to end. He had paid for the bottomless cup of coffee the place advertised, but ten cups had done nothing to improve his situation. He was still sick. He was still broke, and he needed something to take the edge off the real world, which had been sucking pretty hard at that time. A trucker had come in and ate his dinner just two stools away from Willie, but every time he had worked up the courage to ask him for a couple of bucks the guy had stared him down so hard that he had changed his mind.

He had just made up his mind to leave: Even the waitress was staring hard every time he asked for more coffee, the cops couldn’t be far away, when the trucker had reached back for his wallet, pulled it free and took a ten from inside and dropped it on the counter top.

Willie watched. It was involuntary. One of those things you did when your head was full of sickness and static. Just a place for your ever moving eyes to fall. The wallet was one of those types he had seen bikers and truckers use. A long chain connecting it to the wide leather belt he wore. Hard to steal. Hard to even get a chance at. The man stuffed the wallet back into his pocket. Sloppy, Willie saw, probably because he knew the chain was there and so if it did fall out he would know it. He turned and put his ass nearly in Willie’s face as he got up from the stool. The wallet was right there. Two inches from his nose, bulging from the pocket. The leather where the steel eye slipped through to hold the chain frayed, ripped, barely connected. The man straightened and the wallet slipped free. The chain caught on the pocket, slipped down inside, and the wallet came free, the leather holding the steel eye parted like butter, and the wallet fell into Willie’s lap. He nearly called out to the man before he could shut his mouth. His hand closed over the wallet and slipped it under his tattered windbreaker. The waitress spoke in his ear a second later.

“Listen… Buy something else of get the fuck out. You hear me? Otherwise, my boss,” she turned and waved one fat hand at the serve through window, “Says to call the cops.”

Willie stared at her in disbelief. He was sure that everyone in the diner had seen the wallet fall into his lap. He swallowed. “Yeah… Okay… I’m leaving,” he said with his croaky voice. Sometimes, getting high, he didn’t speak for weeks. It just wasn’t necessary. When he did he would find his voice rusty, his throat croaking out words like a frog. Sometimes he was right on the edge of not even being able to understand the words. Like they had suddenly become some foreign language. He cleared his throat, picked up the cup of cold coffee and drained it. “Going,” he said.

He got up from the stool, kept one hand in his pocket holding the wallet under the windbreaker and walked out the front door.

Robert Peters

“Christ, don’t say nothin’ bad about ’em while they’re around,” Robert Peters said.

“Why’s that?” Frank asked as he chuckled.

Frank was sitting on Peters’ front porch which overlooked the large house he had rented across the road; leaned back in a cane backed chair with a cold bottle of beer in his hand at 9:15 in the morning.

Frank had met Peters that morning as he had exited the house. The old man had been peering through the dirty windows of the garage at the small red car inside. He’d seemed pretty embarrassed at getting caught, and had told Frank that he was just, “Checkin’ on the house,” as he usually did.

“Didn’t ‘spect to see no one ’round here! I wasn’t told that the old place had been sold.”

The old man was of course fishing, and Frank knew it. Frank figured that the old guy probably saw himself as the unofficial caretaker of the place, and he had seemed to be harmless, so Frank had told him he was only renting the place for a couple of weeks.

“S’spected somethin’ was up,” Peters said, “There’s been one hell of a lot going on over here the last couple of weeks. I been sort’a watching the place for the last couple years, you know, so the kids don’t break into it and ruin it… …When’d ya get in?”

“Yesterday… Well, last night, I guess,” Frank replied, “drove down from the airport in Syracuse.”

Peters nodded. “Yep, thought I saw some lights on over here last night. Thought maybe it was the same crowd twas here just after dark…Raised a hell of a ruckus, and nearly scared the bejesus out’a me. Thought somebody was gittin’ killed or something.”

Frank had eyed the old man.

“Well I think I can set your mind to ease on that. When I got in last night I noticed that somebody from the agency had been here, cleaning the place up. In fact, the kitchen floor was still wet,” he said.

“Yep.” Peters said, “you got that right, seen him my-own-self. Joe, I think his name is. Young kid with blonde hair. But, I ain’t talking ’bout him. There was a couple other guys’ here too. They were here before he was. The kid left with ’em too. Sounded like they had themselves a little fight first though. Say, it’s damn hot already, what’s say we go kick back on my porch a bit? I got some cold ones in the General?”

The old man had caught the suspicious reporter in him, so here he sat at 9:15 AM with a cold beer in his hand, wondering what the old guy had actually seen.

The beer wasn’t bad, despite the early hour. He’d expected some off brand or something, the Coors was a nice surprise. Social Security, which was what the old man said he lived on, must pay a lot better than it used to, Frank thought.

“Really,” Peters was saying, with a big grin on his face, “they’ll get ya fer it. They really will.”

He continued. “I ‘member this one time when I said something to Old Jay.” Old Jay was Peter’s mangy looking orange and white cat. “He’s an uppity old cuss, thinks his shit don’t stink, ya know?”

Frank couldn’t help but laugh.

“No shit,” Peters bellowed over the top of the laughter.

“Son-of-a-whore shit in my shoe.”

That was it for Frank, and he let the laughter roll out of his belly unchecked.

“Well fuck you,” Peters said, a stern look on his face. “I’m just trying to tell ya, that animals’ kin understand, when ya say somethin’ bad about ’em. That bastard shit right in my shoe. If I’d a caught him, he’d a been a sorry little bastard too.”

Frank just laughed and shook his head. What could you say to a man who thinks his cat can understand him?

Peters chuckled a little, right along with him.

“Course…There was this dawg, I once owned. I swear to God that dawg not only knew what I was saying, but worse than that, the little son-of-a-whore knew what I was thinking too. Not always, but most the time mind ya.”

Peters raved about the dog for a few more minutes, as Frank got the laughter under control, and did his best to look serious.

He felt Peters was probably a pretty good guy after all, and was still waiting for the old man to get around to the subject that had begun across the road. Whatever the old man had witnessed was probably worth hearing, Frank thought.

Peters got to it eventually, but you wouldn’t have known that anything had clicked in Franks mind by the look on his face. Frank had been a reporter for too long to let his face betray what his mind suspected.

The old man had been sitting out on his front porch with a can of Old Milwaukee last evening, when the incident across the street had occurred.

Frank was on his second beer, and the Coors had been replaced with Old Milwaukee. Turns out the Coors had been brought over by the kid Peters called Joe, the previous week, when the work on the old house had been going on.

Peters had liked the kid, so he said, and the kid had taken to dropping by every night and sitting on the wide front porch with the old man.

They, “Watched traffic mostly,” Peters said, “that kid didn’t have no family, and he wasn’t raised up here, so I guess he didn’t have many friends to hang around with. Told me he come up from Florida lookin’ for work and lucked out. Guess he decided to stay. That’s why it struck me kind ‘a funny that he didn’t drop over last night. Course it was full dark when him and the others left, and I didn’t have the porch light on, so maybe he figured I twasn’t to home.”

“Ain’t a whole hell-of-a-lot to look at here ya know,” Peters continued. He seemed to feel the need to defend himself for watching the old house across the street, and Frank nodded his head in agreement as if to say, “Yes indeed, it looks as though it could be pretty boring, and no, I wouldn’t consider that being nosy.” The nod seemed to put the old man at ease, and he continued his narrative.

“Well anyhow, I was just kicking back with a beer, when I saw Joe’s car come down the street an pull in the driveway over there,” he flapped his hand towards the large brick house across the street. “Figured that somethin’ must a happened to that old piece a shit van he usually drives. He didn’t wave, so I just figured he probably didn’t see me sittin’ over here. Never saw the other car till later, but it must have already been there, parked around back, kind ‘a sneaky like, ya know?” 

Frank nodded his head as if he did. 

“Well anyway, he gits the door open, and just sort’a stood there lookin’ in as if he ‘spected somethin’ to jump out and bite ‘im. Looked fer a second as though he might just jump back in that car of his, and hit the road instead a doing whatever it was he needed to do there. But he didn’t, he went on in, but I didn’t see him come back out. I went in the house a few minutes later to git me a fresh one, and feed Old Jay, and I know his car was a sittin’ there when I looked out about an hour later, but after I got up from my nap about of an hour after that, it was gone. I figured he was gone, so I just sat down on the porch and watched the cars go by fer awhile. Just when I got my old ass back inside to get me another beer, is when the hollering started.” Peters took a long sip from his beer, before he continued.

“I figured that someone else had showed up over there. Maybe that cheap prick Joe works for, but when I got my beer and went back out, twasn’t nobody there. I sat there for another ten minutes or so, when all of a sudden Joe’s car come flying out the driveway, along with a big car of some kind. That was strange too, as I ain’t never saw Joe drive that car that-a-way. He liked it too much, and it wasn’t set up the way some of these kids set their cars up, it was just sort’a regular, ya know?” he eyed Frank speculatively, and Frank nodded for him to go on. 

“Anyway, that’s it. They went a tearin’ off up the road, and then about a half hour later you showed up and pulled around the back. I was thinking ’bout headin’ over there, but I ain’t one to stick my nose in too far, ya know? I did call up Alan, down the town hall though. Course, that fat piece a shit never did come by. Told me to stop being so damn nosy, and he’d call Bud up the city tomorrow to see what was going on.”

“So, I just said to hell with it. That’s when I come back out and saw you pull in. Besides,” Peters continued, “that fat bastard ain’t worth the time a day. I asked Old Jay and he feels the same as I do about it.” Peters grinned.

The whole tale didn’t sit well with Frank, and it jogged his memory about his arrival the night before. He had been tired and the other smell he had detected along with the pine odor had slipped by his tired mind. He had been unable to place it and so had ignored it. Peter’s story though had served to place it for him.

He’d had a friend, back in college, that had worked at his father’s meat packing plant on Houston’s west side, and Frank had taken the friend up on the offer of part-time work at the plant one summer. He had never been able to stand the smell in the plant though. Strong pine disinfectant, and an under-smell of coppery-blood. That was what the other smell in the house had reminded him of last night, he realized, a slaughter house.

When he’d awoke this morning the smell had been gone, but he was certain it had been there last night.

Frank resolved to check out the house closely later on.

“…doin’?” he heard peters say.

“Huh?” Frank asked.

“I said, how’s that beer doin’?” Peters asked again, “I’m fixin’ to get myself another. Ya want one?”

“Tell you what,” Frank replied, “I’ll take a rain check for later on, if you don’t mind. I’ve got to make a couple of phone calls, and I also have a couple of errands to run. It should be my turn to buy anyway, isn’t it?”

Peters grinned. “Far be it from me to turn down an offer like that’un, and it maybe just might be. I’ll be kickin’ around later on. Com’on over when ya git back, and I’ll help ya drink a couple fer sure.”

Frank said he would and headed back across the road towards the imposing old house.

Once he had reached the door; unlocked it, and stepped inside; he let the breath he hadn’t known he was holding escape in a low groan.

The old man’s story, along with his memory of the odor he had smelled the previous evening, had shaken him. He knew it was possible to stick your nose too deeply into a story. He had seen several young, eager kids lose their jobs over stepping on the wrong toes. He had also known a couple of older reporters who had as well, and it also wasn’t unheard of for a reporter on the tail of a possibly damaging story to just disappear. Maybe it was unlikely, but not unheard of.

Like Jimmy maybe? His mind asked.

He pushed the thought quickly away, and shifted his attention back to the house, and the odor he had detected last night.

Had something happened here last night? He wondered. Had someone grown concerned over what they suspected Frank might know, and wanted him removed? Was it strictly something to do with the kid, or did the kid just happen to be there at the wrong time?

Frank suddenly realized that if the tire hadn’t blown on the rental car that he would have been here. He would have been here for sure, he told himself, and probably a lot earlier than the kid had been. Had someone, or a couple of someone’s, been waiting for him? The uncertainties bothered him a great deal. He walked back into the kitchen area where he had entered the house the evening before.

The kitchen still smelled faintly of pine-cleaner, but this time the under odor of blood was not present. He scanned the kitchen area with his eyes, until they fell upon a small white object by the door that led back into the front entrance way.

Frank walked over and bent down next to the small, white square of cloth that lay in the corner by the doorway, and picked it up. His eyes were drawn to a tiny rust colored stain on the cloth.

Blood! His mind told him.

The cloth appeared to have been torn from a shirt, and one small edge of a broken button was still sewn to the tiny scrap of cloth. He made a mental note to ask Peters what the kid had been wearing the night before when he had saw him, but he knew it probably belonged to the kid’s shirt. Frank walked back into the entrance way, to retrieve the screwdriver he had replaced in the cardboard box. Looks like no one will be coming back for this after all, he thought, as he carried it back with him to the kitchen.

Using the screwdriver as a crude pry bar, Frank removed the molding that finished the kitchen wall to the floor. The usual dust and plaster that he had expected to see, was congealed with the dark red blood, which he had also expected to see. Frank replaced the strip of wood using the handle of the screwdriver as a hammer.

It was as he thought. Peters had been more correct than he knew, when he had said it had sounded as though someone was being killed. What did it mean, he wondered, and why hadn’t the sheriff of the local community come down when Peters had called him? Did he think Peters was just an old crack pot? Or was it something else?

Frank tossed the screwdriver back in the box as he passed it on the way to the living area. He decided to call the sheriff himself and find out. Obviously someone had been at least seriously injured… killed, Franks mind whispered, and someone should be looking into it.

Frank picked up the phone to call information, but set it back down after only a few seconds. It would be of no use to him, it was dead.

He walked back through the kitchen, left the house; locked the door behind him; and opening the garage door, he climbed into the small red car and keyed the ignition… Nothing happened.

Frank, who was starting to feel a little nervous, went around to the front of the car, lifted the hood, and peered down into the engine compartment.

The battery cables were both cut and it looked like whoever had done the job had thought a little overkill was in order, as they had also removed all the wires running into the small greasy distributor cap. Frank looked around the small garage, but the wires were nowhere in sight.

“Fuck me,” he muttered, as he removed the prop rod and let the hood fall back down with a loud clang. He kicked the front tire of the small car viciously as he walked past it on his way towards the house.

“Bastards,” he said aloud.

Frank was sure now, that he had gotten himself into something deep this time. He could no longer pretend about that at all. His mind continued to run through the growing list of suspicions he had, as he walked around the side of the house searching for the phone line.

As it turned out the phone line came in through the back of the house. It was cut, and as with the car, whoever had done it had thought maybe a little more overkill was in order. They had cut an additional ten feet or so of it, and had apparently taken it with them when they had left.

The remainder terminated about three inches above Frank’s head. Angry, but also a little shaken, Frank turned to start across the road to see if Peters had a phone. He had just begun to turn, when a horn blared on the highway.

Frank turned just in time to see the old man leave the mouth of his dirt driveway, and wave as his old Plymouth farted blue smoke and drove away.

Peters waving hand had followed the honk, and Frank, not really thinking all that clearly, had raised his own hand and waved good-by as the car disappeared down the road.

Frank mentally kicked himself, as he gazed down the now empty stretch of highway.

“Shit!” he muttered. “Guess I’m going to do a little walking.”

Frank closed up the garage and headed down the road. Two miles down he turned right, and headed towards the service station he had stopped at the previous night. When he arrived hopefully he would be able to get the old guy to come back and fix the car.

If he’s there, he thought. The way things are going today he probably won’t be.

When Frank arrived at the gas station, the old man walked out to greet him.

“Howdy,” Bill Freeman queried, “blow out another tire?”

“No… Looks as though some kids might have had themselves some fun with my car though,” he lied, “they ripped out the distributor wiring and cut the battery cables on me.”

“That so?” Bill questioned, “Seems as though them city kids is always up to something, and it ain’t the first time it’s happened.”

Frank, who knew it hadn’t been any City kids, nodded his head in agreement. He climbed into the wrecker beside Bill, and rode along as bill retrieved the red Toyota and towed it back to the garage for the second time in as many days.

It only took an hour for Bill to replace the wiring and cables, and after Frank paid him, he had stopped at a small store he had passed on the way to pick up something to eat, and a case of beer he hoped would pry a little more out of Peters.

While he had been standing in the garage waiting on Freeman to fix the car, he had begun to wonder if he were overreacting. He had come close more than once to asking Freeman if he could use his phone to call the Sheriff. In the end he decided against it. Best to wait. Talk to Peters again and see what he could get out of him. If it turned out someone really had been injured or even died in the house the night before, he could call the Sheriff then.

When Frank got back to the old house he pulled the car back into the garage, and this time he locked it before he went back into the house.

He popped the top on a fresh brew, and drank it as he built two monstrous sandwiches; grabbed another cold beer, and walked into the living area to sit down.

The dining area had a long oak table, he had noticed, but Frank had always taken his meals into the living room at home, or out on the rear deck, and old habits were hard to break.

He had started this particular habit after Janey had died. The kids were usually in bed or at Maggie’s for the night, by the time he ate, and the television took the edge off the loneliness he had felt trying to eat in the kitchen.

When he finished he headed back towards the kitchen to get another beer. He had just entered the hallway when his eyes told him that something was wrong. It took a few seconds of looking around the empty hallway, before he realized what it was. The box that he had put the old locks back into was gone.

He remembered tossing the screwdriver back into it earlier, and it had been right by the front door. He had replaced it there himself last night, after he had installed the locks, and it had still been there just a short while ago when he had retrieved the screwdriver to pry the molding loose in the kitchen.

Frank walked warily to the front door and opened it. It was not locked, and he was sure he had locked it.

Someone, he realized, had been in the house while he was gone.

Might still be, his mind told him.

Frank closed the door and re-locked it. He quietly set the empty beer can down on the floor by the door, and began searching the house.

When he had searched all the rooms, except the bedroom he was now entering, he had begun to wonder if his imagination was working overtime. The house seemed empty. Frank looked around the room silently and cautiously, noticing that the laptop bag that he had placed on the dresser was still there.

He looked under the bed.

Nothing, he saw, and getting up returned to the dresser. He was mentally chiding himself as he opened the laptop bag, but stopped as the bag popped open, to reveal only an empty satin lining.

“Shit,” he muttered, “all the damn notes are gone along with the laptop.”

The realization frightened him, as the missing notes confirmed all the suspicions he had. No one would want them, unless they were specifically connected to the investigation he was conducting. He knew now that the killer, or killers, had been after him all along.

Frank let the case fall shut, not bothering to fully close or lock it, and went back down to the kitchen with the suitcase he had picked up in the bedroom.

He now knew that he was in real danger. If the killer had tried once, it wasn’t unreasonable to assume that he or they would know by now they had gotten the wrong person. When they did figure it out they would be back, he knew, and Frank had no intention of being there when they did. He also had no intention of letting them get away if they did come back, and he could catch them.

I wonder if old man Peters really is as salty as he seems to be? Frank thought. His place would be a good place to sit and wait for them to come back, and on the heels of that thought came another. I wonder if he has a gun, or an old deer rifle? Probably, Frank thought. Hadn’t he said earlier that he used to do some hunting when he was younger?

Frank was pretty sure he had mentioned hunting when he had been rambling on about the old dog he had once owned.

Either way it would be a lot safer there than here, he told himself.

With his mind made up, Frank stuffed the beer and the groceries back into the bag and walked out the back door. He decided to leave the small car in the locked garage, to make it appear as though he was still in the house.

Frank walked behind the house, peered around cautiously, and entered the woods behind it, walking a long curving route around the old place until he found the highway once again.

As he crossed the road and entered the woods on the other side to cover himself as he moved towards old man Peters’ house, he realized how stupid he would look to someone if they had seen him walking through the woods with a grocery bag. He remembered then that he had left the suitcase sitting on the kitchen floor.

I guess it’ll be staying there for a while, he thought, as he tramped deeper into the woods.

He came out in back of Peters’ house, and quickly walked the ten yards from the tree line to the house. The car was still gone, he saw, as he entered the unlocked rear door. After putting the sack in the refrigerator, he moved to the living room.

He sat in the old man’s recliner, drinking a beer as he stared out the window at the house across the road and opened a fresh pack of cigarettes. He smoked, as he waited for Peters to return.

Jeremiah Edison

The two men faced each other across the playing board. The younger man thought for a second, and then moved a nearby red checker towards the other side of the board in a series of jumps; set it down, and said, “King me.”

The older man obliged, and then with his chin in his hand sat studying the board.

He had only two black checkers left, neither of which were crowned. He smiled and moved one forward a space. The young man reciprocated by jumping both of the remaining pieces, and removing them from the board.

“Ain’t often I kin say I beat the Lord,” he said, and smiled at the older man.

The older man smiled back at him. “Guess you’re just too good for me”, he said. ”Jeremiah…I was wondering if you would like to take a little walk with me. I have a couple of things on my mind I wanted to talk to you about, do you mind?”

“Mind? Heck no I don’t. I was gittin’ a bit itchy about thing’s myself,” Jeremiah replied.

They had both been talking during the checkers game, and Jeremiah had been waiting for an opportunity to ask about how things were going. But how did you ask God what he’s been up to? He wondered.

“You just ask,” the kindly older man said.

Jeremiah was sure that he hadn’t spoken the question out loud, but it wasn’t the first time the man had seemed to read his thoughts, and he had actually become accustomed to it.

Jeremiah blinked his eyes, and when he opened them, he found himself standing in a small stand of woods with a stiff, though cool, wind blowing long dead leaves across his shoes.

He did not feel inclined to question it. It had happened before. One minute they would be in one place discussing something, and the next instant they would be somewhere else. He was used to it.

The older man stood beside him staring at a freshly turned rectangular patch of ground before him, which had been swept clean by the wind.

“His blood cries out to me,” he said.

Jeremiah could somehow see through the dirt, and down into the earth where a young man lay encased in the soil.

“One of many,” the older man said, “Look,” his finger pointed at the ground.

They were in a small alleyway in what looked to Jeremiah to be a very bad section of a large city.

A young girl struggled desperately, as two men ripped at her clothes.

Tears leaked from the older man’s eyes, and Jeremiah could feel his own tears falling onto his cheeks. He tried to move but couldn’t.

“Don’t,” the older man cautioned. “Look!”

Jeremiah was standing at the base of an old wooden cross, looking up into the eyes of the man who hung there.

“It has never changed, Jeremiah,” the man on the cross said, “It will never change until I force it to change.”

The man on the cross was crying as well, Jeremiah saw.

“I love them so much, but it has never changed.”

Jeremiah’s eyes were suddenly assaulted with images that seemed to go on forever. Horrible human atrocities of every imaginable kind, and the older man held him as he sobbed.

“Do I have to see so much? Do I have to see it?” Jeremiah asked.

As quickly as the images had come, they disappeared, and they were back at the table, with the checker board spread out before them. The older man held Jeremiah’s hand in his own.

“I felt the question in your heart,” the older man said. “I did not want to hurt you, but I want you to know that I have no choice.”

Jeremiah nodded his head. He knew that he never would have been able to look at some of the things the man had shown him.

“When?” Jeremiah asked.

“Tomorrow,” the older man answered. “Will you be able?”

Jeremiah thought for a second. Not about the answer, but the things he had seen.

“Yes, Lord,” he answered, “I’ll be as ready as I kin be anyway.”

“I knew you would,” the older man said, “and I truly wish it could be different.” He seemed to think for a second, and then changed the subject.

“Have you picked a place to settle?” he asked.

“I saw a right nice place just today,” Jeremiah replied, “when we was looking over Oklahoma.”

The older man smiled. “I had hoped so, Jeremiah, I think Maggie will like it just fine too. I cannot wait to meet her in person.”

“I ‘spect she will,” Jeremiah answered, “and I know she’s lookin’ forward to it. We talked about it the other night.”

“So you did, so you did,” the older man agreed. “Hey?” he questioned, and waited for Jeremiah’s eyes to turn to him. “How about another game? And try to go a little easier on me this time, Okay?”

Jeremiah grinned as he began to set up the checkers. “Best three out’a five?” he asked.

The older man nodded his head. “Wouldn’t have it any other way,” he agreed, as he began to set up his side of the board.


America The Dead: #iTunes #horror #dead Dell Sweet books… https://books.apple.com/us/author/dell-sweet/id722382569