This is the audio only version of the America the Dead podcast… Episode 15
A sudden lull in the fighting turns ominous. The opposing fighters are ignoring the survivors, but only briefly. They have other plans for them… #HorrorPodcast #AmiAdams #DellSweet
Billy paced the hallway, trying to think it out, telling himself they had to leave soon. Telling himself it was the right thing to do. The problem was that he was not used to doing the right thing. So unused to it, in fact, that he wasn’t sure he wanted to try… should try.
The world had been turned upside down for the last few days. There was no official word that anything was wrong at all, but someone had f****d up. Of that he had no doubt at all.
The police? Gone. Fire department? Ditto. Army? Well, wasn’t the National Guard supposed to show up when the shit hit the fan? But so far the army had not raised a finger to do anything for them at all. There was a base right over by the airport near the Los Angeles Freeway, but there had been no sign of them.
He lived on the north side, a high rise that had been new sometime back in the seventies. He had gone up to the roof twice during the day and looked over the city.
It appeared to be dead. There was a precinct only two blocks away, deserted, doors hanging open. Looters were carrying away cheap computer systems and who knew what else, a steady stream in and out of the front doors.
There were fires over past the park. It appeared to be a whole block over by Jordan Downs, but there were other single fires all over the city too. There had been for two days now, and no one had come to put those fires out. And there was more; you could hear gunfire from all over the city all night long. He continued to pace the hall.
This was not normally a bad neighborhood, but it was no picnic either. There had been a few fires here but the people that lived nearby had put them out quickly. Dozens of buildings had come down or were now tilted crazily. The looting had started at some point, and now there were armed men prowling the streets in gangs.
He had acquired a gun from a shop a few blocks over, ransacked, left open to the world. He had loaded it and waited, but the few that had ventured to his door had turned away when they had seen him with the gun.
Winston, the old man that lived in the back basement apartment, had called them all down to listen to the radio just a short time ago. Not your average radio, a Short Band receiver. They had ended up listening to military talk, military talk that was probably supposed to be restricted. The stories that had come from that radio said the rest of the world was no better off. Explosions or earthquakes, there was a great deal of devastation everywhere. Maybe it was time to get out of L.A.
America the Dead books at Apple: https://books.apple.com/us/book/america-the-dead-survivor-stories-three/id1156638728
The night was beautiful, Billy thought as he walked along Beechwood Avenue. He knew pretty much everyone he passed. He had been here for a little over six months having made his way up from Mexico when things had gone bad for him there. Technically he was on the run. Warrants out of New York. Somebody had put two and two together and dug up some prints from a crime Billy had been involved with. He had only found out about it because he had happened to be away from the house when the Feds showed up. His neck of the woods had no municipal police, but even if it had they wouldn’t have come with shotguns and armor.
He had hid out for three days until the word had trickled down to him that it was him they were looking for to hand over to some federal agents from the U.S. It hadn’t taken much to put two and two together. He had managed to get a beat up old Ford pickup truck and then filled-fifty five gallon drums full of gasoline that rode on the back of it. He set off into the desert.
The rest had been easier. Despite the laws and the changes in the U.S. It was pretty easy to disappear here. He had come with a little money, and that had helped. He had worked a series of meaningless jobs as he worked his way up the west coast. Seattle had looked good and so it had held him. That and Beth had come along.
Beth was out of reach and he knew it, but that didn’t stop the fact that he wanted her to be in reach. He had never met a woman like her. So he had stayed. He had watched her arrival from God knew where, some other place in California or Washington probably. He had watched her struggle to survive on the streets: Watched her work those same streets, doing her act in any place she could get into by day, walking the streets by night, and it was then he had seen something else in her. Something hard, some will he himself had that was hard to define, but that hardness in her pulled him to her like a magnet. It was that simple.
He had been working for Harry by then and so he had mentioned Beth to him. He didn’t know how the details had worked out, but a few weeks later when he had noticed she had disappeared from the avenue, he had found her tending bar at Harry’s Palace.
Now, as he walked he became immune to the world around him. He never heard Don until he was on him, had spun him around and dragged him into an alley.
“Hey… Hey! Don… What the fuck, Don… Hey!” But it did no good. The first punch nearly shut him down. The second did. The rest he never knew about.
America the Dead Podcast:
The Nation Chronicles
This is copyrighted material
For several miles before they reached and successfully passed around and beyond the city of Rock Springs, black oily smoke had hung over them in the sky. …
The vacation he had planned was a three week camp out in the State Forest Preserve that started only twenty miles to the east. The preserve was nestled up to the military reservation and stretched from there all the way into Central New York. Mike had no idea exactly where he would camp. He had decided to just hike until he found a spot that suited him.
As he headed for the bathroom he noticed that the clock on the dresser was off. Not blinking, but off, and he could vaguely recall dreaming of waking during the night to some loud noise.
It had seemed at first, when he had awakened within the dream, as though the entire house had been shaking. He had passed from that dream into another, but the noise and the shaking had seemed to accompany him into that dream as well. It had to have been the strangest dream he could ever recall having.
At first he had been in the house and the walls had been shaking around him, and the next thing he knew he had been standing in a field with thousands of other people.
When he had spotted Johnny Barnes in the crowd, he had walked over and tried to talk to him, but the dream Johnny had acted as though he hadn’t heard him. Then he had been back in bed in his own house on Linden Street, talking to a priest that was sitting on the edge of the bed.
The priest had been telling him that he had a choice to make. Mike wasn’t sure what the choice had been, but could remember telling the man that he didn’t want to choose anything. That he just wanted to go back to sleep. That had apparently satisfied the priest, as he had shook his head and seemed to float away.
Mike shook his head, recalling the dream as he entered the bathroom. He picked up his toothbrush from the small plastic cup that held it, squinted into the mirror, and turned on the cold water tap.
“What the hell,” Mike said aloud, “frigging water out too?” He dropped the brush back into the cup and headed into the kitchen to start the coffee.
Posted by Dell. Um, I’m in my sixties, isn’t that young?
It has been a busy week for me, and a week where I accomplished no writing at all. That seemed strange at first, but I got so much else done that I decided it wasn’t strange, just a temporary kind of new.
I worked all week on remodeling, smashed almost every finger and thumb that I have, wore myself out completely a few days in a row, and still felt grateful for it. It made me wish even harder to be living a life that models my books. I think that is why we find tales like that, a struggle to survive, impelling. It is a lifestyle we long for because it is completely different from what we have. No taxes, no $4.00 a gallon gasoline. No boss on your ass, and all the rest of it that would personalize it for each of us. That kind of life has pulled at me since someone bought it up to me at 18, and offered me a chance to live it.
I had an opportunity then to homestead in another country. It was serious. Isolated. Living completely off the land in a very wild place. No neighbors, cars, roads, telephones. Nothing at all. I was young. It sounded so great. My wife was pregnant and said no and that was that. She would not have a baby in the middle of nowhere. And that bought the realization that even if we stalled a few years, eventually she might have to have that baby in the middle of nowhere. It was a dead issue for her after that.
I understood it on two levels. First the reality of living that life or a life in the real world where my wife, child and family were. And just examining that on the surface made the decision for me. Second, even though the decision had been made, I was absolutely convinced that if I had gone I would have succeeded at it and loved it.
Because of that duality in me, I always pressed to learn as much as I could that would make me as self sufficient as possible, and I have. It allows me to write about things in my books with assurance. I can write it because I have done it. Learned it. Not because I read it in a book or Googled it. (Although Googling things is pretty damn impressive too, and I have used that a few times). My point is that for the past three weeks I have left the keyboard alone and turned back to working with my hands. And, as is usually the case with me, working alone too.
It’s been great, despite the broken finger, smashed truck and busted up thumb, blisters and dead tired, nothing-left-at-all, way I have felt most nights. That is my compromise for life. It’s like an uneasy truce I declared back there at 18. I have to have some of that sort of time.
It has seemed to work great most of the time. But I found the same unhappiness, missing something that many of us find in life. Marriage, success, money, it doesn’t matter. There is, and always has been, something missing for me, and it took a great deal of life to finally forge an uneasy truce, compromise, cease war with myself.
It takes real effort to keep it working, moving. But it can be done. Part of it is what I write. I say I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s obvious that it is strongly flavored by my desire to live that life I felt I should have lived.
Some people I know would leave this life to live that life in a heart beat. Others flat out say they would never do it. If given the opportunity I would go in a second, I say. And then I think of all the obligations I have. Things that I have said that I would see through, do, people I would be there for, and I know I could never do it.
What is my point? My point is that when I write about it. Or I take a few weeks off to really work hard with my hands, it’s just as good. It can be, just as good. Or as good as having feet in both worlds can be. I think the writing is the grand escape. A good story should be able to take you away. I hope mine take you away. I hope you enjoy it so that when all the crap you have to deal with in the real world comes along you can deal with that easier because you took a little breather in your head.
I like feedback. People do write to me and tell me their opinions, I enjoy that, whether it is people I know or people I am hearing from for the first time.
It’s a little cooler here in New York. My work on the house is progressing nicely, a little slower than I would have wished, but still progressing. Next week is electrical work, insulation, security system and all the other stuff that has to go in before the Sheetrock goes on the walls. I’m enjoying it, and in a few weeks it will be down to paint and carpet, finish work, and I will be back to being only a writer for the fall and winter. By the time that happens I will be grateful for it I’m sure.
There are just so many smashed fingers and tired limbs left for my future, I guess, and then I will be only writing. But I put a limit on that a few weeks back, kind of my own end of the world. It’s a long way away, but it is nice to be counting down the time to the third part of my life.
In the meantime I will publish everything I have written in all the series and then some. When I spent time last week going over the books and the outlines for the series, it amounts to 40 books for the Earth’s Survivors series. That probably seems very ambitious, maybe even unattainable But if you stop to consider that I have already written 20 of the main books and another 9 of the side books that fit the puzzle, it doesn’t seem so unattainable. Only 9 or so to go.
I hope you had a great week, where ever you are. Hello to my friends in the UK. I am glad I have friends there. My Mother’s parents were English and Irish. I have always felt that connection. My father on the other hand was African American and Native American, so I have always felt that pull too, and I am grateful to my friends here in the States and the UK that share that sort of heritage too.
I will leave you with a short story, the first short story from Rapid City. I’ll be back next week…
Rapid City #1
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Wendell Sweet & independantwriters All rights reserved
Copyright © 2013 by Wendell Sweet
If you would like to share this book with another person, please direct them to this blog entry. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This short story is Copyright © 2013 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..
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.
For Shell. Nothing else to say
Rapid City is Copyright © 2013 Wendell Sweet
All rights reserved
The Town At Twilight
It was late when I came into Rapid city. Though the buildings had been thrown up as temporary shelters some twenty years past, they still held sway over the main street. But they seemed empty, abandoned in the twilight.
A faded, crudely lettered, wooden sign nailed to one side of the bat wings of Blood and Breakfast made the street official. Or as official as anything ever got in Rapid city.
My horse didn’t seem especial nervous as she made her way along. If you ride a horse, and everyone did now, gasoline was long gone unless you were a part of the Nation, you got used to their moods… Perceptions, and you paid attention or you might wind up dead. Horses were still free and Zombies couldn’t chase them down and eat them. Not that they didn’t get one occasional, they did. But it was rare.
My own horse watched the shadows slide from alleyway to alleyway between the old buildings. Her large, liquid brown eyes watching careful like. She was no fool, but she also didn’t appear to be alarmed to me.
The zombies weren’t out. They rarely came near the city in my own experience. At least not before full dark came on. So I didn’t concern myself with them. But I didn’t slide either. My eyes automatically slid from shadow to shadow in the buildings alleyways as I tied my reins to the rail out front, made the steps and headed up to the bat wings. I Heard a pigs squeal suddenly cut off and hoped there’d be some meat to be had with the usual eggs and biscuits.
Rapid city had been thrown together by some survivors who had come out of the North looking for a warmer place to live. You might as well say driven out and not just by the cold, but the zombies. Zombies didn’t mind cold. You could come across one naked as a jaybird, seeming frozen at the side of the road in the middle of the winter and think it would be no trouble. But the minute you turned your back they’d be up and on you. Once bitten there was no turning back. Oh in the early years there had been talk of some kind of cure, but it had never come to anything. After a while all those Government mouthpieces that kept talking cure got bit themselves and you just didn’t hear from them anymore. Not too long after that the whole government structure fell apart and for all intents and purposes, excepting those of us who could fight, the world belonged to the Zombies.
I had taken to gun-fighting. First: you had to be good with a gun so you could get them bastardly Zombies before they got you. Second: For some reason those that were left alive seemed to be hell bent on killing one another. A man couldn’t hardly turn his back on no one lest a bullet find him between the shoulder blades. And women? Well, short of whores of one kind or another, I had no truck with them. A woman, a real woman, was in short supply and worth killing over: Even if she was an ugly woman. I’d seen a four way gun battle over a one legged Whore down by Texas a few years back. And I’d heard about a thirty two man shoot out over a woman out on Alabama Island. And she was a slatty slip of a woman, but they said she could breed and that was that. I’d come across that one when it was over and they was counting the bodies. But these were things that were in the past. Years ago.
Back then things of that like seemed a waste to me. Here these Goddamned Zombies were killing us by the thousands, millions and these dumb son-of-a-bitches were killing each other. No sir. I’d rather take me a whore in some town when I need one. You can keep those so called proper women. And I will tell you; in my experience a whore can be a perfectly good woman. Love just the same as one of those sulky, pale things I seen out on Alabama Island a few times.
They say the plains is free of Zombies. That’s what they say. They say the Zombies is smarter, they stay around the cities where they can find food. And from what I’ve seen I’d have to agree. They seem to be evolving. But, didn’t we kind of know that was gonna happen? And do you know what the bitch is? There ain’t no goddamn way to win. You got to die, and when you do they got you. Pisses me off just to think about it.
The Blood And Breakfast
I made my way careful up the balance of the splintery steps, through the bat wings and into the Blood and Breakfast. The Blood and Breakfast only served two things. Whiskey and Breakfast. You could order just about anything you had a mind to at any time of day. And they might even listen to you, let you ramble on ’til you was done, but in the end they would tell you. You could order eggs and biscuits, meat if it was to be had. And you could have your whiskey in a bottle or a glass if you considered yourself fancy. But that was what there was and no more to be had. I put my head back to thinking as I looked around the interior.
I’d heard a lot of things about the plains. There was land. There was food to eat. And they say there’s men that has run off with whores and made them proper women out there. I heard it enough that I got to go. This will be my last stop in Rapid City and then I’m going. I’m tired of looking over my shoulder waiting for a damn Zombie to get me. Or another gunfighter. There’s a broken up BlackWay, what we used to call a road. Ain’t many seen it, but probably ain’t many been looking for it. Not only have I seen it I know where it goes. Like I said, a short stop here. Load up on supplies and I’m on my way.
The original settlement had not been laid out to serve other travelers but as a refuge for those escapees from the North. Even so within a few months all the original settlers had been run off or killed by the Zombies. The ones that came later settled the city. After that Rapid city had become the main gateway to the southern states.
The name had come from the rapids in the nearby river. Well, the river had been near town. Things changed pretty quick back then. Dams a thousand miles away burst with no maintenance, rivers sprang up, died out. Nature did what nature wanted to do. Before the first coat of paint was drying on the church building, the river had spread out nearly a quarter mile wide and was no longer the fast moving body of water that it had once been.
These days it was more like an evil smelling swamp, with the actual river nearly a mile away. It was Hell in spring when the Mosquitoes hatched but the good side of that was the other residents of rapid city, the Zombies, didn’t like the Mosquitoes Something in their bite made them zombies drop like flies. Didn’t kill them outright but it knocked ’em down, gave them some kind of sickness, and a knocked down Zombie is one you can kill real easy. Most of the Zombies that found their way to Rapid City became residents of the swamp in just that way. Their bodies tossed unceremoniously to the alligators that had found the swamp a few years back. Alligators didn’t turn when they ate Zombie. They didn’t even seem to mind eating it. The residents, few as they were, breathed a little easier, and life went on.
The blood and breakfast was located in the old church building. The building had been gutted except the altar area which had been turned into a small dance floor for the whores and travelers. The ratio of whores to travelers was about 3 to 1, but the ratio of clean, disease free whores was about 1 to 5. You had to be real careful. If old Doc mulberry had rejected it, you should be smart enough not to check it out for yourself. If it could kill you you didn’t want it. But of course if the whores didn’t get you, the Zombies would. And some men liked to gamble.
The blood came anytime after the dinner meal. We’ll, after it had been served , not necessarily eaten and ended. It was kind of fluid so to speak, always had been. There was no violence while the serving was going on, and that was enforced by a shotgun wielding crew of about four employees who would show you some blood quick if you really needed it. In my experience it always turned out better to obey the rules and wait. No matter who you were. Even the gunfighters who visited knew the rules and obeyed them.
As I stood looking around I smelled coffee brewing too, probably thick as molasses and only black, but that was fine with me. I beat my hat against the doorpost, shook off as much dust as I was able to, caught the bartenders eyes, Smoky, was his name, and took the table his eyes had given me.
There was no fresh pork yet despite the screaming pig. But there was still bacon to be had, a better treat to my thinking. It seemed like the only meat I ever ate was venison or horse. And the zombies didn’t have it that way. They didn’t care what kind of meat they ate. But of course they preferred people. It just galled me that they was never having the problems with food that the rest of us had. I’d heard of a few places where the tables had been turned. Where hunting parties went out looking for Zombies. Shot them down. Bought them back to display them. But I also heard how them places went bad too. There was always one that stepped over the line and decided to eat what they shot. Don’t let that shock you. After all, isn’t it the same Goddamn thing the Zombies are doing to us? Sure it is. Except that old saying you are what you eat comes into play pretty damn quick. To me it made no sense. I couldn’t cypher how they had got to think to eat a Zombie. The things were dead. Stunk to high Heaven. And it only made sense that it would turn you. Just about every Goddamned thing you had to do with them frigging Zombies would turn you.
Like them idiots that thought you could mate with them. Breed the UN-dead right out of existence. That never turned out well neither. I guess men just thought strange thoughts sometimes when they set down to ponder this whole situation out and there wasn’t always someone there to talk sense into them. Anyway, I knew I was tired of horse and venison, and nowhere near ready to lunch on Zombie. But a little bacon would be a good treat. It’d been a few years since I had any, a little place down toward Texas where it had once met Mexico was the last time.
I took the bacon. A half dozen biscuits and as many eggs: When there’s fresh food you take it. Jerky and hard biscuits was the normal fare. Horse or Deer jerky. And once Turtle jerky. Jesus, that there was some bad stuff. I suppose you might get to thinking around the campfire late at night, belly rumbling, that a little Zombie might not be so bad after all.
I rolled a smoke and sat watching twilight paint the dirt street golden as the sun sank. I spoke to a boy leaning on the wall watching me and sent him to do for my horse. He was off the wall as soon as I flipped a gold piece at him and out the door. I heard him lead my horse away, feet clomping in the early evening stillness. I sometimes worried about my horse. A zombie will eat a horse if that Horse is tied up and can’t get away from it. I seen a Zombie horse or two in my time too. Yes. A horse could be turned. Jesus. It’s a rough sight to see.
The kid would make sure the horse was inside but not penned. She could go if she needed to. I’d find her later. Wouldn’t be the first time. In this world your horse was everything. I’d known men who loved the company of their horse mor’n other people. There was something I understood, but dinner was coming so I put the horse out of my mind. The evening was nearly here and I was safe inside. And I felt good.
The Gunfighter Profession
I am Robert Evans, a gunfighter. I wear stitched leather gloves with no fingers. There is a man in Alabama City that makes them special for me and a few others that be in the life of gun fighting. They protect my palms. They give a good grip. And they leave my fingers clear so they do not get tripped up when I need them. Those gloves have always made people look twice, and a lot of what I am about is psychological. A painted picture. I want to be feared. Sometimes I think I am no better than the Zombies when it comes to that. If you fear me you stay away from me. But there was the other side of that too. You kill what you fear. Yes you do.
I don’t fight overly much anymore. That sort of occupation is dying out I guess. There was a time when the world was crazy though and we found ourselves in a different kind of life. The cities fell. The cops failed to keep us safe. Governments were all talk, and then they were no more. The dead were everywhere.
That was our time. Gunfighters. Gold on the nail and we could make death happen. I carried two fully automatic 45 caliber pistols with custom extended clips. Made my own ammo. Still do. Knock a Zombie down at 100 yards. Walk into a crowd of Zombies and take them all out before one could touch me. And although I was not special I was no slouch. There were only a few in my league. Jimmy Jenkins… Lila West… A few others. We were sent for from all over to take care of Zombie outbreaks. But the sheer numbers overcame us. And the shock wore off and those that were still alive began to fight back. And we, gunfighters, became outcasts. Social misfits. Hated almost as much as the Zombies we had once been hired to kill. The people felt we had taken advantage of them. Lied to them. And some even suspected that we ourselves had something to do with those Zombies. Some sort of bond. Like maybe we had spawned them so we could profit from them. I never made no Zombie any more than I’d ever be willing to eat one. But back in the beginning? We was feared. I could not tell you how many Zombies I put in the ground for permanent. Thousands. High numbers of thousands.
Now nobody gives a shit about us. There were so few people that lived that it looks like it would probably take about ten thousand years before anybody would need to be fighting over anything. Maybe the Zombies will take over. Maybe the earth is no longer for the living. But there is land everywhere. Gold everywhere. The women live longer than the men. Life is just harder for a man. Die sooner, except when the zombies get you then you don’t even get to die. And even if the women that are left are mostly Whores there are enough for everyone. No need to kill over them anymore, despite those things that still go on. Really, there are just a few of us left and every time I come around somewhere it seems there is a half dozen less faces that I had been used to seeing. The Zombies get a few, and we still kill each other too. Makes no sense to me at all.
There was and is speculation about that. Are we dying out? I think we are. Looks pretty clear to me. How can you kill something that’s dead? You can’t. Is this God’s judgment? Maybe. Government fuck-up? That’s what I think. We will never know for a fact what did happen, but I know this, I believe we’re done. I wouldn’t say it if I was you though unless you’re prepared to meet your God. It’s just that way. We may be dying out. And we may know we’re dying out. And the Zombies may be on the verge of inheriting the earth, but we don’t want to hear it. Saying it will usually get you dead fast.
The Good Old Days – Dinner and Conversation
When I was younger it was cockroaches. People believed that someday a nuclear missile would take all of us out and the earth would be left to the cockroaches. That’s funny because even when we are gone the Zombies will go on and the cockroach population will be kept in check, because, as it turns out, Zombies love cockroaches. Eat those little fuckers just like Popcorn. Like a treat. And, it applies to nearly every goddamn bug there is. If you study Zombies for a while, I killed them for a living for many years so I had to, you will see them do it. Just reach down and snatch a bug from the ground, or the floor, or the air and stuff it in their mouths. And they are fast. Gone are those early days when they were slow. No more. Only the mosquitoes are a different story. If we could have just found out what was in Mosquitoes we might have gotten someplace, but it’s too late for that now, truly it is.
I flicked my cigarette away as the food came. It’s been a good six months since I’ve eaten real meat. That had been on Alabama Island. The Nation. I was looking forward to the Bacon. Just seeing it on my plate made my mouth water.
The Nation is what has bought most of this country back under control. They control the communist whole, not just each and every little area but the whole of the continent. North, South, East and West. They’re there. I do trade with them. I could probably fall in with them and establish my own settlements, be myself again. Beef, Coffee, Sugar, Textiles, Electricity if you were in one of their settlements or one of their larger cities like Alabama Island you would think that nothing had ever happened.
But there were rumors about the nation. They were getting shaky, falling apart, and on my last trip to Alabama Island I saw that, that might be true. If they were shaking it might take some time before they shook themselves apart. They were so big that I couldn’t really see it. The only thing that made me really examine it at all was that America was big… The biggest… And it fell apart.
I mulled life over as I began to put away my dinner and listened to the surrounding conversation.
Concerns about the weather. Too much sun. The farming, crops. The Nation. Concerns about the Zombies, was it over? Was it done? Talk about a gunfighter who had been tracked down in a small town down near the Texas border and killed. That one I had heard about. Vigilantes, something like that. Tracked him down. Betsy, one of the whores, had caught something bad. Bad enough that Doc Mulberry didn’t know what to do about it. A zombie that had been acting strange, coming around the Blood and Breakfast and going through the trash. Even in the daylight. If it was like that with zombies now I guess it didn’t really surprise me. They’ve come around like that before. Zombies were adaptable… Changing… We all knew it. And then the conversation moved on and I lost interest as I ate my dinner.
It took me a few seconds to realize that it was quiet. All the conversation had fallen off. The roar of the silence broke through to me. It’s odd like that, ain’t it? How the absence of sound can call you up out of your thinking sometimes, faster than actual noises can. This was bad though. Stupid of me. The old me would not never had been caught like that.
I looked up following the directions of the stares and heard the low clacking of new boot heels as they made the wooden steps that came into the saloon.
He was known to me, but that didn’t mean I was known to him. I had seen him fight more than once. Perhaps four times total if I recalled correctly. Gunfighters were so rare now as to draw attention. I drew my share of sideways glances and small murmurings as I said. And handling my own business was nothing new for me. I did it when I had to. My guns talked for me.
John Baxter, that was the gunfighters name, walked in and straight to the bar. I would have liked to have thought that he had not seen me but I knew he had. He was working way too hard to not look my way. He had used his peripheral vision to check me out same as I would’ve. And I was caught completely off guard. I had not heard him soon enough. Not his horse coming, nor whatever it had been that had tipped off the bar crowd and caused them to fall silent. The only edge that I had if there was trouble, and in my world there always was, was that he did not know I was unprepared. And even as I thought those thoughts I prepared myself. And as far as I was concerned we were back on even ground just that fast.
In those seconds I had freed up my pistols, changed my leg position and looked over the room completely. I ended by moving my body slightly to present a smaller target. Seconds spun out. John ordered a whiskey and kept his back to me. I considered shooting him dead right in the back. I’m not above it. Better dead, no matter whether you were right or wrong in the way you got it done.
The crowd was absolutely silent and drawn back away from us. Making room. They had seen a few gunfights in the Blood and Breakfast. Even so two gunfighters in the Blood and Breakfast at the same time had to be something unheard of in a while. Most likely the whole town had been aware that something might be up, maybe from the second I come into town. Certainly before I knew.
I looked at my plate regretting that I’d saved the bacon for last as it now sat untouched on my plate along with the biscuits sopped in egg yolks. There were at least three flies having a feast. It pissed me off, but it would not keep me from eating it later. I told myself I should have shot him in the back just for the pure fact that he was making me miss my breakfast. And I would have to eat it cold later with fly shit that looked an awful lot like black pepper after we were done with our business. John turned slow from the bar. Dinner in the Blood and Breakfast was done being served.
“Come to kill you, Robert,” he said easy. His eyes were gray, hard and flat. A tight smile played at his small mouth. His lips were pursed. His hat sat upon the bar where he had thrown it.
“So I thought,” I said aloud. I moved not at all. My own blue eyes gave away nothing of my emotions. My hands did not shake.
Silence fell and held. Just the sliding and shuffling of the feet of the townsmen, the whores and the travelers alike sliding backwards from what they considered to be the fighting zone. I was thinking I had waited too long, that I should have shot him in the back, when a twitch of his shoulder told me he was going for his gun.
The noise was deafening. I emptied half a clip into him from under the table top. Half a modified clip was fifteen bullets. And the first four or five took the bottom edge of the table off as they flew at John.
The thing about a gunfight is that it slows down time somehow. You ask any gunfighter and they will tell you that’s true. I watched as my first bullet plucked at his shirt front before his own gun had completely cleared leather. My second bullet blew his collarbone apart just a few inches from where it joined with his neck, but his gun was out and spitting fire. It was about then that two things happened.
The first was, I felt a sudden heaviness in my chest. I didn’t have time to puzzle that before one more bullet found its mark and I saw John become dead. This one midway in his chest. Showing only as a tiny hole but it was like the light went out of his eyes all at once: When those two things were done it finally registered in my thoughts that I had been shot too. Hit, not killed. I was pretty sure not dead or dying. To prove it I forced myself to move and I was able to move just fine.
The smoke hung like a curtain in the air. The smell of hot metal, gunpowder expired, hung in that same air.
Someone said… “They is both hit… Lookit!” Real low… Like a whisper.
In the Alley By The Door
John finally had the sense to fall down. His gun clattered to the floor just before John himself did.
Time slipped by. I wanted to see how bad I was hit. I had no real idea. I finally stood from the table and looked down at myself. A small neat hole just below my shoulder in my upper chest. Red blooming around it like a small, spring flower. I was hurt, but not bad. I had been shot worse.
“Get the Doc,” I said to some skinny, slat-sided whore crouching in the shadows. She looked scared to death or almost. She lit out, seeming glad to, and I walked over to John where he lay sprawled on the floor and put one more bullet right between his eyes. Best to do it soon. I’ve seen a body start turning before the life is really even done leaving it. Those bastard Zombies can’t wait… Or the Dead disease. Whatever it is that turns them. A little dog hiding under a nearby table yelped when I fired and scrambled, nails clicking on the wood floor, trying to secret itself better. I reached down and took John’s guns and personals, gold mostly, set them on the table, grabbed one booted foot and dragged him towards the back door.
I kicked the rear screen door open, dragged him bumping down the steps and rolled him over towards the trash cans. I’d done my part and now my chest was beginning to hurt. I felt like sitting down all at once. There was a little bubbling in the lung on that side. I could both feel and hear it. It was an odd thing. And I could feel the bullet in there, wedged tight, burning. I didn’t relish Doc. Mulberry operating but the alternative was unacceptable. And I had come through much worse. Much worse.
I was turned to go back in when the Zombie got me. He must have been crouched down by the garbage cans in the shadows and I hadn’t seen him. He had me by the wrist growling and snarling before I could shoot him. I got my gun up and put one through his head as fast as I could, hoping the ricochet didn’t take off my hand. He let go and laid down with one leg twitching and his back arched stiff for a second. Then he was dead for good, Amen.
I stood for a few seconds wondering what the hell had just happened. But, I knew what had just happened. I had lived through a goddamned gunfight at the old age of fifty-two just to get bitten by an ever-lovin’ friggin’ Zombie. I stood a few seconds longer thinking of how unfair that was, remembering the conversation from inside while I had been eating. A Zombie had been coming around… Going through the trash… but then the craziness of the situation hit me and I had to laugh. And laughing was how old Doc Mulberry found me.
He looked from the Zombie to my wrist dripping blood on the dirt of the back alley.
“That from the fight or the Zombie,” he asked me.
“Zombie,” I answered . I tapped lightly at the bullet hole in my upper chest. He nodded.
“Ain’t that a bitch,” he said.
I laughed. “Ain’t it… Ain’t it just…”
I hope you enjoyed the story. Check out the Earth’s Survivors book Apocalypse, still a free download for you.
Enjoy the rest of the week! I’ll be back next week, Dell…
The survivors are taking the time to restock on essentials, things they could not take the time to get before they had left Watertown. They have also met other survivors, but it seems as though something else may have found them as well…
EARTH’S SURVIVORS AMERICA THE DEAD: THE ZOMBIE PLAGUES
Earth’s Survivors America the Dead: The Zombie Plagues is copyright © 2016 W G. 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.
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
In this world time moves by, doesn’t stop for you or me. The ones who stop and wait are the ones who never see…
So my feet… move me on though they’re weary of this flight. They will lead me to tomorrow, wipe the fallen from my sight…
In my life I have seen distant dreams of futures past, and the one who filled my cup left it empty at the last…
And my eyes, tired from sight, rimmed in red and slow to see, can’t conceive eternity from the edge of what can be…
Walk alone through this world. Through this cold I’ve always known. Taking only what I need from the seed that has been sown…
And this world sells itself pretty dreams that cannot be, and though we stop to look we can never truly see…
Take my time, tap the glass, raise the bubbles from my cure. Pull the curtains on my pasts, and all I thought they ever were…
As my soul finds its way, push the darkness from my mind. Lay your words upon my heart as my rest I go to find…
Pick me up. Fill my cup. Fix the damage in my head…
Fill my soul. Make me whole. Raise me from the dead…
Show my eyes what can be. shine your light so I can see…
Let my heart lead me on, from your memories in my mind. Lay your coins upon my eyes, speak your magic line by line…
As my sun slowly sets I will try not to forget all the lessons from this world and the souls that I have met…
Lyrics copyright 2010 Dell Sweet
Year 32: October 39th
Bear sat at the mouth of the cave staring out over the valley below. This close to the thick plastic the air was cold, but the wooden benches were comfortable, if a little hard. They had served for dozens upon dozens of people since Mike and James had built them some thirty years before. They still served them well. He turned and smiled at several children who sat nearby pointing out different landmarks in the valley far below. The children, especially, never seemed to tire of sitting on the low benches and looking out over the valley.
Bear chuckled to himself, turned his eyes from the other benches, and back out on the valley far below. The snow was falling heavy. Two hours ago late fall had been holding steady, little smudges of green had still existed throughout all the fall foliage in the valley. Now it was quickly becoming a blanket of white. Fall had lost this round.
Years before they had devised a new year that better kept track of seasons and the much longer year the Earth now had. Even with a year that now held some 95 extra days, spread throughout the year to even the seasons out, the time still seemed to move by too quickly. Time was never a friend to anyone, Bear thought. Well, maybe to death, nothing else.
The seasons had worked themselves out after a few years. Some longer, some shorter, it was winter that had come out the winner in that round. Even slightly longer winters had a huge impact on the year around weather and the planting that could be accomplished. It took much longer to get through winter, longer for spring to thaw the valleys and fields for planting, longer for the sun to warm the ground, and glaciers were forming in the north. Growing ever bigger year by year. Bear had sometimes wondered in years past if he would see them come this far. Of course the answer was no. They would not come this far in his lifetime, but he had no doubt they would come her eventually.
Winter was coming in strong, there would be little left to do soon, but plan the bison hunts, and tell stories around the fire.
They still kept their own herds, started from the stock they had worked so hard to bring into this valley, but they often hunted. The habit was good, and it passed the skills down to the younger ones. There were places in this still young world where those skills were essential.
The whole mouth of the cave had been closed off from the elements for many years. Thick plastic sheets that spanned floor to ceiling. An aluminum frame that held them. Warmth inside, the elements without, but always within reach. Something James had built. The last thing James had built, Bear remembered sadly. That had been back when Mike had lead the Nation. No, he told himself that had been back in the council days. Before the wars had begun. Before the years of leaders, kings, the two queens and everything else that had come with the wars. With the end of the Zombie Plagues and the second great death. Even so, even in the council years, Mike had been their leader. The council had made its decisions but Mike had lead them.
Bear had been the leader of the Nation for several years now, he had assumed it when the Nation was broken, falling apart. He had helped to rebuild it, but he was getting older and it was getting closer and closer to the time when he would need to turn the reigns over to a younger, stronger person. Maybe even this winter, he thought, as he watched the snow swirl and blow.
Back in the cave behind him there were three generations waiting to take their own steps into the procession that would bring them to leadership. Some of those young men and women were ready now. It really wasn’t something he should be thinking about, it was something he should be doing.
Bear smiled up into the eyes of Rain, a newborn at her breast, her swollen belly a testament to the one coming. There were so few. He took one of the furs from his shoulder, and laid it across the worn wooden planking for her. A second went around her shoulders as she sat.
“It’s not too cold for the baby this close up is it?” Bear asked. The plastic held the weather out, but it was still very cold this close to the huge plastic sheets.
Rain smiled back. “Thank you, grandfather. No, it isn’t too cold.” She looked out over the valley too.”It’s beautiful,” she said.
“It is, but it can be treacherous. Winter is here now… Probably you should stay?” he asked the last. Too often he came off as demanding. The rule giver. It was something that Beth had always chided him about. His mind clouded at the memory of her, gone now for the last ten years. And him still here, still leading.
“It’s what Ron and I thought too. Alabama Island will be there in the spring. I thought we could send a messenger… Maybe tomorrow after the snow?” She smiled widely. She knew he had been worried, and she was glad that he had given them the time to work it out between them. Glad now to give him what he would consider good news. Bear had already stood and turned though, his large frame standing tall from the rock floor.
“Candace,” he called out.
A young woman came from the back area of the cave. She was tall, dark, short cut black hair framed her face. Her clothes were stitched leather, heavy, well made. A machine gun rested upon her back. A wide belt circled her waist, pistols on both sides, and a knife sheaf depended from it. Firepower was a luxury. Not easy to come by any longer. At one time everyone had made their own bullets, but the wars had destroyed most of that. Now the Nation was one of the few that still knew how to make it, and more than that, had the materials to make it.
She came and stood next to Bear. She looked so much like her mother and namesake, Bear thought, that it amazed him. He had known Candace at this age, the resemblance always threw him when she was here, and made him think for a second that reality had side slipped and he was back in time somehow.
“I will need you to deliver a message to your mother for me,” Bear told her. He stood and walked a short distance away and continued to talk to her in low tones. Rain turned her face back out to the valley and watched the thick flakes of snow fall. When they finished their conversation they both came back to the benches. Candace starred out over the valley, her eyes veiled.
Rain smiled at Candace, but her face barely softened. She was so serious. The OutRunners never smiled, Rain thought. Always serious, and Candace was no exception. Rain supposed she had been the same during her service too, but something in Candace had gone past service, she had come to love it. She had never left it. It was her life. Younger than Rain herself, she had already been an OutRunner for several years. Rain had done her own duty for two years and had then become a wife and mother. She and Ron were going to Alabama Island to be considered for leadership within the Fold. She listened to the low whispers of talk between Bear and Candace and thought about her own life as she did.
She had come to this valley as a child with the original settlers. Years past now. That bought her to nearing her middle years, the age of leadership in the Fold. As she looked out over the valley she realized there was little left of the original settlement she had watched rise from the valley floor as a child. In those days the people had still clung to the old technology. That was long gone now, except with the OutRunners, and some other applications like the power plant, a few others. The people themselves had gone back to simpler roots. The old ways James had taught them. His motto had been, why use it just because it’s there? Do we really want to return to the old life, or do we really want to move on to something else? Always a challenging question, and one everyone had to answer in their own way.
The cave, the ruins of the stone houses; that was all that remained. It had all been destroyed in the wars. There was only a Nation at all because Bear had come back, killed the interlopers that had enslaved the people, freed them, Rain included, and taken the valley back. In those days the Fold was a small faction and the Nation ruled everything. The Nation went on to rule all of North America, but as all large peoples they had fallen. The Fold had ascended, and then they had fallen too. Now the remaining peoples waited for the real end. They ruled their own small places, nothing else. The end that had begun all those years ago was finally coming to fruition.
Those women born before the end had started, those women could reproduce. The new ones could not. The potion that had given them all a shot at living through the catastrophe had caused them to bear children that could not continue the human race. Occasionally one would bear a child, deformed, and they didn’t live long.
Bear spoke, interrupting her thoughts.
“A team is outgoing with Candace. She will tell them to look for you in the spring.” He smiled. “Maybe that will give me time to talk you out of leaving.” He smiled, but it was an uneasy smile.
Rain smiled. He didn’t know why they were leaving. They had told him it was simply time to move. She didn’t know how he would feel if she did tell him, but she hadn’t wanted to hurt him.
Bear turned back to the valley, speaking as he did. “They will know inside of a week.”
Rain made up her mind. “They have asked us to come… To be considered to lead… Mike himself asked for us.”
Bear turned and straightened. “Mike?” He nodded. “I thought surely he would be dead by now, he has been so poorly. Candace is still strong.” He looked from Candace to Rain as he spoke.
“He lives… Mother rules now,” Candace told him quietly.
“… I remember the times we spent there… When it was still good for all of us,” Rain said. Her eyes teared up, she shifted the baby, and looked at Bear.
Bear nodded. “You should not leave here. I have, just today, sat staring out at this valley and wished you would stay so I could offer you this leadership,” He turned away to hide his own eyes from her. “Not so large as Alabama Island, but large. And in need of new blood.” He turned back to face her. “Had I known, I would have offered. I was afraid you would refuse it.”
“I…” she caught herself as her voice broke. “I didn’t know…” She turned her head away and then stood quickly and walked away.
Bear turned to Candace. “I had thought that it would be that would lead after your parents stepped down.”
“It was offered, I refused. My place is here, in the Nation. This valley was where I was raised, not there… I … I refused,” her eyes seemed to struggle to say more, but it was not really necessary.
It was the same with many aspects of the split that had torn the Nation apart. There were sides and they were chosen. After all of these years he couldn’t think of a single reason why he had stayed and fought for the Nation as opposed to the Fold. He reached out and placed one large hand on her shoulder. “I understand your choices. I am glad that there are no barriers between your mother and father and you.” He waited for her eyes to meet his. “I hope to be going with you. I should make some changes here.” He glanced over at where Rain stood talking with Ron.
Candace followed his eyes.
Ron had watched Rain from the seat he shared at the fire with some of the other hunters. He excused himself, and followed her to the back of the cave where they made their own winter quarters.
“Rain?” he asked as he came to her and placed one massive hand on her shoulder.
“He is stepping down… He wanted me to know he would have already given the leadership to us.” She turned and buried her face in his shoulder and wept. The baby fussed for a second, upset at the confinement and emotion, and then went back to nursing, sniffling as she did.
Ron smoothed her hair with his roughened hands. He turned her slowly, and then pulled her and the baby down to the floor where he held her silently for a few moments.
“What do you want, Rain. What do you want?”
“I can’t leave now. I can’t. We can lead here. We can make it bigger. Rebuild it even more from the wars. It could be good,” Rain said as she looked at him with her tear reddened eyes.
“Trade the sea for the snow?” he asked with a smile.
“Leaders can visit.” She shifted around. “I think all the people that caused the wars are dead now. Just the ones who worked so hard to end it are still going, except Beth. Bear, Mike, Candace, Patty, Billy, and Pearl. They are still here. They still want it all back together. We should try to get this all as one again. As Leaders we could do it. I could accept leadership here, you could accept it there. It could work.” Her eyes pleaded with his own.
“They will turn both of us out if we tried that,” Ron told her.
“Not if we were straight forward. Accept leadership here and take the proposal to them next spring. We will already be leaders here. They can only say no, but I do not believe they will say no. I think it is time to put us all back together,” Rain said softly. The baby let go of her nipple and began to fuss. “Poor, baby,” she soothed as she put her over her shoulder and patted her back softly, rubbing for short periods. Her eyes met Ron’s own.
“Tell Bear. Tell Bear and see what Bear says about it,” Ron said after a few moments.
Bear watched the heavy flakes fall. He had not known what to make of Rain jumping up and leaving so quickly as she had. He only hoped it was because she wanted time to talk to Ron about what he had said. What he had essentially offered.
He had shocked himself. While it was true that he had been sitting here thinking about turning leadership over, he had not thought it would be so soon. He had hoped that when Rain and Ron came back from their trip to Alabama Island he could approach the subject with them. Now he could see that it would have been far too late then. They would have left and they would never have come back.
It saddened him to think of passing leadership to someone else, but in another way the responsibilities were too heavy. He was too old. Candace and Mike were both younger, Mike’s health was poor, but Candace was strong. He couldn’t understand why she would give up leadership. A position she had held in one capacity or another for all of the years since the end had come. She was a natural. What would make her consider stepping down, he wondered as he stared out over the valley.
He had been on the verge of rising, going to find Rain, when Ron dropped down beside him.
Bear held his eyes when he turned to him. “She spoke to you?”
“She did, grandfather.” He laughed. “She would never leave you now.”
“It wasn’t meant to make you stay… It was time,” Bear said. He turned his eyes back out to the valley. In the far distance a herd of bison grazed. Whether their own or a wild herd he could not tell. At one time the entire valley had been closed. No longer. A smaller valley on the opposite side of the mountain held the winter herd. Small. What they could afford to keep and feed through the cold months, and the cold months were lasting longer and longer now. The rest were turned loose. They mingled with the wild herds, but they never forgot the valley was their home, and so they could be depended upon to come back in the spring.
Ron followed his eyes and watched the herd of Bison in the distance through the blowing snow. “Big herd.”
Bear nodded and then turned. “You will stay?”
“She will stay…” he paused and let his words sink in. Concern mounted in Bear’s eyes. “She seems to think that I should take the leadership being offered by the Fold… Bring us all together as a people again.”
Bear smiled. “She is like my own blood.” He laughed. A small laugh, but then he let it roll out of his huge chest. “Might give Mike a reason to live after all. I can see it. I can see it.” He fell quiet, watching the bison as they moved more fully into the protection the walls of the valley offered. Their coats were already snowy, carrying the weight of the snow as it hid them from the eyes of predators. Ron watched with him.
“Almost gone already… If I didn’t know exactly where to look…”
“Yeah. I never get tired of it,” Bear agreed. “I’m older than all of them, you know. It’s so unfair. Beth was so young, should have outlived us all. Here I am in my late seventies, almost eighty now… Soon I will be…” He sighed. “Mike is barely fifty, Candace a little younger than that.” He shook his head. “Where did it all go to?” He turned and met Ron’s eyes, but Ron only shrugged as he held his eyes. Both men turned back to the valley, but just that fast the Bison, who had been moving nearer, had disappeared under their walking blankets of white.
“Insulates them too. Hard for me to believe that but it is true,” Bear said. He turned back to Ron. “She’s right… It’s what should have been done long ago.” He stood and turned back into the cave where Candace stood talking to several other OutRunners. The only vehicles they still had were the OutRunner vehicles. Everything else had long been given back to rust and age. The OutRunner vehicles had only gotten better. Built from scratch and modified with more and more technology as they came across it in the old, hidden military bases they sought out on their missions.
Bear stood to his full height and raised his arms high above him. “People,” Bear’s voice boomed out and the people in the cave stopped what they were doing and looked to him. He may have been closing in on eighty, but there was still a great deal of fight in that voice. Power. He waited until he had everyone’s attention, at least those that were inside. At one time there had been several thousand people here. Now there was slightly more than two thousand. Still a great responsibility, and a growing one even with the world on the brink of the extinction. Most were working at this time, but it didn’t matter. The news would find them.
Rain came from the back. The baby gone. Most likely sleeping on a pile of furs with a few others, Bear thought. She came to Ron. Her face tense. Unsure what was about to be said.
“You all know me. You all, I hope, know that I am not pretentious. I pray to God I never have been or will be. I am just a man.” He paused. “There is no easy way to say this, for I love you all. You mean something to me. Every one of you. And if you can look at this in that light you will realize it is past the time I stepped down.” A few gasps punctuated the silence and a very low buzz of hushed, surprised conversation.
“It has never been concealed from you that I have looked upon Rain as my blood. That is why I hope and pray that you will accept her leadership of this Nation.” Bear fell silent and the silence in the cave held for a few moments before the cheers began. With a few seconds the crowds around himself and Rain were so thick they found themselves pushed together and herded back into the central area of the cave. Questions. They would have them. He had to answer some of them at least.
Bear raised his arms and waited for the quiet. “I give you your leader… Will you accept her?”
The cave reverberated with the shouts of yes.
“It’s finished then,” Bear said softly. He said it softly deliberately, to hold their attention for a moment longer. “Before the celebration begins I will explain why it had to be now. When Candace and her OutRunner team leaves I will be going with them to Alabama Island. I will leave tonight with them, and I do not know if I will return. My wish will be to return, but that old dog age is nipping at my heels, and who knows, maybe I will reach the warmth of the sea and wish to stay there.” He waited for the laughter to die down. “You needed a leader now. A leader that can take you to the next place the Nation needs to be. The same place we have all worked to attain, togetherness, healing, advancement. A man or a woman grows, or they die. The Nation is the same way. We forgot that back in the wars. I have remembered it now. Rain has never forgotten it,” his voice fell even lower. “Something I only wish I could claim. Something I am proud of to see living within her.” He met as many eyes as he could.
“God willing I will see you all again,” Bear told them. He turned and embraced Rain as her tears fell and then his eyes fell on Candace where she awaited him. He kissed Rain’s eyelids, told her he loved her and wished her all the best there could be: He then joined Candace. A moment later they were making their way through the tunnel to the eastern side of the mountain where the OutRunners had their own quarters. The laughter and cheers of congratulation falling away behind them.
“You surprised me,” Candace said as they walked.
“I surprised me,” Bear agreed.
The OutRunners were ten all in all. He found that impressive. The first group he himself had formed had been only four. And what they had then was nothing compared to what they had now. Weapons, vehicles, armor and bags of tricks, some of which Bear was sure he himself didn’t fully understand the implications of.
They turned from the main tunnel way into a wide open area filled with large trucks and bustling with activity.
“Ten minutes…” Candace faltered, unsure how to address him. For so long she had addressed him as Leader: Grandfather, when she had been younger, she didn’t know what to do now that he had turned his reigns of leadership over so quickly.
“Bear will do,” he told her as her face colored. “Or grandfather.”
“Ten minutes… Grandfather,” she said at last. Bear nodded and turned his attention to his own preparations for leaving as he waited. He pulled his pouch from one wide pocket and rolled a cigarette.
“Roll me one,” Billy Jingo said as he walked up. “That was so fast, Bear.” Billy told him. Behind Billy, leaning against the wall from the tunnel, Pearl gave a hand wave and Bear smiled and waved back before turning his attention to Billy.
‘Shit will kill you,” Bear said as he rolled a second smoke and passed it to Billy.
“So I hear, yet I am still alive.” He studied Bear for a few moments. “Took me completely by surprise. I thought it would be this… The easy life right to the end, Bear.”
Bear sighed. “So did I, to be honest. Things sometimes do change fast though. And that is what happened here. I had a chance to do the right thing, and I did it. Doesn’t make up for all of my life… A little though.”
“I have always liked Rain,” Billy said. “She’ll make a good leader.”
“You’ll support her?”
“With everything I am,” Billy agreed. “Pearl, Dani too.”
“Bear,” Candace said as she approached. “We need to get going.”
Bear took the hand Billy offered, and then Bear hugged him, pulling him to him. “Been a long road,” Bear said huskily.
“It has. I for one believe you will be coming back. Don’t make me wrong,” Billy told him as he followed Candace to one of the huge trucks. Bear stepped inside and then turned back. “Give Rain a big hug for me… I will be back if I can, Billy. If I can.” He turned back, the door hummed and then disappeared. Billy stepped back as a moment later the truck came to life, and began to roll near silently across the floor to a huge metal door set into the wall. A second later that metal door began to lift, revealing the swirling snow outside. A few seconds later and the truck was gone. The door down, the floor wet and steaming. Billy turned and found Pearl behind him, she took his hand and together they walked back to the long tunnel that lead back to the main cave.
Before the plagues
Project Bluechip: Watertown NY
Complex C: Patient Ward
Test Subject: Michael Hunter
Gabe Kohlson moved away from the monitors. “Heart rate is dropping, don’t you think…” He stopped as the monitor began to chime softly. Before he could get fully turned around the chiming turned into a strident alarm that rose and fell. “Dammit,” Kohlson said as he finished his turn.
“What is it,” David Johns, wheeling his chair across the short space of the control room. His outstretched hands caught him at the counter top and slowed him at Kohlson’s monitor.
“Flat lined,” Kohlson said as he pushed a button on the wall to confirm what the doctor’s one level up already knew. Michael Hunter was dead.
“I see it,” Doctor Ed Adams replied over the ceiling speakers. The staff called him Doctor Christmas for his long white beard and oversize belly. “Berty and I are on the way.”
“Lot of good that will do,” Johns muttered.
Kohlson turned to him. “Go on in… Do CPR if you want… They don’t pay me enough to do it. I don’t know what that shit is. Look at the way the Doc suits up. Michael Hunter will be in rigor before anyone gets in there at all.”
“No argument,” Johns said. He wheeled back to his own monitor, called up an incident sheet and began to type.
“Me too,” Kohlson agreed. “Preserve the video, med and monitor data.” He punched a few buttons on his console and an interface for the medical equipment came up. He saved the last 48 hours of data, and then began to fill out his own incident report. These reports might never be seen by more than one person, maybe two if you counted the person that wrote it, Kohlson thought, but it would always be there. Classified. Top secrete for the next hundred years or so. And he wondered about that too. Would it even be released after a long period? He doubted it. The shit they were doing here was bad shit. Shit you didn’t ever want the American public to know about. This incident report, along with the one Johns was doing, would probably get buried deep under some program listing that no one would ever suspect to look into. Or, maybe, it would get burned right along with Michael Hunter’s body. He glanced up at the clock and then went back to typing.
“Uh… Call it 4:32 PM?” He asked.
“Works for me,” Johns agreed.
“I got 94 for the body,” Johns said.
“Yeah… Yeah, me too. That’s a fast drop but we both got the same thing. 94 it is… No heart, no respiratory, dead as dog shit.”
“Dog shit,” Johns agreed. They both fell silent as they typed. A few moments later the doors to the observation room chimed, the air purifiers turned on with a high pitched whine, and they could both feel the air as it dragged past them and into the air ducts. The entire volume would be replaced and the room depressurized and then re-pressurized before the doors would open. And that would only happen after the air was tested and retested. A good twenty minutes away before anyone would step foot into the room with Michael Hunter.
Complex C, Autopsy Room: 5:58 pm
Ed Adams and Roberta Summers had dissected Michael Hunters body methodically. The autopsy had been painstaking. It had to be, it was recorded in detail and some General somewhere, hell, maybe even the president would be looking that video over in the next few days. Maybe even watching live now. They had that capability. There was nothing to see. He had suffered a major heart attack. The heart had a defect. No history. One of those things that just came along and fucked up your two billion dollar research project all at once.
“Coronary Thrombosis,” He spoke in a measured voice. “Appears to be after the fact. The artery looks to be mildly occluded… The myocardial infarction appears to be caused from a congenital defect… Specifically an Atrial Septal Defect… Berty?”
“I concur. Easily overlooked. The lack of sustenance put a higher demand on the heart, the defect became a major player at that point… Bad luck for us.”
“Uh, bad luck for Michael Hunter,” Ed Adams added.
“Of course. Bad luck for the subject, Michael Hunter. I simply meant bad luck for a research volunteer to be defective in such a way that in effect it would compromise a project of this magnitude so badly.” She turned her eyes up to one of the cameras she knew to be there. “This in no way paints a true picture of V2765. We should proceed, unsatisfying as these circumstances might be, we should proceed with subjects 1120F and 1119X… Same compound.” She turned back to the corpse on the table. “You want me to do the brain biopsy,” She asked Ed.
Ed frowned as he made eye contact with her. They had decided, at least he had thought they had decided, not to mention brain biopsies. Three times now he had discussed the importance of not focusing on the changes that V2765 made to the brain. Anything that altered the brain could alter financing, funding, lab time. Even the government didn’t like changes to brain matter.
“Are you thinking there could have been an embolism?” He asked.
‘Well I,” she sputtered away for a second until Ed rescued her.
“I think all we would see is evidence of the embolism that occurred near the heart. We could search out areas of the body and most likely find more than one occurrence of embolism. Well thought, but I believe we will take a look at the brain later in the week. Right now I want to focus on the enzymes, blood work, and readying the other two for a conclusion of this trial.”
“Yes. I agree entirely,” Doctor Adams.
“You have your samples?”
“Yes of course, Doctor. Rex?”
Ed frowned hard and shrugged his shoulders in the direction of the thick glass. He lowered his voice to a whisper. “None down here. That was stupid, Berty.“
“What was that,” Kohlson asked Johns in the control room.
“What?” Johns asked.
“That… Whisper, I guess,” Kohlson said.
“Oh… That. You know those two got it bad for each other. Probably making little remarks you don’t want to hear. Besides which, you make a report on that and we all have to deal with it. Them, sure, but us too because they’ll be pissed off about it. Best to let that shit slide. If the boss wants to know he will. He looks at all of this shit in depth.”
Kohlson looked about to say more when Doctor Christmas began talking once more in the autopsy room.
“Let’s close him up,” Ed Adams said. He stepped on a switch set into the floor, paused, and then spoke again. “Lower the air temp. in here. We intend to keep him a few hours while we attend to other parts of the autopsy… No one in here for any reason.”
Out in the control room Johns keyed his mic button. “Will do… How low, Doc.?”
“I guess about 34 Fahrenheit will do… Just to slow it all down for a while.”
“Done,” Johns agreed. He adjusted a temperature graphic on a nearby monitor via his mouse.
Kohlson leaned over across the short distance. “So we got to look at that shit for a while? Great.”
“They’re gonna sew him up so it won’t be so bad.”
“Yeah… That’s like, I got a mild case of flu. It’s still gonna suck because every time I look anywhere I’m gonna feel compelled to look at it.”
“Yeah. Me too. It’s there. Draws you to it. Like the Bunny on the Playboy Cover. You look at the rest of the magazine, but you know you’re gonna end up looking at her. She’s the reason you bought the magazine after all.”
Kohlson nodded and smiled. “And I’d rather look at Miss January than a dead guy with big stitches across his belly and over his chest, sewing him back up again. That is some ugly shit.”
Johns laughed. “Human nature. Why do you think people slow down and look at accidents?”
“’Cause we’re morbid mother fuckers,” Kohlson agreed.
“Well, that too, but it is that fascination with death we have. Look,” He pointed at the monitor. Do you think Michael Hunter knew he’d be laying on a steel slab this afternoon, dick hanging out, with Doctor Christmas shoving his guts back in and stitching him up with his nursey assisting?” They both laughed and turned away.
“She ain’t half…”
A scream cut off the conversation and both men turned quickly back to the monitor.
Michael Hunter was sitting up on the steel table. Arms drooped at his side. Mouth yawning. Doctor Christmas had backed away until he had met the wall behind him. Nurse Berty was nowhere to be seen.
“What the fuck… What the fuck. Get a camera on the floor… Maybe she fainted,” Kohlson said.
“Got it,” Johns agreed. He stabbed at the keys on his keyboard and a view of the table at an angle appeared. Nurse Bertie’s leg could be seen, angled away from the table, skirt hiked high. The camera paused briefly and then the view began to shift as Johns manipulated the camera angle. Her face came into view. Mouth open, blood seeping from one corner.
“Doctor,” Kohlson called over the speaker system. Outside the airlocks had clicked on and the air was cycling. Good, he thought, in twenty minutes the Calvary would be here. “Doctor Adams?”
The doctor finally took his eyes off Michael Hunter and turned toward one of the cameras. On the table Michael Hunter leaned forward and tumbled off the edge of the table. At the same instant the air purifier quit cycling and three armed men in gas masks stepped into the airlock.
“Jesus,” Johns sputtered. “You guys can’t do that shit. That air has to be worked?” Three more men stepped through the lock and the door to the autopsy room opened as well as the door to the control room. A split second later the rifles in their hands began to roar. The sound was louder than Kohlson expected in the enclosed space. He clasped his hands over his ears, but it did little good. The soldiers, he saw, were wearing ear protection of some sort. Noise canceling head-gear. The remaining three soldiers had stepped into the control room, he saw as he looked back up from the floor. They kept their rifles leveled at them, the others were still firing within the confines of the small autopsy room. A small gray cloud was creeping along the floor and rolling slowly into the control room. The stench of gunpowder was strong in the enclosed space. The air purifiers were off. Kohlson knew there was another control room outside this one that controlled this space, and possibly another outside of that space that controlled that space. Built in protection, and from what was apparent they were in a very bad space.
Kohlson saw Michael Hunter Lurch to his feet and stumble into the soldiers who were firing point blank range in the tight confines. A series of bullets finally tore across his chest and then into his head and he fell from view. A second late the firing dropped off and then stopped completely.
Johns was listening to the sound of his own heart hammering for a space of seconds before he figured out it was his own. The smell of gunpowder was nauseating, and he suddenly lunged forward and vomited on his shoes. As he was lifting his head he saw that the soldiers were retreating back through the airlocks and into the outer spaces of the compound.
“Jesus,” Kohlson managed before he too bent forward and vomited too. He heard the air filtering kick back on and both of them rolled away from the puddles of vomit and quickly disappearing low, gray vapor from the rifles firing. The doors into the autopsy room suddenly banged shut and then their own door whispered closed as well. Once again they were isolated in their small space.
They both sat silent for a moment, and then Kohlson left and returned from the small bathroom with a mop and bucket from the utility closet there. He left and returned with a bottle of disinfectant and sprayed down the vomit and the balance of the small room.
“That won’t do shit,” Johns said solemnly. We’re infected. Whatever they infected that guy Hunter with, we got it now.
Kohlson ignored him, waited the ten minutes for the disinfectant to work and then cleaned up the mess. Neither spoke while he returned the equipment to the small closet and then came back and sat down.
“You heard me, right?”
“I heard you,” Kohlson admitted. “I just don’t give a fuck… It’s too fresh… I can’t believe it right now.” He looked up at the clock. “Mother fucker… I was off duty in twenty minutes… Twenty goddamn minutes!” He spun and looked at Johns, but Johns was looking up at the monitors that were still on in the autopsy room. The smoke was being drawn out by the air exchange, and the horror of the room was slowly coming into focus.
Doctor Adams lay sprawled in one corner, a line of bullet holes stitched across his back. The back portion of his skull was missing, jagged bone and gray-black hair clumped wildly around the fractured bone. Johns gagged and looked away.
“Jesus… They killed everybody,” Kohlson said as he continued to watch. Nurse Bertie lay where she had fallen. Only her legs visible in the shot they could see. Michael Hunter lay against the end of the stainless slab. His head a shapeless mass. The stitches across his chest and stomach bulging. Kohlson finally turned away too.
“They’re coming back for us.” Johns said.
Kohlson spun to the door.
“Not now, stupid ass, but you can’t think we get to live after that. They contaminated our air. We’re dead. No way are we not dead.”
Kohlson said nothing.
It was six hours before the soldiers came. They had finally taken a better look at the room. Johns moving the camera around as Kohlson watched..
“Dave… Tell me I’m wrong, but that fucker came back to life, right?” He was unsure even as he said it.
Johns shrugged. “I think what happened is they missed something… We missed something. Maybe a lead came off. You know, and the lead came off and so he seemed dead and he wasn’t dead at all, not really, he was still alive. Just that lead was off.”
“Yeah. I mean… I mean the alternative is that he came back to life… You don’t think that do you? I mean, do you? Cause that’s fucking crazy, Gabe. Crazy.”
“No. No, I can see what you mean I can see where…”
The air lock cycled on and six soldiers stepped into the hall like space that was actually just an airlock between the control room, the autopsy room, the former patient ward and the outside world. Johns tensed, waiting for the door to their space to cycle on, but it didn’t.
The soldiers were dressed head to toe in army drab plastic coveralls. Respirators, big units, sat on their backs and a full face shield and breathing apparatus was on their face, somehow joined into the coveralls. Tape was wound around the elastic cuffs of the legs and the plastic boot covers that joined there. Flexible olive green gloves covered their hands, also taped where they slipped under the plastic coveralls.. They never looked their way at all, just waited for the air lock to cycle and then stepped into the autopsy room. A second later the monitors went dead in the control room.
“Fuck, David Johns said. “That is not good at all.”
Kohlson got up and left the room. A minute later he was back with two diet colas. He handed one to David johns and then sat back down. Johns glanced down at the cola. The top was open already. He looked at Kohlson and Kohlson stared back unblinking. The med supply was also in that closet. They had talked it over once. They had decided that… He pushed it away and focused on the low whisper of the air exchange
“You think they will outright kill us,” Kohlson asked after a few long minutes of silence.
“Gabe… I think they will, Gabe.” Johns said after a hesitation. He tried to stop himself but he glanced down at the cola in his hand. It was half full. White powder floated on the surface. Clumped and drifting like tiny icebergs across a cola sea.. “Probably… No. They’re listening in right now, I’m sure. Listening to see where our minds are at. As soon as those flunkies in there are finished with that job they’ll be in here to finish up the clean up.” He swallowed hard.
“Yeah. I guess that’s how I see it too,” Kohlson agreed. He raised his can and tapped the side. “Been good knowing you, Dave.”
Johns stared him down for a few moments and then sighed. “Yeah. Same here. He raised the can in a salute and then downed it. Kohlson followed suit. Silence descended on the control room.
Watertown NY: Subterranean base.
Commanding: Major Richard Weston
Major Dick Weston read the report slowly. This was not the first hitch in SS. Last year they had lost a whole patient ward, three patients compromised, two doctors, and three control rooms, six personnel there that had to be terminated because of it.
He rocked back in his chair and pulled at his lower lip as he read the report. So it had some drawbacks, but there was too much focus on the problems, and not enough on the positives of V2765. Of all the compounds they had tested, this one did exactly what they needed it to do. It prolonged life far past the point of termination. Grave wounds, starvation, dehydration, nothing mattered. This compound changed the cells and made them able to adapt to the consequences of war. The only drawback was that it did it’s job a little too well. It continued to allow the subject to live after death. Everything stopped and then everything started up again. Usually with a much diminished capacity for understanding. Just the basic low end survival instincts any animal had, eat, protect, eat. And it did those things very well.
Some of the doctors at the third level, men whose reputations would be on the line very shortly when V2765 was released on a squadron of troops bound for the Middle East, in fact, wanted a brain biopsy. They had studied the video and decided that good Old Doctor Christmas might have been hiding something with the secrecy he had afforded the previous brain autopsies. He stopped pulling at his lip. Leaned forward and fed the paper sheaf from the incident into a shredder.
The thing is there was a secret. Major Weston had no idea what it signified, he was no doctor, but he had found the good doctor’s private files and brain biopsy reports on the previous candidates. Significant structural change to the brain cells. Not just slight modifications as the virus did when it infected the host, no, something deeper. A mutation. That file lay nearby on his desk too. He reached for it. If that information got out there would be a fast end to SS, and he couldn’t have that. SS was not his baby, some General he had never even met had that honor, but Bluechip was his base, and SS was a feather in his cap. It meant jobs. It meant growth. It meant over a mile of top secret base three miles below ground. These were things that could not be compromised. If, in the field, there were incidents, so be it. They could be isolated. Tests so far showed that very few came back after actual death. Destroy the brain and it destroyed whatever life had kicked back in. REX34T could easily take care of that if there was a large outbreak. REX34T took it all back to normal. The doctors had nicknamed it Rex. Rex, like a trusty dog that could get the job done, but what sort of job did Rex do? He didn’t know. Rex seemed to reverse the process that V2765 started. It undid the cell changes. It didn’t leave a single trace of the V virus when it was finished. The dead died. According to this report, there was a counterpart to REX34T that was meant specifically for the living. Release it in the air, same as Rex, and it affected only the living, reversing the changes that the V virus had made, and the living went on living, maybe. The testing insinuated that the longer the process that V2765 had started had gone on the more of a shock to the human body it was when it was removed. It suggested that some might not survive the withdrawal of the V virus.
He glanced down at the two vials that sat on the edge of his desk. One small vial filled with dark red liquid. The other a small aluminum canister that reminded him of the canisters that held the V virus. He beat out a nervous tempo with his fingers on the desktop and then picked up the two vials and slipped them into a plastic bag. He set the bag on the desktop, withdrew the test results from both Rex drugs from the thick file and then placed the bag into the file itself. A second later he placed the file into his personal file cabinet and locked it. He called up the same report on his monitor, excised the three pages of reports, and then saved the file. He pulled a fresh file folder from his cabinet before he closed and locked it, then dropped the pages into the empty folder. He hesitated and then fed that smaller file into the shredder too.
No problem, no liability, because if there was an acknowledged problem that was preexisting in this lawyer happy atmosphere every ex-soldier would be suing when the first x-ray showed the alteration in brain cell structure. No higher climb up the ladder for Major Dick Weston, and probably General whoever he was too. And that would be a long stop from where either of them wanted to be.
“Alice?” He looked over at his secretary.
“I want you to take this out and burn it.” He pulled the wastebasket free and slid it across to her. “I guess I’ve thought it out. Those two fools who took the overdose on morphine?” He waited for her eyes to meet his. “I think it was a mistake to try to save them. I would like you to take care of that personally, Alice… Doesn’t matter how. Let me know if you need anything.” He held her eyes for a moment. “That will be all,” he finished.
“Sir,” Alice said. She picked up the wastebasket and started to leave the office.
She stopped and turned back.
“Have that med closet removed. Stupid to put it in an interior control room… Have it moved to the very outside. From now on when they need something like that they can damn well get it walked in by our boys.”
“Sir,” Alice nodded. She turned and left the office.
America The Dead The Zombie Plagues. The dead begin to take over the world of the living #iTunes #dystopian #undead
This is the audio only version of the America the Dead podcast… Episode 18
This is the audio only version of the America the Dead podcast… Episode 16
Small bands of survivors are joining together, making their way across the devastation of America…
The morning turned to early afternoon before the four trucks pulled up out of the field together, followed the service roadway back onto route 3 and headed toward Clifton. Cammy studied a map as Bear drove.
“It’s hard to believe this is as far as we have got in over a month together,” she said as she studied the map.
“We had no real direction,” Bear supplied. “It’s not like we had decided on a place and headed toward it.” Bear watched the sides of the road. They were traveling along at less than twenty miles an hour, weaving down into the median, and off onto the service roads that paralleled the highway when they had too.
There were too many cars abandoned next to the road, in the road, even across the road, to be able to keep track of all of them at one time. A large mall came up on the right and Bear slowed at the interchange to look it over. Billy’s truck rolled up, the window dropped and Beth leaned out.
“Looks okay,” she said, breaking the silence of the quiet afternoon.
“Except it’s quiet,” Bear agreed. “That’s always been bad news.”
Beth held up her machine pistol. “We need what we need.”
Bear nodded. “Let’s go then… We stay together though.”
Beth nodded, Billy shifted back into drive and waited for Bear to pull away. He pulled in behind him and followed.
There was a thick line of trees behind the shops that Bear didn’t like. It seemed like the perfect place for the dead to hide away. He drove slowly into the first Mall area, past the trees and into the second lot. The trees were not as thick up close, but he could still not see through them, and it bothered him. Anything, or one, could be hidden within them. He turned the truck and pointed it back toward the entrance road and shut it down.
Billy, and then Mac, pulled down, turned around, and stopped next to Bear’s truck. They shut down too and the ticking of cooling motors filled the silence of the parking lot. Bear looked around the lot, but saw nothing that seemed out of place.
Abandoned cars and trucks. The front doors to a discount store were shattered, the aluminum frames twisted, pushed open wide and pinned against the faux brick front with carts. Bear had left the windows up. He didn’t like the idea of having to start the truck to roll them back up. It was better to roll them up before he shut down. He levered the door open, and stepped down to the pavement. Beside him, Billy, Beth, and Mac stepped out of their own vehicles too. The doors chuffed closed, and the silence came back heavy.
Bear scanned the parking lot but saw nothing. He looked over at Beth. She shrugged and looked back over at the wood line Bear turned away and started toward the shattered front entrance, the others fell in behind him.
The front of the store was destroyed. They stayed together, walking aisle to aisle looking for the dead.
The smell had hit all of them when they crossed the threshold into the store. The dead were there: Where they did not know. They walked slowly forward into the huge building. Silent. Safeties off their rifles, waiting.
Earth’s Survivors Home in the Valley: The front of the store was destroyed. They stayed together, walking aisle to aisle looking for the dead: Safeties off their rifles, waiting.