EARTH’S SURVIVORS AMERICA THE DEAD: Los Angeles
EARTH’S SURVIVORS AMERICA THE DEAD: Los Angeles
Earth’s Survivors America the Dead: Los Angeles 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
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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 persons’ places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
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Plague Year One
Cammy sat drinking coffee with Annie and staring down the length of the valley. It was an hour past sunrise. The sun had finally lifted past the mountain tops in the distance, and golden light had spilled into the length of the valley.
“I know you said it was this nice, but no way did you do it justice. Or I’m so damn jaded that I just couldn’t believe it.”
“If you live here, you take it in stride sometimes, I guess. But, coming back this time? Being away after being here, living here… I will never leave again. I don’t care,” Annie said.
The door to the main area of the cave opened, and Candace came out with Lilly and Patty. A second later Jana, Sandy and Bob stepped out. Tom followed shortly after, sipping at a cup of coffee as he and Bob talked. They both said their hellos, Tom bent and kissed Lilly, she had sat on the wall next to Annie, and then he and Bob started down the wide ledge into the valley below. Jana settled down next to Cammy.
Cammy lifted her eyes to Sandy. “How’s our girl?” she asked.
Sandy smiled cautiously. “I want to say okay… I took the rest of her forearm, pumped her full of penicillin. She seemed to tolerate that well. I think she’ll be okay.”
“They say anything at all about how long they think they’ll be?” Candace asked. She looked from Cammy to Annie.
Annie shook her head, as did Cammy. “I think though,” Annie said, “That things were going well. It seemed like things turned up fast… maybe…”
“What was it like?” Lilly asked. “I mean, with so many dead around. How did you manage? We didn’t have that to deal with, and we still barely made it here.”
Cammy shook her head. “I had no direct dealings with it. Bear and Beth… Billy, Mac, David to a lesser extent.” Her voice seemed to choke up for a moment. “Bear and Beth. Those two have no fear. I guess we owe them a lot. They lead us together. That was something I thought would be bad, but they seemed to click.”
“The city… we came from the city. It’s bad there. I mean, the dead are everywhere. They’re different too. When we were in Pennsylvania, Bear and Beth told us that. The dead there were not smart like the dead in New York.”
The door opened, and Arlene stepped out onto the wide stone ledge and sat on the wall.
“The radio here tells us a lot. But it’s tough to believe some of it. They’re stronger than us? Some people are turning without being bitten?” Lilly said. “I know I should let you be… ask another time. I don’t mean to push you.”
“It’s okay,” Cammy said. She sipped at her coffee and then began to talk.
On The Road
Bear and Tim
Bear sat silently with Tim as Mike talked to the young woman a few yards away.
“She’s had it pretty rough,” Tim said.
Bear Nodded. He looked over at the girl talking with Mike once more. “She was one of the ones that tried to kill you guys?” Bear asked in a near whisper. They were far enough away for her not to hear, but Bear pitched his voice low anyway.
Thirty feet away, Mike stared across the fire at the young woman. She met his gaze levelly, but her eyes were still red and puffy and told a story about a long, searching night. Her hands seemed at war with each other, the black fingernail polish chipped and flashing in the muted light.
“It was back at the campground,” Tim told him. “It started in Glennville. That’s where we came from, up north next to Canada…” He looked at Bear.
Bear nodded, and Tim continued.
“So these guys tried to kill us there. They did kill one of the girls that was with Mike and Candace before I was with them. Then they all out attacked us. That was when Molly and Nellie escaped from them. We killed a bunch of their guys when that happened That put us right into it with them as far as they were concerned. Annie?”
Bear looked at Tim and nodded.
“They had made a deal with the people that had Annie. They intended to have her, but she escaped too. So they came to us to try to buy her back. The guy thought Mike would do it.”
“Christ,” Bear said.
Tim nodded. “Not long after that we got away, but they followed us.”
Mike spoke quietly. Too quiet to hear his words, but at his words Chloe’s eyes began to leak once again. Bear fought back the anger that was bubbling just below the surface.
Although there were no words for context, Bear understood she was asking how the others might feel.
“If they forced her, then it’s not her fault,” Bear said. He focused on a patch of scuffed dirt on the ground. Ronnie and Tim seemed to be bird watching. There seemed to be huge birds of prey everywhere now. Two of them floated high in the sky now. He turned back to Tim but there was nothing to say. They would be calling the Nation on the Radios in a short while. Let them know they were on their way back. Let them know about Molly and Nellie. It would be nice to talk to Cammy, find out about Beth. He turned back to Tim once more.
“I’m sorry that your girl had to go back,” Bear said.
“It’s okay,” Tim said. “I’m actually relieved… Especially after what happened with Nellie and Molly.”
Bear nodded and the silence descended once more. He felt used up, out of words. He scuffed at the ground again with his boot heel, shifting gears, pushing the remembering out of his head, wondering what he would say to Cammy, whether Beth would be able to talk.
“Hey,” Cammy smiled. “I thought you were just going to go on sleeping forever.”
Beth levered her arms down to scoot up in the bed and nearly banged the stump of her arm against the side of the bed before Cammy stopped her.
“Honey… Honey… Your arm. You have to be careful,” Cammy told her. She took her under the arms and lifted her gently back into the pillows.
“Oh God,” Beth whispered through her dry lips as she stared down at the stump of her arm. “Somebody chopped off the rest of my arm.” Her eyes came up to Cammy’s own.
“Honey, Sandy had to take it. It was infected,” Cammy told her. She gently pushed her back into the pillows. Sandy appeared over her shoulder with a wooden cup of water. Cammy took it and helped Beth to take a sip. “Easy, Honey, just go slow,” she told her.
Beth cleared her throat and took a larger sip. “Oh my God… I have such a bad headache. Kind of sick to my stomach too.”
Sandy took her hand, and her fingers rested lightly against her wrist for a moment, feeling for her pulse. “The stomach is a couple of things, most likely. I have no idea when the last time you ate is, but I would bet it’s been a few days. Pain killers and penicillin on an empty stomach are tough. I gave you a sports drink when I could get you to swallow, but you need real food. The headache is probably the morphine. You’ve been living on it the last few days. I can give you some aspirin for that.”
“She told me I couldn’t have aspirin,” Beth said as she looked at Cammy. “Said I had to have the Morphine.” She licked her lips for what seemed like an hour and then took another deep sip from the glass Cammy still held.
“She wouldn’t take it at first, true,” Cammy agreed with a laugh.
“Said I had balls… Thinks I don’t remembner… Rember,” she sighed.
Cammy laughed. “Remember… Remember, Honey. Yes. I asked you if you had balls,” she turned to Sandy and her arched eyebrows. “She wanted to take only aspirin after Bear took her arm off.”
Beth nodded. “I did. She talked me into Morphine, and now look at this… I woke up with the rest of it gone too.”
“Only from the elbow down,” Sandy said. “You’re lucky.”
Beth tried a lopsided smile on and then took another sip of the cold water.
“Listen, Honey, you needed the Morphine. You still do, really, and you can still have it if you want it. It just plays hell with your body when you’ve been on it a few days,” Sandy told her.
Beth took a deeper sip that was more like a real drink. “That is really good water,” she said.
Cammy and Sandy both laughed. “How about a sandwich, soup, broth? What do you think you can handle?” Sandy asked her.
“I think I can handle some more water,” Beth said.
“I’m sure you can. And you need liquid. I just want there to be some nourishment in it,” Sandy told her.
“Hot anything doesn’t sound good. My stomach is still off,” Beth said.
“How about some cooled beef broth? Soup? Doesn’t have to be hot,” Sandy agreed.
Beth swallowed, took a deeper drink of the cold water and nodded.
Billy and Pearl
“Bill, Billy… William?” Pearl asked.
“Billy’s good,” Billy told her. “William makes me feel… too high class, I guess.”
Pearl laughed. “It’s not wrong to think proper of yourself.”
The two were walking slowly down through the valley. Billy looked around at the valley. “You came with them? Helped to build this? It’s awesome… really incredible.”
“I would love to say it is so, but no, I was here visiting family, in the states, I mean. I came across country with friends I only met them after the fact. I’ve been here about three months so far. I believe this place began in April. I arrived in June,” she brushed a shock of thick brown hair out of her eyes and looked up at Billy. “I did help to build the second and third barns. The rest has been catch what comes, for all of us really.”
“I could listen to you speak for hours,” Billy said. He blushed a second later. Pearl blushed too and looked up at the clear blue sky and then back down at the stone path they walked. “What will you do?” Pearl asked.
“Well, I’ll wait for Bear to come back. When we left, we really didn’t talk about it. I just don’t know yet.” He looked up at the sky and then back down to the stone flagged pathway. “He may not want to stay.”
Pearl nodded. “And if this Bear of yours decides to go, then you will go with him, I suppose. That man thing. All for one and one for all… follow you to the ends of the Earth?”
Billy laughed, but stopped when he looked back down at Pearl. “I…” He started. She smiled up at him, and he lost his words.
“I didn’t mean to do that to you,” she said. “Take away your words.”
He thought of a dozen retorts but said nothing for a second. “Well, maybe I would have said something dumb. I wouldn’t have meant to. I suck at conversations like this, Pearl.”
She nodded. “Is she your girl? Jamie?” She blushed harder. “You don’t have to answer; it’s really not my business. I’m sorry.”
“No… No… Don’t be sorry,” Billy told her. “Is she my girl?” He looked at her frankly. “No. Probably was once upon a time. In fact was… but I screwed that up, like a few other things I’ve done.” Billy looked away.
“Look,” Pearl told him. “Doesn’t matter. I pry too much sometimes. I know that about me. Come with me if you like. I have to make a patrol. Just the valleys, foothills, takes most of two days to do. I have a truck with four wheel drive, a camping tent that I never use, and I go around and check all the perimeters. Boring, I suppose, unless you like the solitude… the mountains,” She smiled up at him. He towered over her by at least a foot. “I promise, no dead people, at least there never has been. Of course I’m looking for them though, aren’t I?”
Billy laughed. “Just like that?”
Pearl stopped on the path and looked up at him. “Just like that? What did you think, then?”
Pearl burst into laughter, slipped her arm through his and pulled him forward once more on the path. “Rattled you. I did, no use contradicting it.”
Billy laughed after a second. “You did. You did,” he caught up, leaving her arm where it was. “So two days?”
“You’ll love it,” she told him.
“Okay. What do I need to do?”
“Not a thing. No one to say goodbye to?”
“No,” Billy agreed.
“Then we go.” She pulled at his arm. “Come on. I’ll show you the truck.”
Beth sat up on the edge of the bed, got her feet under her and then stood. “Whoa,” she said as she sat back down.
“Slow, Honey,” Susan told her. Susan was on one side, Sandy on the other, Cammy anxiously standing in front. “Take a deep breath or two. Let the lightheadedness pass.”
Beth did as she was told, the lightheadedness passed, and she stood once more. This time her feet felt steady. Her stomach did not flip flop. All three of the other women hovered close by but did not attempt to help her. She laughed nervously and then walked to the door.
“Hmm. A little shaky,” Sandy said. “You feel up to an outside trip?”
“Oh, God yes. Please,” Beth said.
Cammy laughed. “She will never be any sweeter,” she said.
All four of them laughed. Sandy stepped ahead, opened the door to the room, and Beth followed her out into the main cave area.
Beth looked around as she walked through the main area. “I had no idea it was so big.” Her eyes rose to the ceiling some hundred feet above her.
“This is nothing, only the main meeting room. The passages go all through the mountain. It’s riddled with them,” Susan told her.
Sandy swept open the main door, and a cool breeze came in as she did. The four women stepped out onto the rock wall edged ledge and its view of the valley below.
Beth drew a quick breath. “My God, it’s so beautiful,” she said.
Cammy came up behind her and rubbed one hand across her low back. Beth turned and looked at her. “Anything else?” Beth asked.
“No. They’re on the way,” she told her.
“Cammy,” Beth started.
Cammy shook her head. “I know. He told me that he told you, and what he told you was the truth.” She smiled as she finished. Susan and Sandy slipped past them and walked over to the long waist high rock wall that had been built on the edge of the ledge. Beth looked pensive, but allowed a smile to float up from the depths of her worry. She made her way across the ledge and looked down into the valley.
“It’s so pretty,” Beth said. She breathed in the cool, fresh air.
“You are officially off bed rest,” Sandy said.
Beth smiled. Her eyes slipped over to her arm and the thick pad of bandage at the elbow. She sobered, but as her eyes swept back out into the valley, the smile surfaced once more and stayed. Cammy settled beside her and looked out onto the golden foliage of the trees and the tall golden-brown fields of wheat.
“I will never leave here,” Cammy said.
Cammy looked at her. “Do you think this can hold him?”
Beth shook her head, but the smile stayed. “I don’t think a woman or a place can hold Bear,” She said.
Cammy nodded, her face a careful mask.
“Feel up to a short walk down there?” Sandy asked.
“I say, let’s go,” Beth answered.
“You get tired, say so,” Susan told her.
“She will,” Cammy said. She linked one arm through Beth’s good arm, and the four women started down the ledge that dropped down into the valley.
On The Road
Bear dropped to the ground across from Mike, reached over and handed him a hot cup of coffee. He leaned back against a tree trunk behind him and rolled a cigarette.
“On our way?” Bear asked, after he had lit his smoke and taken a deep pull. He let the blue-gray smoke drift from his nose as he held Mike’s eyes with his own.
“Jessie’s up to it.”
“What is it, Bear?” Mike asked. “What’s on your mind?” It was the first time he had ever seen Bear looking uncertain.
Bear shrugged. “A few things I guess. Like, what do you do to keep safe now? I mean, who does that? Are there patrols of some kind?” His eyes held Mike’s own. “The thing is, I cannot imagine life without drama.”
Mike nodded. “You’ll miss it, or you hope to never see it again?” He paused for a second. “We have a patrol. Small, but effective, I think.”
“Hmm. Good question, isn’t it? I don’t know. I think for a short time I’ll be glad not to have it, and then I think I’ll start feeling tied down. I don’t know if I want to be tied down again… ever.” He cleared his throat and then continued. “Have you considered a farther reaching patrol, like a patrol that comes out here, running for the stuff the Nation needs? You know, like making it a fulltime thing. Wouldn’t that make sense? I’m talking about something close to a military outfit. We could fight the dead – that might have to happen – keep them away. There are Army bases just sitting around out here full of weapons. We could get them. We could keep roads open, a lot of things, Mike. I guess I sound kind of crazy, but I think some day the Nation will need it. It will need it, because there will be those who will bring it to us if we don’t bring it to them.”
Mike nodded. There was nothing he could say. Whatever Bear had meant, whatever he was alluding to in the first part of his statement about being tied down, was for himself alone. Mike did not understand it. The second part he did understand. It had been on his mind recently. “You volunteering? I mean, if there was such a thing.”
“Yeah. I’ve thought about it. It feels like a place I could fit,” Bear agreed.
Mike nodded. “We’re going to call soon. We should be able to reach them, let them know we’re coming, if you wanted to talk to Cammy.”
Bear nodded. “I do, but I think I mislead you with that relationship. I meant to straighten that out, I just haven’t found the time to do it. Cammy and I are not together. True, we’ve traveled together awhile, and we even thought about giving together a try. Didn’t happen.” Bear took another deep pull from his cigarette.
Mike nodded. “I guess I just assumed.”
“Yeah. We’re both bad with that. We, neither one, want to say it out. My fault, not yours. But, well, I thought it should be said. I’ll need a place to stay… on my own. Cammy will… I don’t know what Cammy will do, but I’m sure she will not be with me. And the other… the other thing is, well, she wouldn’t be waiting for me or something… if that worried you, as far as sending me out.”
Mike nodded. “Alone then. I see,” he said.
Bear seemed to think. “Maybe not alone, alone.”
Mike raised his eyebrows. “She may change her mind?”
Bear laughed. “No. We talked it over. I meant, well, maybe Beth will be there.”
Bear nodded, seemed embarrassed. He took a deep pull from the cigarette, crushed it out against the sole of his boot and then looked up at Mike.
“What?” Bear asked.
“Nothing, except, I can see it. I can see the two of you together. It fits.” He laughed for a second and then his eyes turned serious. “You mean she would be okay with you doing it? I don’t mean a person has a right to tell another what to do. I mean, well, couples… you let each other know what the deal is.”
Bear looked even more embarrassed for a moment and then laughed too. “She’d probably want to come. Maybe not right away, but, well, we’re a lot alike. I’d like to talk to Beth, Cammy too, when you call. I’ve been worried.”
Mike stood, offered his hand and pulled Bear from the ground with a grunt.
“You need more lead in your ass,” Bear joked.
“Or cast iron,” Mike joked back. They both laughed. “Come on,” Mike said after a moment. “Let’s go find Tim.”
The valley was bright gold in the evening light. The small stream a red-gold thread on the bottom of the valley. The mixed herd of Buffalo and Cows, along with the few Beefalo calves that had been born, were working their way to the barn, grazing on the sweet grass that grew next to the stream as they came.
Sandy stood with Susan and watched. Her eyes were red rimmed, and Susan held one hand tight. Neither woman spoke… …