Happy Thanksgiving! I hope all of you are staying safe, enjoying family time, whether that is via the internet, phone or in person. I appreciate your visits to my page and your feedback on my writing.
Let’s hope we move ahead with our new president, the vaccine for Covid, so that 2021 can be a better, more stable year than 2020 has been. I hope all of you have a great holiday. I’ll leave you with a short story and a preview of the Dead Road. Stay safe, Dell…
Copyright 2016 Dell Sweet
Published with Smashwords
PUBLISHED BY: Wendell Sweet
The Zombie Plagues Dead Road Excerpt
Copyright © 2016 by Geo Dell
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’re 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 short story is Copyright © 2013, 2015 and 2016 Wendell Sweet. Geo Dell, Paul Block, Dell Sweet and W.W. Watson are publishing constructs used by Wendell Sweet. Wendell Sweet retains all rights to this work, both foreign and domestic in their entirety. 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.
The Zombie Plagues Dead Road
Plague Year One
We were down along the river checking over some old buildings that were perched on the cliffs there, high above the water. Fall was not far away and we knew we had to get moving, get out of this dead city. We had half the country to cross and find a place before winter came back around again.
We had left the others in our place off the park. An abandoned factory building I had found after I had lost Donita, and struck out looking for food earlier that morning. With the park and its crowds so near to us, the shops and small stores for blocks around us were stripped clean. Another reason to get out of the city. It was time. I remember thinking that as I walked along.
I was thinking back to March as I walked. Not really paying attention to the walk, where I was going… March… Just a few months ago, but the world was still the world then. And for the next little while we didn’t even know about the dead. Dead was still dead. When you closed your eyes for the long eternal sleep you didn’t wake up a short minute later as something else. No. We were ignorant up until they decided to come after us. Ignorant. Stupid. Didn’t know a thing: Have a clue.
I had been in Central Park a few days after the first earthquakes hit New York. I had left Donita alone and went down on my own to see what the deal was. I found out nothing. No one knew any more than anyone else. There was a lot of speculation, but that was it. There had been earthquakes. It had rained hard for nearly twenty-four hours straight. The really freaky stuff hadn’t happened yet. We were just starting down our new path, but what was clear was that thousands of people had died in the city, maybe more than thousands, maybe a million or more. And certainly millions if the damage here was the same across the country… Or, worldwide.
And my initial estimate turned out to be kind. In the city alone: Collapsed buildings: Fires; exposure to the elements because there was no shelter, there were millions of bodies. It was not so bad in those first few days, but a few days later when the smell of the dead rotting under the rubble began, it was horrible. The diseases started then too. And the diseases took thousands more, and we thought that was the end of it, but it was not. The dead came next. The same dead, newly risen to some other sort of life. But that day in Central Park I did not know about the dead yet. I had no idea what was ahead; what was before me was bad enough.
At six foot three and nearly two hundred ninety pounds I don’t usually fear much. But that day I did. I realized there are some things you had better fear if you have half a brain in your head. It didn’t matter that I could walk through Central Park unmolested. Something was on the wind. Something that didn’t care who it touched: Did not respect physical size.
I walked through the park. There were hundreds there already. In the coming days those same people began to make the park home. But that day they wandered aimlessly. In shock. The subway was shut down, most of it flooded. The buses parked. You could not find a cab. The same with the cops. Everything that was the same about the city. The things you could depend on to be the same day after day, were gone. A few short days and they were gone. No more. And it had a feeling of permanence to it. A feeling of doom.
I sat down on a bench and watched the people shuffle by. No noisy kids. No babies bawling. No Joggers. No dog walkers. Hopeless people shuffling by. The occasional panicked whack job running around crazily. I saw no one shot that day, but in the coming days, they, the hopeless ones, began to shoot the crazies. Chase them down and kill them. But that was later. That day I sat on the bench and wondered what had happened, and that was when the planes had overflown.
We all heard them from a long way off. Military cargo planes. Slow, sometimes seeming to hang in the sky. That droning sound as they overflew, blocking the sun from the sky. This was no fly over to see how New York was, that much was evident immediately.
I was torn between running, and needing to know what this was. Once you start down that path of just reacting to fear, it gets bad fast, so I sat there, as calm as I could be. ‘They will not drop bombs,’ was my thought. I remember it. And they didn’t. What they did was spray the entire city. Trails of blue-tinged vapor drifting down out of the sky. That was the first time.
I finally did give in to the fear and took off through the park, thinking, like nearly everyone else, that it must be some sort of poison. The government solution to whatever it was that was going on in the city.
We didn’t know what the blue shit the government planes sprayed us with right after everything went to hell was. And I am still not convinced I know all there is to know, but I suspect things. I have been told things. I met a guy a few weeks back that said he worked at the Army base over in Jersey. He said he knew what it was. He said the planes came from somewhere down south, but stopped there on the way back to re-fuel. What he told me was it was designed to strengthen us. Keep us alive a little longer. Make us stronger somehow. Some dip shit scientist’s idea.
I suppose it was meant as a boost for us. A help. The world slowed down, fell apart, everything stopped working. They knew they couldn’t get to us. We would die. So they sprayed the blue shit on us. And I could suppose further that some of us survived the first few months because of it. I can’t prove it, but I suspect it did help us evolve into…
I don’t know. Whatever the hell we are now. I know we’re alive? I know our hearts beat. I still feel human and I truly think I am still human: If it made changes to the living they are very small changes… At least so far.
But the dead. Oh the dead, that is a different story. It did something else to the dead.
I walked along now thinking my thoughts. I was lost in them, I’ll admit it. Right back in March for a few seconds. But I came back fast.
We were right in front of a line of cliffs that overhung the river, spread out a little, at least I was. It’s funny how you can forget to be careful so goddamn fast. It was somewhere past midday when they came for us.
Cammy from a hundred yards down. The panic and fear in her voice made my heart leap into my throat, and because of her fear, and probably some of my own, I did a really stupid thing right then that cost me time. I was so panicked, that I threw my rifle down and sprinted toward the sound of her voice. I got maybe twenty feet when the realization of what I had done hit me. It would have been comical to see the way I locked my legs up and tried to turn around, before I had even come to a stop, if it had not been so goddamned serious.
I had the rifle back in my hands, the safety off, just a fraction of a second later when Cammy and Madison opened up on the UN-dead closing in on them from the mouth of the narrow trail that lead up from the river. I added my fire to theirs before I had run another fifty feet, and their leader, a shambling wreck of a corpse, folded up, and then flopped over the side of the trail and down into the river. I continued to run as I fired and I was shocked to realize that I was screaming at the top of my lungs as I closed in. I am big, but I can move when I have to.
“Goddamn-son-of-a-bitching-goddamn-bastards,dead-fuckers!” All strung together. Fear words. I did not hear them at first so I did not know when they started, and I could not shut them down once I did hear them, the panic and fear were just too hot.
I watched as, unseen by Cammy and Madison, a zombie crouched on a narrow path above them swiveled his rotting head to me, seemed to take my measure with a wide, yellowed grin, and then dropped from the ledge on to Madison’s back.
“No! Goddamn-son-of-a-bitches-dead-bastards-bastards!” I could not say, ‘Madison Look Out!’ Or speed up my feet or any other damn thing. Time had slowed, become elastic, strange, too clearly seen… The Zombie hit her hard, and she folded like an accordion: Driven into the ground, a few hundred pounds of animated corpse riding her down into the dirt. Clawed hands clutching, mouth already angling to bite… To taste her…
I was still thirty or more yards away. I could not see how that could even be possible. I should have been closer, but I was not. I saw Cammy turn, panicked, take her eyes off the other UN-dead, and start towards Madison. Unchallenged the other Zombies closed ground far faster than they should have been able to.
I saw the Zombie on Madison take a mouthful of her back, just below the curve of her neck, and rip the flesh away from her spine. Cammy’s rifle came up and barked, and the zombie blew apart, raining down on Madison, a storm of black blood. Somehow, I managed to switch to full auto, get my rifle up, and spray an entire one hundred round clip into the other zombies where they rushed along the path towards Cammy and the fallen Madison.
Madison screamed. Time leapt back into its proper frame and I found myself five feet away as Madison arched her back, screamed, and tried to stand. Blood ran in a perfect river from her gaping wound, across the white of her T-Shirt and down to the waist of her jeans.
“I think… I think…” Madison tried.
“Baby… Baby,” Cammy sobbed. She dropped to her knees and pulled Madison to her. “Oh, Baby… Baby,” Cammy sobbed.
I looked back up at the trail: Empty. At least of moving UN-dead. Three or four, it was hard to tell with the tangle of legs and arms, lay dead on the pathway. Silence descended. I heard a bird in the trees above calling as if nothing was wrong with the world. Cammy sobbing. Madison crying hysterically. The wind moaning through the empty buildings that were set just back from the cliffs and the river on this side of the city.
I was thinking… ‘That wind is colder. Colder even than when we started out this morning. Maybe the weather will turn back to snow and cold. Maybe winter is not done after all… Or coming sooner… It could be, it’s all so screwed up. Maybe, if it does get cold, it will slow those bastards down… Maybe we will be okay… My, God, they bit Madison… They BIT Madison!!!’ I sagged to the ground my mind full of confusion and numbness.
Cammy was sobbing uncontrollably, Madison had lapsed into shock. I was sitting crossed legged wondering where in Hell this would all end up, my rifle fallen from my hands and laying on the ground next to me. Time spun out: Dragged; seemed elastic once more, sticking in places and jumping ahead from those places to where it should have been had it continued to run properly.
Cammy sobbing, holding Madison up. Kissing her forehead. Telling her how much she loved her… How she was her world…
Madison… Eyes rolled back in her head… Face pale… Fine beads of sweat standing out on her forehead… Her back a bright slick of red, running across Cammy’s hands where she held her. Slowing… Slowing… Cammy mouthing words in such slow motion that I could not understand what she said… Madison’s body sagging, eyes rolled up to the whites… Bright dots of blood speckled across Cammy’s cheeks… Then time jumped, staggered, came back to normal and Cammy was screaming and screaming…
“No! … NO! … Not my… My love, my Madison, my…” Collapsing to the ground with Madison, crying still… Softer, but continuous.
“Cammy…” My voice, but I did not know it at first. I actually stopped speaking and looked around, startled, before I realized it was me speaking. I turned my attention back to Cammy. “Cammy… Cammy, it’ll be okay… It’ll be…”
“NO!….NO!” She scrambled backward, pulling Madison’s unconscious body with her. She wiped one hand across her eyes trying to stem the flow of tears… “NO! She’s… She’s okay… Okay… You can’t… You…” She broke down into sobs, pulled Madison to her and began dragging her away from me.
“Cammy… Cammy, it bit her… Bit her… Cammy… Cammy, it’s… It’s just you and me, Cammy… It bit her… It bit her…”
She let go of Madison and lunged for her rifle. I sat, still cross legged, stupidly, as she grabbed it and leveled it at me.
“Get out,” She said very calmly. Much more calmly than I thought she should have been capable of.
“Cammy… What are you doing… Cammy?”
“GET OUT, GET OUT, GET OUT!” She screamed. I reared back as the rifle barrel came up and then slashed down across my face. I jumped back, but not fast enough. The steel barrel smashed into my lower lip, through it and then hit my teeth. I immediately tasted blood and machine oil. My tongue ran across my teeth unconsciously. I was sure she had smashed them out, but the barrel edge had come up short or I had moved back far enough. One of those things.
The pain was delayed but it came never-the-less. Hard, heavy, fast, down into my lower jaw and then ricocheted back up into the top of my head. I scrambled backwards, tripped over my own rifle, got it into my hands and then time did that funny slowing, elastic thing again.
The blood dripped from my chin onto the ground. My rifle was pointed squarely at Cammy, safety off, and an empty clip, but Cammy didn’t know that. The blood dripped slowly. Cammy’s eyes swam in and out of focus, but remained on me. Her rifle barrel dipped and then rose again, leveled on me once more.
She seemed to take a deep breath that went on forever, and then, once more, time sped up. “I’ll kill you,” Cammy told me. “If you touch her, I’ll kill you… I will,” She started out strong, but ended in a doubtful, whining whisper.
I didn’t drop my rifle barrel but held one hand out in front of me in a placating gesture. “Not touching anyone… Not,” I managed through my busted lip and aching jaw. The pain was a live, throbbing thing.
“You will… But… I know you will… You think… You think…” She seemed all at once to realize that she no longer held Madison in her arms. She took a deep shuddering breath and then dropped her rifle to the ground. She collapsed back down to the ground and crawled to Madison’s body.
I stood. Shocked. Not knowing what to do. Time side slipped again. The bird went back to calling out; if it had ever stopped. The wind came back, blowing cold against my face, pushing the flush of heat that the situation had bought with it away, cooling the sweat on my brow. The bird called… Another picked it up and soon all the birds were talking as though nothing at all had happened. It became a perfect storm of noise after the deepness of the silence. Time slipped away again, clouds moving across the cold, blue of the sky.
Cammy sat, Madison pulled up into her lap, a large smear of maroon on her forehead, stroking Madison’s black hair. The birds called. The coldness of the wind seemed to bite at my bones. Nipping. Tasting: An UN-dead thing of its own.
I can’t tell you why I did it, but I am glad I did. I pushed the button on the rifle butt, dropped the empty clip in to my waiting palm, and slid another up into the rifle where it socketed itself home with a solid click. I did it perfectly. Like I had been doing it all of my life instead of just the last few months since the UN-dead disease, epidemic, disorder, plague, what-ever-the-fuck it is that has happened. She never looked up. The birds didn’t stop singing their birdsong… Just in case, I told myself. Just in case.
I stood, my knees screaming, flexed experimentally and then walked a short distance away, leaning up against the cliff face. I reached into my jacket pocket, pulled out my pouch and rolled a cigarette. I felt at my lips, busted up, but I would heal. I had been in fights in my old life where I had been busted up much worse. I lit the cigarette, held it carefully between my lips, smoking as I watched the clouds slip across the sky. Letting the urgency of the situation float away on the wind like the smoke was.
Cammy’s voice had fallen to a barely audible whisper as she stroked Madison’s hair and held her. Madison’s lips, blue tinged, moved. Too quiet to hear her words. A private conversation. A private conversation in the wide open, which thanks to the UN-dead was a very private place. No one at all around, alive anyway, and the dead couldn’t care less about love, secrets, whispered promises, goodbyes. The UN-dead only cared about the hunger that drove them. Flesh, and more flesh… The time turned elastic once more and spun out of control for some unknown length. I only know that when I came back to myself the sun had moved across the sky. My thoughts were about darkness, zombies, staying alive.
When I think back on it now, I realize a noise had brought me back. Had to be, otherwise there was no reason for me to come back at all. Just stay gone. Let the sun go down and the UN-dead take the night, me, Cammy, Madison and whatever else they wanted. But it didn’t go that way…
A noise. A sliding foot. A pebble falling from above… I really don’t know. I know that this time I reacted fast. My rifle came up, my mind was clear. I focused; two of them dropping from the cliffs above… Like cats… Like dead, stinking, feral cats… Dragging that stink of death with them. The stench of rotted flesh falling from the sky, enveloping me even as I fired into them.
I had a choice. I couldn’t get them both. One falling at me, one falling at Cammy where she sat with Madison cradled in her arms, oblivious to everything around her. My reaction chose for me. The rifle came straight up and spat short, little barks of noise and flame. The Zombie started to come apart before it hit me. A shower of cold, dead blood rained down on me, splattered against my face. The body hit the barrel of the rifle and took me down to the ground clutching the rifle hard to keep from losing it as the full weight of the Zombie came down on it.
I kept it, but only by sheer determination. The Zombie had impaled herself onto the barrel. Her flesh so rotted that it had simply punched through her breast and out her back. I shoved her off as quickly as I could. One booted foot kicking against her chest. Knocking her apart, pulling the barrel back through the soft flesh and hard bone.
I expected to see Cammy done for. I expected to see her dead or dying, but she had somehow ended up about twenty feet from where the Zombie had fallen. She looked herself as if she had no real idea how that had happened, but when I raised my eyes and they took in the whole scene before them, I saw exactly how it had happened.
Madison must have still been awake. Laying there badly injured, but not gone. Taking the comfort from Cammy that she offered: When the Zombie fell she saw it and managed to push Cammy away from her and take the attack on herself.
The Zombie was no match for her, wounded though she was. She straddled the Zombie with a rock easily the size of her own head and bought it down hard. Once. Twice, and then I lost count, and the Zombie quit fighting. The UN-dead, dead again. This time for good.
The silence came back hard. Like a curtain on the last act of a play, just when the audience isn’t expecting it. It crashed down.
Time did it’s elastic trick and then snapped back before I was ready for it. My senses were shot. At first I could not connect the dots of memory that I needed to connect to make sense of what my eyes were seeing.
Cammy rose to shaky legs and started toward Madison, sobbing once more. Madison’s eyes swiveled to me. A sick look in them and pain riding there too. She slumped forward, one wrist flapping uselessly and lunged for the rifle that Cammy had, had trained on me not so long ago. Time stopped its elastic trickery right around that time. I knew exactly what she intended to do before she did it.
Cammy stopped in mid stride and nearly fell backwards at the effort of stopping so quickly. I think she believed for a second that Madison intended to shoot her. I really believe she thought that. But that was not the plan, and I knew that was not the plan. Because the plan that had resurfaced in her mind was the one we had talked about, half seriously, half jokingly, for as long as we had been traveling together. Before she followed through on that plan I heard her tell it to me in my mind once again, the way she had a week or so before. When she had been unmolested… Whole… Not about to join the ranks of the UN-dead herself.
“If I ever fuckin’ have to, I won’t hesitate,” Madison had said, “Once I’m dead I don’t want to come back.” She shuddered and grimaced at the same time.
We had been in an old house over in Harlem. That was before Harlem got crazy too. We had had gas lanterns for light. The windows were boarded over. The UN-dead scratched and cried and pleaded, but they could not get in. The four of us-John had still been alive then, in fact he had died just a few hours later… Fell through a rotted section of floor in that same old house… Impaled himself on a pipe in the basement… Madison had shot him in the head nearly as soon as he had stopped his struggles.
“He would have expected it,” she had said, and nothing more. But that night… That night she had said it right out. Like a mantra. Like looking into the future and seeing this day.
“If they come for me? If they get me? I’ll put a bullet in my own head. I will. I swear I will. If I ever fuckin’ have to, I won’t hesitate,” Madison had said, “Once I’m dead I don’t want to come back.”
And Cammy had begun to cry. “Don’t say it, Maddie… Don’t say it.” And she hadn’t said it again, but it didn’t matter. She had already spoke it into truth. I had heard it. I had heard it and I knew she meant it.
And now… Time stopped it’s trick. She jammed the rifle under her chin and squeezed the trigger… Her head exploded in a spray of red and gray. I swear I could hear the sounds of small bits of bone and drops of blood pattering down to the ground. And then the silence was roaring again.
I took a breath, another… And then Cammy began to scream once more…
It’s been three weeks. I thought Cammy would never talk again. I believed she wouldn’t, right up until she did yesterday.
I just kept us moving. Different places in the city. Not staying in any one place for more than a day. Walking days, seeking refuge at night. The zombies smell us, you know. They can smell us for miles. So at night it’s been strong places. Strong places where they can’t get in and then hope like hell that these were not some of the new breed, the ones that don’t seem to have a need to avoid the day, and that they would be gone in the morning.
I started carrying a radio the other day. Clips on the belt. FM. Picks up a lot of talk during the day. There’s a place that a lot of the people I hear from have heard about. Down south somewhere. Nobody seems to know exactly where it is. But others swear they have talked to the people that founded this place. A city… Somewhere down south. I had heard of something like that when it was Donita and me back in New York. But the word I keep hearing is that it is a safe place. That it is open to everyone.
So that is where I had been thinking about getting us to. Three days ago we got a truck, it’s still just me and Cammy, but it feels safer.
I have been thinking about this place. I don’t know who these people are. If they even exist, I only know the whole world is fucked up. I have come to understand that even if I get us as far South as I can, we wont make it for long. There are only two of us that can fight. The dead are getting smarter. And that is not just my point of view. It’s on the radio. They all say it.
L.A. and New York both are barely hanging on. Both! Barely hanging on! Nearly over run! We’re right here. I see it every day. The people talking aren’t exaggerating at all. If the big cities are truly falling apart, and people can’t make it banded together, how can we make it alone?
No. I’m heading for this place. I’m hoping it’s real. Today on the radio I caught someone talking and it sounded like he was talking about the same place I have heard about. Too far away to hear me. Skip. You can never tell where it’s coming from. I’m just hoping it’s true. That I didn’t just imagine it to assuage my mind.
Meantime I am trying to keep us alive. Find strong places to stay through the nights. There are strong places. Places you can find if you give it some thought. Stairwells in highrise buildings. Steel and concrete. They can’t get through those doors. Deep freezers in grocery stores. Heavy steel doors. The vehicles if we have to and we have had to. They can’t get in there to get us either. A little fire at night if I can, because they are afraid of fire. It’s one constant, so far. The Zombies don’t like the smell of smoke.
Canned stuff to eat. Christ, we’ll be eating canned shit until we die. Get up the next day and push on. Get moving again. And that is what I’ve done. Kept us moving. Kept us safe. And she has come willingly, although silently, like a big, semi animated puppet. And then yesterday she was sitting beside me, silent as she had been since the thing with Madison, and she spoke.
“I don’t like beans, Bear. I just don’t… Maybe we could find something different tonight?” She had lifted her voice at the end and made it into a question. I was winding my way through the middle of an abandoned car and a wrecked, burned out truck. Months old. I looked over at her. She smiled, tentative at first, but then it lit up her face. I had to laugh. I had, had so much pent up inside me.
“The beans are a bit much then?” I asked.
“A bit,” she agreed.
I bought the truck to a dead stop for a second not knowing what to say.
“You could say, ‘Welcome back,’” she said softly.
“Welcome back,” I repeated every bit as quietly. “Welcome back…”
THE ZOMBIE PLAGUES BIG BOOK
Copyright Geo Dell 2016, all rights reserved, foreign and domestic
Published By Geo Dell on Smashwords
Additional Copyrights 2009, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015 Wendell Sweet, All rights reserved
Geo Dell, Dell Sweet, W. G. Sweet and Wendell G. Sweet are publishing constructs used by Wendell Sweet. All copyrights are held by Wendell Sweet and his assignee’s.
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’re 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 book is fiction. The characters, events and places are based on fiction and do not relate to any living or deceased person. In the few instances where real location names are used they are not meant to be characterized by their fictional accounts, and that fictionalization is purely the invention of the author and has nothing to do with the real location.
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 © 2010 – 2013 George Dell & independAntwriters Publishing and all rights to this work have been reserved 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.
The traffic leaving the parking lot had slowed to a trickle, the lot nearly empty. The live shows were over, the bands packed up and gone, the dancers gone before or at the same time. The club was empty except Jimmy, the club boss, Don, the main door security, and me.
“Why are you still here, Candy,” Jimmy asked as he came up to the bar. He was on his way back from the parking lot. It was a short trip across the parking lot to the bank night deposit on the lot next door.
“I had an idea that Harry would be by tonight. He wanted to talk to me,” I shrugged. Harry was a Bookie, at least on the surface. Off the surface, or maybe it would be truer to say under the surface, Harry controlled most of the organized crime north of Syracuse. Jimmy… Jimmy managed the club, among other things, but the best description for Jimmy was to say Jimmy solved problems for Harry.
“Wants to talk you into staying here. That’s about all,” Jimmy said.
I turned away and pretended to check my face in the mirrored wall behind the bar. I wanted to Dance. I had suggested to Harry, through Jimmy, that maybe it was time for me to move on if there wasn’t any hope of me dancing. “Anyway, I ended up tending bar. So…”
“So it’s not dancing.” He dug one hand into his pocket and pulled out a thick wad of bills. He peeled two hundreds from the roll and pushed them into my hand, folding his hand over my own and closing it when I started to protest.
“But,” I started.
“But nothing. We did a lot in bar sales. You and I both know it was because of you.” He smiled, let go of my hand and stepped back. “It was me, not Harry,” he said.
I fixed my eyes on him. I knew what he might be about to say, but I wanted to be sure.
He sighed. “It was me that put the stop to your dancing. You’re too goddamn good for dancing, Candy. And once you start?” He barked a short, derisive laugh. “The law thing? Right out the window. What’s a cop make anyway in this town? Maybe thirty or forty a year?” He settled onto one of the stools that lined the bar, tossed his hat onto the bar top and patted the stool next to him. He continued talking.
“So, thirty, maybe forty, and what’s a dancer make? I can tell you there are dancers here who make better than one fifty a year. And that’s what I pay them. That’s not the side stuff or tips.” He moved one large hand, fished around behind the bar and came up with a bottle of chilled Vodka from the rack that held it just below eye level. He squinted at the label. “Cherry Surprise,” he questioned in a voice low enough to maybe be just for himself. “This shit any good, Candy?”
“It’s not bad,” I told him. I leaned over the bar and snagged two clean glasses when he asked me, setting them on the bar top. He poured us both about three shots worth. “Jesus, Jimmy.”
He laughed. “Which is why I don’t make drinks. It’d break me.” He sipped at his glass, made a face, but sipped again. I took a small sip of my own drink and settled back onto the bar stool.
“So, I said to myself, smart, beautiful, talented, and you have that something about you that makes men look the second time. You know?” He took another small sip. “Man sees a woman walking down the street or across a crowded dance floor, beautiful or not he looks. That look might be short or it might be long. Depends on the woman. Then he looks away. Does he look back? Not usually. But with you he does. There are women men look at that second time for whatever reason, and you’re one of them. I looked a second time, and then I really looked, for a third time. And I’ve seen a lot. That tattoo makes men and women look again.” His eyes fell on the tattoo that started on the back of my left hand, ran up my arm, across my breasts and then snaked back down over my belly and beyond. I knew it was provocative. That was the rebellious part of me. I had no better explanation for why I had sat, lain, through five months of weekly ink work to get it done.
Jimmy rubbed one huge open palm across the stubble of his cheeks. “Jesus do I need a shave.” He took a large drink from his glass. “It wasn’t the tattoo. It caught my eye, but that wasn’t what made me look that third time.”
“Candy, I took a third look because I saw a young woman that doesn’t need to have anything to do with this world. You’re too goddamn smart, talented, for this. So I said no. I let you dance a few times, but I didn’t want you to fall into it. I made the decision that you should tend bar instead of dance.” He tossed off the glass.
“I see that,” I told him, although I didn’t completely see it. He was reading a lot about what he thought, what he saw, into who I really was.
“Yeah? I don’t think so, Candy. And that’s a reason right there. Candy… like a treat. When did it become okay for anyone to call you that, because I remember a few months back when you started hanging around, it was Candace, and pity the dumb bastard who didn’t understand that. Now it’s Candy to any Tom, Dick or Harry that comes along.” He saw the hurt look in my eyes, reached below the bar, snagged the bottle and topped off his glass. I shook my head, covered the top of my glass with my hand and smiled. He put the bottle back and continued.
“I’m not trying to hurt you, only keep you on track. I’m giving you the keys. You drive. All I’m saying is set your ground rules. Make them rigid. Don’t let anyone – me, Harry, these boys that work here, customers – Don’t let anyone cross those lines. You see, Candy?”
“Yeah? Then why not call me on calling you Candy? I’ve done it since we sat down. Why not start there?”
“Well… I mean, you’re the boss, Jimmy.”
“Which is why you start there. I don’t allow anyone to talk anyway to anyone that doesn’t want that. Let me explain that. You got girls that work the streets. You don’t see it so much here. It’s a small city, but it happens. I spent a few years on the streets in Rochester, bigger place, as a kid. Happens all the time there.” He sipped at his drink. I took a sip of my own drink and raised my brows at what he had said.
“Yeah? Don’t believe it? It’s true. I fought my way up. I have respect because I earned it.” He waved one hand. “Don’t let me get off track.” He smiled and took another sip from his glass. “So, I’ve seen girls on the streets… Whores… It is what it is. Would you hear me say that to them? Maybe you would, maybe you wouldn’t. If a woman sees herself as a whore, if that’s all it is, what it is, then who am I to say different? Do you see? It’s a living, or it’s a life… There is a difference. Now back to you. You want to dance. Some of these girls,” he waved one meaty hand at the empty stage area, “work the other side. Some of them do that for me, some do it on their own. Some don’t,” he sighed. “Either way you would not see me treat them any other way than what they want to be treated. I mean that. If you believe you are a whore and that is what you see, then that is what you show the world, and that is how the world sees you… treats you,” he settled his eyes on me.
I nodded. I didn’t trust my voice. I had been down this road on my own. What did it say about me? That it only mattered that I made it? That money mattered more than anything else? Would I be swayed by the money? Was I even being honest with myself about my motivations? I really didn’t know. I knew what I told myself on a daily basis… that I wanted to follow my Father into law enforcement, but was it whimsical like so many other things in my life that I never followed through on?
“You are not just a dancer. There is a part of you that is, a part of you that likes the way a man looks at you, likes the money. But there is another part that is the private you, the real you. You need to keep those distinctions.” He rubbed at his eyes, tossed off the rest of his drink and rose from the bar stool. “Let me drop you home, Candy,” he asked.
I stood, leaving my mostly full drink sitting on the bar top. “I have my car,” I told him.
“It’s late. Creeps around maybe.”
“Jimmy, every creep in my neighborhood knows I work here… for you. Guys stopped talking to me, let alone the creeps.” I laughed, but it wasn’t really all that funny. It had scared me when I realized who Jimmy was, who Jimmy worked for. In effect, who I worked for. Another questionable thing? Probably.
Jimmy nodded. “Smart creeps. The southern Tier’s a big place. Easy to lose yourself, with or without a little help.” He looked at his watch and then fixed his eyes on me once more. “So you keep your perspective, set your limits, draw your lines,” he spoke as he shrugged into his coat, retrieved his hat from the bar top and planted it on his head, “Don’t let anybody cross those lines. You start next week, let’s say the eleventh?”
“Take the balance of the time off. By the time the eleventh comes around you should be ready for a whole new world. A whole new life.” He stood looking down at me for a second. “The big talk I guess. For what it’s worth, I don’t say those things often, Candy.”
I nodded. “I believe that. And, Jimmy?”
He looked down at me. He knew what was coming. He expected it, and that was the only reason I was going to say it. I knew better than to correct Jimmy V. There were a lot of woods up here. They did go on forever and they probably did hold a lot of lost people. I may be slow but I’m far from stupid.
“Please don’t call me Candy,” I told him.
He smiled. “Don’t be so goddamn nice about it. Don’t call me Candy,” he rasped, a dangerous edge to his voice. “Look ’em right in the eye. Don’t call me Candy. Put a little attitude in your look. A little I can fuckin’ snap at any minute attitude. Let me see that.”
I Put my best street face on. The one I had used growing up on the streets in Syracuse. I knew that I can snap at any minute look. I’d used it many times. “Don’t call me Candy,” I told him in a voice that was not my own. My street voice, “Just don’t do it.”
“Goddamn right, Doll,” Jimmy told me. “Goddamn right. Scared me a little there. That’s that street wise part of you.” He took my head in both massive hands, bent and kissed the top of my head. “I will see you on the eleventh,” he told me.
I nodded. I let the Doll remark go.
I followed Jimmy out the back door past Don who nodded at me and winked. Don was an asshole. Always hitting on us when Jimmy wasn’t around. But Jimmy was his uncle. I was employing my best selective perception when I smiled at him. I wondered if I would ever get used to him. Probably not, I decided, but maybe that would be a good thing. Of course, it didn’t matter. I never saw Don again. Or Jimmy. Or anyone else from that life.
I said goodbye to Jimmy V, crossed the parking lot for the last time and drove myself home. I parked my rusted out Toyota behind my Grandparents house, and twenty-four hours later my world, everybody’s world, was completely changed.
This is not a diary. I have never kept a diary. They say, never say never, but I doubt I will. I have never been this scared. The whole world is messed up. Is it ending? I don’t know, but it seems like it’s ending here. Earthquakes, explosions. I’ve seen no Police, Fire or emergency people all day. It’s nearly night. I think that’s a bad sign. I have the Nine Millimeter that used to be my Father’s. I’ve got extra ammo too. I’m staying inside.
I lost this yesterday; my little notebook. I left it by the window so I could see to write, but I swear it wasn’t there when I went to get it; then I found it again later on by the window right where I left it. Maybe I’m losing it.
There are no Police, no Firemen, phones, electric. The real world is falling apart. Two days and nothing that I thought I knew is still here. Do you see? The whole world has changed.
I got my guitar out and played it today. I played for almost three hours. I played my stuff. I played some blues. Usually blues will bring me out of blues, but it didn’t work. It sounded so loud, so out of place, so… I don’t know. I just stopped and put it away.
I’m going out. I have to see, if I don’t come back. Well… What good is writing this?
The whole city has fallen apart. I spent most of yesterday trying to see how bad this is. I finally realized it’s bad beyond my being able to fix it. It’s bad as in there is no authority. It’s bad as in there is no Jimmy V. I hear gunshots at night, all night. And screams. There are still tremors. If I had to guess, I would say it’s the end of the civilized world, unless things are better somewhere else. I have to believe that. Power, structure, it’s all gone. I mean it’s really all gone. This city is torn up. There are huge areas that are ruined. Gulleys, ravines, missing streets, damaged bridges. The damage costs have to be in the billions… And that’s just here. There’s me and my little notebook I’m writing in, and my nine millimeter. I’ve got nothing else for company right now.
I’ve got water, some peanuts and crackers. How long can this go on? What then?
I’ve decided to leave. I can’t stay here. There was a tremor last night, and not one of the really bad ones, but even so I was sure the house would come down on me. It didn’t. Maybe though, that is a sign, I told myself. And scared or not, I have to go. I have to. I can’t stay here. Maybe tomorrow.
The streets are a mess. I’ve spent too much of the last week hiding inside my apartment. Most of my friends, and that’s a joke, I didn’t have anyone I could actually call a friend; So I guess I would say most of my acquaintances believed my grandparents were alive and that I lived here with them. They weren’t. I didn’t. I kind of let that belief grow, fostered it, I guess.
I planted the seed by saying it was my Nana Pans’ apartment. You can see the Asian in me, so it made sense to them that she was my Nana. But I look more like I’m a Native American than African American and Japanese. It’s just the way the blood mixed, as my father used to say. But Native American or Asian, they could see it in my face. And this neighborhood is predominantly Asian. Mostly older people. There were two older Asian women that lived in the building. They probably believed one of those women was my Nana, and I didn’t correct them.
I can’t tell you why I did that. I guess I wanted that separation. I didn’t want them, anyone, to get to know me well. My plan had been to dance, earn enough money for school – Criminal Justice – and go back to Syracuse. Pretend none of this part of my life had ever happened. Some plan. It seemed workable. I wondered over what Jimmy V. had said to me. Did he see something in me that I didn’t, or was he just generalizing? It doesn’t matter now I suppose.
My Grandmother passed away two years ago. The apartment she had lived in was just a part of the building that she owned. Nana Pan, my mother’s mother, had rented the rest of the building out. The man who had lived with her was not my Grandfather – he had died before I was born – but her brother who had come ten years before from Japan. They spoke little English. People outside of the neighborhood often thought they were man and wife. She didn’t bother correcting them, my mother had told me. Nana Pan thought that most Americans were superficial and really didn’t care, so what was the use in explaining anything to them? Maybe that’s where I got my deceptiveness from.
I had left the house as it was. Collected rents through an agency. For all anyone knew, I was just another tenant. Of course Jimmy V. had known. He had mentioned it to me. But Jimmy knew everything there was to know about everyone. That was part of his business. It probably kept him alive.
So I stayed and waited. I believed someone would show up and tell me what to do. But no one did. I saw a few people wander by yesterday, probably looking for other people, but I stayed inside. I don’t know why, what all my reasons were. A lot of fear, I think.
There have been earthquakes. The house is damaged. I went outside today and really looked at it. It is off the foundation and leaning. I should have gotten out of it the other night when I knew it was bad. It’s just dumb luck it hasn’t fallen in on me and killed me.
It doesn’t matter now though. I met a few others today, and I’m leaving with them. I don’t know if I’ll stay with them. I really don’t know what to expect from life anymore.
I’m taking this and my gun with me. Writing this made me feel alive. I don’t know how better to say it.
I’ll write more here I think. I just don’t know when, or where I’ll be.
He came awake in the darkness, but awake wasn’t precisely the term. Alive was precisely the term. He knew alive was precisely the term, because he could remember dying. He remembered that his heart had stopped in his chest. He had remembered wishing that it would start again. That bright moment or two of panic, and then he remembered beginning not to care. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. And he had drifted away.
Now he had drifted back. But drifted was not exactly right. He had slammed back into himself where he lay on the cold subbasement floor where he had been murdered by a roving gang of thieves. And he knew those things were true because he remembered them. And he knew they were true because he was dead. He was still dead. His heart was not beating in his chest. His blood was cold and jelled in his veins. He could feel it. Some kind of new perception.
He lay and watched the shadows deepen in the corners of the basement ceiling for a short time longer, and then he tried to move.
His body did not want to move at first. It felt as though it weighed a ton, two tons, but with a little more effort it came away. He sat and then crawled to his knees.
In the corner a huge rat stopped on his way to somewhere to sniff at him, decided he was probably food and came to eat him. He had actually sat for a second while the rat first sniffed and then began to gnaw at one fingernail. Then he had quickly snatched the rat up with his other hand, snapped it’s back in his fist and then shoved him warm and squirming into his mouth. A few minutes later he stood on shaky legs and walked off into the gloom of the basement, looking for the stairs and the way up to the streets.
If you like the Zombie Plague books you can get them at Smashwords, book by book, or the entire series in one book, The Dead Road.
Book Four: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/378075
The Zombie Plagues Dead Road: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/651697
The Author: www.dellsweet.com/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wendell (Dell) Sweet wrote his first fiction at age seventeen. He drove taxi and worked as a carpenter for most of his life. He began working on the internet in 1989 primarily in HTML, graphics and website optimizations. He spent time on the streets as a drug addicted teen as well as time in prison. He was Honorably discharged from the service in 1974.
He is a Musician who writes his own music as well as lyrics. He is an Artist accomplished in Graphite, Pen, and Digital media. He has written more than twenty books for the Earth’s Survivors series, many of which are unpublished, and several dozen short stories.
All music, lyrics, artwork or additional written materials attributed to characters in this novel, unless otherwise noted, are Copyright © 2016 Dell Sweet.