AMERICA THE DEAD: SURVIVOR STORIES ONE
America The Dead: Survivor Stories One is copyright © 2016 W. G. 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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Watertown Center New York
Shop and Save Convenience store:
“Last one,” Neil said.
Neil was a detective for the sheriffs’ department. It was closing in on 2:00 AM and he and his partner Don had just come back from six hours of sleep to get a jump on the day. Yesterday one of the checkout girls had disappeared between the Shop And Save, a small mini mart on the western outskirts of the city, and home. Earlier this morning she had turned up dead in a ditch just a quarter mile from the front door. The techs were still processing the scene, but it was looking personal. Stabbed to death, multiple wounds, no defense wounds, at least none that he or Don had been able to see, and fully clothed. Her purse had been found nearby, wallet and cash inside. No ID, but her store ID had still been clipped to her shirt. They would know more in a few days once the coroner did her magic. It all pointed to someone she knew, and they had no known boyfriend. The trailer park where she lived had turned up nothing, they had questioned some people at the convenience store, but some had been off shift, so here they were back at the store questioning the other employees.
They had commandeered the night manager’s office which was barely larger than a broom closet, but at least it was a place to sit with enough space left over to call in the workers and ask their questions. Free coffee via the same night manager, who had still not gone home, was taking a little of the six hours of sleep sting off, but to Neil free coffee in a convenience store was like a whore offering a free shot of penicillin to the first twenty five customers.
“Who’s next?” Don asked.
The last half hour they had been interviewing the people who worked the same shifts as Amber Kneeland.
“Haley Mae,” Neil said.
Don looked up and stopped writing in his little notebook. “How do you,” spell her name, he had meant to ask Neil, but she was right in front of him.
“EM. A. E,” she said with a smile.
“Vietnamese?” Don asked. She was obviously mixed race, African American and Asian, he questioned himself.
“Japanese,” she told him.
“Nice name,” Neil said, “Haley.”
Beautiful girl, Don thought. “Did you know Amber Kneeland? Sometimes works this shift?” he asked.
“Not really,” she answered. “I mean, I met her, but only in passing… I just started here myself.”
She really is beautiful, Don thought. “You wouldn’t know if she had a boyfriend… Other friends?” he asked.
Haley shook her head. “Sorry,” she said… “What has she done?”
“Nothing,” Neil supplied.
“She went missing last night,” Don said. “Turned up dead this morning.”
Haley shook her head. “Oh my God. That’s horrible. She was such a nice girl… Quiet.”
Neil nodded his head. “So maybe you did know her a little better than you thought?”
“I just started here a few weeks back, and like I said, I don’t really know her… But it might be a girlfriend not a boyfriend.”
Don looked at her. “You wouldn’t know who?”
“No. It’s just a rumor. Someone said it to me… I don’t even remember who… But I’ve never seen her with a guy, and I have seen her with other girls… Maybe also the way she looked at me a few times…”
“Go out with her?” Don asked.
“No… Never… I…”
“Don’t swing that way?” Don added.
Haley frowned slightly before she answered. “I work. I don’t swing any way. But if I did she wasn’t my type. She never asked me out, I never asked her out.”
“Didn’t mean to offend you,” Don said. He shrugged. “She’s dead.”
“She would probably do the same for you,” Neil said.
Haley nodded. “That really is all I know. I hope you find who did it though. She seemed like a nice girl,” Haley said.
“You don’t seem the type for this… Bagging groceries at 2:00 am,” Don said, changing the subject. “You aren’t local or I’d know you… This city really is small despite the base.”
Haley smiled. “Came here a year back with a boyfriend, Army. He left, forgot all about me, I guess. I had this idea of modeling… Tough to get a foot in a door though.”
“Wow, if he left you behind he must be a fucking idiot… Any good?” Neil asked.
“Excuse mister smooth there,” Don told her. Neil feigned a hurt look and Haley laughed again. “He meant, have you done anything? I know somebody… Might be interested.”
Haley arched her eyebrows. “I can model. I did a You Jeans ad back in Georgia a few years ago. I just need to prove it to the right person.”
“Escorting? Maybe dancing. It’s strictly escorting or dancing, no funny stuff. Dance clubs… Clothing modeling,” Neil said.
“Probably start out escorting… Dance a little… Then if he likes you he’ll put you into the modeling end of things. He owns a lot of shit… Several car dealerships across the state… Some of the biggest dance clubs, clothing outlets, those bargain places, but still, modeling is modeling, right? Not the big name stuff, but it is a foot in the door,” Don added.
“I can do that,” she said slowly.
Neil passed her a white business card with his own name scrawled across the back. “Tell him I sent you… That’s my name on the back.”
“Jimmy Vincioni,” Haley asked.
“Just V… Jimmy V, good guy,” Neil said.
Haley nodded and tucked the card into her front jean pocket. “I’ll call him… Thanks. Look…” Her voice dropped to a near whisper. “I’m pretty sure she had a girlfriend here… I just don’t know who,” Haley added quietly.
Don finished writing in his notebook, nodded once he met her eyes and then shook the hand she offered. She walked away.
“Beautiful,” Neil said.
“Absolutely,” Don agreed. “You ain’t getting none of that though.”
“Yeah? But if Jimmy V hires her? It’ll be the next best thing.”
Don shook his head, but smiled. His eyes rose and watched as Haley walked away. “Guess I’ll have to have a few drinks at the club if that happens.”
Neil chuckled low. “You and me both,” he agreed.
Watertown New York
Off Factory Square: Joel Morrison
Joel sat at the bar and watched football on one of the big screen TV’s Mort had put in. It was a slow game, he was tired, and his mind kept turning to other things. He couldn’t concentrate. Part of the allure of the Rusty Nail was the quiet. After a 12 hour shift at the mill with the constant noise from the huge machinery, the quiet had been nice. But that had all changed once the bar had become popular with the nearby base. He needed to go home. The crowd in the bar was starting to build and the noise was giving him the beginnings of a headache. He caught Mort’s eye and went back to his thoughts as he waited.
The Rusty Nail had always been a locals only bar up until a few years back when the economy had taken a nose dive. The nail was wedged up a side street off Factory square. Not exactly easy to find, and that had hurt business too as the old people left and the new people came in.
Mort, Mortimer to anybody that felt like being tossed out on their ass, had nearly lost the small bar and the building above it to the bank. The building above it had six small apartments that Mort had purposely left empty when he had bought the building fresh out of the service thirty years back. Who wanted to deal with tenants, he had said then. But times changed, and so he had sold his house, moved himself into one of the apartments, and then sold the bank on remortgaging the whole building as well as renovating the other five apartments. The bank had come up with a loan that took all of that into account and added a second income source from the apartments that could pay the monthly mortgage and put a good chunk of change into his pocket too.
He had signed on the x, taken their money, renovated the building, moved in the tenants and then taken a hard look at the Rusty Nail. He had decided to completely gut the bar and do it over. He had dumped far too much into the renovations though, including being closed for nearly a full month, and then opened it to find that the economy had taken an even deeper nose dive during those nearly thirty days. The third month into the new mortgage and he had found that he was maybe in a bad spot already.
Joel remembered now that he had sat right at the end of the bar when Mort had talked it over with some others, Moon Calloway, Johnny Barnes, Jim Tibbets, Joel had been welcome to include his two cents which he had declined to do.
“Well, what you do is put the word out to those cab drivers. Believe me, I’ve seen it. They will have them soldiers down here in no time, even if you are off the beaten path,” Jim had said. Jim was a school bus driver for the north side district and less than a year away from a fatal car accident on the interstate. Jeff Brown, who had been a local football star, was doing ten years up at Clinton Correctional for hitting Jim’s car head on drunk and killing him. But that night Jim had still been alive and had wanted to be a part of the New Rusty Nail that Mort had in mind. Something a little more modern. Modern bought the soldiers, but more importantly it also bought women.
“I’m not paying a cab driver to bring me G.I.’s,” Mort had said. “And I know your game. You’re just hoping to get laid out of it.”
They had all laughed at that, except Jim who had turned red. But after a few seconds he had laughed too, and the conversation had plodded forward the way bar conversations do.
“Well, you ain’t got to pay them exactly, give them a couple beers,” Moon threw in.
“Jesus Christ,” Mort exclaimed. “That’s why you boys ain’t in business. You think the beer is free.”
“I know it ain’t free, Mort,” Jim said. “But it don’t cost you that much. You get it wholesale.”
“Wholesale? I drive right out to that wholesale club and buy it by the case most of the time just like everybody else. Cheaper than them beer guys, except draft, of course. That ain’t free. You got to pay the yearly club fee. You got to pay them taxes to the feds. You got a lot you got to pay for. Some fuck crushes your can you’re fucked for that nickle. Jesus… wholesale my ass. It ain’t no bargain.”
“Yeah? … Let’s see,” Moon starting writing in the air with his finger. You get it for let’s say six bucks a case, I know that cause that’s what I pay out there too. So six bucks divided by 24 is,” he drew in the air for a few moments, erased it, and then started over. “How the fuck do you do that, Joey… The six goes into the twenty-four? Or times the twenty-four?” Moon asked.
“Uh, it’s a quarter a can,” I had supplied.
The argument had raged on from there. Once Moon found out he was paying a buck fifty for a can of beer that only cost a quarter he was pissed off.
In the end Mort had talked to a couple of cab drivers. Free draft beer one night a week if they bought soldiers by all week long and told as many others as possible about the place. Within two weeks Joel hadn’t recognized the place when he had come by after shift to have a couple of beers. The soldiers drank a lot of beer, the bank mortgage got paid, and life was fine. Except for the fights, Joel thought, but you can’t load young guys up on alcohol and not expect trouble. Especially when those young men were just waiting on the word to go and maybe die in another battle that remained undeclared as a war. High stress levels meant heavy duty unloading. The M.P.’s got to know the place as well as the soldiers did.
“Joel, you ready?” Mort asked now.
Joel smiled. “I was thinking back…” He had to shout to be heard. Tomorrow his voice would be hoarse. “This place was empty! … Yeah… One more then I gotta go,” Joel agreed.
Mort leaned closer. “Gov’ment tit. I know it, but screw it. It’s all the Gov’ment tit. Road and Bridge projects. Job centers. One way or the other it comes out the same. Even them subsidies so the paper mills can still run. It’s all the Gov’ment tit, ain’t it, Joel?”
“Its is,” Joel shouted. He nodded. It was. This town would have dried up years ago without it. Mort left and then came back a few moments later with a fresh beer.
“Vacation?” Mort yelled.
Joel nodded. “Two weeks of silence,” He shook his head at the irony and Mort’s laughing agreement was drowned out by the noise.
“If I don’t see you, have a good one,” Mort said leaning close.
Joel nodded. “I will.” He raised his glass and then tossed off half of it. A few moments later he was outside on the relatively quiet sidewalk punching numbers into his phone, calling for a cab. The night was cold, but the cold sobered him up. It seemed nearly capable of washing away the smoke and noise from inside the bar. He stood in the shadows beside the door waiting for the phone to ring on the other end. The door bumped open and Johnny Barnes stepped out.
“You ain’t calling for a cab, are you?” Johnny asked when he spotted him.
Joel laughed and ended the still ringing call. “Not if I can get a free ride from you.” Joel told him.
“Yeah, you were always a cheap prick,” Johnny agreed. “Hey, I heard you’re heading into the southern tier tomorrow?”
“Two weeks,” Joel agreed as he levered the door handle on Johnny’s truck and climbed inside. His breath came in clouds of steam. “Get some heat in here, Johnny.”
“Coming,” Johnny agreed. “Man, I wish I was you.”
“Me too,” Joel agreed.
Johnny laughed. “Asshole, but seriously, man. Have a good time. You gonna hunt?”
“Nothing in season… Maybe snare some rabbits. Not gonna be a lot this time of year.” Joel said.
“Maybe deer,” Johnny offered. He dropped the truck in drive just as the heat began to come from the vents.
“Probably, but they’ll be out of season. Rabbit, and I got freeze dried stuff. Trucks packed, which is why I didn’t drive it down here.”
The truck drove slowly through the darkening streets as the street lights began to pop on around the small city: The two men laughing and exchanging small talk.
Pearl (Pearly) Bloodworth
The streets were clogged with snow, but the sidewalks were impassable, so she had no choice but to walk in the street.
She made her way carefully, slipping and sliding as she went. It was just before 6:30 P.M. and she might make it to work on time if she could make the next two blocks without incident.
She had been working at the downtown mission for the last several months: The night shift for the last two months. The mission night shift was an easy shift. Everything was closed down. Those who had made the curfew were locked in for the night. Occasionally there would be a little trouble between residents, but that was rare. Watertown was small, as a consequence the homeless population was small. And trouble, when it came, was usually settled long before her shift. Her shift amounted to catching up on paperwork, dispensing an aspirin or two, and being there if there was an emergency of any kind. At 4:00 A.M. The kitchen staff would be there to start their day. Shortly after that the rest of the day-shift would be in. At 6:00 A.M. The mission doors would open and the homeless would take to the streets. She would have an hour of quiet at the end of her shift, sitting and listening to the bustle from the kitchen as they cleaned up after breakfast and began to prepare for lunch.
She heard the approaching vehicle as she was stepping around a mound of melting snow and ice. It was late and there had been no traffic on this side street when she had stepped into the street at the cross walk three blocks down. The alternative was the foot deep snow and ice thrown onto the sidewalk from the plows. She would never get through that and make it to the mission on time.
The Mission was on upper Franklin street, a short walk in a straight line, or even if you had to walk around the square and start up, as she usually did, but tonight the square was packed with traffic and so she had chosen the shortcut instead. Unfortunately it was not well lit: A four block wasteland of parking lots and alleyways.
She had almost turned completely around to make sure the car had seen her when the horn blared and startled her. A second later she finished the turn, hand clasped to her throat, and watched as the car skidded to a stop and three men piled out of the back seat slipping and sliding in the slush, laughing.
“What’s up, bitch,” one asked as he found his feet and stood staring her down. The laughter died away.
“Nice ass,” another said as he moved toward her.
She turned to the second man, the one who had just spoken, as she shrugged her purse from her shoulder, caught the bottom of it in one hand, and slipped her other hand inside. The third man, really just a boy, looked frightened as his eyes slipped from his two companions and then flitted to her. The driver leaned out the window,
“What the fuck! Get the bitch!” He was looking over the roof-line, sitting on the windowsill of the driver’s door, a smirk on his too-white face.
“Yeah… How about a ride, baby,” the nearest one said. The other had finally found his feet, stopped slipping, and was skidding his feet across the slush heading in her direction. She pulled her hand from her pocket and aimed the mace canister at them. They both skidded to a stop.
The closer one, the one that had made the remark about her ass, cocked his head sideways, shrugged his shoulders and then pulled a gun from his waist band. “Yeah… Kind of changes the whole situation, don’t it?” He asked.
“Roux! Don’t shoot the bitch. She’s no good to us dead!” This from the man-boy leaning out the window of the car.
The boy, Roux, turned to the driver and nodded. He looked back at Pearl. His gun was aimed at the ground, close to her feet. She had only a split second to decide. He was less than five feet away, the gun rising from the ground, when she pushed the trigger and watched the stream leap at him. His face went from a sarcastic smirk to alarm just before the stream of mace hit his nose and splattered across his face and into his eyes. A second later he was screaming. She had just turned to aim at the second guy when the world turned upside down.
She found herself tumbling sideways. Somewhere, close by, a roar began and rose in pitch as the ground below her feet began to jump and shake. She found her knees after she fell and skidded across the roadway as she tried to hold herself, but the shaking was just too hard. She collapsed back to the roadway and the relative softness of the slush and snow, her body jumping and shaking as she seemed almost to bounce across the short expanse and into the snowbank on the opposite side of the road.
The roar went on for what seemed like minutes as she tried to catch her breath and steady herself at the same time. Both seemed impossible to do, but almost as soon as she had the thought the trembling of the earth became less and a split second after that the roaring stopped. There was no silence. The sound of breaking glass, tumbling brick, blaring horns and screams in the dark night replaced the roar. Sounds that had probably been there, she decided, she had just been unable to hear them.
Pearl made her feet and stared back down the street where the car had been. The car was still there, the nose tilted upward, the back seemingly buried in the street itself. She blinked, but nothing changed. She noted the broken asphalt and churned up dirt, and realized the car had broken through the street. There was no sign of the men, including the driver that had been hanging halfway out of the window.
She drew a breath, another, and suddenly the noise and smells of the world rushed back in completely. The screams became louder. Horns blared. The ground trembled under her feet as if restless. She could smell sewage on the air. Broken lines below the pavement her mind reasoned. She swayed on her feet as the earth trembled once more, lurching as it did. She waited, but the tremble was not repeated. She sucked in another deep breath and then began to walk, slipping on the broken pavement and slush as she did.
Franklin street appeared untouched as she lurched from the side street, slipping over the broken pavement, and retching from the overpowering smell of sewer gas. She collapsed to the icy pavement, skidding on her knees and was surprise to hear herself crying as she struggled to get back on her feet.
She nearly made it to her feet before the next tremor hit, this one much harder than the last one. She bounced sideways, knees slamming into the ground, crying out as they did, but unaware of her own cries. Just as the trembling stopped she made her feet again and stood, hand clasped to her knees to steady herself, breathing hard, holding herself rigidly, wondering what was coming next. When the shaking stopped and silence flooded in she was shocked.
She finally opened her eyes, she had no idea when she had closed them, straightened from the bent posture she had found herself in, quieted her sobbing and looked around.
Forty feet away, the gray stone of the mission that had rose just past the sidewalk was no more: Churned earth had replaced it. The sidewalk was still intact, as though some weird sort of urban renewal had occurred in a matter of seconds. Her eyes swept the street and now they took in the sections where the sidewalk was missing. The entire side of the street was gone for blocks. What was in evidence was an old house several hundred feet away, perched on the edge of a ravine. Beyond that, houses and streets continued. She was on the opposite side of complete destruction, and there appeared no way to reach that side.
She turned and looked back at the side street she had come from. Churned earth, tilted pavement, the car was now gone. Farther down the short hillside that had appeared the public square seemed completely destroyed. Water had formed in the middle of the square and ran away to the north, probably toward the Black river, Pearl thought. To the west everything appeared to be intact, to the east, Franklin street stretched away untouched toward the park in the distance. Close by someone began to scream, calling for help. She took a few more calming breaths and then began to walk toward the screams: The west, angling toward the opposite end of the square.
The screams cut off all at once, and a second after that the sound of a motor straining came to her. Cycling up and then dropping. She paused in the middle of the road, listening, wondering where the sound came from. As she stood something ran into her eye, stinging, clouding her vision, she reached one hand up and swiped at it and the back of her hand came back stained with a smear of blood.
She stared at it for a second. The ground seemed to lurch, shift suddenly, and she reached her hands to her knees to brace herself once more, expecting the shaking to start again, but her hands slipped past her knees and she found herself falling, her legs buckling under her. The ground seemed to rise to meet her and she found herself staring down the length of the roadway, her face flush with the asphalt. The coldness of the ice and slush felt good against her skin: As if she were overheated; ice wrapped inside of a dishrag at the base of her neck on a hot day. She blinked, blinked again, and then her world went dark.
She floated, or seemed to, thinking of London. A hot day. She was a child again: Standing in the second floor window and looking down at the street far below. The dishrag dripped, but it felt so good against her skin. The memory seemed to float away. She was rushing headlong through a never ending stream of memories. All suddenly real again. Urgent, flying by so fast, but sharp in every detail.
Pearl had grown up on a council estate in London: When her mother had died she had come to the United States only to find herself in the Maywood projects on the north side of Watertown. From one pit to another. Just different names, she liked to tell herself. Up until a few weeks ago she had still made the trip back and forth every day, but she had found a place, a small walk-up, not far from the mission on the other side of the public square. It seemed extravagant to have her own space, but living in the downtown area suited her.
She seemed to be in both places at once. Back in her childhood, staring at the street below the window, yet hovering over her body, looking down at herself where she lay sprawled on the winter street. She wondered briefly which was real, but nearly as soon as she had the thought she found herself struggling to rise to her knees from the cold roadway, her eyes slitted, head throbbing.
In front of her a shadowed figure had appeared staggering through the ice and snow, angling toward her. She blinked, blinked again and her eyes found their focus. The man from the car, suddenly back from wherever he had been. One hand clutched his side where a bright red flood of blood seeped sluggishly over his clasping fingers. Her eyes swept down to his other hand which was rising to meet her. A gun was clasped there. Probably, her mind told her, the same gun he had been going to shoot her with before. The gun swept upward as if by magic. She blinked, and realized then that the sound of the motor straining was louder. Closer. Almost roaring in its intensity. The gun was rising, but her eyes swiveled away and watched as a truck from the nearby base skidded to a stop blocking the road from side to side no more than ten feet from her. She blinked, and the doors were opening, men yelling, rushing toward her.
Bright light flashed before her eyes, and a deafening roar accompanied it. An explosion, loud, everything in the world. A second explosion came, then a third, and she realized the explosions were gunshots. She felt herself falling even as she made the discovery. The pavement once again rising to meet her. Her eyes closed, she never felt the ground as she collapsed onto it, falling back into the dark.
She was back standing in the window, looking out over the street. The heat was oppressive, but the ice wrapped in the rag was mothers’ wonderful cure. She tried to raise it to her neck once more, to feel the coldness of it, but her arm would not come. She tried harder and the window suddenly slipped away. A man was bent toward her face. A helmet strap buckled under his chin. Her hands were somehow held at her side. The motor screamed loudly as this world once more leapt into her head. She was on the floor of the truck, vibrations pulsing through her body as the truck sped along… In the back of the truck, her mind corrected as her eyes focused momentarily. Other men squatted nearby, including one who was partially over her holding her arms as the other man was tapping the bubbles from a syringe with one gloved finger. The mans face angled down toward her own and he aimed something in a silver canister into her face from his other hand. The hand opened and the canister fell to the ground.
“Itzawight,” his voice said in a far away drone. “Awightzzz.” She felt the prick of the needle, the light dimmed, his voice spat static: The light dimmed a little further, and then she found herself falling back into the darkness.
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