Aberration (Eulogy Book II)

Hello Readers,

This is the start of the second book in my Eulogy series. I plan to do only three but it may end up being only two. We will see how far my characters are willing to go. I had always intended three but to be honest it is more up to Alex than me. If you read Eulogy then you know Alex has been on a journey of pain, love, loss, and is battling to keep his sanity in check. In Aberration (a working title) He releases the mad man inside. He nurtures his rage and anger and sets out on a path of wanton destruction with only one thing on his mind. Killing. All critiques, thoughts, heckles, and the like are welcome. Thanks for reading -JM

Aberration

1

He woke covered in blood, some old and some fresh from the previous night’s hunt. He had an acidic taste on his swollen tongue. His fingers were numb from the sub-freezing temperatures. Undaunted by the cold the fire still raged in his cracked psyche. He crawled from the wreckage of a half destroyed camper he had made his bed the previous night. He could smell the bodies of the innocent travelers who had been mercilessly killed only a few days before. He had grown accustomed to this smell. Even frozen, the dead still had a noticeable stench. This odor no longer sickened him.

He yawned and stretched surveying the destruction around him.  It was the third group he had discovered since he began hunting them just before winter set in. He had caught a few he believed to be scouts or messengers but they were useless to him. They couldn’t speak English so he had dispatched them with little courtesy and no regrets.

He was a killer. He could do it with no remorse and sleep like a baby the very same night. The days without kills were the ones he found it most difficult to sleep and most of his days were like this. He began carving his kills into the flesh of his left forearm and was pleased to see that it was filling in quite rapidly. There had been fifteen in the first group nine in the second and to his pleasure twenty-three in this last group.

These were trained soldiers he was killing. He sometimes hoped he would die when he went after them then anger would chase away his weakness and he would openly admonish himself. “They all must die, you swore it!” After this thought he would trek on confident in knowing his was a just mission and he would see it through.  He often found himself chuckling at the idea that he, a simple country boy was capable of taking out an entire platoon of trained and heavily armed fighters.

He was aware that he had several key advantages. His first and greatest advantage was the element of surprise. He could see the shock and awe on the faces of these sun hardened men. The look of disbelief that they the holy ones could be thwarted by a single infidel. He gloated and silently cheered himself as he crept across the countryside.

The second advantage he had was that these men had limited communications abilities and were forced to use shortwave radios. He could not understand their language but he learned to track the convoys based on the terrain and signal strength. He tracked one group of these terrorist for two weeks before he caught up.

The third and most important advantage Alex had was the cold. No amount of training could prepare you for a night of negative fifteen degree weather.  He had grown accustomed to it and thrived in it. He traveled lightly and could cover as much ground on foot as his quarry. Despite being well supplied and in large off road vehicles they had no chance of out pacing the ruthless predator that stalked them.

Alex traveled at night to keep his body temperature up. He could easily track the lumbering machines. The moon illuminated the snow so much it was as if the ground were glowing. He would sleep only when his body found it necessary. He was in the best physical condition of his life. He hadn’t eaten or drank anything unhealthy in months and the endless hike was turning what remaining fat stores he had from his lazy days on the couch. “Waiting to die,” into pure muscle.

He had never been characterized as small by any means. It had been his meek personality which made him seem smaller somehow. This was a new world and no one would ever think of this burgeoning titan as meek again. When he stopped to eat he obeyed all the rules he and his former traveling companions had put into effect. He sterilized everything before handling. The only difference now was his diet which consisted of mostly protein shakes, vitamins, and occasionally canned soups when he stumbled upon them.

When his mission began he was not in bad shape at 6’3 270 lbs. After months of hard traveling the former was a complete contrast to the chiseled 225 lbs. he now carried. He did not seem to realize the changes in his appearance. He rarely saw himself, lately the mirrors in the stalled cars he passed were caked with layer upon layer of ice and snow.

He did notice a change in his strength. His mind wandered as he trudged through the waist deep snow. “You almost got me didn’t you?” He asked aloud to the driving snow. He was unsure as to where he was, he sometimes just walked when he wasn’t stalking prey and he had new information to digest.

He remembered the night before. He crept up on the encampment during a complete white out. He almost felt sorry for the men he was about to kill. He had been watching them for days just staying out of sight. Being alone he could hide just about anywhere and not be noticed. Any tracks he left were quickly swallowed by the blowing winds and snow which he had been traversing for what seemed like an eternity.

He had been waiting for a night like tonight. The poor desert dwellers were trying in vain to stay warm. He chuckled as they tried to light a fire repeatedly but the frozen wood and wind had made it nearly impossible. He watched as they formed a circle with their vehicles trying to block the wind and snow. With this and a gallon or two of diesel fuel they were successful.  This was the last thing Alex had been waiting for.

Alex knew that seeing him dressed all in white in a blizzard with fire blind eyes would be near impossible. He was now virtually invisible. Alex treated these usurpers as vermin, nothing more than an infestation that needed eradicating. He treated them just as he and his kind had been treated. He had no mercy and went about his work as anyone would who enjoyed their business.

Alex carried few weapons these days, he found at the first Army reserve station he came to that it had been emptied of weapons. It was soon after he tracked down the first smaller platoon and discovered they were the weapons thieves. He got lucky and quite by accident discovered the offices of a blasting company. He used the munitions he found to dispose of the first group of interlopers. Periodically as he travelled he would find a phone book and seek companies such as these and help himself to their blasting supplies.

He smiled as he remembered crawling in a wide arc around the trucks creeping up every so often to carefully place more charges. The fools weren’t even posting a guard. Well why would they? He thought. They couldn’t know I would be out here. His grin widened as he remembered sending the charge through the wires.

The roar of the detonation was deafening. The blast created a reverse snow globe effect. There was a huge ball of fire and flying debris. He wished he would have had the foresight to have brought a camera. The devastation in that moment was a thing of beauty. The illusion was short-lived and quickly dispelled as the debris began raining down around him along with miscellaneous charred limbs. He ducked behind a large oak hoping he would not fall victim to his own handy work.

He stood cautiously with pistol in hand and surveyed the damages. Everything was destroyed. All eight of the charges intended for leveling old buildings had blown. He was getting better with this type of work. On the first two attacks not all had detonated.

It was then he saw movement just to the left of the biggest crater. He had missed one. He was on him in a flash before the stunned man could react. He appeared shaken but not seriously injured. When Alex pinned the much smaller man to the icy ground he began to yell in his native tongue. Alex pressed the muzzle of his 9mm into the soft exposed flesh of the man’s throat. There was already a round chambered as Alex had grown accustomed to doing. He was always prepared.

The man’s yells ceased and he closed his eyes seemingly preparing for death.

“English?” Asked Alex expecting to receive no reply or possibly more of the incoherent language his victims spoke.

Very clearly but terribly shaken, the man answered, “Yes, I speak it well.”

Alex was stunned. He had spoken to no other English speaking person since the day he buried his wife. This thought caused a lump in his throat and he quickly forced the memory away. Without warning he hit the man hard in the head with the grip of his gun rendering him unconscious.  He then tied the man to a tree and waited for him to wake.

Alex was deep in thought when he was drug from his reverie “please, I mean you no harm. I am a scholar. I was a doctor before all this. I had no choice. I had to work with these zealots to ensure the safety of my family.” The man’s plea angered Alex. Had this man traded Alex’s friends and family for his own? Yes, Alex thought. He had.

“Where were you going? What was your mission?” Alex was stern and the man knew this was his last day on earth. This man had struck without warning in the harshest weather he had ever known against twenty three heavily armed men alone. Yes he would soon be dead and he would tell this man whatever he wanted to know.

“I will tell you what you need to know. What was done by our leaders was unconscionable. I know I will die here today and you are right in doing so. If by chance you release me and I survive and rejoin my superiors I will, however unwillingly, be working against you again. I sir am, as I said a man of science. I hold a doctorate in Mechanical Engineering from MIT. I will die with dignity. I will for my part do what is right. In an attempt to save myself and my family I have gone against all that I know is right and true.” He was silent.

Alex felt the man’s confession was honest but was still wary just the same. He spoke only one word. “Continue.”

“You know the plague had not been expected to spread so far or so fast. Our people were decimated just like everyone else. It came quickly but what was not known to anyone was that our leaders had known. Only the highest up knew what would happen. It was on a need to know basis. They called it the second flood. They were willing to sacrifice our own people in order to rid the world of the non-believers. In the story of the flood, God saved Noah and his family to start over. This is not a bible story sir; they saved only people with skills, allegiances, and money.

They began moving scientists like me, soldiers, various tradesmen, and others with useful skills to isolated encampments which were under quarantine. They used extreme caution and began the quarantines weeks before the virus was to be released. The story that was given about these quarantines was fictitious but who is going to question such a thing?

When the news reports began to trickle in, it was obvious as to what was going on. We had been spared when the rest of the world had been left to rot. There was a great deal of dissension amongst us and there were a few executions of the loudest of the naysayers. This quickly quelled any further argument. We were frightened. We all had family and friends who were left behind.  Darkness fell over our camp.

They waited until the reports stopped and they pooled our resources. They began trucking us slowly cross country carefully avoiding all populated areas and preparing us for our journey here. Our families are to be sent to us after we have settled and secured several strategic areas. These men you killed were escorting me to various power plants and strategic sites and my job is to disable them and to gain as much Intel as possible on other possible targets.

There are at least 100 different groups here now ranging in size from five to fifty men strong. They are all on different missions of this sort. We came by ships and were ferried on land by helicopter. Our ultimate mission is to colonize and…” He paused for the first time since he’d began speaking, knowing his next words would probably enrage this silent blue eyed giant whose gaze had not yet faltered from his face as he spoke. He gained his composure and finished despite the weight of his words, “and to exterminate any and all remaining indigenous peoples.”

Alex’s expression did not change with this revelation. Alex had already guessed this from the bodies he had found and from the carnage he had discovered in his own home months earlier. Yes they were here and they intended to stay.

The man waited for Alex to reply wondering how painful his death would be. He deserved it after all. His people, the ones he swore allegiance to had killed nearly the entire population of the world. They all deserved a tortuous death. He silently prayed.

“Where are the others?” He was angry, but he was always angry. This man’s story had made him no more or less so. It was an even burn Alex felt, nothing seemed to fade it. He was consumed with his obsession. He just wanted to know in which direction his next victims awaited.

He had expected this question and answered with no hesitation. “I know there is another group twenty miles north of here. Their mission is not known to me. We passed briefly a few weeks ago and we camped together for a night. As far as the others, all I can say is that we are here to take control of the power and most important resources or to destroy what we can’t control. We are seeking power plants, gas companies, water treatment facilities, and things of that nature. It is going to be a long effort. We are the advance groups. There will be others, many others. The ships have returned and are readying the next shipments.

Nearly half a million useful and trained people are coming. You may be in the right my friend, but you are terribly outnumbered.” As he finished Alex searched his face for a hint of satisfaction in this last damning statement but there was none. All that the man’s face held was remorse and guilt. Alex almost felt sorry for him, almost.

Alex turned and dug into his duffle bag. The man knew his time was short so he prayed. Alex could hear him under his breath and gave him ample time to finish. Alex mused momentarily that he would probably enjoy talking to this man under any other circumstances. He was educated and spoke with a refined air. Even tied to a tree he managed to hold himself together with a dignified presence.

Alex turned slowly and the man held his breath expecting to be torn to shreds in a hail of gunfire but it was not what greeted him. Alex had a small crystal decanter the man could see he had wrapped with care. He held two crystal snifters into each he poured two stiff Brandies. It was aged and very expensive. Alex kept it stocked to knock the chill out on the worst nights. Alex drank his quickly and despite his faith’s intolerance for alcohol the man did not object when the second snifter was put to his lips. He drank as quickly as Alex poured it into his mouth. His last thought was how warm and delicious this drink was.

Alex had laced the man’s glass with cyanide. “Thank you.” Alex said to the slumped corpse which had been so informative only moments earlier. He rose, dropped the glasses to the ground, he then took a long pull from the decanter. He returned the 400 dollar piece of fine crystal to its wrappings and safely tucked it away. Alex hoisted his pack and headed north.

Surviving Cleveland

(I began this several years ago, it is my story, well at least the part I’m willing to tell.)

Surviving Cleveland

 

Many times I have heard people say everything happens for a reason. I have heard others call in Karma as the great mediator of life’s events. These things I do not truly grasp or hold much confidence in any longer.

I am no one you have ever heard of nor am I some well-educated scholar with a new philosophy that will change your life. I’m just a guy who’s been beat up a bit by the occurrences in my life. I think I am writing this more or less for my sanity. Writing has always been a way for me to create physical renderings of my inner demons. I forget the bad to a point where it’s like all the “bad” that happened didn’t exist. I guess this can be a good survival tool but from what I know of psychology repressing bad experiences is not a healthy means of coping.

Then: I was one of those people who never stopped talking. I loved to learn and would become fascinated by the oddest things. I enjoyed it and happily referred to my behavior as “nerding out.” Susie used to pick on me for it but she seemed to enjoy my ravenous ranting on whatever new topic I was all wrapped up in. She always made me feel so right and so loved. I will talk far more about my Susie later I am getting ahead of myself. I wasn’t always but I had evolved into a hyper-motivated person. Just about everything I did was for the betterment of mine and Susie’s life.

Now: I am withdrawn and I find myself putting forth an effort to have even the simplest conversations with people. I feel rude for this because I sometimes find it hard to keep up with what’s being talked about. All the many things I used to get so wrapped up in annoy me now. I feel anger because I think of all the time wasted learning and doing my “nerding out” activities when I could have been spending more time with the people I love. I am now anti-motivated. I have gone a very long time when just getting out of bed is more than I can bare. Some days I feel that stubbornness is the only thing that allows me to do anything.

“I don’t understand how you haven’t killed yourself,” this was recently asked of me by someone who loves me. She was referring to the events of the past few years and I didn’t know how to answer. At the time I still had hope. I suppose that’s why. I still had love in my heart and somewhere deep inside a desire to do more or better depending on what day you asked me.

In conclusion, I am writing this because I never want to forget a single wonderful, horrid, beautiful, or heart breaking minute of it. I will leave this intro at this. I have only ever loved two women in my life and if you choose to continue I will tell you about them.

[This I began long ago but I would become so mired in despair as I began to delve into the recesses of my mind I’d ultimately ramble on for five pages then delete the results. This is something I repeated numerous times. I have sent no less than fifty pages of my lyrical meanderings to that great recycle bin in the sky. So now it’s years later and that last sentence above needs a slight rewrite. “I have only ever loved three women in my life and if you choose to continue I will tell you about them.]

Part I My Susie

 

I have a past just as you do. It’s nothing spectacular and I can’t say I accomplished anything grander than getting off parole early back in 1999 because I was a model parolee. If you must know I went to prison for crimes I committed in 1991 at the ripe old age of sixteen. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I actually became incarcerated for these crimes. [That in itself is a story which could fill its own book.] Not to downplay the severity of my actions but that was twenty two years ago and I’m not even ashamed of it any longer. It was a stupid drunken teenage rampage and nothing more. I didn’t hurt anyone I just hurt people’s things.

I have battled with depression in its many noted manifestations since I was fifteen years old. At first they said it was “depression.” By age twenty I was labeled with “chronic depression.” It was in my mid-twenties that I was upgraded to “manic depression, bi-polar II” with a laundry list of symptoms. It was around this time that I came to live alone in this little house in the middle of nowhere. It was one of the most peaceful times of my life. I worked only two days a week twelve hours each day on Saturday and Sunday.

I sometimes went weeks without seeing people save for the days I worked and I loved it. I would write when I wanted, I would fish, sleep, work in the yard, or just clean the house. I was so relaxed during this time. Things had been coming to a head for so long that I needed that long break. It was wonderful. I actually kept a normal schedule at this point in my life. I was up early I slept at a normal hour. I found the solitude to be very therapeutic. I got a great deal accomplished during the course of a day. I didn’t have any issues with depression or anything of the sort until many years later.

After a time I ended up moving and changing jobs. I decided it was time to get back into living life and I had a plan. I got a great job working for a friend of mine and actually moved out to his place for convenience. We were replacing carpet and vinyl floors in motels up and down the east coast and Midwest. It was well paying and I was planning to move to another state once I had enough money saved up which wasn’t going to take long and then it happened.

It was April 7th 2006 we had been working for weeks in and around Cleveland Ohio and we were exhausted. The weather had been horrible the entire trip and we needed to relax. So we went out one night after we had finished for the day and that’s when it happened. That’s when all my plans got smashed. That’s when I met her, my sweet, shy, quiet, beautiful, Susie.

I was nearly asleep on my feet sipping a jack and coke when my buddy tapped me on the shoulder as I turned I heard him say “this is Jeff.” I looked down into her eyes and at that moment I knew this was the woman I was going to spend forever with. I never believed in love at first sight or any of that but I’ve learned as I’ve grown older you don’t have to believe in something for it to be true.

We spent every moment we could together. I was moving from location to location as my job demanded and each day when I was finished I would call and she would be there to pick me up. Each morning she would drop me off at 7am before I had to work again. It finally happened our work took us to Toledo and it just so happened to be on a Friday and she drove all the way there so we could spend the night together. We were so very happy. I had never experienced anything like it. I was 100% in love with this woman and she was in love with me. I didn’t get to see here for a week or so after that. Not until the next trip. It just so happened we were driving through Cleveland and my buddies new I wanted to see her so they dropped me off and let me skip the Michigan leg of our trip. I was so happy. I loved those guys for that, and so did she.

It was her birthday and I got to be there with her. She drove me to North Carolina shortly after and I got my things and came back with her. It had only been weeks but I felt like I had known her my whole life. She made me feel so good about myself. She was what I had been missing my entire life but I didn’t realize it until I found her.

I won’t say our relationship was perfect it wasn’t at first. We had some rough times. I am a little hard to handle. She had been through a horrible relationship and had a hard time trusting. She later told my mother that she felt guilty because it took her two years before she fully trusted me.

[So I say to you dear reader, be wary of how you treat people

because if you hurt someone enough you can

 negatively impact every relationship they will ever have.]

 

In contrast I dole out trust like I’m trying to get rid of it and that has caused me nothing but pain and heartache. She was the exception. In all of our time together she never once hurt me. We had nearly five years together and I think we averaged about one argument a year. Once we had been together a few years then yes I can say we had the perfect relationship. I looked forward to coming home to her and I missed her when she wasn’t there. It was true happiness.

With her by my side I started college working on two separate Networking degrees and at this I excelled. With few exceptions, I had excellent grades. I’m not much for algebra I am afraid to say. I made the Dean’s List and I saw her watching me as the Dean handed me the award. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. I would have never made it that far without her by my side. She was truly a magnificent woman. She was a giving soul without equal. My God I loved that girl so much.

We always had the neatest looking house. Halloween decorations were up year round and our eclectic taste of décor. I always felt so at home. Whenever we moved the first thing I did was hang her wooden spider in its web in some visible corner of the new living room. This always made her smile. I would say we’re home now and plop down somewhere only to be run back out to the moving truck to unload the rest of our things.

It was October of 2009 when the headaches started. Susie had three appointments with her doctor and each time was prescribed an anti-biotic which did nothing to ease the pain. Finally she was referred to an ENT and was quickly diagnosed with a polyp with no real testing just a brief exam lasting maybe two minutes.

The polyp removal surgery was done the following week I took her home. She was in a tremendous amount of pain. She called the doctor’s office who assured her this was perfectly normal but I knew better. She was not one to complain of pain even when she was hurt. I was getting more and more worried.

The Sunday morning following the surgery she yelled for me when she woke up. She was in tears and said my eye is messed up. We spent three days in the hospital affiliated with the doctor who performed the polyp removal surgery but were finally told by a nurse that we should go to the Cleveland Clinic because they didn’t know what to do and no matter how much of the pain medication they gave her they couldn’t ease her suffering.

A few days later the head of the ENT department at the Cleveland Clinic Dr. Knott, performed surgery on my fiancée. He and the other doctors saved her life. The problem was she never had a polyp. She had cancer and the “polyp removal surgery” punctured a hole in the rear of her nasal cavity and caused the protective fluid around the brain to start leaking out. That’s why she was in so much pain.

Susie was far tougher than I’ll ever be I can assure you of that. She endured weeks upon weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. The type of cancer she had was Rhabdomyosarcoma. This is a rare childhood cancer and she was the first adult ever to set foot in the Taussig Cancer Institute at the Cleveland Clinic with it. That’s saying something considering it is the number one rated cancer center in North America.

I have written about her struggle and honestly I don’t want to delve too far into that subject here. I don’t want to talk about how she died. I want to talk about how she lived. The disease changed our lives and her passing forever changed me. So yes I must mention the affliction which ultimately took her away.

We were very busy creatures her and I. She worked for a large bank’s processing center there in Cleveland. She for the most part liked her job. She had been there for several years before her and I met. She had two cats, Punkin and Gobby, of which I am highly allergic and a dog named Roxy whom thought she was a cat. The cats spent so much time trying to cuddle with Roxy that I was allergic to her as well.

We tried every remedy and every allergy pill on the market and finally I went and saw an allergist. The shots were the answer and I was all for it. She decided to take the cats to her mother’s instead. That’s how much she loved me.

In the beginning I was having trouble finding a decent job so I started working at a local convenience store third shift. The hours were horrible and we were apart a great deal. We decided we were going to move to Maryland where I got an awesome job and went ahead as the advanced party. She was driving down on the weekends interviewing on Mondays using up her vacation days. The separation was rough but by some twist of fate I injured myself pretty significantly about three days before I began my new job.

I was told to stay off my foot for months. I couldn’t because we were trying to get relocated and part of that required two incomes. I worked injured as I was for over three months and by the time I threw in the towel, [Susie told me to come home so she could take care of me] my right foot had changed to many colors and had swollen to an unnatural size. It was green and purple and yellow and some colors I can’t begin to identify. I walked with a limp for over two years. Even now all these years later when I am tired or have been on my feet too long the limp creeps back into being as if it never left.

About a year and a half after returning to Ohio I enrolled at Cuyahoga Community College. In the beginning I had two jobs. I worked as a custodian at the Berea Children’s Home and I was a bouncer at a local bar with a bad reputation. It was a busy existence but I did truly enjoy our life together. After three or four months I let the bouncing job go. It was taking up far too much of our weekend.  My weekdays began at 6:30am and didn’t end until 4:00am. I was going for two Networking degrees as well as a minor in Literature. We only had one good solid “us” day a week but we made it work.

[I shall break for now but I will return to add more in due time. I take the writing of this slow because it tears at my heart strings far beyond anything else I have ever written. Thank you for your patience dear reader. This is the literary equivalent of me moving my own personal mountain of doubt and remorse. That mountain is all my fears come to pass, my nightmares realized, and every imaginable “WTF!” one can imagine…]

           

“Momma, What’s This Word Mean?”

(I wrote this in my first English class at Tri-C. The prompt was to write about a defining moment in our lives and I could think of none better.  🙂 – JM)

“Momma, What’s This Word Mean?”

Being told I had to repeat the first grade was the catalyst for a great defining moment in my life. It all started at the end of first grade during a parent teacher conference. The faculty had decided to place me in second grade; this confused my mother a great deal. She has told me since, that she always thought I was a bright child but had resigned to the fact I was slated to repeat the first grade. I couldn’t read a word, and my mother would not accept that that was “perfectly normal” for some kids my age.

Learning to read probably doesn’t sound like much of a defining moment and generally events happen suddenly, but I can think of no single event that has made such an impact on my life. I was young when this happened and was worried that I was now a year behind my friends, and me, in my infinite six-year old wisdom decided I must have been a dummy. I heard someone say, “no one fails the first grade.” That hurt me a great deal because I didn’t want to be different.

I’m not sure if it was that week, or the week following, but it was soon after this conference in which my mother demanded I repeat the first grade that my great change occurred. An unlikely thing to be appreciative for some may think, but I couldn’t be happier. My mother had always spent time with me, but like most parents she was under harsh time constraints; trying to raise my brother, my step brother and myself. I am not sure how she did it all. She’d get home at 5pm or so, cook dinner, help my brothers with their homework and do all the other household chores. My step father usually worked late back then, so she was on her own in the evenings.

Despite all her duties as a mother, which she never complained about, she somehow squeezed in my favorite time of day, “Reading with Momma time.” I can’t remember everything we read, but I still clearly remember sitting there at the kitchen table captivated as my mother taught me how to sound out the words. She spent the entire year I was repeating the first grade working with me every evening before bath time patiently listening to me stumble through the bigger words.

My mother’s hard work had paid off by the beginning of second grade, I could read the newspaper front to back and over again with little difficulty. I smile every time I think of my mom balancing her check book as I run into the kitchen she looks up, smiling, knowing the inevitable is coming, “Mommy what’s this word mean?” I’d ask anxious. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud as I was the moment I was presented with my very own Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. My mother was equally grateful I am sure, now she could get some peace. The first word I looked up was unabridged:

Unabridged (un-a-bridged)  n. a dictionary that has not been reduced in size by omission of terms or definitions; the most comprehensive edition of a given dictionary. After I read that definition I got even more excited. It was just a blue dictionary, one I nearly wore the cover off of over the years, but it was so much more to me. To me that silly book was like the world’s biggest decoder ring, and I used it as such.

I developed a voracious appetite for books. Reading never lost the novelty for me, even after all these years. I am always reading something. I so long for those simpler days when the only worries I had were how much later I could talk my mom into letting me stay up because I was dying to know what adventure the next chapter held.

Hansel and Grethel (a retelling)

(So I found this going through some old files from my back up hard drive. I wrote this for a children’s literature class I was enrolled in. Susie’s condition worsened and I never even handed this in to be graded. We were to rewrite a child’s fairy tale and I chose this one. It was the first and only time I attempted to directly rewrite someone else’s story.  I hope you enjoy what I tried to do here. It was fun. Thank you. – JM)

Hansel and Grethel

As written by

Jeffery Vogel

2010

Eng 2601

Hansel and Grethel (a reimagining)

            This is a tale of two children who lived on the edge of a large forest with their parents; the boy, Hansel and his sister Grethel. Theirs was a sad story for their parents had no food left to feed them. The children lay awake far too hungry to sleep when they heard their mother speaking to their father. What they heard sent chills down their spines.

“Husband there is no food left to feed the children, we must get rid of them right away. How shall we feed ourselves, shall we all four die of hunger?”

“But dear wife they are our children how could you be so cold?” Hearing their father speak these words, the children wondered the same thing.

It did not take her long to convince him; even the children noticed some subtle change in their mother’s voice. Their father’s objections faded to nothing more than an accepting groan.

“We shall take them deep in the woods and leave them; they will never find their way home.” The mother’s voice was calm and gentle, as reassuring as any mother’s would be accept for the terrible words she spoke.

Hansel spoke softly to his sister, “dear sister, I know what has happened, two nights past I heard a noise and awoke startled. I followed the sound outside; it led me down past the woodshed. I could see a bright almost heavenly light seeming to flow between the trees from deep in the old wood.”

“Were you not terrified brother? I could not have gone alone and seen such things I would have fallen feint.” Grethel was still shaking and her voice quivered as she spoke.

“I was frightened but I could not stop myself from wandering deeper.” He stopped and pondered what he had seen, trying to decide the best way to relate his tale to his sister.

“Well?”  Grethel ordered. “What did you see?”

“Sorry sister, I was lost in my own foolish head. I followed the light or was it the sound? My feet were finding their own way, as if by magic. It was as if I had no control over my own parts. I have never felt in such a way before, I felt like I was dreaming.”

Grethel was terrified and growing impatient to hear what Hansel saw but was too fearful of what she may learn from his answer to ask again.

“I came to a clearing and the light was so bright I could not look directly at it, there was a sound and it was then I knew that the sound had been calling to me. That’s when I saw her come from the center of the light as though she was in that moment born. She was wearing her night clothes outside!” Hansel was again thinking and grew silent.

“Who, who did you see?” Grethel could no longer tolerate another long silence so close to hearing the end.

“Mother, It was mother. She was the same but not the same. Her eyes were red like coals but as I stood watching they changed back to her normal lovely blue. Before the change she seemed not to see, perhaps that is why she did not know she was dressed so.”

“What has happened to our mother? She would never dare set foot out of her dressing room in such a state, what if someone had seen?” Grethel was mortified at the thought of being seen in her nightgown.

“I do not know. I hid behind a tree and right before my eyes…” Hansel trailed off again lost to his memories.

Grethel did not like the look on her brothers face and shook him till he became aware and he continued. “I ran and ran as fast as I could. The sun was creeping over the trees, I had been outside for hours but it only seemed a few moments. When I woke I thought it was all a dream. I prayed it was all a dream. When I was dressing I saw that my shoes were filthy, I still thought it was a dream.” Hansel was trying to convince himself but his attempts at self reassurance failed.

The children were frightened; revealing his tale to his sister had done little to dispel his own fear from the encounter in the woods. This did not make sense to them, they were terrified.

It was Grethel who broke the silence. “Father, we must tell father. She must be possessed by some evil beast or perhaps she is bewitched, yes that must be it a witch has taken mother!”

Hansel sluggishly nodded his approval and the children waited until they heard their mother’s rhythmic breathing. She was sound asleep.

“Father, wake up please.” Urged the shaking Grethel as Hansel stood blank faced. Grethel was not noticing the change in her brother’s demeanor. If she had she would have noticed that each time he thought of the encounter and remembered the night he grew more docile. His face was losing expression. In the dark and in such a hurry to quietly wake her father these things she did not notice.

Their loving father woke without a sound, he just starred blank facedly and spoke only three words, “Your bidding master?”

To this the mother who was no mother at all bolted from the bed and with a grotesquely distorted and serpentine like arm grabbed at Grethel, but the girl was faster.  Hansel was watching eyes wide but no sound issued from his mouth.

“Oh no Hansel not you too!” Screamed Grethel, she saw that what ever her mother witch had done to their father was now starting to take hold of Hansel. She quickly reacted as the mother monster crept closer to her and began throwing anything she could find to block her path.

Grethel threw clothes and finally through pure luck in the dark she found a blanket and she threw it over the mother imposter. This gave her enough time to grab Hansel by the arm and get him moving out the door.

Half pulling, half dragging she got Hansel down the stairs and out into the woods. She had been wary of the woods at night for fear of the wild things that live there but tonight nothing seemed scarier than her own mother witch.

Her mind raced trying to figure out what had happened. Slowly her brother regained his senses and after some time he stopped bewildered and asked, “Grethel what in the world are we doing so deep in the woods at night?”

“Do you not remember?” She was frightened and was certain that her brother may have been in shock but for him to have no memories of the terrible scene they had just fled doubled her fears.

“We were in our room talking and I must have dozed off.” He was completely unaware of anything happening.

Grethel quickly recounted the story and Hansel did seem to remember it but only as if he had dreamt it.  As they stood they realized they had never been this deep in the woods and they decided they needed to leave a trail to find their way home. Grethel had a piece of bread; it was half her dinner from earlier that night. Hansel would drop a bread crumb every so often so they would be able to at least find their way back to the spot and from there they could get home. They needed help so they wandered ever deeper in the hopes they could find a woodsman’s shack. They believed if they could find a big strong man he could save their father and hopefully return their mother to them.

They walked until they could walk no more and there on the ground where they stopped to rest they slept. They did not wake until well past noon. They were hungry and it was then Hansel noticed that even the closest pieces of bread he had dropped were nowhere to be seen.

“Oh no Grethel, the crumb trail is gone! We are lost!” Hansel’s eyes began to tear up as he yelled at the unresponsive trees.

“Quiet now!” Grethel demanded. “How can I think with you howling like a banshee?”

It was true they were hopelessly lost, but their mission had not changed they needed to find someone, anyone, only then would their family be saved. At last Grethel spoke. “We shall mark the trees; scratch the bark so we shall know if we have passed it before.”

Hansel was overcome with grief and trudged along quietly. Occasionally Grethel would see his eyes begin to glaze over but as the hours passed this seemed to lesson. Hansel was not quite himself but he was improving as night began to fall.

“Oh dear brother, we are saved! Look there, a light, it is a cottage!” Grethel ran towards the source of light with Hansel close behind. As they reached the cottage they were both speechless for the cottage was made of candy and cakes and all manner of delicious treats.

Hansel immediately set to eating a gingerbread flower box covered with rich icing. Grethel more cautious than her foolish brother broke off a small piece of a shutter which was made of peanut brittle. She sniffed cautiously and gave it a little taste, once she was convinced it was good she began to eat voraciously.

With a loud bang and a cackle a long bony arm came through the open window and snatched Hansel by the collar of his night shirt pulling him effortless into the house. Grethel saw this with amazement for the arm looked frail and weak but was deceptively strong.

Grethel found that though the urge to run was upon her she could not move, she was more sleepy than she had ever thought possible. She stretched out on the ground just below the gingerbread flower box and slept soundly.

She awoke when she was poked hard in the back with an old broom stick. “Wake up missy!” The old witch demanded.

Grethel’s mind raced. “It is you, you are the one who bewitched our mother!” she was frightened, but could not stop the words from coming. “I demand you give us our mother back!”

The witch was taken aback, usually the children who fell into her trap were scared and sheepish, but this one surprised her. “Missy you just hush up that nonsense, I have no use for mothers or fathers it is children I desire. Now you have work to do, your going to help me fatten up that scrawny brother of yours so I can eat him. If you give me any trouble I’ll eat you to!” The witch was sure this would quell the girl’s impetuous nature.

To the witch’s dismay this only riled the girl further. She saw that Grethel’s face had turned the darkest crimson. “You are lying!” Blurted Grethel she stepped closer to the witch. The witch retreated back a step.

This made the old hag think a moment. “What have you seen girl that would make you fearlessly speak to me so? In all my years I have never been spoken to in such a way, not even by grown folks.” It was then the witch allowed her eyes to turn to their true color, a dark glowing red.

In spite of scaring the girl into submission as the witch hoped, Grethel’s resolve was strengthened. This is indeed the witch who had taken their mothers place. “See you have the eyes you are the one who took my mother!”

The witch’s anger had grown she raised the handle of the broom to strike the girl but before she let the blow fall the girl’s words began to sink in. “You have seen such eyes as mine girl?”

“No, but my brother has”, he saw you in the woods when you turned into our mother!” Grethel was angry, scared, sad, but most of all angry.

“Interesting little one, there are no others in this part of the world like myself. I have lived many generations and never seen a single one of my kind. Perhaps there is a new arrival. This is not at all good for you or me you senseless child.” The witch’s tone was not as menacing as before; it had grown a curious air.

Grethel was trying to think of what to do, could it be there are two witches. The thought of one was bad enough, but the thought of two, well that was far worse. If this witch did not know of the other and it is bad for her maybe this could be good for us.

“So you are not the one who took our mother and entranced our father?” Grethel asked.

“Of course not you daft girl! I thought surely you would be smarter than that dim-whit out in my shed. Perhaps I was wrong.” The witch was lost in thought and the girl’s interruption warranted a thump with the broom handle. “We witches can never be to close you see, we need children to make our brews and stews which make us live. Too many witches in one place attracts too much attention, silly people will start to wonder where their little ones have gone.”

Grethel had a plan, she did not know if it would work but she had to try. She would go along with this witch’s desires, seeing the old hag’s annoyance at the thought of another witch in her area. Grethel decided to use that for her own good. She calmed herself.

She accommodated every whim of the old woman, occasionally when the moment was right she would mention something about the mother imposter. “I have never seen anyone or anything so strong! She can change her appearance with out a thought! You don’t think she is stronger than you, do you?” This went on for days, to the witch’s annoyance.

Hansel, Grethel had found, was locked in a shed heavily chained with no hope of escape. She whispered to him on the first day. “Do whatever she says brother I have a way to right things, I just need some time.” Hansel agreed and things went thusly for five more days.

Hansel ate and slept. Grethel cleaned, cut wood and did anything else the witch demanded of her. On the fifth day the witch said “that brother of yours will be ripe tomorrow and I am going to bake him in this oven so you need to clean it out and fetch some wood.” It was now or never Grethel thought.

“Mistress I have an idea that might solve two problems for you at once.” Grethel had taken to calling the old hag mistress in an attempt to show respect, the witch had not argued but seemed to rather enjoy it.

“Oh have you now missy?” The witch was intrigued for the girl was clever and not only had she jabbed at the witch’s pride she had tried to boost her ego as well by feigning interest in becoming a witch herself.

“Oh yes, I have been thinking since we got here, since there are two witches and you need children to make your brews and stews that the mother witch must have been going to cook us herself. Perhaps she is weak and long without food.”

“Dear child, you are wise. What is it you have in mind?”

“My brother you see is so plump and ready for cooking; perhaps we could use him as bait to bring the mother monster out in the open. You being more powerful than she is could kill her and take her power. There are very few children in our village; two witches will be too many to go unnoticed.”

The witch was wary as witches tend to be, she felt like the girl was up to something. “What is in this for you lass, why are you so willing to help me?”

“I want to be a witch. I always have to do what I am told and my brother being a boy can come and go as he pleases! My chores never cease!” Grethel was as convincing as she could be.

Grethel never expecting this, but the witch’s crooked mouth widened into an unnatural smile that sent chills down her spine, but this she hid well.

Grethel told the witch of her village, the witch knew it well. For over the centuries when no children wandered close she had to go and capture them herself. Grethel’s plan was to have her brother, who was now fully under the witch’s control after eating a weeks worth of bewitched goodies, would walk up and simply knock on the door. The mother monster would simply think he had wandered lost and hungry for a week and had haplessly wandered home. Grethel and the old hag would be waiting out of sight ready to attack.

The old witch had promised if Grethel helped in this task she would be given the secrets that only witches know. Grethel pretended to be pleased.

Though they had walked countless hours to come to the old hag’s candy cottage it took merely minutes to reach their village. Indeed the old hag had power, but Grethel was growing nervous that the mother imposter may actually be stronger.

The witch instructed Hansel and set him to his task. Grethel and the witch hid behind a large tree just off the corner of the house. Hansel knocked and no sound issued for such a long moment that they began to fear the mother monster had moved on.

A light flashed on in the parent’s room, unnaturally bright. Not candle light, something else. It was something sinister Grethel surely thought. Even the old hag seemed unnerved by it. The sounds of heavy footfalls echoed through the house and out the dusty windows into the night air. The anticipation was almost more than Grethel could stand. She nearly shrieked when the door slowly creaked open. Unaware, Hansel stood there stupidly slouching with his hands hanging listlessly by his sides.

In the doorway stood Grethel’s mother; she as beautiful as ever. Her blue eyes beamed in the darkness, as if illuminated by some inner light. “Ah you’ve returned. Where is your sister?” The mother witch softly asked.

Hansel turned towards the tree, at that moment the mother imposter burst through the door just as the old hag rounded the tree. They stared at each other; both seemed very surprised to see each other. Twenty feet of earth separated these two menacing creatures.

“You are not like the others.” Softly spoke the mother imposter.

“Child this is no witch.” The old hag spoke gravely.

“What are you old woman, why have you come to seek me out?” The mother monster asked pleasantly.

“A witch I be, older than even I remember. No more of us I imagine. I came here because I were told there was another witch here.” She answered, curiously she added. “Now what might ye be?”

The mother witch’s eyes blazed red, her limbs began to change, she began to grow larger. “I ask the questions and you dear witch shall make a fine addition to our collection!”

“Collect me! We will see who gets collected!” The old hag grew fierce all the while Grethel watched in horror. What ever it was that had taken their mother was far worse than the old hag who intended to eat her brother. She gained her composure as the two monsters began to circle each other. She crept around the yard to her dazed brother and pulled him into a hedge. They needed to run but she had to see what was to happen.

The two seemed to grow larger. Clumps of earth were raised and circled in the air about the old hags form. No longer frail and weak in appearance. Grethel had only heard stories of such things, monsters able to change their shape to any they desired.

When the old hag took a step towards the now completely misshapen mother imposter lightning struck the ground around her and the earth shook. Fire shot from the old woman’s eyes and the thing that had been their mother made an unearthly noise and jumped back. It was hurt but this only slowed its reaction a mere second. It retaliated with light, blazing red and blue so bright it stung Grethel’s eyes to watch. The light struck the witch in the shoulder and with an ear splitting screech she stumbled to her knees.

The mother witch no longer resembled their mother. It was now twice her height the arms were larger and much longer. The fingers were much too long; the same was true for the legs and toes. Grethel gasped when the thing that had been her mother scanned the bushes seeking their hiding place. Its head was tall and askew, the closest thing Grethel could liken it to would have been a green giant gourd. The eyes were lifeless, colorless slits, these too were abnormally proportioned. Even Grethel crouched petrified as if bewitched like her brother. Her paralysis was fear induced unlike her brother’s magic induced stupor.

While distracted by the search for the children the [not] witch mother took her eyes off the witch. Commanding the air and earth the old witch hurled dozens of rocks and chunks of earth at the no longer mother thing. These hit home and when the mother thing screeched into the night Grethel nearly collapsed. The sound had seemed to pierce her ear drums and left her with a intense feeling of vertigo.

The old witch did not let up for a moment. Before the mother thing could retaliate the old hag was launching trees, farm equipment, lumber, and even parts of the out buildings and parts of the house were torn free and battering the screeching wailing mother thing.

The witch had created a vortex firmly around the mother monster. Stone and wood and steel battered it ceaselessly. It was hurt and in a final attempt to end this fight the old hag sent the weather vane straight through what passed for its chest. Grethel knew their plight was yet to be over but at least with this mother thing gone they might have a chance of escape and reuniting their family.

“Hansel, the witch killed the monster, we need to run away now.” Grethel whispered to her brother not wanting to attract any unwanted attention. Her plan was going to work. The witch was wounded and exhausted. The battle had taken its toll. They needed to flee. Grethel could hear Hansel was speaking in a very soft voice. She leaned in to hear.

Slowly as he began to drool on his nightshirt, Hansel spoke one last time. “It was some kind of coach with no horses, it moved freely and it flew into the sky like a bright round bird.”

There was a flash and Grethel could see the witch consumed in the brightest most brilliant light she had ever seen. She watched the witch scream as she was seemingly melted in the bright light. The light was upon her now and as she saw her fingers begin to melt away, there was no pain, only warmth, she lost consciousness.

Hansel, Grethel, their father, their mother, and the witch were never heard from or seen again. All that remained of their home was a scorched hole large enough to fit their house in three times over. Many years later the place seemed untouched even by the dense forest which surrounded it. Nothing would grow inside this scorched ring and it became known as an evil place to be avoided.

fin…

Eulogy Post XI

 

blue skull

Alex 16

 

It was an easy trip back for the Hummer, but he had to be a bit more careful pulling the trailer through all the stalled cars. He was real excited about all the things he’d found, two large steel plows, a welding setup, complete with cutting torch and plenty of fuel for what he needed.

 

He intended to use the plows to make a cattle catcher for the front of his truck. He would have to do quite a bit of cutting and welding, and hoped if he wasn’t finished that day, that Red would be willing to wait till he was finished. He knew the rainy season was about to begin and didn’t want to get held up by being stuck in a ditch trying to get by the wrecks they were sure to find in more populated areas.

 

He made it back to where he had left his things, and as he had expected nothing had been bothered. He had gotten the idea pretty spur of the moment and had not looked to see what the truck was equipped to handle.

 

He unloaded all the parts, the plows were large and really heavy, he had used a wench to get them into the trailer. He had very little experience welding, he had only tried a few times in high school in shop class. He thought he could figure it out. He knew how to use the cutting torch, it was simple enough.

 

It took him quite a while to wrestle the plows down off the trailer, once he had them on the ground he was able to drag them into whatever position was needed. He took a break and called Red still panting, He told him what he was trying to do, Red joked that he must be bored. Red told him it was much slower going than he had imagined. After checking in with Red he got back to work.

 

He spent the next two hours practicing welds, once he was sure of what he was doing he began work on his make shift cow catcher. Using the cutting torch he removed all the parts from the blades, when he was finished he had two curved pieces of steel. He placed them flat and using the mammoth truck he attempted to flatten them. After a few attempts he saw the blades were still curved, but not nearly as pronounced as before, it would have to suffice.

 

Using various pieces of steel he fashioned a frame for his cow catcher, he loosely bolted this to the bumper so that it could tilt, he welded a large eye bolt to the point in the frame, to this he attached the wench. He drilled holes into the large semi flat pieces of steel, then bolted each to its own side of the frame in the shape of a V. Once he had the blades bolted up he welded the bolts to keep them secure, he used the wench to raise the front to the desired height He set it at about  eight inches above the asphalt, he hoped it was high enough.

 

He then reinforced it as best as he could, this permanently locked it into place. “In theory this should work.” He said aloud as he climbed into the cab, wanting to test his work.

 

He drove about a mile before he found a wreck, three cars wide on a two lane road, he slowed a bit and aimed the truck carefully, he only wanted to move the vehicles aside, not destroy them or flip them, just clear a path wide enough for those following him. The test started off well enough, the cars were parting seemingly at the trucks whim. Alex heard a loud snapping sound. A bolt had broken.

 

He would need more metal, he had to reinforce it further. He turned back and returned to his camp. He got out and surveyed the damage, it was not severe, the right blades main support had shifted and a bolt gave way.

He was thinking of ways to correct this problem when suddenly there was a black flash on his right side. Then he heard a snarl. Without so much as a glance back he bolted for the trucks passenger side door. He climbed in and locked it and hastily grabbed for the closest gun. It was a nine millimeter, he had gotten from John’s safe.

 

He wasn’t sure what he had seen, it had happened so fast, but he had heard the snarl. It was a dog, in his mind he pictured some hell hound from an old movie he’d seen late one night when he had a bad bout of insomnia. He felt a bit foolish, running from a dog as if it were Satan himself.

 

“I bet he’s just hungry.” Alex laughed to himself. He grabbed an MRE he had half eaten earlier and when he began rolling down the window noticed that there was more than one dog. He saw seven just on the driver’s side. They were keeping their distance, but not too far. There were all sorts of dogs,  medium to large. He was searching the cab for more food. That’s when he saw several more dogs walk around from the passenger side. They were far bigger than the rest, one a Great Dane, the other a bull mastiff. They were fearsome, and easily two of the biggest dogs he had ever seen.

 

He suddenly felt afraid, he was not scared of dogs, but these dogs just didn’t seem right. The sun was high in the sky, and he could see clearly. Was that blood on their mouths? He wondered. “Your just cracking up bud.“ He said aloud to himself. He convinced himself these were pets abandoned as their owners had died. They must have been going through garbage, and no telling what else to get food.

 

He cut the MRE all the way down the side and tossed it out. The MRE had barely hit the black top when the fighting had begun. They were all trying to get the food, then one of the first dogs he had noticed, a pit bull had latched on to a chow. The chow gave a shrill howl of pain and tried for the pit’s throat, before Alex’s very eyes the chow and pit bull were shredded to pieces and eaten.

 

It was then as the remaining animals sat and finished off their meals he understood, they were diseased. The poor creatures had been left to starve as everyone died, maybe their owners had set them free in the hopes they could fend for themselves.

 

“Red, this is Alex, where are you guys?” There was urgency in his voice, God if they pulled up and got out of their vehicles they would be killed or worse yet, infected.

 

“Yeah Alex, what’s wrong, you sound a bit wound up.” Replied Red, concerned, he then added, “last sign said ten miles to Burlington, that was a few minutes ago.”

 

“You guys need to stop, I was nearly attacked by a pack of diseased dogs. I caught a glimpse of one out of the corner of my eye and got in the truck just in time. At first I thought they were just hungry. I dropped some food out and they went after it, two began fighting and the others killed and ate the two who were fighting.” Alex was freaked out.

 

“Are you ok, did they touch you?” Came Sherry’s voice.

 

“No, but I have to do something, traveling is slow at best, they will have no problem keeping up with us. Maybe they will die, or maybe we run out of gas first.” Explained Alex.

 

“Think you can handle them?” Asked Red.

 

“I think so, I will call back shortly.” He answered.

 

“Good luck.” Red ended.

 

He had to think, there are at least seven of them out there, think Alex think. He was worried that if he weren’t careful they’d come after him in the truck. He knew they couldn’t get in, but they could contaminate his supplies.

He found another MRE he had left in the floor board, for eating that afternoon. He opened it and split its contents into three portions. This had to work. Dogs are not stupid animals, he knew, but he hoped the disease would make them less intelligent. Just maybe he could manipulate them enough.

 

He wrapped one portion into a piece of paper and threw it out the window, it landed about fifteen feet from the truck and as he hoped the dogs went after it. They began fighting almost instantly, he aimed with the pistol and began firing. There were yelps of pain and one fell on its side, seeing the wounded animal the two largest grabbed it and began dragging it away from the fight.

 

Alex was careful and was able to shoot four of the seven, sadly they had not all died as he had hoped, several lay whimpering. It hurt him to hear their pain, he reloaded and carefully ended their suffering. It’s then he realized the two larger animals were no longer in sight. He saw a blood trail leading towards the embankment in the median.

 

The dog he had missed seemed completely oblivious to the shots and just continued eating the nearest carcass. He shot him three times, the dog never made a sound, it just stopped moving. He began looking around for the other two.

 

He threw the remaining food he had been using as bait out and readied the gun. After a few minutes they crested the hill slowly, they seemed to know it was a trap. “Now you’re losing it, they are just sick animals. Get a grip dude.” Alex said to himself.

 

He noticed as they warily approached the food he had thrown out that the two dogs were wearing matching collars. He couldn’t help wonder who‘s pets they had been. They appeared to be healthier than the rest of the animals they had been traveling with. Alex was not a dog person, but to him these two could have been show dogs. The only dispelling feature was the foam dripping from their snouts and the blood matted around their mouths.

 

“I’m sorry,” Alex said before he opened fire, the first shot hit the lead dog, the mastiff, in the leg, then the gun jammed.

 

The wounded animal scampered back over the hill, but her companion charged the truck, he was quick and Alex barely got away from the window before the huge jaws were after him, frothing and snapping. He yelled out in fright, as he slid backwards across the seat blindly grabbing for his rifle. He found it, the dog was nearly in the cab, he could hear the claws scratching at the metal of the door trying to gain purchase.

 

He chambered a round and shot, the bullet tore into the door and the dog let out a yelp, but did not stop it’s advance. He chambered a second round cursing himself for missing. He was panicking, he knew if this dog so much as licked him, he would be a goner.

 

He aimed and shot, hitting the dog in chest, it fell with a thud, he scrambled out the passenger side door, gun at the ready, he needed to finish this. First he ran twenty feet from the truck as to prevent a sneak attack, he turned, and backed far enough up, to kneel and see where the dog had fallen and if it was in fact dead.

 

He heard whimpering, the animal was dead, the whimpering came from its mate as it limped towards where the animal had fallen. Alex made a wide circle around the truck trying to keep his distance, he had no way of knowing if there were any other surprises lurking.

 

He was fifty feet in front of the truck carefully scanning as he went, he could clearly see the two dogs, the wounded animal was licking the face of his dead companion. He whimpered as he laid down beside her, he placed his muzzle on the back of her neck and cried.

 

Alex had seen terrible things all around him for days, so much in fact that he had started getting used to seeing the dead in their cars, as if it were perfectly natural to stop on the side of the road and die. The sound of that dog crying, and the tears in his eyes would haunt Alex as much as any human tragedy he witnessed would haunt him the rest of his days.

 

“I am sorry old boy,” Alex said just before he fired. He had tears in his eyes, Alex thought, each day a little more of me dies.

 

He went to the hummer after he was sure the area was clear, worried he may have gotten infected, but having no way to know for sure, he would just have to continue on as if he weren’t. the thought of him sitting here waiting to see if he were infected, was an undertaking he would not concede to.

 

He stripped completely naked and tossed his clothes in a pile on the ground and using bottled water and soap cleaned himself using ten full gallon jugs. He used alcohol on a rag and wiped his entire body.  He put on another of his Hazmat suits and set out to clean the truck, he used four full gallons of bleach, liberally pouring it on every surface the animal had touched. He heard Red try him on the CB several times, but did not want to handle it, fearing he may contaminate it.

 

He used more bleach to fully decontaminate the suit, then using rags he fashioned from his discarded shirt he scrubbed the truck thoroughly. Satisfied it was clean he drove it away from where the animals lay. He walked back then moved the hummer and trailer.

 

The gash in his head had been a solid hum of dull pain, but had not troubled him very much, now it began pounding. This made him nervous. Still wearing the suit he used a chainsaw and cut down several trees, he used these to build a pyre. He carefully collected the bodies of the terrorists latest victims and placed them on it. He put the last two he had killed together on top as they had lain on the asphalt.

 

He piled more wood all around them and over them. He wondered how insane people would find his actions had any been alive to watch. He felt it was only right. He had killed them, and felt responsible for them. He used bleach on the places they had died. He soaked the pyre with a mixture of oil and gas, and as the sun was sinking he lit the wood.

 

He went through the routine of dousing his suit with Clorox, and remembered he had been naked inside the suit, he was drenched with sweat. He threw the suit into the fire careful not to touch it with his bare hands. He imagined he must have looked comical naked standing out there in the road.

 

He dreaded calling Red with the news that he may be infected. It had been hours since his last troubled message and he knew they would be anxious to hear from him. “Red you there?”

 

“Thank God!” It was Sherry’s voice he heard. “Are you ok?”

 

“I killed them all, but one nearly got me.” He answered solemnly.

 

“Did it touch you?” Sherry asked, with true concern in her voice.

 

“I think you should gather everyone around the CB so I can tell all of you this story at once.” Alex told her.

 

“Ok.” She answered.

 

A few minutes later Red’s troubled voice broke the silence, “Alex, we’re all here, what’s happened?”

 

Alex told them about waking that morning thinking he had heard a dog, but shook it off thinking he had imagined it, then about the growling he had heard in the parking lot at the Tractor Supply store. He even added what he had done with the truck, trying to soften the blow to himself as much as them. As he talked about one thing, he was continuously trying to organize his thoughts on the dog attack, trying to make it easier to say, as well as hear.

 

Finally he gave every detail of the attack as he remembered, starting with the glimpsing of the dog, all the way up to burning the bodies. He was finished. He had talked for nearly thirty minutes. His mouth was dry and he was as nervous as he had been in high school, on stage in front of hundreds of blank faces accepting his diploma.

 

Red broke the silence first. “Well son sounds like you did everything I would have in that situation, and I pray you aren’t infected.” His voice was warm and caring, there was a hint of sadness.

 

“Look I have enough supplies in the back of this truck to last you five for a good long while, there are weapons, and if what I have seen is any indication of what is to come, you will need them. I haven’t been in the back of the truck since the attack, and I will not. If I am infected you will need to find another large vehicle to carry it all in, The cab of this one will be too dangerous to enter. If it is fine with you, I will stay ahead of you guys and use my truck to clear the roads. We will know if I am sick within a day.”

 

“It sounds fine to me son, let me see what the others think.” Alex heard a click then silence fell for a full five minutes.

 

“Sug, it’s Sherry, I want you to listen carefully, I really hope you’re not sick, but if you are we won’t abandon you. I’m a nurse, and anything I can do to help I will. Look,” Her voice went grave after this last word , “the couple who is traveling with us are a bit strange, Red Is out there trying to calm them down. The woman has had a complete breakdown. From what Red said the night we met them and even before what happened was clear to us, she had acted as if she were suffering from some sort of mental illness. My husbands a psychologist you see.”

 

“Ok, but please tell them I will keep my distance, I would never try and get someone else sick.” Alex answered.

 

“I know you wouldn’t sug, but some people just can’t be reasoned with. Here comes Red, one sec.” Sherry as before had forgotten to let go of the button.

 

“Well, are they settled down?” He heard Sherry ask her husband.

 

“Hardly, the woman has completely lost her mind, she thinks just looking at him will make her sick. She needs to be institutionalized, only problem is those institutions don’t exist anymore. I have been trying for days to get Phil aside to talk to him about her, he knows I am psychologist. He acts as if he doesn’t know what I mean when I ask him how his wife is doing.” Red paused.
“I tried asking him about her the other morning and got my head bitten off.” Sherry added.

 

Red began again, “this guy may be sick, but I am not gonna leave him to die alone, that would be cruel and inhumane. I pray he is not, sounds like he has a good head on his shoulders. As long as we take precautions we should do fine. Look I told Phil if they felt so strongly they could go on their merry way without us. I knew something like this was gonna happen with them.” Alex heard a noise, and someone shouting inaudibly.

 

“Oh Christ Red, they are going to kill him!” He heard Sherry scream.

 

“They wouldn’t came a quieter voice,” Then there was silence.

 

 

Alex/Red 17

 

“Red what’s going on?” Asked Alex.

 

“They just took off towards you, Sandra was screaming that they are gonna kill you. We are coming towards you, but we don’t see them yet. She just kept screaming at him to go kill you. I am afraid they may very well be on their way to do just that. You need to hide.” Red said exasperated.

 

“Well we definitely have a problem then, because I can’t move this truck right now, and I am not leaving a massive stash of weapons for some psychos to pick up. I won’t do anything crazy, I will try and talk to them.” Alex didn’t know what he was going to say in this talk, but he would have to come up with something.

 

“Well we won’t be far behind them, good luck, and Alex be careful these people are terribly unbalanced.” Red said solemnly.

 

Phil was weaving in and out of the stalled vehicles far too quickly, but somehow he managed to keep the SUV from crashing, he had been listening to everything. Red hadn’t noticed him removing the CB from his RV before they had abandoned it.

 

Sandra had been steadily mile after grueling mile repeating like a mantra, he’s a murderer, he will kill us. At first she had tried to make arguments, some even sounded half based in reality, but she was in another world all her own. She was schizophrenic, a fact Phil had kept to himself, for many years. He was skilled at glossing over any sudden outbursts and deviant behavior anyone had witnessed from her.

 

He had met Sandra, while he was a patient at a psychiatric hospital nine years earlier. He was a manic depressive, with psychotic symptoms. He heard voices, but having Sandra to care for and the meds had allowed him to function for all these years without anyone knowing.

 

He had kept Sandra on her meds, and she was usually very lucid, she was very sweet to him and him alone. Anyone else she encountered was treated as an enemy. She had been in the hospital due to the fact her last parent, her father, had died leaving her without anyone to administer her medications. She had curled up in a corner. She was terribly malnourished, and dehydrated. When they found her she had scratched and dug at her skin so badly she required skin grafts on each of her arms. Thus leading to her always wearing long sleeved shirts. Phil always dressed the same so that she wouldn’t feel different.

 

She attacked the first officer to enter the room, gouging his face horribly screaming that he had murdered her father. They were forced to use mace. She had been charged with a felony, but it was thrown out of court on the grounds she was completely and utterly incompetent. They found her father in an upstairs bedroom. He had been dead five days from massive heart failure.

 

Phil had come to visit her every chance he could, he even took classes and became an RN so he would have leverage in his court case for having her released. Everything had gone great for them after her release. They shared a little condo and were left alone most of the time, Phil had gotten into the habit of giving her a larger dose of Thorazine, a powerful sedative, so that he wouldn’t have to worry about her while he was at work.

 

The arrangement had went very well, until shortly after they had a new neighbor move in. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but he liked to listen to his stereo a little loud. Not even loud enough to hear through the walls. The only way you could hear it is if his windows and theirs were open. One day a few weeks after Phil had lowered Sandra’s Thorazine dosage, he came home and first thing he noticed was one of Sandra’s shoes in the flower bed between the separate walks for the two condos. He grabbed her shoe and hurried toward the door, which he now noticed was ajar.

 

He searched for her but she was not home, he began to panic, he ran outside frantically searching for her. He decided to go knock on the neighbors door and see if he had seen her. He approached and saw there were long gouges in the door, his heart sank. He knocked and from the force of his knock the door swung open far enough for him to see a man’s bare bloody leg.

 

He whispered, “Sandra, honey are you in there?”

 

He slowly pushed the door open, not sure what he was going to find, as more of the man’s body was exposed he saw that he had been mercilessly stabbed, head to toe, he could not possibly guess how many times as he looked at the poor man’s remains. In places he looked like ground meat, and beside his body drenched in his blood laid Sandra, unconscious with exhaustion.

 

He quickly grabbed a blanket got her up and back into their place, where he administered a large dose of the sedative. He placed her in the shower and scrubbed every inch of her. This took well over an hour, she was completely drenched, she had parts of the man stuck in her hair, and under her fingernails.

 

Phil had taken an oath, in sickness and in health, he would not let her be locked up ever again, he could fix this. He would fix this. He rationalized that she had done what she did, solely because she was sick, and thus did not deserve to be punished. He loved her, he couldn’t stand being alone again. If that happened he would pull the trigger next time.

 

As he had been washing her, she had only said one thing, “make him turn it down.” To Phil this bolstered his rationalization and he began to think the guy had deserved it. He had been torturing his wife with unbearably loud music.

 

Phil went next door, found the knife his wife had used, he wiped the door down inside and out, making sure she had not left bloody prints anywhere. He found a box of candles and lit them placing them all around the room the man was in. He lit them all, he rearranged the man’s furniture staging an apparent home invasion gone wrong. He took all the man’s valuables, wallet, anything he thought a would be robber or crack addict would want.

 

He took one of the candles spilled a little wax on the counter it had been sitting on and slid it’s container back until it was under a shelf on the edge of the counter. He then placed all the flammable things he could find on the shelf, bottles of cologne, cooking spray, oil, and a quart jar of gas. He had gotten the gas from the dead man’s garage. He then piled paper cloth anything he could find that would flame up and  burn hot and quick. The idea was for the candle to burn down to a point and then it would ignite the accelerants, which would in turn ignite the gas and other things stacked on the shelf.

 

He was careful not to overdo it, he wanted the evidence here destroyed, not his condo or his things. The guy was dead so screw him, he didn’t need his stuff anymore. He went home got himself cleaned up and dressed his wife, they were going out. Despite her protests she reluctantly allowed him to lead her to their car. They stopped at a fast food restaurant, he paid with his credit card. Then they saw a movie, where he also paid with his credit card. As they left the theatre he casually threw a bag of garbage away in plain sight of a police officer. The bag of trash was the man’s valuables and wallet. After discarding the last of the evidence, he nodded and smiled at the police officer as they passed. The clothes he had gotten rid of simply by putting them in a plastic bag, he then drenched its contents with ammonia, and threw them in the dumpster at the fast food place they had stopped at.

 

The plan had worked as he had hoped, he had been worried that maybe it wouldn’t. Even the officer outside the theater remembered seeing them. There were police cars and fire trucks everywhere. Smoke still issued from the gutted condo but Phil and Sandra’s seemed unharmed. He grinned. The police had no reason to doubt where they said they had been, he didn’t offer but they asked and he showed them both their stubs, and the receipt from the restaurant. They simply had the officer from the theater come by and he said he saw them leaving the movies. They had to stay at a hotel a few days. There had been damage to the electrical lines, but that had been the extent of the repercussions for committing murder.

 

Phil and Sandra were both out of meds now, both were in desperate need of them. “There!” Screamed the psychotic woman from the passenger side of the SUV still barreling through the massive car graveyard. They could see the smoke from the fire creeping up over the trees from around the slight bend in the interstate.

 

They had listened the night Alex had told about the man he had executed, and Phil knew then he would have a problem with him. Who was he to dole out justice, he was nobody, and now he was sick. Yes Sandra was right, if he couldn’t get us sick he would murder us in our sleep. His thoughts tormented and twisted were not a match for what was going on in his wife’s mangled psyche.

 

They were both out of control and on a mission to kill. Phil, not a very rational man in the best of circumstances hadn’t even considered sneaking up on Alex, who knew they were coming. He had heard that coward Red kissing up to him, so he would be safe. Phil had decided to kill them all, and he would.

 

He slid the SUV to a halt and jumped out, Red hadn’t known Phil was armed, he was always armed. No one would keep him from her again. He jumped from the vehicle gun pointed at the large truck, Sandra spilled out and crowded close behind him.

 

Alex didn’t have much time to prepare for their arrival, and decided the plows were his best bet, no matter how they approached. He had an M-16 clutched clumsily in his hands, he had never fired such a weapon, but knew he may get his chance soon enough.

 

“Come out you murdering, diseased freak, we’re gonna kill you.” Cajoled the woman, he now knew how Red felt when he had first glimpsed the couple.

 

“Listen I don’t want a problem, I don’t have a problem with you guys, and I want to be left alone. So you just go on your way and we never have to see each other again.” Alex replied.

 

Alex was waiting for a reply when Phil started shooting, his shots were wild and inaccurate, but far too close for comfort. Phil then demanded, “come on out so we can end this, we have to get ready for that old fuck, his bitch, and the little slut they have with them.” As Phil had said this he didn’t see Red, Sherry, and Beth, in his mind he saw his mother, father and his sister. Whom he hadn’t seen in fifteen years.

 

Red had arrived, but they had parked just past the bend, he approached on foot in the median just out of sight down the hill. Alex saw him as his white hair crested the hill, he knew who he was the second he saw his face.

 

“Phil don’t move,” Red demanded.

 

Phil turned and saw Red standing there shot gun in his hands pointed at his midsection. “You old bastard, after all I have done for you.”

 

Red found this comment a bit strange, considering he and Sherry had taken care of all the meals, had gotten them a vehicle, and never asked for so much as a thank you. Red knew insanity; it was his life’s work.

 

While being distracted by Red, Alex had taken the opportunity to get into a better position and had his sights trained on Phil’s chest. “Look man just put the gun down, no one is here to hurt you guys, why the hell were you shooting at me for Christ’s sake?”

“Not here to hurt me not here to hurt me, just here to blare your music and steal my RV and kill me, kill me kill me!,” Sandra repeated gaining volume and pitch with each burst.

“Phil put the gun down, we have to talk, we can work this out, you and your wife are not well, I can see that, your out of medication aren’t you? Of course, if that is all, we can find more pills.” Red pleaded.

 

For a moment Alex thought he saw rationality set into Phil’s eyes, he was grateful. Phil dropped the gun, all the while his wife circled him like a wild animal protecting her young from multiple attackers. When she saw the gun fall she screeched a blood curdling scream. “NO HE”S GONNA KILL US!” She dove for the gun, Phil feebly grabbed at her, he appeared lost in a dream.

 

Red and Alex were both yelling at her to stop, Phil looked on stupidly. Before anyone could do more than yell she had the gun in her trembling hand she lifted it from her knees and aimed at Alex and fired, all the while they were yelling for her to stop to no avail.

 

The bullet ripped the flesh of his left shoulder grazing the bone, the feeling was hot flaring pain. Alex did not want to fire, but at feeling the bullet tear at his shoulder involuntarily squeezed the trigger. She was hit once in the throat and once in the chest. She dropped to her knees with her head bent forward as if she were praying and fell asleep.

 

He remembered it all as a dream, one minute she was screaming trying to kill him, and the next it was if something had exploded in her, the blood, he thought how could so much blood come from one person? Alex could hear the gurgling as she tried to breathe, only then did her expression change from one of malice, to an expression only someone aware of their own imminent demise can manifest.

 

Phil stood watching the last of his wife’s life blood pump out, he knelt and kissed her face, her eyes glazed over and finally she was at peace. He wanted this man dead, and he wanted to be dead. He reached over the corps of his slain wife and grabbed the pistol. He slowly stood, never taking his eyes from Sandra’s deadened stare.

 

“Why did you do this, this is your fault?” Alex demanded of Phil with tears in his eyes. Then he added. “First my neighbor, then the crazy man at that store, the dogs, and now your wife, what the fuck is wrong with you?” Alex demanded.

 

Red had stood speechless, he hadn’t been able to shoot Sandra when she had opened fire, and he knew that had she killed Alex, he would be dead also, and then they would have went after his wife and the girl. He was an old man, playing at young men’s games, but no, these aren’t games are they? He wondered if he were in a state of shock, all this had happened around him and he didn’t even have the presence of mind to run.

 

“You’re right, it’s been my fault all along, now finish it.” Phil demanded.

 

Phil raised the gun towards Alex, as Alex pleaded. “Please NO!”

 

Alex obliged, however unwillingly, he did as Phil asked.

Eulogy Post X

 

 

newskull

Alex 15

     Alex woke with a start, he thought he heard a dog snarling; he stood and surveyed the parking lot but didn’t see anything. He just figured he had dreamt it. He started to wonder what had happened to all the pets. He had never been much of a pet owner, although he loved animals. He had fish and that had pleased him enough. He wasn’t comfortable with having another creature depending on him.

 

He relieved himself , stretched , yawned and using some bottled water washed his face and brushed his teeth. He wanted a shower, but with the power out and swimming pools being about the only good source of water he’d have to skip it. “Maybe I can find a park with a lake to camp in tonight.” He said to himself.

 

He felt an urgent need to get moving, he had no real explanation for this other than maybe his own paranoia. He ate two of the MRE’s got the six ton running, familiarized himself with its operation and decided to tow another of the vehicles behind it. He would take a hummer, just in case he needed it. He was sure this monster he picked to drive was more than capable of pulling the extra weight. He could always use more storage space.

 

He got on the road at 8:00 am and started towards the interstate, although it wasn’t very far it took him quite some time, and to his dismay the on and off ramps for each were clogged with stalled cars. “Damn it!” He cursed aloud. “Well may as well see what this thing can do.”

 

He took a road that paralleled the interstate and once he found a grade he liked, drove through the fence separating that road from the interstate. The ground was soft , but the grade was at a downward angle so he had no problems, just a seriously bumpy ride. Once he was on level paved ground he thought to check the CB.

 

“Good morning post-apocalyptic North Carolina, anyone out there?” He was in a good mood, he finally felt where ever this adventure was heading, it had finally begun. It was hard to feel bad after all that he had been through and lived, sitting here in the bright sun.

 

“Morning.” Came a distorted voice.

 

“Hey, thank God there is someone else alive!” Alex shouted with joy into the handset.

 

“My names Red, we just passed Raleigh and it’s rough going, we are heading your way. Not real sure how long, it’s gonna take us to get to Burlington.” Red had excitement in his voice, but also a bit of wariness.

 

Hearing him say Burlington, Alex knew they had been listening last night when he had spoken of the execution. “Well I hope if ya heard me last night ya didn’t get the wrong idea. I felt I didn’t have a choice, what would you have done?”

 

“Look son, from what you said, I think maybe you did the right thing, that man could have killed a lot more people.” Red, didn’t want to piss off this guy who was so close, and a survivor. It was a new world, and the rules had  changed. The man had taken three lives, red had never been a proponent of the death penalty, but he had spent much of the previous night considering what he would have done. He had decided he probably would have done the same.

 

This he had been talking about quietly with his wife, while Beth snoozed in the back seat. Beth had fallen asleep no sooner than they were underway. At breakfast, Sandra and Phil had been  the joyous duo they had begun to expect.

 

“Thank you,” Alex answered.

 

“Where ya headed Alex?” Red  asked, the conversation had grown awkward, he was trying to move it along.

 

“West, not sure exactly where yet, somewhere, where there never were many people in the first place. I dunno, maybe I am just being paranoid, but I don’t want to be here, there are just so many bodies, there is no way to get rid of them all. What if the assholes that did this survived? How long before they get tired of the desert and want to upgrade?” Alex was on the verge of one of his rants, which happens when he is talking about something he feels is important, gets nervous and  just can’t stop talking about it.

 

“I think that is pretty wise son, we are heading west also, we aren’t sure where we are going. It’s me, my wife, Sherry, a young lady named Beth, and a couple driving in their own vehicle, but not so sure if they are gonna stay with us. The don’t seem to like company.” Replied Red.

 

“Wyoming or Montana maybe. I don’t want to go any further west than that, with the nukes they set off in California.” Alex suggested.

 

“So the kid was right, they bombed California, New York to then?” Red asked.

 

“Yeah, from what I heard on the news New York City was decimated, they used three or four detonated at the same time. The news got real hard to understand, the reporters were asking questions more than answering them. No one seemed to know what was going on.

 

“My God, all those people.” Red said with despair rising in his voice.

 

“They were the lucky ones, most suffered terribly before they died. This virus, some called it a version of Ebola, but we may never know, it melted them basically, their organs liquefied. I could barely stand to watch the news, it showed people dying in the streets lined up to get in the hospitals. People were going insane shooting each other right in front of the cameras, trying to make the line shorter so they could get inside for the cure. Sad fact was, there was no cure.” Answered Alex dismally, he felt his lighthearted mood failing. He had forgotten those broadcasts, convinced it was a bad hoax, the modern day War Of The Worlds. How wrong he had been.

 

“Well son we are heading in your direction, I don’t know if you feel like having traveling companions, strength in numbers and all that.” Offered Red.

 

“Sounds great, maybe I could head in your direction maybe help you get through this mess.” Eagerly answered Alex, he couldn’t bare being alone any longer, he felt good, but the loneliness was stifling.

 

“We are making progress, slowly but surely, if you don’t mind waiting we’ll be there hopefully by this afternoon.” Said red.

 

Alex wondered what kind of man Red was, he sounded like a kind grandfatherly sort. Then he wondered about the couple Red said was traveling with them, Alex couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to go it alone in this world, which had seemingly gone mad overnight. “I don’t mind at all, I am gonna go until I find a nice spot to camp. Just let me know when you are close, I will get a nice fire going and we can swap stories.”

 

Red agreed, “that will be nice,” they both had so much they wanted to ask each other, but they were being interrupted by bursts of static. They wanted to have stuff to talk about that night, so they signed off just checking back and forth every hour or so.

 

Alex climbed out of his truck, stretched his legs, although he hadn’t been driving long, the last few nights sleeping in cars had given him a stiffness he was having trouble shaking off. He had stopped at a nice open stretch of interstate. The nearest vehicles were nothing more than specs in the distance.

 

Alex unhooked the Hummer and decided to make their evenings meeting a bit of a celebration. There wasn’t much to celebrate he thought, only the fact that they had basically won the lottery. The prize had not been hundreds of millions of dollars, instead the grand prize had been life.

 

“A morbid thought.” He said aloud as he started the Hummer. He headed on towards the Elon College exit. He stopped the Hummer realizing he had left the keys in the 5 ton, then he thought the chances of someone stealing the large truck were slim to none. He continued on.

 

Alex had plenty to share, but he knew the pre-packaged military food would never go bad, not before it was all eaten, but it would get boring in time. Variety, The Spice Of Life, he saw on a billboard as he approached the exit. “How right you are.” He smiled.

 

He approached the Wal-Mart and noticed there were quite a few vehicles in the parking lot. He thought, looks like any store parking lot on any given day, except there are no people walking around, and there are bodies in some of these cars, not kids or spouses who waited outside. They weren’t waiting on their wives or mothers to finish the shopping. They were dead, each and all, dead.

 

He felt the guilt a bit and forced it down, it was getting easier to stop the involuntary emotions. “Is this maturity?” He asked aloud.

 

The front of the Wal-Mart looked like it had been bombed. Glass in every direction, the metal door frames were twisted and broken. He then saw the car someone had driven into the store. There was a sign on the ground to the right of where the main entrance had been, now a gaping hole.

 

The sign simply read closed. It had been hand painted on a piece of poster board. He drove a little closer and saw that the driver of the car was half hanging out of the car, he couldn’t tell if he had died from the crash, but to Alex, it appeared the guy had been shot. He would have to find a different entrance. What if someone is in there, trying to claim Wal-Mart and all its property as their own.

 

Alex drove around the large building looking for a better entrance, he had taken all the unused Hazmat suits from the armory, and for this he was thankful. He approached the lawn and garden area, knowing the store pretty well, he had been there dozens of times since it had been built. He would enter there.

 

He got out of the vehicle, donned the suit and grabbed his rifle. He then changed his mind and opted for one of the assault rifles he had found. He edged towards the double glass doors, each of which was fully intact. He thought he’d have to break them, but when he got in range of the sensor the doors opened of their own accord. “Holy shit!” He yelled inside the suit.

 

Alex half expected to see armed zombies come piling out the door trying to kill him. None came, and after a few minutes his heart slowed, he had let the door close and waited, after a few minutes he had control of his fear.

 

He entered, trying to look in every direction at once, not wanting to be surprised. He made it inside and crouched down behind the nearest shelf and waited. There was some sort of barricade in the middle of the isle, he could just see the top of some one’s head.

 

“Hey, you over there, you ok?” He yelled, the sound was muffled of course, but he couldn’t imagine anyone not hearing him.

 

He waited, yelled a few more times, then realized this guy must be dead, or the soundest sleeper he had ever heard of. He grabbed a small ceramic planter and crept farther down the aisle, he launched the planter in a high arc, it landed with a thundering crash which reverberated around the store. He knew this may have been a mistake, then thought that hummer is loud enough to wake the dead. He knew he was right, his tenseness was fading, not entirely, but he knew he was safe now, everyone here was dead.

 

He was still careful, he made his way around behind the barricade and saw he had been correct, the man behind the barricade had been sick, and took his own life. It was a gruesome sight, but Alex had seen worse. He unconsciously pressed his hand to his chest where under the suit he had placed the little girls book in his breast pocket.

 

As would become and old habit very quickly when entering any building, he would search every room, and every isle, to make sure no one was waiting in ambush, and worse yet, no one had died leaving their corpse for him to stumble over.

 

He had seen more than a few  possible ends in his life, horrible car crash,(his parents) bombings,(on the news everyday)  shootings, (on the news, but more recently the people at the store) and the virus. He decided if he had to go, he’d pick any way but the later.

 

He had searched the entire store he checked by the main entrance last, he understood better what had happened. The man in the car did not appear to be sick at all, he had been shot in the top of his head as he tried to exit his car through the window. In the passenger seat was a woman, she too had been shot. She as best as Alex could tell had not been infected, but there was no way to know. They had been dead a few days.

 

Hiding behind a barricade by the optical center were their executioners. All infected, it was pretty obvious, the discoloration of the skin, the green slime, which had disgusted him so only a few days ago, seemed nothing more to him now than the power lines running down the sides of the roads he had grown up on.

 

“So many things we took for granted,” he remarked inside his white suit, his only defense against death. Then he realized, “the door opened all by itself,” the power was still on here. He made his way to the rear of the store and found the main light switches, they all came on.

 

He went through to the loading dock and opened one of the bay doors, went and got the hummer and drove it around back. He grabbed a cart and went through the half of the store that sold groceries, he filled the cart and emptied it five times, carefully picking things he knew were sealed and thus could be disinfected without spoiling the contents.

After he had gotten all the food he thought necessary, with what was in the big truck they could take a trip to the moon and back and still have some left over. Too much is better than not enough. He found a large plastic tub and then grabbed thirty gallons of Clorox bleach.

 

He poured it all into the tub. He began dipping each of the things he had gotten into the bleach. He then carefully spread them so they could dry, some of the labels peeled away, he didn’t care. Food was food, and they weren’t making anymore at the moment.

 

This process took him quite a while, he realized he hadn’t checked in with Red since before entering the store. He had let him know it may be a while before he called back. When he finished he poured bleach all over himself, fully saturating the suit, he was not taking any chances. He then loaded the stuff he had gotten into the rear of the hummer then stripped off the suit leaving it where it had fallen. He had 4 more, but knew he would need to find more.

His next stop was the Tractor Supply store next door. This he didn’t feel he needed to be wearing a suit for, the store was smaller and locked up tight. He broke through the glass with a sledge hammer he had gotten from John’s garage. He went in found the keys to the large chain that ran through all the trailers and other equipment that was parked outside. He selected a pretty big trailer, one with three foot side rails, he filled it with things he thought he would need.

 

He spent about thirty minutes collecting things, then decided to take a break and call Red. “Red, Alex here, you there?”

 

“Yeah bud, everything ok? We were getting worried.” Replied Red.

 

“Yeah, just had a bit of a scare at Wal-Mart.” He then briefly explained the scene and what he thought had happened.

 

“It’s just awful,” He heard a woman say, “hi Alex, Sherry here. I had to take over for Red a minute, we kind of hit a roadblock and he needs both hands to get through.”

 

“Whew that was rough,” he heard her say, “good driving hon.”

 

“Sherry honey ya have to let go of the button when you’re done talking.” Alex heard Red say.

 

“Pleased to meet ya Sherry, and glad you made it through.” Alex laughed a little.

 

“Phil and Sandra about rolled over; we had to go down the embankment a bit to get by all the wrecks.” Red said solemnly, but Alex could hear a tinge of excitement in his voice.

 

“Well we got all sorts of food, canned mostly, but there are a few other things. I am at the Tractor Supply company, you need anything?” asked Alex.

 

“My garage back home looks like the inside of one of those already,” Red paused, seemingly choked by his words. “Well we got all sorts of food, canned mostly, but you never know what we may run into, maybe some chain, a come along or two, anything we can use to move these wrecks out of our way. I have a feeling we are going to hit far worse traffic jams in other places. You can never have to many tools.”

 

“OK then, I will get all I can get, this is on our way, I may just pack up another trailer and we can swing through and grab it tomorrow if ya want.” Offered Alex.

 

“That sounds great.” Red answered.

 

Alex went back to work, he filled the trailer he had picked for himself, then found another one of similar size. He filled each with nearly half the contents of the store. Afraid to miss anything, he took things he was almost sure he wouldn’t need, but just didn’t want to take the chance.

 

He finished at the store within the hour and headed back towards where he’d left his truck. As he pulled away from the Wal-Mart he thought he heard a dog growling, but after carefully scanning the parking lot and even circling around once, he was sure he had imagined it.

Eulogy Post IX

 

newskull

Jakobs 13

 

Jakobs was very sore and stiff when he woke, but he was already feeling better. He was still very dehydrated but alive, he still had a few leg spasms but none as bad as when he was confined in the back of the cruiser. He needed clothes. It had snowed during the night and was below freezing.

Wrapped in a blanket he went out and searched the cruiser. In the trunk he found a spare uniform and a pair of military style boots. They were a little loose but they fit.

He set out from the hotel in search of food and a vehicle more suited for the snow. When he had passed the small Sheriff’s department on his way to the hotel the day before he noticed the large four-wheel drive truck parked in front. He knew he’d have to be careful he didn’t want to stumble across any bodies trying to find the keys.

He opened the door slowly and waited for the stench of death to escape the small brick building. It did not come. Careful not to touch anything he made his way through the entrance. It seemed there hadn’t been anyone inside in months. He couldn’t imagine there being more than two or three people working in this cramped office. There were only two desks and hanging on a hook beside the larger of the two was what he was looking for.

There were five keys on the ring, several were locker keys and the keys to the Suburban parked outside. He knew being in there was risky but he needed supplies. He searched the building and found a case which held three shotguns two old revolvers and a hunting rifle. These he took as well as all the ammunition stored at the bottom.

In a locker in a small closet he found a store of HAZMAT suits. He took all of these; he knew he would need them to get to the prisoners out of death row. He loaded the Suburban and headed back in. There was a small vending machine which he emptied after bashing the glass out with his shotgun.

There was a water dispenser which was still half full, with great effort he removed the large bottle and took it as well. He drank greedily until he was almost sick then stopped. He ate three of the snacks from the vending machine. “Garbage food,” he called it. It would have to do for now. He had spent his entire life eating homegrown vegetables and either home raised meat or whatever he had killed hunting.

He waited a while to see if he would be sick, but he wasn’t. He was exhausted but knew he needed to get the other men from death row free or they would run the chance of getting sick. He knew they had probably fared better than he did. They had been nearly three days without food or water so they were living on borrowed time. It was the heat in the cruiser that nearly did him in. The guys on the row, as they called it, would have a much slower more painful death.

He didn’t care for any of the other killers he shared the wing with. He just liked the kid. He didn’t know or care why the rest were there. He would set them free anyway and they would owe him. He wanted them in case he ran into trouble. He had heard stories of the sick attacking the healthy just spreading the disease further. “Strength in numbers buddy,” he thought aloud.

He would just part company and head back into the hills where he had spent his entire life until the whore got caught. “Fucking assholes minding another man’s business,” he spat. He needed a new wife, he figured he was young enough to have a son of his own and raise him right the way he was raised. “This country needs real men, and God help the man who tries to make the first rule.”

He drove the large vehicle more surely than he had driven the police cruiser. He was feeling revived even energized. His ankles and wrists ached but he didn’t mind. He was alive and he took this as a sign he had been in the right all along. “I should be dead right along with everyone else in that prison but here I sit driving a police truck.” He laughed with a maniacal grin on his face. “Now I’m in charge!”

He arrived at the prison and drove back to the spot he had been held captive in the sweltering cruiser. He passed where the guard had been. He saw bones that were picked clean but barely enough for half a man. He could see where something had drug larger parts away.

At this, he wondered if the animals were immune. He knew he’d have to be on his guard. The sight of the molested remains did nothing to dispel his mood. He felt good and feeling vindicated by his survival he had no time for useless emotions.

He parked the truck careful not to do so much as walk where the fallen guard had tread. He donned a HAZMAT suit; this took quite a bit of time. He had never worn anything like this so he was clumsy with the donning. After twenty minutes he was sure he was properly suited up.

He carefully packed the remaining suits in a large police duffel bag he found in the truck. He walked up to where the guard had exited just a few days prior. The door was not shut. The power was still on at the prison and this he was glad of. Death row was almost fully lit by artificial means and a power outage would almost certainly mean stumbling around in the dark with a flash light. That could be dangerous when you don’t know where the dead lay.

He didn’t know what this disease had been but he knew it was as bad as the best imagination could produce. The stories people told were horrific. One caller cried for help saying he had kept his wife and children safe but when they tried leaving to find a better place to wait it out they were attacked.

The crazed sick man had knocked out a window and tried to grab one of his children and in the process infected the caller’s entire family. The caller said he kept begging them for the cure. By the time he made the call to the radio station he was almost as crazed as the man who accosted him and his family. He too began thinking there was a cure.

Jakobs had no way of knowing, but similar situations all across the world had taken place as he listened in the boiling cruiser. The sick were convinced that anyone well had the cure and began to attack in droves. The disease spread at first by those fleeing the threat of nuclear weapons and then spread by the diseased hunting those not yet infected in hopes of finding a cure. It was anarchy at its most primal level.

Jakobs had indeed dodged a certain death sentence, he thought. In his mind’s eye it was God sparing him. He was a cold callous killer. He had always been just on the verge of a psychotic rage at any time. Now for the first time in his life he felt a change inside. He now believed he was chosen and that he could do anything he saw fit. “God took the so called good, killed ‘em real damn good. Shows ya who the good ones are now don’t it?” He blurted inside the stuffy HAZMAT suit.

He made his way to the control room for death row. All the doors were open. The guard had stumbled all the way out not bothering to close a single door on the way. This was convenient but Jakobs could have still gotten to them even if they hadn’t. The power was on, and all the doors were electronically locked. The keys to the cruiser had the main guard’s room keys on it. He could have as easily opened all the cells from there.

He was glad they were open. He had peered into the different guard rooms between doors and saw many of the guards still sitting where they had been the morning they had taken him and put him in the cruiser.

He made it to the last guard room where they monitored the death row inmates. He opened the door and it was vacant as he had hoped. He didn’t know what had become of the guard who was supposed to be there. Perhaps he had somehow left while he was asleep the first day in the car. Even with the HAZMAT suit on Jakobs was careful of what he touched and how he did so. He found the intercom switch that would allow all the death row prisoners to hear him.

Just as he began speaking a roar came through the speaker on his end. All five prisoners began yelling and cursing. It took him a full minute of yelling for the men to quiet down.

His voice was muffled but the condemned men had little trouble understanding. “This is Jakobs from cell three; when I open the cells do not come out. There is some sort of virus and it killed everyone here. We are the only ones alive. I was in the town near here but I was hurt and had to find a way to get you out safely. If you exit your cells without a hazardous materials suit on you will die. I have one for each of you. Take your time they are hard to get on.”

Each man understood, they had some idea of what was going on, but not how bad it had really been. They had all stayed glued to their radios and televisions until the stations had stopped broadcasting.

Jakobs hit the switch that released the electronic locks on the men’s cells. None dared exit; they waited each in turn until Jakobs brought them a suit. It took the men far longer to equip the safety gear than Jakobs and he was growing impatient. It was getting late and he didn’t want to traverse the unplowed road from the prison to the town in the dark even with four-wheel drive.

Dispelling ceremony once all signaled they were ready Jakobs merely said, “Come on, it’s getting late.”

They silently followed Jakobs but he was certain he heard muffled laughter as they passed the dead guards in the booths they had manned.

Once they reached the requisitioned police truck Jakobs ordered them to leave the suits on. “We have no food or anything to drink. We need to go in some of the stores and get supplies. These suits are uncomfortable but it is keeping you alive right now, so heed my words. Do not take them off until I say.” He paused a moment then added, “you get yourself sick and you kill us all. This is worse than I thought and you will see for yourselves soon enough. Everyone in that town down there is dead. I saw not one living thing. Watch out for animals, I don’t know if they are immune but they are feeding on the dead.”

No one spoke, Jakobs concentrated on driving. His five passengers were silent the entire ride, seemingly all in shock. One minute they had been condemned and waiting for death, the next they were free and their detractors were the ones who were dead.

They arrived at the town and Jakobs drove to the local grocery store. “Get only cans and jars, we have to pour bleach all over this stuff and these suits so we can get them off without infecting ourselves. Get everything that can be bleached.”

The men didn’t argue they obediently did what they were told. After twenty minutes there was a large pile of canned foods and a large assortment of jars. He then directed the men to a small dollar store and instructed them to each fill a grocery cart with bleach.

They used the bleach to douse all the food they had acquired and once finished he had them pour bleach all over each other’s suits until they were completely soaked. Jakobs began pulling off his suit and then the revolver he had in his belt was visible. The other men seemed nervous by this.

“Just relax; this is more for me than you. If I get this disease I am not going to die like these poor fools.” He motioned towards the doctor’s office where so many had died looking for help. This resolution seemed to quell the uneasiness in the men.

They walked to the hotel and by Jakobs orders stayed fifty feet apart. Once they arrived at the hotel Jakobs retrieved the shotgun from his room and used it to open five more doors. “If any of us is sick we will know by morning. I know you’re all hungry and thirsty. I will bring you something in a short while. Do not come out of your room and don’t lock the doors. In the morning we will know if we got out of there safely or not.”

Jakobs knew he was fine but couldn’t be sure about the rest. He would kill anyone who was sick, he wouldn’t risk them coming after him consumed with fever and madness.

For the first time one of the men spoke, “if I’m sick in the morning with this, shoot me man. I don’t want to die like that. Don’t say nothing just do it.” It had been the kid. Jakobs liked him even more. He’s matter of fact and to the point. Jakobs would have said the same thing had he not been the one with the gun. The other men exhausted, hungry, and dehydrated grumbled agreement.

Jakobs brought each man a bag of snacks and a few bottled waters telling them each to drink and eat slowly. He spent the night in the cruiser watching the doors of the five men as they slept. At eight in the morning a full twelve hours after they had arrived at the hotel Jakobs standing beside the cruiser blared the horn three long blows. He heard the men begin to stir. He yelled, “Open your doors but do not come out.” Each did as they were told, but Jakobs noticed it took one man far longer to comply than the others.

It was the man from three cells down. Jakobs knew very little about this man. He was always quiet. The man wobbled on his feet in the doorway and Jakobs was hesitant to get near. One by one he told each man who seemed healthy to walk over and stand by the cruiser. Lastly he came to the sick man. He had the slime Jakobs had noticed on all the bodies he had passed in the last few days caked to his killer’s jumpsuit.

Jakobs said nothing he quickly pulled the revolver from his belt and unceremoniously shot the sick man in the head. A few of the men seemed shocked but none said a word. They were alive because of this man and they owed him their loyalty. He had the power, they accepted this.

They didn’t reenter the rooms they had spent the night in. The six were now five. They were all healthy except for the remnants of dehydration and hunger sickness. They needed clothing, more vehicles, and they all needed to eat. They just had to be careful. They spent the next two days carefully gathering supplies and they settled on three vehicles. Jakobs liked being alone and let the other four men pair off how they wanted.

Each truck a requisition from a state services store yard had a CB and they were all four wheel drive with snow plows on them. Jakobs didn’t know much more about what had happened than they did but they all asked him numerous questions. He liked that they looked to him for guidance. He spoke to the kid more than the others but even that he kept limited.

He got the feeling the kid wasn’t quite right in the head. Considering what he’d been through Jakobs kind of felt bad for him. The others unnerved him a bit, this he never let show. He knew to turn his back on them if they were angry could prove to be a lasting mistake.

Jakobs didn’t care what they did or how they acted as long as none of them risked doing something stupid and getting them all infected. He did not care how another man acted or what he did; it was their own business as long as it did not negatively affect Jakobs or his property. He needed a wife and that’s all he was after. Once he had what he wanted he was going to disappear and start a new life somewhere deep in the woods.

They left the small town once they were sure they had what they needed. They would have to resupply. They quickly found an easier safer way other than risk getting sick from contaminated stores.

Where they were going no one knew. Jakobs led and they followed. Jakobs didn’t have a destination in mind. He was looking for a woman to make his new bride so they rambled. Jakobs always had his CB scanning in the hopes others would be using this older yet reliable form of communication.

They found a group of survivors three days into their travels. There were two men and a woman. Jakobs halted his group when they saw the campfire in the distance. Unsure if they had been noticed Jakobs said, “Listen up, the woman is mine.” A few of his band of killers looked disappointed but did not argue. “Follow my lead.”

By this point all of Jakobs’ men were armed. He felt it better this way. You never knew what was going to happen. They drove to within 100 feet of the stranger’s camp and all piled out guns drawn. The startled couple and their lone traveling companion were shocked. They too were armed but had no chance of reacting. They didn’t want to greet the only other survivors they had found with weapons.

Jakobs looked at the woman, not as young as he’d hoped for and asked, “how old are you?”

“This is my wife,” the man sitting beside her began to rise as he spoke.

“Just sit down there fella until I tell you, you can get up.” Jakobs spat.

“What do you want?” Asked the other man who was sitting on the opposite side of the campfire.

Jakobs still wore the uniform of a law enforcement officer and decided to use it to his advantage. “Look I’m asking the questions and it would be best if you cooperate.”

“Yes sir,” answered the frightened woman’s husband.

“How old are you mam?” Jakobs asked again. This time when he asked he somehow sounded more sweet and menacing at the same time.

“I am twenty-eight,” she stammered.

“Have you had children?” Jakobs could see her confusion and sadness as he asked this.

“Yes but I fear our children are dead.” She began to weep.

“Can you have more?” Jakobs asked bluntly.

“Just wait a minute,” blurted her husband.

For this he got the barrel of a shotgun put in his face.

“No!” She cried I can’t, my tubes were tied after our second child was born. She burst into fresh tears openly sobbing.

“Well damn, what good are ya then?” Jakobs blurted.

“Load up their supplies we leave in the morning.” Jakobs barked at his band of merry murderers.

Jakobs heard the woman’s screams during the night, he didn’t care it wasn’t his business. There were shots fired soon after he retired to the bed of his truck. He didn’t care about that either. A man’s business is his own. The last shot he heard roused him from his sleep and gave the poor woman peace. He quickly dozed back off.

He knew that some of his men probably should have been left in their cells to rot but he needed them. So he had set loose into the world those who killed and murdered for pleasure, but who was he to judge? It was people like the three they had encountered that sent him to die with the animals he now traveled with. So as far as he was concerned they had it coming.

They encountered other travelers with similar results. All the women they found were either too old or too young. Jakobs didn’t care either way what happened to them. He knew that if those they accosted were dead he didn’t have to worry about someone trying to track them for revenge.

They had been traveling quite a while when Jakobs started hearing lots of CB chatter. He overheard where some of the travelers were heading so he set out in that direction. He learned over the next day or so it was a larger group than they had ever encountered before so he knew they would have to use different tactics.

As they slowly followed, gradually catching up with these travelers he began to get a feel for his quarry. There were two men he heard the most, a man named Red and one named Alex. They seemed level headed enough but he knew they weren’t going to part with their women very easily.

 

 

 

 

Mark/Anna 14

 

Anna’s health had been steadily improving, but despite her objections Mark didn’t want to take her on the road just yet. He had ventured out of the park to get a sense of what was going on. The radio stations were now nothing more than static, even the emergency service loop had stopped playing.

Anna finally convinced him she was ok to travel seven days after she had arrived. Unknowingly, their timing was perfect all the infected were now dead. When Mark agreed he said, “tomorrow then.” And he smiled.

 

[The man was starving and severely dehydrated, he knew he would die if he didn‘t get food and water soon. He had listened to all the news he could find, for as long as it had been on. He had ran out of food three days earlier. He heard claims from more than one reporter that the disease may have been in the water. So he had lived off what he had in his apartment. He had collected all the ice in his freezer and melted it to drink. That also had ran out. He was in poor shape, he had been drinking liquor, and that only made his dehydration worse. He climbed down his fire escape drunk.]

 

Mark had ventured out of the park a few times on foot to see how things looked. He had to talk Anna into staying put. He knew her feet still pained her and he wanted her well before they left. After a few of these outings he decided  it was safe to take the four wheeler out and had gotten a few more supplies.

 

He saw horrific things he had kept from Anna. He came upon what appeared to have been a suicide, he was careful to steer clear of any bodies he saw, but had the person who jumped twenty stories, not been infected he still did not want to go any closer.  He nearly threw up in his helmet, getting the strap undone and his head free just in time.

 

He had gone to a drug store, smashed out the front windows leaving his gloves and helmet on carefully checking each isle and behind all the counters making sure there were no dead inside. He wasn’t sure if direct contact were necessary or if it was airborne. He had heard that it was both, depending on which reporter you listened to. Anna and him both were at a loss for the lack of real information the reports had given. They had listened to them until they stopped.

 

Mark had always heeded his father’s advice, and to be prepared was a biggie. He relished all his father had ever said, and would have given anything to hear one more line, one more tiny piece of advice. A single tear ran down his helmeted cheek, making him smile. “I love you Dad.” He said to the empty isles.

 

He spent a great deal of time in there, he meticulously went from isle to isle gathering anything that he could possibly need. He had so much stuff he knew he’d need something big to carry it all in. He stacked everything neatly near the entrance packed in book bags, he had found in the school supplies isle. He knew that now there were probably thousands of stores just like this all across America, and the world for that matter just waiting to be pillaged. He just smiled and thought, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. He wondered who he had heard say that, as he continued gathering supplies towards the front of the store.

 

There was enough food to last him and Anna on a trip around the globe. It was mostly canned and dried stuff that would dull the palate after a while he knew. Then again he figured it would be a while before the Olive Garden would be open again. He worked steadily, his mind wandered from this subject to that, sometimes he would tear up sometimes he smiled, but he was happy in his work.

 

When he was finished he doubted if he’d be able to carry all these things without the use of a truck, or even a large trailer. He had gotten a phone book and found a local ATV dealer and decided that would be their first stop on the way out of town.

 

“You know how to ride one of these?” Asked Mark as she climbed on behind him.

 

“A little, I would just need to be shown again and have a few minutes practice to get reacquainted.” She answered. Then added with a smirk, “so what you don’t like the way I smell?”

 

“Na sweetie, it’s not that,” he stammered believing her to have been serious then looked back at her grin. “Na, just didn’t want ya back there sniffing me, makes me uncomfortable.”

 

“Ha-ha, burn, you got me.” Her smile widened.

 

“Well I think we are gonna need more storage space, we have a lot of stuff to pick up.” He told her.

 

Mark had thought Anna may have questioned him for wanting to carry so much stuff, but instead had only said, that’s a good idea. “You were lucky there were no bodies in there.” Was all she had said.

 

Mark had told her briefly about all the dead people he had seen, and how they almost didn’t seem real. They were still very creepy all the same. He didn’t want it to be a complete shock to her as it had been for him. It’s one thing to hear about it on the radio, but to actually see so much death is overwhelming.

 

[The man stumbled to the nearest store he knew of, he was quite drunk, he had found the liquor in his neighbors freezer and had graciously helped himself. He doubled over dry heaving, and what little fluid, alcohol mostly, he had in his stomach came up. His body was wracked with dehydration cramps and all he could do was writhe on the ground until they passed. He made it to his feet, he kicked the bottle away and more slowly than before began to walk on towards the store.

 

He got to the store, and to his surprise the door was unlocked. The smell hit him before he was even through the door. He said aloud, “hello, anyone here?” There was no reply.

 

“Damn milk cooler must have warmed up, damn this place reeks.” The only thing that stopped him from diving on the first thing he saw and eating it was the smell. He grabbed a cupcake and walked to the drink cooler, they had been without power for several days, he didn’t mind if the drinks were warm, wet was wet. He drank two sports drinks and a Pepsi before vomiting on his shirt, he took it off wiped his mouth and threw it on the floor.

 

The shirt landed on a shoed foot, the foot belonged to the former proprietor who had caught the virus the first morning on his way to work, and had dropped dead of a heart attack that same evening. He had been in that same spot for a week. During which the store had been robbed once, attempted robbed three more times, anyone who watched the tape would have found it quite amusing. One person after the next walking in seeing the dead man, and that was their cue to take what they wanted.

 

The third person who saw him actually called the police on their cell phone before looting twenty cartons of cigarettes, and checking the empty cash register. His call hadn’t gotten through, but the caller had been infected checking the man’s pulse. He took death home to his three brothers, both his sisters, his Mom and his grandmother.

 

The man sat on the floor for a solid twenty minutes forcing down cookies and various drinks. Before he rose, he decided he needed a smoke. He went behind the counter and saw the register standing open and most of the cigarettes gone. He didn’t find his brand. “Beggars can’t be choosers .” He said in a practiced manner that told you he must have begged for most of his cigarettes in the pre-virus world.

 

It was as he lit his smoke he turned around to see the dead man, with his shirt laying on his left leg. “Damn I better get out of here.” He slurred, he grabbed a bag of food and some drinks stepping over the body in the process. “Glad I didn’t touch that dude.” he said aloud as he walked out.]

 

They left the park and he felt her tighten her grip when they passed the first cars with bodies in them. She never made a sound and after a few miles her grip loosened. He asked her if she needed to stop, but she had assured him she was fine.

 

It took them nearly an hour to get to the ATV dealer and Anna was noticeably uncomfortable. “You ok?” He asked.

 

“Just a bit sore, it will be easier when I have my own I think.” She felt so much love for him, he never missed a beat. This one’s a keeper she heard her mom say in her head, she smiled.

 

Mark broke the door open with a concrete planter he found by a nearby store front. After five tries the door finally yielded. Mark made Anna stay outside while he donned surgical gloves and a mask like the doctors he saw on TV. He searched the store thoroughly before giving Anna the ok to come inside, just for precautions she wore a mask and gloves as well.

 

“I’m going to look for the keys, they are probably in that office back there,” he pointed towards the rear of the store.  “Pick a nice set.” he added.

 

“You’re not taking your dad’s with us?” She asked, wishing she hadn’t no sooner than the words escaped her lips.

 

He saw her discomfort and smiled, “He would understand, she is getting old now, I need something I know will last a while.” Mark, knew it would hurt. It was the only thing he had with him that was his fathers, then he thought, that’s not true, I’m his. Mark supposed this meant he was maturing.

 

He found the keys all locked in a cabinet he had to yank on several times to get open, he was grateful they weren’t locked in a safe. He took the whole box out and saw Anna was trying to connect a trailer to the hitch on the back of a big Honda that was blue trimmed in pink, he smiled. He walked over and helped her.

 

“There’s a bigger trailer over there, and there’s yours, unless ya want a different one.“ It was a similar model Honda but it was yellow trimmed in blue. She had made nice choices; they were two of the biggest in the show room. He handed her the keys and she  found the proper keys for each. He brought over his trailer and connected it. There was a gas can in the shop area of the building he split the fuel between the two new 4 wheelers.

 

They went through the store gathering clothes, tools, extra tires, anything that they may need, they even took a fire extinguisher. This store was not solely an ATV store, it had camping gear, which they were not in need of, but grabbed a few extra sleeping bags anyway, just in case.  The store sold hunting rifles, as well as fishing equipment and they had even seen boats outback.

 

“Now for some protection.” Mark told Anna, who just looked at the wall of guns, Mark wasn’t sure what she was thinking  then she pointed to a very nice 270 equipped with a scope. “Nice choice, you know how to use it?” He asked.

 

“Daddy taught me, he believed that if you taught children gun safety when they are young, there would be no accidental shootings. He had several in the house, said people may not agree with his philosophy, but it worked for him.” She said.

 

“Your dad sounds like a smart man.” He saw tears wanting to fall from her eyes, speaking of her dad as if he were still alive. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be, I tear up a lot these days when I think of him, I lost him before all this, but all this seemed to refresh the pain. I will be fine.” She sniffed once then the tears vanished.

 

They left the store after Anna had a few test runs around the parking lot. She got the feel for the 4 wheeler pretty quick. They went to the drug store where Mark had already sorted and stacked all the things they would need. Took them a half an hour to load all the stuff into the trailers. Then they headed back to their camp As they were leaving the drugstore he could have sworn he saw movement down the block, he glanced back, but whatever he had seen was gone.

 

When they arrived back at camp Anna dismissed herself to go bathe in the nearby lake, and Mark promised to have a nice fire built before she got back. She kissed his cheek and left.

 

[The man was sick, at first he thought it was from the liquor, but he hadn’t had a drink in hours, and he had been drinking juice nonstop since he left the store. For a while he let himself believe the Twinkies and other cakes he had eaten must have been spoiled. They hadn’t tasted spoiled he was sure of that. When he started spitting up the phlegm, the same color he had seen the people on the TV spitting up, he knew better. How did he get sick, it’s not right he thought.

 

He was walking down the street smoking cigarette after cigarette, with no real idea as to where he was going. He knew he was going to die, but wasn’t sure as to where he wanted to spend his last days. Then he heard something up the street, people talking. And one of them was a chick. He snuck up the street using stalled cars as cover, he saw them loading stuff out of the pharmacy and onto little 4 wheeler trailers.

 

“Now what the fuck are they doing?” He asked the bumper of the Miata in front of him with two dead passengers inside. He thought the boy had seen him as they drove away, but  evidently not. “They must be sick to, he was sure, why else were they getting stuff from a pharmacy?” He asked himself aloud.

 

He found a car dealership and broke in grabbing the keys to a brand new behemoth of a truck, big 4×4 with huge knobby tires. “May as well have some fun before I die.” He said as he pulled away from the dealership. He made his way back towards the drug store and drove in the direction they had gone, he had acquired more liquor and had been drinking freely for nearly an hour searching for the kids.

 

He was getting angry, and had trouble organizing his thoughts. He’d be trying to remember what street he was on and start thinking about his Mother and how he used to take her to the grocery store every Thursday, using the city bus as transportation. How she hated that and made sure him and everyone in earshot knew her son was a deadbeat and allowed his poor mother who did nothing but love him suffer at every turn.

 

He had been clipping cars, there was barely any room for such a vehicle in many places. So he made room. He thought I’m gonna ram that whore just like I’m ramming this truck through these cars.“ He coughed and spewed slime all down his shirt. His whole body felt on fire from the inside out. He continued on madly searching, raving more and more as he continued downing liquor, as the virus rapidly liquefied his organs]

 

Anna was down at the lake for so long Mark yelled to make sure she was ok, she had taken a lantern and he could see her shape in the darkness, silhouetted by the lights glare. She was lovely, even with all the bruises. She had yelled back that she was fine. She was just enjoying her freezing bath. He reminded her about the dangers of hypothermia. To this she had giggled, and thought, he loves me to.

 

He built a raging fire, and had begun repacking everything they didn’t need for the night. He had to use ropes to keep stuff from falling out of Anna’s trailer. He made sure it was water proof so nothing would get ruined if it began to rain on them. He had packed nearly everything into hers, with the exception of the extra sleeping bags and some tarps. He intended to stop somewhere and find as many gas cans as he could and he was gonna fill his trailer with fuel. Again he was trying to make it so they did not have to make many stops on their long journey. To where he wasn’t quite sure, but anywhere was better than here.

 

She returned clean and beautiful, he had never thought she was ugly even battered and bruised, he couldn’t look at her long without feeling warm all over. He in turn went to the lake and bathed, he yelled out when he walked out in the water, Anna replied with gales of laughter.

 

He came back a while later shivering, she had him come sit at the fire beside her and she handed him a warm cup of soup. He noticed in the firelight how tired she looked, he didn’t raise the issue of waiting again knowing she would argue against it. The day’s activities had worn her out. He was impressed at how hard she worked when they had work to do. She was not a prissy girl by any means, and he was grateful.

 

They got the fire to an acceptable size and went to sleep. A few hours later Mark was jerked from sleep with Anna shaking his shoulder. “Someone is coming.”

 

Mark could barely see her soft features in the tent with only a feint glow from the fire pit, but he could see enough to know she was terrified. “Get out of the tent and hide in the woods.”

 

Mark could clearly hear the trucks engine now, still a little ways from them, but definitely in the park. It sounded to him whoever it was, was playing with whatever they were driving. Then clearly over the sound of the engine in the distance he heard a gunshot. He had exited the tent right after Anna, and watched as she waited for him. “Please go over there behind those trees.” She obliged hesitantly not wanting to leave him alone.

 

He had taken down his table top barrier leaving them exposed because the weather had been getting warmer the last few days, this he regretted now. Whoever this is running through the park like a maniac shooting at God only knows what, is going to see the fire. He didn’t have time to put it out, so he went to where Anna had hid.

 

They heard more shots as the truck came closer, they could see the headlights now. It was obvious whoever this was knew they were there, he drove straight for them. He slammed on the brakes and the big truck slid right in front of the little camp they had shared for a week in peace. The peace was now broken.

 

The man climbed down from the cab waving what Mark believed was a 357 magnum, It was huge and looked just like the gun his dad’s favorite tough guy actor Clint Eastwood had used in several of the movies he had seen. In his other hand was a brand new bottle of Jack Daniels the seal hadn‘t even been broken. “Come on out fore I start shooting!” He demanded in his best cowboy accent, thinking he must look like a real outlaw.

 

He was deteriorating fast, becoming delusional, he had kept forgetting about the girl, and somehow the thought would pop back in his head and he’d continued looking. He had been driving back and forth up and down the same streets for nearly six hours till he noticed the park entrance. He had given up on finding them by then, until he saw the fire.

 

He aimed the pistol and shot three times into the tent, Anna and Mark sat silently. Mark could see the man better as he approached the tent, he thought grimly the only difference between this man and all those corpses he had seen today was the fact he was still moving.

 

He stumbled over to the tent and knelt down, he began cursing,” Sneaky fuckers, I should have known you’d hear the truck coming. No matter, come on out or I’ll make you wish you had!”

 

Anna’s weight shifted and there was a small crack as her foot snapped a twig in half. In the night it seemed amplified far louder than it could have possibly been. The dying man shot in the direction of the noise, the first slug slammed into a tree just in front of them, the second went wide and Mark would swear later he felt it as it passed. The third impacted the tree in front of them just as the first had.

 

“We need to do something fast before he reloads,” whispered Mark to Anna.

 

“I told you fuckers to come out, now you kids better do what you’re told.” He spat.

 

“Fuck you!” Anna said defiantly.

 

He aimed and fired, but the big gun only clicked, he had reloaded before getting out, but hadn’t counted his bullets. He stumbled back towards the truck the door was still open, He needed his bullets.

 

Mark was first out he had a twelve gauge he had taken on their shopping spree of the previous day. “Stop right where you’re at!” He demanded.

 

The man turned and laughed, he sounded like an dying hyena. Mark stood his ground. “Kid I am gonna kill you if you don’t put that gun down, killing people ain’t as easy as ya think it is.” He continued again towards the truck.

 

“I said stop you son of a bitch, or I will kill you, your dead anyway, why are you messing with us?” Mark was getting the feeling he had when he realized Roger wasn’t going to stop that night, only a week past, but it seemed more like years.

 

“You’re gonna die to, all I want is to have a little fun with the little misses.” He grinned. He looked like a grotesque skeleton, green slime on his chin, the front of his chest was covered in the same. Mark couldn’t understand how he was still moving.

 

“I am sorry you’re sick but if you take one more step I am gonna blow you in half. You don’t have to believe I will, for it to happen.” Mark meant it, and had every intention.

 

“I stayed in my apartment for days, they said it was in the water, so I starved myself and had nothing to drink for days, That means if I’m sick you have to be sick to. Now boy I ain’t gonna tell ya again, I’m gonna have my way with that girl or you’re gonna die you hard headed fuck.” He smirked and turned to keep walking.

 

“Anna sweetie don’t look,” The man heard Mark say, and as he realized maybe this kid wasn’t bluffing, his face froze in fear. Mark fired both barrels; he nearly fell backwards from the duel kick of the massive gun.

 

The man’s body, minus the chest, slammed into the grill of the truck his Jack Daniels bottle bouncing out of his hand, it hit a rock and shattered splashing Marks hand and face.

 

“Oh shit I got his blood on me!” Mark screamed.

 

Anna was there beside him, and asked. “Where, oh no, where, I don’t see anything.”

 

“On my face and my hand,” he raised his hand, and she was examining his face. He couldn’t see anything on his hand.

 

Anna came close to him and sniffed, she smiled which almost made Mark scream at her. “Calm down, it’s just liquor. When the bottle broke it splashed you.” He smelled his own hand and sighed.

 

Anna looked at Mark and said, “I love you.“

 

Mark replied, “I love you to, I will never let anything happen to you I have the ability to stop.“ Then they kissed. They got on their 4 wheelers, and left everything that wasn’t already packed, their journey had begun.