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 XII

newskull

(This is the last post from Eulogy. The entire book is now posted in my blog. I would appreciate any critiques you may have. If you took the time to read it all, thank you! 🙂 I certainly hope you enjoyed it.

– JM)

Mark/Anna 18

 

Anna was driving like an old pro, this Mark was proud of. He knew she was a survivor and he couldn’t imagine anyone he’d rather be with on this weird post-apocalyptic journey. The first few days had been uneventful; they had stopped at a hardware store and filled his trailer with gas cans. Then they had stopped at a gas station and pried open the lid to the tanks and used a modified kerosene pump to fill all the cans.

 

They had made incredibly good time, they were completely self-efficient, and didn’t need to stop unless they needed to use the bathroom. Whenever one of them needed to they would just yell out “BIO”, it was a term Mark had picked up from an online video game he used to play, meaning: biological function.

 

They rode side by side when traffic permitted, traffic Mark thought was a morbid way to think of it. Usually  being stuck in traffic meant you were trying to get somewhere. Now it meant you were dead, or at least stuck trying to get around the dead.

 

Alex had picked up a nice CB at the ATV store, this he had attacked to the 4 wheeler, and ran it using batteries. He had tried regularly to get a signal, and a few times he thought he had heard something. He was a bit downhearted that he had not once in three days heard a single voice.

 

It had rained several times the past few days, and he was worried they would get sick. They were riding along steadily, and he had the CB on as usual draining battery after battery. There was a loud burst of static and then he heard, “ello…one……there.” He stopped and killed the engine. Anna did the same.

 

Mark ecstatic threw off his helmet and grabbed the hand set, “Hello I hear you!”

 

“E…got…sumbody….ed.” It sounded like a woman’s voice, but was hard to tell.

 

“I can barely hear you,” Mark yelled at the handset, sure they were having as much trouble hearing , as he was.

 

“We..ear you..ine, lease..on’t ell.” Came a different voice, an older man maybe, hard to tell.

 

Anna giggled at Mark, Mark smiled back. “Sorry, we can only hear bits and pieces of what you are saying.”

 

“Copy, will try..nd..alk..lower..so you can..ear us.’ Slowly spoke what he was now sure was a woman’s voice.

 

“Thank you, we are on 4 wheelers, and my CB is running off low battery power.” Mark told them.

 

“Copy, ow many are ith you?” Asked the man.

 

“Just two of us, we have only seen one other person alive, he was sick, got sick after everyone else was dead, he tried to kill us.” Mark told them matter of fact like.

 

“We are lad you re safe. There are our of us, be areful, some of the ealthy vivors are killing eople oo.” The static filled voice of a younger man broke through.

 

He understood every word, then thought to himself, that’s just fucking great, survive this bull shit just to be attacked and killed, what the hell could someone possibly want, everything is free. Then it hit him, he had thought the diseased man who had attacked them had only done so because he was delirious. Then every movie, book, news article, expose, and story he’d ever heard about rape. They would want the women. He tried to shake this thought off.

 

Anna noticed the distressed look on his face and asked. “What’s wrong Mark? This is great, there are more people.”

 

“Nothing sweetie, just a bad thought is all.” Then he continued into the handset. “Copy, we are somewhere on 77 just north of Bluefield, we started out near Philadelphia. We are clipping along at about thirty miles per hour, but we don’t get stuck at roadblocks.” Mark answered.

 

“at’s smart. E have umthing for traffic ams.” He thought he heard the guy chuckle.

 

The ladies voice came through again, “e are in orth arolina.” Then after a loud burst of static, “east of aleigh.” By this time Anna had their map out, and he again felt grateful for her.

 

She had her finger on Raleigh even before he had gotten a good look at the map. “That’s why you’re the navigator.” She smiled and kissed him on the cheek.

 

“Not far,” came the older man’s voice.

 

The woman again, “we ure could use ome more company, we onna run out of tories oon.”

 

“What do you think?” Mark asked Anna.

 

“May be a good idea, hard to hear what they are saying, but I don’t think people warning us of danger, would try to hurt us.” Anna replied. That was all the assurance Mark needed.

 

“We are on our way, we will be there as soon as we are able. Will you wait?” Asked Mark anxiously.

 

“o ourse we I’ll wait or you.” Came the woman’s voice, she sounded cheery even through all the static.

 

Mark and Anna agreed to check in with them periodically, but knew that the reception they had gotten had to have been a fluke, They were still inside West Virginia, at a place where even the best car tuner could barely pick up a local station.

 

They drove harder and longer than on any other day since leaving the park, they had only spoken briefly about the man who had attacked them. Mark felt pity for him, but was not sorry he had killed him. Worried how Anna may have taken this information, he winced when she began to speak. He was expecting to be admonished for having such a callous attitude, but she hadn’t. She had in fact told him that she was glad he had done it.

 

She said, “you have saved my life on two separate occasions, the second time you risked your life in doing so. I owe you more than I can ever repay. Even if I save your life ten times today and twenty times tomorrow, I am only able to do so because you saved me first. I am yours, always and forever.”

 

She stared unblinking at him as she said this, he thought he could feel the heat emanating from her eyes. He began to speak, but found he could not. His eyes never left hers until she broke contact. She had kissed him, and awkwardly they had made love.

     They were like any kids, although she had been repeatedly raped, she was still as much a novice as he was. They explored each other with rabid curiosity, this too skinny boy and a too skinny girl. They were truly in love, and knew their roads however twisted and long, were forever entwined.

Alex/Red 19

 

It had been two days since the dog attacks, Alex was still in a great deal of pain from the gunshot, and his head wound had become infected. Sherry had used one of the remaining Hazmat suits to care for him, it was cumbersome, and made tending Alex’s wounds a great deal harder. This caused him extra pain, but he never once complained.

 

While Alex was under Sherry’s care Red had surveyed the work he had done to the large military vehicle, and with Alex’s blessing had started doing some work to it himself. He used the hummer and went exploring a bit, he took a gun, as would become the new fashion. He had found a large scrap yard and had been going and returning with loads of steel he added to the monstrosity.

 

From Alex’s tent, he saw that Red had done some serious work, Sherry had him sealed up in the tent for most of two full days, until she was sure he was not infected with the virus. He was no worse for the wear, just terribly sore.

 

Red had given him a walkie talkie at some point so he wouldn’t feel alone. And he could ask if he needed help. These were good people, and he was very glad to have encountered them. He had a few feverish dreams until the antibiotics and aspirin had knocked it out of him, and he finally felt like himself.

 

They had just gotten off the CB after talking to a young guy somewhere up in West Virginia. Red had hopped in the truck to talk to him, Sherry was in the jeep, and Alex had climbed in Sandra and Phil’s car. They had them all brimming with excitement. They were on their way, soon the four would be six. The kid whoever he was had sounded excited to talk to them, and they couldn’t wait to hear if he had any more news.

 

Sherry along with caring for Alex, had taken it upon herself to reorganize their supplies. Beth had offered to help, and they had done quite an efficient job of this. They had made a ledger, to show what they had in stock. It was busy work, something to keep their minds off things, and so they would feel like they were contributing.

 

Red had gotten directions from Alex and had set off the next day, in search of the armory. They were waiting on the kids and Red decided another big truck like Alex’s was just what they needed. He hoped their party would continue to grow, and he wanted to be prepared for the time when it did.

 

Red surprised them all when he pulled back into camp with not one, but two large vehicles, he had gotten another five ton identical to Alex’s with the exception of the modifications they had done, he was towing it with a semi wrecker.

 

Alex said, “Nice one Red, nothing’s gonna stop us.”

 

“I just thought we could use the extra room for supplies, and the wrecker was just to cool not to take.” He smiled.

 

Beth hadn’t spoken very much the past few days, she had been in a state of shock, and slowly but surely seemed to be coming out of it. “Nice work.”

 

“Now if you think we are moving all that stuff into that truck well you’re certainly mistaken mister!” Sherry said with a grin.

Red set out again no sooner than he had arrived with the big trucks. Alex fell back to sleep before he returned and snoozed a deep and dreamless sleep.

 

Alex woke to the sound of the semi’s air brakes relieving pressure. Red was lowering the massive truck so he could do some modifying it appeared.

 

“What’s up boss?” Asked Alex as he approached Red operating the giant wreckers controls.

 

“Well it occurred to me, that loaded down as your truck is, and the added weight of all that steel, you may need a bit of a push in some of the tighter areas.” Red replied.

 

It’s then Alex saw the large tractor tires Red had picked up, “So you just want to play giant bumper cars?” Alex smirked.

 

This is how they spent the next few days, cajoling each other, collecting things, and just relaxing, it had rained heavily for over a full day and the travelers they were awaiting had stopped to wait it out. They didn’t mind. They made modifications, some practical, some impractical. Red had added a makeshift periscope to Alex’s truck while Alex was asleep one day and painted a pirate flag on the driver’s side door.

Today the new guys would arrive, and they would be on their way. They were all anxious, even Beth seemed to be opening up a bit more. Red was seeing more of the girl he had met that first night at the campsite, he was glad, she had a normal reaction to a horrible event.

Alex had spoken with Mark a few times as they had waited, he asked if he knew how to drive something so large, and Mark had assured him, if you teach me, I will be fine. He hadn’t thought to ask Beth, he found himself acting geeky around her, and would find a reason to be anywhere else at just that time.

He was sitting by his truck watching the wind wave the branches of the pines lining the interstate. It put him in mind of some giant ancient concert taking place within and without everything on the earth. Only the trees could hear the music. So they swayed along with the rhythm.

 

“I don‘t bite you know.” Beth said shyly snapping him out of his reverie.

 

“I, I didn’t.” He stuttered.

“I’m sorry, I am being stupid as always.” He saw tears form in the corners of her eyes, and as she turned to walk away he grabbed her hand.

“You make me nervous.” Was all he got out. She grinned, tears streaked her cheeks falling from the most beautiful green eyes he had ever seen. She was stunning in the afternoon light.

He guided her and she sat beside him, sniffling as she went. “I make you nervous, but why?”

“Under any other circumstances I don’t think I could even say this, but the world has changed, and I am changing with it.” Even after that declaration, he found the words still tried to balk his will. “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.” He finished with a very serious look on his face, as if he believed saying these words, would cause him some horrible affliction, but hadn’t.

It wasn’t that she had never been called beautiful, it wasn’t that she believed herself ugly, but the way he had said it, and the look in his eyes, had completely taken her by surprise. She was speechless, she leaned into him, and kissed him on the cheek.

He could see her tears had returned, but this time he sensed no sadness. He hugged her to his chest and they sat like that a very long time.

Mark and Anna made it to where they were camped at 6:14PM that evening. They warmly greeted each other, pleasantries were exchanged. Alex and Beth had gotten them each a clean bucket of water, and sat up curtains behind one of the trucks so they could freshen up.

While they bathed, Sherry and Red managed to cook up a very tasty meal, of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, and dinner rolls, complete with a large onion. Sherry made a gallon of her world famous Iced Tea, “well it’s world famous in Tennessee, where I’m from.” She told them defiantly, grinning all the while.

 

This had even been a surprise to Alex and Beth. Red on one of his outing’s that day had found a restaurant, and although the last of the power had gone out, the food in the freezer was still good and frozen. They were all glad he did.

 

They all had so many questions to ask, and so much on their minds, but none spoke during dinner, after Red said the blessing. “Dear Lord, thank you for this bounty we are about to receive. Please allow it to nourish our bodies. We thank you dear Lord that you decided to spare us, we know not why, but we do know you have a plan for us all. Thank you for this one last home cooked meal, because you only know when the next one will be. Amen.”

 

The all chimed in, “Amen.” Then there was only the sounds of eating.

 

They each in turn surveyed those surrounding them, unable to keep the thought of “why us”, out of their minds. Mark kept wondering what he had in common with these people, he had been worried about coming to meet these strangers. He was worried for  Anna’s sake. He had calmed considerably when they had said they had two women with them. He hadn’t told them that the person traveling with him was a woman until after he knew that.

 

They had all eaten their dinners, and were stretching, it was still quite early. Red said, “Ah, almost forgot, one more thing.” He disappeared into the semi wrecker and came out with several bags a few minutes later. One was full of cigarettes and cigars he had all sorts of brands. The other bag was full of beer.

 

He took out a large cigar and a beer, then handed the bag to his wife. “Hey, these beers are cold.” Sherry was surprised.

 

“Truck has a fridge in it, and I know smoking is bad and all that, but all the cigarettes and cigars won’t be fit to smoke before long.” Red smiled.

 

Sherry looking in the bag smiled, he had remembered what brand she smoked, and had gotten her a full carton. She leaned over passed the bag to Beth then turned back and kissed Red deeply.  They all drank and smoked to their hearts content, then pair by pair all headed off to sleep. Alex and Beth had been the last to go.

 

“Would you lay with me a while? I think I would enjoy that. Only if it’s ok and you don’t mind?” Beth asked Alex.

 

He stood and took her hand, they walked back to his tent and slept curled in each other’s arms.

 

 

All Together 20

 

The night before they collectively decided to wait until breakfast to tell all their individual stories. They had all agreed and most had lain that night thinking how to explain what all they had seen and heard. Sherry and Beth had the shortest stories to tell, allowing Red to take over and start from the moment he had met Sandra and Phil at the manager’s office. He added how strangely they had acted, and how aggressive Sandra seemed to be.

 

Alex was grateful for Red’s small attempts at letting him know he was not at fault for the confrontation with Phil and his unstable wife. The stories continued till nearly lunch, Anna had shared much of her story at the reformatory but she had skipped the most horrid parts she had been trying to forget. These parts she was afraid to share with anyone other than Mark.

 

Mark started his story all the way back days before his father had died, he liked talking about his dad. Everyone seemed to enjoy his story, as much as one can enjoy such a story. Knowing that the ending will be the most unbearably tragic ending one could imagine even before the telling has a tendency to put a damper on the subject matter. Apocalypse.

 

Alex was last to start and everyone had listened with great interest at everyone else’s story, the mood quickly changed when Alex began. Alex was a natural story teller. He is able to draw you into the story. He can make you see just what he saw and just how he felt.

 

Everyone had cringed when Alex told them of what the neighbor had asked and as he told how he squeezed the trigger and nothing happened, he could see the strain on the faces of his audience. He could see their longing for someone to burst in and save the day, but this was his story, and it was not a happy story.

 

Alex had tastefully left out the pills and liquor. He told of his accident, but not how or why it happened. He thought to himself, I was just upset. I am better now. No need to make people think I’m crazy. When he finished everyone was staring at him. He felt a little uncomfortable, until he realized the expressions on these people’s faces was not one of hatred, mistrust, fear, or any of the other things he had half expected to see when he told his story.

 

The looks on their faces could best be described as adulation mixed with pity. He was at a loss when Red chimed in. “Alex we’ve all had a hard road so far, you did what you had to do. Don’t be sitting around here thinking we got bad feelings towards you for what happened. Seems to me, you probably saved all our lives. That woman was terribly ill and I don’t think her husband was much better off than she was.” Red paused and looked around at all those faces surrounding the long dead campfire, signaling now was to the time to add their two cents worth.

 

Mark, spoke next, “look, we have seen it firsthand. There were bodies everywhere, some appeared to have been healthy and they were shot and killed. It looks like a lot of people just went crazy, if ya ask me to much of the population was relying on pills to get by. Everyone ran out of pills at the same time, that’s my guess.”

 

Sherry spoke next, “I think you may be on to something young man. We need to be careful.”

 

“I agree totally, that was something I wanted to bring up, security.” Red added.

 

“What do you mean?” Asked Beth.

“Well, as Alex told us he was attacked and nearly killed by that man at the store and as I and Alex said earlier, there was Sandra and Phil. Mark you and Anna were attacked also. Then there were the bodies at the Wal-Mart.” Red pointed out.

“We are all with ya, so what do you suggest?” Asked Sherry.

“Well,” Red paused a moment collecting his thoughts. “We have no choice but to assume that these were not isolated incidents. We need to be proactive, we have 3 large vehicles, perhaps we should follow Alex’s lead and modify them a bit for our needs. The hummer can be used to scout ahead seeing  what obstacles  lay ahead. It’s just a thought I had.”

 

“Sounds like a pretty good idea.” Stated Alex.

 

“I added some support to the plows on the front of your truck, I was thinking after hearing what has happened to all you guys, maybe we should add some plating to the trucks. This way there will be something between us and any would be assassins. I found a nice supply of steel not far from here.” Said Red.

 

“All in favor say I.” Sherry told them.

 

Unanimously, “I!”

 

“We have a lot of supplies, but we don’t know what may happen on the road. Maybe we need to get a fuel truck in our convoy, I don’t like the idea of having to stop, if we carry all that we need with us we can make it all the way to the Rocky Mountains without stopping. Then again, we have no idea how many people we may meet.” Alex had collected what he could find. But knew it would never be enough. Then after a brief pause added, “Think of it as packing for a trip your never coming back from.”

 

“It’s like the old question. What three things would you take with you on a desert island?” Beth said.

 

“Well we aren’t going to do without, not for a while anyway, I was thinking of heading up near Yellowstone, somewhere out in one of the national forests, so there will be no stores nearby. We will have to take everything we can. Then after we are settled, we will have to travel to stock up.” Replied Alex.

 

“Well this is going to take us probably the rest of the day and maybe part of tomorrow, so we had better get busy.

 

They sat a few seconds, then Mark rose first, and Anna followed suite, “Ok what can we do?” Asked Mark.

 

Alex was already trying to figure out how to attach plates to the sides of the trucks, he hoped Red was more knowledgeable than he himself was. He stood and wandered towards his truck and the pile of scrap metal that he and Red had already amassed.

 

“Well I think you and Alex had talked about you driving one of these trucks here.” Red said as he approached Mark pointing towards the truck that had yet to be modified.

 

“I can learn, if you are willing to teach me.” Answered Mark, earnestly. “ Then he added, Anna can learn also. So we can switch off. He saw a wee bit of a reproachful look on her face, he shrugged at her and she gave a nervous smile.

 

“Well if you’re willing to learn, I can’t ask for more than that. They are really very simple, they are just big is all. He set off with Mark and Anna in tow, he noticed Alex had out a measuring tape, and was measuring his truck meticulously taking notes of every dimension of the large motorized beast.

 

Sherry and Beth were the last to rise, each of which lit a cigarette after everyone else had made way to their various chores. “Well Beth, want to go shopping?”

 

Beth perked up at the cheeriness in Sherry’s voice and answered, “sure thing.”

 

That day turned to two days, two days turned to three, no one was unhappy they had not left yet, the second day as they were finishing up work armor plating their trucks they had gotten a signal on the CB. They used the radios constantly, never going more than fifteen minutes without someone just saying, “hi, everyone ok?”

 

They would tell jokes back and forth as they remembered them. Everyone was in good spirits, there were three more survivors coming to join them. They couldn’t have been more pleased. Mark and Anna were both comfortable with the large vehicles, Red who had paid his way through college driving a rig had taught Alex to drive the giant tow truck.

 

The vehicles all looked like some fierce futuristic fighting machines. There were hinged slots to be open when driving, Red had set up a clever system so that all you had to do to close the slot was to pull a rope he had tied inside the cab, this would pull free a small pin he had put in place holding the slots open. The windows had several peep holes large enough to fire a rifle out of. These side pieces and the steel over the windshields had been the thickest they could find.

 

They had driven the trucks following Alex as he tested out his makeshift dozer, which worked quite well. He flipped a few vehicles and was sure he would break something, but he had not. He put their work through its paces and it was good. Once at the scrap yard they used winches and pulleys to set the heavier pieces into place for welding. Red was excellent at this and taught Mark how to weld, and filled Alex in on the parts he had missed in his classes.

The time had come for them to leave. They all stood around surveying their convoy of vehicles. Alex said aloud to everyone, “Well looks like we are about to film the remake to one of the Mad Max movies.”

Red, Sherry, Alex, and even Anna laughed. Mark and Beth just looked puzzled. Alex explained, “Mad Max was a movie franchise starring Mel Gibson that took place in a post-apocalyptic world. They drove stuff like this.”

Mark and Beth both shrugged, “guess ya had to of been there huh,” offered Mark.

“Guess so,” agreed Beth and the both laughed.

Everyone grinned at this. Their spirits were as high as they had been all along. They felt as if they were making progress. They felt alive, no longer despairing about what they had lost. They were focused on the future.

They loaded their gear and made plans to travel at least twenty miles. They would then wait on the new arrivals who were driving motorcycles and wouldn’t have an issue catching up. They wanted to get an idea of how slow going the traveling would be. They were going to carefully plan their route and distance goals for each day. They set out not knowing what the road ahead held for them but they were optimistic.

 

Jakobs

 

     Jakobs and his crew had slowly made their way through Tennessee waylaying any travelers they found. They stole their gear and left the bodies of the victims hidden out of sight. Jakobs, as was his habit inspected each group looking for a suitable wife to replace the whore he had murdered. His hopes were always doused. He began to wonder if there would be a suitable woman left for him to take. He was careful not to let one of his men slip up and alert the group he was following of their presence. He would show himself but not until he was ready.

He had worked out a plan to help him with his conquest. He knew he had to be subtle and was a little worried one of his killers would blow it for him. The men he traveled with were the most vile he had ever met. They accepted his leadership and no one questioned his orders. Why would they? He thought I let them do whatever they like. They are free men.

He dreamt at night that he had not escaped the confines of the police cruiser and would wake with leg cramps so sever he would nearly cry out. He thought they were just remnants of the strain he had put on his muscles while he was wearing the shackles. “Fucking pigs!” He spat aloud at this thought.

Jakobs’ group was very well stocked now. They each drove a large truck all loaded down with anything one would need. All stolen and the former owners murdered. Jakobs had no hand directly in their killings but he was responsible just the same. “Their business, not mine.” He would tell himself aloud to quell any feelings of guilt which were trying to arise.

As they neared the larger group, “Alex and Red’s group,” he called it he admonished his men to leave people alone. They sulked like children when Jakobs forbade them to stop the two women and three men who had passed them on motorcycles. They had quickly pulled off to the side of the interstate and hid. Yes Alex and Red, they were the ones to win over. The others were following them just as his group followed him.

He was waiting to meet up with them at a place where they could take what they wanted and leave quickly with options for multiple routes. He wanted his guys to split at the same time; he just didn’t want them to know that.

The kid was pretty smart and Jakobs knew he could be useful. The rest were almost animal like. They lived and breathed anarchy and death. They, Jakobs noted all seem to have some sort of mental disease. Once there was no one to give them rules they did just what they wanted when they wanted. Jakobs was the only law they had now and he didn’t care what they did as long as it did not interfere with his plans.

Jakobs spent every night intently listening to his CB trying to figure out how many people they had now and when more were arriving. More importantly he wanted to know how many women they had and how old they were.

So Jakobs quietly stalked Alex and his group careful not to be noticed. They didn’t have to be close he knew where they were heading so he was just waiting until he knew they had what he needed. He even considered taking two women.

This idea he dismissed. He was looking for a wife and that was all. He didn’t think it would be right to take two because two would be harder to break at once.

 

 

 

Meeting Alex

 

Their journey had been fairly uneventful. They were meeting new people gradually at first but then with more frequency. These new travelers were all happy to be with a larger group and to Alex’s dismay they all seemed to look to him for guidance.

One day Alex confided in Red, “Red these people act like I am in charge or something. Before all this happened I could barely guide my ass off the couch to go to the toilet.”

Red chuckled at this and then earnestly to Alex he said. “Great leaders seldom choose to be leaders. It is chosen for them. You have strength in you; you stepped up when I could not. If not for you that girl over there,” he pointed to Beth, “my wife, and I would probably all be dead. I froze you see. I couldn’t shoot him. I am sorry. You have risen to the occasion my friend. You possess all the qualities of a great leader.”

Alex looked on dumbfounded as Red spoke; he wanted to balk but did not interrupt.

Red continued, “You don’t want to be a leader. That is the number one sign of a great leader, no desire for power. You do everything for the betterment of the whole and not yourself. It was your idea everyone got behind so I believe you’re stuck with the moniker, Boss Man.”

Alex just grinned and said, “Thanks Red.”

Alex and Red spoke a great deal as the days wore on, everyone in their steadily growing convoy listened as they goofed and joked. Occasionally others chimed in. They talked about building an entire compound so they could defend themselves. People would say what skills they had and how they could help.

The feeling of hope spread like wildfire through the group. With each day the hopelessness that all once shared faded. It was always a bit tense when new arrivals came; everyone would stare looking for signs of sickness. Many had had violent encounters with other survivors and were wary. As the group grew these feelings were washed away. The group’s mantra was “Strength in numbers.”

Some that came were injured and Sherry ever vigilant tended their wounds. It had begun to wear her down because she barely slept. By the beginning of the second week they had a second nurse traveling with them. She had been out of town when the virus struck traveling to a wedding. She heard the news and drove her truck into the woods off the side of the highway and waited it out. Her truck had been stocked with food and drinks for a charity drive. By luck she hadn’t had time to deliver the food before leaving town. Her name was Ruth and after her arrival Sherry slept for the better part of a day.

Things were coming together fast and happily. No one fought or bickered. The convoy grew.

Little did they know Jakobs was listening as well. He made note of how many people they spoke of traveling. He knew there were at least a dozen women or more with them now. There were even more men he guessed but they never said the exact number on the CB.

Jakobs’ men grew restless and he knew he would have to meet up with this group soon before his animals were foaming at the mouth. He hated laws and rules but he could see from these killers that they were necessary for some. He was not the one to institute and enforce them. He was his own man and would not be told how to live or what to do. So he did not want to tell another man how to live. Take away a man’s freedoms and you take away your own he thought.

He was closer now to them than he had ever allowed his group to venture before. He stopped his truck and they all followed suit. He had them gather around as he picked up the transmitter.

“Hello?” He spoke.

“Hello, we hear ya.” came Mark’s voice.

“Hey we heard ya talking the other night and started heading in this direction.” Jakobs was cool and calm. This new manner of speaking unnerved even the most hardened of the killers he travelled with.

“You should have yelled at us before now then, we have a nice sized group. Safer to travel with numbers ya know?” Mark replied.

“Well we ran into some trouble with some other survivors we met so we waited and listened but you folks seem friendly enough.” Jakobs laid it on thick.

“Hey my name is Alex,” he had overheard and jumped in the conversation.

Jakobs knew his voice well he had been monitoring it for nearly two weeks now. “Jakobs here, I am traveling with four other men five people in all.”

“Well why don’t y’all come join us we can have some coffee and get acquainted.” Alex had a knack for saying the right thing the right way to put wary travelers at ease before they came to join them. He just didn’t know this was no wary traveler. He was about to let a pack of murderers into their midst.

“We sure will buddy, that sounds real nice. I haven’t had a good cup of coffee in ages.” Jakobs had not lied. The prison coffee would have been better suited for use as paint thinner.

Jakobs could see the way his killers grew antsy. They too knew there were women in this group. They wanted to have some fun. Jakobs thought a man with no conscience in a world without consequences was a dangerous thing.

Alex relayed their position and told Jakobs they’d be anxiously awaiting their arrival. Jakobs already knew where they were. He had never been more than five miles from them for days careful not to be seen by passersby.

Before setting out Jakobs addressed his men, “listen close now, we can’t screw this up. I am finding me a wife and I don’t care what y’all do after that. I suggest getting you a woman and disappearing. There aren’t many left ya know?” He looked from man to man and they all nodded agreement at his tyrants gaze. Jakobs enjoyed the power of being the leader.

“This thing that killed everybody was no accident and these fools banding together are making a huge mistake. A large group is easier to find than a small one. Those foreign bastards will be here to claim their prize one day and I ain’t going to be a sitting duck when they come.” Jakobs could see from their cumulative expressions that this idea had never crossed their minds.

Jakobs continued, “If you think our rules were bad wait till you have to follow theirs.” He cleared his throat and thought a minute. “Listen we got to be calm a few days and then we will make our move.”

They all reluctantly nodded agreement. Jakobs saw the disdain on all faces but the kids. He would have to assess the situation quickly make his choice and get the hell out before these murderous fools thwarted his plans and got him killed.

They arrived at the meeting spot an hour later and had all eyes on them. Jakobs exited his truck with a un-Jakobs like smile on his face and walked right up to Alex and pumped his hand as if they were long lost best friends. They made their introductions and Jakobs one at a time shook everyone’s hand that came out to greet them. Silently he took note of all the women he saw.

He looked Anna over and was not noticed, she had been attractive before whoever smashed her face had done their handy work he could tell. She was also young, but not to young a perfect specimen. Then he saw the remnants of bruises on her legs. She was wearing shorts and he noticed that the bruises were mainly on her inner thighs and she walked with some discomfort. She was not what he needed. He assumed she had been beaten and raped and somehow survived. He wasn’t sure but from what he saw he doubted she would be able to conceive.

It was then Beth walked around the corner of a large semi wrecker where they had fashioned a makeshift shower. She was gorgeous and seemed as healthy and fit as any woman he had ever seen. This was the one he wanted. He decided they would spend a few days with these people and watch their habits. Then he would steal away during the night and take his prize with him.

Beth walked up to Alex and kissed his cheek leaving a big smile on his face. Fool kid Jakobs thought to himself. Let a woman act like that in public and next thing you know they are slutting it up with every man they meet. That would be the first thing he’d have to teach her. That behavior will not be tolerated. He felt a tinge of guilt. If I had of not been so easy on the whore this wouldn’t have happened. I won’t be so easy on miss pretty here.

“So you were a police officer before?” Inquired Red to Jakobs.

“I was a deputy, mostly transported prisoners to and from court.” Jakobs lied.

They sat around and drank coffee telling stories and joking. Jakobs was surprised his merry band of murderers were able to hold it together as well as they did. A few times he caught them ogling some of the women but they went unnoticed.

They ate dinner that night and all retired to their individual camps which made up the whole. Jakobs slept in the bed of his truck as was his habit. He liked the open air and did not want to be confined inside a tent.

The next day Jakobs spoke with Alex, Red,  and some of the others throughout the day telling improvised stories to pass the time. He needed them to be comfortable with him and his men and so he kept up the charade. His men had mostly been quiet, even the kid and that was not his way. Jakobs still liked him but he talked a bit too much.

They travelled and slept another night. The day was uneventful and a new smaller group merged with the larger. It was four women and six men. Jakobs knew it was almost time to act, before too many joined them to safely pull off his plan.

 

 

The Trouble

 

“I’m a little worried Red.” Alex confided.

“What about Alex?” Red asked, but he already knew.

“Well that Jakobs fella seems nice enough and the young one he is a bit strange but he seems harmless. The other three kind of give me the creeps. Every now and then I see them looking at some of the women like those poor dogs looked at me. It’s like they haven’t seen a woman in years.” Red could see the sincerity on Alex’s face as he spoke.

“Yeah, I think your right. I have noticed and so have some of the other men. I hope we don’t have any trouble. It’s like what Mark said, ‘all the meds are gone.’” Red was just as concerned as Alex.

They had talked with Jakobs’ men at different times. They had each asked where they were from. Were they married and what they had done before all this happened. It was a common thread of conversation amongst all the new people.

They found it therapeutic to discuss what they had lost and at times they shed tears amongst others who truly knew their pain.

Jakobs’ men were different. Jakobs had not cried and caused no suspicions they just figured him for one of those tough country folk that knew how to choke down pain. His men seemed put offish and closed lipped about their origins. The kid had freely admitted he had lost his entire family. He had not cried but there were the hints of tears in his eyes. His behavior was odd and he seemed somehow overly geeky. No one thought badly of him for it and glazed over any odd comments he made.

It was late in the evening on Jakobs’ second day with Alex’s group. They had meals of various canned foods and warm bottled water. Alex, Red, and Jakobs accompanied by the kid as he often was, were all sitting around a small campfire talking. They all looked up when they heard a scream coming from one of the tents one of their traveling companions had pitched some 100 yards away.

As they ran towards the source Jakobs scanned the alerted faces of all he passed searching for those of his murderous cohorts. There was one he could not find. There number was nearly thirty in all and all were eager to discover the cause of the scream.

Alex, Red, and Jakobs arrived at the tent simultaneously followed by a few dozen others. Weapons were drawn and all were anxious. Alex never hesitated he approached the tent and asked “are you ok in there?”

There was no answer. The silence to his question sent a wave of foreboding through all that heard. Alex unzipped the tent as quickly as he was able leaned down and peered in. His moan of distress was audible to only those closest him. The look on his face when he straightened and turned was not.

She was one of the youngest of the group. She had joined them just a few days earlier. Her parents fell ill while they were at work and managed to keep her secluded in their home. She had been alone nearly a week and was half-starved when she was discovered by an elderly man, his wife, and the rest of the group which had arrived on motorcycles two days prior.

She was nervous all the time and kept to herself. She had watched her parents as they slowly died sitting in her driveway and was having a hard time coping with the loss. That would have been hard for any thirteen year-old.

Mark and Anna made regular trips to check on her through the evening hours and nights. She had accompanied them that day in the oversized truck. She had finally seemed to be coming out of her shell.

Alex could not hold back the tears of rage that welled in his eyes. He could barely keep his feet. The air grew thin as he gasped for breath. Had not Red and Jakobs been there he would have collapsed right in front of the tent.

“What is it? Is someone hurt?” Sherry asked as she pushed through the crowd.

Alex wasn’t able to stop her before she darted into the tent. Her sobs came fast and loud.

“Oh dear God no!” she cried. “Who did this?” she demanded.

Jakobs knew but would not let his face divulge that fact. He kept his expression of concern and bewilderment just as all the rest around him did.

Sherry knelt beside the lifeless naked body of the young girl. Her mouth had been taped and her arms bound with the same material. It appeared she had gotten her hands free and ripped the tape from her mouth long enough to let out a single scream before her attacker plunged a knife deep into her throat. Sherry could hardly catch her breath the poor child’s head had been nearly severed.

Alex and Sherry were the only ones who had seen the body but the rest understood quite easily. The stories of wanton violence they had shared amongst each other were horrific at best. Some had discovered mutilated corpses which had shown no signs of disease. Rapes had been witnessed. Random murders committed for no more reason than someone felt like it. All their minds immediately jumped to the same conclusion. They were all correct.

Alex was quickly gaining his composure. “Everyone out here now!” he demanded. The tears were gone, the rage was not.

Most everyone was there already; even Jakobs’ men were present albeit as far back as they could be save one. Alex scanned the gathered people and quickly knew who was missing. It had been one of the men he had watched staring at the women. One he had sensed would be trouble. This thought would eat at him for many months to come but now was not the time for regret. This was a time for recompense.

He turned to Jakobs and howled, “Where is he?”

Jakobs feigned distress and blubbered, “I don’t know man. I haven’t seen him in a few hours. He was always kind of weird ya know?”

“There” a faceless voice from the crowd shouted. The man was hiding behind a car some five hundred yards away. They saw his head pop up. He heard the shouting which ensued and he began to run as hard and as fast as he could. He had killed the girl and made a slit in the back of tent to escape.

He was barefooted and the asphalt hurt his feet as he pumped his legs as hard and as fast as he was able. He left the interstate and tore through the bushes and brambles. He could feel the briars tearing into his skin from head to toe yet he kept on.

He could hear engines roaring to life as the men began to give pursuit. Alex jumped on one of the four wheelers Anna and Mark had arrived on. He was glad they had unloaded them for a short supply run.

Alex blasted through the woods full force as briars tore into his face, hands, his bullet wound, and the gash on his head, which had not yet fully healed. He was determined to catch this man and kill him. He would not let a man like this live. He knew he could easily track them and possibly kill another of his group.

He wondered how the people who considered him to be some sort of leader would feel about him executing another murderer without a trial. He did not care. He would do what needed to be done.

Almost all of the men went after the killer. Jakobs had not. Only a few of the women gave chase and Jakobs’ remaining men slunk back towards their camps. Jakobs just as the women did looked on as the mob gave chase.

“Run you glorious murdering bastard” Jakobs grinned as he spoke. The time had come, this was his chance. This is not how he planned it nor was he expecting this but it was perfect.

Jakobs pulled his revolver and shot the three men who had not gone. The women began to scream and immediately his men were at his side each armed.

“Get over here girl” he demanded of Beth.

She took a step back and Jakobs shot the woman closest to her in the forehead spattering Beth’s blouse with blood and grey matter. He gave no warning before firing. He knew this window would be short lived and would close quickly, he had no time for idle threats.

“Get the fuck over here now!” He was losing his patience. “I will shoot all these worthless bitches if you don’t move your pretty little ass now!”

She obliged the man that no one had suspected. She now knew the police uniform was loose on him because it was made for someone else. She thought going with this man meant certain death but would not let another die on her behalf.

The men he had arrived with started grabbing at different women. One tried to fight and had been rend unconscious with a blow from the butt of a shotgun.

Jakobs cared not for what his men were going to do he had his prize and he needed to go. He guided Beth to his truck and darted off in the direction they had come from earlier that day. It was growing dark and he wanted to get to the exit three miles back they had passed before nightfall.

He grinned as they flew down the shoulder avoiding stalled cars. The look made Beth’s stomach turn. As the camp was nearly out of sight he saw two more sets of headlights coming in his direction. Well at least two of them got away he thought. He wondered if one had been the kid.

 

 

 

 

Catching The Killer

 

Alex was relentless in his chase of the murderer. He followed him over an embankment now noticing his old wounds were fresh with new blood and would need more mending. His arms were shredded. He saw the creek and never slowed it was dusk and he didn’t see the large rock jutting out of the embankment.

The four-wheelers axle struck and he flipped. He left the damaged machine head first and struck the opposite side of the embankment hard with his shoulder and the side of his face.

He never faltered he was up on his feet and still in pursuit within seconds. As he chased he noticed how oddly fit this man was, he would have had to be to keep up such a grueling pace. He didn’t seem the athletic type at all. Alex could envision him working in some office somewhere mindlessly banging on a keyboard then off to home where he’d whack off to some sleazy magazine and eat junk food until he passed out on his mother’s pink taffeta couch.

Alex often had such visions of people and in this case he was unknowingly close to the truth. The man’s name was Jason Smith as unassuming as any Alex had ever heard. The only oddity about his name was the lack of a middle name. “My parents just couldn’t agree on one and decided to wait and add it later but they forgot I guess.” He had tried to exhibit humor when he said this but the now dead girl had walked by at that moment and his smile had distorted into something far more menacing than what he had set out to show them. He was good at blending in but his taste for young girls was insatiable, hence his lack of subtlety when in the presence of adolescent girls.

As Alex gave chase so many things about this man ran through his head. Then he began to recall how the other men acted much the same as this killer. Jakobs paid no special attention to any of the women, or had he. Alex was plagued by the thought that he had missed something important. He could see Jakobs mindlessly staring into the distance it seemed. Alex remembered looking in the same direction and at first he saw nothing.

As if on cue Beth appeared from behind the truck which Jakobs was mindlessly examining. Alex thought he saw a knowing grin on Jakobs’ face but dismissed it as his imagination. He had turned back towards Jakobs but his attention was elsewhere. He was sure it was his imagination, now his certainty was fading.

There were far too many people in camp for anything to happen Alex was sure. He wondered how many had given chase and how many had remained. He dismissed this thought. There was killing to be done and he was the man for the job. Despite his own distaste for blood he grinned as he barreled through the woods. He felt nothing but adrenaline and the cool of the wind against his sweaty and bloodied body as he gave chase.

His mind was solely on his prey. Alex was only slightly aware that he was unarmed. His rifle had been dropped when he flew haphazardly over the handlebars of the wrecked four-wheeler. He didn’t care this man had no gun and would have to face him one on one. Alex was far ahead of the rest of his pursuers. This he was glad of. He’d rather do what needed to be done in private.

He had known people who thrived on the spectacle of causing others pain. It was a common situation in high schools all around the world, he assumed worse at some than others. He didn’t want to ridicule this man or seem powerful by what he intended to do. He just wanted it done and over with as quickly as possible.

Even in his rage he understood this man was sick like the poor dogs which had nearly taken his own life. Jason Smith needed to be put down and that was all. He had never cared one way or the other about the death penalty laws and such. He had no political affiliation. He just wanted to survive and that would be made easier without a murdering rapist on his trail.

Jason Smith owed his stamina to the Kentucky State Prison System. He was nowhere near as fit when he had first been arrested for the brutal rape and slaying of the young summer intern at his small accounting firm. As Alex imagined, the murderer enjoyed porn and self-gratification. He preferred DVD’s and the kind he owned were very much illegal in the United States. This was a charge he didn’t even bother fighting once the 200 plus videos were found when his house was searched.

He ordered new videos monthly from all over the world. That had been his only indulgence. With these videos he had managed to keep his urges under wraps.

He would sit and eat greasy pizza from a local pizza place and watch young girls in every imaginable scenario. This had been ok for some time. Occasionally he would hire a prostitute and though they pretended to be young and put on the guise of an innocent teenage girl in distress he just wasn’t satisfied.

His first victim had been a runaway, she did fight but not until he got real rough and this had bothered him. He wanted the entire event to be unscripted and as real as it could be. The runaway was drugged up and fought but not with the intensity he longed for. He had kept her alive for a few days but as the heroin left her system it became to unseemly for him. She would vomit as he had his way with her and she quickly lost all strength.

He had more fun with her after she died than he did while she was alive he would muse to himself. He very abruptly without warning walked up to her where she lay in his basement half conscious and struck her in the base of the neck with an old Louisville slugger. After one last fantasy he rolled her up in a blanket and drove her far into the backwoods of Kentucky and dropped her into a ravine right off the side of a small broken road. He counted as she fell it took five full seconds before her stiffened body reached the rocks below. He had watched the news and perused the paper every day for months but there was no word of a missing girl or any bodies found.

After his apparent success with this girl he was emboldened. He would just wait for an opportunity to present itself. His firm had decided to host a summer intern project for high school age kids and he had luckily been put in charge of interviewing. He was an excellent accountant and very well respected by his peers. They decided that three interns would be sufficient and he had hired two girls and one boy.

They each were assigned to their own accountant and given specific duties to perform. He had interviewed many girls and was pleased to see the two he liked best were also the two with the highest GPAs. He had accepted the boy first so he would not draw any suspicions.

He plotted for weeks as to how he would pull off the abduction. He alternated leaving each day at the time of departure of each girl. He soon knew where they each lived, who they lived with and what their basic schedules were.

After a few weeks of more internal deliberation he switched the interns around so that the girl he decided to take was not working directly with him in any capacity. There were three more weeks left in the internship and he waited until it was complete before he enacted his brutal plan.

His reasoning was to keep suspicion away from himself. By this time he had been watching his target for nearly six weeks and he knew when and where she would usually be on any given day. He knew where her spare house key was hidden. He knew her parents work schedules and both of their places of business. He had taken to driving rental cars telling any coworkers who noticed there was a problem with his own vehicle and the mechanic was having trouble pinpointing the failure. No one was suspicious.

The girl he chose was an advanced student. She was thirteen in the eleventh grade. She had advanced years beyond other students her own age. He was very impressed with her scholastic record. She reminded him of a girl in his favorite movie. This had sealed her doom.

He took her on a Friday and to his delight she had fought like a tiger. She clawed and scratched and she almost got him caught because in his lust filled rush he had forgotten her cell phone. She dialed out to her father’s phone but had accidentally put it on speaker. He quickly wrested the device away and powered it off. Jason knew had she not made this mistake he would have surely been caught before he had any fun at all.

This he should have paid more attention to. She had screamed as he yanked away her smart phone her father had heard the terrifying exchange and immediately called the police. Being the careful parent he was he had installed software that allowed him to track his daughter’s cell phone. She had known and had no issue with this intrusive program.

He spoke with detectives and met them at his home where he could monitor her from his own computer. Jason Smith’s downfall had been the software’s ability to power on the phone remotely. They quickly located the vehicle he had been driving. He had switched cars but within minutes they knew who had the girl.

Regrettably Jason had been more careful as to where he had taken her to act out his greatest fantasy. It was two full days before they found him. He was on his way to dispose of her body. The runaway he had slain had been from Tennessee and no one had any idea she had gone to Kentucky and that alone kept him safe. Once they saw what had been done to the young intern they began cross checking his credit card receipts and realized the half eaten body of another girl had been treated in the same manner.

He was convicted of two counts of first degree murder and was sentenced to die by lethal injection on both counts.

These were all things Alex didn’t know but that was of no consequence. He knew what this monster had just done and he would be shown no mercy.

The fleeing killer was losing his momentum. He ached with every forced step. His legs began to spasm and he stumbled landing hard on his right knee tearing the flesh on a jagged rock.

He could hear the pursuing footfalls through the brush. His pursuer had not faltered. He had heard the crash and thought he was safe. Alex closed in with every second.

Jason gained his footing and forced himself onward but could barely keep a normal walking pace. He didn’t know what they would do to him in this lawless world for what he had done to that girl. He would fight. He only heard one pursuer and knew the rest could be anywhere he had tried to veer left to lose them and gain as much ground as possible. If he could just kill this guy he’d be free.

He hid behind a large oak and readied himself for an ambush. As Alex cleared the brush to his left Jason lunged forward knife raised high and swung at his throat. In mid swing Jason’s leg gave out due the collision with the jagged rock. He fell hard to the ground in an attempt to catch himself his arm twisted and he drove his own blade deep into his side.

Alex was stunned by the encounter and was grateful to be alive. As he watched the murderer slowly bleed to death he was grateful he didn’t have to kill the man. His rage was gone and the sorrow crept in as he watched the life fade from this mad man’s gaze. He felt no sorrow for the dead man as he walked away. His sorrow was solely for the poor girl he had allowed to be slain. Despite his companions assurances that he was not at fault her death haunted him ceaselessly.

 

 

 

 

 

Pursuing The Enemy

 

     The camp was in chaos, the screams reverberated from what seemed like a thousand unified voices. It was far from that many but the wanton carnage unleashed upon the bereaved travelers without warning caused pure anarchy.

The pursuers save Alex who did not hear the gunfire over the sounds of the straining ATV returned to camp as swiftly as they had fled. Many thought the shots had been for the murderer assuming he had somehow doubled back.

The scene they found when they arrived brought fresh gales of sorry, pain, and rage. Sherry explained as quickly as she was able. It took Red a full five minutes to quiet the group enough for her to even be heard.

She described the slayings perpetrated by Jakobs without so much as a warning and then she explained how the other two men had taken women as well. She said one man had taken two, the one who had ruthlessly been knocked unconscious was bleeding quite badly so the villain had taken another much younger girl. She was only twelve years old.

The uneasiness and anger grew amongst the travelers and they were growing mad not unlike the bloodlust of lynch mobs Red had read in the old western novels he had been fond of as a child. He did his best to calm the crowd but it was a losing battle.

Five different vehicles with armed men and women gave chase trying to catch up to the kidnappers and Red and Sherry both knew that if they caught up there would be casualties.

“Sug I think we should wait for Alex to get back. He may be hurt. We can’t run off halfcocked like mad people. What if they set a trap?” Sherry was solemn and quite shaken by the events of the past thirty minutes.

“I think your right honey.” As Red spoke he put his arm around her shoulders trying to reassure her.

Mark and Beth had pursued the man into the woods and when the shots were heard they did not turn as the others did but continued to follow Alex’s trail.

About the time the mob discovered the grisly scene at the camp they were finding Alex’s four wheeler. They were frantically scouring the woods searching for any sign of Alex or his trail. He was far easier to pursue when he was riding than when he was on foot. When they heard approaching footfalls through the brush they both tensed. They breathlessly waited.

They each stood at the ready guns raised about fifteen feet apart ready to mow down the murdering bastard when he came into view.

As Alex entered their line of sight they both audibly sighed startling Alex so badly he fell backwards over a root. He had been deep in thought and had no clue he was not alone in the woods. “Oh shit!” Alex exclaimed.

Despite the horrid events the younger two of the trio burst forth volleys of laughter. Alex sitting up seeing such uncharacteristic smiles on the faces of his young friends joined in.

It was Anna who broke the frivolity when she noticed Alex seemed to be bleeding from everywhere. “Oh my God you’re hurt bad!” She bent to him feeling foolish for the hysterics as Mark followed her lead.

“Oh no, I’m just scratched up pretty bad, I’m ok, really.” Alex reassured them.

“You’re pretty tough for an old man Alex.” Mark joked as he helped him to his feet.

The walk back for the three was silent. Alex had only spoken once when he noticed the curious looks of Mark and Anna. “He’s dead, fell on his own knife.”

The two never questioned whether it was the truth or not, not even in private. They later told everyone just what Alex said. Alex wondered how saying that would have gone over before. He wondered if a detective would have accepted that answer as freely as these people did.

The journey back seemed to take a long time and all were glad when they heard the commotion coming from camp. They were drained and Alex wanted nothing more than to give the poor child a decent burial and then sleep. He ached from every joint and the thought of one more step made him cringe.

As they approached they noticed eight or nine different vehicles were no longer there. They had grown accustomed to lining up the trucks to create a wall to avoid surprise canine attacks. It was one of the unwritten rules of the convoy they had become. There were holes and almost immediately Alex realized whose vehicles were missing. They were Jakobs’ men’s trucks that were gone and five others.

The only one that remained was the Durango the kid had picked up a few days earlier. Alex saw him sobbing behind the wheel. Alex assumed for a moment that the missing vehicles had gone looking for the man he had watched bleed out a few miles back in the woods.

As they were passing the kid, the kid looked up and panicked. “It wasn’t me, I swear it. It was Jakobs. He is the one that made us come, just him. I like it here with you guys. I didn’t want anyone to get hurt!” It was hard to discern the words but Alex managed.

“What they hell are you talking about?” Alex asked, it was then he saw the leg of one of the newest arrivals protruding from behind the wheel of one of the large trucks. It was bloody, his heart sank.

He bolted around the corner and saw what Jakobs, the new object of his rage, had left for him. He nearly collapsed when he was filled in on what had taken place.

Without a word he began packing a bag. He took only guns and bullets. He shrugged off Sherry’s attempts to dress his wounds. He climbed on Anna’s pink four-wheeler. Under any other circumstances this would have been funny but no one even thought of grinning. He did not speak, only nodded when he was wished well and told to be careful. He’s got Beth. It was all he could think of.

He understood from the kids blabbering that this had been a planned attack. The girl was not an intended diversion but had just happened. Jakobs had taken advantage of the situation. He would decide what was to be done with the kid when he returned, if he returned.

Alex wondered as he drove off in the direction Jakobs had fled how many more situations like this had already transpired and how many more he would be responsible for. He understood now that he was what passed for law in these hardened times.

 

 

 

 

The Hunt For Jakobs

 

Alex followed swiftly, his rage growing with each passing mile. Jakobs had at least a forty-five minute head start on him and he wasn’t trying to let it grow. He knew that he would most likely encounter one of the other abductors on his way and it was even possible that the mob that pursued would catch him first but he dismissed this thought. Jakobs was a murderer but stupid he was not. He would have to find him fast. He had to think like Jakobs.

He knew it would be stupid for them to head straight down the interstate. They would run the risk of being over taken during the night. The smartest thing to do would be to exit the interstate and back track or even hide out until their pursuers had given up the chase.

Alex didn’t take Jakobs for the kind of man that hides out so he assumed the former would be Jakobs plan. He would exit somewhere ahead and back track perhaps continuing in the same direction as the convoy shifting directions further ahead.

Jakobs didn’t exit at the first off ramp he couldn’t maneuver, the exit he intended had been fully blocked in every direction. This caused him to travel several miles further than he had originally intended. This had not thwarted his plans he knew, but it was an irritation. He knew someone on a smaller vehicle like some of the travelers used he had just murdered would have little difficulty catching up. He was a good shot but he knew to underestimate your foe is foolish. He had to gain ground and get around those law makers. He had begun calling the members of Alex’s group the law makers in his head. They were the type who sentenced him to death for what they called a crime. He was no criminal it was his God given right to protect his family and that bitch destroyed it.

“Till death do us part bitch!” He spat at the steering wheel, chilling Beth further.

“Please mister, I didn’t do anything to you.” Beth begged as sweetly as she could.

“No, I reckon you didn’t but I ain’t gonna kill ya if that’s what you’re thinking. You’re gonna be my new wife. The last one cheated on me and gave me a bastard son that weren’t mine. You be a good wife and what happened to her won’t happen to you!” To punctuate this last comment he slapped her hard on the side of her face with the back of his hand then added. “Don’t speak unless spoken to. Women and children are to be seen and not heard.”

Beth was stunned and involuntarily sank into the seat as far from this crazed man as she was able.

Alex could see Beth terrified in his mind and his rage grew worse. He was already swerving threw the stalled cars at a haphazard pace risking life with every jerk of the ATV’s handlebars. He was half mad with the hunt. He imagined Jakobs bent and broken beneath his boot heel. This caused an evil grin to creep onto Alex’s face.

He reached the first off ramp. And saw that in all directions it was impassible. He did not tarry, he throttled the machine onward.

Jakobs exited at the first semi-open ramp and picked his way through the streets trying to get out of sight and down any open side roads he could find. He knew he was being pursued. He knew the men he traveled with would give some cover. He wasn’t sure if they would be smart enough to leave the interstate. He didn’t care, they weren’t his problem.

He was driving as fast as he dared not wanting to crash and risk injury to him or his prize. He knew he would have to start over if he accidentally killed his new wife. He didn’t relish the thought of going through the entire ordeal again.

Every so often Alex saw fresh tire marks on the sides of the embankments as he followed. He didn’t know who the tracks belonged to. He kept his break neck pace.

Only one of the two killers that followed Jakobs was smart enough to exit the interstate. The other was not so smart he continued on straight and sideswiped a panel van blowing his driver’s side tire flipping the truck he was driving four times coming to rest upside down. His captive had been thrown from the cab and died on impact with the rear bumper of an old pickup truck.

He was knocked unconscious and hung there upside down with a broken leg until the mob caught up.

They drug him from the truck with vengeance in their hearts and murder on their minds the rubbing of the freshly segmented pieces of his femur shocked the man awake. He screamed and begged as they drug him free of the wreckage.

All five of the vehicles had pursued him straight down the interstate they were so wound up it had not occurred to them to exit. They had passed two of the fleeing abductors and their captives completely oblivious to their oversight.

They screamed and yelled at the murderer who was begging for mercy until the first shot was fired into his leg and then they all began shooting. They shot until the man was not even discernible as human. He no longer had form, just a lump of meat on the asphalt.

One group gathered the body of the dead woman and set off toward the convoy the rest continued their pursuit of the murderous kidnappers.

 

 

The hunt for Jakobs 2

 

Alex was relentless in his pursuit. He exited at the first open exit just as Jakobs and the other kidnapper had done. Alex found it easy to follow their trails and quickly realized at least two vehicles had passed this way.

They left fresh tracks on the sides of the congested roadways in the moist shoulder. He hoped the trails stayed together.

To his dismay he found a fork in the road and he could discern by the markings one vehicle had gone left and one had gone right. He had no way of knowing who had passed here so without hesitation he veered right and throttled the ATV.

The stalled cars grew fewer as he got further from the interstate, he was grateful for the speed the open roadways afforded him but he knew any benefit he reaped would be reaped as well by his quarry.

He nearly crashed numerous times, just missing a stalled van in a blind corner. He was risking it all to save these girls, to save his Beth.

Beth travelled almost solely with Alex now and they shared a tent. They were in love and even in these most strained of times it felt good. They were happy they had each other. They were both equally grateful for each other. Alex had never felt this way for anyone and Beth had told him she had not either. They were sometimes embarrassed when they were caught kissing by their travelling companions. They would both blush and Beth would nuzzle into Alex’s neck to hide her rosy cheeks.

Remembering this Alex nearly broke the throttle on the pink four-wheeler he was pushing it to its limits. He had to get to her. He wanted her safe, he needed her safe. She was everything to him and everything she would remain, even if it cost him his life.

Alex traveled on, encountering wrecks at nearly every intersection he came to. Even as he got further into the more isolated areas he saw this to have been a common problem. This made his tracking easier. The truck he was following had been forced to leave the blacktop numerous times.

This he was glad of. “I am coming you fucking bitch!” He screamed at the road ahead. “Oh I just may enjoy watching you die.” He whispered and drove on.

Alex could see a wide intersection ahead. No houses around only deserted farmland. There was no wreck here. He had three options; he sighed as he took a hard right only slightly releasing the throttle.

He drove until he found a wreck covering the road in its entirety. He cursed under his breath and headed back in the direction he had come.

He took another right at the empty intersection and continued his maddening pace. Again after five miles he encountered a wreck covering the blacktop with no tire marks visible on the shoulder. He knew which direction they had gone.

The poor machine screamed as he headed back once again to the intersection. He rode on frantic and unaware of the fact tears had begun to flow from his eyes. He began to feel his pursuit was pointless but he would not give up. He would chase them for the rest of his life if it was what it took.

He quickly regained the trail and saw where it appeared the abductor had stopped to relieve himself. There were empty beer cans beside what appeared to be a sizable puddle of urine.

Alex gave the empty road a maniacal smile and shouted, “you been holding that a while you scared bitch. I am coming for you. You are mine!”

Alex had to stop and fill his tank from a gas can strapped to the rear of the pink quad and other than that he paused for nothing. He had lost time at the intersection and could not afford to do that again.

He worried the long miles running wide open would damage the off-road vehicles transmission but despite his abuse the pink machine held up.

It was nearly nightfall when he saw the tail lights a quarter mile ahead. It was a pickup truck but whose he did not know, he was too far away. He had been pursuing this man and the man’s captives for over four hours. He felt nothing, No thirst, no pain, no hunger, no fear, all he felt was rage.

He kept the ATV’s lights dark and as carefully as he dared followed the killer waiting for the moment he could attack. He prayed the man would stop to piss again. He wasn’t going to warn him just pull out his rifle and end this chase as quickly as possible.

Alex had grown terribly impatient before the truck finally stopped. He did not hesitate. He was a quarter of a mile away. It was full dark now and he walked right towards the truck. He could hear screams and didn’t dare run for fear he may be heard. “I am coming baby.” His rifle was hanging on his shoulder unusable in the dark. He had a 9mm Beretta in each hand a round chambered in each and both with full clips.

He heard more screams as he covered the short distance which in his mind stretched an eternity. He realized these screams were not Beth’s but a different woman’s. His heart sank. This woman deserved to be saved just as much as Beth, but Beth was his woman. He needed this over post haste.

When he was close enough he could see illuminated by the dim dome light that the woman was being choked as her vile attacker pleasured himself. There was a second woman unconscious beside the struggling woman face down surrounded by a halo of blood.

He did not hear Alex approach and the look of surprise when Alex grabbed him by his hair and drug him backwards causing him to fall hard on the asphalt would be etched in the poor woman’s face for the remainder of her life.

Without a single word Alex shot the stunned pant less man in the face three times. He climbed in the bed of the truck and asked the woman if she were ok without a single glance in her direction he was checking on the seemingly unconscious woman.

“She’s dead. He spoke and covered her with his jacket tucking it beneath her head so it would not blow off on the trip back.

“Can you drive?” He asked the sobbing woman shocking her from her hysteria.

“Yes.” She stuttered.

“There are two more who took hostages, you need to get back and I have to go find them.” He said numbly, then added. “Follow me.”

She did as he said. She had trouble navigating the way in the dark but Alex managed to guide her. The trip back was slow and arduous. It was very late when he got her back to the interstate. She was reproachful and afraid when he bade her goodbye. He felt guilty considering the ordeal she had just endured. This he could not help; he was going after Jakobs and his girl.

 

 

Jakob’s Stand

 

Jakobs had been ever vigilant watching his rear view mirror as he went. He kept the windows down even as the cool of night crept in he did not run the heater. He was listening for any would be pursuers. His gun never left his lap.

Beth had inadvertently fallen to sleep at some point but he never let his guard down even from her. She had been too long with the backwards thinking law makers and he knew she may try to escape and the thought that she may even try and kill him crept in to his mind.

“I’ll have you in chains if that’s what it takes missy.” He whispered to the sleeping girl.

Jakobs found a deserted logging road and slowly backed the truck far enough down so that anyone following would pass right by without a clue they were there.

Beth stirred as he did this. “What are you going to do?” She sleepily whimpered. For this act of malcontent she was punched hard in the face. The blow sent her falling into wonderful dreams.

Jakobs used duct tape to bind her hands and legs and laid her in the bed of the truck beside him and fell fast asleep.

Alex headed back to the fork in the road and headed down the left side this time. Even with the lights on it was hard to see what was coming. He made his way to the first intersection and to his dismay there was no blockage. He could see no signs of which way they had gone.

He had to wait until the morning; it was as dark as any night he could remember. He dozed fitfully and dreamt only of Beth. He woke her name caught in his throat just as dawn was breaking. He scoured the area and in the gloomy light he saw a cigarette butt. It was the type Beth sometimes smoked and it was a little further down one side than the other.

“Oh thank you God, you brilliant girl I love you so much.” He topped off the four-wheelers tank and blasted down the road.

Jakobs woke at precisely the same time as Alex. Jakobs undid Beth’s legs and allowed her to pee under his watchful eye of course. He gave her a can of beans to eat and despite her loathing for this man she gulped them greedily. She didn’t usually eat much and hadn’t eaten at all the day before.

He freed her hands so she could eat and she was hoping he wouldn’t rebind them. To her great pleasure he did not. She needed them free to leave her markings for Alex. Alex was smart and if he were following she knew he would know the things he found were from her and not just random garbage.

She only had a few cigarettes and she wanted to mark everywhere they turned with something. She had first dropped the butt of one and later last night when Jakobs believed her to be asleep she had flicked the remainder of that cigarette out just after they left the road they were on.

She feigned sleep as Jakobs busied himself with his flight avoiding wrecks where they came to them. She always kept something in her hand ready to drop. She would lay her head on her arm to obscure the view from Jakobs and she noticed he had started being lax with his gun. It was still in his lap but he no longer kept a firm grip as he had done for hours the night before.

She ran out of cigarettes and buttes a few hours into the day. They had to stop to refuel and he bound her again. Once he resupplied his gas cans and filled the trucks gas tank he again released her and fed her. He gave her a can of peaches this time. And plainly in front of him she threw the empty can out the window. What he didn’t see was that she had tucked a piece of the duct tape inside.

This went on all day. Alex unbeknownst to Jakobs was steadily gaining ground. His ATV wasn’t faster but it was far more agile navigating the congested byways.

Alex had a few close calls that day and was disheartened when the transmission of his ATV began to whine and periodically jerk. He was not a forgiving operator; each time he was slowed he gunned the machine when he was free as if he were a drag racer in some high performance nitrous powered funny car. It was taking its toll. He kept his eyes open for a replacement he knew that he could lose Jakobs and his girl forever if he got stranded in the middle of nowhere following a trail of garbage and cigarette butts.

Jakobs thought women were dumb. He knew God made them from Adam’s rib to please man, but what a joke that was to him. “You can’t get a decent days work out of one without a strap.” He used to chuckle and say to his bastard son, just as his father had told him as a boy.

Jakobs sense of superiority over women was slowly proving to be his downfall. His wife had another man’s son right under his nose. This thought angered him; he slapped Beth hard across the face. She believed from the blow her scheme had been found out. She shied away but could only move so far in the cab of the truck.

She waited for him to stop and the beating to begin, or worse she thought. Nothing happened; Jakobs spat at the floor board and kept on driving without a word.

She stifled a sigh of relief faking a sneeze when Jakobs glanced towards her. A few minutes later they made another turn and she dropped the top from her now empty cigarette pack with a small piece of duct tape stuck to it. She didn’t know if this was going to work but she had to fight a smile knowing that this man so full of himself was being fooled by a little ole girl.

Alex found sign after sign and a few times had to double back until he was sure he was following the right trail. She left a peach can for him, pieces of cigarettes, pieces of toilet paper, small pieces of trash from the floorboard of the truck, and they all had duct tape stuck to them to let Alex know he was on the right path.

He was happy simply because he knew she was alive and well enough to be leaving signs. He hoped this meant she was well at least.

The second night came and Alex knowing there would be signs slowed his pace but did not stop.

Jakobs pulled into an old coal processing facility and taped Beth up for the night. Jakobs did not see when Beth dropped another sign at the entrance just as they left the road. She had dropped the biggest one yet. It was the remainder of her cigarette pack with toilet paper stuck in it and a big piece of duct tape attached. She knew that if Alex was following he wouldn’t stop for the night if he had something to look for.

Alex’s tenacity and singleness of purpose frightened her sometimes but more than anything it made her feel safe with him. She knew if he were out there he would find her. She just worried that Jakobs, who had little trouble killing, might get the drop on him.

Alex drove all through the night. Somewhere he heard a rooster crow. It was four in the morning. He was exhausted and hungry but he knew his diligence may yet pay off. He used the lights of the four-wheeler and his mag light at every junction and found the make shift bread crumbs which had been left him.

He was driving slowly, the machine was getting close to breaking down he knew and was looking for a replacement when he saw something in the road ahead. He quickly shut off the engine and killed the headlights.

He drew a 9mm from his bag and carefully walked towards the object in the road. It was Beth’s cigarette pack. There was no intersection here and it took him a moment in the dark to discern the mouth of the old drive, He crept closer and saw to the side was an old broken down sign with an arrow which read deliveries.

He slowly walked down the old long deserted dirt road. There was a low muddy patch and it was here he carefully shielded his flashlight and illuminated the ground. There were fresh tire tracks. Alex’s adrenaline was pumping. He felt the hair stand up on the back of his neck. Despite the chill he could feel sweat begin do bead on his forehead.

“I caught you, you bitch.” He hissed. Alex could feel every nerve in his body tingle. He was going up against a madman who was armed and willing to kill. Jakobs had proven that. He would do whatever it took to get what he wanted.

Alex was willing to do whatever it took to free Beth. In contrast to her he considered his own life forfeit. It was hard with such limited light and he was careful not to give himself away with the flashlight but he managed to track the tire marks to a large building.

It was nearly pitch black inside, Alex was kneeling just to the left of the big open bay door. In the dark the building seemed to go on forever. He kept the light off and stared into the darkest part waiting for his eyes to adjust. He was tired but his blood was pumping hard and fast.

After five minutes he began to see shapes in the dark. Long defunct coal bins were strewn through this old place. He slowly entered the building being careful to make no sound. He was overly conscious of his breathing. It seemed a symphony in his ears as he strained to listen for any sign of Beth or her captor. He was hoping to hear Jakobs snoring away but didn’t.

He crept around the wall of this huge empty place. Had he been wrong he wondered. Perhaps they were here and left. Perhaps those were somebody else’s tracks altogether. Then he heard a familiar sound, a slight sleepy whimper. He recognized it. He would lay at night beside Beth and would fall asleep listening to this sound.

He wanted to shout out her name. To do so he knew would be his greatest folly. He had to be careful. He followed the feint sound to its origins. Tucked away in the corner was Jakobs pickup truck. He spent a long time carefully circling around as to not be caught off guard or to warn of his presence.

He was thirty feet from the truck, pistol drawn safety off, round chambered when three things happened.

He saw a flash of light from high up on a catwalk, heard a thunderous boom, and it felt as if his left thigh had been stabbed through with a fire hot poker.

Alex fell hard and managed to scramble behind one of the massive coal bins. When he tried to ascertain the damage to his leg he became aware of Beth’s screams.

“Alex, oh dear God Alex. Are you hurt, is it you? Please answer me.” Beth was frantic squirming hard against her bonds begging them to break. Willing the harsh tape to lose its grip and free her.

Alex was in a great deal of pain but he made no sound. He had seen this scenario played out many times on television shows, in movies, he had read it in books, and he had even played it in video games. He was playing dead and he meant to do it properly.

Jakobs chuckled at the girls cries. “Shut that mouth you stupid bitch.” He was full of himself. He heard no sound from the law maker he had just shot. He was either unconscious or dead or soon would be. He would finish him off if that was what was necessary. Any man who tried to tell another man how to live deserved no better than death and he would oblige Alex to that end.

“You think I’m dumb don’t ya? You really are fucking stupid if ya think I didn’t notice ya throwing stuff out all this time.” As Jakobs spoke Beth sobbed. She had gotten Alex killed and now she was probably next. Then she shuddered it will be worse to live.

Alex could hear Jakobs speaking and noted the change in the sound of his voice. He was moving. Alex quietly removed his shirt and used one of his pistols to make a tourniquet for his leg. He was bleeding very badly.

Jakobs had his eyes and ears trained on the spot where he had shot Alex. He was sure he had hit him. He wished he could have shot him with his big handgun but at this range and in this light it would have been a luck shot if anything. He used his rifle instead. He decided to wait him out. He’d probably bleed out in five or ten minutes.

“Girl I’m going to hurt you for this real bad. You’re gonna find out what living with pain is like if you don’t learn to mind me.” Jakobs spat at the darkened building. He then got very still and stopped speaking.

 

 

He quietly crawled away from the coal bin making sure it was in between him and Jakobs. He could hear Jakobs’ footfalls on the old rusted walkway and gauged his distance by this.

Beth could do nothing but cry, she had never felt more helpless in her entire life.

Alex was fully awake and despite his wound and exhaustion had grown quite accustomed to the darkness of this place. He shimmied up on to a low loading dock and crawled behind a steel guard for cover. He readied his rifle and began scanning the darkened building in the direction he believed Jakobs to be in.

It wasn’t long before Alex could make out the outline of the killer high above the floor. He was poised just above a ladder seemingly trying to decide if it were safe to come down yet.

Jakobs silently stood there for a solid twenty minutes not speaking or moving. He began to descend the ladder Alex waited till he was about twenty feet down and fired. The first shot went wide and hit the wall behind Jakobs. Jakobs tried to climb back up.

Alex fired again and caught Jakobs in the shoulder. He clung fast to the ladder and let out a yelp much like one of the dogs Alex had shot. This hesitation gave Alex the shot he needed he fired again and Jakobs fell.

Alex couldn’t see where he landed but he heard breaking boards and an audible thud. It took Alex ten minutes to crawl to the truck, he nearly lost consciousness several times.

With great effort he managed to open the tailgate and climb in. He fell onto Beth’s legs and felt himself passing out. He fought the urge and squirmed higher and chewed through the duct tape which was binding her hands. Once she was free he passed out. During her rescue Beth had been speaking but Alex had no idea what was being said.

Alex had lost a great deal of blood and was delirious.

 

Jakobs Last

 

Jakobs couldn’t move. Something was broken and he had been shot in the shoulder. He remembered now. He dropped to fool the kid. He fell making him think he had been shot again. He surely would have hit him had he stayed still on the ladder. His shoulder was bleeding a great deal, this he could feel. He wasn’t sure if the bullet had passed through or if it were lodged in there.

That damn kid tricked me. This was his last thought as his eyes rolled back and he lost consciousness.

 

Safe

 

Alex woke two days later with the sun blinding him in the early morning light. He was warm despite seeing the breath of those outside the window of his rolling hospital bed. He was in a big SUV on a gurney. He ached all over and he could feel the bandages on his legs. He saw Beth sound asleep beside him and with a warm smile dozed off knowing that she was safe and they were together again.

 

 

2 Years and 11 Months Later

 

Alex sat in the remains of the burnt out fortress. He had named their settlement Keira after the little girl he had watched die in that long ago parking lot. The pretty sign Beth had painted over the main entrance hung charred and unreadable.

They had spent many months building and fortifying this place to prevent being attacked. These very fortifications had been their undoing. The walls charred black and covered in soot still stood. Alex wondered how long it would be before Mother Nature reclaimed the materials they had used as their own to build his home. A chilling thought crept into his mind, a long ago memory he hadn’t visited in many years. “Ashes to ashes dust to dust.” That had been the only thing he remembered from the day his parents and baby sister had been buried.

He convulsed and began coughing uncontrollably coughing up black phlegm. He thought aloud, “It has started, I will be dead soon.” At this declaration he drank deeply from the bottle of liquor, and then vomited.

Aloud he spoke to the dead walls in this cold place that had once been so full of life. “John I did as you said, I found survivors and we found a safe place. Why did this happen?”

Alex had been on a gathering mission, he had been gone for several days keeping in contact the whole time at regular intervals. Beth had not gone because she had not been feeling well. Alex didn’t mind, being alone from time to time truly helped him appreciate his new life here with Beth. “My wife.” He cried.

He really didn’t understand what had gone wrong, and how did they get infected. When he arrived he found only three survivors. Only two of these three could speak and one of those was his wife.

He found Beth badly burned on both of her legs, she had managed to crawl to their favorite spot. The place they spent hours talking about the future, what their kids would be like and how things would be for them when they grew up. It was nearly too much for him to take, his heart breaking could have been heard for miles around had there been anyone there to hear it.

Alex fell to his knees at Beth’s side but with all her strength she screamed at him to get away once her eyes focused enough to see it was him. He had a great deal of trouble speaking, “what happened to you babe?” Silent tears spilled down his cheeks.

It was hard to breathe even here because the wind kept changing blowing the smoke towards where Beth had settled to die. Alex again attempted to touch her and she again at great pain to herself yelled for him to stop. He couldn’t bear seeing her in such pain.

Just loud enough for him to hear Beth said, “Alex I am infected, I am going to die soon, but you have to go survive. I know this will be hard for you but you must. I can’t really tell you what happened here because I don’t know.” She stopped choking and spat up the green phlegm Alex had dreamt of for almost two full years after they arrived here.

“Who did this to you? Why?” He stammered, feeling the old panic taking hold as he knelt there helpless to help the person he loved more than anyone on earth.

“All I know was that I heard engines and yelling in a foreign language, before I was even out of bed there was a huge explosion. Fire tore through the entire place. It spread so fast. I managed to slip out the rear. They were here and gone so fast. They didn’t want anything but to kill us. I was burnt pretty badly but I knew you’d be here soon, so I thought me and the baby would be ok. Then I began coughing.” As if on cue she again started choking.

“God no,” he cried.

“It’s OK Babe you will meet your child in heaven, but not yet you must live, it seems God has a larger plan for you than anyone can guess.”  She was crying but had an oddly peaceful look on her face.

“I can’t do this alone, I need you.” He demanded with no real conviction his strength was waning and he felt as if he would collapse.

“You gave all these people hope, they are gone now and it happened fast that is the one good thing.” She was searching through her fevered mind trying to find the right words to comfort him, they did not come easy. “You read history you know how things are, hope is worth its weight in diamonds. To live one day with hope is better to live an eternity with none.”

Alex suddenly felt panic and dread over take him, he wanted to just curl up on the pile of ashes by his feet and die, but more over whelming was the urge to get out of here. He loved this place more than any other he had visited in his life. It was here he came to the realization that his brother and all those he had loved before the virus were dead. He had come to terms and moved on. Now it has started again.

Alex had combed the entire area and checked each room, it was then he realized others must have survived or had not been in the compound when it was attacked there were at least twelve bodies unaccounted for but he had no idea who was dead or who was missing. The fire had erased all identifying markers from the dead.

He tore out of the blackened tomb and collapsed under a nearby tree panting, coughing, and then throwing up undigested liquor. As he passed out all he could see in his mind’s eye was him brutally slaughtering faceless men as they begged for mercy in a language he could not comprehend.

He woke early the next morning with death in his eyes and hate in his heart, he was not sick as he had first thought. His coughing and choking of the previous day were merely symptoms of smoke inhalation. He went to where he had buried his wife and unborn child and softly spoke, “I will kill them, I will kill them all, I swear it.”

 

 

 

 

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.

Eulogy Post VIII

      blue skull

Anna/Mark 12

     The battered girl stumbled through the woods with tears in her eyes. She cried for the loss of her savior, she cried for the guilt she felt at being alive when so many others were dead. As far as she knew she was the only person to get out of the reformatory alive. She was right.

She didn’t even know the name of the man who had set her free. She was very confused, how long had she been in that cell? She couldn’t answer, she had nearly died there, The only human contact she had had for a month had been her captors and one other. The blurry image from her memories the one who had  fed her and tried to nurse her back to health. “But who were you?” She whispered.

All she knew was that she was supposed to be dead, but somehow she wasn’t.

She couldn’t gather her thoughts. She was starving, dehydrated, and freezing. She was nearly naked in the middle of the woods somewhere outside of Pittsburgh.  The last year was like a twisted nightmare.

“A disease,” she was barely audible to herself. The man who set her free had said there was a disease. Anna couldn’t be sure if he said that or if she had dreamt it.

“He said I’m alive for a reason,”  she told the silent trees. She was all but naked, save the tattered and torn gown. She had no socks, no shows, and no panties. In her mind she heard, “Whores don’t wear panties!” Who had said that she wondered, it was so hard to remember. She knew she had been raped, on numerous occasions, but couldn’t even remember who had done it. Why was it so hard to remember?

She continued on feverishly mumbling to herself, not knowing where she was or where she was going. She continued on until she heard the crackling of a fire. The terror of this unexpected noise brought her out of her daze.

She was almost relieved, they had found her, now they would kill her. She waited for what seemed like an eternity. She had no idea how long ago she had left that place, nor did she know how far she had walked. Her feet were numb stabbing at her ankles like dull razors. Her entire body ached, she prayed her misery soon would be over.

Still she heard the fire crackling and popping, the sound was so inviting. She decided to get a closer look. Nearly a hundred feet away she could just make out the little tent beside the dying fire. Needing the heat she crept closer.

“Hello,” in little more than a whisper she said as she approached the fire.

She saw movement from inside the tent. “Who’s out there?”

“I need help,” she wheezed.

“Are you a cop?” Asked the startled voice.

“No please help me.” The girl cried and fell to her knees.

Mark popped his head out of the tent, still wiping sleep from his eyes. He almost didn’t see the half-naked girl, “what, what happened to you?” Then he added, “you’re not infected are you?” Mark retreated back a little.

“No, I think I have a fever, I have been out here like this for nearly two days. I think I have anyway,I’m not real sure how long. “Please I am freezing.”

Mark snapped out of the trance he had fallen in, wondering would something like this have ever happened had it not been for the virus. “One second,” he said and crawled back into the tent. He exited a few minutes later, there was now light spilling out, he told her to go in and put on the clothes he had put out for her.

She did as she was told, it took her quite a while to get dressed, while she was inside Mark had built the fire up really high. She came out and sat by the fire, he brought her water from behind the tent, then went about making her some soup.

“Thank you,” she said then lost consciousness. Anna nearly fell forward into the fire. She would have had Mark not seen that it was about to happen. He grabbed her by the back of the coat he had given her and halted her forward momentum.  He carried her to the tent,  got her inside, and checked her pulse it was weak, but steady.

Mark spent the next two days feeding her broth, and aspirin, her fever finally broke the middle of the second day. He was glad to have someone with him, but the dreams she had made her scream, a blood curdling scream. Hearing it for the first time mark peed on himself just a little, he had been asleep at the time. He had to wake her to make her eat, she seemed to sleep almost endlessly. Mark thought that if he weren’t here to do this she would never wake up at all.

He got in the habit of building multiple fires and had scavenged up enough wood and branches, by destroying 10 picnic tables to build a windshield encircling the tent. He then built his fires inside this block he had built to keep her warm. He had barely slept since the night she had arrived. Afraid she would turn for the worse when he wasn’t watching, or possibly setting the tent on fire.

Two days after her fever broke she startled him by saying. “You look like you could use some sleep pal.”

“Oh geez you scared the hell out of me.” Answered mark startled.

“Sorry, that’s a hell of a way to treat my host.” She blushed, then added. “My name is Anna.”

“My name is Mark, pleased to meet ya, how are you feeling?” He asked as he stuck a thermometer in her mouth and grabbed her wrist to take her pulse.

“I’m a bit tired, feel like I have been laying down for months, my legs are sore as hell, I must have walked a hundred miles.” She answered, with the thermometer hanging out of her mouth.

She noticed her feet were bandaged, “they were a bit rough when you got here, I should have checked them first thing. Sorry.” Mark said shame faced.

“Don’t be sorry, you saved my life, I was on the verge of collapsing when I found your camp.” She told him sincerely.

Mark blushed at this.

“How long was I out for? Feels like I slept a whole day.” She inquired.

“Well you‘ve been out the better part of four days.” He stifled a yawn as he answered.

“Oh my god, so you’ve been taking care of me all this time?” She had tears in her eyes.

“I know this may not sound very brave, but I was scared to death for you. You were running a high fever for the first two days. I was waking you to feed you broth, and dissolving aspirin in water to break the fever. I’m afraid you are still terribly dehydrated and malnourished, here.” he handed her a Gatorade and two vitamins. “Take these.”

She looked at him in amazement, it made him feel a bit uncomfortable. “You’re my hero, thank you just doesn’t seem good enough, but it’s all I can do for now.”

“You are more than welcome,” he said, again stifling a big yawn.

She drank the Gatorade a bit too fast and had to run out of the tent to throw up. Mark ran out behind her scared she was not out of the woods yet. “It’s ok, I just drank it too fast, I am ok, just hungry.”

He walked behind the tent and to her surprise there was a second tent he had been using as a mini storage building. It was full of food and camping gear. He grabbed four kinds of soup, and a can of beef stew, crackers, bread.

“What you in the mood for?” He asked, he saw her smiling showing a brief glimpse of the girl she had once been. He returned his own battered smile in return.

“Beef stew please sir.” She giggled.

They were both still feeling the pain of what physically and mentally had been done to them, but they were both alive and that was what mattered. She helped with the fire despite Marks protests. She had a bit of trouble walking, but she felt better than she had in months. Just when she was sure she was dead the kindness of two complete strangers changed everything. She had a whole new perspective on life, and no matter what came her way she was going to enjoy it.

She ate more than Mark could have hoped for. He redressed her feet and they looked bad. Having her conscious he was as gentle as he could possibly be. He ate well himself and they took a long nap.

They spent the next five days telling each other their stories They shared each other’s pain and joy and fell fast and deeply in love. Theirs was a nonphysical relationship. Anna had never known the touch of a man in any other form than brutality.

They were joined together beyond any earthly bonds. He had saved her in the quite literal sense, but she had saved him as well from the loneliness he had felt since his father’s death. Mark felt she had done the greater deed.

The Ogre and the Little Red Haired Girl

(another story I am working on based on someone I love dearly. I hope you enjoy – JM)

One

It was cold when she woke with her hair all a mess. It was still dark and she closed her eyes tight willing away the chill in the unwelcoming morning air. She dreaded the thought of getting dressed much less the thought of actually leaving the peace and warmth of her bedroll. The unforgiving world which was begrudgingly forced upon her in some new hellish way with each new day had grown dull; most days were even boring to her despite her vocation. She needed so much more.

The need for her services in this realm was fading. She had destroyed many of their kind these last ten years and it was time to move on to something new and exciting she mused. “What excitement do you believe you’ll find you daft girl?” Chere’s imitation of her long dead mistress from a school she couldn’t quite remember the name of anymore echoed through the thin fabric of her tent and through the barren valley below where she had set camp.

She heard a squeal somewhere on the far side of the valley and their big feet marring the dead ground as they began to flee from the sound of her voice. “No wonder I am running out of things to do. At least in the old days they tried to be sneaky. Now they run like, hmmm what were those things called?” There were none to hear save the fleeing damned which she stalked, predator to prey. She was a hunter skilled beyond measure. “Are they called beer?” At that she burst into laughter, “not beer, deer. They are like deer running from an old car from one of those old picture discs.”  She laughed sarcastically and loudly knowing the fleeing creatures she hunted would leave a much easier trail if they were terrified.

She was dressed and ready for the hunt which took only minutes. She was well practiced and very efficient in her purpose. Wake, kill, sleep, it was a mantra she sometimes recited when she drew near her prey. Many had seen her haphazard style of hunting and trapping and believed they could go out all on their own in search of riches and fame. She had burned more than a few former helpers’ corpses after liberating the bulbous growth which had once been a head from their warped and twisted shoulders.

She was a true beauty in every way. The old timers said she reminded them of what they called, “movie stars.” When asked her height she would always say “five foot five and a half inches, the half counts too!” Yes she was an extraordinary woman by all accounts. She wouldn’t hear of it and to praise her, one would believe she was actually in pain. Her heart held the world and her shoulders bore the weight and she asked for nothing in return. People did pay her for her services but she never asked nor did she expect it. Most couldn’t afford to pay a hunter and most hunters were desperate men in need of a meal and rarely finished the first day on the job. No, the weight she bore would crush men ten times her size yet she persevered.

Chere didn’t even know why she had survived at this for so long. She thought her luck would have run out by now. No hunter that she had ever heard of had made it more than a few years at best. A good hunter she was told “could bag twelve a year, and that was only if ya never stop hunting. “ Chere in the beginning, when she was hunting fueled by rage and not for the greater good was killing twelve a week or more.  She had discovered they liked to congregate, like people. She spat at the thought of those mindless things acting like people. “People they once were, but not anymore. Quit thinking like a rookie girl.” She admonished herself. “Thoughts like that give you doubts and doubts get you killed.”

Not since the great culling had “The Ogres” been killed in such numbers. In the beginning she left the severed heads on spikes as a warning to keep them away from people. It had not worked; they seemed to be attracted to the places the heads were displayed. So for a time Chere used mounted heads as bait. It would bring them forth in droves and in droves she would slaughter them. Axe and dagger in hand she would charge head long into a crowd of twenty enraged ogres. Their hulking bodies too slow to quite catch her and as they tried she chopped limb and skull until they were no more. This made her famous and feared even by the people she saved.

These creatures had all once been human. It wasn’t voodoo or black magic which had corrupted them so; it had been good old science. Chere had heard fragmented stories claiming an accident and others claiming some psycho religious nut broke into a lab to destroy some research weighing 180 pounds at 5’11” and walked out at seven foot tall and 450 pounds smashing everything that got in his way and eating anyone who didn’t. The story she had been told that seemed most likely was it was an experiment in genetics that had gone terribly wrong. In an attempt to grow lost limbs they completely altered the human DNA strand in such a way that it caused instant mutation throughout the body. These mutations severely damaged the brain and rendered higher brain function impossible. This caused the afflicted to begin behaving on a primal level. She had heard it referred to as devolution.  “The best part is it is contagious like a virus and transmitted like vampirism,” she yelled to the barren valley.

“I wish they were vampires,” she mused aloud to the desolate valley. She hadn’t done much the last few days so she was letting her quarry get a nice head start before she began. These early morning walks and solo conversations were her way of preparing for a long day of killing. Yes she was ready now. All thought cleared from her mind. She drew her axe in her right hand and her dagger in her left and gave chase.

Two

Chere ran for two straight hours on the trail of the lumbering beasts. It had taken a full hour to traverse the valley to where the ogres had made what passed for a camp. There were bits of bone in a pile and divots in the charred earth where they had lain.  She could see there were at least seven in this pack. As she were ready to head out she saw to her surprise a much smaller indention in the ground. Something smaller than the typical behemoths she hunted but much larger than any normal human should be. Chere saw something protruding from the ground half obscured by the falling earth from the monsters earlier flight. She pulled it free and shook the dirt and ash off. It was a little pinkish-purple stuffed animal. It looked like a cat-bear.

As she pondered why such a thing would be found in the camp of mindless beasts such as these and was ready to dismiss it as nothing the smell hit her nose and she nearly vomited. “What in God’s name?” She blurted.  Then it hit her. The smell was ogre, and from the looks of the cat-bear this ogre had been carrying this stuffed animal for a very long time. It had been many decades since something like this had been manufactured. Yes they were sold by the millions but most toys and unnecessary items had been reclaimed and used as stuffing and patches for blankets. Fabric was a highly sought after commodity and even as little as this cat-bear contained it still had value. She had dreamed as a child of finding a house like the ones she had seen in the picture discs untouched by scavengers. She would have been rich beyond all measure with just the blankets from the beds and the towels from the linen closets.

“You were a stupid kid back then girl, being rich in this world is like being the top turd in a toilet bowl.” She chuckled but the uncertainty in her own voice as she had spoken had unnerved her. Then she remembered the little ones she and her sister had tried to protect when the herd had descended on her village. She was born into this life and knew nothing else. She had been taught since birth to never go anywhere alone and that there was strength in numbers. Her village like any other was fortified. A bull ogre fully enraged and hungry could nearly walk through the side of a brick building as if walking through an open door. Each village had built fortifications far beyond what seemed necessary. There were walls built behind walls built behind walls. They used anything they could find to stop the charging monsters and so far it had worked.

She remembered when as many as ten had attacked and everyone including the children would be on the walls throwing stones and spears and anything which may slow the onslaught and even a group of ten with five bulls at the lead couldn’t penetrate the barriers. Her parents were gone and she was thankful that they hadn’t gone the way of most of what was left of humanity had gone. No they had been taken by the fever and as in every village there was a house full of orphans the village as a whole cared for. When the ogres came, it was every man for himself. It wasn’t selfishness that caused this save yourself mentality it was pure terror that even the bravest amongst them could barely contain. Chere and her sister had hidden the children and themselves inside the walls of their make shift orphanage. There were no doctors anymore and these things called hospitals she had heard about in stories as a child. “One day things will be back to the way they once were and you kids will have your own homes and beds and there will be nothing else to fear.” This was the lie all children were told to give them hope.

A single tear fell from her eye as she spoke “yes hope didn’t stop the ogres from coming by the hundreds, no hope had been the sauce they were marinated in before it was time to be eaten.” She tucked the rank cat-bear into her pack and an evil malicious grin crept onto her face. As she set out again she had doubled her pace. It felt like the old days. She wasn’t even able to finish the thought of the night which had forever changed her life before she was in a full on rage. She looked forward to their screams as she slaughtered them and the little one she’d save for last.

As she ran the pictures flooded her mind and she knew this was due to the flashback of the night she had lost her sister and all the other young children of her village. The beasts came at full speed and the barrier did very little to slow them. Those on the wall had been the first victims to succumb to the voracious horde. She lost many friends in the first minutes of the battle. “No, battle isn’t the right word.” She stopped and pulled a small flask containing water from her belt and spat, “buffet, they were a buffet.”

She corked her flask wiped her face on her sleeve and continued her harried pace.  She hadn’t felt the rage of the hunt in many years. She had nearly come to pity the creatures she had mercilessly slaughtered for so long. They couldn’t speak or beg for mercy but the shrieks in their final moments sometimes haunted her dreams. She would wipe the sleep from her eyes and quickly dismiss the shrieks as nothing more than an animal’s reaction to the slaughter. She’d say aloud, “They are no more sentient than a frog or a fish,” and the thought would drift out of her mind.

She could see one of the beasts just ahead leaning against a tree with his back to her. She halted and began sneaking around to confront the massive bull and to her surprise she saw it was already dead. Its head had been smashed in by a rock she was sure weighed at least 200 pounds. She felt panicked and began to scan the dead forest all around her.  There was nothing. She had witnessed bulls fighting before        but something didn’t seem right to her. In every instance when they had fought the loser had been the meal of the group. If she hadn’t known any better she would have thought it some sort of ritual. There was little food left in this part of the world save for fish and fowl. There were no large mammals left. No dogs or cats, which had been eaten by ogre and human alike.

Everyone save successful ogre hunters starved. This left the ogres only two options for food, humans and each other. They weren’t cleaver enough to catch fish or birds and a 500 pound bull could eat a full grown man a day. Some she had encountered had almost looked scrawny to her. If a thing man shaped and 400 pounds could be considered scrawny. These were the most vicious of them all. A starving ogre wouldn’t try and kill his prey first he’d try and eat you to death. Chere had witnessed these gruesome acts more times than she cared to remember. Those screams she couldn’t wipe away or dismiss so she continued to hunt.

Three

As Chere ran more and more visions from her past ran through her mind. Her body was strong and she could keep up this pace all day and still be able to fight at the end, but these memories were beginning to take their toll on her agitated mind. She hadn’t allowed herself to fall into such a state as this while she hunted in years but today was not a day like she had experienced before. There had been times when things had seemed odd or even organized about the creatures she hunted but the cat-bear and the tiny indention, by comparison, had her mind racing.

These things had once been human and no one even the biggest and nastiest among them had deserved such a fate. She was fighting a thought which kept trying to break through. “It can’t be,” she blurted and stumbled to a stop. “A child turned ogre? Are they breeding?” She asked the empty forest.

She had been running for nearly four hours it was midmorning and the ogre’s tracks were as fresh as ever. “A blind man could track a frightened ogre.” She had heard boasted by a few brave men here and there freshly returning from a hunt, usually with a bloated rotting head in tow for proof to gain the favor of small villages to get free food and drink and to win the favors of the young women so very grateful to their saviors. In one case she even recognized the putrid head a hunter had put on a spike outside a local tavern. It had been one hell of a fight and that old bull had nearly gotten her. It had seemed to know how to fight. It hadn’t blindly charged but took a defensive position waiting for her to strike.

When she ran in expecting it to lunge forward it side stepped and with a huge swipe back handed her so hard she crashed into a tree breaking two ribs and splitting her head open. She had lain very still until the ogre was close and as he bent to claim his prize he was met with her dagger which she sank deep into its right eye socket. She had left the slain beast where it had fallen knowing she’d be unable to fend off another attack if a group were to find her while she was burning the remains. This too was another reason she preferred burning her kills.

She had returned to the small village where the famed hunter had spiked the ogre’s head outside the tavern only a week later to find the bones of its people littering the streets. A large group had smashed through the barriers and had razed the entire town. Every building and every home had been smashed or burnt. There wasn’t a soul alive but outside the tavern on a spike sat the head of the great hunter. She figured someone had realized he was the cause and reason they had been over run and so she imagined human hands had been at work but now she wasn’t so sure. It was now a widely known fact that using ogre heads as a deterrent was folly and she herself had let it be known to every village she passed.

She decided to take a rest. She wasn’t tired but she needed to settle her mind or she ran the chance of being caught off guard. She had to know. As far as she knew there were no other hunters who had been at this as long as she had. She had spent more time watching them and witnessing their odd behavior than anyone else she knew of. She had always thought it to be pack like. No different than coyotes or wild dogs. There was the biggest and meanest and it would seem that it was the leader. He’d sit howling indecipherable commands which the others followed.  “There couldn’t be any true intelligent thought behind those shrieks and howls could there?” Chere asked the silent trees quizzically.

In the distance a quiet yelp caught her attention. She jumped to her feet as if expecting an onslaught but again the forest grew silent. She slowly made her way towards where the sound had come. “How far off had it been?” She whispered aloud, “and what would have made such a sound?”

Ahead she saw a clearing she slowly encircled it checking for any would be attackers. Even in this world it was wise to be just as wary of man as it is to be wary of ogres. The ogres all wanted one thing and that was to eat. The men all wanted one thing as well, at least the ogres intent wasn’t malicious they were just trying to survive.

Once she was sure there wasn’t an ambush waiting she crept closer.  In the middle of the clearing hanging from a pole rammed into the ground was a fat ogre leg. Beneath the leg was a pit. As she slowly crept closer she heard the yelp issue from below the bait.

She had never seen a wolf before other than pictures. She had been certain all such creatures were extinct. But in the pit below impaled through the neck was a wolf. She felt instant sorrow for this majestic creature. She had seen many pictures on the discs of these beautiful creatures and she was certain that what lay dead just below her may be the last timber wolf. Then she again heard the yelp.

She carefully lowered herself into the pit and nestled against the dead wolf was a single pup. It was a fat ball of fur and even tried to snarl as she pulled it free from its mother’s long dry teat. She couldn’t stop herself from the involuntary “awww, you’re so cute,” which issued from her lips. With the pup nestled in her arms she climbed out of the pit and inspected the work.

“Well little guy this was not built for you of that I am sure, it was just poor luck that your mother landed the way she did.” She pondered a moment. “This is an ogre trap. A pretty good one too but it must have taken four men two full days to dig this. Any ogres in the area would have heard and been on them in minutes and yet they managed to do a pit this large.” The spikes were big and the pit was deep and wide. “Ten ogres would fit in there and if they were charging for food they’d of all fell to their deaths.” The little wolf pup just looked up at her trembling and she smiled down at him and kissed his nose. “Let’s get you out of here.”

“I’ll call you Mojo.” She smiled and left the clearing.

Eulogy

newskull

(This is my first novel, I began it back in 2001 but did not finish it until 2011 so please forgive me if some of the material is dated. Also, and I beg, keep in mind I have come a long way with my crimes against punctuation since I began on this journey. This is the first 30 pages or so. I hope you enjoy. Any critiques would be greatly appreciated. I will post more as I have a chance to go through and make sure the chapters are legible. I have a horrible habit of thinking faster than I am able to type. Thank you. – JM)

 

 Eulogy

The Beginning 1

Riad woke early as he did every morning, brushed his teeth, showered, and dressed. He quietly made a simple breakfast of sliced pineapple and bananas. He was always respectful to his roommates despite his secret loathing of them both.

He had lived here in this cramped apartment for almost two years as he attended NYU working towards a degree he knew he’d never finish. Riad was a peace loving sort who prayed every night that his people would be free of the infidels’ oppression.

At times he found himself wondering if they were as bad as he had been taught. Then he would remember the flashes and explosions so powerful his hearing had been damaged. This he told his classmates was a hereditary problem.

Then with heart crushing clarity he remembered his mother. The memory of her so fragile, dying in his father’s arms took over. She had a wooden beam deeply lodged in her chest; the pictures flooded his mind. The silent eeriness of it made his heart race and spine tingle even after all these years.

The beam had been driven home by the force of the infidel’s mortar round. Whether human error or an act of nature, the round had missed the warehouse fifty yards away and had blown away the entire corner of his family’s modest home.

His mother had tried to speak but could not form the words. It would have mattered little; he and his father would not have been able to hear. They watched her struggle to breathe her last breaths with destroyed lungs.

He steadied himself, fighting the urge to scream. Hatred hardened his heart. “Yes they are that bad.” He muttered softly under his breath.

He noticed the time and hurried himself. He finished his breakfast and set out just as he had done every weekday for the past two years. It was only five in the morning when he hit the frigid New York streets and he felt revitalized by the brisk air, he kept a quick pace.

He followed his regimen to the minute. He met his train at the usual time, exited at his usual stop. He was known for being one of the first to arrive and last to leave at the school’s massive library. He enjoyed learning and it kept his mind from his most feared enemy: doubt.

He began to study as he had always done but today was of course different than any before. He wondered to himself, will I live through this? He quickly shook this thought off, knowing it wasn’t important. He had a mission and he would do what he was asked no matter what it was.

It was a quarter till seven when the messenger arrived. Riad didn’t know what to make of this man. He was dressed in a canary yellow windbreaker, bicycle shorts, helmet, and gloves, all of which were covered in reflective strips. Riad hadn’t known who would show up, but to trust such delicate information to just any bicycle messenger shocked him.

He signed for the envelope and nonchalantly opened it, feigning interest for the benefit of the nosy librarian who had pointed him out to the messenger. He acted happy as he pulled the card from the envelope.

He said, smiling, “It’s my birthday.”

“Happy birthday,” replied the librarian who went back to her work, disinterested.

Riad had no problem acting; he had been doing so for years. He was after all on the frontlines of the war. He had to do what was expected of him. He had sworn to his fallen mother and the ailing father he had left behind to complete this mission.

The card was one of the musical types and as he opened it he had been afraid it would blare music into the silence of the early morning library, but it had not. It read “Happy birthday son, Love your Mother and Father.”

This made his heart ache. His father had died a year after his arrival in the US. He had been unable to go back for the funeral, fearing it would jeopardize the mission. He scanned the library, making sure no prying eyes were on him. He flipped over the card and saw that where the manufacturer logo should have been, there was instead a fictitious brand name and an address. He gathered his belongings and casually left the library.

He made his way outside, hailed a cab, and went to the address. The cab ride took a long time, which was fine with Riad. He had casually opened a book containing the birthday card and using his thumbnail, tore open the part that normally contained the little device which played the music. He saw that in its place was a small silver key.

“Clever,” he said under his breath.

“Huh,” barked the groggy cabby who looked as if he hadn’t had a day off in weeks.

“Oh nothing, sorry, I was just thinking out loud,” he replied, without a trace of tension in his voice.

He arrived at the address at eight thirty. He paid the cabby, giving him a nice tip.

“Thanks Bub,” retorted the cabby with a grin, “need me to wait on ya?”

Riad replied, “No thanks. I have business to handle here.” I don’t know exactly what business that is, he thought, as the cabby sped off.

He approached the building, which was a plain brick structure with a faded sign that read Jones’s Short Term/Long Term Storage. He entered. There was a reception desk with a grumpy looking old man dozing in an old cushy lounge chair in front of a set of double steel doors.

At the sound of Riad entering the old man looked up and snapped, “Key, where’s your key?”

Riad produced the key. The old man looked it over and handed it back wordlessly, buzzing him through to the storage area. The old man leaned back and began snoring immediately. Riad found this amusing and was grinning as he walked down the narrow corridor towards the locker that matched the number on his key.

The locker was small and the lock made quite a bit of noise, as if it hadn’t been opened in a very long time. Riad imagined it had not been. He knew little of what he was involved in, but he knew that he was not alone. He was comforted to know that many other people just like him, warriors on the front line of this epic battle were following messages this very morning all on different paths driven by faith.

All he knew about what was to come was told to him by a mysterious figure in a dark room four years earlier. “There will be many, and not one of you will know the others involved. This plan was set into motion after the invasion of Kuwait by the Infidel Americans and their supporters. We have been placing people and equipment all over the world since 1993.” He knew that this plan had cost lives, hundreds of millions of dollars, and sixteen years of hard work. He would not fail.

He slowly entered the small storage unit and was convinced there was some sort of mistake. It appeared to be filled with nonsense junk. There were boxes of old clothes, toys, and books. His heart sank. Was this all for nothing? Did someone fail at their portion of the mission? Are we found out? He began sweating, expecting armed assassins to come bearing down on him in a hail of bullets.

He waited a few tense minutes and when nothing happened, he began digging. He inspected box after box and just as he was sure there was nothing of use he saw a box labeled Riad’s Junk tucked away in the back corner. All his fears faded and he knew that once he opened this box there was no turning back. He was filled with strength, knowing that his faith was about to be tested.

As he moved the cardboard box, he found it was bigger than the rest and very heavy, though still manageable. He was very careful with it, not sure what he would find inside. It could be anything, as he had no idea what had been planned for him.

He imagined explosives. That was the simplest way, he had long thought, strap on a bomb and blow myself up somewhere densely populated. He always hoped it wouldn’t be explosives but that was irrelevant. He would do what he must.

He held his breath and opened the box. “Balloons?” He choked. The box was half full of deflated balloons. They were the nice ones you buy for birthdays and anniversaries and such. Pulling the balloons out slowly, looking for some form of instruction, he found a small note taped to the inside of the box which read:

Riad you are a great man and your name will echo through the halls of history through all the ages to come. Keep your faith my brother and you shall be a hero. Fill as many of these as you can carry around with you, release the gas on buses, trains, anywhere the infidels congregate. Do this all this day until you are caught or killed. If you are blessed with one more day, be in Time’s Square at nine am tomorrow. God be with you my friend.

He didn’t know who had written the letter, but it did not matter. He understood secrecy was important so that the architects of this great mission could live on to formulate new scenarios for exterminating the enemy.

He removed all the balloons and saw four helium tanks beneath. He filled and sealed a large bunch of balloons, then tied them in a bunch and added a bow. The old man did not stir as he left and he was careful not to let the door slam.

He waited at the bus stop and whistled Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. He was quite fond of classical music. As the lumbering bus approached, his whistling ceased and his lips expanded into a warm smile for the driver as the doors opened.

He sat in the first open seat he came to, he was all smiles to the other passengers but his insides were churning. He noticed a beautiful blond women sitting nearby. He caught her eye and she smiled sweetly at him. He let his mind wander for a moment, imagining her holding him, telling him how much she loved him. He saw their children being born and growing. He saw their future house and their blissful happiness.

The woman noticed he was still watching her as he was lost in his thoughts and her smile broadened. Just as quickly as he let his mind wander he snapped back into reality. Just for a moment, the woman saw the vicious intent in his eyes but he recovered with a quick smile. The young woman did not look at him again and exited at the next stop.

He admonished himself silently. How could you be so foolish, she is as bad as any of them, she may as well have launched the mortar that killed your mother!  They are the enemy and they are not to be trusted!

With that he punctured the first balloon. He went from bus to bus and train to train, careful he did not pop more than one in front of the same people, in order to avoid suspicion.

He traveled all over the city, visiting parts he had never been to before, often feigning disdain if anyone noticed one of his slackening balloons. He returned eight times that day each time carrying away a fresh bunch of balloons and a box of junk to make it appear he was just emptying the storage unit. The people running the place did not seem to care one way or the other.

Riad mused at how easy this all was more than once that long day. They don’t care enough to notice what is going on around them. These people deserve whatever they get.

In the afternoon he stood in a busy subway tunnel releasing balloon after balloon filled with what, he did not know, nor did he care. He had developed a cough that was mild at first and progressively worsened. At first he thought that it was being out so much that day that was making him sick, but then it occurred to him that it was most likely what he was unleashing upon the unsuspecting infidels. They are so prideful, they believe they can attack us in our homes but are safe to come and go as they please.

He spent twelve hours doing as his instructions had bade him until he was too sick to even think of continuing. He had noticed a great deal of sneezing and coughing much like his own during the last few hours.

He returned home at nearly eleven that night. His roommates were both home but did not greet him. They were already asleep. He thought this to be strange, considering neither of them ever went to bed this early. As he dozed off in between his own coughing and sneezing fits, he could have sworn he heard the same sounds of sickness coming from both of his roommates’ bedrooms.

When he woke the next morning he was surprised to see it was already bright outside. He had never overslept in the two years he had lived here. He had trouble getting up and getting to the bathroom. He was running a high fever and sweat poured from his body. There was no sound in the apartment except the wheezing coming from the other two bedrooms.

The gravity of what he had done slowly began to set in. It was obvious that both his roommates had the same symptoms as him and neither of them used the bus or subways. He began to wonder just what was in those helium tanks.

He took a much longer than usual shower, trying to let the steam clear his sinuses but to no avail. He got dressed, but did not eat. He left without waking his roommates. Despite years of acting as their friend, they were nothing to him, just two more enemies that needed to be dealt with.

He left the apartment at seven am and it took him an hour and a half to walk to Times Square. This walk would normally take him no more than an hour but he was very tired this morning. He didn’t want to ride the bus or to take the train so he just walked. He noticed even for this hour there were fewer people than normal. Another thing he noticed were the amount of sirens he heard. More than half the people he did see all seemed to be in the throes of a horrible flu just like him.

Riad found an unoccupied bench in Times Square and waited. He prayed silently to himself. He could not stop coughing but from what he had seen this morning he had done his job well. He smiled despite the fever and pain in his chest. At five minutes to nine a man sat down beside him.

“Riad?” The man asked.

This startled Riad and he slowly replied, “Yes.”

“I only received your name this morning in a note I found with this briefcase, it said that you would be here by nine and that if you had done your job well you would be very sick. My friend I know you did your job well because I am very sick also.”

“I thought this was all to be secret?” replied Riad, a bit shocked.

“I know, my friend. The note told me to explain that I was to meet you before the end because true warriors like us deserve better than to die alone with nothing but the company of infidels.”

Neither of the two sick men spoke again, they just sat and prayed silently for their remaining moments. Each man knew that at exactly nine am they would be at their god’s side. They both sat sickly smiling as the small nuclear device detonated. Times Square was vaporized.

Simultaneously in major cities all across the world similar situations unfolded. Any country allied with the US was attacked, but none to the extent of the US. There were attacks in thirty states. Within minutes the news spread around the globe. Fifteen minutes after the detonations there was a broadcast accepting responsibility.

The static cleared and the familiar face of Osama Bin Laden appeared. The message was short and disturbing. “American Infidels, you and your allies will all be destroyed. The first phase of our attack was more successful than we could have dreamt, the Infidels shall fall!”

The world was thrown into a state of panic. The highways and interstates around the world became jammed with panicked people fleeing for the safety of the countryside. They believed they were escaping certain nuclear death if they left the cities.

Their plan could not have worked better. The millions of people fleeing carried with them a death sentence far worse than they could have imagined. The virus spread like wild fire. There was a complete collapse of emergency services, crash victims died in their vehicles, house fires burned unchecked, and all semblance of order collapsed.

The National Guard was ordered to block all interstate traffic but it was futile. In many cases the guardsmen were over powered by armed civilians. When they tried to defend themselves with force, they were gunned down. There was no stemming the flood of sick from swarming the rural countryside. It was hope that drove them on, and it was hope that sentenced millions more to a horrific death.

By the time the government knew what was happening, it was far too late. The president issued a plea to cease all movement, warning that traveling was only going to spread the virus faster and increase the mortality rate. His plea went unheeded. It seemed none would be spared.

The virus acted fast. Anyone who contracted it only believed they had the flu at first. It progressed so rapidly that by the time the sick realized it was something worse than the flu they were already in the throes of a fever-induced delirium. This aided in the spread of panic. The infected, suffering from diminished mental capacity, resorted to the most basic instincts: fight or flight.

Riad died without knowing what he had released on the American people, but knowing there would be casualties. He believed these casualties would be localized. When the stranger with the briefcase arrived he understood there was a bomb inside but he had not realized that it was nuclear.

The thousands of people he imagined dying were only a miniscule drop in the ocean of deaths that he actually caused. Not even the architects of this intended genocide could have truly grasped its scope.

The bombs had killed hundreds of thousands, being detonated simultaneously at the beginning of the work day in dense areas as they were. The true genius of the plan was made evident during the following days after the explosions.

Within three days American losses had reached 50 million people. These numbers were impossible to substantiate because the infrastructure had all but collapsed.

There were vague stories before the networks went off the air that this was an accelerated form of the Ebola virus. These stories raised more questions than answers. Millions more died each day. In a healthy adult it took three to four days from infection to death. Within two weeks, ninety percent of all human life was snuffed out. This dramatic turn of events was something no one could have foreseen.

2

 

He stood proud, even as imminent death approached. Slowly with great effort, “As you can see no one is immune to these, most unholy of events. Millions of our friends, neighbors,” briefly he paused, choking back tears, “and loved ones have already fallen to the disease that is spanning the globe.”

The last words he had spoken seemed to add weight to his withering frame and he fell to his knees. The podium obscured the view, but it was more than obvious the President was vomiting. The dying man gasped for air, unable to catch his breath. Uniformed doctors, most of whom appeared to be in no better condition than their prestigious patient, rushed to his side. Suddenly without any warning the network feed was cut, ending the last Presidential speech ever to be given.

Alex sat silently hanging on every word. Teary eyed in disbelief he vaulted off the couch towards the TV, aloud he said, “This isn’t real, this is like that comedian, yeah that’s it, the crappy comedian who does the presidential impersonations. That’s not really the President there; this is some sick bastard’s idea of a joke. How could I have been so stupid, it’s obvious he’s a fake, he’s too small, doesn’t have the right skin tone and the voice is way off.” Self-assured this was nothing more than a hoax he changed the channel.

Alex checked all 8 of the stations his television would pick up and was horrified to see that every channel was either static or an emergency services message. His assurance fled him as quickly as they had come. His hope waned, only to be replaced with despair and confusion.

Shaking violently, as he was known to do when reason had begun to fail him, Alex screamed, “This is America, this shit doesn’t happen here!”

He jumped to his feet and half ran, half stumbled to the rear of the house. He stormed into the cramped bathroom grabbing the door to the medicine cabinet, knocking over a ceramic vase which shattered as it hit the tank of the toilet. Ceramic shards rained down around his bare feet, slicing the exposed skin. Oblivious, he continued his search. All that was going through his mind was that he needed his pills.

He had taken himself off these pills as he had done every other time they put him on something new, always giving him the spiel about how he needed to give them a few months to start working properly. He gave it a few months, went as long as four on these. They too, only seemed to aggravate his symptoms more than help. The only good side effect, he could see, was that they were capable of causing him to sleep for extended periods of time. He once slept thirty-six hours after taking only four. At this moment, all he wanted was to go to sleep and forget the world. He would work this all out when He woke up.

They were not where he remembered leaving them. He slammed the medicine cabinet so violently the mirrored door shattered raining even more razor sharp projectiles down on himself. This to, he seemed not to notice.

He tore back towards the front of the house. He over turned furniture, smashed holes in the walls, and launched any inanimate objects which dared be in his way.

Entering the kitchen he began slinging the entire contents of cabinets onto the floor with one sweep of his broad arm. To him the time spent searching seemed more an eternity than the 20 minutes it actually was. He jerked the microwave away from the wall with more force than was necessary. It flew nearly to the other side of the kitchen.

He found what he’d been searching for behind the microwave. “How in the fuck did you get there?” He yelled at the bottle, which he then opened and dry swallowed six 300 mg. tablets of  Seroquel.

Alex, still very much in the midst of a psychotic episode, calmed down considerably, “More than enough, I will sleep a full day, two if I’m lucky.” Talking to the wake of his most recent destructive outburst, he continued. “Just enough time for a smoke,” he told the ruined kitchen.

He righted the overturned couch and sat down. He then noticed that the emergency services loop had gone to static. The pills had begun very quickly to do their magic. He hadn’t eaten in days so there was nothing in his stomach to slow down his digestion. He got up, nearly falling over the battered coffee table and clicked off the TV. He made his way back to the couch, dropped onto it, and with cigarette and lighter in hand passed out.

He dreamed terrible dreams, but the one that He was having now seemed too good to be true. It was real to Him as His dreams always seemed to be. He was with his brother in Cleveland. His brother, a guitarist was on the road and would have been in Cleveland that very night.

There were no diseased people here, everyone seemed happy to see him. In his dream he was thrilled, the concert was packed and going great. Everything felt fine to him, which was quite unusual. At that moment he was happier than he had been in years. It had been a very long time since last he had dared going into a crowded place. It had been two full years since he’d last even been inside a grocery store, but this night, this concert, everything was perfect.

He began to notice that the crowd was all people he knew. These were all the people he cared most about in the world, all his friends, and loved ones were gathered here. Then for a second he thought he glimpsed His Grandmother, who had raised him since he was seven years old.

At first, it didn’t seem very odd to him that she’d be amongst all those he cared about. It struck him suddenly, his stomach dropped as if he were on a roller coaster. “She’s dead, been dead five years now. That was just my imagination.” He blurted. As if on cue, she appeared before him, an apparition breaking through the crowd. She was all smiles and warmth.

“GET OUT!” She screamed. He stumbled backwards towards the bar, blindly landing on a bar stool. She had changed; he was in shock to see the woman he had most admired was now a grotesque rotted version of herself.

The band stopped playing; this drew his attention in the direction of the stage where he saw what he feared more than death itself. His brother was there holding his guitar in a state best described as living death. “Rick, oh God, Rick, what has happened to you?”

“It is ok little brother, I’m ok now, but you need to go,” said the animated corpse of his brother.

They were all dead all around him, everyone he knew. It was not fear that welled inside him, it was sorrow and shame that they were all dead and he was not. Even in his own dreams he had no sense of self-worth.

He began to cry, and the rapidly decomposing crowd all gave sympathetic looks. They began to fall apart silently with no signs of discomfort or even sorrow, as if they were all resigned to their fates. Most were still smiling when their legs crumbled under the weight of their torsos.

The floor appeared to be no floor at all but some benevolent entity greedily swallowing up all he loved. They fell into the all-encompassing darkness. The darkness was spreading. There were no sounds other than a giggle which he was sure had come from his long dead sister. She died along with his parents in the crash, which altered his waking life forever.

Now there were only four remaining. Still on the stage were his brother and the only three other people he had spent any real time with since leaving High School. He began to cry harder looking at these four people he was now sure he’d never see again.

Rick spoke, “Alex you have to leave, you can’t stay in this place, all that made it home is gone. It’s a new world for you now. Live, you hear me? Live.”

“I don’t understand, what happened to you, why are you dead,” He begged.

“That’s how it has to be,” Rick had tears in his eyes but his voice never faltered. “It’s now the perfect world for you Bro, no people,” at this the three people who knew him best standing just behind his brother laughed.

In unison the three said, “Love ya man,” graciously they stepped off the stage and into the darkness before Alex had to witness their decomposing any further.

“I have to go, I love you Brother, take care of yourself, and no matter what, don’t forget to leave,” Said his dead brother. He added earnestly, “It will be hard, but I know you can do it.”

“I…I… don’t understand,” he was cut off as his brother cranked the volume on his guitar stack and started playing a song Alex knew well, Seasons In The Abyss, by Slayer. Still playing with a last look at his brother and a nod he jumped into the darkness.

He was falling. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been falling, but usually he had panicked at this feeling while dreaming. This time it was different, as if he were comforted by his own weightlessness. After the dream and the sensation of falling ebbed away he slept peacefully for 8 more hours.

It was a day like any other day, the sky was visible through the smudged windows of his little room. The somber grey clouds were motionless. With effort, he rolled on his side to see the time and to find a cigarette. He wasn’t sure how he’d made it to his room, but that was normal. He often found himself in different places than he’d fallen asleep.

Seroquel sleep was his favorite sleep; he often woke with his mind a blank slate. He rubbed his temples, trying to remember. “What happened last night?” Then as in answer a sharp pain tore through his head starting at the nape of his neck continuing around to his eyes. As his eyes blurred and tears began to form it all came back to him. “How did this happen?” He yelled at the ceiling.

He remembered the dream with perfect clarity, his brother, grandmother and all his dead friends trying to warn him away, he whispered, “But from what?”

He got up stumbled through the house towards the living room, all the while surveying the damage from the previous night’s rampage. He turned on the T.V. and searched the channels, all were gone. Static is the only reward his search provided.

“How could this be?” he asked aloud.

“No one to run the stations you goof ball,” he heard his brother say in the back of his head.

Checking the stereo He only found an emergency services loop, “By order of the President of the United States of America, all citizens are to cease all movement. The United States has been attacked by terrorists using small nuclear devices, as well as biological weaponry. The only way to stop the spread of this virus is to cease all movement. If you believe yourself to have been infected, do not seek medical help. Find a secure location and quarantine yourself. Seeking help will only spread the disease further. There is no cure; I repeat there is no cure.”

“FUCK YOU!” He yelled, which freshened the unbearable pain in his head. He paced from room to room trying to grasp what had happened. All his thoughts were confused glimpses of horror fantasy coated in a thin layer of reality.

“I’m going crazy”, he chanted to himself under his breath. He walked through the house, looking in every closet, every cabinet, and drawer, as if searching for some lost artifact of sanity, he collapsed on the couch.  The pills he had taken the night before had not yet run their course. He dozed fitfully.

Half asleep he heard a loud bang from the rear of the house. Alex jumped off the couch in a run, tripped over the over turned coffee table and slammed into the TV stand knocking the television to the floor. Stunned he regained his footing and picked his way to the front door.

Silently he begged God that the noise had been His brother. “Rick, Bro is that you?” No answer came as he stood on the porch looking around. Then he heard it again, this time he heard breaking glass.

He couldn’t contain his excitement, “Bro where are you?” he ran, nearly falling as he rounded the corner at full speed. To his disappointment, the yard was empty.

It was cold out; the calm was eerie this early March morning. Alex was grief stricken; in that moment it occurred to him he would never see his brother again. Then he remembered the noise. He slowly continued around his house, near the rear there were three hard cover novels on the ground.

“Alex, over here,” Issued a raspy voice he nearly recognized.

“Who is it?” He asked startled as he turned slowly around.

There in the window of his neighbor’s house, was what looked like a zombie. The once robust family man looked like something from a late night sci-fi marathon. The discharge appeared green in the early morning light and steamed as his neighbor leaned out the window to vomit. It oozed from his nose, ears, and mouth. The eye sockets seemed empty from where Alex stood. He needed to get closer to see if this man were really alive. Being prone to hallucinations, as he was, he wasn’t sure if what he was seeing was real.

Alex had known John for five years and was sure this wasn’t his neighbor. This was not the man he had sat with and watched his two little girls play in the yard. Alex remember watching, longing for a family of his very own. He thought this is someone else for sure. I just saw John last week; this poor guy is at least 50 lbs. lighter. He began to walk closer.

“Stop,” yelled His neighbor. The exertion obviously pained him; he groaned and began dry heaving.

“I, I,” stuttered Alex, realizing his folly, but could not think of what to say.

After gaining his composure, as well as he was able,”Alex is your phone still working?”

“I don’t know, I have a dial tone but I haven’t talked to anyone in several days. My brother is out of town,” answered Alex. “He should be calling soon.” He added.

“I’m going to call you in a minute, I need to talk to you, it’s important.” He wheezed. There was pity in John’s voice; he knew what Alex was denying. The chances that his brother was still alive in all this were very unlikely.

Alex was back on the couch where he spent most of His time, “waiting to die,” he had mused to a friend of his and his brother. He had laughed at the time, but all the while, in the back of his mind, he believed it to be true.

After about five minutes the phone rang, “Hello John?”

“Yeah, how you holding up Alex, I would have called sooner but I thought you left with your brother.” John was having trouble catching His breath.

“I’m sorry, are you guys ok?” He felt like such an ass for not checking on John and his family.

“We were all infected, my girls and my wife died earlier this morning.” John’s voice had diminished to the point where Alex had to turn the volume up on the phone to full just to hear him.

Alex was stunned, again he thought of how he had envied this man for all he had. Now this same man, his only friend beyond the members of his brother’s band, had lost everything. He was now losing his life. Tears began to fill His eyes, as he thought of John’s daughters and how young they were.

“John, I am so sorry,” Alex felt that to be inadequate to tell a man who just lost two children and His wife, but was at a loss of what else to say.

“Thank you,” John was weeping, and just holding the phone up was more than a task for him, but he needed help so he continued. “Alex, how are you feeling, are you showing any symptoms?”

Alex thought a minute, his head was pounding. This was more than he could deal with, he thought, yet he was here. “I have a bad headache, but that’s normal. Other than that I feel fine.” He felt foolish complaining of a headache to a dying man.

“When was the last time you were around anyone? Try and remember, even if it was just a quick trip to the store.”

“It’s been at least 4 days, the day my brother left. I went to the store for smokes.” He answered.

“That’s great Alex, you have been spared.” John choked. Although his entire family was dead, and he too would be following shortly, he meant it.

Alex had always been kind in their brief talks over the years. John knew he was troubled, he drank too much, and listened to heavy metal music to loud. John also knew that if ever there was a problem; Alex was the first one at his door to help. He thought of the time his wife was hospitalized for two weeks due to complications with her pregnancy. Alex had done all his yard work, made sure his trash was taken out, and came by at least once a day to see if he needed anything. He thought to himself, not everyone would agree, but I couldn’t have picked a better person to survive.

“But everyone else is dying, what am I supposed to do?” Alex was trying to stifle his audible sobbing.

“Listen to me Alex, God doesn’t make mistakes. You have been spared for a reason. There will be other survivors, not everyone will die. The people who survive this must ban together and help each other. You must go and seek them out.” John spoke, as reassuringly as his failing health would allow.

“What about my brother, I can’t leave, what if he comes back and I am gone?” Alex began to feel dizzy, thinking he would surely pass out. He closed his eyes waiting for it to pass.

“Alex, you should write him a letter and tape it to the door, tell him you have gone to find other survivors and that he should do the same.” Replied John, he then added, “He will find you, if he makes it, he will find you.” John thought this is not the time for sugar coating.

John began to throw up uncontrollably, he fell to the floor with a bang, leaving Alex feeling hopeless, not being able to help. Alex waited for quite a long while, but could still hear John gasping so he remained on the line.

“Alex, you still there,” gasped John, winded but still alive.

“Yeah, I’m still here,” relieved to hear John’s voice, even as desperate as it sounded.

“Alex I want you to take my truck. Grab my camping gear from the shop and get out of here,” he then hesitated, before saying, “but I need a favor first.”

“Anything John, just ask,” quickly replied Alex.

“I want to be with my family in heaven. Suicide is a sin, being merciful is not.” John had more despair in his voice than Alex had thought possible before now.

“OK John,” he answered before what was asked, had had time to sink in.

“Out in my shop is a gun safe, take everything in it, if not for protection, you will have to hunt.

“Are you sure this is what you want,” praying he would say no.

“There is no one else to ask, all our neighbors are either dead, or they left.” Then as an afterthought added, “those that left are most likely dead as well.”

“I will do it,” God only, knows how, he thought.

“Alex after you are finished and ready to leave, set fire to the house. I can’t stand the thought of my family rotting away like this. The fire will kill the virus.

“John, I wish this hadn’t happened, I am scared, and I am so sorry for what has happened to you guys.” Alex cried.

“Listen Alex, you will be fine, and what happened was not you’re doing. The signs were there all along, but no one thought it was possible. You are a good man; I want you to get away. Go west; get somewhere where there are no buildings and no people. Take all you find with you and start over, but don’t forget us. Tell your children what happened, so they will know better than to do what we have done. Alex, remember this was an attack. Sooner or later the ones who did this will show up, if they survived.” John was becoming delirious from the pain, and was barely audible now.

“John I will never forget you and your family, you had what I’ve always dreamt of having.” Alex was crying again as he said this.

“You will go on to have beautiful children, and you will be a great father,” whispered John through his own tears.

John gave Alex the combination to his gun safe, and told him where he had his spare key to the shop hidden. After telling him where he’d be in the house, he hung up the phone. He could no longer breathe without serious pain and talking was something he’d never do again.

Alex went into the shop. He felt as if he were dreaming all this, for surely this couldn’t be real. He opened the safe, took out a rifle. He loaded it with bullets from a fresh box stored neatly at the bottom.

He found the spare keys to John’s truck. On the key ring was a picture of John’s little girls, forever frozen in time. Their smiles encased in the plastic picture holder his wife had given him. The sight of those little girls, so happy, so far away from where they were now made fresh tears well in Alex’s eyes. Maybe it was John’s words, but at that moment Alex felt a strong desire to be gone from this place.

He only took one gun, he’d come back for the rest of the things shortly. He had something to do. He went into his house and got a cigarette and walked back outside. Slowly he skirted the lifeless bushes, it was still very cold and they had not yet awoken from their winter slumber. He slowly approached his neighbor’s home and made his way around to the master bedroom’s window.

Clearly he could see John through the window kneeling on the foot of the bed praying over the bodies of his wife and children.

Alex slowly raised the rifle to his shoulder; looking through the scope he targeted John’s head. He knew that if he hit him anywhere else or merely wounded him that John would lay there suffering even more than he was now. There would be no way to enter to complete the task without getting infected. The rifle shook in his inexperienced hands. He was sweating despite the cold, he attempted to steady himself, then prepared to fire.

“God help me please,” he squeezed the trigger expecting this to finally be over. Nothing happened; he went weak in the knees nearly falling to the ground. “You gave your word to your friend, now do this!” He demanded of himself.

Surprised at the authority in his own voice he checked the rifle and realized the safety was on. He raised the rifle once more sighting his friends head and slowly squeezed the trigger. As if he knew it were time, John raised his hands towards heaven. The report was deafening, it appeared to Alex that in death John had embraced his family as he fell forward. His friend would no longer suffer.

The sound had scared Alex; he stood for a moment with silent ears ringing. Suddenly he became stricken with the fear that he must be having a psychotic episode. If he had hallucinated all these events, that meant he had just murdered his neighbor. He waited barely breathing like a deer in headlights. He was expecting at any moment for his neighbors to come running down the road screaming, “Murderer! Murderer!” This he even pictured in his mind.

After five minutes or five hours he did not know, there were still no sirens, no police, nothing at all. He was all alone.

Aloud he said, “This is such a small town, if everyone here is dead, then everyone must really be dead.” His own words chilled him.

He stood frozen a few minutes more then slowly walked back to the shop. He began packing what he needed into John’s truck.

He checked every house on his block, yelling from a distance but there were no replies. In a few windows he saw that the corpses of the old and young were indistinguishable from one another. We are all the same in death he thought, just bodies. He could see from the distorted faces that several had died in pain, he felt a twinge of guilt. Then he whispered, “What was I to do shoot everyone on my street? A sane person wouldn’t be able to handle that.”

He wrote his brother a lengthy letter explaining what had happened, and detailing where he planned to go. Then he burned every house on his street except his own. He climbed into John’s truck and drove to the end of the street and just sat and watched the fires. He hoped and prayed someone would see the flames and come, no one did. After an hour of waiting, he left the place he had called home for over twenty years. He never saw it again.

Ter’Mari

(This is a novel I began writing about a year ago and I have fallen in love with my main character. It is based on a friend of mine. I do hope you enjoy it. This is my first project of this type, so I began a bit unsure but I am happy with how it is unfolding. This post is the first 50 pages so it is a bit of a read. I have sidelined this project due to life but I am itching to complete it. I’d love to earn my biscuits by writing but as of yet that dream is not my reality. 🙂 I would appreciate any critiques you’d wish to give, good bad or otherwise. Please forgive the editing mistakes I write quite a bit but I find myself lacking in the editorial department. Thank you. -JM)

Ter’Mari

The light stung Ter’Mari’s eyes when the ancient lady in waiting entered her chamber. The air was still and cold this morning and the thought of a long arduous day placating the squabbles of this corner of the grand king Vilathorn’s kingdom was daunting at best. It was her duty as Lady of House Tiernon. How she longed for the days her father would take her flying over the hills and valleys of the subterranean expanse he ruled. He was gone now and she would honor his name and the sigil of her house; yet she felt troubled as if some impending disaster loomed just out of sight. Hers was one of the most ancient names on the entire planet. There were 343 original settlers to their world. Every child knows this story.

Of the original there were 123 women and 220 men. More than half the men had been sterilized by the poisons which clogged the failing atmosphere of the once glorious earth her ancestors had been from. She thought it odd they called their planet earth. She never understood why they hadn’t named it something pretty. She had watched every film and had examined every picture in the archives and she thought it had to be the most beautiful place in existence. “Earth is dirt mommy.” She had blurted to her mother as she told the story to Ter’Mari no more than five at the time. This received affectionate laughter from both her mother and father.

The men were mostly picked for their knowledge and trade backgrounds and the women were picked based on virility. They had after all been sent to begin a settlement. The texts say that many more ships had been built and were all sent throughout the galaxy to planets which had shown the greatest promise for sustaining life. The settlers had named this new world Copious. It was overrun with game and edible vegetation. To speak that name aloud in Ter’s time was considered taboo; it was believed to be a bad omen.

The old lady busied herself straightening the room as Ter’ pulled the covers over her head and pleaded, “Ten more minutes, sweet Bondy?”

“Sweet miss you’ll miss breakfast if you dally long.” Bondy’s angelic voice echoed through the rafters.

Bondy was the oldest person on their world and Ter’ was all too aware that she too would soon be gone just as her parents were. Bondy was a rarity and had been discussed in great detail behind closed doors during the monthly meetings with all the planets leaders in Vilathorn’s palace. The scientists wanted to study her to see why she had lived longer than anyone else in 400 years. Ter’ already knew the answer and despite her position no one seemed interested in her explanation. She wasn’t a scientist and people of science do not wish to entertain the whims of a mere aristocrat. She felt it was more a matter of pride.

A thousand years after her people arrived on this once verdant planet their sun had begun to die. There was wave after wave of solar radiation. Thousands died and many others suffered severe injuries. Her people fled into the deep quarries, mines, and caverns. The mines and natural caverns provided insulation against the onslaught but thousands more died from malnutrition and exposure. There hadn’t been any warning and they weren’t prepared for such a disaster.

They had survived and they adapted to the subterranean world she had known all her life. They had all the cumulative scientific knowledge of the entire earth at their disposal and all that they had gained in the thousand years before the “darkening” they had come to call it. It took several hundred years before the sun went dark and this had given them time to harness the energy of the planets core itself. The scientist believed that it would be many more thousands of years before the star they circled collapsed and destroyed the entire solar system. This was what bothered Ter’ most. They knew people were dying far too young and that eventually all their descendants would parish in a great cosmic event.

She was almost always furious following the council meetings regarding the fate of her race. She knew better than to openly voice her agitation. To disagree was acceptable but not loudly or passionately. To do so was considered common and anyone acting in such a manner would be drummed out of their position and would be shamed publicly. Her father had taught her to cool her temper before her anger destroyed any chance of making a difference.

Bondy had asthma which further confounded the scientists. They couldn’t grasp how someone with such a debilitating illness would outlive even the healthiest people many years her junior. Ter’ knew it was her father’s doing that had kept Bondy healthy and alive all these years. She was nearly seventy and the next oldest person was forty-two. Bondy had worked for house Tiernon her entire life. She wasn’t a slave or a servant. There were no servants or slaves on Ter’s world but everyone who was able was required by law to work. If you reached age fifty you were relinquished of your duties and then the whole would support you until you passed away but when offered retirement Bondy blurted “Who is goin’ mind that youngun and warsh your shirts Mr.?” That’s all she ever called Ter’s father was “Mr.” but she loved him like a son and her heart was broken when he died. It was her job ten hours a day five days a week and she made it very clear that she was going to keep doing it until she was 150 if the good Lord let her live that long.

Knowing of her condition she was tasked with maintaining the house. The air quality had grown increasingly toxic over the centuries. There were hundreds of engineers who spent tireless hours attempting to filter the air but as the population grew the life expectancy began to falter. Then the populace began to show an increasing sign of respiratory ailments. It was a growing trend and this Ter’ knew had to be alleviated. Her father had fought tirelessly in an attempt to convince the king that each house needed its own air filtration working in conjunction with the massive filters scattered throughout the caverns. They just weren’t doing enough. That’s why Bondy had lived so long even suffering from asthma because she hadn’t set foot outside of Tiernon manner in three decades.

As a child Ter’ abhorred the manor thinking it a prison more than a home until she were old enough to realize her father keeping her in doors was why she was so much healthier than the other children her age. Her father had been an architect and engineer before taking over his mother’s seat as Lord of Tiernon Manor. In his years he had designed and built many working scale models of the air filtration units. There were four purifying the air in Tiernon Manor. It was the cleanest air on the entire planet. Not even the king had such a luxury.

As she thought of her father and her mother she felt an ache in her heart. How she missed them both. Her father spent his entire career as an engineer attempting to better the quality of life for all and her mother a doctor had spent hers treating the afflicted. They both had spent too many years outside in the bad air and had ultimately succumbed to its effects. Even the years inside the manor attending matters of state couldn’t reverse the damage his lungs had suffered. This made her angry but she couldn’t let her emotions get the better of her. How foolish their great and wondrous king was. “Nothing but a fool!” She wished to scream but she was a lady and ladies didn’t behave in such a manner, “At least not when in the company of others.” Her father had told her with a wink and smile, just weeks before his death.

These were the things running through her mind this cold morning. There was no going back to sleep. She checked the time and realized she had been lying there thinking for over half an hour. She jumped from the warmth of her bed into the chill of her frigid chamber. She was slim and very athletic. She knew living in this house with her father’s inventions keeping the air fresher than anywhere else had been almost unfair to the people she resided over but there was no helping it. She did all she could to take the children with the worst asthmatic symptoms into her own home. It had become quite crowded in Tiernon Manor. She didn’t mind the company and she didn’t like waste. She would do anything for these people she could.

She knew that even if she took in every child in the quadrant that would help but it would only be a drop in an ocean and it was only a temporary solution. It was these times she felt the most overwhelmed. To her the dilemma was clear as well as the solution, the purifiers. Or was it? An old memory came flooding back it was something her father had said to her mother when she was just a girl as she sat playing with her toys and singing as she loved to do.

It was his tone that caught her attention and they didn’t notice the singing had stopped. She climbed into an oversized arm chair and peered into the sitting room with her ever inquisitive bright blue eyes and quizzically watched the exchange. Her father never got angry and he never raised his voice so to her seven year old self this was a sight to behold.

“They just won’t listen to me. You know how Vilathorn can be! He thinks all is well and will not hear any sense on the matter. Damn his stubborn pride. At the rate we are going the average lifespan will be five years old in another hundred years. Five year olds don’t have children. You’re a doctor; you know this as sure as I. There is only one solution. These air purifiers they are refusing to use would only be a temporary deterrent. These fools will see us all dead and buried and all the while they’ll sit up in that palace kissing each other’s royal asses with big smiles on their faces.” He paused and turned but little Ter’ was too quick, she ducked low before he saw her. She was astonished. She had never heard her father use such language or say such things about the king.

She sat very still hoping she had not been seen and after a few tense moments she heard her father speak again in a much softer solemn voice, it frightened her because when she braved another glance she saw tears on his cheek. “Dear wife please forgive my outburst. I know you understand how grave this situation is. Only a fool would think differently. You spend your days tirelessly treating these poor children and the sad truth is the only respite they shall receive is death.” His voice broke on the last word and it was then she noticed the tears flowing down her mother’s cheeks. The sight of her mother and father both in tears and the talk of death frightened her worse than being punished for eaves dropping. She ran to them crying her bright blue eyes brimming with tears.

“Oh my sweet darling Ter’ I am so sorry you were not meant to hear that.” He held her close a moment and then he gently sat her on her mother’s lap. She too coddled the frightened child.

Her mother hadn’t spoken or commented during her father’s monologue. It wasn’t until Ter’ was drifting off to sleep had she broken her silence. “The ship.” Ter’s mother died less than a year after that night. She had spent too many long days breathing in the toxic air and like all the others she had died far too young.

Ter’Mari looked into the large floor length mirror. She wore only a nightshirt and had it not been for all the company in the manor she wouldn’t even be wearing that. She just enjoyed being naked especially when she slept at night; clothes made her feel restricted. She let the billowy shirt fall to the floor and purveyed her reflection with that same quizzical expression with which she examined everything new or unusual. She turned this way and that. She knew the men found her beautiful but that meant nothing to her. She wasn’t interested in a man. Her main and only concern was the survival of her people and nothing else. Once she found a way to fix this then yes she wanted a husband and children but she wouldn’t have them living in a hole like the moles she read about from her ancestor’s world.

Her hair was light and most unusual because everyone’s hair was dark; even her own parents had dark hair. They said she was a blessing when she was born. “The sun haired child with sapphire eyes,” they had called her. Her eyes were one of her most exquisite features. They were a blue that hadn’t been seen in millennia. Her eyes seemed to glow and were always the first thing anyone noticed about her despite her many attributes. Her skin was extremely fair as all the rest of her kin having never seen the sun. Her body was lightly toned and this too she found odd because not one other person appeared to be as healthy as she was. Everyone from the king to the lowliest sanitation workers ate the same food. Everything was shared yet she seemed to be the only person who physically prospered. The only difference is the air she breathes. She was twenty two years old and other than when it was necessary she remained inside Tiernon Manor.

She spent a great deal of her free time with the children playing games and teaching them to exercise. She had learned a great deal from her mother about physical fitness as well as from reading the ancient archives. She felt alien looking in the mirror. It wasn’t until she began digging in the archives had she seen anyone who even came close to resembling her. Other than her pale skin she looked just like any other girl from earth. She cut her hair in the fashion of a woman she found in one of the ancient digital magazines. It was short and she never let it grow too far past her ears in spite of being told more times than she could remember that she should let it grow long. Long hair bugged her and she hadn’t let it get long since she was young.

With one last glance in the mirror she began to dress. She was completely stressed and more so than ever, she was not looking forward to her duties as Lady Tiernon. All that kept repeating in her mind was her mother’s sad voice, “The ship.”

2

She entered the chamber which served as the hearing room just off the main foyer of the grand entrance to Tiernon Manor. The entrance was a sight to behold. There was a twenty foot hand chiseled sculpture of a friendly looking dragon that greeted all who entered. On either side were matching stair cases which rose over forty feet. The thing that impressed Ter’ most, even as a child, was the fact that it was all carved out of solid rock. Her father had very patiently answered all her questions as she would follow him around the huge manor.

“How’d they make this daddy?” She would ask with wide eyed wonderment. He had in great detail explained the history of the manor to her. She gasped when he told her it had taken over ten years to complete and later there were additions carved into the stone walls expanding it even farther. “Daddy, that’s more years than I am old.” He had laughed at this. Tiernon Manor was over a thousand years old. There were thirty-four rooms in total of which twenty two were bedrooms. Each and every room besides hers and Bondy’s were now occupied by the worst asthmatic children from Ter’s quadrant. She filled all the other rooms as well. Word had spread and each and every time someone sought out refuge for their child she would find a bed and a place for them.

She had always cherished her time with her father and shadowed him from the moment he returned home in the evenings until she would fell asleep in a little chair he kept by his desk in his study just for her. He knew one day the desk would be hers and he prayed that his efforts would make her life better.

She was jerked from her reverie as the large metal doors creaked open and the procession of plaintiffs began to shuffle in. She dispensed with formality during these proceedings. She had no desire for the pomposity of the great palace or even her peers which controlled the other quadrants. No, she was a matter of fact in her rulings and in almost every case she could easily find a happy median which would satisfy each party. For this she was widely respected.

It was during these hearings she spent a good deal of time observing her people. She didn’t feel superior to the men and women before her. She felt that each and every person was just as valuable to the survival of her race, maybe even more so than she was. It saddened her to watch the effort it took for some of them just to explain their problems. A man explaining a property dispute had begun to collapse and it was the person he held the grievance against which saved him from falling on the hard stone floor. These acts of kindness were common amongst her people. They, even when at odds, took care of each other. She loved them all for this. She needed to do something. She must do something.

The day carried on like each before and despite her anxiousness to do what she did not know, she listened intently and passed judgment as fairly as she was able. She noticed the time and realized she had been holding court for a solid six hours. She called for a break and directed everyone to the kitchen for lunch and refreshment. She was an extremely generous person. During lunch she didn’t eat she only had what passed for water. It was bitter and all she had every known but she couldn’t help but feel there must be something better. She wondered what real fresh water tasted like. She had seen it in pictures and in the archived footage. It must be absolutely wonderful she mused.

Ter’ was lost in thought. Why had that conversation come to her that morning? Why after all this time had she remembered now. She couldn’t shake this growing feeling of uneasiness and impending doom which had taken hold of her. After an hour break she returned to the hearing room which in a few hours would be housing twenty sick children as they rested for the night. She was relieved to see that there were only a dozen more cases to hear and she could get back to worrying. The thought brought a wave of distress on her and she quickly began the proceedings to temporarily block these negative feelings.

Just as she was finishing up with the last case she heard the door slowly creak open and to her surprise it was Lord Mendleson. He was one of her peers from the western most quadrant. This was a great surprise he must have travelled for four days to get to Tiernon Manor. He like Ter’ had one of the ancient names and by reputation he was kind and generous. Ter’ hadn’t ever talked to the man outside of the council chambers and never about anything other than official business. Mendleson never argued but when she had tried to explain why Bondy had lived so long he hadn’t openly dismissed her comments. He had seemed interested but had kept quiet due to his colleague’s negative comments.

Mendleson’s quadrant was in far worse shape than Ter’s. She knew the air quality in the west was far more toxic due to mechanical failures following a seemingly minor earthquake. It had collapsed the thermal vent which powered the air purifier which was deepest in his part of the kingdom. There was no rush to aid the westerners and to this Ter’ had spoken up and offered aid but as per usual was dismissed. “They can fix it.” This was all the fool king had said and the issue was discussed no more.

Mendleson was a scientist before he took his seat as lord of Mendleson Manor. His specialties included metallurgy and electromechanical engineering. Ter’ remembered several late night meetings between this man and her father. She never thought much of it at the time. Being a child she was more focused on the adventures of a child. She felt all that was about to change.

Mendelson stood quietly at the rear of the chamber patiently awaiting an audience with Lady Tiernon. She approached as the room began to clear. “Welcome to Tiernon Manor Lord Mendleson.” She gave a slight bow.

He grinned and returned her halfhearted curtsy. “Why thank you Lady Tiernon.”

“Perhaps you’d like to join me in my study?” She offered.

“Certainly,” Mendleson quietly followed Ter’ up the stairs and down the long hallway to her father’s study. Her mind raced faster with each step. What could this visit mean? Perhaps he wants to discuss the air purifiers? That was the only probable answer she could conceive. Once inside Ter’ took her place in her father’s ancient chair.

Mendleson sat across from her and as an afterthought stood and quietly closed the door to the chamber before returning to his seat. This act caught Ter’ by surprise. Her imagination began to run wild. The anticipation was nearly more than she could bear. Patience had never been Ter’s strong suit. Her father had on numerous occasions told her, “Good things come to those who wait my sweet impatient daughter.”

Mendleson could see how anxious she had become and at this he grinned, “Your father told me of your impatience. I can see he was not wrong in his description nor was he wrong when he told me of the goodness of your heart. You are the most loved of all the Lords and Ladies of our world. You’ve filled your home with the infirm and this has not gone unnoticed. If that fool king we have would have been half as wise as your father we probably wouldn’t be in such dire straits.” He paused a moment.

His words had shocked her. Other than that long ago night she had never heard anyone speak badly of the king. “Lord Mendleson I don’t understand.” His comments had only added to her anxiety. She was nearly bouncing in her chair by this point.

“Please Ter‘Mari, if I may, I’d prefer if we dispensed with formalities I find it quit droll and pompous.” He grinned as he spoke. “Your father told me you feel much the same way.”

She knew then that this man and her father had been much more than colleagues, they had been friends. Ter’ decided she liked him as well. It was quite odd to hear someone of such a high position speak in this manner. “I didn’t know that you and my father were so close.”

“We spent many years working together. We spent countless long days as young men laboring on those damnable air purifiers which do little more than prolong our people’s suffering. Then as Lords of the realm we worked ever so tirelessly attempting to fix the problem with the toxicity levels in our homes.” He paused briefly; his skin was paler than usual even for someone who’d spent forty one years below ground. He began to cough and the sound made Ter’ cringe. She ran out of the office to get him a drink. The coughing had passed when she returned a few moments later but the strain it had taken was visible. “Thank you.” He said gratefully as she handed him the water.

She knew the signs all too well. Her father had coughed like that. It was a scenario which was being repeated by many at that very moment all throughout the subterranean kingdom. She knew this man had maybe six months tops but only if he remained in the pure air of Tiernon Manor. “You could stay here. The air here will ease the coughing fits.”

“My dear child you try so hard to save everyone don’t you? “ He looked at her with a sad knowing smile that made her feel uneasy. She imagined that perhaps his visit had nothing at all to do with the air purifiers. “You can’t save them. Not even half. I am most saddened to tell you that you will only save two dozen if you are lucky. I am sorry it has to be me to tell you this. I feel like the executioners errand boy. I’m guessing you thought I was here about the air purifiers but I am not. I am here to impart the greatest secret of our people on to you as your father passed it to me nearly twenty years ago. Dear girl I am here to tell you about the ship.” He could see the light of recognition in her eyes.

“The ship? I woke with that thought in my head this morning. I was thinking of my mother and father and I remembered them talking and yes my mother had said, ‘The ship.’” Ter’ was nearly overwhelmed. What ship? She couldn’t get the words out.

“You’ve read the archives of our ancestors and our history from the time they landed here. You know of the darkening and the death of all life on the surface but there is a second history unknown by all but a few. There have never been more than ten people who’ve known about what I’m going to tell you at any given time. Our king was not deemed worthy to know what you are about to hear.” He began to cough again but far worse this time and she realized that she had been wrong. Six months was a far too optimistic guess, this man wouldn’t last the month.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Although her question was sincere she knew there was nothing that could be done.

He waved her off and after a few more grueling minutes the coughing stopped and as he gained his composure he began again. “After the darkening and we fled below the surface some of our people decided that we needed to find a way off of this planet. Others argued that we could survive indefinitely below ground. Humans were not meant to live in holes. We evolved on a planet with sunshine and fresh air. This is no life. Yes it’s all we’ve known since birth but just look in a mirror. You my child were a blessing because it was your birth that changed it all. Your father was a brilliant architect and engineer, this you knew but he was so much more. Your father was also an incredible inventor and rocket scientist.” He chuckled as her jaw went slack. Ter’ had the funniest dumbfounded look on her pretty face. He couldn’t help but enjoy the moment. Then he resumed with a more serious tone. “He worked himself into and early grave so that you my dear wouldn’t have to. Ter’Mari you were the catalyst that drove him and in turn drove us all to finish a secret project that has been underway since our star went dark.”

“That was nearly two thousand years ago.” She stammered.

“Yes child it was. This project was kept secret because of fools like our great king. They felt safe below ground. They ignored the data the scientist had gathered before having to flee and leave their equipment. We had been here nearly a thousand years and so many restrictions were put on our advancement because the people in charge believed that we would end up destroying our atmosphere the same way we destroyed the earths. So there was no advancement in some areas of science at all. They preserved the ship which brought us but the components were cannibalized for other projects. They left only the hull but thank the Gods someone had the foresight to save the schematics.” He paused. He was terribly winded and needed to catch his breath before he triggered another coughing spasm.

She softly spoke. “My father built a ship?” She was asking herself more than Mendleson. “So these people secretly began an aerospace program?” She remembered that when her father would take her flying it was always late at night which she never found odd at the time but it made plenty of sense now. “He was testing his ship and teaching me to fly wasn’t he?” She let slip out louder than her earlier question.

“Yes child. More than anything he wanted you to not be afraid of flight. Remember when he told you the craft was broken and he couldn’t fix it? It was needed elsewhere. We were testing various alloys for the hull of the ship and your little bird was a perfect test craft. We tested fuel mixes and hull density. We had the schematics for a fully functional spacecraft but we had no clue how to build the individual components. So we experimented. We’ve lost good people to accidents. You must understand we knew it could be achieved but we had no definitive instructions on how to do these things. A great deal of our scientific information brought from earth was lost during the solar radiation storms. We had to all but start from scratch. The fools tried so hard to make this planet a utopia that they stifled any chance of escape if something went wrong and regrettably it did.” He paused briefly.

“How many people can we take with us? Where will we go? How long before we can return to get more people?” She was growing more and more excited having forgotten Mendleson’s earlier words.

“I told you Ter’Mari if we try and put any more than twenty-two people on board then there is a chance that none of you would make it to your destination.” His expression was grim.

“Well ok then we can only take twenty-two at a time. That’s not the greatest but we will just have to make more trips.” She was ever optimistic.

“Ter’Mari I need you to understand that this is a one way trip.” She began to argue and he cut across before she could get a single word out. “When our ancestors set out on this journey it was understood that it was one way and one way only. There was never a plan to go back or to ever try and join up with the other settlers strewn across the galaxy. I am afraid that this is the case here Ter’.” He watched as her already troubled expression grew even dimmer.

“The men and women who came here traveled for forty years. They were young when they left and they were rotated in and out of cryogenic stasis. So in a period of forty years they each only aged ten. The ship we’ve built is exactly like the ship that brought them here only much smaller. One of the major obstacles was that we had no raw materials with which to build. The proper alloys needed to build such a machine were very rare on this planet and the fact that the surface is now uninhabitable and incapable of supporting life made gathering these materials that much harder. You couldn’t survive on the surface for more than a minute unprotected.” He could see she was on the verge of tears.

“These purifiers weren’t an experiment for our survival were they? They were prototypes for this ship?” She couldn’t continue for fear of completely breaking down.

“Yes my dear. You were picked to be our representative on this mission. There is something more I have yet to tell you. First let me explain as to how and why I know what I am about to tell you. Your father kept these things from you knowing your impulsiveness would have you jumping head first into this project. He knew that your heart would end up being your undoing and in an attempt to save everyone you would not even be able to save yourself.” The words burned her and he saw it. “I am sorry. If you can save twenty-two then twenty-two you must save. It’s a hard fact Ter’ but it is the truth. Since the start of this secret endeavor we’ve had many triumphs and many failures. The earlier members tried with some degree of success to start settlements on the surface. Many lives were lost and many resources were expended but they did eventually manage to build a fortified settlement. It was quite small but from inside they were able to observe our star.

This fool king and his ilk have clung to their facts and say that we have many thousands of years before the end but I am sad to say the end has already begun. There were twenty two planets in this solar system when we first left the surface. When the first settlement was built there were twenty-two. In your short life time seven of the twenty-two have broken apart. Since the darkening it would seem our orbit has slowed. The seven planets which have been destroyed are closer to our star and had quicker orbits. The earthquake that collapsed the thermal vent in my quadrant wasn’t a random occurrence. It was just the beginning. The earthquake coincided with the destruction of the planet closest to our orbit. Each year our star grows denser and it’s slowly pulling our planet as well as all the other planets closer to it. Our calculations show that in six months and four days our planet will be in the same orbit as the seven already destroyed planets. It is our belief that we shall share the same fate.”

3

Lord Mendleson was given a room after a bit of jostling around of some of the children. He looked a haggard mess as Ter’ bade him good night. She saw the look of death on his face. It sent a chill down her spine she fought to conceal. It was a look she found was easily recognizable once seen on the face of one you hold dear. She almost felt bad for the relentless questioning she had given him. She wanted to know everything about this ship they had built. She couldn’t conceive of only saving twenty two people.

He had informed her that there would be a crew of seven plus herself and the rest would be the healthiest children from their world. This was unacceptable to her saving only fourteen children, but she had learned to keep her objections to herself. Ter’ quietly thanked her father. She knew that this man would not be alive at the launch so she would be the ranking official over the project and she was going to find a way.

It was late but there would be little time for sleep now. Not with so many little lives at stake. She went down into the recesses of Tiernon Manor to her father’s old workshop. There was a terminal with access to the palaces data base. She needed information and she needed it now. She was aware that all access logs to the main terminal were monitored but she was known to access random information at late hours when she couldn’t sleep it was never questioned.

The first thing she downloaded was the original mission files for the ship which had carried her people three thousand years ago. The next were random files pertaining to that time period. Files she had no interest in but she wanted to make her downloads to appear random. Her next important files were the last surface aerial maps of the original city they had built just before the star had begun to emanate the dangerous radiation. Then along with that she downloaded many other non-essential files. If there were inquiries she would just say it was for teaching purposes; she did have a house full of children. Yes the files were for them but not in the way she would make them believe.

She knew that Tiernon Manor sat below the old coliseum built in the style of the romans so she had a reference point to start from. There was so much to do and so little time. She knew what she had in mind was improbable and there was a chance she wouldn’t live through what she intended but she had to know. Was the original ship still there? How badly had the millennia damaged it? Was it salvageable? She was certain that even if she located the ship there would be no real way to fix it in time but she had to know. She would try until the last second and if only twenty two made it off this planet, twenty one would be children with one person to fly it.

She had no intentions of keeping a seat for herself. She was Lady of House Tiernon and no one on this planet save the king himself could question her word. Mendleson assured her that she would be apprised of all the pertinent data regarding the mission the following week when he returned but at this she scoffed. “You just told me about my father’s secret project and expect me to sit here waiting a week to learn more. No sir! I am coming with you.”

Despite his many arguments and misgivings about his already odd behavior having come so far in his condition without a royal decree, she refused to budge. He quickly learned when Lady Ter’Mari of House Tiernon had made up her mind there was no changing it. She didn’t know how to accept the word “no.”

They left together the next morning under the guise that Ter’ wished to see the conditions of the west and its people. Bondy knew better. When she had come in to wake Ter’ she was shocked to find her awake and packed for a journey. Her bed was not slept in and Bondy realized it was time. Bondy with tears on her wrinkled cheeks embraced Ter’ with a strength Ter’ didn’t expect. Ter’ was caught off guard and her cheeks were soon moist with her own tears.

Ter’ began to speak but Bondy hushed her, “Sweet miss I know where you are going and I know why. Mendleson’s presence here will surely be noted by now. I am most certain Lord Rasten sent an emissary to the king the moment Mendleson arrived to recharge his caravan and to take rest. That means the king knew Lord Mendleson was coming here before he crossed our threshold. There will be inquiries and you know how big a fool Vilathorn is. His father and his father before him were thought to be the biggest fools that palace had ever seen but Vilathorn proved them wrong. A bigger fool has yet to be born!” She spat the last sentence and Ter’ couldn’t suppress the giggle it elicited.

“Oh dear Bondy, you’ve kept this secret too? How long have you known?” Ter’ was quite curious as to why even her lady in waiting knew what she had not.

“My father spent his entire life trying to perfect the fuel for that ship you’re about to get on. He’s the one who brung your father in on this project. He died in the pursuit of this mission and you my dear will see it through. All our hopes rest with you now sweet miss.” She hugged her again and walked out of the chamber.

Ter’ sat for a moment stunned and quickly she leapt to her feet and ran after Bondy. “Bondy please, do you know what is going to happen? Do you know about the seven planets? I can’t leave all these children behind! How could anyone expect me to be so cruel? How am I expected to choose so few from so many only to leave the rest to perish?” Ter’ was as close to hysterics as Bondy had seen her since she had become an adult. The sight of the bright eyed girl with so much love in her heart to be nearly crippled with grief nearly made Bondy cry out in pain.

“Oh dear child, yes I know all too well the plight we face. I can’t imagine what your heart must be feeling and I swear if I were a younger woman I’d bear this task with you but I am old sweet miss and my time like most of us here is coming to an end. Your dear father.” Bondy got stuck on the words and needed a moment to gain her composure before she could go on. “Your dear father knew you would not be able to accept taking so few. He even expected that you’d give up your place so that another could survive. I beg you for your mother and father’s sake go and if there is a way to save more, find it. But please sweet miss go. Your parents spent their entire lives making sure you were healthy. The men and women they are sending with you will not survive the journey. They are to get you going and to keep things in order as long as they are able. You miss are meant to survive because the young ones will need you when you arrive to keep them safe. You noticed even as a child you were different, healthier than all the rest. You stood out but that was for a reason. You’ve been given supplements your entire life. Your father and mother put everything into you. You’ve eaten better and lived better than anyone on this planet. Everything from the day you were born until now was all for this trip. It is what they wanted for you.” Bondy was growing winded, Ter’ helped her to a chair on the side of the corridor.

“It is unfair to put this all on you. From a small child you have been educated in our history. Yes all children know the basics but you are the first child ever to sit and read directly from the royal data base. Your father always smoothed over the access violations claiming he was doing research and there was naught else said. It was all for you. You needed to know our history as well as that of our ancient ancestors because if our race is to survive it will be you to make it come to pass.” Ter’ stood there, tears drying on her cheeks, red eyes glazed over shocked at all Bondy had just told her.

The trip was long and slow. On the third day they stopped at house Reston and to their surprise Lord Reston was not there to greet them. Lord Mendleson’s caravan only consisted of two vehicles each powered by ancient batteries that needed recharging only after two hundred miles. They were told to have lasted a full thousand miles on a single charge when they had been new many ages ago. These were even a luxury to the royalty of this subterranean tomb. The thought made her shiver, but she couldn’t shake it. Each face they passed on the king’s road further enforced her sad conclusion. All these people and all they love will soon be gone. No it’s no tomb, they will not have the dignity of a tomb they will be ripped apart and flung into space along with this god’s forsaken planet. She quietly wept not wanting to arouse suspicion from her driver. She was in the second vehicle and Mendleson in the first as per custom. She must act as a Lady and not give any sign that something was amiss.

Lord Reston had left word that Lord Mendleson be given every courtesy of his home and despite the generosity of House Reston both Mendleson and Ter’ felt uneasy about his absence. She knew they had nearly two full days left before they would be free to speak without unwanted ears nearby. The suspense was taking its toll on Ter’. This was obvious to Mendleson and he said only one thing in regards to their deception. “Two thousand years Ter’, you can survive two more days.” He grinned and made no more mention of their true intent.

As they supped the two spoke only of living conditions, water treatment, and air purification. Each certain their every word was being recorded by Reston’s all too eager staff. They made haste with departing house Reston as soon as they had each feigned a nap. They were more concerned that the batteries were ready for the last leg of the journey. It was 382 miles from Tiernon Manor to Mendleson Manor and they each intended to make the trip as quickly as possible.

The workers they passed on the road haunted Ter’. They all work so tirelessly for our survival completely oblivious to the impending doom of this planet and everyone on it. “In it,” she nearly scoffed aloud catching herself as she noticed the driver watching her over his shoulder. “Lady, are you well?” He asked innocently.

“Yes, sorry just thinking aloud is all. I have a great deal on my mind.” She scolded herself quietly; she needed to keep it together. She had never felt so torn in all her young life.

To the relief of Ter’ they could see Mendleson Manor in the distance. It was truly a sight to behold. She had never traveled to the west in all her years but she had seen pictures. It was carved completely in the side of a great wall nearly 300 feet high. She had studied the diagrams of the great elevators which rose all the way to the grand courtyard nestled at the very top. Massive artificial lights had been installed which were used to grow the algae the people in this quadrant survived on. She had never known anything other than these algae and wondered if it tasted the same to others as it did to her. Bondy’s words echoed in her mind. “Supplements,” She had read of such things in her studies and almost surprised herself as she started recounting all the things she did know about food and harvesting. Facts she had tucked away in her mind never really believing they held much value. Hadn’t her mother been extensive with her education of things she felt were unnecessary?

The responsibility of education was bore by their parents. If your father were an engineer then you would be an engineer. It was only the royal families who had any choice in the career paths they chose. Her mother had been a Buren far from the south and had studied medicine and botany from the time she was a small child. She had married her father when she was only 16 and he had been 15. Royals only married royals and that was a tradition that went back even before the darkening. A great deal of their history was lost as her people fled the radiation but it was believed the king descended from the captain of the ship which brought them here but those records had not been completely salvaged. Names were augmented over the generations to give them a more royal air but Ter’s father had assured her their name is the same as our ancestor who boarded that ship three thousand years ago. Ter’ had set out at one point to find out the names of the crew and passengers of the ship which brought her ancestors over but it was incomplete. She spent weeks going through the data until one day she found an entry that sent her flying up the stairs and through Tiernon Manor raving like she had gone mad.

She had to suppress a giggle at this memory. She had only been ten at the time and as excited as she was her father wasn’t home so her excitement had to wait. She had found Bondy and for the next hour as Bondy prepared their dinner went on and on about Ensign Matthew Tiernon. She had found proof that yes her ancestor was definitely on the ship and he was a crew member.

To her surprise the caravan drove right into the great elevator and before she knew it they were rising quite rapidly towards the summit. The pictures hadn’t done justice to the immense size of Mendleson Manor. She felt like one of those ants she had studied as a child. She felt tiny and insignificant in the face of such a massive structure. The driver casually spoke. “Impressive isn’t it, it was under construction in one form of another for over 300 hundred years. It is the tallest structure on the entire planet”

Ter’ already knew this but she smiled acknowledgment at the driver just the same. Ter’ was extremely impressed as the elevator rose she became dizzy watching the people grow smaller as she ascended. She had to look away. The driver noticed and smiled at her. She thought he was attractive; more so than most of the men she encountered. He had to be in his thirties and already showing signs of the illness that all eventually fall to. Despite his warm smile her heart sank and she knew he was just another who would soon parish in the great cataclysm.

At the summit they drove through the seemingly endless algae fields and after five minutes they had arrived at the entrance to the great hall. It had a carved archway with intricate patterns which appeared almost delicate in design. She thought if her mission weren’t so dire she could spend days wandering this place admiring the ancient stonework and beautiful carvings.

At last the trip were through and she was about to start battering Lord Mendleson with questions until she saw the state he was in. They hadn’t stopped in hours and though he hadn’t looked well from the time he arrived at Tiernon Manor he looked far worse now.

“My dear Lady Tiernon, please forgive an old man.” Ter’ thought a forty one year old calling himself old was ludacris but isn’t that what he was, old? Bondy nearly seventy could run laps around this poor soul. “Perhaps I was hasty in my misgivings about your visit. It would seem the hour is later than I had thought. Your impertinence it seems has served us well. I doubt I could make that trek a second time.”

“Take your rest kind sir I am certain your attendants can see to my needs.” She was worried. He seemed to have aged ten years since they set out. She wondered if he would make it through the night much less the week.

“We’ve much to discuss. As soon as I am settled I will send for you.” With that he left aided by two younger men neither of which were the picture of health. She felt tightness in her breath; it had started not long after they passed through Reston’s lands. It was if the air was heavier here and she supposed that maybe that and not just the height had made her dizzy.

She was guided to a luxurious guest chamber where she quickly settled in for a nap. Despite her excitement she was truly exhausted and she knew she had better rest while she was able.

4

Ter’ woke to a knock at the door. It was the handsome driver, he was all warm smiles. He brought her an iced pitcher of water. This she graciously accepted. She had awoken with an acrid smell in her nose and her tongue seemed to have soured in her mouth. The attendant noticed the way she gulped the bitter liquid and spoke. “It’s the air here Lady Tiernon I am sorry for the discomfort. It has grown worse at an alarming rate.” His tone was sullen and Ter’ thought perhaps even sad. Did he know?

“Once you are ready I’ve been instructed to take you to Lord Mendleson’s private dining chamber.” He turned and dismissed himself.

“I need just a moment.” Ter’s mind was racing and her heart was breaking. She had known of the destruction to come for five days but she could not combat the distress she was feeling. No, her distress had not abated but had only grown exponentially worse. To her every minute was a waste and yet here she sat on this bed wishing she could pull the covers over her head and forget the world as she would do as a child when she had been upset or frightened at a noise in the night. She stared at the closed door and realized for the first time in her life that she was terrified. It was a feeling as alien to her as she imagined bathing in real water would be.

The fear wrapped around her squeezing all that was good out of her. She felt she’d never know joy again. “God’s Ter’ you have to get up and do this. What would people think if they saw you sitting here cowering on this bed like a child?” She mocked herself and in doing so she found strength in one word, “Child.” From somewhere in the pit of her stomach she felt a stubborn burst of courage and she could have sworn she heard her father sigh as he did when she did something that made him smile. “The children,” she spoke aloud as she rose.

Lord Mendleson to her dismay looked no better than at their last meeting. Ter’ hadn’t considered the air when she had thought of his returning. He looked bad at Tiernon Manor but here he looked down right ghostly. He quietly spoke with a strained but pleasant smile, “My dear Ter’ your offer to stay at Tiernon Manor was a great temptation I must admit. It seemed I had reversed the effects of this accursed toxicity. It would seem my condition has advanced further now than it was when I first departed. It was as your mother had surmised. It was her hypothesis that once exposed for too long there would be no chance that the body could heal itself. It seems that clean air can at least alleviate the symptoms briefly but not stop the deterioration.”

Ter’ had tears in her eyes. She had witnessed the two people she held most dear die in this manner and even though she hadn’t had the time to get close to Lord Mendleson she truly liked him and couldn’t stop the tears. “I am sorry.”

“I’ve no doubt you are my dear but a difference it does not make. My lungs will fill and I will go like all the rest.” He weighed what he was preparing to say knowing it would sting Ter’ but the time for coddling had passed. “Just as your mother and father and everyone I’ve ever loved and everyone they loved.”

His words did have an effect on Ter’ but she hadn’t flinched. He had made no offense he had only spoken a cruel and tragic truth. The air was a worry for the dead not the living. That time had come and had passed and though they had tried all they had managed to do was keep their people alive like moles in a hole. No one had lived in over two thousand years. They had only survived. Ter’ began to speak but caught herself and nervously looked at the man who had apparently been assigned to her. Mendleson noticed and grinned, “Ah sorry this is Lanon he’ll be aiding you while you’re here and he has been apprised of our situation. He’s been an extremely helpful addition to our efforts. We’ve broken more than a few of our oldest rules regarding the ship. A necessary evil when haste is the priority.”

She surveyed Lanon in her trademark fashion and at her piercing gaze he began to fidget and blush. She jerked away when she realized she had been staring far longer than she had any right.

“I imagine you two will be spending a great deal of time together the next few months. You have many things to see and even more to learn Ter’. Lanon is going to help you.” Mendleson began to cough like before but this time he wasn’t able to stop. Lanon shouted down the corridor and more men rushed in and carried him away on a stretcher like the ones her mother had used. Like the one her mother was placed on when she died and just the same as her fathers. She couldn’t shake the chill this brought on.

Lanon could see the distress the scene had caused her and he made an attempt to console her but she waved him off. “I’m ok. Let’s get to work.” He led her through passage after passage moving deeper and deeper into Mendleson Manor and after ten minutes they arrived at what seemed to be a blank wall with passages heading in three directions. Ter’ thought without a guide an intruder could get lost in there for hours. It was like the Minotaur’s labyrinth she had read of as a child. Lanon looked left, right, and then back the way they had come and as she was about to ask he pushed in a concealed panel she hadn’t even seen it had been so cleverly carved.

The air was the first thing she noticed. It wafted out around her in a cool rush. It was fresh and she reveled in it. They quickly stepped inside and the large stone door banged shut. It was quit ingenious. She recognized the craftsmanship; it had been built in much the same fashion as the massive elevators.

As ingenious as the door had been to her nothing had prepared her for what she saw as she passed under a skillfully carved archway leading into a massive chamber. The fresh air had made her a bit unsteady on her feet but the sight of the massive craft was far more impressive than anything she had ever seen.

Lanon gripped her elbow as she nearly fell. “Lady Tiernon please be careful, we need you.” She had indeed nearly toppled over staring nearly straight up at the behemoth craft. She placed her hand on his and held it a long moment as she continued to gaze upward. She had seen the photos of the ship which had brought her ancestors to this world but she couldn’t fathom what must have been sacrificed to construct such a craft on a world with nearly no access to natural resources.

She became aware that she was touching Lanon and a it occurred to her that she had never touched a man other than her father and the occasional accidental brushes but she had never even so much as held a man’s hand. Lanon’s hand was course and rough against the soft flesh of her palm. His touch was warm and before she realized she was no longer focused on the craft but was staring blankly across the cavernous hall only thinking of his touch.

She flushed as she looked up into his eyes, “Ter’, please call me Ter’, and thank you.” She slowly removed her hand from his and immediately longed to touch this man, pull him close and press her lips to his. The flush worsened as they started towards the back of the hall where a group of haggard over worked men were preparing a sparse meal and talking quietly. She couldn’t shake the desire Lanon had woke in her. She felt strange almost alien in her own skin but she liked what she was feeling. She had to focus on the task at hand; that was to save as many children as she could. Everything else had to wait.

The men almost hadn’t noticed as she approached. Once aware they all leapt to their feet. “Lady Tiernon they all spoke nearly simultaneously.” They each gave a cursory bow.

“Please, let that be the end of this pompous drivel. My name is Ter’Mari, and I prefer Ter’ so please be done with all this Lady and bowing nonsense.” Her comment almost seemed to confuse the men as if it was a trick and she found their reactions more than she could handle and began to laugh so loudly it echoed all around them.

Ter’ knew that to see a “Lady” act in such a manner must have been a sight to witness for people who had spent their entire lives kowtowing to Ladies and Lords. They adhered to ancient customs she felt outdated and foolish but she had been a servant to tradition her entire life just as they had been.

She caught her breath and coughed a few times then cleared her throat. “You guys really need to learn to relax.” It was a phrase she had picked up, as a child, from an ancient text about a young girl who solved mysteries. She had ran around Tiernon Manor using it on all she encountered enjoying the silliness of the sound of her own voice.

To this some of the men actually began to chuckle. “That’s better,” she beamed at them. None of the men present had ever met Ter’ but they knew right away that the choice they had made had been right. If she were to be the legacy of man they wanted someone who would be a kind and fair leader. Ter’s parents had trained her and had spent her entire life preparing her even without Ter’s knowledge but a decision still had to be made. The project had been worked on for many generations and many had given all to aid in its progress. Her father knew this but he had been right in knowing that she would be accepted because she had a mind for business and a heart for the people. Yes his daughter would lead as many as she was able and he had every faith that she would be successful. The others with a vote had agreed with Lord Tiernon and everything had been geared towards Ter’ leading the mission.

“Captain, if I may,” The voice came from a man wearing a strange silvery suit which she immediately recognized from the archives. It was a space suit. The man couldn’t have been more than thirty five but the lines on his face said eighty. “I’m Arnon; I am in charge of getting this ship in the air and off this planet.” His eyes were stern and she could see this man was all business. She felt like a child again. She felt she was about to get reprimanded for being disruptive during one of her mother’s many lessons on botany. The reprimand hadn’t come but she now knew what Alice must have felt as she fell down the rabbit hole.

“Captain,” she said befuddled. She hadn’t realized she was going to be the first captain in three thousand years. Vilathorn would be thrilled, this thought made her grin. “Yes Arnon, let’s begin.”

Ter’ spent the next six hours going over the ship with Arnon; she at several points had to stare in wonder at the sheer capacity of this man’s brain. He seemingly knew everything about everything. He too had marveled at how Ter’ absorbed the information as quickly as he could recount it. Ter’ was surprised at how much she knew about the technology. He father had been an integral part of the design team and she had studied engineering under his tutelage for nearly her entire life. Ter’ was an extremely brilliant designer in her own right. She had for fun built many gadgets and she had built twice as many more beyond the assignments her father had given her.

Now more than ever her seemingly directionless education made sense to her. They were training me to survive on a ship for a very long time with limited resources. She understood how to maintain and operate the air purifiers. The algae hydroponics system she could have built by the time she was eight. The only truly alien component to her on the ship was navigation. This Arnon made clear would take her months to truly grasp and she showed no signs of distress at this news only an eagerness to get underway.

She had paused as the thought of how selfless her parent’s actions had truly been. She had been trained in medicine, botany, alchemy, engineering, electronics, hydroponics, ceramics, and many other things she had found funny but now they all seemed to make sense. She felt her cheeks warm and her eyes begin to moisten. She could see her mother’s ceramic work on some of the larger electrical components. They had used these ceramic parts as insulators.

Arnon noticed Ter’s reaction and quickly he understood. “I loved your mother and father as if they had been my own family. Sometimes it is hard to look around this ship and see the work of so many I cared about. Good people who are no longer here to see their work come to fruition. All I can say is that they did this for you and for the survival of our race. This ship was built by love and paid for with lives. You remember that and you tell your children their stories. Remember us and live that is all we ask.” Such sweet words from this stern man caused Ter’ to let a few tears fall but his words had instilled her with a purpose.

Arnon busied himself for a moment on an open circuit housing allowing Ter’ a moment to gain her composure. They continued their tour after a few moments. Ter’ was silently keeping a running total and estimate of everything that she could remove from the ship without effecting its operation. This she kept to herself, she would inform the rest once she were fully prepared with a plan of action.

The tour concluded with the inspection of the small hangar bay which held the small plane her father had taken her up in so many times when she were a child. It was decisively different than she remembered. Arnon noticed her deep interest in the changes. “This bird has been built and rebuilt over twenty times. It has been to space.”

“My father,” she began but was stopped.

“No, it was Lord Mendleson’s son Elton.” Arnon replied with a grave expression.

“I never met him. I heard he died in a fall exploring the forbidden caves.” Ter’ replied.

“That’s what was publicly announced, but there was a faulty seal. He began to lose compression, it was a small leak but it was enough. Although he managed reentry the damage was already done. He is a hero; with his dying breaths he saved the ship and landed just above this structure where it could be safely retrieved.” Ter’ listened intently as Arnon had conveyed the story. How many people had died for this over the millennia she was afraid to ask but she must know. A history must be kept. She will never let anyone forget what had been done and sacrificed by so many for so few to live.

“Vilathorn called Elton’s death a foolish act and refused to have a royal burial at the palace which has been tradition since our time began here. Lord Mendleson has never forgiven him this trespass. Elton did more for the people of this world than the past two dozen kings combined. They care for nothing but their serving girls and that damnable paste they consume.” Arnon nearly spat the words and quickly regained his composure, “Lady Tiernon, please forgive my vulgar language.”

Giggling Ter’ countered, “Oh no dear Arnon, anytime you wish to make me laugh at that fools expense feel free. I encourage vulgarity whenever I speak of our most humble King Vilathorn.” She bowed low as she spoke Vilathorn’s name and at this Arnon couldn’t stop his own laughter from escaping.

5

Ter’s brain was nearly overloaded by the end of the day. After Arnon had completed the tour of the ship she began to pour over the records which had been kept for generations but were noticeably more focused in recent decades. She gleaned the older records but found little that would aid her in her ultimate mission.

The records of her father’s involvement were what she was most concerned with. They hadn’t even begun construction until fifteen years ago. Luckily the predecessors had taken to stockpiling whatever materials could be salvaged from the surface and the rare deposits sometimes found in the forbidden caverns. The caverns were unsteady and prone to collapse. The caverns were ordered forbidden many generations ago by one Vilathorn or another for whatever whim they had at that moment.

It hadn’t thwarted the efforts of the ship builders. That’s what they called themselves in secret when really only those involved in the past fifteen years had an actual hand in building a ship. Ter’ noticed that these men though content and seemingly happy were extremely serious about their work. They were healthier than most she encountered and they worked nonstop.

There was no end of the day or beginning of the day for them they just worked while they were awake and if they needed to rest they would rest. They worked like no men she had ever seen; tirelessly and selflessly. She had been glued to the data viewer where they had meals for nearly eight hours. She had to stretch and eat. She was famished and realized she hadn’t eaten in days. She saw a makeshift cold cabinet in the corner. As she opened it she was surprised to see that it was actually working. Arnon happened to notice her curiosity. “It’s something isn’t it?” She looked up smiling as in answer to her query. “This is the system for cryogenics. At least this was one of your father’s miniature models. We’ve expanded but it’s taken a combined effort and over fifty years to perfect this technology even with instructions from the ancients.”

Ter’ was impressed it was as advanced a piece of technology as she had ever seen in person but yes she had studied cryogenics as well. “I always pondered why I the daughter of a Lord in a subterranean kingdom would need to understand cryogenics. So much makes sense to me now.”

After a quick meal of algae and water she buried herself back in the archives. She stayed glued to the screen until her eyes betrayed her intent and she were no longer able to force them open. She slept. She dreamed of strange moons with clouds of red and green. She saw animals unlike those from the stories and history lessons, but these seemed to be from a surrealistic nightmare but there was no fear in her dream. There was no fear in her. Even as she slept she felt her purpose, her mission, and her destiny were divine and that neither hand of man nor claw of beast would sway her from her duty.

Ter’ jumped up from the table ready to fight some unnamed horror from her sleep only to find herself standing alone near the giant ship. Her viewer tipped over and her things were scattered about the floor. She had believed she were alone but just as she began to right her viewer she saw Lannon approaching. The sight of him excited her. She felt a wave of passion flow through her body and the closer he got the more she ached.

“Lady Tiernon, are you well?” He was earnest in his asking. She could tell he was a kind soul. Despite very little conversation on the trip from Tiernon Manor he had not let an opportunity to address her wellbeing pass. His constant coddling made her feel cherished.

“Ter’, please call me Ter’.” She wanted him so badly and she didn’t care that royalty didn’t mix with commoners. All she knew was this man before her was all she wanted right now and nothing was going to stop her from having him.

“Yes my Lady, as you wish.” He started to bow and she reached out and grabbed his shoulder to stop the motion. He was strong and despite looking sickly before the oxygen rich cavern seemed to refresh him. He no longer appeared sickly but virile and healthy.

Yes she wanted him and in the face of certain disaster and her current situation who would stop her? “No one,” she whispered aloud as she wrapped her arms around Lannon’s neck and kissed him deeply. Her first real kiss and she enjoyed it more than she had ever imagined. Lannon did not try to stop her. He had wondered since the second he had lain eyes on her what it would be like to kiss someone so beautiful. He was frightened of her. To him meeting a Lady who carried herself and spoke in such a manner was akin to seeing an actual angel walking down the king’s road. She was an anomaly and he was already in love before she had pressed her lips to his.

“Take me to my room please.” Ter’ had decided and when Lady Tiernon made a decision it was set in stone.

Ter’ made her intentions clear when they reached her chambers. She did not speak, she only guided him through the doorway by the hand and once the door had closed she again kissed him deeply. He stood almost stunned watching as she disrobed. Lannon’s eyes were glued upon Ter’s and he too let his tunic fall to the floor. They each in turn examined the others nakedness. He had never seen a woman so alive and healthy. There were other beautiful women in Mendleson Manor but in comparison to Ter’ they no longer existed. He knew that she had been trained and nourished far better than any other and he could see the results before him.

Ter’ felt her face catch fire as she traced the naked man in front of her with her eyes. Her breathing was deeper and she could barely stand the heat rising up from inside. He seemed to be chiseled from pure white stone. Each and every muscle stood out. She could see he needed to gain a few pounds but to her and for her he was perfect. Her eyes went lower and Lannon could see the look she quite often gave things she was studying and he also began to flush.

Ter’ noticed his nervousness and reached out to him. He joined her on the bed each lying quietly staring into the others eyes. Ter’ broke the silence first. “I am sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable. I have never seen a man unclothed before.” As she said this she felt a bit embarrassed. “Have you been with a woman?” She asked timidly.

“I was married but I lost my wife to the cough two years ago.” He had a solemn air in his voice.

Ter’ using her hand traced the outline of his face. Yes he is handsome she thought. She rubbed his chest tracing the lines his muscles made below the skin. She was growing more curious and anxious with each touch. Lannon was still quite nervous by what was happening. He other than his wife had never wanted someone so badly in his entire life yet he was frightened to touch her.

She sensed his hesitation and she guided his hand to her lips where she kissed his fingers and smiled the sweetest smile he had ever seen. The look in her eyes and the desire for her overcame his misgivings. She may have been inexperienced but she was no child. Ter’ set out with the same overwhelming passion she applied to every aspect of her life.

Ter’ dozed wrapped in Lannon’s arms that night. In the morning she woke to find him dressing, but she pulled him back into bed naked. She was not yet satiated. Ter’ knew sadly what was to come. He would not be allowed on the ship and even she couldn’t argue taking a man who may be irrevocably ill in place of a child who might have a chance.

As they lay together naked she realized that she had never felt this kind of closeness to any other person in her entire life. Two things occurred to Ter’, she loved this man and she would have to leave him to die. She cried silently in his arms until she fell back to sleep.

Lannon gently rubbed Ter’s shoulder. It was far later than she had intended sleeping. She rose slowly and wrapped her arms around his bare chest. She was shaking and he could hear her soft cries. Lannon knew why she was upset but he also knew he couldn’t allow Ter’ to lose focus on the mission at hand or their people would be doomed.

Ter’ began to speak but Lannon silenced her with a kiss. “I know beautiful why you are sad but there is no reason. I have had too many years in the bad air. This state I am in is nearly magical. I could barely breathe before I was brought in on this project. If I stayed two weeks outside this oxygen rich environment I would be choking on every breath and within two months I’d be bedridden. Your mother wrote the book on this condition I am certain you have read it. Not all follow the path but I am a very typical case. Following your mother’s pathology I have six months to live. Lord Mendleson is not so lucky. He will not live to see us launch.”

Ter’ knew that what he said was true. Her mother had “written the book,’ and there was no denying the inevitable fact that even under the best circumstances he would be gone before the year was out. She did not fight the tears which came. She knew that no one would have the chance to cry over him when the time came so she would let him see her love for him while she could.

“This is love?” She asked Lannon rhetorically and quickly continued, “This is love. How can it be I meet the first man I have ever loved only to get a few months with him? The god’s cruelty knows no limitations.” Her tears had stopped but the look of sadness never left her eyes as again she guided Lannon to her. Despite all that had to be done she pulled him close and as they indulged in each other’s passion she whispered I love you.”

7

Ter’ and Lannon’s arrival to the lab that afternoon had gone unnoticed. It was the way they functioned. Each man had a special area of expertise and toiled many hours alone. Being from a subterranean world it was easy to mix one’s days and nights. Ter’ was deep in thought. She hadn’t been descriptive; she had only said she had some ideas that needed to be discussed.

“How much faster could we work if each man had a twenty man crew under them?” She said to Lannon without ever removing her gaze from the ship.

“The progress would definitely increase exponentially but we mustn’t let that fool king get wind of what we are doing. He’ll have the castle guard at our door ready to shut this all down.” Lannon answered cautiously.

“The castle guard is a joke Lannon. Those fat fools wouldn’t make it a mile much less the entire march to Mendleson Manor.” Ter’ smiled as she told him this. Lannon laughed at her irreverence. Yes he knew there were no other women like her on the planet and he guessed even if every ship had survived the mass exodus of ancient Earth that there could be no one like her in the entire universe.

Lannon set out on his usual duties. He was more or less the glorified gopher of the project but his services were priceless. Each and everyone loved having him around. He wasn’t trained as royalty but he had worked with engineers his entire adult life and was one of the most mechanically inclined people Ter’ had met. He was adept at problem solving. His ability to look at things and not reference a text as she had studied with many unavailable options to her, he referenced his experience and looked for practical ways to solve the issues at hand with available resources.

Ter’ wondered had allowing only royalty to study been a dramatic hindrance to her people? “This is one rule that will be abolished if I am going to be the one to start over for our people.” She blurted aloud and jerked a little in her chair startling herself. She looked around to see had anyone heard her. She whispered, “They would think me mad.” Then she giggled.

Lannon had seen her busy in her work and thought it best to give her a wide birth not wanting to distract her. She did not eat when the others ate she was oblivious to their chatter as she worked. Her plans were ambitious and more than a little dangerous. She knew in council her ideas and plans were readily dismissed but here she hoped for a better audience. She was new and had a fresh set of eyes. Perhaps she could come up with another way that could save more lives.

That night it was her who found Lannon. He was busily insulating wire couplings by hand. It was an arduous task and he took his work very seriously. This was his go to position when not busy with the requests of the other workers. She hugged him from behind and as she laid her head on his shoulder he closed his eyes and savored the moment. They were very much in love and even Ter’, whom was a slave to her wild imagination, even found the situation a bit logically unsound, was blissfully happy for it.

“Can we go now?” Ter’ asked coyly and without words Lannon rose and kissed her forehead and took her hand and pulled her towards the door. She loved how he looked sat her. His gaze made her feel alive like there was no wrong in the world and that everything was going to be ok. She knew this to not be true but then and there as he smiled down at her she promised herself that no matter what she was not going to let her sadness overwhelm the time they had together.

They showered together in the bitter water. It emanated a smell when heated for the shower. Her whole life Ter’ had held a great distaste for the smell. For the first time she realized as they stood together enjoying the warmth spending far too much time according to a Vilathorn kingdom wide decree that she would miss this smell, she would miss him. Ter’ caught herself before she could let the reality set in. “Enjoy the moment while it’s here.” She spoke softly.

Ter’ could not remember a time in her life when she laughed so much. Lannon was her equal in every way. He was a bit of a smartass just as she was and for someone without access to literature as she had been, he was quite intelligent. They laughed themselves to sleep and lay curled in each other’s arms. The next day they woke earlier. Ter’ had insisted, but still couldn’t resist yanking Lannon back into bed for another half hour before they set out for the day.

Ter’ spent the next twelve hours poring over schematics, maps and lists of the workers in Mendleson’s quadrant as well as her own. The night was wonderfully the same as it had been the previous evening and they woke at the same time and started their day in much the same way, they each had an untamable smile as they parted ways for the new days’ work.

The third day Ter’ spent just as the first two and before she and Lannon fell asleep that night she told him, “Tomorrow I’m going to call a meeting. I’ve spent three days coming up with a plan and let’s just hope they take me seriously.”

“I’ve no doubt my dear that they will not take you any way but seriously.” With that he kissed her and they each slept soundly.

8

Ter’s plan was unorthodox and went against every secrecy rule put in place many ages ago by her predecessors. Ter’ realized that they could proceed as originally planned and save a dozen and that would be commendable but she wasn’t looking for commendable she was searching for a miracle in the texts and from her people. “This needs to be a combined effort or we could all perish.” She said to no one, as she studied her presentation.

She knew that to travel to a new world with so few could be folly. With so few they could easily be wiped out by disease or any number of natural sources even predators. They needed strength to pull off mission success and what had she read somewhere in an old magazine file? “Strength in numbers,” as she said this, Ter’ smiled as the first few attendees for the meeting approached.

Arnon was the last to arrive. He stood ominously at the rear of the chamber they met in. Ter chose it for the lengthy conference table but more so for the large view screen mounted on the wall. Ter’ had designed extremely detailed and intricate plans for what she had in mind. “Please Arnon take a seat this, is going to be a lengthy presentation. I know you have been warned that I may be a bit impulsive but I assure you that if it becomes apparent that any of my ideas are going to hamper our mission then they will be scratched. I’m not up here giving orders. I am up here because as many of you know I was specially trained for this, a fact I wasn’t even privy to. So I beg of you gentlemen a few hours of your time to hear what I have come up with would be stupendously appreciated. I do not mean to stand up here and discredit generations of work and loss. I am a fresh set of eyes and sorry to say gentlemen it is quite obvious none of you has set foot outside this place in ages.” As she finished Ter’ gave them her brightest smile and all were silent except Arnon.

“We are listening Lady Ter.’” Hearing him call her Lady Ter’ made her giggle. She loved the nickname and from that point on it stuck.

She began as earnestly and as passionately as she was able. “I have gone over every schematic and every diagram and in turn, every piece of data on all the test results simulated and actual. No matter what these numbers tell us we must find a way to save more. If I arrive at an alien planet capable of supporting human life there is a good chance other things will be living there too. One adult with twelve children on such a mission could be disastrous.”

Ter’ paused, waiting on the inevitable rebuttal, but none came. So she continued on offering ideas on decreasing the weight of the ship without decreasing stability or soundness. She believed that the decreased weight would allow for more passengers and a larger life support system. Ter’ talked nonstop and she was pleased to notice they all listened attentively and some even took notes. It was silent until she said, “What if we launched the ship empty and use the little ship to shuttle the passengers up. Perhaps we could build another. With help we’d have time?”

Two hours had passed since she began and Arnon as well as everyone else in the room realized that she had just turned their project upside down. Some of her ideas had been privately thought of but no one dared say them aloud. Ter’ wasn’t afraid of anyone, not with so much at stake. It was a matter of survival. She meant to survive and take as many people with her as possible. These forbidden thoughts were out and there was no forgetting them. Lady Ter’ had made up her mind and this was going to happen. She laughed and told Lannon, “I always get my way I was just humoring them by giving them a choice. “ Lannon gave her a quizzical look and she blurted as she began to laugh hysterically, “I was terrified.”

They had broken for lunch and reconvened shortly after. This was the discussion portion and she was still worried about what they would say.

Arnon cleared his throat and the room grew silent. “We need lots of folks you know?” He did not pause for an answer. “There will be repercussions and Vilathorn will come and he will try and stop us. His guard will be in tow and they will attack if we do not give in to his demands.” Again he cleared his throat. “I spoke to Lord Mendleson during our recess and I speak for him and myself both, when I say, To Hell with Vilathorn and his ilk!”

To this Ter’ breathed a deep sigh of relief and sank into her chair, the men cheered. “It’s going to happen.” Ter’ spoke with a single tear in each eye.

The next few days were a whirlwind. It was chaotic but necessary. There were heated discussions and much more laughter than ever before. Ter’ was pleased but growing more anxious with each day. Finally they met again this time out by the ship.

Arnon slowly began, “It would seem that if we built another shuttle designed for passengers and freight we could accommodate eighty passengers but and I say this regrettably there are some major obstacles to overcome. Life support adjustments will be a major issue, cryogenics, hydroponics, as well as fuel consumption, just to name a few.”

“We need kingdom wide cooperation. This is where it gets messy.” She gave Arnon a weak smile.

Lannon arranged a conference call with all four houses. Arnon spoke for house Mendleson. Arnon gave Ter’ an introduction and took a seat in front of his own viewer. Ter’ walked in front of the camera and nervously began.

“Lords and Ladies of the kingdom I have dire news. This planet and all who abide within shall be destroyed in a great cosmic event in less than six months.” There were gasps and she signaled Lannon who began sending the data supporting these horrifying claims. “You can see for yourself it is true. The king will view this is a traitorous act so I ask you to choose carefully how you act. We here are committed to this mission no matter the costs. It is the survival of our race I am concerned with not keeping Vilathorn happy.” There were a few gasps as she finished but she could have sworn just off camera she heard a young girl giggle.

She continued to explain how nothing less than a kingdom wide effort would allow them to succeed. “I trust you as the most highly educated of the realm will see the truth in this and aid in saving if not all at least some of our children. I will contact you each in twenty four hours. If I am not answered I will assume that is your answer and will begin our preparations for what is to come along.” Ter’s eyes were red and she was dead on her feet. The call had wiped what energy she had left out.

The next twenty four hours were going to be the longest of Ter’s life. She couldn’t eat or sleep. She was a mess. Even Lannon couldn’t lift her spirits even though he sweetly tried. Ter’ had given up on sleep and was lying in bed going over schematics passing the late hours as Lannon peacefully slept beside her. Just being near him gave her a sense of peace but the hour was late and even Lannon’s presence was having difficulty appeasing her worries. For fear of waking Lannon she went back to the ship. She needed room to pace and a place to be noisy without disturbing her what? She mused to herself. My lover? At this she smiled and spoke, “Yes my lover.”

She was oddly alone in the hangar. As big as it is you could pass the whole day with ten other people in there and barely see any of them, but it was truly deserted so she was brainstorming loudly and extremely animatedly as was her way. Her father had loved her quirks. He adored how she would find old sayings from ancient earth and use them until she got bored and found a new one to mimic. His all-time favorite he had told her was, “Right on!” It never failed to get a laugh out of him even years after she was grown.

The thought of her father made her feel alone and she couldn’t think of anywhere she’d rather be than curled up in Lannon’s arms. She slept soundly the rest of the night.