Tales of an apocalypse – Part VI “The Follower”

Today’s story, The Follower, goes along with the song “Frank’s Death – Soldiers (Requiem in D Minor)” on 28 Days Later soundtrack by John Murphy.

It was inspired while writing my science fiction novel. It’s a chance for me to explore what other characters in my world would be doing both during and post apocalypse. Hope you enjoy my free short stories. Please share, tweet, and talk about my work. I look forward to your feedback.

***

I watch her sleep, her short bristle of hair twisted into sweaty knots. I can’t help her and it’s killing me. I lay down next to her, the heat baking off her in waves. I sigh and the dust puffs out, a few small dry leaves flap at me as if annoyed by the disturbance. Can’t you see we’re dying here?

Above us the night sky wheels slowly and we lay at the center of the universe.  The stars are as careless of our existence as we are of theirs.  They say some of the stars went out thousands or millions of years ago, but their light still reaches us.  That alone should be enough to make one despair.  How little the universe cares for the death of the great and mighty stars.  How much less it will care for one tiny planet or one little life on that planet?

One little thing, sick, starving and alone.  Or so she thinks.

I watch over her.  I know she doesn’t want me around.  She threw rocks at me.

“I can’t even take care of myself.  What am I supposed to do with you?  Go away!”

So I went, but I came back.  I followed her along the brown stream with its plague of dying fish.  I followed her through the forest where the squirrel skulls stared at us, nothing but empty hate in their tiny heads.  I followed her past the little trailer park where colored streamers hung from a flagpole.  Now, when it was too late, now no one cared what color their flag was.

I close my eyes and listen to the rattly sound of her breath.  I sleep, knowing if that noise stops I’ll wake.

It’s not the lack of breathing that wakes me, but the scent of him.  Like spoiled meat and musk, dirt, and waste.

A man stands over us.  How could he have snuck up on me?  He looks her over and smiles.  In her sleep she looks so young and helpless.

I sit up and he starts in surprise.

“Didn’t realize the girl was spoken for, eh Buster?” The man winks at me.  He squats and regards us critically.  “My lucky day.  One to eat and one to play with.”

I grab the girl’s wrist and try to tug her away.  She struggles up, pulls away from me.  She loses her balance and the man grabs her as she falls back.  She screams.

The man laughs.  He reaches into her coat.  She cries out in pain, fumbles for the small knife at her hip, but he pins her wrist.

I charge him, throwing all my weight into his shoulder.  I knock him down and we all go sliding through the mushy leaves, the rot underneath a slick lubricant.  I kick him in the chest and when he reaches for my throat, I latch onto his hand. I growl like a savage beast as I clench my jaws on his fingers.  He tries to pull away.  A mistake.  He kicks me in the stomach, flipping me over, yanks his hand out of my mouth.  It trails ribbons of bloody flesh like the streamers of color the flag had.  They glitter in the dim light of pre-dawn.

I scramble up, but my legs fail me.  When he kicked me, something broke inside and I can feel my strength leaking away.  I sag back, gasping in pain.

Beyond the man, she is on her feet, her knife clutched in her hand.  Her eyes are wide, nostrils flared.

The man, satisfied I’m no threat, turns back to her.

“Take it easy, sweet thing, and I won’t have to hurt you too much,” he says.  His voice is gentle and soothing, I want to believe him, but she doesn’t.  Her whole body is rigid, radiating fear and hate.

He takes a step toward her and she backs away.  Behind her the ground slopes up and even on flat ground as sick as she is, she couldn’t outrun him.  It’s up to me.

I hear him fumble at the front of his worn pants.  I gather my legs under me.  Eyes closed against the pain, I stand.  When I breath, I sound worse than she did.  I can’t smell him for the scent of my own blood in my nose.

She looks around for an escape.  The moment her eyes leave him, the man lunges, but so do I.  I leap and my force combined with his forward momentum drive us to the ground.

He’s stunned, but won’t be for long.  I can’t hold him.  I’m too small.  I look at her and our eyes lock.  She understands.  She raises the knife and plunges it down.  It makes a soft popping sound.  The man gurgles.  I feel him spasm, life flowing out of him.

She stands over us and all I can think is: I’m glad she safe.

She falls to her knees, her hands shaking from fever and fatigue.

“Why did you come back, you stupid, stupid…” she sniffs, swipes her sleeve across her nose.

A rattle rolls up my chest and catches in my throat.  I moan in pain.  She gathers me into her arms, her tears hot against me.  I know everything inside me is breaking down, but I don’t care.  She’s safe.  I just wanted her to be safe.  I twist my head to look at her one final time as the darkness rolls in.

“I love you, you stupid dog.”

 

Image by Hourglass-Paperboats

Tales of an apocalypse – Part V “The Couple”

Today’s short story was inspired while writing my science fiction novel,”Survivors’ Club” . I like to explore what other characters in my world would be doing both during and post-apocalypse. Hope you enjoy my free short stories. Please share, tweet, and talk about my work. I look forward to your feedback.

Today’s story, The Couple, goes along with the song “The Far Road” on The Road soundtrack by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis.

***

When she touches his face he has to close his eyes. Its too much. The feel of her fingers, cool and light. The half smile playing at the corner of her mouth, the way her eyes go soft and clear when she looks at him.

Che ro hai hyu ndeTe quieroYa tbya lublueJe taimeIch liebe dichMám ráda.

Every moment of every day, someone saysI love you‘. Millions of people connecting to other millions, sharing a single emotion. Each time its whispered, sighed, screamed, or sung, is unique and each time, its identical to every other.

After all these years, he still thrills to her, vibrates in tune with her pitch. It hasnt been easy, these years. After the boys left, to join one army or another, after they lost touch with their daughter, after the Long Winter, after the evacuations and the camps, after the riots and the killings, after it all, somehow miraculously, they are still together. Still in love.

Around them the plastic siding of the hospital tent flaps, brushing the dust across the floor in waves. Outside the last of the flood lights sputters, blinks a few times then shines on. The shadow of the patrolling guard pauses, watching the light. When the light is gone

He shakes his head. Its a worry for another time. Now he carries his cup back to the cot, back to her. With his limping gait, he risks spilling his ration, so he is careful and slow. Its important she get all the food. Her strength wanes. She is not long for this world, but then, none of them are.

Overhead, the muddy clouds roil. If the old man waits for the right moment, for the strong gust of wind to part the clouds, he might catch a glimpse of the steady orangepink twinkle. Too bright to be a star, too close to be a planet, too slow to be a comet. Does he believe what the guards mutter?

If we cant get off this rock, why the fux should they? Arent they coming back?”

What the old man wonders, as he shoulders aside the tattered netting around her cot, is why do the guards stay? Why does anyone stay? Do they still hope for rescue? If we follow the instructions, well be savedThey wont abandon us if were good.  

The old man snorts. They might as well sacrifice a goat while theyre at it. That has just as much a chance of success as their daily status reports. The careful list of the number, ever dwindling, ofsurvivors‘.

He snorts again. Survivors! As if theyve escaped. As if theyve been saved.  

Whats the count?” the old woman asks. Considering her failing hearing, it startles him, but she can always tell its him.

Down another three, plus that tall guard went AWOL last night,” he says, lowering himself cautiously to the stool beside the cot.

Hmph.” She pushes herself upright and trades him the precious faded photo of daughter and grandchildren for the bowl. The skin on her hands is delicate now, like paper. It would crinkle if pinched. She is careful to eat only half and he knows not to try to force his share on her. Shes stubborn.

When do you think-” Gunshots. They both turn toward the sound. Two screams: one short, a burst of pain cut off; the other a long wail of grief.  

I think, its time now,” the old man says and the old woman nods. He helps her on with her shoes, her coat, then helps her up. She trembles, but smiles at him, eyes bright with mischief.

In a dramatic gesture, the old woman points.“To adventure!”

More shots. More screams and now the running begins.

The old man picks up the suitcase. Together, they creep out of the tent. A group of men are using chair legs to beat one of the guards. The old couple scuttles past. A woman howls as shes drug into a tent. The old couple shake their heads and continue. A lone child stares at a pair of onrushing headlights, uncomprehending.

Their eyes meet. They agree. This is the way it has to be. Somewhere they have their own grandchildren.  

The old woman lets go of the old mans hand. He drops the suitcase and scoops up the child, turning his body protectively as the truck strikes him. As he lays dying, he sees the old woman hug the child, clutching the photo. He is so glad he will not have to leave her alone after all.

Tales of an apocalypse – Part IV “The Once World”

Today’s short story is part of a series inspired while writing my science fiction novel, Survivors’ Club (debut 2018). It’s a chance for me to explore what other characters in my world would be doing both during and post apocalypse. Hope you enjoy my free short stories. Please share, tweet, and talk about my work. I look forward to your feedback.

Today’s story goes along with “In Paridisum” on 28 Days Later soundtrack by John Murphy.

***

Its the Last Day of Ever and boy, oh boy, is she ready for it!

There are only a handful of people who understand how important today is. Most of them will be gone by nightfall. Then today, the Last Day of Ever, will be hers, hers alone, her secret. A thing no one can take, because they wont know about it.

She smiles, studies her face in the streaked window pane. Her hair is short, better to deal with the dust and ash. Once they called her pastey, but now her skin is tan and freckled. Once they called her fat. She looks at her toes, at her sunken belly, at her boney hips.

Her tits sag alarmingly. Once a source of pride, now theyre empty flesh bags. She stuffs them into the remnants of a pink, frilly bra.

Today, the Last Day of Ever, is here and its hers! She giggles and covers her mouth, startled by the sound.

She lifts her bag and turns up hill, toward the tower. Atop the tower she will watch the end draw neigh, like the lover she always dreamed of. She turns her cheek to the burning sky of morning and lets the wind caress her face.

Streets are lined with vehicles, stolen, stalled, smoking, and abandoned. Debris moves like sand dunes driven by the wind across the vastness of the once city square. A pack of feral cats scrounges among the remains. As she climbs the city opens, lustily spreading itself for her, a display of its ravishment. Here and there the smoke still roils; greasy, sticky, oilyOn rainy days it rises into the sky, falling again as a film to coat everything.

As she passes the boutiques, she hails the mannequins. They too remain serene in the face of the Last Day of Ever. She stops to pose with them, her frame not much bigger than theirs. They stare indifferently out the once windows. They used to be so elegantly aloof. Now dirt covers their feet, ash smudges their once costly garments. Their wigs are askew or gone off on adventures of their own.

She crosses the long swath of the once park, climbing higher up the long, lazy hillside. The once fence surrounding the tower is no obstacle. She steps over it, stretching her long, thin legs. Now she is finally the ideal weight, but there is no one to notice. The skin hangs loosely around her neck, along her sides, under her arms and legs, but there is no one to notice the once fat girl.

Above her the tower juts into the sky. It would pierce the sky, if it could. The once fat girl knows it. She understands the towers impotent rage at the uncaring sky. They never looked at her either

She leans her head against the tower. Ash smudges her forehead, a pilgrims marking to commemorate her communion with the world. It is only right and just that she, of them all, be here.  

Up the tower and up. She drags her fingers over the walls, touching the plaques which told the once tourists of the towers history. Does the tower shudder now, to feel itself invaded again?  

Im not here for you,” the once fat girl assures the tower. Better not to get its hopes up.

At the top, she kicks open the door, breaking the lock, and steps over the ledge onto the parapet. She sits, dangling her feet into the empty air. From here, once people would look tiny. She sees no one

Why should she? They dont know.

They dont know what?”

The once fat girl nearly falls to her death. Furious she scrambles up. She is not missing it forhim.

The once handsome boy stares at the once fat girl. He repeats: “Dont know what?” in a voice like a cracked leather jacket, long disused.

Watch,the once fat girl says. She sits down to waitThere is a light growing in the west, away from the dawn. The once handsome boy sits next to herThey watch as the light blooms, illuminates the clouds from within, an excitedly blushing sky.  

What it is?” the once handsome boy asks.

The Last Day of Ever,” she starts to tell him, but she cant. She has this thing, this one thing only

She knows what it is. The ships, leaving like a greedy careless bedmate, seeking the other, the better.

The once fat girl takes the once handsome boys hand. She pulls it to her chest, presses it against her beating heart, over her sagging tits. She smiles at his once handsome face and then she pulls him with her off the tower

Tales of an apocalypse – Part III “The Ship”

This short story is the third in a series inspired while writing my science fiction novel. I enjoy exploring what other characters in my world would be doing both during and post apocalypse. I’m looking forward to launching my novel in Spring 2018. In the meantime, you can read my short stories for free. Please do share, tweet and talk about my work. I look forward to your feedback.

Today’s story, The Ship, goes along with “Einstein’s Wrong” on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen by Steve Jablonsky.

***

In the dark, they move like a troop of furtive monkeys, scampering across the dirt trail, pausing only once they’ve regained the shelter of the ferns and acacias. Overhead, the sky grumbles, lightening shuddering through the clouds, ominously silent at this distance. One more thing gone wrong with the world.

The troop might be a family. A girl, and her brother, a man, a woman and a child. The man and woman might be husband and wife. The child might be theirs, but one can’t be sure. No introductions have been made. They travel in frantic, determined silence.

They dart from cover to cover, clutching their bags. Their clothes have taken on the drab brown of cloth gone too long without a washing. No rain from the irritable clouds. No water falling from the skies. Not any more.

The troop comes to the edge of the jungle. Above restless brown palm leaves rattle. Below their feet the prickly devil’s grass forms a tan yellow mat stretching down a slight rise and right up to the edge of the trench, lined with concrete and brick, just over 15 meters deep. Poised above the trench, like an expectant mother, the ship, Ecstasia, waits. Her crews toil non-stop, making final adjustments, last minute recalibration. They impregnate her with hopes for a future they will not see.

“There’s no guard on the trench,” the woman whispers, staring down the silent trench. Out of all the lighted field, it alone remains dark, lying in the shadow of the ship, a valley of death.

“Like I said,” the man says. “Why guard the flame trench? Who would put themselves under a rocketship?” He steps out of the shelter of the jungle.

“Wait!” cries the woman.

“What?” the man asks. His nostrils flare, tensed on the balls of his feet, ready to sprint for his life.

The girl had laid her hand on the woman’s arm. Now she tips her chin and they all follow her gaze. Trucks. The last of the official government trucks and their attendant fleet of armored vehicles, each with its own be-goggled gunner.

The workers retreat, form a solemn corridor as the trucks disgorge their cargo. Small carts, white and covered. Some contain vials: others, petri dishes, their tiny cultures blissful in the knowledge that they, among all the colonies of bifidobacterium animalis, for example, have been deemed most worthy. Every slide, every tube and vial, every dish and container, each little sample had been poked and prodded, tested to within a milimeter of its life and finally awarded a future. Or at least, the chance at one.

Each cart is logged as its pet scientist rolls it reverently up to Ecstasia’s main hatch. Each scientist turns away, shoulders slumped or shaking. Each takes his or her place with the others. A few faces are still hopeful, eyes bright with half-mad tears. They are seized with a gambler’s certainty: Today will be their lucky day.

From the cover of the jungle the troop waits. They are too far away to hear the brief pronouncements of the severe woman who emerges from one of the armored cars. A few of the scientist weep with joy and relief as they join her, boarding Ecstasia. Most are nobly resigned and turn away. Some are stunned. They weren’t chosen? After everything they gave up, abandoning homes and families to work until this eleventh hour?

Dawn is breaking, sullen red gleams like blood on Ecstasia’s flanks. She does not seem to mind. Her belly is filled with the world’s children. They sleep in their vials, nothing more than genes now, microscopic blueprints set adrift like messages in a bottle. They may never find a place to unpack their little packets of DNA and be again. All they have now is a chance, a tiny, fragile hope.

The trucks pack up. The soldiers drag a few scientists away, but most leave on their own. Some part of humanity may live on because of their sacrifice. Maybe it’s enough for them. It’s not enough for the troop. As the last of the trucks rumble away, they break cover. They dash across the field, the sharp grasses tearing at them. In the light of early morning, they cast long and obvious shadows. There are no guards watching the trench. The ones on the road don’t see them because they are watching the retreating trucks, lest someone lose their nerve and try to come back.

The troop makes it into the trench.

“I hope they didn’t find the ladder,” the boy says. His sister nods agreement,  “I hope…”

Tales of an apocalypse – Part II “The Soldier”

Today’s short story is part of a series inspired while writing my science fiction novel. It’s a chance for me to explore what other characters in my world would be doing both during and post apocalypse. Hope you enjoy my free short stories. Please share, tweet, and talk about my work. I look forward to your feedback.

Today’s story, The Soldier, goes along with “Infinite White” on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen by Steve Jablonsky.

***

Smoke and greasy green mist slung along the folds of the earthSlime become airOver the mudbrick wall, the artillery rounds flash, manmade lightning followed by manmade thunder as the rounds thump, thump, thumpInside the compound nothing stirs except the soldier and the wind.

The soldiers hands are encased in clumsy gloves, taped around the wrists to seal them to the MOPP suitIt is hard to hold the pen, but she doesShe balances on one foot, awkwardly fat in her heavy gearShe braces her other foot against the wall and uses the writing desk of her thighShe squints in the predawn gloom.  

Her notebook is small and she turns it sideways to sketch the lay out, labeling as she goes.

Crossing the yard from the breech to the main house, she kicks a body obscured in the gas fogA dogThey hate dogs, but here it isMaybe in its last frantic moments it sought human solaceMaybe it just got lost.

Her com crackles, pours the disgruntled voice of the security commander into her earHes full of questions: “How much longers this gonna takeWhat you findWe need to call for back up?”

As long as it takesNothing I can say over the com and no.”  

She turns back to her work, pushing into the guest houseThere is a body behind the doorShe rolls it overThe thin bare arm flops, fingers raise a cloud of dust as they drop, striking the ground.

It takes three tries to thumb open an eyeThe soldier curses the gear that protects her from the gas that killed this childSweat in her face and she cant do a thing about it.

The pupil is cloudy and the white is the warm yelloworange of a sunny side up eggShe adds a tick to her tallyShe wont think about how this child is the age of her ownShe wont notice the mothers body, curled in a futile attempt to shelter her babyThe baby is pale, skin marbled with blue veins of useless bloodMother and baby are just more ticks on a tally sheet.

Over the com the security commander grumbles aboutthe bleeding heart humanifuckingtarians‘. Theyre wasting everyones timeTheres no reason to count the deadNo one will claim them.

The killer chemicals are designed to rapidly breakdown in the environmentThey speed the decomposition process and are themselves quickly rendered inert as they interact with the dust, the smoke, the sand of this last, worst placeClean up is literally a breeze in most cases

The soldier counts her tick marksOutside the compound the mortars fall silentShe can see the glow of dawn illuminating the wall through the windowSurprised, she checks her watch, but its obscured by layers of latex and tape.

Hey, what time is it?” she asks the comThe verbose security commander has been rendered muteShe tries again, but gets nothingShe fumbles at the neck of her suit, trying to change the channel from 3 to 4, but the button eludes her overgloved hands.

The soldier is angry nowShe does not want to be here, counting these dead peopleShe didnt ask for this assignmentThe security commander has no right to ignore herShe wants to scream at him, make him take her and her job seriously.  

Just because shes never shot someone doesnt make her less of a soldierHes deliberately breaking communication protocol and shellwhatReport his sorry assOh, dearAnything but thatHell sneer and later, with his buddies, theyll laugh at her futile rage.  

She steps out of the breech and looks aroundThe security commander sits in his vehicle, back to herShe storms over, MOPP boots squishing noisily with each step, her face reddening, her fatly gloved hands clenching into boxers mitts.  

Hey, what the-”

Hes deadSo is his driverSo are the othersThe blood runs unclotting from nose, ears, eyesIf she looks at his lap she will see it pooling there as well.  

The flash, the lightIt wasnt dawnIt was retaliation.

The soldier looks aroundNothing stirs, nothing livesOnly the soldier and her tick marks remain.

Tales of an apocalypse – Part I “The Mother”

Today’s short story is part of a series inspired while writing my science fiction novel. It’s a chance for me to explore what other characters in my world would be doing both during and post apocalypse. Hope you enjoy my free short stories. Please share, tweet, and talk about my work. I look forward to your feedback.

Each of these stories is inspired by a song in my post apocalypse playlist. I recommend reading and listening.

Today’s story, The Mother, goes along with “Lament” on Rivers Arms by Balmorhea.

***

Rain on the windowGentle, late spring rainSoon school will be out

She moves slowly through the house, bending to pick up her sons sock, her daughters tablet chargerJust a morning filled with slow rain and a methodical woman who cleans the house incrementally as she makes her way upstairs to the kitchen, to the coffee and the radio.

At the table, she sits, the wide blueblack mug in hand, staring, without seeing, at the fridgePhotos and homework with stars, reminders and grocery listsA cat magnet purchased for her by her husband at a farmers marketIt has lost its smugly smiling head.

The noise of the day will intrude soon enoughThe news, bad and worseThe world spinning out of controlDisaster and doom and possibly even extinction.

But not yetNot until the coffee is drunk away, leaving only bitter aftertaste.

For now, she holds these last moments, as once she had held her daughter, cupping her tiny head crowned with downy, black fuzz and smelling of sweet love and infinite promiseSilence as precious as her sons slow breathing in the night when she stands in his doorway.

She sighs and blinks, squares her shoulders and faces the dayClick.  

The voices come to her, far off oracles muttering doom in tones filled with anger, panic, resignation and stiff professionalismThe reporters have determined to carry on and so must sheShe rises and returns to the rooms of her childrenShe sends them again into a world they believe will ever be as it has been.

Through the day, she travels the small orbit of her home, gathering things with a gravity all her ownTwo backpacksTwo first aid kitsTwo small bottles filled with iodine pillsTwo magnesium fire startersTwo compasses, the military ones with wire thumb loopsTwo filtering water bottles.

There are the other thingsThe things which cant be taken, but which are too precious to leaveThe photos and lettersThe computer full of tiny messages from senders now unreachableA closet full of clothes which still smell of her husband when she presses her face into them.

Be safe, love, and take care of our bratsSee you in a few months.”  And he got on the truck and he never came back.

When her children arrive home she will tell them they must goShe can travel with them part of the way, but in the end she must send them on aloneShe can only hope they are careful and brave and most of all, far, far luckier than she has ever been.

Today they will come homeHer daughter will sit on the swing on the back porch and cuddle with her boyfriendMaybe they will kiss and whisper secretsMaybe they will make unkeepable promises that they will never be parted.

Her son will watch her with his wide dark eyes, a little ghost of his father haunting her even as he gives her a reason to liveHe will lean his curly head against her shoulder (when did he get so tall?) and he will sigh and tell her it will be OKHes a liar, like his father.

Today is counted among the last days of a pregnant springEveryones waiting, anxious for the newsWill summer birth disaster or catastrophe

On the day the trucks roll down Main Street, thunderheads heap up in the west, rumbling their threats like a drunk getting ready to do violenceThe parents bring their children to the schoolSome cowards bring bags with them, deceiving their offspring until the last with promises.  

Were going on the next trucksWell see you in a few hours.”

She stands in the street and watches the trucksSome wont let their children goBetter to spend what time remains together.  

The mother cant do thisShe cant keep this chance from her children so she throws them after their fatherPerhaps she is weakPerhaps she cannot bear to watch them as the end comes.  

Its for the bestIts the only wayTheyll be chosenTheyll be saved.” 

But everyone knows its not trueThey scatter slowly, hating each other for everyones neighbor had a hand in this, yet they are desperate not to be alone.

In the empty house she waits, a ghost of herself, phantom of the life beforeShe waits.