by John White Continue reading
It’s been awhile, but “Emily’s Rain” by Peter Bradley Adams gave me a glimpse and I ran with it.
My free short stories are inspired by the post-apocalyptic world of “Survivors’ Club”, my science fiction novel, coming April 2018 from Not A Pipe Publishing.
Please share, tweet, and talk about my work. I look forward to your feedback.
*** Continue reading
While writing my science fiction novel “Survivors’ Club” (coming 2018 from Not A Pipe Publishing), I created a playlist of music to put me in the mood for a post-apocalyptic world. My free short stories were inspired by these songs and by the world of “Survivors’ Club”. Please share, tweet, and talk about my work. I look forward to your feedback.
Today’s story, The Mall, goes along with the song “An Ending (Ascent)” by Brian Eno.
Officer Beatrice pulls her mount, Dunkin, up overlooking the Reflecting Pool. The sky captured in the water is a flat gray of unruffled clouds, still no blue in sight. The wind sighs through the grass. No one shouts. No one runs. No homeless sleep on benches or in shady patches. No kites fly, no tourists snap pictures. After the camps in Pennsylvania fell apart, Office Bee returned to her precinct, reclaimed her gear and found Dunkin, grazing near the station. Now she’s back on the job, patrolling the Nation’s Capitol.
Murphy sits next to the elephant in the Museum of Natural History. Someone tried to break off one of its tusks. Murphy shakes his head. He did a lot of things, things he doesn’t want to remember, all for the sake of the monkey on his back. He did those things, sure, hurt those people, killed that guy, but still, the elephant? He feels rage bubbling up in his guts, the way everyone felt when those camel-jockeys attacked New York. It’s one thing to hurt someone on a personal level, especially if you needed the money or drugs. Nowadays food, water, and shelter are the must haves. But still, why the elephant? What were they going to do, sell its tusk to the Chinese? Murphy laughs and shakes his head. He pushes himself up, heads back to make his rounds of the Mall.
Tiffany hates the kids. She squats in the shade of the Metro station’s overhang, watching them as they watch her. Their dark skin and hair provide camouflage. Only their large eyes stand out against the grim and dirt of their clothes. The little one is sucking her thumb again. Tiffany rolls her eyes. How many times has she snatched that digit from the child’s mouth? She’s so tired of them. Back in the camps, it was worth it. Having the brats meant extra food, a place in the family housing, which was a lot safer than taking her chances in the supposedly women’s only housing. Tiffany shakes her head, tries to push away the memory of hands fumbling at her in the dark. She has to get out of here, out of the dark. She stands up, grabs her bag and heads out. She honestly doesn’t care if the kids follow or not.
Officer Bee’s footsteps echo down the halls of the Castle. All those beautiful works of art and history, memories of a people who may never return. She checks each door and window, ensuring the building is sealed from the elements, protecting her charges. There was a rumor in the camps that someone had found a cure, a miracle in the West. Officer Bee doesn’t believe it, but she’d like to. She turns back to the front door and stops. Dunkin’s shadow isn’t alone.
Murphy watches the white soccer mom stride across the grass, whacking at the knee high weeds, her Coach bag bouncing against her bony hip with each step. The two black kids trailing behind her are clearly not hers. She doesn’t look back or call to them. They scurry after her like orphan ducklings. None of them notice the man skulking in the museum’s shadow. Murphy has a lifetime of experience in being unseen.
Tiffany stares at the horse. Its tack identifies it as a member of the National Police. The gear is clean and well cared for. Tiffany reaches up to touch the horse’s neck, watches the shiver of skin as it rolls its liquid brown eye to study her, stomps its hind foot in judgment. “We’re going to be such good friends, Thunder Bolt.” She lifts the flap of one of the saddle bags and finds the gun, a shiny Sig Sauer, like the one Dad had.
“Is that yours?” The older kid wipes snot on his sleeve. Tiffany glares at him, pulls out the Sig. God, she loves the heavy weight of it in her hand. Never again will someone touch her in the dark. She’ll blow their freaking head off. Both maybe. She grins. The kid frowns. She tests the sight, aligning the notch with the kid’s sternum, like Dad showed her.
“Lady! Hey, what are you doing?” A man jogs toward her across the wide stripe of grass. He’s dirty and skinny. Tiffany knows his hands would feel like claws on her. She swings the pistol toward him.
“Ma’am, put the gun down.” The voice is calm, commanding, female. They have her surrounded. Tears sting Tiffany’s eyes. It’s a trap. She’s seen men use women to lure in other women. It won’t happen to her. She turns and squeezes the trigger as soon as the notch shows her the blue blouse and white buttons of the woman’s chest.
Officer Bee stumbles back and sits heavily on the stairs. She feels like someone punched her in the chest. She regrets not donning her body armor, not securing her backup weapon, but she hadn’t seen a living person in weeks. She’d believed she was safe.
The man stands in front of the kids, the woman waving the Sig at them, tears running down her face. Officer Bee wants to intervene, to calm things down, but she just can’t catch her breath. The woman grabs Dunkin’s lead and yanks, but he won’t budge. She’s no cop and the horse knows it. The woman tries again then turns and runs, heading east towards the river and Anacostia.
Above Officer Bee the clouds part. For just a moment there is blue sky. Maybe there is a cure out West. Officer Bee sighs a soft gurgle. At least she got to see the real sky again.
Murphy and the kids bury the cop at the base of the Washington Monument. “Don’t know who you were, Lady, but you seem like one of the good ones,” Murphy eulogies. “You get the biggest damn gravestone ever.”
The kids take turns riding the horse. The woman with the gun ran off east, so Murphy and the kids head west. After everything else he’s done, taking care of them is the least he can do.
Today’s short story is part of a series inspired while writing my science fiction novel, Survivors’ Club (Coming 2018 from Not a Pipe Publishing) . It’s a chance for me to explore what other characters in the 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 Best Friend, goes along with the song “The Beach” by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis on The Road soundtrack.
The parents had all gone away. After the big kids left, it was just us. I used to cry at night but now I have a best friend so I’m not lonely.
At night we creep out of the tents. They flap and creak in the wind. One of them fell down and killed some of the little kids in Camp B.
When grown ups came to the Camps, looking for food or guns or whatever, we hid from them mostly. Sometimes they ignore the little kids they find. Sometimes they try to help. Give them little packets of food or candy. They are sad, but they just can’t take any of us little kids with them. Sometimes the grown ups want to hurt us or take us away even if we don’t want to go. It’s just better to hide from all of them cuz you don’t know what kind they are until it’s too late.
That’s what I tell my best friend. She’s little like me. We built mud forts before the creek dried up with moats and rooms for all our families who are gone now. So are our forts. A group of men, who said that they were in the Army but didn’t have guns or uniforms, stomped on them when they crossed going South.
Me and my best friend sat under the fallen over oak tree and watched. There’s a dirt spot, hollowed out a little, under the cracked old trunk, just big enough for us two together. We can sit there and peek out like raccoons and no one ever sees us cuz of all the big dead branches with rattly yellow and brown leaves.
Yesterday some big kids from a different city’s camp came by. They went South, too. They said there was no more water in their city’s camp and ours would be gone soon. They said we should go South, but my best friend was scared and so was I.
Last night some dogs came to the edge of the camp. We climbed onto the roof of the food shed and threw empty cans at the dogs. They cried and snapped at us but my best friend said they were just mad cuz the cans were empty. That made me sad, cuz I was mad the cans were empty, too.
This morning we wake up on the roof of the food shed with our unthrown empty cans. One of the dogs lies on the ground, watching us. It has one blue eye and one brown one and its nose is stuck in one of the cans.
All the other dogs have left and my best friend feels sorry for the can dog. I do too and I am sorry for throwing cans cuz the dogs were just hungry like us.
We climb off the roof. The dog tries to run away, but it keeps bumping its nose so it sits down and whines. I pull the can off its nose and then it does run away. We chase it past the fallen-over oak, up the hill, and down to the creek with the mud fort ruins. On the other side, we poke between the empty tubes that were reed skeletons. The dog barks and skips away. He crouches down his chest almost to the ground, but his butt wiggles in the air.
My best friend wants to play with the dog and so do I. We break off a bunch of twigs and throw them to the dog for him to fetch, but it scares him and he runs away further. I take some crackers out of my pocket and hold them out. I walk slowly towards the dog. He whines and licks his chops and then he creeps up to me on his tummy. He snatches the crackers out of my hand and runs away a little to eat them, but then he comes right back and sniffs and licks my hand. His tongue is warm and rough, like fuzzy new corn leaves.
I giggle and give him some more crackers. I tell him we should go South like the men who were in the Army and the big kids. We should look for water.
We walk together all day, me and the can dog. I like to run, so I run and the can dog runs too, his big ears flopping, his long pink tongue waving like a flag. When he gets too far ahead I start to cry because I don’t want to be alone again. He turns around and runs back as fast as he can to lick my face.
My best friend gets smaller and smaller until she goes away. I guess when you have a real best friend, like the can dog, you don’t need a made up best friend.
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.”
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. It‘s 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 nde. Te quiero. Ya tbya lublue. Je t‘aime. Ich liebe dich. Mám tě ráda.
Every moment of every day, someone says ‘I love you‘. Millions of people connecting to other millions, sharing a single emotion. Each time it‘s whispered, sighed, screamed, or sung, is unique and each time, it‘s identical to every other.
After all these years, he still thrills to her, vibrates in tune with her pitch. It hasn‘t 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. It‘s 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. It‘s 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 orange–pink 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 can‘t get off this rock, why the fux should they? Aren‘t 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, we‘ll be saved. They won‘t abandon us if we‘re good.
The old man snorts. They might as well sacrifice a goat while they‘re at it. That has just as much a chance of success as their daily status reports. The careful list of the number, ever dwindling, of ‘survivors‘.
He snorts again. Survivors! As if they‘ve escaped. As if they‘ve been saved.
“What‘s the count?” the old woman asks. Considering her failing hearing, it startles him, but she can always tell it‘s 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. She‘s 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, it‘s 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 she‘s 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 man‘s 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.
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.
It‘s 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 won‘t 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 they‘re empty flesh bags. She stuffs them into the remnants of a pink, frilly bra.
Today, the Last Day of Ever, is here and it‘s 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, oily. On 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 tower‘s impotent rage at the uncaring sky. They never looked at her either.
She leans her head against the tower. Ash smudges her forehead, a pilgrim‘s 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 tower‘s history. Does the tower shudder now, to feel itself invaded again?
“I‘m 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 don‘t know.
“They don‘t know what?”
The once fat girl nearly falls to her death. Furious she scrambles up. She is not missing it for – him.
The once handsome boy stares at the once fat girl. He repeats: “Don‘t know what?” in a voice like a cracked leather jacket, long disused.
“Watch,” the once fat girl says. She sits down to wait. There is a light growing in the west, away from the dawn. The once handsome boy sits next to her. They 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 can‘t. 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 boy‘s 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.
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…”
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 earth. Slime become air. Over the mud–brick wall, the artillery rounds flash, man–made lightning followed by man–made thunder as the rounds thump, thump, thump. Inside the compound nothing stirs except the soldier and the wind.
The soldier‘s hands are encased in clumsy gloves, taped around the wrists to seal them to the MOPP suit. It is hard to hold the pen, but she does. She balances on one foot, awkwardly fat in her heavy gear. She braces her other foot against the wall and uses the writing desk of her thigh. She squints in the pre–dawn 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 fog. A dog. They hate dogs, but here it is. Maybe in its last frantic moments it sought human solace. Maybe it just got lost.
Her com crackles, pours the disgruntled voice of the security commander into her ear. He‘s full of questions: “How much longer‘s this gonna take? What you find? We need to call for back up?”
“As long as it takes. Nothing I can say over the com and no.”
She turns back to her work, pushing into the guest house. There is a body behind the door. She rolls it over. The thin bare arm flops, fingers raise a cloud of dust as they drop, striking the ground.
It takes three tries to thumb open an eye. The soldier curses the gear that protects her from the gas that killed this child. Sweat in her face and she can‘t do a thing about it.
The pupil is cloudy and the white is the warm yellow–orange of a sunny side up egg. She adds a tick to her tally. She won‘t think about how this child is the age of her own. She won‘t notice the mother‘s body, curled in a futile attempt to shelter her baby. The baby is pale, skin marbled with blue veins of useless blood. Mother and baby are just more ticks on a tally sheet.
Over the com the security commander grumbles about ‘the bleeding heart humani–fucking–tarians‘. They‘re wasting everyone‘s time. There‘s no reason to count the dead. No one will claim them.
The killer chemicals are designed to rapidly breakdown in the environment. They speed the decomposition process and are themselves quickly rendered inert as they interact with the dust, the smoke, the sand of this last, worst place. Clean up is literally a breeze in most cases.
The soldier counts her tick marks. Outside the compound the mortars fall silent. She can see the glow of dawn illuminating the wall through the window. Surprised, she checks her watch, but it‘s obscured by layers of latex and tape.
“Hey, what time is it?” she asks the com. The verbose security commander has been rendered mute. She tries again, but gets nothing. She 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 now. She does not want to be here, counting these dead people. She didn‘t ask for this assignment. The security commander has no right to ignore her. She wants to scream at him, make him take her and her job seriously.
Just because she‘s never shot someone doesn‘t make her less of a soldier. He‘s deliberately breaking communication protocol and she‘ll…what? Report his sorry ass? Oh, dear! Anything but that. He‘ll sneer and later, with his buddies, they‘ll laugh at her futile rage.
She steps out of the breech and looks around. The security commander sits in his vehicle, back to her. She storms over, MOPP boots squishing noisily with each step, her face reddening, her fatly gloved hands clenching into boxer‘s mitts.
“Hey, what the-”
He‘s dead. So is his driver. So are the others. The blood runs unclotting from nose, ears, eyes. If she looks at his lap she will see it pooling there as well.
The flash, the light. It wasn‘t dawn. It was retaliation.
The soldier looks around. Nothing stirs, nothing lives. Only the soldier and her tick marks remain.
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.
Rain on the window. Gentle, late spring rain. Soon school will be out.
She moves slowly through the house, bending to pick up her son‘s sock, her daughter‘s tablet charger. Just 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 blue–black mug in hand, staring, without seeing, at the fridge. Photos and homework with stars, reminders and grocery lists. A cat magnet purchased for her by her husband at a farmer‘s market. It has lost its smugly smiling head.
The noise of the day will intrude soon enough. The news, bad and worse. The world spinning out of control. Disaster and doom and possibly even extinction.
But not yet. Not 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 promise. Silence as precious as her son‘s slow breathing in the night when she stands in his doorway.
She sighs and blinks, squares her shoulders and faces the day. Click.
The voices come to her, far off oracles muttering doom in tones filled with anger, panic, resignation and stiff professionalism. The reporters have determined to carry on and so must she. She rises and returns to the rooms of her children. She 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 own. Two backpacks. Two first aid kits. Two small bottles filled with iodine pills. Two magnesium fire starters. Two compasses, the military ones with wire thumb loops. Two filtering water bottles.
There are the other things. The things which can‘t be taken, but which are too precious to leave. The photos and letters. The computer full of tiny messages from senders now unreachable. A 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 brats. See 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 go. She can travel with them part of the way, but in the end she must send them on alone. She can only hope they are careful and brave and most of all, far, far luckier than she has ever been.
Today they will come home. Her daughter will sit on the swing on the back porch and cuddle with her boyfriend. Maybe they will kiss and whisper secrets. Maybe 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 live. He will lean his curly head against her shoulder (when did he get so tall?) and he will sigh and tell her it will be OK. He‘s a liar, like his father.
Today is counted among the last days of a pregnant spring. Everyone‘s waiting, anxious for the news. Will 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 violence. The parents bring their children to the school. Some cowards bring bags with them, deceiving their offspring until the last with promises.
“We‘re going on the next trucks. We‘ll see you in a few hours.”
She stands in the street and watches the trucks. Some won‘t let their children go. Better to spend what time remains together.
The mother can‘t do this. She can‘t keep this chance from her children so she throws them after their father. Perhaps she is weak. Perhaps she cannot bear to watch them as the end comes.
“It‘s for the best. It‘s the only way. They‘ll be chosen. They‘ll be saved.”
But everyone knows it‘s not true. They scatter slowly, hating each other for everyone‘s 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 before. She waits.