At first. I was alone.
Then. I found her.
Now. Life finds a way to carry on.
Originally Posted: 12 Jul 2013, Titled “Reception”
We walked into the registration office and were reminded of better days. The building must have been some type travel agency or something since of all the posters on the walls were of far off destinations and smiling happy people in bikinis. I tapped Becca on the shoulder and pointed at the picture of the couple on the beach in Aruba. Her eyes crinkled in a smile. In a different lifetime, Aruba is where we had our honeymoon.
Besides the posters, the rest of the past was a distant memory. Leaned against one of the walls behind the former travel agents’ desk were several white boards with lists of occupations and the number of people who were currently performing them for the community. I assumed that the boards were placed prominently for travelers to examine in order to quickly determine if their skills were marketable here or not.
Unusable computers and monitors were stacked carefully in the back corner in the hopes that the power would one day be restored. In their place on the desks were large notebooks full of lines and lines of handwritten text. As we stood there waiting to be seen, I tried to think what I could possibly offer to the community. It was great that Rebecca would be able to get a job, but I hadn’t been unemployed since I was a kid. My expertise had earned us a lot of money, but what good was that now? We didn’t even really have any form of currency because most of what we had was tied up in stocks and mutual funds. Hell, with the collapse of the government, our power grid and banking system, we were essentially destitute. What was I going to do?
The boards stated plainly that all the non-skilled jobs were taken. Dishwashing at the restaurants? Nope, ten people were already doing that. Trash collection? Four people signed up for that. I mentally scratched my head as I looked at the list. Firemen, police, wait staff, seamstresses, cooks, weapons manufacturing…huh? I didn’t even think about that last one, but two tick marks indicated that someone had. There were five vehicle mechanics listed, but all the vehicles we’d passed on the way down from Chicago were out of fuel and dead beside the road. Without a way to deliver fuel, those guys would be out of a job soon too. I began to get nervous as I thought about the options available to me.
Another young girl, this one probably eighteen or so, waved us over. We sat down and waited for her to finalize a few notes about the man whom she was working with a moment before. A quick glance at the pages revealed that they listed the names of the hopeful residents, what their pre-apocalypse occupation was, what they could offer to the community now and a note section about the candidate’s usefulness. There were also a lot of names with solid lines drawn through them. I mean more than three-quarters of the names on the page. Crap, I thought. My palms began to sweat. How the hell was I going to sell myself to this girl so we could stay in Virden?
“Alright,” she said. I was startled when she spoke because her mask was large enough that it covered her entire chin and it looked as if she talked without opening her mouth. “Welcome to the safe community of Virden. I’m sure either Sam or Phillip briefed you on the way over about the town’s policy. We don’t allow freeloaders or people who can’t provide for themselves, but if you’re granted residency here, we have plenty of housing available and we even have ration cards for food and other essentials. First off, what are your names?”
“I’m Charles Jackson, Chuck, and this is my wife Rebecca,” I said as I wiped my palms across my jeans.
“Ok Chuck and Rebecca,” the girl said as she scribbled our names into her book. “What did you do before we got nuked and the world went to shit?”
“I was a school teacher,” Rebecca blurted out. Clearly she wanted to stay as much as I did, even if it was only for a week or so.
“Oh good, we need school teachers. Excellent.” More scribbles in the book. “And you Chuck, what did you do?”
“Well, I was a financial advisor…” I faltered. The pen stopped scratching.
“Oh,” she said as she looked up from her book at me.
—- To continue reading this section, you’ll need to get the book once I finish it! —-
Originally Posted: 08 Jul 2013
I wanted to give a public “Thank You” to Morgen Bailey over at http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com for all her hard work spotlighting independent and lesser-known authors. She runs her site totally free (with an exception for the blog interview service) and highlights the author, their works, offers opportunities to submit short stories, etc. First class site, check it out!
Originally Posted: 29 Jun 2013, Titled “Welcome to Virden”
As soon as we passed through the gate, a girl yelled, “Come on, this way, let’s get under the pharmacy’s awning!” She wore a large rubber army poncho and also carried an umbrella to further retard the rain’s ability to reach her. We ran behind her as she made her way to the front of the town’s pharmacy less than a block from the town’s walls. We ducked under the wide striped awning, both of us unsure what to make of our guide.
She closed the umbrella and leaned it against the building’s brick wall and pulled the hood off of her head to reveal clean, straight blonde hair. Her eyes crinkled as she smiled behind the mask she wore. “My name is Samantha, Sam. Welcome to Virden,” she said.
“Hi Samantha, I’m Chuck, this is my wife Rebecca,” I said as I indicated Becca.
Sam gave us both a quick once over with her eyes. “You guys been on the road long?”
“We’re coming from Chicago, the city became too dangerous. We’ve been traveling for a little over two weeks,” Becca said while she self-consciously tried to smooth out her wrinkled and dirty overcoat.
“Oh wow. You made that trip with only a baseball bat for protection? You’re either really brave, or stupid…” Her eyes widened as she realized she’d accidently insulted us. “I mean…Look, I’m sorry, ok. I didn’t mean to say you guys were dumb, it’s just really dangerous outside of the town’s walls,” she stammered.
I wondered how old our hostess was. It was nearly impossible to tell from her voice, but I guessed she couldn’t have been more than 16 or 17. “Hey, no problem Sam. I know what you meant by the statement. We left with what we could carry and I already owned this baseball bat,” I said as I patted the big fat logo stamped across the bat’s surface. “We stayed mostly to the roads and kept hidden at night when the dangerous folks were out and about.”
“Well, I’ll take your word for it Chuck. I came from only a couple towns over and…” she stopped abruptly again. “It was a difficult trip.” She glanced quickly towards the street and squeezed her eyes shut a few times. In the gloom of the rain, I couldn’t be sure, but it looked like she was trying to get rid of tears without wiping her face with potentially contaminated hands.
“Anyways, Virden is a pretty safe spot for you guys,” she continued. “We have everything we could need for the foreseeable future. There was a large grocery store here with tons of canned food and our guys are constantly going out in patrols to get more food from the surrounding area. Our town’s leader, mayor, sheriff, whatever you want to call him, was like this crazy apocalypse prepper-guy so he like sprang into action right away after the bombs started exploding. He convinced the high school principal to allow him to fill up the gym floor with dirt, so they brought in tractors and saved enough dirt from the acid rain that we can grow crops inside once we get the lighting and irrigation down.”
“Geez, that was really smart. I’d have never thought of something like that.”
“Yeah, well, like I said, he was one of those preppers. He even got featured on that TV show about people like him. He’s made us all watch it a few times since he still has power at his place, I guess to validate his abilities or whatever, but he’s alright. He’s a little eccentric, but then again, I probably would be too if I’d been made fun of my whole life for believing something and then suddenly everyone who was still alive realized that I’d been right all along.”
“Funny way of thinking about it, but I guess you’re right,” Becca said.
The snapping noises of the dirty black rain hitting the awning above us began to lessen. “Looks like the rain is letting up, so we’ll be able to go to the guest registration office soon.”
“I’m sorry, did you say that the town has a guest registration office?” I asked.
“Oh yeah. Allen, the prepper-guy, likes to keep track of everyone in town and the office helps him do that. Also, if you plan on staying, you have to figure out what you’re going to do for work. They really don’t like people who don’t bring anything of value to the town. As you can see,” Sam said with a slight curtsey, “the tour guide position is already filled. They’ll tolerate you for a few days, but if you’re not gonna stay, you have to bring something to the community that they don’t already have.”
The rain stopped as suddenly as it had begun. “Ok, that’s our cue. Come on, the registration office is about half a mile or so down Main Street here.” Sam picked up her umbrella and started walking before we had a chance to say anything else.
Virden was the first real, functioning town that we’d seen since we left our neighborhood in Chicago. As we walked down the road, there were hand painted signs for seamstresses, a doctor’s office, a restaurant and an outdoor survivalist store. I made a mental note to visit that last one as soon as I could.
“I don’t suppose anyone in town needs a financial advisor do they?” I asked half-jokingly to our guide.
“Seriously? That’s what you did before the apocalypse? Wow, that must have been boring.”
“Well, I thought it was exciting. There was a different challenge every day.”
“Nope, don’t think we’ll be doing too much investing around here. What about you, Rebecca. What skills do you have?”
“I was an elementary school teacher,” she said as we continued to follow Samantha down the street.
“That, we can use. I don’t know what happened to them, but less than half of the school’s original teachers are around. We’ve got about 40 or 50 kids per class, so that’s a huge help.”
“The town is still doing school?” I asked incredulously.
“Oh yeah. Allen says we’ve got to continue educating our kids, so he’s made it mandatory for them to attend up until twelve years old. Then, if the parents can spare them, he recommends that they be allowed to continue. Right now, most parents are letting their kids go, but everyone knows it won’t always be that way. We’ll need more wall guards as we go along and we’re already beginning to need more people to do the long-range scavenging…I mean gathering.”
“Gathering, scavenging, it’s the same thing right, what does it matter what you call it?” Becca asked.
“The scavengers are the crazies out there, so Allen doesn’t want us associated with them. He forbids anyone from calling the gathering of supplies for the town ‘scavenging.’”
“Well, it’s an intellectual difference at best,” Becca pressed.
“I don’t know what you mean by that, but just remember that we ‘gather’ we don’t ‘scavenge’ and you’ll be alright,” Sam said as she looked over her shoulder at us pointedly. “Look, here’s the registration office. This is as far as I go. I gotta go back up front in case anyone else comes in for the evening. I’ll see you guys around.” She waved goodbye with her free hand as she headed back towards the gate.
Originally Posted: 25 Jun 2013
I haven’t posted anything in a few days because I’m inprocessing at Fort Hood, Texas. It’s hours and hours of briefings and waiting around to get a signature on a piece of paper that says I heard what so-and-so said about a service available on the post. Can’t wait to be done and signed into my unit so I can set up my office space and be able to get started in my job.
Originally Posted: 21 Jun 2013
Rebecca and I turned off highway 55 and followed the signs as they wound through the abandoned town along the highway until we came to the walls of Virden. They’d been busy in the last month. As far as I could tell from my current vantage point, the entire town was surrounded by an eight foot ramshackle wall made from cinder blocks, sheets of corrugated tin roofing panels, cattle pen fencing and overturned vehicles. Guards peeked over the top of the wall at us every so often and I had the distinct feeling that there was a rifle scope aimed right at my head.
I slid the handle of my baseball bat into my belt and slowly raised my hands above my head. “Becca, I think it’s best if we show them that we don’t mean any harm,” I said to my wife. She nodded her head and followed my lead by lifting her arms as well. We walked the last one hundred feet with our arms raised and our open palms facing the wall’s defenders.
“That’s far enough,” a voice said from behind the wall. “State your business.”
“We came to Virden because it’s supposed to be an open community,” I shouted so I could be heard by the people on the wall. “We don’t want any trouble, just passing through and we saw the signs on the highway. If you aren’t an open community, then we’ll just keep on going on our way to the south.”
“No, the signs are right, we are an open community, for the right people. Do you have any other travelers with you? Maybe your children hidden a few blocks away or something?”
“It’s just us,” I said, still shouting but I tentatively lowered my hands.
“We’ll have to search you and ensure you don’t have any open sores, which are an indication of radiation sickness, and worse. After that, you can come in, get introduced to everyone and determine if you want to stay or if you’re just visiting Virden. Hold on.” There were several loud clangs as the locks were thrown to open the gate.
I was surprised when the town’s gate opened about fifty feet to my right, far to the side of where I’d expected it to be since the road led right up to the wall. Three people dressed like scavengers came out from the gate and two of them had shotguns that they aimed right at us. The men wore heavy coveralls and had long trench coats to help with the acid rain. They wore military style gas masks and all had what looked to be firefighter helmets on, which is a wise choice since the helmet could protect against both rain and blunt force trauma.
The unarmed man came up to me and said, “I need both of you to strip.” I started to object, but he sighed and held his hands up to stop me. Clearly this wasn’t the first time that he’d encountered people unwilling to get naked in front of strangers. “Look,” he said, “Neither of you has anything that we haven’t seen a thousand times. We need to ensure that you’re not bringing any obvious diseases into our community. Either you strip and let us examine you, or you guys can continue on your way.”
“It’s ok Charlie,” my wife said to me. “I can handle it. We need a safe place to stay and if this is the price I have to pay, then so be it.” She didn’t even wait for my answer before she shrugged out of her backpack to let it slide to the ground and began unzipping her rain jacket.
Before long, both of us stood stark naked in the chilly air. The only exception was our masks, which they’d allowed us to retain in position over our mouth and nose. The man inspecting us had each of us bend over to expose the area between our ass cheeks and then I had to lift my scrotum up for his scrutiny while Becca was forced to raise each breast up so he could ensure there were no sores hidden underneath along her skin.
When he was satisfied, he said, “Ok, you passed. You can put your clothes back on. Welcome to Virden. I hope you enjoy your stay, but let me warn you right now: If you aren’t a contributing member of the community, you will be asked to leave and not return. Is that understood?” We both nodded that we understood the terms of our admittance into the town.
We rushed to pull our clothing back on as a storm blew in rapidly from the west. Just as we entered the main gate of Virden it began to rain. The dark sludge fell from the sky and we couldn’t see beyond a couple feet in front of our hands.
Originally Posted: 20 Jun 2013
Zombie Apocalypse Monthly magazine did an interview with me for my novel GNASH!
Originally Posted: 19 Jun 2013
As we start our inproccessing at our new new installation in Texas, I’m reminded of how inefficient everything for soldiers is. Even though it was slower than I’d expect with all the automation that we have available in 2013, I really did get spoiled working at the Pentagon. I’ve been sitting for 45 minutes to get an installation pass, but the contractors are getting put right into the queue. And I’m a Field Grade officer, imagine what it’s like for a private…
Originally Posted: 17 June 2013
It’s at this point that I think it’s important to add a caveat that these posts are not in chronological order as they would potentially appear in my new novel. ~BP
“Hey, spacecase!” Rebecca said as she slapped me on the shoulder.
“Huh? Oh sorry, I was just thinking about Ali and what happened in Chicago. What did you say?”
“I said that it looks like what those people said about Virden being an open community may be true. See that sign right there?” she said as she pointed to a hand painted wooden sign placed strategically along the road so anyone paying attention would be able to see it.
The sign stated, “VIRDEN, ILLINOIS IS DECLARED AN OPEN COMMUNITY, SAFE FOR ALL TRAVELERS ACCORDING TO THE MACOUPIN COUNTY MILITIA. THREE MILES STRAIT AHEAD, TAKE THE DIVERNON EXIT OFF 55 SOUTH, FOLLOW SIGNS.”
We’d run into two types of communities so far: Open and closed…well, actually, there were two other types also: Abandoned and destroyed, but we really tried to avoid those. Closed communities were places where the people who lived there before the nuclear detonations basically sealed themselves up behind walls of some type and didn’t allow any outsiders to come in, even if they were only passing through. Open communities were still secure, but they allowed people without homes to come inside their walls as long as they could be contributing members of the community. No place wanted derelicts and vagrants living with them. We’d heard stories about how communities dealt with bums who tried to move in and mooch off the population. Let’s just say, it wasn’t pretty and they made sure that other potential bums in the area knew that they weren’t allowed.
“Well, it certainly seems like they mean to appear like a wholesome community, even if they did use the wrong version of the word ‘straight’ on their sign,” I said in a slightly irritated tone.
Truth be told, I was actually embarrassed that I’d let myself get lost in those memories from a couple weeks ago. That was stupid. We hadn’t run into any trouble on our southward journey so far, but from what others along the way had told us, we’d been pretty lucky because everywhere was dangerous these days. I really wasn’t brought up in some crazy macho family, but I feel like it’s my duty to be the protector and I’m the one who’s supposed to keep us together and out of trouble.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Rebecca asked me as we continued our slow walk south along the highway.
“Ok, what I meant to say was that they want people to think they’re still a nice town, what if it’s some kind of set-up? You know, lure us in and then harvest our organs or something.”
“Chuck, you have definitely seen too many movies. I’ve listened to you so far, but I want to sleep in a bed, ok? We’ve been on the road for over two weeks and sleeping in tents and sleeping bags out in the cold. I want to go someplace nice with nice people. And I have to believe those kinds of places still exist, otherwise, what the hell are we even wasting our time living for?”
Shit, she had a point. “Fine. We’ll go to Virden, but we need to keep an eye out for anything strange ok? And we can’t stay long, the weather is already colder since the dust and ash has blocked most of the sunlight, we need to keep going south.”
“Alright, just a day or two. Please Chuck, let’s go and meet some nice people, maybe we’ll meet some other travelers who will want to travel with us. Besides, there’s safety in numbers.” She’d added that last part because she knew I was worried about what I would do if we were attacked out here. I wasn’t sure, but I knew I’d do whatever I could to protect us.
“Ok, ok. You fight dirty! You know I think we need a couple of traveling companions, and you’re right, we might find a couple decent people in an open community,” I conceded. She practically squealed with delight and lifted her mask away to kiss me quickly on the cheek.
I was reminded of how beautiful my Rebecca is. I hardly ever saw her without the mask anymore. The air was full of all sorts of shit floating around and the masks made it a lot easier to breathe. She was so covered up from head to toe that it was almost impossible to tell she was a woman from over a hundred yards away. She had her mop of wavy red hair pulled back in a tight bun and a pale green rain slicker hood up over the top of that. It hadn’t rained in a few days, but it only took one surprise acid rain storm our first night out of the city to encourage us to keep covered at all times.
I truly believe that we’re in for a massive extinction event in the next few months and everything we do to prepare ourselves ahead of time is important. I’ve seen a couple of documentaries about nuclear winter and it’s not pretty. The bulk of the population not directly affected by the explosions will survive the first few months after a nuclear war, unless they kill each other off. But after a while, all the particles in the air from all the vaporized stuff at the blast sites will eventually make it impossible for the sun to warm the earth and we’ll be plunged into a nuclear winter. Shit, I want to get as close to the equator as possible and living all the way up in Chicago wasn’t a good starting point.
Then again, if Ali hadn’t been murdered, Rebecca probably would have wanted to continue living in our apartment and we’d really be screwed when the winter hit. As far as I was concerned, every foot farther south we traveled before the freezing temperatures set in was a foot closer to survival.