• Why We Left

    Originally Posted: 14th June 2013

    We made our way into what used to be Virden, Illinois.  They still maintained the name for prosperity’s sake, but no one really cared about states or territories anymore after the blasts.  Becca and I left Chicago when the radiation freaks and scavengers became too dangerous to ignore.  We left with the clothes and goods that we could cram into our backpacks and we abandoned everything else we’d ever worked for.

    We weren’t alone.  There were hundreds, probably thousands, just like us.  A constant stream of people leaving the ruined city for the promise of a future in the wilds of the countryside.  Funny that the suburbs of Chicago, USA could be considered a wild land, I thought.  But it was true.  I’d grown up in the city, spent my youth playing along Lakeshore Drive and doing stupid shit in the park of the same name.  Now the city was a wasteland and everyone who was smart was getting the fuck out of Dodge.

    I’d been married to Rebecca for almost ten years before the Chinese or Russians (hell, maybe even the French, I don’t know) bombed the shit out of us.  We stayed for almost three weeks, living on water that we’d saved in the bathtub and whatever we could trade for down at Salaam’s Corner Market before everything went to total shit.  Once the freaks and scavengers began to show up, we knew it was time to leave.

    The freaks were easier to deal with than the scavengers.  They were people who’d been caught outside during the nuclear detonations and were so fucked up by the radiation that all they wanted to do was to rip and tear apart the normal folks.  The scavengers though, they were another breed entirely.  Don’t get me wrong, they were completely human, but they did whatever the hell they wanted and didn’t care about anyone else but themselves.  They raped, tortured and murdered just because they could.  There was no negotiating with them, it was kill or be killed.  No one knows if they always existed in our society and the laws kept them in check or if the apocalypse flipped a switch in their brains, but whatever it was they were messed up and they loved to inflict pain on everyone else.  Think of all the supervillains in every movie you’ve ever seen combined into one devious son of a bitch.  Then multiply that one person into thousands, maybe millions, and you had America’s scavenger population.

    The final straw that sent us over the edge and forced us to move from Chicago was when Ali was butchered.  Ali owned Salaam’s Corner Market and was somehow able to keep his shelves moderately stocked with foodstuffs during the first weeks of the crisis. Without him, I’m sure that Becca and I would have starved, but now he was dead, like everyone else we knew in in the city.

    I went down to the market that morning to get our weekly supply of can food and some naan bread that Ali baked in his shop.  When I opened the door I was almost overwhelmed by the metallic smell of blood and the unpleasant odor of voided bowels.  I didn’t know what to do other than call out for Ali to see if he was alright, but of course he didn’t answer.  Something else did.

    I heard and even sensed the thing before I saw it and stepped back just in time.  The market’s security bar-reinforced glass doors opened inward, so the creature slammed into the doors and actually shut them for me.  It literally threw its body against the glass over and over.  I know that some of them are still smart enough to pull a door open now, but it was the first time that I’d seen a freak up close.  Sure, I’d seen them pass by in the alleyway from the safety of my fourth floor apartment, but nothing prepared me for what came running towards me from the depths of that darkened shop.

    Nobody really knows what the freaks are.  Some people call them zombies, they certainly act like a zombie, and others call them victims.  I don’t know how I feel about the ethical part of the discussion, but I know they’re dangerous as hell and should be avoided or dispatched.  They are people whose body is so ravaged by radiation and disease that their minds have been literally fried and they are crazy as fuck. They attack whatever they see.  People, animals, each other, it doesn’t matter.  If it moves, they try to destroy it.  Fortunately for us there’s not too many of them, relatively speaking, and their bodies still follow basic human anatomy, so they have to eat and if they lose enough blood, they’ll die.  Every encounter with them, even if they don’t kill you, is potentially deadly because of the radiation and the various diseases they carry.  The illnesses they carry would have been nothing more than a minor inconvenience before the blast, but if you contract something these days, it’s likely to kill you.

    The creature trying to reach me from behind the doors used to be a woman.  Most of her hair was gone, either fallen out from malnutrition or ripped out somehow, and her disgusting, deflated breasts sagged almost to her navel.  Her skin was covered in lesions that leaked pus and her face was covered in blood and shit, I guess she’d been eating poor Ali’s intestines when I interrupted her.  I stood there staring at her.  I mean, I was literally transfixed by what I saw.  Even though we’d been dealing with the windblown ashes, food shortage and loss of all basic utilities, we’d been pretty much spared the worst of the holocaust for the past few weeks that far south of Chicago.  The big blasts had happened to the north and wiped out everything up there, but we’d been sheltered.  This was the first time that the realization of our hopeless situation hit me and I began to think it was time to leave.

    Before too long, a couple of the neighborhood’s other residents came along, either for their normal grocery run or attracted by the sounds of the freak banging into the market’s safety glass.  I saw several people that I recognized from the apartment building, but I didn’t actually know any of them.  The more people that gathered, the more intense and frantic the creature seemed to become.  I made small talk with a couple people as we idly observed her repeatedly throwing herself into the glass.  I guess she ended up cutting herself of the metal bars somehow because the view into the shop slowly began to cloud with smeared blood.

    Several minutes after people began arriving, she’d cut herself badly enough her blood began to freely run under the doors.  Eventually, her attack on the doors became less pronounced and it seemed like she had to gather her strength each time before the next shove against the doors that wouldn’t budge.  Finally, thankfully, the creature’s assault ended entirely with her body pressed against the cage.  My first encounter with a freak ended with it killing itself while it tried to reach me.  I still remember the single-minded determination that those things have to kill the living and I will have nightmares about it for the rest of my life.

  • Back Home in Texas

    Originally Posted: 13 June 2013 

    So I don’t have a story-type blog post tonight because today I made the final push in my cross-country oddessy from Washington, DC to Fort Hood, Texas where we’ll be stationed for the next two years.  The house is pretty amazing, almost double our Virginia house, so I’m pretty pleased with it.  We get the internet hooked up tomorrow, so stay tuned for a new part of my next novel…

  • The Warehouse

    Originally Posted: 12 June 2013

    “What was that?” Rebecca asked as she grabbed my forearm.

    “I didn’t hear anything.  What was it?”

    “I thought I heard a tinkling of glass downstairs.”

    I grabbed the tomahawk that I’d picked up in the last town we visited and pressed Becca’s club into her hand.  “Wait here, I’ll go check it out,” I said as I lifted the corner of the shade covering the office door’s window.  “Lock the door behind me, ok?”

    She rushed over to me and slid my mask down under my chin.  “Be careful, Charles.  Knock three times to and I’ll open the door,” she said before she kissed me on the mouth.  I kissed her back and then situated the flimsy paper mask back over my face.  I opened the door leading down to the warehouse floor carefully and eased my body outside.  Rebecca closed the door behind me and I heard the deadbolt slide home.

    Normal people knew that you didn’t break in anywhere at night.  In today’s fucked-up post-apocalyptic world, doing anything at night automatically meant you were up to no good and the unofficial law of the land said that anything goes when you’re defending yourself at night.  The metal stairs rattled a little as I stepped onto the landing.  I lifted the axe beside my head so I could quickly strike out at one of the creatures, or worse one of the scavengers, and slowly crept down the stairs.  Each step seemed to echo across the warehouse’s vast expanse.  I tried to visualize where the two doors were and silently hoped that Becca had been hearing things.  We’d taken the time to lean a couple of thin glass panes against each of the doors as a form of early warning if one of the doors was opened before we took up residence in the second floor office two days ago.

    I stepped off the stairs and went into a low crouch.  I still felt a little bit silly doing it, but I’d seen hundreds of movies where the hero did that to make themselves a smaller target, so maybe there was something to it.  I did a quick 360 degree turn and didn’t see anything so I rushed over to the nearest wall and pressed my back against it for some protection.  I slid my way along towards the exit that was closest to the office.

    The moonlight shining through the small windows near the roofline cast eerie shadows across the warehouse floor.  Every distorted shadow was a scavenger waiting until I’d passed by him to spring from his hiding place to bash my brains out.  Even though it was probably in the forties inside the building, I was sweating freely from every pore on my filthy body.

    It was hard to believe that less than six months ago I was a successful financial advisor worried about networking for new clients and showing off my wealth to my friends.  Once the bombs exploded near my hometown of Chicago, all of that went out the window.  Hell, looking back on it now, it really seemed trivial.  Now, every day was literally a fight to survive in this hellhole that used to be called America.

    The glass that Rebecca and I had placed on the nearest door was still in place so I continued to circle around the outside of the warehouse floor towards the other door.  I crept as silently as I could while scanning the interior of the building for any movement.  I stopped when a shadow detached itself from the far wall and headed towards the stairs to the office where Becca was hiding.  I could clearly see the outline of a trench coat and the canisters of a gas mask.

    Shit!  I cursed silently to myself.  It was a scavenger, not one of those radiation freaks.  The freaks were easier to deal with than scavengers.  Sure, the freaks would attack you and rip you into a thousand pieces because their brains were so fried from radiation, but they’d lost the ability to rationally think and act.  To scheme the way humans do.  The freaks acted just like zombies in the old movies, but scavengers…fuck, they were dangerous.

    Normally the best thing to do when a scavenger was around was to hide and hope you’d hidden all traces of your existence well enough, but he was headed straight for the office.  I snuck across the floor and stayed to the shadows as much as possible.  Usually scavengers were alone, but it wasn’t unheard of that they’d be with others.  If that’s the case, we may be screwed, I thought.  I tiptoed silently after the scavenger, continuously looking back in the direction that he’d come from to see if he had a partner, but it seemed like he was alone.

    He tentatively set a foot on the metal staircase and it creaked in protest.  He froze and crouched just as I’d done earlier and I saw the glint of moonlight off of metal.  He was either holding a knife, or if he was dumb, a gun of some kind.  Most people who were alone outside of a settlement didn’t carry firearms because the sound of one going off only attracted more of the freaks or other scavengers looking to clean up after the creature was done.  The settlements used them heavily in the defense of their perimeter, but out here, nobody smart carried one.

    I slunk to the last crate in the shadows of the floor.  The next move I made would take me out into the open.  For the thousandth time I cursed that bastard Allan for kicking Rebecca and I out of Virden.  If he hadn’t gotten the idea that every woman in town was his to do as he pleased, then we’d still be safe behind the settlement’s walls, not out here in the middle of nowhere.  Well, I guess it was also Becca’s and my fault too because we told him to fuck off, we were a couple, but that’s beside the point, we should never have been put in that situation, that’s the shit they did in the bigger settlements, not small ones like Cahokia.

    The scavenger was already about a third of the way up the stairs but he was looking up towards the office and the lenses on his mask would obstruct his periphery vision.  I took a silent gulp of air and wiped my sweaty palm across my trousers and slipped the tomahawk’s leather strap over my wrist so I wouldn’t drop it if there was a struggle.  This was it.  Time to put up or shut up as they used to say.

    I leapt from the shadows and rushed the few feet to the stairs.  The metal steps rattled horribly loud as I bounded them two at a time.  The scavenger whirled around, but it was too late, I brought the spiked side of my weapon down right between his neck and shoulder blade.

    He let out a muffled scream from behind the mask as I wrenched the tip of the blade from his body.  He weakly tried to slice me with the bowie knife he held, but the fight was already coming to an end as his lifeblood gushed freely from the wound in his neck.  I smashed the axe into his forehead and he crumpled like an empty sack.

    I made sure to finish the job before I explored the scavenger’s body for useful items.  His gas mask would definitely come in handy since all Becca and I had were the old paper surgical masks.  They kept the drifting ash out of our lungs fairly well, but nothing like a real mask would do.  I took the heavy trench coat and his knife but his boots were too small for me, maybe Becca could use them, or we could trade them for something down the road.  He also had a few scraps of meat, a couple worthless American dollars and an ash-smudged photo of some girl.

    I prayed silently that I hadn’t just dispatched that woman’s only means of survival but rules were rules: No one leaves the safety of wherever they are at night.

  • Destruction

    Originally Posted: 11 June 2013 

    The world is so full of simpletons and madmen, that one need not seek them in a madhouse. ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    It will never be remembered how or why the misunderstanding between two sovereign nations escalated, as they so often do, into a larger global conflict.  Strikes and counter-strikes between the two eventually gave way to an errant grid coordinate entered into the ballistic computer.  The result was that a third nation was brought into the quarrel that retaliated in kind.  Before long, almost every nation that had offensive capabilities was involved in the madness.  The complete destruction of human society, as we know it, was accomplished in little more than eighteen hours.

    The impacts from the missiles on the soil and built-up areas and the vaporization of flora and fauna caught in the explosions threw millions of tons of particles of dust and debris into the air.  The wind currents carried the giant clouds over the areas of the earth that weren’t involved in the war.  Within hours, most of the earth was enveloped in a darkness that the sun couldn’t penetrate and the temperatures plummeted rapidly.

    Then it began to rain and poison fell from the sky over the surface of the earth.