For more information about the author, Meryl S. Fortney (a.k.a. R.S.F) or her work, visit The Pax Integral. And as always, thank you for reading!
Zombie Fever: Origins (Volume 1), by B.M. Hodges
Description: “A chilling beginning for a zombie series.” -Derrik Spence, Horror & Fear Review
“I could swear someone was creeping outside my window after I read this!” -UbiquitousEarl
Tomas decides to spend the summer with his father, who works
as a security guard for Vitura Pharmaceuticals in San Diego.
Soon after his arrival, his father disappears without a trace.
Tomas searches for his father, only to discover Vitura is more than it seems to be.
For those who love zombie horror and can’t get enough of
The Walking Dead, World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide…
the ZOMBIE FEVER series is a must read!!!
Once Tomas began to calm, the woman slipped away and sat back down.
“Son, my name is Karl Bertrand and this is Dr. Greer. I’m in charge of the San Diego biological research and development division of Vitura Pharmaceuticals and Dr. Greer is our senior scientist in residence.” He took a deep breath, “Let me begin by saying that I knew your father well. I worked with him for years. He was a good man. Courageous. And his death was not in vain.” He swiveled around and tapped out a code on the wall. “However, before we discuss the circumstances of your father’s unfortunate death, I think it’s best to show you his heroism first.”
The room went dark and a screen made from light appeared as though floating above the center of the conference table, suspended in the air between Tomas and the two Vitura representatives, a logo with Vitura Pharma printed underneath turned slowly on the display.
The screen went blank and then there was Andy walking down a hallway, his aviator glasses hanging from his lapel. He was fishing out a cigarette from a crumpled soft pack pulled out of his shirt pocket. At the bottom right of the screen the date and time read yesterday at 3:23 am. He almost made it to the exit when, suddenly, the hallways lights began to flash yellow in an emergency fashion. Andy dropped his cigarettes, turned and ran down the hall shouting silently.
The camera changed to one positioned inside a large antechamber that dipped down towards the center and in the center was a sealed glass laboratory complete with air locks. And inside the glass laboratory, three scientists in powder blue bio-safety positive-pressure suits were milling around a large malfunctioning device that was spraying a fine greenish mist into the air. Andy could be seen bursting through the main doors and leaping down the stairs towards the enclosed laboratory. Inside, the three scientists were fading out of view as the green mist enveloped the clean room. Andy ran to a control panel against one of the walls. He flashed his badge against the panel and punched in a code. The mist began to clear as vents in the clean room floor began to suck out the contaminant. Then there was a flash as the camera overloaded for a second as an explosion of flames began to incinerate everything inside the glass laboratory, including the three scientists. The heat must have been tremendous as Andy had to back away to the far corner of the room and shield his eyes while the interior of the clean room was sanitized by fire. When it was over, there was nothing left in the container but steel tables and instruments, a lumpy mess where the spewing device previously stood, ash and bones.
The screen split in two and Tomas watched as several more guards appeared in the hallway outside the main room locking the thick metal and hardened glass doors. Locking his father inside. They remained behind the door, looking through the windows watching as Andy took stock of what he’d done.
There must have been a ring or a buzz because Andy looked towards the control panel, walked over, picked up a receiver and began speaking to one of the men outside who was holding another receiver pulled from a concealed panel in the wall.
Andy began shouting and cursing into the receiver. He threw it down and ran to a first aid closet against the opposite wall next to a rack of powder blue pressure suits. Tomas watched as Andy pulled out an indecently large syringe from a plastic case and inject himself in the neck. Then he sat down next to the rack of suits, his head falling slack against his chest. He slunk to the ground and lay there unconscious.
The screen vanished the way it had appeared.
Mr. Bertrand and Dr. Greer quietly waited for Tomas to collect himself. Tomas took out a pizza napkin he’d stuffed in there earlier and dabbed at his eyes.
“Your father is a hero,” Dr. Greer said.
“What your father did was stop a potential biological disaster that could have wiped out the entire population of California and the adjoining western states.” Mr. Bertrand added.
Tomas couldn’t understand what they were talking about. The video he witnessed and what they were saying only confused him further. It was if they thought he had prior knowledge that actually wasn’t there. “He killed those men. How does that make him a hero? I don’t understand.”
Mr. Bertrand smiled in sympathy, “Perhaps we need to slow things down a bit.” He pressed an unseen button and Tomas waited while the receptionist came in and served the two of them tea. Bertrand sipped his tea for a moment then said, “What do you know about Vitura Pharmaceuticals?”
Tomas let out a deep breath and after a long pause said, “Nada.”
“But surely your dad talked about his work. Everyone needs to blow off steam after a long day. Surely you discussed Vitura over dinner on occasion?”
“Look, Mister, I came to San Diego two days ago and my father drove me by the front of gate and then dropped me off to go to work. That was the last I heard from him. I looked for a telephone number on the web, saw your global website and watched a couple of clips about genetically modified wheat and a potential cure for malaria. When my father didn’t come home for two days, I took a cab down here to find him. Like I said, I know n-o-t-h-i-n-g.”
Bertrand and Dr. Greer looked at each other and Bertrand murmured, “See, I knew Andy was a company man.” He turned back to Tomas, “Then let me fill you in on some details. It will put your father’s death in perspective. Vitura Pharmaceuticals is a global conglomerate that strives to be on the cutting edge of biological ‘enhancements’, if you will. Our research and development facilities are located in eighteen countries and are second to none in advanced bio-nanotech and genetic research. From heartier strains of wheat, as you saw in our propaganda material to eradication of virulent disease, Vitura strives to make the world a better place through the manipulation of god given hereditary traits that are often taken for granted.” He sipped some more tea, “However, some of our research is…controversial. We therefore strive to maintain a small informational footprint in the media and public at large. This is why you may have not heard of us prior to your arrival in San Diego.
Two nights ago, our technicians were recalibrating an aerosol dispersal unit. What you saw in that laboratory was a malfunctioning canister of a genetically engineered bio-agent developed at Vitura called IHS. IHS is a chimeric virus engineered from the Zaire ebola virus, rabies and influenza and given super powers, if you will. It is highly contagious through human-to-human contact. It has a fatality rate of 100%. There is no treatment or cure. When the contagion is deployed, the aggressive strain infects a host body then seeks other hosts in that it provokes a certain amount of autonomic response in its victims, an urging, if you will, to spread the virus.
Our research of IHS is in the final stages and for the last two months, Vitura San Diego campus has been working day and night to fulfill the order for a military organization that shall go unnamed at this time. IHS is our crown jewel, an achievement twenty-five years ahead of its time. No other genetic research facility has come close to its magnificence.”
A chill crept into his core as he listened to the frank, matter-of-fact way in which this man was speaking about manipulating genetic abominations. To Tomas, this man sounded like a megalomaniacal opportunist sowing the seeds of world destruction. Was he actually boasting about creating a biological weapon that turns people into human dispersal units?
Dr. Greer sensed that Tomas was growing a bit agitated as he listened to Mr. Bertrand. She leaned forward and gently interrupted, turning the conversation back to his father. “IHS, while not an airborne contagion, if released into the general public has the potential to devastate the world’s population. For obvious reasons, we haven’t been able to conduct human trials; our research with primates has given rise to emergency protocols that may seem rather harsh to an outsider. When Andy died, he was following Vitura protocols to the letter. He knew exactly what he was doing in those final minutes. You see, all employees at Vitura are vetted through rigorous background checks, testing, in house education and training, from the CEO to the janitors and security guards. Everyone knows the risks of working at Vitura, as well as the rewards. Your father was no exception. Andy Overstreet’s quick actions saved potentially millions of lives.”
“So what killed him then, was it that syringe he stuck in his neck?” Tomas asked.
Zombie Fever: Origins (Volume 1), by B.M. Hodges
Hey guys, Ryan S. Fortney again! I wanted to slap this little excerpt over here to see what people think of it, so lemme know! Here it is.
Meryl screams visceral, one word erupting from her mouth, “RUUUUUN!!!!” Her voice pierces through the slobbering moans of the dead–we’re scrambling around with our feet and our weapons and the oncoming horde is at fever pitch.
The street leading outward from Allentown may as well be uphill and a hundred damn miles long.
I just woke up.
I just got out of bed.
It never fuckin’ ends.
Aiming a few rounds behind, “WHERE THE HELL ARE WE GOING?!”
“AWAY!” Rob pats my shoulder and the bottom of his weapon taps the bone, the firing of a bullet sending a deafening ring to my ear.
Elbow jabbing him, “FUCK!”
Meryl’s up ahead checking for unlocked cars and a set of keys as we continue to move. Seconds later we’re piling into a jet-black Charger–She’s at the wheel, I’m shotgun, Ed and Rob squeeze together and we’re squealing away.
But as we careen onto the open road something else emerges in the rear-view. A gigantic big rig with mounted weapons and a steel shutter windshield–enormous Z across the grill.
I curl up a fist and slam the glove box, “COME ON, GIVE US A GODDAMN BREAK!” Screaming at the glass.
A hail of bullets rain down in an intervention we hadn’t fuckin’ asked for. She grips the wheel tight and swerves around, dodging an abandoned vehicle and another ridiculously long burst of ammunition, but there’s just too much shit littering the road.
Everything flashes before me and we’re barely missing the back-end of an almost flattened Prius, going end over end, defying gravity and only one thing buzzes around inside of my head.
If I lose her today, right now, it would be the end of me.
Hands and arms against the roof, holding balance desperately, she glances a steel eye at me and as all four wheels come pounding to the pavement, she’s concentrating again, on the road to New Jersey.
It’s me again, author Ryan S. Fortney, with a sweet deal happening over at Smashwords (and only Smashwords) for the month of July!
From now (July 8th) and until the end of this month, PaxCorpus (along with many other titles) is 49% off! That’s 1.50 USD. That’s cheaper than a box of bullets!
Check it out here and use the coupon code SSW50 if you happen to be interested.
If you’re unfamiliar with what Smashwords is (for whatever reason), it’s an amazing place for indie authors to post and publish their work and in-turn have their book/s distributed across a myriad of networks. Thanks to SW, Pax is available pretty much everywhere. You know, except for Google Play, which requires a whole bunch of hoop-jumping, but I’m getting there!
And, just to whet your appetite, I’ll be mean and post a snippet from the rough draft of the sequel to the book which I am offering at a discounted price! HAHA
A few weeks earlier
Remember, you’re here for a reason.
“Alright ladies and gentlemen…” A specially designed Kevlar radiation suit dangles loosely from my body as I twist around to gather my unit’s attention, “This is our last trip to Harrisburg.”
Make absolutely sure you find proof that she is dead.
“We’re running low on reserves, so we’ve gotta be sure to find what’s left of the untainted supplies.” The eight-person APV trembles over the debris of Interstate Eight Three — fully armored with amazing suspension.
This is Ed’s dream vehicle, ever since we ditched that shitty cash-truck back on the outskirts of Allentown.
“You’re each equipped with an M4A1. With the flick of your wrist,” my fingers snap over a latch, “you go from semi-automatic to fully-automatic.”
Expecting combat in the middle of an irradiated wasteland?
“I don’t exactly expect to encounter any z-force, but the unlifers and the bastards that still teem from the Rift of Manhattan could be anywhere out there.” I sling my weapon over my shoulder and slide both hands down to a double-holster, switching off the safety of both handguns, each a Colt 1911.
“Dante?” Ed’s haggard voice buzzes over the small comm-speaker from the ceiling of the vehicle, “we’re approaching way-point zero.”
Nuhm De’Ara’s body. I know.
I speak to the voice inside of my head. The voice that is not my own.
“Alright, suit up!” Commanding all around as I slide a helmet down over my head and fasten each clasp and zipper that gives protection from the deadly waste outside.
“Sir!” Jacobson, one of my unit turns to me, “how much time do we have, again?”
“Right,” holding a hand in the air, “listen up! We’ve got exactly thirty-minutes. No more, no less. Be here or be left behind.”
Of course, I never made it a habit to leave anyone behind. Circumstances like these, though, with heavy radiation eating away at your clothing, there’s no time for weakness.
Our ride comes to an unnoticeable halt and the back-hatch opens outward to reveal my nostalgia, one more time.
A gust of putrid, warm air bursts in and we pour out onto the pavement. Buildings stand half erect and crumbled. The sky is orange and vomit green. The capitol building, where we had once staged all of our business, now a pale shadow of what it used to be, much like the rest of the city.
And there it is. Turning around, weapon sights ahead of me and through a scope — Harrisburg hospital, where it all came to an end.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read this and/or my work. If you happen to grab a copy of Pax, don’t forget to leave a review once you’ve finished it!
I guess it’s kinda been a while since I’ve been around the scene saying or doing things – and I have my reasons – but I’m back on the frontlines, with a vengeance! Which brings me to the reason for my appearance on this website…
Good news everyone!
You may have read about my debut novel, apocalyptic-horror-thriller, PaxCorpus, here and, well, if you’ve read the book, it’s pretty obvious that Dante, Meryl, Rob and Ed aren’t done yet. (not by a longshot)
For the past couple of months I’ve been working on the sequel, titled Escape Velocity, which I hope to finish by either the end of the year or end of first quarter 2013 (the year everything goes to hell in PaxCorpus!). This continuation will stay true to the original story, along with its horror roots, but this one’s heavier – if you know what I mean – it’s more involved. There’s more at stake. There’s the horror side with the zombies and the monstrous alien bastards and then, of course, the terrorists, which continue to push the story more toward horror-science fiction.
With EV, they’re more than just terrorists, though. They’re a cell of anti-human, homicidal maniacs (okay, maybe that’s pretty much the same as Pax) but with their leader supposedly dead, the defected brother of Dante, Jack, now spearheads the movement from his “throne” smack-dab in the middle of the ZeroFactor fortress in Manhattan.
The tricky part is that this “fortress” is in extreme proximity to the Rift of Manhattan. More on that in the story itself.
With literally weeks left to survive, and after an attack on their shelter in Salem, New Jersey (with other Pax units around the world – what’s left of them – in the same situation, or worse…); Dante and Meryl have only one option left – strike at the heart of ZF and uncover their plans for continuity or risk absolute extinction.
As Dante would say, “This isn’t the road home. This is a road littered with questions that will inevitably lead to an answer.”
Aside from that, I’m also working on a slightly sarcastic short-story called, “Blue Blood,” dealing with day-zero survivors fighting off hordes of the undead, holed up in an Allmart in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This sequence takes place around the same time frame of the original fall of Manhattan. (see: PaxCorpus)
To see the recently released book trailer for Escape Velocity, go here.
And for more information regarding my work, my hobbies, things I just like to talk about and to find more out about me (of course), visit www.paxcorpus.com.
Thanks for reading! Stay vigilant.
-Ryan S. Fortney
Winnie-the-Pooh and the Angle of Dath, by Dave Hughes
Description: A. A. Milne’s stories and poems about Winnie-the-Pooh became instant children’s classics. This parody, in the tradition of A. A. Milne, is not for children by any means.
After The House At Pooh Corner, it’s been four years since Christopher Robin went to school, and now Owl’s dead – murdered by an anonymous assassin who calls himself the Angel of Death (or more accurately, the spelling in the title) and promises more killings. That’s not all; the Angle brought a bloodthirsty pack of wolves to help him, and a demon-worshiping crow watches the chaos… and waits.
Rabbit races to find the killer and tries to shun his wretched past that caused his friends-and-relations to abandon him. Tigger tries to fend off the wolves and prove his strength. Kanga wants another child – with Tigger. Roo is an emotional teenage train wreck. Eeyore faces a huge change to his life and mental status. Piglet finds a bit too much solace from Owl’s old liquor cabinet. As for poor old Winnie-the-Pooh, all he wants is Christopher Robin to come back and make things right.
This unauthorized parody is by no means what Milne intended, but the style is the same, the charm is the same, and the structure is the same. The only thing that’s different is that religious fanaticism causes the Hundred-Acre Wood to lose its innocence… forever.
“I’m afraid the Hundred-Acre Wood can’t forgive you,” whispered the figure at Owl’s bedside, “so just hold still and cooperate for me.”
Owl snorted. He raised his head and creaked it over his pillow to face the ceiling rather than the window. His beak dragged a long thread of saliva across his dry feathers. When he leaned back again, an awkward plume of dust from his sheets and his scalp puffed into the masked face of the black-cloaked fellow in the cold moonlight of his newly built tree house.
“Um-” Owl began to speak, but his inside of his beak tasted like dried mud. He smacked his tongue up and down the short shell of a mouth in a rhythmic rattle until the whole inside was wet enough to talk with.
The visitor sat down on the nightstand, but sat up again when he realized it wasn’t a stool. The thing almost broke, which would have sent the piles upon piles of heavy books crashing down. In the brief shuffle he dropped his shotgun, but caught it just before a bump with the floor could make it misfire. Only two shots were inside, and if neither of them went into Owl’s skull, there would be trouble.
“Hallo there, good sir,” said Owl, his eyes still shut. “I do hope you realize this is an absolutely dreadful time to go visiting. Perhaps I must introduce you to the proper methods of visitation in modern etiquette, since you seem to not know a good time to-”
“Owl. This is serious. I need you to hold still.”
“Yes. It’s not very complicated, you just sort of keep your wings very stiff and-”
“I know how to hold still, you weird, whispering, um, whatever-it-is-you-are. What, dare I ask, is that whatever-it-is-you-are which you, in fact, are?”
The assassin said nothing.
“You could tell me, you know, when I dutifully ask as a resident of this tree house. It is your duty as a gentleman – that is, if you are a gentleman!” Owl couldn’t hold back a whooping chuckle.
“I can’t tell you who I am.”
“Are you perhaps the ghost of my great uncle Robert? Oh, how delightfully peculiar! Do tell me- did you figure out the meaning of life in your retreat to the Scottish Highlands after all?”
“Not him. I’m just, I can’t tell you. It’s secret information.”
“Why, do you not know? Have you forgotten in some existential artistic-aspiration bric-a-brac? That’s Roo’s department, go to Kanga’s house if you-”
“I can’t tell you, and that’s the end of it.”
Owl turned to his assassin and pointed at him with his left wing, yet he kept his eyes shut. “Well, then, if you can’t tell me who you are, why do you come?”
“I must carry out my duties.”
“I see. Then carry them out elsewhere, because another animal’s residence is not-”
“Please be quiet.”
“Me, be quiet? I’m the one trying to sleep, in my own household! You are so atypically silly for a visitor; you need my instruction more than ever. I mean, first you come at night -which is clearly the time all sophisticated owls go to bed, despite popular ideology against the idea you may have heard- then you insist that I hold still for some reason, then you won’t tell me your identity, and to top it all off, you put this downright freezing metal implement next to my eye, pressing it a bit harder than I would like, and-”
He opened his left eye. There was metal jammed against his head. It was a double-barreled shotgun, held by a masked figure in a black cloak.
“I- well, I never!” he said with a trembling scoff.
As the intruder whipped his hand next to the trigger, Owl rolled out of bed and sprung to his feet. The skin of his feet caught the oak floorboards and his claws dug into the cracks between the splinters.
Owl pointed his wing at the invader like his logic was more potent of ammunition than anything a gun could possess, which of course it wasn’t. “You, whoever you are, burglar, you should know better than to-”
With a sudden flopping and flapping of linen, Owl could see only black. The burglar put a pillowcase over his head. Owl could have lifted one of his legs to pull it off, but there was no time. The intruder could be anywhere with his gun, ready to kill Owl before he even had a chance to finish his personal memoirs about his religious pilgrimage to the London Zoo.
The one thing that was for certain to Owl, even in complete darkness, was the location of his weapon.
The burglar watched as the bird fumbled around with his feet along the bottom of the bed. He could have killed that old self-appointed scholar right there if not for how much his trigger hand quaked at the notion.
One swiping shink of bed-frame iron against the Queen’s steel, and the blinded bird stood on his left foot with a rusted saber pointed towards the ceiling held in the right. The wide side of the blade whipped in his own face as he flung it to his fighting stance, but he had bigger worries.
The assassin decided that if he couldn’t bring himself to do the deed normally then he would just have to try it the old-fashioned way. He grabbed a steak knife from the table next to Owl’s stove.
“I will have you know, you foul-minded brigand,” said Owl, “that I am a six-year veteran of the Royal Avian Armed Forces. To confront me would be an absolute waste of a young man’s life. This masterfully tempered length of steel ended the foul existence of several bird-brained villains on the Eastern Front, and it will end yours as well! I could take the trenches, and I could therefore take any lower-class derelict in my-”
A sharp pain swept across Owl’s chest. He spat out a startled hoot. He could feel warm wetness trickle down his feathers. Blood.
Before Owl could riposte, a shelf full of his old plates and glassware was knocked over and it pinned him to the ground. The Tree House began to buckle from the shock in little thumps underfoot. He crawled out from under the heavy weight on his back, but several more minor swipes of the knife were made into his flesh.
He scrambled with the claws of his free foot onto any higher ground he could find until he ran into the painted blue wall above his bed. He tried to bash through the wall and discovered it was not the window. When he did go out the window, he broke the glass and the window frame in one hard splash and saturated his body with even more unskilled cuts.
Owl left trails of blood in the air as he plummeted to the ground. He could feel the cold wind flush around him and the red fluids sucked from his veins. The pain was intense to the point where could only unfurl his bleeding wings just before he would have hit the cold midnight grass.
He broke his fall with a few strained flaps of his wings and landed gently. He could hear the footsteps of at least three other creatures on the ground.
“Tigger, is that you?” said Owl. “As you can probably tell I can’t see anything with this blasted pillowcase on my—“
“I’m not Tigger, bird.” The voice was low and rasping, unlike that of either the intruder or anyone else of the Hundred-Acre Wood.
“Oh. Well, whomever you are, would you be so kind as to go get help, being that there is a crazed murderer after me?”
“You be quiet, bird. We’ll hold you still. Our friend here shoots you.”
Two more feet planted on the ground, having descended from Owl’s tree house.
Owl realized his sword was still fixed in the grip of his right foot. He whipped it in the direction of the new voice. “Do not come any closer, or I swear I’ll slash you to ribbons!” said Owl.
The weapon was then gripped by the blade end and yanked from his grasp. The shotgun was once again held against his heart.
Owl could feel his pulse nudge the steel up and down.
Owl let out a shriek, then lunged at the killer and kicked him to the ground. His old talons could only penetrate the cloak and not the skin of whoever this was. Owl stomped in the vagabond’s face and tried to fly upwards. The killer snatched Owl’s foot and pulled him down. Owl’s wings flung up and down in a panicked daze as the other thugs chuckled in anticipation.
Owl felt a heavy foot on his chest. He was slammed to the ground with his back on the wet grass. Owl was drenched in his own blood, and it made him cold as the October breeze swept over the fluids and dried them.
“Now, hold still, Owl,” said the assassin.
“I will not hold still!” said Owl. He pointed his wing at the killer, but the thugs grabbed his wings and held them down, spread out on the ground. “As long as there is one breath in my body, I still have some kind of work to do. And I will continue to find a way out of this situation as I—“
Owl’s sword was plunged into his shoulder, nailing him to the floor of the forest. He choked on blood as it backed up in his throat.
“I will— I am— good sir, I will die a gentleman’s death! I am a hero of the Great War, and I swear to you my name will go down in history as—“
The gun was shoved against his throat, under the fabric of the pillowcase.
“Oh God, please, think about what you’re doing, I don’t want to—!”
The shot in the left barrel was fired. With the first big “boom” in the wood’s populated history, the inside of Owl’s head painted the grass next to it crimson.
The group stood and watched as the scattered blood carved rivers in the soil.
Winnie-the-Pooh and the Angle of Dath, by Dave Hughes
What Happened to Tom, by Christopher Taffen
An allegorical horror story.
A psychological/philosophical thriller.
A must-read for every man.
One day he was living his life. He was a bright, young thing, one of many, with a loft in the city.
And the next day, he woke up—in a bed that wasn’t his own. Feeling…heavy. As if gravity had not just doubled, but tripled. And groggy. Not hung over exactly. It was more like a drugged fog. But that didn’t make sense….
When he came to the second time, he was conscious just long enough to realize his mouth was dry and the room was white. Very white…
The third time, consciousness wavered, flickered precariously, just out of reach. He struggled to hold onto it, and tried, despite his mental fuzziness, to review his past, thinking he could figure out where he was from where he had been. Which assumed, of course, logic and linearity, reasonable cause and effect.
He and the guys had gone to Mister’s, a popular after-work place for the upscale young professionals crowd. He’d finally paid off the last of his student loans. It had taken him five years, on a junior architect’s salary, but from now on, he was free and clear. Still had the car to pay off, but the snappy Corvette was worth it. Even if it was used. So they’d gone to the bar to celebrate.
“Hey, did you guys hear about Cheryl?” Kevin had asked Tom and Steve. They’d gotten their drinks and were lingering at the polished bar, ostensibly waiting for a free table. They place was, as always, busy.
“No, what about Cheryl?” Tom dutifully replied, loosening his tie. Kevin was okay, but, truthfully, he was a little boring. Unimaginative.
Tom continued to scan the room. Not that he was a hound dog, but it wasn’t really news, was it. Women got pregnant. Big deal.
“Did you see the game last night?” Steve asked, also scanning the room. Now, he was a hound dog.
“You call that a game?” Tom laughed.
“Hey, that’s my team you’re disrespecting,” Steve protested, but laughed as well. It had been a dismal game. “Check out the blonde,” he added, nodding to the corner then making his way over.
But no, this wasn’t someone’s bedroom, Tom realized as things started coming into focus. It was too…stark. Almost institutional. It looked like a hospital room, actually.
It was an accident, he thought then, his being in this situation. An accident…
But no, it wasn’t quite a hospital room either, he realized the next time he awoke. There was a beige wrap-around curtain on his left. And a tv mounted on the wall near the ceiling. But the room didn’t have that over-the-top chrome and sterile ambience. And yet, the bed was definitely a hospital bed. The sheets were stiff and white, and the blanket, thin and pale blue.
He continued to claw his way to lucidity. He was cold. Very cold. He felt like he’d just come out of surgery. He remembered feeling this way when he’d had his appendix taken out.
“Hello—” he said feebly. Thickly. And yet he couldn’t remember drinking that much. Sure one or two beer, there was a woman—had she put something in his drink? No, that wouldn’t’ve been necessary, he thought. She was sort of hot. Hot enough, anyway. Besides, Misters’ wasn’t that kind of place.
He began to get alarmed then, because he couldn’t remember past that. He moved his head slowly toward the door to call out again, and saw the bank of medical equipment just behind his right shoulder. He jerked slightly as if to sit up and take a better look, but the reflex travelled no further than his chest.
“Hello—” He tried to make it louder this time. “Nurse—”
A stocky woman in her mid-forties entered the room. “Good morning, Tom,” she said cheerfully.
“What—” his mouth was so dry.
“I’m Carla,” she said, pouring a glass of ice chips from the pitcher on the bedside table. She held it to his lips. “One of the day nurses.”
“What happened?” he managed to say, after he’d swallowed a thin sliver of ice.
“You’re doing just fine. No need for concern,” she put the glass back onto the table, then patted at the bedcovers a bit. “The call button’s right here by your hand,” she said, heading for the door. “The doctor will be in to see you soon,” she called back.
“Wait…” Tom slid into sleep again.
The morning after had found Steve in bed with a woman. A cellphone rang. He groaned, reached over to the night table, and answered it. “Hello?”
“Steve?” The young woman on the other end was surprised to hear his voice.
“Beth?” Steve was equally surprised to hear her voice.
“What are you doing with Tom’s phone?” she asked.
Steve groaned. He hadn’t realized it was Tom’s phone he’d answered. He hadn’t realized he’d had Tom’s phone. Must’ve picked it up by mistake at some point.
“Oh my god, is he okay? What hospital is he in?”
“Slow down. Wait a minute.” Steve sat up and tried to think. The woman beside him roused and looked at him with mild concern. “He’s okay. He just—” he thought quickly. “He forgot his phone at the bar last night, that’s all.”
“He was at the bar last night? But he said he’d— Then where—”
Steve backpedalled, trying to correct his mistake. “He’s okay. I’m sure he’ll be in touch soon.”
Beth figured it out. “So there’s no need for me to start calling hospitals,” she said coldly.
“No.” What more could he say? Tom, you little devil, was what he thought.
Beth hung up. Steve shrugged, set the phone back on the table, then turned his attention to the woman in bed with him.
When Tom next woke, he tried to reach for the glass of ice chips, but it was, apparently, an impossible task. When he tried to lift his arm, it felt like dead weight. He couldn’t believe how weak, how lethargic, he was…
A few minutes later, or maybe it was hours, Dr. Anders entered briskly. She wore a clean and freshly pressed white lab coat. Her movements were efficient. She was cool, competent, and dispassionate. In other words, words the common man might use, she was a bitch.
She glanced at Tom’s sleeping body, checked the bag of clear fluid hanging on an IV stand, then began to read the various monitors, making notes on the clipboard she was carrying. Tom woke.
“Where am I?” he asked then, his voice scratchy. “Who are you?”
“You’re in a—health clinic. I’m Dr. Anders. You—”
“What happ—” he broke off when he managed to focus on her. He recognized her. “I remember you! Last night…”
He had watched her approach from across the room. She was trim, pretty, confident.
“Hi,” she had said to him. “Mind if I join you?”
“No, not at all,” he replied, charmed. And charming.
She sat on the empty stool beside him at the bar.
“What’ll you have?” Tom signaled to Ty, the bartender. He was a neat man, a clean towel always over his shoulder.
“A cosmopolitan, please.”
Ty nodded, and a moment later put the rubied concoction in front of her.
“So,” Tom started the old dance, “you work around here?”
“Wait a minute,” he said, continuing to struggle as his memory returned in bits and pieces. “You said you were a nurse—”
“No,” she spoke carefully, “I said I worked at a clinic. You assumed I was a nurse. Do you know why?” she added, an edge in her voice.
But he didn’t really hear the question.
“Did we—?” He frowned. No, that wouldn’t explain why he was there.
“We had a drink,” he tried again, grappling with his inability to remember, and then with the implications of his inability to remember. To remember even a thought he’d had a few hours, or was it days, ago.
“Did you put—” He tried, again, to wrap his head around the possibility of having been slipped the so-called date rape drug and—
“No,” she said. Then added, “Not exactly.”
Her amendment didn’t register.
“How did I get here?” he asked. Then corrected, “How did you get me here?”
“Oh, don’t sound so surprised,” she said, with a little disdain. “Do you think it’s so impossible?”
He had a confused flash then, of leaning heavily on her and being helped into a car.
“You drugged me!”
Again, such surprise. She didn’t respond.
His realized then that his side hurt. “What did you—”
But he couldn’t even raise his hand to lift the covers and look. Had they taken a kidney? Was she part of some illegal organ transplant operation? He looked in vain at his body, completely covered by the bedding, then tried to take an internal inventory.
“What did you take from me?” he asked, his anxiety turning to panic.
“Calm down,” she said. “We didn’t take anything. On the contrary, we gave you—”
He struggled to raise himself from the bed, and only then realized that his wrists were cuffed to the bedrails. He freaked. As anyone would upon discovering they’re a prisoner, held hostage.
He had no idea.
“What the hell—why am I— What the hell are you doing to me?” he screamed.
“Just relax, Tom,” Dr. Anders calmly injected a sedative into his IV line. He slumped into unconsciousness once again. “It’ll be okay,” she added, the barest suggestion of sarcasm in her voice.
When Tom woke again, he was more quickly aware of his situation.
“Nurse! Someone!!” He struggled against the cuffs. “Help!!” He could see they were just Velcro straps, but he wrestled with them in vain. He leaned forward then, thinking maybe he could grab one of the ends with his teeth. Oh, shit, big mistake. Hurt like hell. He fell back against the pillows. What in god’s name had they done to him?
What Happened to Tom, by Christopher Taffen
Terra Necro: Tipping Point, by Michael Crockett
Description: Ian Ward was at a low point in his life. Recently discharged from the Navy as the Shakes Virus went global, he narrowly missed the military’s general order that all military personnel were required to take the controversial vaccine. With little cash and no prospects, he ended up as a dishwasher in a greasy spoon diner, smack in the middle of nowhere.
The only bright spot in his life is a beautiful, kind waitress named Roxanne. She is everything he ever wanted in a woman, but seems determined to keep him at arm’s length.
Then, those who were administered the vaccine suddenly began to get sick and die. Riots swiftly broke out around the globe, many of which turned violent. As aggression rose, so did brutality levels.
Then, the dead began to rise and attack the living. Something is terribly wrong with the vaccine originally meant to save humanity, and all those who took it are dying and becoming zombies.
Now, the world is a nightmarish tragedy of the walking dead, hungering for flesh, and all-too-human monsters, who have realized the only law is survival of the fittest.
And caught in the middle are Ian and Roxanne.
A friend of mine once told me that every great disaster in human history had a tipping point; an exact moment when a series of events combined in such a way that the brink was reached and passed, ultimately sending everything sliding into chaos of change.
I couldn’t fathom what he was talking about at the time, all that has changed now.
Earth’s tipping point – or, more accurately, the tipping point of civilization – was brought on by a combination of natural disasters, a plague, and human error.
There were wars, of course. A never-ending stream of wars somewhere in the world has always been par for the course, so no one was surprised to watch more and more uprisings on the nightly news. What did the most damage, though, were the natural disasters. Heavy snow storms, floods, tornados and hurricanes, while not uncommon, seemed to increase in both frequency and intensity. The most popular theory was that global warming was changing the Earth’s weather patterns, and causing freak storms. Maybe that was true, maybe not. Whatever the cause may have been, the effect was that a lot of people were killed or injured, and countless more were left homeless. Soon, there were refugee camps popping up in just about every country.
It was within these camps that the pandemic known as Shakes first appeared in Europe.
Shakes, which was caused by a virus that attacked the central nervous system, was virulent and highly contagious. The onset of the disease was defined by a low-grade fever and flu like symptoms, which were rapidly followed by severe headaches and uncontrollable trembling – hence the name Shakes. The final stage included abnormally high temperatures, delirium and muscle-wrenching convulsions.
It was fatal in ninety percent of the cases.
The UN sent a vast number of medical personnel to various refugee camps, but they ultimately weren’t able to do much more than ease the suffering of those afflicted. By the time Shakes began to rear its ugly head in Asian camps, it quickly became apparent how contagious the virus was, and troops were sent not to treat, but to quarantine. A few early news stories covered protests and several riots in various camps, but the media were quickly forbidden to approach the camps for ‘health reasons’ soon thereafter. A few brazen news teams tried to talk or sneak their way in, but the UN passed a resolution mandating that anyone who came in contact with any of the camps were to be immediately detained and quarantined. Not long after, there was a total blackout of all camps.
For a brief while, the world’s interest moved on to other things. The usual stories of small wars, natural disasters and celebrity rehab again dominated headlines. Then the rumors started circulating. The word was that the quarantine was failing, and Shakes was spreading outside some of the camps. As a result, some of the UN troops were deserting. The media jumped on the rumors with a voracious appetite, and for a while there was nothing else on TV. But, when actual proof failed to materialize, the world’s interest turned to a sex scandal involving a global leader.
Six months and five days after it first appeared in a refugee camp, a case of Shakes was diagnosed in a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska.
The Center for Disease Control moved quickly, and the patient was immediately quarantined. Standard press conferences were held, and the population was assured the threat was manageable. The officials in charge stuck to that line right up until there were cases of Shakes reported in major cities on every continent. Only then did Shakes become a ‘major health concern’.
Do you think so? Really?
Shakes wasn’t like SARS, either. A lot of older people told me SARS always seemed to be distant, like it was always happening somewhere else. But pretty soon, everybody knew someone who had Shakes.
It was about this time that things, or more accurately people, started to get really ugly. The general distrust that had been bubbling just under the surface erupted into full blown paranoia. People regarded strangers with everything from suspicion to open hostility. Masks of all sorts, even gasmasks, were worn everywhere, and going out in public with a runny nose was an invitation for violent attack.
Which, when looking back, probably wasn’t the smartest reaction, since Shakes appeared to be spread by direct physical contact.
Finally, in the U.S. and several other countries, a law was put into effect that made it illegal to be outside your home with any cold, flu or allergy symptoms. Anyone caught exhibiting these symptoms was swiftly arrested and placed in quarantine. If you had a cold or a bad allergy day and you left the house, you’d be arrested and confined with those who had Shakes.
It was basically a death sentence.
Then, it was announced a vaccine had been developed through a joint venture between a pharmaceutical company and the CDC. The vaccine was quickly mass produced and shipped around the globe, despite some researchers going on record to say it hadn’t been properly tested, and wasn’t ready for use on the population.
As would be expected, there was a mad rush to get the vaccine. Since it was always in short supply, there were large riots and thousands of people were hurt or killed. Despite the rocky start though, people began getting inoculated regularly, and it looked like the threat might have been over.
Then, people who received the vaccine started to get sick and die.
Maybe the Shakes Virus mutated, maybe the vaccine wasn’t ready like some of the researchers said, or maybe the virus and the vaccine reacted in the body in an unforeseen way. Whatever the cause, the end result was that people started getting sick once again. The symptoms were much the same as Shakes, and took several weeks to manifest after the vaccine was received. But one thing was for sure; once you got the shot and the symptoms started, you didn’t have long to live.
This time around there was no hope; the mutated virus was one hundred percent fatal.
This caused more protests to erupt, many of them violent, and in a lot of places riot control had to get extreme. Maybe that’s why no one realized what was happening at first. Stories of riots and violence inundated the news, so when it got really bad, perhaps we just weren’t paying attention.
Or, perhaps no one wanted to believe the dead were actually reanimating and attacking the living.
So, where was I during the events leading up to the tipping point? When Shakes first hit the news, I was in Japan finishing my enlistment aboard the destroyer USS Binckle. I had enjoyed my time in the navy, but I wasn’t going to be allowed to reenlist, since all my evaluations stated I had ‘issues with authority’, which was really not the best mentality for a member of an authoritarian organization. It eventually got me on the PTS (Perform to Serve) list, which was a very professional way of saying ‘you’re fired.’
I couldn’t argue though, and had no one to blame but myself. I really didn’t like being told what to do, and couldn’t seem to stop making snide comments or letting my body language show just what I thought of the person issuing the orders. I was discharged just after the Shakes vaccine starting going global, and narrowly missed the military’s mandatory vaccine program. Everyone still in service was ordered to take the vaccine, and those who refused were immediately removed from their position and slapped with a Bad Conduct Discharge. A few people took that deal and, as it turned out, were the smart ones.
Immediately after returning to the States, I stayed with some friends in San Diego while searching for a job. Unfortunately, there weren’t many places hiring, and those that were had no interest in someone the U.S. Navy didn’t want. After a lot of online searches and phone interviews, I finally managed to land a job as a security guard, halfway across the country, at a packing plant in Bright Water, Kansas. I luckily found a small, one room apartment to lease, and the rent was dirt cheap to boot. But, since the pay for the job was minimum wage, it was all I was going to be able to afford.
Unfortunately for me, when I arrived at the plant to begin my first shift, I was told it had gone bankrupt and had closed its doors.
So, there I was – fired twice in less than a month, stuck in the middle of nowhere, nearly broke, and no prospects in sight. I had enough money for a bus ticket back to California, but I’d either have to live off my friends’ charity or go stay with my mom until I found another job. I was too proud to do either. Besides, I joined the navy to get away from my mom, who was a narcissistic, attention-starved control freak, and I couldn’t stand the thought of living in that Hell again. Also, my mom had recently gone back to the Philippines to take care of her mother, and I definitely didn’t have enough money to get there.
After the plant manager informed me I didn’t have a job, I stopped off at a little diner in town to grab a bite to eat and decide what my next step was. As it turned out, luck was on my side, since there was a ‘Help Wanted’ sign in the window. After sitting down at a table, I immediately asked the waitress about it, and she told me the job was still available. The diner’s owner, a fat guy named Ralph, was there, and he interviewed me on the spot. Ralph informed me that no one else had applied for the job, and I suppose that should have raised some suspicions in my mind, but the position included a free motel room located right behind the diner. And like I said, I was almost broke, and Bright Water wasn’t exactly a booming metropolis – beggars can’t be choosers. During the interview, Ralph asked me several questions that seemed kind of random, and didn’t have much to do with the job; in fact he seemed to be worried that I might be an illegal alien or a cop. My mother is from the Philippines, and I have dark hair and eyes, which means I’m always being mistaken for a Latino, usually Mexican.
Since I was the only applicant, Ralph hired me on the spot as the night shift janitor, dishwasher, and all-around gopher. After working there for a while, I started to get the idea that Ralph was into a lot more than just running the diner. He had a lot of ‘business associates’ who he’d conduct meetings with. I was never introduced to any of them, but just one look at them was all I needed to know that they were thugs.
The diner was a theme eatery named ‘The Dining Car’, as it was fashioned out of an old train car. A counter ran the length of the car on one side, and some booths along the opposite side. The front door was at one far end of the car, and two small restrooms were at the other. A cinderblock building was attached, which housed the kitchen, freezers, storage, and Ralph’s office.
Since this was a small diner in a small town, there were only two other lucky individuals to share the night shift with. Hack, the Fry Cook, was an old guy with grey hair and leathery skin, who was as talkative as a tree and about as friendly. Hack’s entire vocabulary seemed to consist of three phrases; “Got it.” “Order up.” And “Clean that.”
Then there was Roxanne, who was the resident waitress and duty manager. Roxanne was friendly and talkative; she was one of those people who you instantly liked. She was in her late twenties and had beautiful dark eyes, long black hair, and since she was from El Salvador, she spoke the very proper English of someone who had just learned the language. She also had an accent that was, well, sexy, and the first time I saw her I thought, “Stripper Body”. Yeah, I was thinking like a sailor, but in my defense she could have made serious money as an exotic dancer. After I got to know her, I realized how nice she was, and I felt pretty bad about my immature fantasies. We fell into an easy friendship. Well, she did at least. I, on the other hand, developed a pretty big crush on her, but she didn’t seem to see me as anything more than a friend, or a little brother at best. Anyway, the Dining Car in Bright Water, Kansas was where I called home when the tipping point was reached, and everything fell apart.
My name is Ian Ward, and I’m a survivor in a world where the dead walk and civilization no longer exists. What follows is my story of survival, loss, and triumph.
I was at the sink washing plates when Hack staggered through the back door, holding his arm up close to his chest. He was muttering, “Damn wino bit me! Damn wino friggin’ BIT Me!” over and over in a short, breathless voice. I looked up and noticed his hand was clamped over his arm just below his elbow, and blood was oozing from between his fingers. I quickly grabbed the cleanest towel I could find, and attempted to help stop the bleeding. Roxanne came in from the counter area to see what all the commotion was about.
I sat Hack down in the chair he kept near the grill, where he would sometimes doze when we weren’t busy, and wrapped the towel tightly around the wound. It looked like a chunk had been torn from his arm, and he was bleeding profusely. I glanced up at Hack, and noticed he wasn’t looking so good. To be fair, he didn’t look all that good, even on his best days – he smoked too much, never ate anything that wasn’t fried, and had that sixty-going-on-eighty look. But now he was shaking, his skin had a pale, waxy look to it, and I was fairly certain he was going into shock. I looked at Roxanne, who was hovering behind me wringing her hands, and told her to call an ambulance.
Roxanne hurriedly ran to call 911, and I started talking to Hack. I’d learned in the navy that you were supposed to talk to the injured and wounded in order to keep them from going into shock, so I knelt down next to him and asked what happened.
“He bit me,” Hack replied, staring at nothing.
“Who bit you?” I pressed.
I realized that asking questions about how he got injured probably wasn’t the smartest topic at the moment, but if there was some nut running around biting people, I wanted to know who it was.
“Wino what allus hangs out in the alley,” Hack mumbled. “Somethin’s wrong with him. Just walked up and bit me while I was havin’ a smoke.”
Hack’s smoking was epic. He would chain smoke three cigarettes in the time it would take most smokers to finish one. His real name was Scott, but his continuous coughing, which would sometimes get so bad the customers would complain, is what earned him the dubious honor of his nickname.
I was about to ask Hack what he meant by “something being wrong with the wino who bit him,” when I heard a low moan behind me. I looked over my shoulder, and immediately shot to my feet with a yelp when I saw what was standing at the back door. It was Ed, a homeless guy who always hung around the alley behind the diner so he could rummage through the dumpster. He was just standing in the doorway, but to my growing horror, I realized that part of his face and one of his eyes was missing, and he was covered in blood. Then, Ed bared his teeth and began shuffling toward me.
Everything seemed to slow down and happen all at once. Hack let out a shrill scream, and stumbled out through the door into the counter area. I heard Roxanne scream, and I found myself grabbing a mop and shoving it against Ed’s chest to keep him away from me. Ed moaned again and tried to grab me, but thankfully the mop was keeping me just out of his reach. What the mop couldn’t keep away from me though, was the smell. Ed stunk like something that had been dead a very, very long time. I began to try and push him back toward the door, but I wasn’t making much progress, since my feet were slipping on the thick film of grease on the floor. It quickly became a back-and-forth contest of Ed trying to get around the mop, and me trying desperately to keep him away. I was also trying to deal with the fact that part of his face was missing, and it looked like his throat had been torn open. Several of his wounds looked like they had been caused by something biting chunks out of him. I was beginning to have trouble keeping the mop between us, and was even considering dropping it and taking off running, when a saucepan whizzed past my ear and smacked Ed right in the forehead, knocking him off balance. As Ed stumbled backward clumsily, I took full advantage of the change in fortune and shoved the mop hard against his chest. After several forceful thrusts, I finally pushed him through the back door, which I immediately slammed shut and locked. When I turned and put my back against the door to catch my breath, Roxanne was standing in the middle of the kitchen, eyes wide, lips parted, and breast heaving, with another sauce pan poised and ready to throw. I’d never seen anyone look more beautiful than she did at that moment.
“I think I love you,” I blurted without stopping to think.
Roxanne dropped the pan, put her hands over her face, and burst into tears. It was the reaction I should have expected, but it was still a little bit of an ego-killer.
I started to go over and put my arms around her, but a loud thump against the back door made me spin back around in surprise. The door was thick, wood sheathed with steel, and had a strong lock, but was shaking a little, and it sounded like Ed was throwing his whole body against it. Despite being unnerving, the door looked like it would hold, and all appearances were that we were safe for the moment. I turned back to Roxanne, who was trying to regain her composure.
“Where’s Hack?” I asked.
“He ran out through the front door,” she said, her voice shaking a little. “He just ran away and did not look back”.
“Oh, son of a mother grabber,” I said, and ran for the door into the counter area. It had just occurred to me that the front door was unlocked.
I ran out into the dining area, vaulted the counter, and twisted door’s lock so hard I bruised my fingers. Then, for reasons I still don’t understand, I reach over to the nearby window and flipped the sign around to ‘Closed.’ I suddenly realized the front door was mostly glass, so I unlocked it, pulled the security shutter down, bolted it into place, and then turned the lock once again. As I turned around, I realized there were two customers sitting at the counter; an elderly couple who had driven up in an RV about an hour earlier. They were about halfway through their meal, but they had stopped eating and were staring at me apprehensively. I couldn’t really blame them.
“We gonna be allowed to leave when we’re ready, boy?” the old guy asked, frowning at me. He was a tough looking man who had obviously stayed in shape as he aged.
I normally don’t take it well when someone calls me ‘boy’, but I had a few more important things to worry about at that moment.
“Bill!” scolded the old lady, a pleasant looking woman whose gray hair made her look grandmotherly.
“Quiet, Edna”, said Bill, still looking at me. “Well, boy, you gonna answer me?”
“Oh, uh, yes sir,” I stammered. “We just had a little problem with a homeless guy out back, so I’m keeping the door locked until the police arrive.”
Bill and Edna looked at each other, then back at me with worried expressions.
“Did that fella who just ran outta here get bit by any chance?” asked Bill.
I glanced at Roxanne, who had followed me out of the kitchen, and nodded.
Bill and Edna looked at each other again, and I could see fear in Edna’s eyes.
“If you know something, please tell us,” said Roxanne.
“Well, I can tell ya it ain’t good,” said Bill, pushing his plate away. “We’re comin’ back from a trip back east, and the last few days we kept meeting other people that that was travelin’ in different directions, all who seemed to have the same story. Seems folks that got the new shot for the Shakes go all crazy and start biting, and even eating, other people.” Bill shook his head, and the lines on his face deepened as he frowned. “We didn’t believe it at first, but then we saw it happen at a rest stop the other night. There was these folks that came in, all crammed into a car, and one of them was pretty sick. He was just a kid, maybe ten or eleven. They was going around asking for any medicine or bandages that anyone could spare, and said some crazy guy had bit the kid a day or so before. ’Course, I wandered over to have a look, since I was a medic in the war, and thought maybe I might could do somethin’. Problem was, when I got there, I see this kid laying in the back seat of this car and, I gotta tell ya, there was no helpin’ him. I been in combat, an’ I’ve seen lotsa dead people, and I got to where I could just look and tell when someone was dead. And this kid? He was dead.”
Bill looked over at Edna again, and then turned to face us. He looked grim, and Edna looked pale.
“Only thing is, before I could say anything, this kid, this dead kid, he sits up and he’s got these dead milky lookin’ eyes.” Bill shuddered and took a sip from his water glass.
“So he wasn’t dead?” I asked confused.
“You ain’t listenin’, boy. He was dead. I know when folks is dead; it’s like there’s a light’s gone out in ‘em, and this kid looked just like that. But then he opened his eyes, and the light was still gone, but there was somethin’ else there.”
“What do you mean something else?”
“I dunno, never seen the like before. Wasn’t right though.”
“So then what happened?” I asked.
Bill looked me straight in the eye, and I felt a chill run down my spine.
“That boy turned to his Ma and took a bite right out of the side of her neck,” he said, “and he chewed that chunk of his Ma up and swallowed it, and then he went to take another bite, and all the time she’s screaming and his family is all grabbin’ him and trying to pull him off his Ma.”
“What did you do?” asked Roxanne in a hushed voice.
“I got Edna into the RV, and we got the hell outta there,” Bill replied, “and it looks like we ought to be gettin’ outta here too.”
“We need gas, Bill,” said Edna. “The tank ain’t but half full.”
“We can get gas down the road. We got to stay ahead of this.” Bill looked at Roxanne, “What do we owe you?”
While Bill paid the check, I went over to the window and looked out toward the parking lot, and further out to the road. The diner was a few hundred yards from the bottom of the freeway off-ramp, and I noticed a few cars on the elevated portion, but not one on the exit or feeder roads. I could see a few people up the road, but they seemed to just be milling around aimlessly. I could also hear some sirens in the distance, and twice, what sounded like gunshots, though I wasn’t sure. That thought reminded me Roxanne had dialed 911 some time ago, and still no one had shown up. I went to the phone and dialed 911, but all I got was a recorded message telling me to stay on the line and, ‘My call would be answered by the first available operator’.
I noticed Bill and Edna were heading for the door, so I hung up the phone and went over to unlock it. As I turned the lock, Bill darted a glance at Roxanne, and then turned to me.
“You two might want to think about getting out, too,” he said. “This is gonna get worse before it gets better. You might want to come with us.”
I glanced at Roxanne, but she shook her head.
“I think we’ll wait here,” I said. “Somebody will come and straighten this out.” I hope, I added mentally.
“Suit yourself then,” Bill replied. “I wish you both luck.”
I raised the security shutter, and Bill and Edna walked out of the diner, down the steps, and into the parking lot. Unsure what could possibly happen next, I quickly closed the shutter and locked the door. As I turned back to Roxanne, I heard a shrill scream come from the parking lot. I ran over to the nearest window and looked out. Bill was on the ground struggling with someone, and Edna was standing over them both, pulling with all her might against Bill’s attacker.
The attacker was Ed.
From the look of things, Bill and Edna almost made it to their RV when Ed, who was apparently on the other side of the RV, had come around the vehicle and attacked Bill. Then, I noticed several other figures converging on Bill and Edna. My first thought was that they were coming to help, but when the first of the group reached the struggling trio, they either grabbed Edna, or simply fell onto the clashing forms of Bill and Ed. I heard Edna give a long wail of agony, and saw blood spray into the air as she was born to the ground by her attackers.
I started toward the door with every intention of going out to help, but Roxanne grabbed my arm.
“Ian, No! You cannot help them, and you will be killed too,” she whispered.
“I can’t just leave them out there!” I said, pulling away from her.
“Ian, please do not go. There are too many of those things, and you cannot help them,” Roxanne pleaded.
I dared to look out the window again, and almost vomited. Roxanne was right; there were now about thirty of those creatures, and they were all over Bill and Edna. Bill was completely hidden by his attackers, who seemed to be tearing at him with their bare hands and teeth. I could see that he wasn’t moving, and I was sure he was dead, but Edna was not. Several of the attackers had her pinned down on her left side. I could see her legs sticking out of the pile, and they were kicking, almost as if she was trying to run. As I watched, unable to look away, her legs slowed, and then mercifully stopped.
I turned away from the window and found Roxanne standing behind me with her hand to her mouth, tears running down her face. I put my arms around her, felt her tense up and then relax, and I gently led her away from the window. As we reached the counter, she started to sob quietly. I sat Roxanne down on one of the stools, and was just about to sit next to her, when it occurred to me that several people were, at that very moment, attacking and quite possibly eating, two people right outside, and we were in full view. All that needed to happen was for one of them to look in our direction.
I jumped up, turned off the lights, closed all the window blinds, and started thinking in terms of how safe we were. The diner itself was a converted train car, so it was made of metal, and had windows high enough that they couldn’t be reached easily from the ground. The kitchen was cinder block, with only two windows, which were also set high up in the walls. No one was going to reach those from the outside without a ladder. The back door was wood, sheathed in metal, and the front sported a strong security shutter that could only be opened from the inside, so I thought we were reasonably safe.
Now, all we had to was wait until help arrived.
I went over and sat down next to Roxanne, who had stopped crying, but was now staring blankly at the coffee maker behind the counter.
“Roxanne, are you ok?” I asked and then tried to ignore the part of my mind that said, AAANNNDD the Stupid Question of the Year Award goes to…
“Who are they, Ian? What are they, and why are they doing this?”
“I don’t know. Bill mentioned that people who got the vaccine for Shakes went crazy. Maybe it creates some kind of toxin in the body and affects the brain; makes them go crazy.”
“Do you really think that is it?”
“It must be something like that. What else could it be?” I asked. I was haunted by of the images of Ed, and the wounds in his neck. Could someone take that kind of damage and still live?
Roxanne shivered. “Bill said the boy he saw was dead, and then he started moving again.”
“Roxanne, that’s crazy. How could that be happening? Dead people don’t just get up and walk around like that,” I said, but I was getting a bad feeling.
“There were some stories on the news about this in other places too,” Roxanne stated. “Did you see them?”
“No, my room doesn’t have a TV, so I haven’t been able to keep up on what’s happening,” I said. And Ralph has the hots for you, so of course you get a TV in your room, I added mentally.
“Well, there were reports of attacks and cannibalism in a lot of different countries, and they said it was the ones who took the Shakes vaccine that were getting sick, and then going crazy.”
“Ok, whatever the reason, those people out there are dangerous, and we have to figure out what we’re going to do.” I looked around the room. “This place is pretty safe, so maybe we should stay here and see if the police can get the situation under control.”
“But, what if they cannot, Ian?” asked Roxanne. “We do not have a very big police force.”
“Well, then the National Guard and the Military will move in and…” my voice trailed off as a horrible realization hit me.
“What is it Ian?”
I took a deep breath and tried to fight down the rising dread.
“Ian! Answer me!” Roxanne demanded, leaning toward me.
“Roxanne, right after I got out of the Navy, all military personnel were ordered to take the Shakes vaccine. No one had a choice, and I’m pretty sure the National Guard units were among the first, since they would be the primary units called up in case of an emergency.”
“But that means…the whole military could be sick.” Roxanne put her hand to her mouth.
“And that means, not only is it likely we don’t have a large force of well-organized, heavily armed people to help us, we might have to deal with a large number of sick people out there,” I added.
Things were not looking good.
Terra Necro: Tipping Point, by Michael Crockett
Underdog ( Prison Killers Book 4 ), by Glenn Langohr
Description: “With lazer-like precision Glenn Langohr lays bare the festering under-belly of our criminal justice system in a driving, graphic narrative that somehow finds the humanity in this most inhuman setting.” Phillip Doran, T.V. Producer and Author
“Ex-con Langohr can describe the hell of life inside better than any other writer. His vivid passages on just surviving in prison describe a nightmare we’d rather not know about.
He compares the plight of abandoned dogs, locked and horribly mistreated in rows of cages in animal shelters, to California prison inmates, locked and abused in the same cages. Not a book for the faint of heart. We who sleep peacefully in our beds at night, unaware of the savagery going on behind prison walls, can only thankfully say: ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I’.” John South American Media
The California Prison System houses a mixture of Mexican cartel members, Mexican mafia, Bloods, Crips, and thousands of other street gangs fighting for control and the author turns this story into a pulp thriller of true crime.
Glenn Langohr takes you on a journey back into prison as he remembers a prison war with the Mexican Mafia before his release date. Days later, he got released. His friend he was in the deadly riot with didn’t. He went to Pelican Bay’s Super Max.
The story follows Glenn Langohr years later as he visits his friend in Pelican Bay during a prisoner developed hunger strike against sadistic and cruel guards who get off on their isolation and enjoy adding violence to their torture.
We walked another 500 yards and passed two more prison yards before reaching our destination. The Hole, Administrative Segregation, was behind the last yard in an isolated compound and we circled it. On the way that eerie feeling magnified with the noise. Men were training their bodies in a choreographed and precise manner. One leader was barking orders with the rest of the group responding, followed by the sounds of bodies exercising and grunting. I began to make out the cadence, “Surenos!! Raza!! Estamos listos? Vamanos!” I knew enough Spanish prison slang to understand the cadence was being applied to the southern California Mexicans and the Mexicans originally from Mexico, the race, according to them and always at the ready to go. Around the corner the building opened up enough to peer in at the portion the prisoners were allowed to use for yard for 2 hours every other day. Instead of a regular prison yard, the prisoners were confined to kennels. Row after row of fenced in rectangular dog runs allowed two prisoners per cage 6 feet of width to pace 10 feet back and forth or work out like they were now. I realized something monumental. I had to find “L’il Bird” and “Boxer”, the two Mexicans labeled Mexican Mafia who were removed from the yard before the ensuing power struggle. I needed to communicate to them that the policy we had ironed out together hadn’t been respected by Stranger who stepped up to fill their void. Now that Stranger was gone from the yard, now in line with us to get processed into Administrative Segregation, the yard we just vacated was void of leadership again. Both “L’il Bird” and “Boxer” had the influence and reach to send word to that yard to keep the peace. We turned the corner of the building again and were able to see the yard through the fence. I zeroed in on “L’il Bird” and “Boxer”. Their sturdy, older bodies stood out amongst the younger, less seasoned Mexicans. Both of their sweat glistened bodies were covered by tattoos blasted in aged ink from decades ago and fading. Both had collogues of Aztec war scenes and I was hoping their power to command wasn’t fading like the ink. I searched out the rest of the kennels and in the sea of Mexicans found 4 White men. The 4 White men were distinguishable from the rest of the prisoners by their sheer size.
All 4 men had large bald heads and only 1 of them didn’t have his scalp covered in tattoo ink to the forehead. That behemoth was the largest at 6’7 and at least 280 lbs of iron clad frame. He was scrutinizing us with so much energy I couldn’t look away. The eerie feeling magnified even more as I watched him focus on ascertaining why we were in line to get housed in Administrative Segregation with him, apparently his spot. He used his fingers for sign language and introduced his name, “Bam Bam”, his counterpart’s name in the kennel with him, “Blitz”, along with “Sinner” and “Traveler” in the next kennel. Next he used his fingers to ask us questions. “What prison yard had we just come from?” With our hands cuffed behind our backs in zip ties we had to communicate by nodding our heads or shaking them. He finger questioned, A yard? We shook our head no until he got to D yard. Then, he finger questioned, What happened with the Mexicans? His fingers were taking too long to go letter by letter so he resorted to mimicking possibilities that started with lifting a drink to his mouth to see if we had been drunk? We shook our heads no. He nailed it with his next one. He mimicked the act of registering a needle and shooting dope into his arm. We nodded our head vigorously that he was so warm he was in the oven with us. Next he lifted his hand and ran his fingers together in the universal sign for money and then used his hand to slide by his throat to say the money hadn’t made it. We nodded our heads that he understood our problem. He then used his hand to make it look like he had a knife in it and jabbed it into his other hand repeatedly to ask if weapons were used. We shook our heads no. Then he used both of his fist to fire straight punches and we nodded our heads yes. He went back to using his fingers to sign letter by letter and asked if the drug user that caused the problem was still on the yard. Even though “Lefty” had overdosed we nodded our heads that he was technically right. Time ran out to communicate because prison guards from the building walked into the yard and stopped next to Bam Bam’s kennel. He didn’t seem to mind the intrusion and finger signed to us that we were going to be housed in B-Pod.
Everyone heard a prison guard from the gun tower inside the building announce through a speaker, “Yard recall! Your 2 hours in the kennels are up! Kennels A and B, stand by for an escort to your cells.”
For the next half hour we watched the kennels empty. One prisoner after another backed up and stuck both hands through a slot where a guard applied handcuffs to wrists. From there, we couldn’t see the prisoners enter the building from our vantage point but heard a thick steel vestibule door creaking as it slid open. It closed with the last of the prisoners with a resounding thud.
The building in front of us was a pre-fabricated made tan color. A thick steel green vestibule door creaked and grinded open as it slid on rollers. Above, a black tinted bullet proof window filled up with 2 prison gunners holding rifles. Right next to the window in red capital block letters read: WARNING! NO WARNING SHOTS FIRED- C-6 ADMINISTRATIVE SEGREGATION.
The procession of prisoners proceeded in front of us and we shuffle stepped forward inch by inch. Being the last in line it took 2 hours to get to the vestibule door and inside the building. As we made it I looked up and saw the 2 prison gunners pointing their rifles at us as if we could get out from our cuffs and become a threat. Shuffling through the vestibule door I kept looking up. We could see the gunners in the tower through a bullet proof plexiglass they walked on. A 4 foot by 8 foot square of plexiglass was constructed with a perforated opening to drop tear gas and fire the rifles through at us below. I heard the vestibule door behind us creak and slide shut and it felt like we were vacuumed into a dank and dark, all metal chamber of penal hell. I knew that a percentage of the prisoners living in these concrete corridors had been here for years and thought of Bam Bam and wondered if he was one of them. We’d find out how things operated over here soon enough.
I looked back up at the tower through the plexiglass. From up there, the gunners had a vantage point that allowed access to each row of cell pods and I counted 3 rows facing west, 3 facing east and 3 facing north. The south quadrant covered the yard the prisoners had just come from. Each quadrant had a thick steel green vestibule door. Above each vestibule red block letters signified the location. I found A through C pod stamped over the west side quadrant and watched one of the tower gunners hit a switch on a command table and the vestibule opened.
From the gun tower we heard a guard yell out our names and which cells we were to be housed in.
“B Pod cell 123!”
“B Pod cell 122!”
I was glad to hear that Damon and I were in the same cell and that Blockhead and Jason were in the cell next to us. On the way there I noticed our bedrolls and new prison garb all wrapped up in a bundle with a couple of plastic spoons and cups parked in front of our cells.
The guard in the tower spoke instructions over the microphone, “When we take off the zip ties strip out of your clothes!”
We passed the first cell, a 6 foot wide by 10 foot long chamber of concrete. The cell door was made out of steel with perforated holes from top to bottom inches away from each other making it hard to see in or out clearly. The cell door looked like honey comb. Inside the cell 2 black prisoners exercised and their silhouettes rose and fell as they took turns doing pushups. I looked at the cell across from them and the same thing was happening with 2 more Black inmates. I assumed the Black and Asian inmates were getting their every other day yard tomorrow and were doing their exercises in the cell. We passed a few more cells and stopped at ours.
One of the 4 prison guards behind us said, “After we take the cuffs off strip down and let us search you. You know the drill.”
I went first and got naked and waited for the instructions.
“Arms out wide…Arms up…Lift up your testicles…Turn around…Lift one foot and wiggle your toes…The other foot…Bend over and grab your ass cheeks and spread them…Now cough three times…”
Done with our strip search and locked up tight in our cell Damon let me take a bird bath first since I had more pepper spray on me. I filled up the sink attached to the toilet with water, then sat on the toilet facing the sink and splashed the water over my head with my cup. The water reignited the pepper spray and my eyes watered to ease the burning and I felt it in my lungs and started coughing.
Next to me in the cell Damon was taking one of his two pairs of boxer shorts apart. In the waist band of the boxers after he pulled out the elastic there was plenty of thread to weave together to turn it into a fishing line. He hooked three strands of thread to the cell door using the ventilated honey comb and went to the back of the cell and began weaving the thread into one line.
From outside our cell, on the tier about 4 cells down, we heard a prisoner yell, “Cell 122 and cell 123! This is Traveler in cell 118! I’m sending my line!”
While continuing my bird bath I watched Damon fastening together a small piece of soap into a piece of plastic until he had it attached to his newly woven fishing line. He crouched down on all fours and looked out the side of our cell and yelled, “Shoot it!”
A few minutes of successful fishing later he pulled in a written note from Traveler and read it to me.
Greetings brothers: Welcome to the catacombs. We saw you communicate with big Bam Bam and know you were involved in a riot with the Mexicans. Glad to see you’re alright! I’m in the last cell in our B-Pod so I can get word to C-Pod when the prison guards open the door when they do the head count or pass out mail. I need you to send your paperwork as soon as possible to check you off the Roll Call list. Also, Bam Bam wants to know who ran up the drug debt? We get yard one day and showers the next with a day of zero program on Wednesday. On Wednesday the prison administration runs hearings. Speaking of hearings, that’s when you will get checked to see how long you will be confined in here. For a riot they usually keep you for a couple of months if they have you involved in it in their reports. As soon as I get your paperwork I have a care package for you.
Damon scribbled off a note to let Traveler know what happened on our yard along with how “Lefty” had taken a back door exit by overdosing on heroin.
The next morning 4 prison guards arrived at our cell for an interview…
The first guard, a very large and dark Black man who had an experienced face with kind eyes, had a nameplate on his chest that read: Jackson. Jackson seemed to be the leader of the four and I realized he was a Lieutenant.
The other prison guard standing at the cell was of Mexican descent and a little younger. He wore an expression of impatience, nameplate: Torrez.
Jackson scrunched up close to the honeycomb cell door and said, “Inmate Smith and Johnson, also known as B.J, here is your paperwork for the riot. Now time to ask you some questions…”
We accepted the paperwork through the side of the cell door, and each of us took our time to read it. The top of the page had the form number, 114-D and next to it- Lock Up Order For Administrative Segregation. Underneath it started with the reason: Violation of rule 123 “Group Melee”
The report went on to read that the incident was a serious rule violation and for the safety and security of the prison we were deemed enemy combatants. The next paragraph had reports from prison guards who witnessed the riot from a gun tower and on the ground. I was glad to see that not one of the prison guards wrote who started the fight, just some of the inmates who were involved. It appeared that only 14 inmates had pepper spray administered to their wardrobe. They were the only inmates considered, “Involved in the melee”. It looked like the other 36 inmates would get a reprieve and get “Kicked out” of Administrative Segregation and return to 1 of the other 3 prison yards soon.
Jackson started reading from the report…
“Inmate Smith and Johnson, you were both seen by tower guard Abadaco and building 5 prison guard Jimenez as combatants involved in the riot and in their words ‘Punching both fist repeatedly hundreds of times during the altercation hitting inmates Guerra, Alejandra, Sanchez, Lopez, Cordoba, Marquez, and inmate Delgado repeatedly’. The report goes on to say you were both pepper sprayed. This is the proof needed that you were both involved in the riot so you don’t have much of a chance of beating the prison violations. Since weapons weren’t used I don’t think you have to worry about added charges with the District Attorney but these reports combined with your statements will be sent to them to see if the County wants to pick up additional charges. I don’t think they will. None of the inmates had to get stitched up and there wasn’t any great bodily injury other than some swelling and bruises and a little blood.”
I stared at Lieutenant Jackson and appreciated his honesty. He was letting us in on the full impact and ramifications of the situation rather than letting us sweat out those pertinent details relating to the potential of outside charges with the District Attorney. He was also coaching us in that whatever we said would be used against us in reports. His Mexican partner Torrez, who I realized was a Sergeant, scared the shit out of us.
“We’ve looked at the video footage of the incident and it shows you as the aggressor B.J…If you don’t cooperate with us we might have to write up the report to show that you instigated the riot. That will probably get the D.A. to pick up charges, plus we can raise the in prison violation to a level A charge…”
I knew the current charge we had read, “Group Melee”, was a level D charge in the California Prison Guide, also known as the “Title 15”. The most it carried as in prison punishment was up to 9 months in Administrative Segregation as a S.H.U. term. Sergeant Torrez was referring to a level A charge usually reserved for Murder, Mayhem, Extortion, or a much more grey area, labeling a prisoner responsible for calling those shots by exerting pressure.
Both Damon and I stood there with stoic expressions on our faces waiting…
Lieutenant Jackson started the questions. “What started the riot? We only want to know to see how long to keep the yard it happened on locked down.”
Neither Damon nor I spoke a word. We couldn’t, the unwritten code of silence.”
Lieutenant Jackson nodded his head that he understood our predicament and wrote down and said, “No comment.”
Sergeant Torrez looked angry. His face contorted into that impatient frustrated look he brought originally. He said, “We know it was over dope. Did your race or you B.J. do more dope than you could pay for and then decide the best way out was to get in a fight to get off the yard?”
I knew he was baiting me and it almost worked. I wanted to tell them that yeah it was over dope. “Lefty” saw half the Mexicans on the yard nodding off and scratching their bodies, high as fuck on heroin, and his drug addicted diseased mind was jealous and the desire to use that heroin and get as fucked up as half the Mexicans pushed him past the point. Not that I was excusing his actions. But I was questioning how Termite was smuggling enough heroin into our prison to get 200 Mexicans so high that they were throwing up all over the yard. Was a prison guard helping him smuggle it? I couldn’t imagine how through monitored visits with cameras everywhere, that much heroin could slip through. Usually, smaller amounts made it by the visitor kissing a small balloon of packaged drugs across with it being swallowed by the prisoner and thrown up later…
I finally responded, “It was no big deal. That was a cheer leader fight. All we did is wave some pom-poms around. You can open the yard back up over there…”
I knew they wouldn’t open up the yard for a minimum of two weeks. They would follow protocol and sweep the yard for weapons and a few other things first. I’d have time to contact “L’il Bird” and “Boxer” and restore peace…Hopefully.
Sergeant Torrez scribbled in his report with an angry face and I looked at Lieutenant Jackson. He noticed my worried expression and shook his head as if to say, everything will be alright.
Sergeant Torrez looked like he was trying to scrunch his face up into something intimidating. He looked at me as hard as he could and said, “B.J. you’re parole date is tomorrow. Why in the fuck did you get involved in this? Now you might not go home, unless you tell me what I need to know! What exactly happened over there so we can investigate the riot properly?
I looked at the Sergeant for a while and finally said, “No comment.”
I wanted to tell him that if I helped him by talking he would have to write it in a report that would then come back to us that we would then have to carry with us and pass along to other prisoners. That would be another security threat because we weren’t supposed to talk about those kinds of things. Just because my parole date was set for tomorrow it wasn’t time to become a rat.
The Sergeant said, “Last chance to work with me and possibly go home tomorrow…”
Lieutenant Jackson smiled at us like we did what we were supposed to do. He knew the program and was just doing his job. He said, “We’re going to run showers for the Whites and Mexicans after we release the Blacks and Asians to the yard kennels. After that we have to take you two out of the cell for some pictures and some more questions about gang affiliation.”
Damon and I both said in unison, “No comment.”
A half hour later we heard cell doors pop open. We looked out the cell and saw Traveler and Sinner come out of their cell with towels and shower supplies. They came right to our cell and filled us in.
Traveler was as tall as Damon at 6’3, with a shredded bullet proof build. He said, “We heard that interview, good job with the no comment. B.J. if your parole date is tomorrow you might have to stay a few extra days but you will go home. Take this Title 15 and read it. The state can’t keep you indefinitely for a riot unless there is good cause for the District Attorney to charge you with a new beef. Since weapons weren’t used you’re out of here. “L’il Bird” and “Boxer” are already on top of things and they got at us to tell you they send their respects and regards and to not worry about the yard you just left. They’re sending Cyclone back to take control of the yard for the Mexicans and the policy you guys already had in place is going to stay the same. The only thing they want is for “Lefty” to get dealt with…”
The first thing I thought was that it was a good thing I spoke loud enough to Stranger for Cyclone and Termite to hear before the riot. They must have heard, or already knew, the drug policy we had worked out was being violated. The second thing I thought, thank God they were handling their business so honorably.
We handed our Lock Up Order 114-D paperwork to Traveler to follow protocol and he slid us a sack of goodies that included some prison store food, toiletries and some writing paper and stamped envelopes. Sinner had a handful of books for us to read to help kill the time stuck in our cell almost 24-7 in slow motion. I had to ask, “How long have you guys been here?”
Traveler said, “Bam Bam has been here the longest at 2 years and 2 months. They’re determining if he’s going to Pelican Bay as a validated mobster. He wanted us to warn you that this prison seems to want these cells in Administrative Segregation filled. They’re on a fishing expedition to validate as many prisoners as shot callers as possible. My cellie and I have been here for a year and a half for defending ourselves in a riot outnumbered 20 to us 2. With such bad odds we both had weapons in our hands. The weapons have us screwed. What did they want us to do, just let them kill us?”
We watched Traveler and Sinner leave our cell and heard their cell door shut. A couple of minutes later we heard the vestibule open and we got some more visitors.
Sergeant Torrez crowded our cell door with a smirk on his face with six I.G.I. Gooners behind him. We called the Inmate Gang Investigators Gooners because they wore similar uniforms to the regular prison guards but had additional black stitching on their shoulders and chest that resembled tattoos to signify they were in charge of deciphering who the gangsters were, usually based on their tattoos.
We backed up to the cell door one at a time and stuck our wrists through the slot to accept the handcuffs. After we backed out of the cell we had one I.G.I. Gooner on each side of us holding our shoulders to steer our direction. Sergeant Torrez led the way and just as we got to Traveler and Sinner’s cell he said, “Time to take some pictures of you to add to the gang file and have an interview out of hearing so you can really open up to us.”
I knew he was trying to stir the pot and make it look like we might yap our gums and talk. They were always trying to play the divide and conquer game to keep the prisoners fighting each other instead of uniting for a common cause, like finding a new life away from prison walls…
We stopped at an office and there were 2 other I.G.I. Gooners inside with cameras and a table full of files next to them.
Sergeant Torrez grabbed our files off the desk and handed them over. I read the nameplate from the first Gooner’s shoulder to receive our files, Valazquez, and noticed he was listed as a Lieutenant. The other Gooner to get our files was Perez, another Lieutenant.
Sergeant Torrez looked at us like a bully and said, “Strip down to nothing. It’s time to take some pictures to beef up your files. Let’s see those tattoos.”
I knew I would disappoint this branch of fault finders. I didn’t have any tattoos. Damon on the other hand was a sculpted banner of ink. They were going to have a field day with him.
I stripped down and stared at Sergeant Torrez. He looked even more frustrated. He said, “Turn around B.J.”
I turned around and heard him say, “Not one tattoo B.J? What’s wrong with you? Every other prisoner has tattoos. How do you have so much influence without them?”
I responded, “Who said I have influence? If I have any it’s because I’m not trendy.”
I heard Sergeant Torrez whistle and say, “Look at all that ink on Smith. We should be able to label some of that ink as gang affiliated.”
“Turn around Smith”
Damon turned around and looked at me with a sour expression on his face and I whispered, “Don’t say anything.”
We heard Sergeant Torrez pull one of the Inmate Gang Investigators aside and close the office door behind them. We listened and barely heard the Sergeant say, “We can put everything on Smith and write it up that he was the shot caller that provoked the riot…”
We heard the I.G.I. Gooner respond, “Yeah, I like that. With all of those prison tattoos we can write it up that he’s part of a prison gang and a leader. We should be able to keep him housed in Administrative Segregation until the Pelican Bay S.H.U. has an opening…”
The door opened and they walked back inside.
We turned around and I studied Sergeant Torrez. I was starting to hate him. He was a power tripper who was willing to do whatever it took to screw people like us. He grabbed one of the cameras and got close enough to Damon’s naked body for it to feel weird. The feeling intensified because his face took on a glow, like he was getting off on the process. With his face 6 inches away from Damon’s stomach he asked, “What does Rott stand for? Is that you’re A.K.A?”
Damon didn’t say anything…
“What about that banner of ink flowing across your chest with the Ace of Spades flying off the table with the dice? Does that mean you control the gambling in here?”
Damon remained silent…
“What about the 737 on your shoulder, what does that stand for?”
Lieutenant Inmate Gang Investigator Perez came closer with an excited look on his face. “That’s a gang tattoo! I know I have it in my files somewhere.”
The energy increased with Perez’s excitement and the questions came in rapid fire.
“What do they call you besides B.J?”
“What do they call you Smith?”
“Who do you run with?”
“What gang are you from?”
“What neighborhood do you represent?”
“Are you affiliated with the Aryan Brotherhood?”
“How about the Nazi Low Riders?”
“Are you Skin Heads? Are you Peckerwoods? Come on I know you’re someone!”
The feeling of doom intensified as the reports were scribbled faster along with the flashing lights from the cameras. It felt like we were on an out of control train about to get derailed.
Inmate Gang Investigator Torrez flipped the pages in his gang file and with excitement that bordered on glee, said, “See, right here! Look at the tattoo on this inmate… He has the number 737 tattooed on his shoulder also. When we interrogated him he admitted his A.K.A. is Casper and also admitted his gang affiliation as O.C.S, short for Orange County Skin Head. He also told us the structure of White gang leadership in prison starts with the Aryan Brotherhood dominating the Nazi Low Riders, who dominate the Skin Head gangs. He said a Roll Call list is taken on every prison yard in California to organize the power structure…”
On the walk back to our cells we passed Traveler and Sinner standing at their cell door watching. I remembered Traveler’s warning about the fishing expedition. It felt like we’d just been hooked and thrown all over the place. But where were we going to land? It felt hard to breath, like a fish out of water…
The next morning started with Sergeant Torrez. He stood in front of the cell smiling at us looking smug, like he had won the war. He had some papers in his hand and said, “Here’s some more paperwork related to the riot you caused Smith, or should I call you by your A.K.A, Rott?”
I pulled the reports through the side of the cell and realized what was happening. They’d decided to focus on Damon because they didn’t have time to focus on me since the D.A. wouldn’t pick up the charges and keep me from making my parole date. I’d be going home within 5 days according to the Title 15. With me gone, I wouldn’t be able to be a witness for Damon that he didn’t coerce me into doing what I did…
Sergeant Torrez took one last parting shot with, “If you would have cooperated with me you wouldn’t be in this mess. I could have saved your ass from living in solitary. It still might not be too late… If you give me enough good information about the gangs in here, I still might be able to help you avoid this hole for the rest of your life.”
I knew I was going home and leaving Damon to this fate. He still had 3 years left on his sentence and it looked like it might be spent in isolation. I looked at him and watched him say, “No comment.”
A couple hours later Lieutenant Jackson showed up. He also had reports. He handed them through the side of the cell. We took our time reading them and found the Lieutenant had investigated more thoroughly and found the truth and it defended us, somewhat. We listened to him say the same thing that we were reading…
“I pretty much know with certainty what happened over there to cause that riot. The Mexicans were without any leadership and there were too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Also, somehow, there was enough heroin on the yard to kill 100 people. From there it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the White inmate who overdosed ran up a drug debt. I also know that a year ago on the same yard the White prisoners were attacked in a riot that sent 16 White inmates to the infirmary on stretchers. It was over a drug debt. You guys were probably just protecting yourselves the best you knew how. I’ve been around these California prison corridors for 30 years and I know it’s just a system of warehouses filled with mostly drug addicts and alcoholics. I don’t like what Sergeant Torrez is doing to you Smith. He wants to become an Inmate Gang Investigator and his passion to do so pushes him too far.”
It was nice to hear but was it and the report enough to help Damon? Probably not.
Lieutenant Jackson shook his head and kept being honest. “B.J. you’re going home tomorrow. Smith you’re going to be stuck in this cell, in isolation for at least 3 months while the investigation proceeds. You will probably do the rest of your sentence in here and Pelican Bay while the Administration decides if they can validate you as a prison gang leader. Make the best of it and good luck.
Underdog ( Prison Killers Book 4 ), by Glenn Langohr
The Dead Phone, by Bryan Alaspa
Warren Hollis is a seasoned true crime writer. He likes to submerge himself in the local culture when he writes, so he packs his essentials and heads to Knorr, Pennsylvania. It’s a tiny town in western PA, the kind of town most people on their way to Pittsburgh or New York would drive right past. It’s a town full of friendly, smiling people, but it hides a dark past.
Years ago a man began sneaking into the bedrooms of young girls and taking them under the cover of night. Days later, a grisly calling card would be left for the families to find. He became known as “The Boogeyman” and the rural town of Knorr, and the surrounding communities, have done all they can to forget those terrible days when no one was safe, not even when nestled into their own beds.
Warren arrives and starts asking questions. He stays in a small cabin just outside of town. It’s a nice place, exactly what he’s looking for. There’s just one strange thing: a big, heavy black phone at the top of the stairs. It’s not connected to anything. The phone is just a decorative hold-over from the party line days. Something about it disturbs Warren, the way something about Knorr disturbs him, as well. Someone is hiding something about “The Boogeyman.”
Then the killing starts again.
And, in the middle of the night, a phone that should never be able to ring – begins to do just that…
Warren Hollis stood in front of the mostly-wooden cabin and smiled. Around him was nothing but the soft hiss of nature itself. The sound was comprised of the leaves of the impossibly green trees rustling in the breeze and the soft drone of insects. The summer sun struggled to push its way through the canopy of leaves and etch its way across his arms and the back of his neck. The sun didn’t cause the sweat to break out across his face and run down his back. That came just from the humidity, which seemed to make the air as thick as a blanket but much less comfortable.
“I’m glad you think so,” said the thick, short-haired man standing less than ten yards away from him. Glen Dahane was a round man, but he wasn’t fat. The moment Warren saw him he realized the man was mostly muscle beneath the stretched fabric of his shirt. He reminded Warren of the strong men he sometimes watched compete on some obscure sports channel as they threw beer kegs over their shoulders and over a bar set high.
“If the inside is anything like the outside, this is exactly the kind of thing I am looking for,” Warren said.
The house was modest and it was old. It was also mostly made of wood with a large front window that overlooked the front lawn and the forest around it. The driveway was crushed gravel that wound down through the trees before depositing any vehicles that might be upon it on a two-lane road that could only be called a highway as part of a joke. The house was two stories, but it was not very big. It was just as Warren had hoped.
Warren was in rural western Pennsylvania because he had a project that brought him here. Warren was a writer and, more to the point, he was a true crime writer. If there was one thing that helped him write, it was getting away from the crazy and busy life he had back in Chicago. The house he was looking at right now was exactly the type of house he loved to live in when he was working on a project.
“Shall we check out the inside?” Glen asked.
Warren gestured toward the door. “Lead the way.”
The living room was large. The walls were wood paneled. The inside of the home smelled like pine. The furniture was a surprise. It was remarkably new, although it looked like it had been ordered online from some modern place like IKEA. The couch looked comfortable, however, and the television looked flat, large, and modern. Warren guessed that there was a satellite dish somewhere attached to the roof. The space immediately inside the front door ran around toward the back of the home. One area of that large space, behind the living room area, had a dining room table. Adjoining that was a counter that attached to the kitchen, making a breakfast nook. The kitchen had modern appliances that gleamed silver. Beyond that was a sliding glass door and huge wooden deck that faced the spacious and neatly-trimmed back lawn.
“Wow,” Warren whispered.
“I thought you’d like it,” Glen said.
Warren walked through the living room. Then he trailed his hand across the kitchen counter and over the stools that sat beside the counter. He couldn’t help but smile.
“Is there much upstairs?” He asked.
Glen shrugged. “There’s the bathroom with shower. Then a little loft space that I figure you can use for your writing. Oh, and there’s the bedroom.”
Warren smiled again and shot up the stairs. The stairs were made of wood and they creaked in a way that delighted him as he bounded up them two at a time. He immediately turned right and down the short hallway and into the bedroom. The large king-sized bed in the room took up much of the space. The heavy bedroom door appeared to be made of wood capable of stopping a cannon ball. There was a closet and a dresser in the bedroom and the bed’s blanket was a dark blue that Warren just loved.
Outside the bedroom, and to his left, was the bathroom. It was small with a toilet just behind the door, and a mirror on the wall. There was also a claw-foot bathtub. Surrounding the tub was a rail and from that was a shower curtain. It would only have been better, in Warren’s opinion, if he would have to get the water from a well and warm it up on a wood-burning stove.
He ran out of the bathroom and stopped to look at the loft space that emerged just out of the short hallway that led to the bedroom. It was perfect and he planned on using the desk that sat there, overlooking part of the living room and the front door. He smiled. This was just what he wanted. He looked down and saw that Glen was still standing there looking at him.
“Sorry,” he said. “I guess I was getting just a little carried away.
Glen nodded. Warren turned and was about to head back down the stair when he stopped. It was something he had not noticed before when he had done his mad dash up the stairs. It was an alcove, cut into the wall. It was not very big, perhaps just big enough to hold a small vase of flowers. However, instead of flowers and a vase, what sat there was a thick black phone. There was nothing remarkable about the phone. It was just black and squat. It was a very old phone, he decided, and when he reached out to pick up the receiver he felt the huge heft and weight of it. The blackness of his phone had faded, a bit, to a strange gray, as if time and air had conspired to suck it of some of its life.
“What’s this?” Warren asked, as he walked back over to the stairs.
“What’s what?” Glen replied.
There was something strange about the phone. Warren couldn’t really put his finger on it. It was like it was pulling him towards it. He shook his head and walked towards the tiny alcove again. He lifted the receiver of this phone from a different era. Behind it was a thick cable that vanished into the wall.
“Oh, that,” Glen said.
Warren jumped when the other man spoke. He hadn’t even heard the man walking up the stairs and there he was, suddenly, right next to him. Warren could smell his breath and there was a faint sourness to it. Warren wondered if he had eaten something like onions for lunch.
“This is quite a phone,” Warren said. “Is it connected to anything?”
Glen shook his head. “No, that’s a hold-over from another era. Back in the day this whole area was on a party line. You had to listen to your own specific ring when a call came through and just about anyone throughout the community could pick up the phone and listen in. It was quite a mess, but it was pretty common out in the middle of nowhere like this place is. Anyway, the party line is long gone. I just keep the phone because, well, I kind of like it. Plus, it just fits so nicely in the little alcove there.”
He shrugged. Warren smiled.
“I love it,” he said. “It just adds to the charm of this place. Plus, hey, given the weight and heft of this thing, if a bear attacks me I can use it to beat the thing to death.”
Warren’s smile got bigger and Glen smiled back. The two of them laughed.
“OK,” said Warren, “this is a done deal. Let’s get all of the paperwork signed.”
Three weeks later Warren awoke to a bright sun streaming in through the window of the cabin. He yawned and stretched and then scratched himself for a bit. He bounded out of the room and down into the kitchen. He had spent several days stocking the kitchen and the house with what he knew he would need. Then he had made sure he could get an Internet connection and then promptly put his laptop aside and dragged his heavy manual typewriter up to the desk he had placed near the edge of the loft space.
Warren mostly wrote fiction and he published them himself. They sold moderately well, and he made a decent living with them. However, he really made his money by writing his true crime books. That was why he was really in western Pennsylvania. He was here because of the murders.
The murders happened about twenty years ago. A series of children were abducted from their bedrooms and murdered. They had been horribly violated and butchered. There were five known victims and the killer had sent letters to the local press, taunting them with his brazenness and his ability to commit the crimes. Then, after two years of keeping the small towns in western Pennsylvania in fear, they had suddenly stopped. He had been known simply as the Boogeyman. A name based on the childhood monster that lurked in closets and snuck up on sleeping children.
To Warren that was not a particularly good name. He, however, did appreciate that the killer was not well known outside of the state of Pennsylvania. So, when he was looking for another topic to write about, he found very little written about this string of murders. It was just the kind of thing that his publisher loved.
Like a lot of writers, Warren was a bit eccentric when it came to his writing. He was not a Luddite. He had a laptop with an Internet connection and he had a scanner and a printer and everything else. He just enjoyed writing his first drafts using the large black Underwood typewriter he found at an estate sale when he first started his writing career. Was it tough to get ribbons? Yes, but he found a guy in New York who supplied him and he had dozens of them stock piled. Was it tough to keep it maintained and working? Yes, but the same guy in New York was willing to do repairs at a reasonable price.
There was something about using the ancient machine that he loved. The keys were difficult to work and you had to punch them to get them to type. There was also a certain kind of magic to rolling a piece of paper into the typewriter, hearing the clacking of the keys, and the dinging sound of the return. It was real work using the thing and he liked it.
He rarely used outlines when he was working on his fiction. He preferred to let the words just flow from him. He sometimes had character bibles and he kept a Moleskine notebook with him at all times filled with ideas and characters, but he rarely had outlines. When it came to his non-fiction, though, he outlined everything. He took pages and pages of notes in another Moleskine that he always designated for each project. His desk would become completely buried in papers. At the moment, his desk was only starting to develop a serious case of piles.
He picked up his notebook and thumbed through it. He had lots and lots of papers filled with clips from the newspaper from years ago. Too many of them were filled with photos of parents in tears and their entire worlds shattered.
He spent the morning working on the outline in his notebook. He sat back, rubbed his eyes, and stretched. Outside, he could hear birds chirping and the wind was blowing gently through the trees. He decided it was time to go for a walk. That, and he wanted to venture down to the local newspaper and see if he could talk to the editor. While it seemed unlikely that the editor who had been running the paper during the days of the Boogeyman was still around, Warren hoped the current editor might have some knowledge of the case or at least know where the paper’s coverage of the events surrounding the killings might be. He had an afternoon of gazing at microfilm ahead of him.
He stood up and heard both of his knees pop. He smiled as he gazed down at the living room and the dining room that he could see from his perch. The sun was streaming in through a window in the kitchen. He watched dust motes drift lazily through the beam of sunlight.
Warren had spent a lot of years working in offices. He could still remember, with a shudder, the days he spent driving to work and working long hours in a cubicle farm. Warren was quite sure that human beings were not meant to work in mazes and in tiny spaces that were smaller than your average prison cell.
He had wanted to write since he sat down at his mother’s electric typewriter way back in the third grade. He pounded out a story that was all of three pages, just one long paragraph, and horribly plotted. However, it had given him a kind of rush that he still felt every time he sat down to write. Even when he was writing non-fiction he still felt the rush of telling a story. Sometimes it was the only time he truly felt in control of things.
College came and he took his father’s advice and studied something he thought would lead to a job. Or, at least, that was what he told his father he was doing. He studied radio and worked on the campus radio station and graduated expecting to take the radio world by storm. Somehow, instead, he stumbled into the world of human resources.
Warren spent eight years in HR hell before his two creative worlds came calling to him again. He got a part-time gig in radio and he wrote his first novel. He eventually gave up the radio work, but he soon had enough clients as a freelancer to write full time. Eventually, he squirreled enough money away to start writing books again.
The air outside was warm and the sky was bright. He took a deep breath. The air smelled differently than it did when he stepped outside of his apartment in Chicago. Most he smelled plants. In Chicago, he smelled engine exhaust. He decided to wander down to Glen’s house, which was not far away, to see if the guy wanted to have lunch with him. So far, Glen was the only local he had really met and befriended.
Glen’s house was about three football fields away from where Warren was currently holed up. He had made the walk several times. The most intense time was when he would walk back after dark. Warren was, inherently, a city person. Walking in the woods in the pitch blackness was something he was not used to. The sounds of wildlife around him was enough to make him nearly wet himself. He was used to the sounds of traffic which could keep other people awake all night. He actually could sleep through a series of fire engines screaming down the street, but the sound of thousands of crickets chirping outside his cabin was enough to keep him awake until the wee hours.
Right now, however, the sun was out and the sky was blue. When Warren looked up he could see wispy clouds moving lazily across the sky. He could also see the contrails of what appeared to be dozens of airplanes. Warren was also used to living near O’Hare International airport where you could almost see the windows and wave to the pilots in the planes. Out here, he was far enough away from the airport that the planes were tiny dots in the sky and the only sign of their passage was the thick white cloud that they left behind.
The gravel of the driveway and gravel road crunched beneath his feet. He could hear insects buzzing in the high grass on either side of the road. He could also hear something that he assumed was farming equipment out in a field in some indeterminate distance. Sounds were funny out here in the country, he discovered. When the wind shifted he could hear the highway which was about ten miles distance, and when it blew the other way he could hear the farm equipment from a large farm about five miles in the other direction.
He could see the roof of Glen’s house as he began to round a bend and down a slight incline. He loved Glen’s house. He could easily fit about three or four of the cabins that Warren was currently renting inside of Glen’s house. The house was three stories tall and had a basement. It also had three bedrooms, two of the upstairs, and two and a half baths. It had a huge front porch that extended across the front of the house and there was a bench on chains that allowed the person sitting to swing pleasantly. There were also chairs and it was the perfect place to sit and drink a beer or an iced tea or some other beverage. It was the kind of place that made Warren think he could get used to living in the country.
He could smell something delicious wafting from Glen’s house. The man was always cooking something. He could also hear something mechanical going inside the home. Warren paused, his brow wrinkled, and realized it was some kind of circular saw or something like that. He had never thought of Glen as being particularly handy or crafty, but he wondered if maybe the guy did carpentry work in his spare time. Someone had to do the repairs on the cabin that Warren was in and the whole thing was made of wood.
Warren kicked at a stone, sending it tumbling into the high grass. He was smiling. Then, he paused. There was something dangling from the blades of the high grass right in font of him. He furrowed his brow again. It was white, fluttering in the breeze like a kind of flag. It wasn’t a flag, however, that much he could tell. It was some piece of clothing.
The Dead Phone, by Bryan Alaspa