Archive for the ‘Dystopian’ Category

Sleep Stalkers, by Jacki O'Dierno

Sleep Stalkers, by Jacki O'Dierno

Sleep Stalkers, by Jacki O’Dierno
Available at:
Amazon

Description:  In SLEEP STALKERS, Dee’s solitary existence is suddenly shattered when a demon army’s invasion becomes imminent and, as each night passing draws our world closer to disaster, she fights to fulfill fate’s astonishing plans for her and realign the balance between love and tragedy.

A new plague is ravaging the country, but the infected are not so much sick as they are homicidal. Demons have begun escaping their prison and found a way into our world through the slumbering minds of humans. As their ranks expand with incredible speed, it falls to Dee to halt their invasion. Rather unexpectedly she finds herself paired with two others of her kind, each struggling with the paths set before them. Dave, a father who has lost his child, and Luke, the one person who may be able to save her soul. Together they help her delve into the very core of evil that plagues the country and, through bloodshed and heart break, realize just far they’ll have to go to save that which they love the most.

Excerpt:

Its presence was unmistakable. One moment the room was completely void of any sense of life except the soft sound of breathing, and the next there was a feeling of dread creeping up his spine, setting every little hair on edge. The back of his neck and shoulders tensed with a quick jolt of awareness and his breath caught in a sharp intake. His heart hammered against his chest as blood rushed to his head. White-hot fear caused his whole body to jerk in a violent shudder. Suddenly the light in the room seemed much too meager against the darkness that crept closer to him from behind.

He didn’t even have to turn around to know the girl was no longer asleep. He knew what had happened, how his momentary weakness had brought this upon him. Overwhelmed by loneliness, he had allowed his feelings to cloud his judgment. Safe in the daylight hours the nightmare seemed so far away. But there was no escape from this; there was no peace to be found anywhere. Companionship wasn’t something he could afford, not if he wanted to stay alive. He was sure he had learned that lesson after his uncle had been slaughtered, but apparently he still had more to learn.

The girl’s shadow fell across the carpet as she made her way into the room slowly. Luke kept his back to her, cursing himself for a fool. He should have kicked her out the moment they’d finished in the bedroom. Instead, he’d allowed her, a complete stranger, to stay with him and she had been taken while he daydreamed in the next room. There he stood, half naked and defenseless, before a monster wearing the skin of the woman with whom he had just slept. All of his weapons were in the bedroom, amongst his clothes on the floor. The bedroom was only a few yards away, but it could have been down the street for all it helped him. That thing blocked the hallway; the only exit and his only chance at living.

Still facing away from her he surveyed the living room through the reflection off the window, trying to formulate some sort of battle strategy. The things were incredibly fast and strong, no longer hindered by human frailty. She may have still looked like a woman but she was stronger than any human man. Every aspect of her was a danger to contend with. Her pink fluorescent nails were a deadly weapon she would use to gauge out his eyes and tear the skin from his bones. The teeth in the mouth he had been so eager to kiss before would rip out his throat and savor the coppery taste of his blood on her taste buds. Her hands, which had softly caressed his body less than an hour before, would crush his skull in a merciless grip.

He had to think of something fast because they felt no remorse; they didn’t have the burden of a conscience or a soul. It wouldn’t matter to her that they were lovers; April was gone forever forced from her own body by the thing that stood behind him. The things were also exceptionally hard to kill, even if you could somehow outrun and overpower them. You could stab them in the heart repeatedly to no avail; their bodies didn’t suffer from human weaknesses. The only place they were vulnerable was in the head, and even then it took an inordinate amount of damage to stop them. One bullet to the head wouldn’t do the job; sometimes it took an entire clip just to put them on the ground. The surefire way to kill them was decapitation, though getting an opportunity to perform that deed was difficult at best. Electricity was one of the only things that could actually incapacitate them long enough to cut off their heads. Stun guns were the most effective weapons against the Sleep Stalkers, though Luke’s was too far away to be useful.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” the demon said in a voice that he could barely recognize as April’s. He recalled the times that she had spoken to him in that fluttery and delicate manner of hers with a deep remorse. Her lips would never utter that delicate tone again. Now any sound that came forth would be guttural and foul, the tone reflecting the malignance of the being beneath the surface.

He turned to face her and found the creature standing naked before him, its’ hair still rumpled from their lovemaking. A twisted grin cracked across its’ face, so utterly loathsome compared to the sweet smile that had constantly adorned her lips before that Luke felt bile well up in his throat. It ran its’ hands seductively down its’ hips but made no move towards him. There was no need for it to rush and waste these moments of anticipation and fear, he was helpless and the demon knew it. Black eyes stared at him in wicked amusement, patiently waiting for him to respond. The demons’ eyes were always inky black and bottomless, as if their inner evil were polluting their outward appearances.

“I was going to let you sleep for a bit longer,” Luke said stiffly, slightly shifting his body to a better combat position. It looked every inch the predator it was as its grin turning feral and hungry.

“I’m trying to decide how I should celebrate my awakening,” it said as it took a small step forwards. “At first I considered killing you right away, but that wouldn’t be much of a celebration, would it Minion?” It advanced another step towards him. “Now, I think I’ll break your arms and legs so you don’t try to escape. Then we’ll have all the time in the world to celebrate together,” it said impassively, as if it were discussing dinner plans.

Dread took over Luke’s mind for a moment, doing more to debilitate him than a demon’s venomous words. With a sharp shake of his head he brushed off the demon’s words and his own terror filled thoughts, and tried to keep the fear out of his eyes. He wasn’t afraid of dying, not really, not after everything he had been through in his life. However, he was afraid of being at one of these demons’ mercy because he’d seen the nightmarish things they did to their victims. He remembered what they did to his family and used the old rage to bolster his courage. He let his anger well up and consume him, pushing all hesitation from his mind.

“Get it over with then,” Luke lifted his chin in challenge and defiance.

“As you wish,” it lunged forward, reaching for his throat. Luke dove out of the way and rolled across the ground to the small wooden table where the lamp sat. Knowing it would be on him at any second he ripped the cord from the back of the lamp, exposing the wires beneath the plastic. Suddenly it gripped him from behind and threw him into the wall with amazing force. He put his hands out in front of him to cushion the blow, but the impact was still hard enough to stun him. With a grunt he crumpled to the ground. He lay there momentarily dazed as it strolled over to him and knelt beside him.

“Silly man,” it admonished him and shook its head in amusement. Leaning forward it gripped his hair and pulled his head towards it with a hard yank. “I might just have to take your eyes as well,” it hissed.

He let fear fill his eyes and held its gaze with his own, knowing it would revel in his terror. He reached behind himself and felt along the ground for the lamp cord.

“Please…” Luke begged, trying to distract it from what he was doing.

“Yes, we’ll start with your eyes,” it said menacingly, resting its’ hand against Luke’s cheek. With a delighted sneer it dragged its nail gently under his left eye in a taunting manner. Luke’s breath caught in his chest and his eyes widened in horrible anticipation. Frantically he continued his search of the ground behind him.

At last, his hand closed over the cord and adrenaline shot through his body. In one swift motion he leaned into the demon and shoved the exposed wires through its parted lips and into its mouth. It screamed in agony as electric currents ran through the moist confines of its’ mouth and into its’ body.

Luke broke the grip it still had on his hair and quickly moved away from the creature. He backed out of the room as he watched it flop and twitch on the ground while electricity burned through its’ body. Luke ran into the bedroom with unerring focus and grabbed his stun gun from its holster. He then reached into his inner jacket pocket and took out a wicked looking knife. Cradling the gun between his arm and body, he removed the leather sheathe from the knife to reveal a long curved, serrated blade. He dropped the sheath to the floor and left the bedroom, the knife in his right hand and the gun in his left.

Sleep Stalkers, by Jacki O’Dierno
Available at:
Amazon

 

The Other Side of Eden, by Ethan Cobb

Posted: January 24, 2012 by Shaina in Dystopian, Ethan Cobb, Zombies
The Other Side of Eden, by Ethan Cobb

The Other Side of Eden, by Ethan Cobb

The Other Side of Eden, by Ethan Cobb
Available at:
Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble

Description:  When Carrie failed to escape the city in time, she got trapped in quarantine. Civilization had abandoned her. However, she’s not alone. Others are with her—people infected and controlled by the single emotion they had when infected: Curiosity, Fear…Anger. She must avoid the contaminated and escape, or she too will be another victim.

Excerpt:

One foot punched the gas pedal, revving the engine.  Warm tears dripped off her face.   Carrie gripped the gearshift.  The engine belched throaty power, and then fell silent as she wrenched the keys from the ignition. She screamed at herself.  “Drive already, God Da-”She managed to stop.  Cursing God would only make it worse.  She was the one damned, and He was right in doing so.  Each day stuck on the island was a testament of her sins. Buster barked from the passenger seat.  The Dalmatian flicked his tail.  “You’re right, it was a good try,” she said, patting randomly.  Day ten of trying and she still hadn’t driven an entire block.  Mangled wreckage of twisted mailboxes, splintered fence timbers, and bicycle parts were scattered along the street.  At least no one was on the mountain bike when the car she was driving smashed into the frame and bounced over each wheel, leaving the bicycle destroyed. Then again, there was no one.  That wasn’t true, there were people, but she didn’t want to think of the others.  Those left behind were hardly human any longer. The rearview mirror tilted to one side, and she moved to adjust the angle.  At the end of the street, a shape moved around the corner and was lost among thorn bushes.  Carrie kicked at the door and bolted.  Squeaks from the metal brace attached to her left leg squealed with each step.  Eventually the figure at the corner would realize she could only move with the speed of an injured lamb. “Buster, to me,” Carrie said.  The dog bounded to her side. “Watch,” Carrie said.  Hackles raised, the dog turned to look at the yard.  Carrie wrenched at the front door handle and stumbled inside.  Buster leapt over her and she slammed the door shut.  Three locks turned close before she began to breathe normal again. She parted the blinds, expecting to see someone.  The road was vacant.  There was no movement except for the sway of long grass in the front yard from the breeze.  The bramble of her corner neighbor’s yard grew into the border of lawn.  They had kept the bushes trimmed, when they had been around.  But that was over two months ago.  She glanced back the other way.  The street remained empty.  Each of the yards seemed to imitate the next with a mosaic of trash entangled in the long hands of the grass.  Tall weeds towered across each green stretch. She breathed deeply and steadied her pounding heart.  Really, the movement could have been anything.  Another dog or cat left behind or even her mind playing tricks.  She wanted to shrug it off, but her eyes stayed riveted on the area just to be certain.  For over a month, she had not seen anyone on her street.  She acknowledged she was be getting careless, and needed to be certain of her surroundings before making so much noise with the car. Carrie looked at her yard, which looked the same as the rest on the block.  Part of her wished she could bring the mower out, but the clipped lawn would have made it obvious there was a survivor living in the house.  She turned back to the living room. Buster barked. “I know.  We can try the car again tomorrow.  Remember what happened when I went before I was ready last time?  We don’t want to have to find another car.” Buster barked. “Okay, okay.  Sure it was easy.  If I can find the keys the car is mine, but it means I have to go into houses.  Only one mistake is all it takes.” Buster barked again.  On automatic, Carrie reached for the bag and poured.  Brown pebbles dispensed for a second and were covered by crumbs and dust.  She sighed, took the food sack, looked at the full trash, and threw the bag into the front yard through a slit in the window.  The wind would drive the paper away. She looked at the bare cupboards and wished the breeze would return something edible.  Her reflection caught on the toaster.  She stared at the blue eyes and black pupils.  Part of her worried that one day she would look at a mirror and the eyes would be different, instead finding purple had replaced the blue iris. “We need to go shopping, Buster,” said Carrie.  The dog whimpered and lowered his tail. “You’re right,” said Carrie thinking of the blur she had seen.  “Wait until it’s dark.  At least then maybe no one will see us.” *** Moonlight littered each deserted home.  Block after block Carrie moved through the silence.  Thick towels wrapped around the metal brace muffled the sound of her movement.  Perhaps she was overly cautious, but better paranoid than dead.  Buster crouched low and moved forward.  He turned his head back and Carrie followed.  Times like these made Carrie appreciate she only had five feet of height to hide instead of the bulky frame of her dad. She wondered if her family was still alive.  Did they pass the barrier before the bridge was destroyed?  She was almost positive her mother was caught up in one of the last groups across the bridge, but she was uncertain about her dad.  She tried to ignore the thoughts.  There was a way to find out.  If their cold bodies lay on the pavement, she would know they died because of her. A group of five stood below a street lamp three houses down.  Each of the rust colored faces stared up at the florescent glow.  Deep gashes stretched down the face and neck of a young girl and an old man.  Carrie shuddered.  Those who could not run were caught first.  But even the old man had managed to escape; which meant there was some hope she might get away, if surrounded. She yanked the black beanie tight over her hair.  Her long strands of blond were a gleaming halo at night.  Her pale skin did not help and she covered herself in a dark sweater despite the heat.  Even her backpack, once bright purple and gold of the school colors, was now covered in a thick midnight shade of spray paint.   The bag had been her favorite, but blending into the shadows remained top priority. She squeezed past a broken fence post, moving away from the group.  Purple eyes and dirt encrusted fingers haunted her dreams.  She did not need reminders, and there was no way to predict if or when one would snap. The grocery store lights glowed through large windows onto the vacant parking lot.  Carrie stepped forward.  Buster growled, and Carrie jumped back into shadow.  A lone figure, almost blending with the night, stood under a parking light, staring. “We have to sneak around back,” she whispered.  Buster moved backward.  From the opposite edge of the lot, another figure burst out, running straight for the lone man under the lamp.  Carrie turned her head.  Buster’s growl deepened. “Shh,” Carrie whispered.  “There’s nothing I can do.” Sounds of metal carts crashing on the asphalt and banging against poles reverberated, but no screams.  There were never screams, which made witnessing the brutality worse.  Carrie kept her eyes forward, but movements on her periphery still assaulted her.  Bile clung in her throat.  The person under the street lamp would be dead by morning, or if not he would stare at his wounds in amazement for hours. The keys jangled as she rammed them into the lock and jumped inside the store.  She slammed the lock back home and sighed. A voice yelled in one of the aisles.  “Keep back as ravens eat the cream puffs!  I’m warning you!  Don’t make the shrimp jump into limburger cheese!” “Hey Herbert,” said Carrie. Herbert screamed again and the sound of cans crashing on the linoleum echoed as he scampered away. “Nice to see you too,” said Carrie. In a twisted sort of way, Carrie enjoyed seeing Herbert.  The man had been the grocery owner since before she was born, and it seemed only right to pick up supplies under his watch.  He was one of the few who offered any conversation, even if it was gibberish. “Get over your fear yet?” One of the freezer doors thumped shut on the far side of the store.  Most likely, others outside were infected with fear as well, but Herbert was the only she could identify with those symptoms.  The others probably hid in their cellars.  She wondered what emotions others might have, but the Curious and Angry seemed the most prevalent. She felt fairly certain of her theory.  Everyone seemed to be controlled by a single emotion, and most were curious or angry.  She figured when the evacuation occurred and people began to change most had been bewildered or frustrated and were now stuck with that emotion.  She had had those emotions as well as being scared and tired.  But she still had no idea what was going on.  She still didn’t understand how they lived.  Did they eat?  What was sustaining them? “At least you weren’t stuck with curiosity, like the guy outside,” she muttered.  “Or worse, anger.”  The dog chow bag resisted her pull to open it, and eventually she rammed the sack against a shelf edge.  Pellets sprouted and poured from the hole.  She took a list from her pocket as Buster crunched. “Don’t worry Herbert,” she said.  “I am keeping a tally and when humanity returns to this hell hole I am sure my family will pay you back.”  She reached in above Herbert, who was trying his best to hide on the bottom row, and plucked up a package of frozen burritos.  His purple eyes glanced from between his fingers for a moment and his body constricted tighter.

The Other Side of Eden, by Ethan Cobb
Available at:
AmazonSmashwordsBarnes & Noble

Rebirth, by Michael Poeltl

Rebirth, by Michael Poeltl

Rebirth, by Michael Poeltl
Available at:
Amazon

Description: A year into a Post-Apocalyptic existence, where friendships are tested and new enemies emerge; talk of destiny fulfilled through a child offers salvation.

Could you believe?

Rebirth, is the second in the series of the popular post-apocalyptic coming of age tale, told at the end of an age.

Excerpt:

can’t find my son. Anxiety overwhelms me. My heart pounds as I rush through the compound, in my panic it seems more like a maze than the place I’d called home the past eight years. Where is my son? The night comes alive as search lights expose the darkness between buildings, igniting the tight spaces a boy of eight might find himself. A sinister thought enters my head: My mortal enemy currently shares this space with us. A renewed sense of urgency overcomes me, my pace quickens.

*****

Your Father would have so loved you. You were a blessing when you were born; you were a mystery when you were conceived and a terrible struggle while I carried you seven months in my belly.

Seven months: it’s not really long enough, but you seemed to time your arrival eerily close to the date of another’s departure.

This place is like a concentration camp you’d see on TV, when there was TV. Something from a Second World War movie. Did we live through the Third World War? Hard to say. Color is absent here: the walls are a battleship grey, the floors a polished concrete. Not ideal surroundings for a baby to grow up in, but at least you grew up.

When we arrived you were very small and still at my breast.

Somehow we had escaped a plague that ravaged much of the surviving world.

Children are very important; so many died from this plague that took the very young and very old. Most adults over sixty years old and those under the age of twelve died soon after the Apocalypse, choked to death by fall-out, while those who survived were left to suffer this final indignity some months later. A plague, a flu of some design. I have worked closely with the doctors here, and they have not been able to succinctly label the disease that had methodically killed off so many.

The base was designed to train special ops and special forces in the war against terror. It has only a skeleton crew assigned to it, though it was expecting an influx of 1000 soldiers and their families the month following the end of life as we knew it.  The base is well protected, with steel walls reaching heights of 20 feet in places, outfitted with watch towers, a stockade, family housing, a mess hall, hospital and the central training and parade grounds. It even has a greenhouse.

The parade grounds are framed with civilian vehicles, RV’s, camper vans, cars and trucks of all shapes and sizes. They belong to those who fled the devastation to the south and came north. I recall the many motorcades we witnessed traveling north, right past Joel’s house, where we had hidden out. We were fourteen friends, caught in something as unfathomable as the end of the world. Teenagers, whose families had all been wiped out by one violent act against humanity. I remember talking to people as they stopped at the house. They said they were going on a feeling, going north.

The Sergeant told me that barely a year after the majority of civilians had arrived, the plague had hit the base, and hundreds were quarantined. Almost all of them died, eventually. The base lost many of their own to the mysterious plague as well. The army doctors worked day and night to suppress the disease, to stop it in its tracks. In doing so, the hospital lost over 75% of its staff.

Finally the plague had run its course. No more were dying, no more were feeling feverish or showing red spots on their necks and torsos. Those who had survived, roughly half including both the base personnel and civilians, would carry on, burn their dead and start again.

*****

I remember asking about the water planes my friends and I had seen putting out forest fires as we drove back to town, returning from our camping trip the day after the Reaper had followed through on his promise.

“They flew out of Kingston Air force base,” explained the captain. She removed her hat as she spoke.  Her short blonde hair fell around her high cheek bones. She was an attractive woman, but she’d suffered an unimaginable loss, and the lines in her face mapped that story. “It’s two days’ drive west of us. They were retrofitted to do that job, those planes. They would load up on water at Elle Lake, and run water dumps all over the area. Now, you said you were a good two hour drive south of here, Sara?”

“Yes, about that.” I replied.

“I’d say the planes would have penetrated just south of that, and then west.” She confirmed.

“We saw three or four at a time.”

“Yes, you would have. They employed thirty odd. They ran day and night for about 48 hours following the attack, and then, nothing.”

“Nothing?” My voice cracked.

“We lost contact with them.” The captain’s tone was thoughtful.

“What happened to them?” I asked.

“Fatigue. The pilots wanted to keep flying. Keep up the momentum. Best we could tell, two of the bigger planes slammed into each other and then into the control tower while attempting to land and fuel up. They wiped out everyone, and with them any chance for the other pilots to continue their work.”

“That’s so awful.”

“We sent a patrol to investigate, and this was their conclusion.” Her eyes met mine.

“No wonder you never came for us.” My friends and I had held onto hope of a rescue for weeks after the sighting, believing that they had seen us, and that they would come for us. But they never did.

“Even if we were made aware of your existence, it’s unlikely we would have come for you. We were undermanned ourselves and had been ordered to stay put.”

“Makes sense I guess.” But I wondered what my life would have been like had they come for us. Would Joel still be with me? Perhaps we would have succumbed like the others to the plague, like the captain’s husband and daughters had.

*****

The world wasn’t always like this, and perhaps one day it will be better. The military houses us now. They have graciously put us up here in the hope that you will survive, have children of your own and rebuild.
That may sound like a lot to put on a child not yet eight years old, but know that you are very special, and not just in the way only a mother can know.

You would have had it so good in life. That’s what we called it before the Reaper dropped the bombs: life. We were all someone else, kids barely out of high school. The Grimm Reaper as the media had coined him, was a mad man. A man, an organization, a country, no one really knew. The threat seemed almost laughable. But he wasn’t laughing. He had demands that were never met, he had crazy ideals that required religions and governments to disappear. The things he asked were impossibilities. So he showed us just how serious he was. The initial blasts killed our families. My friends and I had been spared, having taken a camping trip that weekend, the weekend. And when we returned, our worlds were changed forever. We, fourteen of us at first and within seven months only eight, managed to stay alive, at my boyfriend’s house in the country. We felt privileged, chosen to survive, to rebuild.

More than nine years ago my life was very different. Was I lucky to have experienced life in all its normalcy, in all its abundance? I think so, I still have my memories. Though sometimes my memories seem like little more than movies, something from someone’s imagination.

The people here, the soldiers, they believe that much of the planet has fared better than our little corner. To believe is a powerful thing. It can keep you from despair, it can offer you salvation. Belief is sometimes all you have, your faith. I lost it once…

Part One
Chapter One

You think you know someone. Really know them. You think they’re in control of their thoughts, themselves. You give them the benefit of the doubt, believe that they will make the right choices that they’ll make you proud. Do they sense that? And when you’re trusting someone to lead you in the right direction… are those who lead more susceptible to the expectations of those who would follow? We’re not all cut out to lead. Some don’t choose to lead. It is thrust upon them and when the burden proves too much to bear, they wish it away like a dead limb, weighing heavier each day the wish is not granted.

I’ve often asked myself, in Joel’s defense, how might I have performed under the same circumstances? Would I cloak myself in a drug induced haze, would I become paranoid with power? Would I finally kill myself, knowing so many would suffer for my actions?

Is it any different than what the Reaper had done? To paraphrase Joel’s note, scribbled on stationary from his mother’s hardware store, found in his room, our room, on his childhood desk; “I know now that a single action can put in motion a series of repercussions. Should that action be positive, the repercussions are rewarding, but when that action is negative, so too are the events to follow. A single action can change you forever. Sometimes, if the deed is large enough, if the intent evil enough, the results can be disastrous.”

I heard it in my head as though he were speaking to me, whispering in my ear, and I wept. What irony is this? What sadness this implies, such a good man, tormented and turned. Could this happen to me? Time will tell. I will tell. And only then will I know.

*****

The rains had returned. Connor was dead. Joel was holed up in his bedroom, and those of us remaining felt more victimized now than when the Reaper had unleashed his evil upon the world. The rain, a blessing to us, to the whole world, would take a backseat to our internal demons. Incapable of rejoicing in this miracle, we waited on Joel to emerge from his self-induced confinement.

“He’s in there,” I whispered to Earl as I paced just outside Joel’s bedroom door. “He’s quiet though. I’m really worried, Earl.” I picked at the skin peeling from my fingertips, the nails having been chewed to the quick long ago.

“Sara, let him be. Jesus, we’re barely an hour into Connor’s funeral. Imagine what’s going on in his head.” Earl could have been right; maybe he was just decompressing. But the look on his face, after what Gareth had done, after Connor had been shot… it was almost as devastating a sight as the execution itself.

I decided to knock on the door, lightly, so that he knew I was there. Earl shook his head in disapproval, but remained silent.

“Go away!” Joel shouted. I jumped. Such pain in his voice, such … regret. Earl threw his hands up and backed away from the door. “I’d let him be for a while, Sara. He’s obviously got to work through this on his own.”

“No one should have to work through this on their own, Earl. I’m worried about him.” My eyes flew back to the door as we heard first a thumping sound coming from within, then a murmur and another shout. “Not yet!” Joel repeated. My skin crawled and goose bumps overtook me.

Earl gently placed a hand on my shoulder and rubbed. I felt more anxious at his touch than comforted. I removed his hand and wiped away a tear. He smiled narrowly at me. I‘d never been able to read Earl. He was never my type: intelligent yes, but his intensity had always frightened me. His mind was like a runaway train.

“I have to get back to Sonny; just thought I’d see what’s what up here.” He turned to leave, but I stopped him.

“Earl, you’re not planning anything are you?” The idea that we might now go to war with the flags was not something I could stomach. Not so soon after losing Connor. Couldn’t we just bury our dead and mourn for a time? Earl shrugged and smirked as though there were little else to do. “Earl….” I trailed off as he went down the hall and into Skylab.

The flags (so-called because of the ominous flag they carried, declaring themselves an autonomous nation of survivors) had been a cruel interruption into an otherwise solid foundation built on the ashes of the past. We had survived a nuclear holocaust. We had built a life for ourselves, and then the flags showed up. Led by Gareth, a man possessed by the idea of weeding secret Reaper sympathizers from surviving groups like our own and executing them to further his twisted purpose, the flags posed a threat unlike anything we’d imagined. His group consisted of nearly sixty upon his arrival at our door, but after a third party attacked our house from the devastated woods, he was left with little more than twenty. We retook control of our home and our lives by ousting the flags, ordering them away, and relieving them of their weapons and morale, or so we thought.

But they had returned, executing Connor in front of us after they’d caught us unaware. A sympathizer, they called him – Connor, before they shot him in the head. A sympathizer to the Reaper’s ideals, as if anyone would claim such madness after the hell the Grimm Reaper had unleashed on us all.

Left alone to contemplate further what scheme Earl and Sonny were planning, my eyes fell again to Joel’s bedroom door. I pushed my hands against the frame and slowly lowered my head until my forehead gently rested against the door. My cheek made contact with the cool wood. Eyes closed, I listened for movement, a sound, something that would let me in. What horrors was he experiencing in there? “Let me in,” I whispered to the door.

A moment later, Caroline came up the stairs and took my hand. I resisted, hesitant to leave my vigil at the door. Her eyes were red and swollen. The sight of her made me break down. Caroline followed in turn. I pulled her close, and we hugged. And we cried.

*****

Caroline finally released herself from our embrace and rubbed her eyes hard. “What, what do you think he’s doing in there Sara?” she asked.

“I wish I knew. I wish he’d let me in.” My arms crossed defensively as I looked back at the door.

“Is Joel going to be alright, you think?”

“I don’t know, Caroline.” I couldn’t hide my own inability to read him anymore. God, we had grown so far apart in such a short time. It felt like a microsecond. From ‘I love you’ to a break up, separate rooms and a blow out that sent him off to who knows where, in search of who knows what! “I don’t have those answers.”

“Should we get back to the others?”

Reluctantly, I agreed. Sucking in a deep breath, I pushed my fingers through her long, somewhat greasy blonde hair, as though tidying her up for an interview. When I reached the ends I carefully patted them down on her shoulders. “Okay, let’s go see what they’re doing.” Holding hands, we walked down the hall and into the addition, where the rest of the house now gathered.

We walked into a fierce speech, told in unwavering absolutes. Phrases like ‘we must’, and ‘how could we’ and ‘how dare they’. It was an impressive rant, not unlike many of the one-sided conversations he’d mastered in the past. No one could put together an argument like Earl, and in this, he was making his stand.

“This is not how this is going to end!” He pushed on, while a captive audience of our peers stood in silence. “This isn’t an ending. This is a new beginning. Gareth and his flags cannot be allowed to just walk off into the sunset.”

“What are you proposing, Earl?” I blurted out, angry he’d gone and done exactly what I had feared. The room held a distinct sense of immediacy. It permeated the air and made it hard to breathe.

“I propose we fight, Sara!” He glared at me, the devil in his eyes.

“Why would you want to pull us all back into this now, after having lost so much!” I studied the group, panning the room while their eyes betrayed them. A perfect moment to rally the troops perhaps – to offer them a solution. On the other hand, an excellent opportunity for someone to take control, to give the group a reason, purpose. Did Earl know what he was doing? Did he see what he was becoming?

“Whoa, Earl,” Caroline broke in. She was shaken and it resonated in her voice. “What are we talking about here? Running after the flags? Hunting them down? Two wrongs don’t make a right.” She was pleading to the group now. “Right? I don’t want to fight anymore. How could any of you want to fight anymore?”

“What else is there to do?” Sonny phrased it as more of a statement than a question.

“Rebuild,” I said. “Rebuild, regroup. Jesus, anything but get into another fight!”

“What if they come back?” added Kevin. I wasn’t surprised. I didn’t much like Kevin. His allegiance would fall to anyone that took the initiative to lead. He was weak.

“Listen to me, Joel is still here, okay? He’s still our leader, by vote! It’s his call whether we send people to track down the flags, not yours.” I pointed at Earl.

“I’m allowed to have an opinion aren’t I, Sara? It may not be the same country anymore, but as far as we’re concerned, it’s still free.” He glared at me.

I readdressed the group. “All I’m saying is not to get caught up in Earl’s hype. We don’t need to throw away our lives. Connor wouldn’t want to be avenged.”

“Says you!” Earl may have respected Joel’s leadership, but he would not concede the point. “Connor was a good man and a good soldier. And he went to the grave for all of us! All he needed to do was say the word and we’d have all died that day in defiance. But he knew that, and he died for us!” He sat down on a stool by the west windows, exhausted. “And it’s eating me up inside…” His words were not falling on deaf ears. Freddy, Sonny and Kevin approached Earl and stood next to him.

Seth and Sidney did not move, positioned at the east wall, guns dangling from their uncertain grips. I approached Seth and knelt beside him. We exchanged looks. He was no more ready to go to war with the flags than I was. I recognized indecision in Sidney’s face. Admittedly, a small part of me cherished the idea of going to war with the flags. I was still reeling from the events that lead to Connor’s death.

I turned to watch as Kevin stood and stared out the west windows. The forest still resembled something from a children’s Halloween picture book. Stripped bare of their leaves, the trees stood as dark silhouettes against a grey-black background. It had been raining on and off since Joel had returned from the woods, after having left us at Connor’s graveside.

It was approaching 8:30 pm when I heard a door shut. Joel was moving. I rushed out of Skylab and across the hall. His bedroom door was open and the bathroom door now closed. I pressed my ear up against the door and listened. In my peripheral vision I could see the group gathered by the addition entrance.

There was a murmuring inside the bathroom, followed by a hard thump. Something broke. I jumped back. Looking for encouragement from the others, I slowly approached the bathroom door again. They were frozen in place, unable or perhaps unwilling to move.

I pressed my ear to the door and heard Joel inside rustling around. I knocked lightly and tried to speak but nothing made it past the lump in my throat. He was ignoring me. How long would this continue? How long could I let it continue? Seth was behind me, gently pulling me away from the door. I held up a restraining hand.

“I’ll be all right,” I smiled, although I felt like I was in a dream at that moment. My head swam with emotions and memories, making me dizzy. “I need to be alone right now.” Seth nodded and released his delicate grip. I walked into Joel’s bedroom and sat on the bed. A low rumble of thunder rolled through the clouds overhead.

I wanted to pray, but felt there was no longer anyone listening. My faith had been shaken by the return of the flags, and the devastation they left in their wake. I couldn’t bring myself to pray at Connor’s funeral. Should I have felt I’d let him down by foregoing a prayer? Will his soul not rest now? Crossing my heart I bowed my head in prayer. “Amen,” I muttered aloud after completing my appeal.

As I panned the room, I felt alienated and lonely. The foreign feeling I got from this place, where I first told Joel I loved him, where we shared so much of ourselves, hurt me deeply.

I stood and walked towards his desk, where three pages of stationary rested. The top page had been filled top to bottom with Joel’s handwriting. He’d never had a very attractive script. But this scrawl was especially hectic. This writing was done in haste, by a hand that wanted to write as much as possible as fast as possible and move on.

I sat down to read.

Rebirth, by Michael Poeltl
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