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!
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
Plymouth Rock is bleeding. Day has turned to night. Hundred-pound hailstones level buildings. The small town of Clement seems cursed, and the residents know who’s to blame: the new kid, Tony Marino.
After losing his family and his home, 14-year-old Tony is forced to move from Florida to Massachusetts to attend Kalos Academy, an unconventional school for gifted children. Strange things begin to happen the day he arrives, and soon stories of plagues, monsters, and mystical objects surround him. Refusing to believe superstitions, Tony struggles to explain the occurrences logically, until he comes face to face with a satanic cult determined to bring about the end of the world.
Chapter 1: The Funeral
Tony Marino stood alone and watched the stars fall from the sky. Streaks of white light cut through the black expanse like wild brush strokes on a dark canvas. He leaned against a tall cypress, trying to ignore the comments that came from the crowded porch.
“Do you think it’s a sign.”
“I think it’s a curse.”
Relax, people, Tony thought, it’s not the end of the world.
“You know what they say: when stars fall from the sky, demons fall from heaven.”
Tony wanted to scream. He didn’t know most of the funeral guests, but they were obviously as backward and superstitious as his grandmother had been. He tilted his head. Instinctively he knew that the meteor shower was light years away, but he had to admit it really looked like, at any moment, one of the fireballs could crash to the ground. It fit with his mood. He felt like his whole life was falling apart.
Orphaned three times — that’s what the reverend had said. Tony didn’t hear much of the funeral service, but he heard that loud and clear. He never knew his mom or dad. He had grown up with his mother’s mother, a short, stout woman with silver hair and a sharp tongue. She had raised Tony in the swamps of southern Florida on religious myths and backwater fables, and he had tested her every step of the way. Now he was all alone — fourteen with nowhere to go — and a part of him wondered how he would ever survive without his grandma.
Relatives he swore he had never seen before had spent the entire afternoon fawning over him with hugs and kisses. It was horribly uncomfortable. The same stupid questions about his age and grade were always followed by comments about how he was the spitting image of, depending on the relation, either his mom or his dad.
Apparently Tony had inherited his father’s coloring, dark skin and black hair, and his mother’s features. At least that’s what the strangers kept telling him. His dad disappeared before he was ever born, and facing life as a single, teenage parent was apparently too much for his mom to handle. She swallowed a bottle of pills before Tony’s first birthday. All in all, he had no happy memories of his parents, and very few of his grandmother. If his doting relatives were trying to make him feel better, they were failing miserably.
“There you are.”
Tony groaned. A friendly looking couple had moved from the porch and joined him under the tangled branches of the old tree. They gazed up at the sky, admiring the meteor shower. Tony tried to ignore them. He didn’t want to deal with any more annoying relatives.
“That’s some show,” the man commented.
Tony didn’t respond.
“We’re the Browns,” the stranger continued, offering his hand to Tony. “I’m Robert and this is my wife, Laura.”
Tony shook their hands, hoping they’d go back to the porch and leave him alone.
“You’re a lot bigger since the last time we saw you,” Mrs. Brown commented.
Tony mumbled, “I don’t remember you.”
Her smile faded to a frown. Mr. Brown cleared his throat.
“Your grandmother never mentioned us?”
Tony shook his head.
“Odd,” Mr. Brown muttered, “because if anything ever happened to her, she wanted you to come live with us in Massachusetts.”
Tony almost choked.
Mrs. Brown forced a big smile. “We’re your guardians.”
Tony backed away from the couple. “I’m not moving to Massachusetts!”
The Browns looked at each other.
“Well, you can’t stay here, Champ,” Mr. Brown stammered.
Tony motioned at the large house behind him.
“I have a house. And please don’t call me ‘Champ.’”
“You’re a minor,” Mrs. Brown said in a sweet voice that made Tony want to smack her. “You can’t live by yourself.”
“I’ll do just fine by myself,” Tony huffed. He turned his back on them and stepped into the darkness.
He had practically been on his own since he was ten. Having an eighty year-old guardian was like having no parents at all, and Tony had always been too smart for his own good. At age eight, he qualified for the gifted program at his small, rural elementary school, but his grandmother refused to enroll him, paranoid the teachers would try to brainwash her boy. The old woman was a desperate, religious fanatic, afraid of the whole world. For her, monsters lurked around every corner and demons hung in every space. Caught between his brilliant mind and his irrational home life, Tony’s boredom began to drive him toward the troublemakers in his class. Despite his outstanding test scores, his behavior landed him in detention a lot more than the honor roll. By the time he reached middle school, he decided he didn’t need church or his grandmother anymore. It probably killed her inside, but she never stopped praying for him, or warning him to look out for demons.
He gazed up at the shooting stars as he crossed the dark lawn. Against the black sky, the white steeple of his grandmother’s next-door church gleamed like a lighthouse. He quietly entered the cemetery where he would often walk at night. Something about graves relaxed him, and tonight was no different, even standing over his grandmother’s grave. It was the freshest one he had ever seen. There were no flowers. There was no headstone. Only a dark rectangle of earth marked the spot where she had been buried just a few hours ago. He looked around the cemetery. White crosses and rounded blocks spread across the black lawn like warriors ready for battle, eerily similar to the shooting stars that sliced across the heavens above. If Tony had been a superstitious boy, he would have considered it a sign. But Tony didn’t believe in signs. He didn’t believe in anything anymore.
Something chirped sharply behind him and made him jump. He shook it off and looked back at the dirt, wondering what was going to happen to him. Tree leaves rustled overhead, and a terrifying shriek preceded a clap of wings. A hundred black bats burst from the treetops, covering the night sky in a darker shroud. Tony covered his ears and closed his eyes. When the noise was gone, he looked back at the sky.
“That’s some show,” said a voice in the darkness.
Tony spun around. “I told you I’m not going to Massachusetts!”
A shadowy figure emerged from the black brush surrounding the cemetery. It was a man; at least Tony thought it was a man. Even when the person was only a few steps from him, the boy still couldn’t make out any details. The stranger appeared to be a black man in a black suit with black sunglasses and a black stick of some sort. He held his hands up in a sign of surrender.
“Who said anything about Massachusetts?”
Tony looked away without answering.
“Some folks just can’t see what’s right in front of their noses.”
The stranger had an odd accent, maybe Cajun or Creole, but definitely not southern Florida. Tony didn’t recall seeing him at the funeral, but he didn’t really care. Whoever he was, he needed to go.
“Why don’t you go hide in the dark where you were before.”
“Oh, I’m always in the dark,” the man replied.
Then Tony saw it. The man was blind. Something dropped inside his stomach, and he suddenly felt a tinge of guilt.
“Look, my grandma just died…”
“Oh, I know that,” the stranger chimed.
“…and I’d really like to be alone.”
“Oh, I know that, too.”
The man pressed his cane into the soft earth and held it in place with one finger. Slowly, he rolled his finger in a small circle, spinning the cane like a long top. Tony found it strangely hypnotic.
“How do you know me?” he finally asked.
“Your grandma believed in magic.”
Tony couldn’t tell if it was a question or a statement.
“She believed in a little bit of everything. Honestly, I don’t think she knew what to believe.”
“Nothing wrong with that,” the man offered, stepping back from his cane, now spinning on its own in the dark. “I’ll take a confused person over a crazy person any day.”
Tony bit his lip. “I think my grandma was both.”
“Confused and crazy?” the stranger laughed. “You can’t be both. Crazy folks don’t think they’re confused; and confused folks admit they’re confused, so they can’t be crazy.”
Tony was beginning to think the stranger was confused and crazy.
“Whatever,” he mumbled dismissively, unimpressed with the cane trick. He started to walk away.
“I can make it so you don’t have to go to Massachusetts.”
“Like I said, some folks can’t see what’s right in front of their noses.”
The stranger waved his hands around the spinning cane, and it started to glow. Tony watched the blurred stick spin faster and faster. Blue rays shot from the cane and enveloped the blind man, transforming him from a black figure to a bright blue one. A stiff wind began to swirl.
For a moment, Tony was intrigued by the trick. Then thoughts of illusion and manipulation snapped him back to his senses. He stepped forward and grabbed the glowing stick. Immediately, the light and wind disappeared. The cemetery returned to pitch darkness, except for the white streaks of the meteors. Tony slammed the cane into the ground several times.
“It’s just a stick! There’s nothing magic about it.”
“Oh, I know that,” the stranger said, taking the cane from Tony. “There’s nothing special about this stick, but there’s a magic….”
“There’s no such thing as magic!” Tony made a face at the stranger, thankful the man couldn’t see him.
“You best be careful with things you don’t understand.” The man’s tone grew more threatening as he spoke. “A person might find himself cursed.”
“You sound like my crazy grandma.”
“Maybe your grandma wasn’t as crazy as you think.”
Tony sighed. “She believed she could see demons. That sounds pretty crazy to me.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” the man said, adjusting his sunglasses in the darkness. “To a blind man, seeing anything at all isn’t crazy.”
An eerie sensation crawled up Tony’s leg. He shuddered, then stormed into the darkness, doubting the day could get any worse. He paused, and looked over his shoulder. The man was gone. Tony was alone, which was what he had wanted, but all of a sudden he felt uncomfortable, maybe even scared. A chill rolled over his body when he gazed at the silver tips of the cemetery lawn. The light from the meteor shower seemed to be growing brighter. He sprinted out of the graveyard and up the hill toward the yellow lights of his grandmother’s house.
As he neared the house, a faint whistling sound approached from the darkness. He could see the black silhouettes of his relatives moving across the yard toward their cars. The sound grew louder, and he spotted what looked like a tiny fire floating in the sky. The light became a baseball-sized ember, then something closer to the size of the sun. Tony could feel the ground trembling under his feet.
He screamed, but it was too late. The fireball struck the house in an enormous explosion of flames and smoke. Tony was thrown facedown onto the ground. A thick cloud covered the entire area.
Coughing and sputtering, Tony crawled over the singed grass until he reached the smoldering stump of the cypress. He stood and peered into a black hole that marked where his house had once been. Tears filled his eyes, but the shock of the moment left him paralyzed, unable to cry. He had lost the only parent and the only home he had ever known. The day had officially become much worse.
Through the fiery fog, he saw the Browns running.
“Oh, Tony! You’re all right,” Mrs. Brown squealed, throwing her arms around the boy.
Mr. Brown placed his large hands on Tony’s shoulders and squeezed.
“Thank God no one was in the house.”
“Yes,” Tony mumbled, “let’s thank God for all of this.”
Mrs. Brown pulled him closer.
“Luckily your grandma wanted you to live with us.”
Tony groaned. Somewhere in the distant darkness he swore he could he feel the black stranger staring at him. A person might find himself cursed. If he didn’t believed in absolute logic, Tony would have admitted that the whole thing felt like a setup, but every cell in his brain screamed out against the accusation. He refused to accept a supernatural explanation. Still, his home was disintegrated and his life was in shambles. There was no way to return to normal. There was no way to argue with the Browns. There was no way to avoid moving to Massachusetts.
Keveny is dead. But even at the onset of the zombie uprising that’s difficult. Straddling between the realm of the living and the dead, he’s tethered to his reanimated corpse as it eats its way across the countryside.
Somewhere out there his girlfriend may not be safe, but is there still enough time to save her?
“Keveny—Keveny. Yo—wake up.”
I slowly came to. Daniel was kneeling over me, slapping me in the face with one of those meaty paws. If I’d had a brain still, he would be giving me a concussion. I grabbed his hand to give my eyes a moment to stop rattling in my head.
“What the hell was that?” My head throbbed.
“I don’t know, man, you tell me.” He helped me up and I noticed he was looking around a lot.
“What’s going on, did you pull me back again?”
“Pull you back? Again?” Daniel shook his head.
“Yeah, that thing. It yanked me back here a little while ago.” He looked at me.
“K, don’t trust that thing. I don’t think it’s what it’s pretending to be.”
“What’s it pretending to be? I thought you don’t know what it is.” I rubbed the side of my face, the ache going from my eye to my brain gradually easing.
“I don’t. But I know it’s not good.”
“What do you mean, what happened?”
Daniel smiled. “See my man, Keveny. Always ready to step in and help out.”
I hadn’t said that, but I let it go for now.
“What happened?” I asked again. “Hey, I thought you had moved on, when I was here last it told me you were ‘nonesuch’ or something.”
“See, that’s why I’m suspicious of this thing. I didn’t go nowhere. Nobody has. It looked at me wrong and I could tell it was about to try something. So I bashed it in the head and threw it into the fog.”
The image of the very big Daniel throwing a little blonde haired boy came to mind. I smiled for some reason.
“I’m starting to think we’re not going anywhere, but something is coming to us.”
“Why? I mean, you seemed so sure before.”
“I know, but… it’s hard to explain. You’d have to really be here to understand.”
There was a noise not far away from the house. I looked over and saw two orange-reddish lamps about twice the size of basketballs hovering near the top of the mist. For a minute they just hung there.
“For instance, stuff like that,” Daniel said. “I tried, but I knew I hadn’t killed it. That’s it. Sometimes it just stares.”
“You mean those are its eyes?” If the hairs on the back of my neck were real, they would’ve been standing.
“Right now they are. It doesn’t have a real form. I don’t think it needed one before now. Before us.”
“Why is it just staring?”
“It pretends when it wants to, but I don’t think it understands us. I think it tries to copy, but it’s at a loss when it comes to humans. Or at least the human spirit.”
It rose to about five feet above the mist. Yellow globes within the lamps swiveled around to our side. Okay, now it was looking at us and fake or no, the hairs on the back of my neck did stand.
The lamps came closer until they were hovering over the porch stairs.
“Let’s go inside,” Daniel said.
“Good idea.” We retreated through the creaky front door and shut it behind us as if it would do anything at all. I mean, the door didn’t really exist and what was on the other side of it was beyond the understanding of any human. Even if it were a real door I doubt one as dilapidated as that one would hold it at bay.
“So what’s going on with you?” he asked me. “Outside, I mean.”
My return had been so abrupt I’d forgotten. “Something’s very wrong,” I said.
“You mean other than the fact you are now a member of the legion of the undead?”
“Yeah. All this time I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get to Sefra. To protect her. I might have already been too late.”
“I figured out how to control my body. To make it do what I wanted. But I think she’s already dead.”
“Already? What—you found her body?” We went into the kitchen and Daniel opened the refrigerator. Surprisingly, he pulled out a pitcher of lemonade and poured into two glasses on the counter.
“Whoa. Is that real?”
“Well…” Daniel shrugged. He handed me a glass. “Quit stalling already. I’m hanging in suspense over here.”
I only intended to take drink a little. But a sip turned into a swallow and turned into a full-out chug. I must have been parched, but such a thing didn’t seem possible to me; I never considered it. My head was clearer, thoughts and realizations came to me faster than at any point before this whole nightmare began. I had to—
“Ahem,” Daniel said, his arms folded and tapping an index on a massive bicep.
I held the cold empty glass to my forehead and closed my eyes. “I think I might be dead for good. Sefra’s sister Susanne just shot me in the eye.”
“Susanne!” Daniel said. “But she’s two crackers shy of a bowl of crazy soup!”
“I know. Sefra had her locked away. If she got out and she’s pretending to be Sefra…”
“But what can you do about any of that now?”
“I got an idea.”
“No-no,” Daniel said. “You went out there a few times already and by some retarded fluke you didn’t get erased. Don’t you know what that mist is? It’s entropy.”
“Okay, what does entropy mean?”
“It means, uhhh, well.” Daniel scratched his head. “Remember The Neverending Story?”
“Remember the kid had to find a new name for the princess to stop the Great Nothing?”
“The Great Nothing is the same as that mist. And considering you just took a shot to the dome, I’d say your lifeline just got cut.”
“You don’t know that, though. I mean my body could still be alive. Besides, there’s something else going on.”
“I seriously doubt that as I have shot many an individual in the eye and none of them started whistling Dixie. What do you mean something else?”
“Look, we know a shot to the brain works, but come on—any part of the brain does the trick? Isn’t motor function like in the back of the brain or something?”
Daniel scratched his head. “I don’t know.”
“I’ve got to try to get back.”
“No, man. No.” Daniel put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. But it seemed as though it might have been out of concern even though it still hurt. “You can’t. You’ll be dead for good.”
“But something is coming. For real. Once I tried to stop my body from… eating someone. I blanked out. I wasn’t here and I wasn’t there. It was like I was someplace that didn’t exist at all, that didn’t know it could exist until I came there. I came back, but I wound up bumping into Wynn and I went back there. This time it watched me. It started to move. I think it’s coming here.”
“Here? Like here-here? Or there-here?” Daniel pointed outside.”
The lamps floated through the door and into the room. They were bigger and pulsed red and orange. Daniel and I stepped closer to each other.
“You know, on second thought, K,” Daniel began, “I think getting out of here is a good thing. Matter of fact, I think I’m coming with you.”
“But what if you’re right? What if there’s nothing outside of here and you just cease to exist?”
“Gotta be better than this. That thing is gonna try to gobble me up or something.”
“But what about the others? You said this house was filled with other people.”
“Gone. And I don’t know where.”
We went through the living room, around those lamps and back to the front of the house. They followed us, the pulsing going even faster as we stepped out on the porch. The mist was like a wall, bumping up against the stairs. I stepped over and put my hand through.
“I don’t know if this is gonna work,” I said.
“I’m not waiting around to find out it didn’t.”
We held hands. It was kind of weird, but felt like the right thing to do. Daniel looked at me, his head bobbing slightly. He was counting. Just like me.
One… two… three…
We stepped off the porch.
I stood. Where ever I was, it was dark. There was a moment of panic as I thought I was back in that place, but then there was someone’s voice nearby. I could feel my feet beneath me on the floor, like gravity had something to do with it. The feeling was odd.
I kneeled and put my hands on the floor, cold concrete. This wasn’t right. I hadn’t been able to touch anything since… since… well, whatever the hell had happened to me.
Was I back?
“Hello?” I said and listened for my voice to reverberate back to me. Nothing. But I didn’t know where I was—it didn’t mean anything necessarily. I was at least semi-corporeal, but that didn’t mean alive.
Rebirth, by Michael Poeltl
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.
I 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…
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