Friday, December 9, 2016

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 9 -- Feast

Hello, Readers. 


I know that you aren't getting anything from me other than these posts right now, but I hope that's OK. Life is busy with family and a day job. I told a nice sized chunk of people about our little serial story this week. They were part of a mailing list that I created after a promotional opportunity in September. Saw an uptick in traffic to the blog after that, so hopefully we've picked up a few new readers. If you found us as part of that group, welcome.

Still, I'd love to see more people find our story, so, if you're enjoying reading his little tale as it unfolds, would you tell someone about it? Reading is better when it's a shared experience, so share it

OK, I think that's it for this time. Here's Part 9. 

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Welcome to the End//Part 9: Feast

We all sit in silence — like most nights at camp — and watch the fire. We listen to the wailers screech from far off somewhere. Caroline is reading a book that she found in one of the first excursions from camp. It feels like forever ago, but it wasn’t all that long.

I’d just met her and her mom. I’d just met everyone at camp. We had nothing more than what we’d brought with us, and, for me, that was almost nothing. I’d come in late at night, like J.R. I was walking down Interstate 30. The sun was setting, and I could see the fire they’d made glowing from the overpass. I braved the trip through the surrounding neighborhood to make it to their camp and the fires burning in the large drums. I said my introductions then gave myself over to exhaustion. I laid down on a bench and slept until morning.

I woke up the next day and walked the surrounding neighborhood with Caroline and her mom. We spent the day getting to know each other some and looting the local stores. One had books on a spinner rack, like something I saw in an older drug store I’d frequent with my grandparents when I’d visit them. Caroline loaded her pockets with paperbacks. Now, if she’s not off with me scavenging or arguing with her mom,  she’s got her head in a book.

“Haven’t you already read that one?” Walter asks as he walks back to our circle. He’s dressed the rabbits and put them on the spit he’s cobbled together from things he found on the fairgrounds.

“It’s good,” Caroline says, never pulling herself from the pages.

Walter gets the rabbits positioned above the fire. We take turns spinning the spit, and the meat is soon roasting. It’s smelling delicious, and we make meaningless conversation while we wait to eat better than we have in a couple of weeks.

The fire’s hot, and we are impatient so it takes less than an hour for us to get the rabbits cooked and cut up. Other than some repeated thanks to J.R. for bringing the meat, we eat in silence. Everything’s gone in just a few minutes. It’s amazing how quickly manners and decorum get tossed aside when the world falls apart around you. I look around the fire, everyone’s cheeks and chins shine with the fatty leave-behinds of a meal hastily eaten.

We are all sitting fat and happy when a wailer cries out. Then another. And another. We wait for the choir to really start singing. Get a couple of different voices talking all at once and they can all get riled up and start screaming. But it doesn’t happen. It’s quiet for another few minutes, then Maggie announces that she’s going to bed.

It feels late, but no one really knows what time it is. Maggie says: “I’ve got an early morning. She smiles like she does every night when she makes that joke. We all tell her to sleep well. Caroline dismisses herself a few minutes later. J.R. just walks away without saying anything. And since we don’t know where in camp Britt and Bethany are, it’s just me and Walter around the fire.

“The natives seem restless tonight,” I say.

He looks out into the dark. “They surely do. Wonder what has them so worked up.”

“Think they are worked up, or are things changing?”

“I hope it’s the former, but I fear it’s the latter.”

“Me too.” I nod. “Me too.”

“Go to bed,” Walter says. “I’ve got this tonight.”

“You sure? I don’t mind taking the first go.”

Walter shakes me off and pulls the shotgun that’s been sitting on the ground next to him into his lap. “Just come relieve me before morning.”

“Deal.” I stand and step behind my chair. I push. The casters squeak and a chorus of wailers call out. I leave the chair next to Walter.

“Yours for the night,” I tell him and pat the chair’s seat back with an open palm. “If you want it.”

Friday, December 2, 2016

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 8 -- J.R.

Our schedule got a little wobbly because of the holiday, but we are back at it. Here's Part 8 of our story. Hope you're still liking it. It's going fun places. Well, fun for the writer. The characters may not agree as much.

For those of you here, enjoy Part 8.

And if you need to catch up, you can do that here.

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Welcome to the End//Part 8: J.R. 


“Hello,” calls a voice from the nothing. “It’s me. J.R. Don’t shoot or anything.”

Our little square of people relaxes.

“Good evening, J.R.,” Walter says. “Come. Join us by the fire.”

J.R.’s small frame steps out of the dark, and we can see that he’s carrying three dead rabbits by the back haunches. They swing slow at his side, and Walter and I stand to greet him.

We haven’t seen J.R. in a few days. He’s not a camp regular, but he does pass by a couple times a week. He’ll sleep here overnight then leave in the morning. He has a wife and kids he’s looking for. We talk about it after he leaves. None of us think they’ve survived, but none of us have the courage to tell him that either.

He lays the rabbits on top of a plastic bucket that we’ve turned over and use as a table. Walter scoops them back up and pulls a large knife from the holder attached to his belt. He walks away from the rest of us. He’s going to dress the rabbits. We have a makeshift spit that we’ll roast them on. J.R. always brings food.

He and I walk back to the fire, and he makes a bee-line for my chair. I catch his shoulder just as he’s about to sit. He turns to me, and I shake my head a very quiet no. He pulls a folding chair up to the fire and sits. If this had been just a couple days later I would have let him sit in the chair, no problem. But it wasn’t. The chair is new, and I don’t need anyone thinking it’s already community property.

“How you been, J.R.,” Maggie asks.

“I’m alive,” he says and slips down deeper into the chair. He pushes his feet out in front of him and lets his chin fall to his chest. Alive, but barely.

“Glad you survived the other night,” Maggie continues.

J.R. nods softly. “Spent it at a camp over in Mesquite. By the big tower. They are calling the place Paris now. Never been, but assuming it’s still standing, I’m betting the French place is a little different.”

We all chuckle at his joke. It’s not great, and I don’t think any of us would argue that, but it’s nice to have a bit of levity.

A wailer screams from somewhere that’s probably nearer than any of us would like. Half a dozen others respond. Everything in camp stops for a moment or two then all of us relax.

“What’s it like out there? South?” I ask. I’ve kept myself focused on this camp and downtown. I don’t really know what to do next. I don’t know that any of us do, any of us but J.R. Are we all waiting for something? For the wailers to move on? For things to get back to normal? For the nightmare to end? Or are we all just waiting to die?

J.R. adjusts his position in his seat. He sits up straighter, pushing himself up by the elbows. “It’s different, I guess. The wailers are more aggressive. There are more of them. I don’t know if it’s confidence in numbers, or what. But you have to be on your toes now. And it’s not just in the dark that you see them. They are coming out during the dusk, before the sun is completely gone.”

I think we all knew that there were more wailers now. The volume of the responses to the initial calls had increased too much for their not to be more of them. But I hadn’t expected that they’d become bolder.  Out at dusk would become out in the afternoons would become out always. The relative safety we felt in the sunlight was about to disappear.

“When I was over at Paris,” J.R. says, “there was talk of a church in Oklahoma. One where survivors were congregating. Starting another civilization, or something. Honestly, surprised a church from here hasn’t done it first.”

“Who’s this talk from?” I ask. It’s important. If he knows this person then the info is legit. Worth considering, storing away. If this is just coming from someone who was at the camp for a night then maybe it’s not true. But even if it’s not … I don’t know. Maybe everything is worth hanging onto.

J.R. doesn’t answer my question. He’s staring into the fire, letting the tongues of flame burn themselves into his retinas. Sear his eyes. He’s lost somewhere in his own head. We all give him a couple of minutes to spend wherever it his he’s mentally wandered off to, then I break the silence.

“This church have a name?”

A beat then he responds: “Sorry. What? Oh. New Hope Fellowship. Wait. No. Tabernacle. New Hope Tabernacle.”

“Fitting,” Maggie says.

“Too fitting?” I ask, because the name seems a bit perfect.

“Just what I’ve heard.” J.R. has lost interest in the church. His mental excursion has unhinged him. We’ve lost him for the night.

Monday, November 21, 2016

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 7 -- Night Crashes

Part 7 for those of you reading it. Seems like, just looking at the numbers on these last posts, we might have a small group of dedicated readers. I'm happy with that. Hope you're enjoying it. Like I said last time, I'm enjoying my end of it. It's writing easy, and that's always fun.

There's a little more Maggie and Mack in this installment. I like the play between the two if them. Feels a bit different than the interactions between Mack and Caroline, but you all haven't seen most of those yet.

Something you might not notice. Cover with the new title. So when you go look to buy your copy of this story once it's released you'll look for that version. I kid; I kid. (Mostly, but not really. It'd be great if those of you enjoying this would buy a copy once it's released. It won't be expensive.)

OK. Part 7. Here you go.

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Welcome to the End//Part 7 -- Night Crashes


Night crashes hard now. The skies are covered with clouds all the time so it never gets fully bright anymore. There’s always a dull gloom over everything. But the clouds also speed up the arrival of night. By 4 at the latest it’s practically impossible to see without some kind of extra illumination.

It’s dark, and I’m thinking back to the lanterns that I plucked from the doctor’s office the night before. I can see their brass frames and clear glass, and I can see the warm glow of their light. They were elegant but would have brought a bit of sophistication to a world that was now just a few steps away from primal.

Of course, I knew why Caroline had to destroy them, and I wouldn’t have thought about them now if there wasn’t a fire burning in a 40 gallon drum in front of me. It’s putting off enough heat to slowly roast beef.

I’ve taken off my jacket, and Maggie takes off her outer layer when she slides up next to me.

“She says it’s from rubble.”

“What?”

“Caroline says that she cut her arm on rubble.”

“That’s what she says?”

“It is.” Maggie pulls a nearby folding chair next to me.

“Then that must have been what happened.”

“It’s very neatly bandaged.”

“She must have wrapped it herself.”

“Well,” Maggie says, “she is a talented girl. You said so yourself. I hope I’m forgiven if I don’t believe her.”

“You’re welcome to  believe whatever you like. It’s not like she’d be the only one around here with secrets.” I look at Maggie and the awkward air hangs between us for a few seconds.

“Had to use them?”

“We did. Pretty neat little trick.”

“If you liked that one …”

I spin my seat to face Maggie. “You never thought to mention that you could…”

“Hi. I’m Maggie.” She sticks out a hand for a fake handshake. “I’m a mom of two. Work in retail. And I can do magic. How well do you think that would have been received?”

“Well, good point. Unless you followed that up by shooting some kind of glitter beams out of the palm of your hands.”

“It doesn’t work like that, and don’t make fun.”

“I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“I know you were joking, but it’s also why I tend to keep it to myself.”

“Caroline says she can’t do it.”

“She can. She just chooses not to. Never took an interest in it, but it’s not some kind of recessive gene that skips a generation or two. She’s got the ability, just not the will.”

The conversation stalls. After a moment the first wailer of the night breaks the silence. It’s a lone cry coming from somewhere near downtown. It’s followed a moment later by dozens of others. It’s like a call and response from the church services I used to attend.

It’s the evening routine. Once the wailers start talking they don’t stop until the sun is up. One will call. The others respond. My body always tenses when it starts, an unease that sits in my gut. Makes me jumpy. Makes me anxious. And it doesn’t go away until the sun begins to rise.

Walter and Caroline join us around the fire. We are each sitting across from each other, Walter on the opposite side of the barrel from me. Caroline is across from her mom. It is each person’s responsibility to watch the area across from them. Nothing sneaking up on us.

Something rattles in the dark, and all of us turn.

Friday, November 11, 2016

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 6 -- Maggie

Part 6 for your reading pleasure. This one is a bit shorter than previous installments, but it breaks in a good place. You'll just have to be happy with this smaller installment. Posting these snippets has been inspiring. It's been keeping me writing, and that's great. I hope you all have been enjoying the story so far. I've been having fun writing it.

I mentioned in the first installment that the title on the cover, "Five Days After," would probably change since none of this story takes place five days after anything. I think I have the new title, Rubble and Ruin.

I think I'm about half way done with this first episode. Not exactly sure. There are three big milestones that I need to hit in the writing. I've just started writing my way toward the first of those. Seems like it should take another 5k to 10k words to get us through all three, but I could be off on that. My estimates have been very wrong before.

Once this is done, I'm going to package it all up and put it out for sale with at least four more books to follow this one. I hope that if you've enjoyed the story so far that you'll buy a copy when it's ready to go.

And with that, I've rambled enough. Here's Part 6.
_________________


Welcome to the End//Part 6 -- Maggie


Maggie pulls one of the milk crates up next to me.

I sit up. “For what?”

“For bringing my girl home to me.”

“She’s a good kid.”

“I think so, but I’m biased.”

“She’s smart. She’s confident. She’s going to do well.”

“Well, she would have. I always thought she’d be a success, but that was when being a success meant more than staying alive.”

I stand and move toward the food that’s still warming over the small fire that’s slowly dying. It’s on a cast iron pan that Caroline and her mom brought from their apartment after their building was destroyed in the initial attack. They salvaged what they could, which wasn’t much. They each had a couple changes of clothes, and Caroline grabbed the pan as they were leaving. She wasn’t thinking about cooking on it. She wanted something heavy to swing, just in case.

Maggie steps in front of me and pushes me back toward my seat. I sit, and she fixes me a plate. It’s some sort of meat in some sort of gravy. I don’t ask for details, just eat.

“But she can do that too,” I say through a mouth full of food.

“Yeah, but that confidence scares me.”

“How?”

Maggie sits and situates her milk crate in front of me. She slides it close, leans her elbows on her knees and looks me in the eyes.

“Her arm, Mack. What happened?”

I don’t respond. I like Caroline, but this isn’t a conversation I need to be having with her mom. Maggie knows that the world out there is dangerous now. Definitely more dangerous than it was before. But she also knows she has a girl who is going to do what she wants to do. She’s getting that itch that comes as adulthood approaches, pushing and stretching at the edges of the rules to give yourself a little more room. More freedom. Elbowing out your own piece of ground in a world that’s opening up before you.  I answer Maggie’s question with a question.

“What did she tell you?”

“She hasn’t yet. I haven’t asked about it.”

“Then talk to her first.”

She smiles and nods. “OK. Thanks again for bringing her home safe.”

“You’re welcome.”


Maggie takes my empty plate from me, and I lean back again and stare into the beams of the Texas Star.

Friday, November 4, 2016

FREE FRIDAY FICTION: Welcome to the End : Part 5 -- Camp

Welcome to Part 5. Other parts are here if you need to catch up. Hope you're enjoying it so far. I'd love to hear it in the comments if you are.
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Welcome to the End//Part Five — CAMP

We roll into Fair Park and Caroline’s mom rushes us. Well, rushes her. She throws her arms around her daughter, and the two of them fall to the asphalt.

“Oh, my girl. My girl. My girl,” she says through tears. Caroline is struggling to stand. She’s pushing both of them from the ground, but her mother won’t let her get up.

“I just knew you were dead. I just knew it. I knew it.” Mom sits up, and Caroline does to. Mom grabs her daughter’s face. “But look at you. You’re here. You’re OK. I don’t know what I’d have done if I’d lost another little girl.”

Caroline pulls away. “Mom,” she says, her face serious. “We don’t know what’s happened to Wendy. She live in McKinney. We couldn’t have heard from her. I’m sure she’s fine.”

Mom just looks at Caroline, waiting for her to finish talking, then pulls her tight to her chest.

Walter comes walking up behind and offers me a hand. We shake.

“It’s good to see you,” he says. “We really had thought that we lost you last night. The wailers were out in force. The noises coming from downtown were pretty deafening.”

I look over toward Caroline and her mother. They are lost in mom’s near hysterics, but I still pull Walter a few steps away then begin to recap the night.

“It was bad,” I say. “Worst I’ve seen so far. We saw hundreds of them. They were in our building. Coming from above us and below.”

“The roof?” he asks.

I nod.

“Wow.” He pauses for a moment, considering what he’s just heard. I can see the wheels turning. We keep learning new things about the wailers. What they can and can’t do. New knowledge means that we have to readjust strategies. Reconsider things we’ve been doing. Knowing that they can climb the walls. That’s new.

“How did you guys get away?”

“Magic,” I say then stop. I shouldn’t say too much. Caroline and her mom haven’t said anything so far. This is their secret to spill. “I guess.”

“Or luck.” Walter punches my arm then takes the packs out of the seat of the chair.

“That’s fancy,” he says, running his hand along the light brown leather. “We get to take turns sitting in that thing?”

“We didn’t take turns getting it here,” I say then smile.

Walter chuckles. “Fair enough. Come get some breakfast. It’s not much, but it’s filling.”

There’s a fire burning at the foot of the Texas Star and something is cooking. It smells warm; that’s the best that I can say for it. But we’ve learned not to be picky when it comes to food. There’s never a guarantee that you’ll have it, so when you do get to eat you take advantage. Even if warm is the best thing you can say about the meal.

“You and Maggie the only ones here last night?” I ask. I’m in my high-back executive, and I’m already loving it. I do feel like some kind of royal looking out over his subjects and his land.

Walter answers my question with an “Unnnn Hunnn."

"And she was in hysterics. I can’t blame her especially. We both thought the two of you had met with a sudden and unexpected demise.”

Walter likes to talk like that: “a sudden and unexpected demise.” It drives the writer in me crazy, but I figure that it’s something better to tolerate given our current situation. Our camp is small, and I don’t want to ruffle any feathers. These are the people my lots are cast with, whether I like it or not. I can’t have one of them start to feel indifferent on whether my demise is sudden or unexpected.

In camp there are six of us. There’s me. There’s Walter. We have Caroline and her mom. And then there are two other women. Honestly, I don’t care for either of them all that much -- Britt and Bethany. They have been fairly useless so far. I am trying to tell myself that they are still in shock over everything that’s happened, but we are getting farther and farther out from the days of the event. We are getting to the point that they should have come back around and are ready to be productive again, to contribute. But they haven’t done any of that yet, and eventually you just have to chalk it up to general laziness. And that’s about where I am with them.

The other four of us, though, we’re good. We’re strong and bent on survival.

Walter drops my pack near the bedroll that I’ve claimed as mine. It’s in the shadows of the Texas Star, the giant Ferris wheel that is the centerpiece of Dallas’ Fair Park.  It was the landmark that you saw from the highway as you looked off into southern Dallas, and somehow it remained intact when everything came crashing down, a giant target that none of the aliens’ big rocks could seem to hit.

I move the chair to nearer the fire pit and sit down. The walk from downtown has taken from me whatever energy the good night’s sleep had provided. I’d expected to have built some sort of stamina by this point. I push up onto my toes, and the seat leans back. I look up into the grid of steel inside of the Ferris wheel above me. I study the beams for a moment and let my mind get lost in the structure of this giant amusement ride. That’s likely why I jump at the sound of Maggie’s voice.

I look up at her, startled, and she repeats what she said: “Thank you.”

Friday, October 28, 2016

FREE FRIDAY FICTION: Welcome to the End: Part 4 -- Morning

Our story continues. Catch up on previous installments here.

________

Caroline is hesitant heading back into the stairwell. She chokes the life from the door handle, her knuckles gone white. I wait for her to push the door open, but she doesn’t.

I bend and say into her ear: “It’s OK. It’s day time. They are gone. The freaks only come out at night.”

“Then why are you whispering?” she asks and backs away from the door. “Here. You go first if you’re so brave.”

We switch spots, and I pause a moment before swinging the door open. Evidence from last night’s fight is everywhere. The bodies of the wailers we killed are still on the steps below us, the skin gone grey and the muscles already starting to decay. The number of them, though, is depressingly small.

We step around what’s left of the lanterns that Caroline threw, and I think for a moment about the plans I had for lighting camp up at night. These lanterns were tall. The glass clear. They were going to create a nice pocket of light. A bit of false security after the sun disappeared behind a ragged skyline.

The wingback chair is still on the landing, and, it is, surprisingly, undamaged. Caroline drops into its padded seat.

“Your throne, your majesty.”

I gesture for her to get up, and she stands. I grab the chair and swing it awkwardly above my head. “Let’s get out of here. There’s nothing left that we need.”

Caroline heads down the steps, and we finish the climb down in silence. Back on the street I set the chair in front of me. I drop my pack in the seat, and the casters squeak as I set it moving again. Both Caroline and I pause. We are waiting to hear the wails even though we know they aren’t coming.

We begin the walk back to Fair Park and our little camp. People are waiting.

I can’t hold back the question that I’ve been wanting to ask since last night.

“That thing that we tossed over the railing, your little homemade hand grenade. What was that?”

“Something Mama cooked up.” Caroline readjusts her pack to center it better on her back. She repacked it in rush last night. Items went back in haphazard, and the pack bulges at its sides.

“Cooked up? That doesn’t clarify anything.” The streets of downtown are empty, and it’s more than a little creepy. This is a Tuesday, I’m fairly certain. We are walking toward what was City Hall, entering the heart of what should be a busy business district. There should be cars forcing us to the sidewalk. I shouldn’t be pushing an executive desk chair along the center line of Akard Street.

“It’s a little potion in case we got in trouble.”

“Are you talking about magic?”

“Yes, Sherlock. I’m talking about magic.” Caroline is swinging her machete in broad strokes in front of her.

“Since when did …” I can’t finish the sentence. My voice trails to nothing.

“Since forever.” Caroline says. “We don’t ever do anything with it. Just something we keep in our back pocket for days like this.”

“Seems like a pretty big thing to keep in your pocket, being witches and all.”

“We aren’t witches. Well, she is. I’m not. And she’s not even a witch really. She can scramble together a few spells. Something that came down from her mom and from her mom and from her mom before her.”

I pick up the chair and swing it above my head again. The facade of one of the few older buildings left in downtown has peeled off, and bricks and stone spread across the street in a deep and wide pile.

“What I saw,” I say as we carefully climb this rubble, “the ball and the bang, that was magic.”

“Call it what you want.” Caroline steps off a large stone and back to the street. I don’t say anything for a moment. The combination of the pack on my back and the chair over my head has messed with my center of gravity. Combine that with unsteady footing, and it’s taking everything I have to not go end over end off this heap.

I get to steady ground after a couple of long moments and set the chair back down and drop my pack in the seat. I grab Caroline’s off her back and drop it on top of mine then pick up our conversation: “You can’t do it, you said?”

“The spells?”

I nod.

“No,”she says. “It’s not something that ever interested me. And until now I didn’t know how much it would matter. But anyone can do it. Just have to know what to mix with what and what to say while you’re doing it. It’s just tapping into ancient energies. Stuff like that. I never paid any attention to it when my mom discussed it.” She pauses for a moment. “My sister, though. If you’re looking for someone who can cook you up something powerful, she’s your girl.”

I stay behind the chair and push. “Yeah, I’ll let you know.”