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.
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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.”