Friday, May 26, 2017

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 30 -- Piles

Thirty. It's a nice round number, and that's where we are. Thirty parts. Thirty weeks of zombies and aliens and Mac and Caroline. Probably five more parts to go. So Welcome to the End is coming to an end. I am in the middle of plotting a second part, carrying on Mac and Caroline's story past this. I like where it's headed. It's different than this story, but it'll move the story along nicely.

OK, on with the story.


Welcome to the End//Part 30 -- Piles

This life had started to feel normal. The wailers had seemed annoying but avoidable if you didn’t put yourself in situations where you were vulnerable. Living in an old fairground wasn’t a horrible thing considering the alternatives. And I had liked Maggie and Walter and Caroline. Life wasn’t anything like I’d ever expected, but it was feeling like it was becoming normal.

Then the rains come. Then the wailers stampede. Then everyone dies. Now, this fairground seems like the last place I want to be. I’ve never been to Oklahoma, but it seems as good a place as any now. Now that nothing feels normal again.

I get back behind the wheelbarrow and begin to push it back to the storage area where I’d found it. Then I stop. It doesn’t matter if it gets back to where it needs to go. No one is ever going to be here again.

I don’t know that, of course. Someone else could come here to Fair Park thinking that it’d make a good place to regroup. Maybe to call home. And I can’t say that they’d be wrong. It has been a good base to work from for the last month. Suddenly, a month doesn’t feel like all that long. Four weeks. That’s all we’ve been here. That’s nothing. It’s an inconsequential amount of time. One twelfth of a year. Just 8 percent of a 365 day cycle, give or take.

But this month, it feels eternal. That’s what happens, I guess, when the world comes down around you.

I go back to camp. Caroline is gathering her mom’s stuff--her bedroll, her clothes, everything that still says Maggie. She’s putting it all in a sloppy pile.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Cleaning up,” she says. “I’ve already got all of Walter’s stuff together.” She points toward a similar pile a few yards away.

“Want me to get Bethany and Britt’s things?”

She doesn’t look up from her work. She’s going through a box that Maggie kept by her pillow. Caroline cracks it open. It’s pictures. She pulls them from the box and starts slowly flipping through them, studying the faces on each one. A small smile sneaks onto Caroline’s lips, and I realize that I’ve lost her. She’s dived headfirst into each of the pictures.

Britt and Bethany didn’t have much with them. I take what they did bring and toss it onto the pile of Walter’s stuff that Caroline has made.
Caroline puts the photos back into the box and puts the box in her pack. These don’t go on the pile.

“What’s the plan for all of this stuff?”

“Burn it,” Caroline says. “All of it. Tonight.”

I nod. It’s a good idea.

Friday, May 19, 2017

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 29 -- The Girls

Following up on a smaller entry, Part 29 feels a little longer than normal. So, you're welcome.

Things in the story are wrapping up. We are coming to the end of the beginning. A few more posts now, and we'll be done. Let me know if you've enjoyed the journey so far. I'd love to know if I've kept you entertained.


Welcome to the End//Part 29 -- The Girls

I can’t leave Bethany or Britt. It just doesn’t feel right, so the next morning I get up and start digging a grave for them. Just one. It’s set a bit away from the graves for Walter and Maggie. For some reason it seems better to keep them separated, even in death. They don’t deserve the prime locations, not close to the others.

I had a horrible dream last night. It was of what happened here that night. I saw the wailers get Walter. I saw them get Maggie. I saw the two of them fight. And I saw Bethany and Britt run, and even though I know it’s a dream, it’s made me mad. I’ve sided with Caroline. I feel obliged to give these girls a burial, but I don’t feel an obligation to give them more.

I get their hole dug in a couple of hours. I do it in the early morning, as the dawn gives way to day. I want to have the whole project finished by the time that Caroline wakes, so I dig fast. I’ve pulled off the coat I’ve been wearing for what feels like months. Awake. Asleep. It hasn’t come off. But if I don’t take it off now, I’ll sweat through it.

The hole is narrow and only about four feet long once I’m done with it, but it doesn’t need to be big. With the condition the girls are in, it will do.

I lay the shovel beside the hole and the pile of removed dirt. I head out into the park to scavenge a wheelbarrow. It’ll be easier to use that and a shovel to move the girls to the grave.

It’s not until I get out into the park looking for the items on my short checklist that I begin to consider how matter of fact it all sounds. I need a wheelbarrow and a bigger shovel so I can move two bodies.

I’m moving bodies. A lot of this experience of the last month or so has been surreal. And a lot of it are things that you get used to, things I never thought I’d become accustomed to seeing or doing. Like bodies. It was remarkable how quickly I got comfortable with seeing a dead body. It’s not like they littered the streets, but they haven’t been uncommon. Going back into downtown I’d see a couple a day maybe. Prior to this, I’d only seen bodies at a funeral, when they’d been cleaned and dressed and neatly positioned. Here, these were bodies where they’d fallen, and there was something more oddly normal about that.

This job, though, moving Britt and Bethany feels different. Maybe it’s because I knew them a bit. Or maybe it’s because they are in such a condition that I feel like I need a shovel to complete the task. Maybe it’s just all of it. Everything that’s happened has accumulated to the mental levels that it all seems a bit absurd now.

Whatever it is, I instinctively smile then laugh in a way that I can’t control. I look around for Caroline. I don’t want her seeing me, to think that all of this is a joke. I’m alone, and I let myself get overcome with the feeling of absurdity.

I step through a crumpled spot in a fence that separates a back part of Fair Park from the public areas as the fit of funny passes.  I find what I’m looking for. I don’t know why we haven’t seen this before. It’s some sort of storage and staging area for the park’s grounds crew. There are beaten electric carts that can be used to haul material all over the grounds. There are rakes and shovels and wheelbarrows.

I climb behind the wheel of one of the carts and hope beyond expectation that it will somehow start. The keys have been left in the ignition, and I go to start it. I’m trying to talk to the cart, telling it that it’d be great if it could turn over. That I want it to fulfill its purpose, like it’s some animate object that has a higher duty beyond hauling lazy humans and gardening equipment across a park in Dallas.

It doesn’t start.

I try two other carts with the same results before I give up and start rummaging through a shed looking for a shovel bigger than the one I’d used to dig the three graves. I eventually find one that is comically large.

Everything I find is oversized. The tub in the front of the wheelbarrow looks like a small wading pool. The wheel in the front isn’t some plastic or rubber number. It’s a tire that requires inflation, and it’s about half flat. My arms are spread uncomfortably wide to reach the handles on the back. The large shovel I’ve tossed in the tub is sliding around as I wind my way through the park to where Britt and Bethany are. It’s taking twice as long as it should since I’m having to navigate around piles of destruction.

I pass the old football stadium. It’s half gone now. The concrete grandstands, lying in crumbled heaps. The field is getting overgrown.

I reach the girls. They look worse than the day before. Something has gotten to them, and it reaffirms my decision to leave. Whatever this was, it wasn’t small. If there are things like this roaming our park, or at least coming into our park, Caroline and I don’t need to stay.

I pull the shovel from the tub and work the front lip under the girls. It takes some pushing to get it there, and the resistance makes me gag. I try not to think about what I’m doing, but trying not to think about it only makes the thoughts about what I’m doing more clear. I’m shoveling bodies. Human bodies. Into a wheelbarrow.

I finish the job and wheel Britt and Bethany over to the grave I’ve dug for them. I tip the wheelbarrow up and let their bodies fall in. I use the shovel to even them out so they evenly fill the space then start dropping dirt back into the hole.

I pat the dirt smooth then toss the shovel out into the field.

Three graves. Four bodies.

Friday, May 12, 2017

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 28 -- Making Plans

Part 28 for you. This is the point in writing this story that it felt like the corner was finally turned. We have a way forward now. Something to look toward. It feels like our legs are back under us. Hope you get the same feeling in reading it.

We have just under 4,000 words left in the story. That's probably another month and a half of posts. In case you wanted to mark your calendar.

On with our tale.


Welcome to the End//Part 28:Making Plans

I walk the Midway looking for Bethany and Britt, but I can’t find them at first. Caroline never got specific about where she saw them, so it’s a hunt. The length of the main walk in the Midway is empty, but on my second pass I see them. They aren’t in the main walkway. They are huddled in a bloody pile inside one of the booths set aside for games. A board filled with small bullseye targets is above them.

They died together and went violently. My only hope, even though I didn’t have much use for either of them, is that it was fast, and by all indications, it was. There aren’t defensive wounds on either of them. My guess: the wailers came into Fair Park from the front entrance. They stampeded past what would have been Big Tex and got funneled into the narrow walk that led straight to the Midway. Maggie got caught away from the main crush but obviously was caught by other wailers. Walter put up a fight of some kind, one he had to know was going to be futile. Predictably, it looks like Britt and Bethany ran, although I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same thing. They got a decent distance away, honestly--a few hundred yards.

They must have ducked into one of the game booths hoping to crouch in a corner and go undetected, but wailers aren’t easily fooled. They came in here and cornered themselves. They didn’t stand a chance.

I bend to try and pick them up--they deserve a burial too--but I can’t. They are shredded. Arms. Legs. Torsos. They are all individual pieces at this point. And what is left, on closer inspection, has been picked at. Whatever animals have found their way into Fair Park have gotten to the girls.

I stand over them for a moment, contemplating what to do with them when I hear a voice behind me.

“Just leave them,” Caroline says. “They didn’t care to try and help. Or to fight apparently.”

“I might have run too, considering.”

“No, you wouldn’t.” She turns back for camp, and I follow.

She sits on a milk crate and stares off to the setting sun. I offer her my chair, but she refuses. I sit.

“So, I’ve been thinking,” she begins. “I don’t have much here anymore. Anything, really.”

She pauses, and I wait what feels like forever for the next sentence that I know is coming.

Caroline continues: “Tomorrow, well, maybe not then, but soon, I’m leaving. I’m heading north. I need to try and find my sister. If she’s alive, she’s all I have. So, that’s what I’m doing. I’ll follow I75 north up to McKinney …”

“I’m going to Oklahoma,” I blurt out. It’s the first time I’ve said it outloud. It’s honestly the first time that I’ve really even landed on a positive decision. I’d considered it, but only in fleeting moments. Apparently, I was decided.

She looks at me, and I can’t read her. Is she disappointed? Disapproving?

“Oh.” She pauses. “Then you can come some of the way with me.”

“I suppose so. Yeah. I’m headed toward Oklahoma City, but I can come with you to McKinney. I need to make a left at some point, but there’s plenty of opportunity to do that.”

“Good. I’d like the company.” She stands. “I’ll take the chair now.”

Friday, May 5, 2017

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 27 -- Fair Park

A short installment this week, but the story breaks pretty naturally here so that's what you get. As a make-good you get a new cover. This is what I'm going to put up on the book-selling sites when it goes live. This is what you'll look for when you go to buy your copy in a few weeks as a thanks for keeping you entertained for almost seven months. Seven months? Can you believe that?

Take a moment to marvel at that then enjoy the story.


Welcome to the End//Part 27:Fair Park

The streets a few blocks from my place weren’t empty, but they were close. I passed guys my age who seemed lost, still taking in the new Dallas. They were still mentally having those “why” conversations in their heads. I suppose I would have been too, but traveling actually helped me get past that part quickly. Not that I think missing a plane or a train or a bus is any actual equivalent to what had happened. I’m not dumb; it’s not close. But those moments when I had to suddenly reconfigure plans and shift travel arrangements, often in countries where I didn’t speak the language, had taught me to adjust and think on my feet.

That’s all I was doing here. I wasn’t thinking about what I’d lost (Everything). I wasn’t thinking about what I’d do long-term. I was just thinking about what was next, and that was to take another step. You’ve finished with your right, now swing out your left. Keep moving forward. A destination will reveal itself eventually, but wherever it is, it’s not behind you.

So that’s what I did. I kept moving, swinging rights and lefts until I found myself walking down the middle of Interstate 30. The highway was mostly elevated interchanges near downtown, and those had fallen in the initial assault. But just east of downtown, the highway—at least for a stretch—was still intact. I found my way to the middle of it. The sun was beginning to set and darkness was coming on fast. Wind rattled through the trees off to my right—those that were still standing. As the breeze separated the branches, that’s when I saw the fires that Maggie and Walter had set. They were like beacons, and because of their intensity, I expected to find them surrounded by dozens of people all congregating and consoling each other. I wasn’t in the mood for it the other night, but this evening, a little human interaction didn’t seem like a bad idea.

So I climbed off the highway and into the neighborhoods I’d been warned to stay out of when I got to Dallas. The homes were old, and many didn’t survive the barrage from a couple nights previous. My route to the fires was circuitous. By the time I got there it was full dark, and the crowds that I’d expected were non existent. Walter stood near the first fire, hugging a shotgun across his chest.

He dropped into his hands and let it hang loose in front of him as I approached. I raised my arms and put my hands up in front of me to show him that I wasn’t armed.

“Hello,” I shouted.

“Can I help you?”

“Saw the fires. Was hoping you guys might welcome another to your camp.”

“Well …” Walter tucked the butt of the gun under an arm and extended a hand for me to shake. “We have the room.”

He told me his name was Walter as he walked me down to the second fire and the women standing in a loose circle around it.

I introduced myself, saying hello to Britt and Bethany first. Neither seemed overly interested, but I credited that to the early-day shock that still hadn’t worn off for many. Then Caroline came over and shook my hand with a smile. And behind her was her mom.

“Hi,” she said. “I’m Maggie.”