Friday, January 27, 2017

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 15 -- Dome

A quick update before the next installment. The overall story is almost finished. A few more thousand words and I should be able to type "the end." This thing has been an easy write, and that always makes the process more fun. I've got ideas for the next story in the series, the next steps in the overall tale. I like it. Hope you will too.

So, again, if you've enjoyed the story up to now, tell others to check it out. Share it on social. Evangelize for our zombie aliens.

OK, enough rambling. On with the show.

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Welcome to the End//Part 15--Dome

After a moment Caroline’s screaming stops. She shakes her wrist free from my grip and runs beside me. There are wailers all over, but not as many and I thought there would be. But even one wailer is too many. They all cry out, screaming to each other in a shrieking language that I can’t understand, but can tell that they are communicating. They seem to be converging on us in a slowly tightening circle. They come from behind. They approach from the front. We continue to run.

Caroline points at a pile of rubble a dozen feet high. I can barely see it through the rain, but we make it our target. We each take leaping steps up to the top, not worrying about a misstep or a footfall that will send us tumbling. It’s climbing with confident abandon. We reach the top, have the high ground. From up here we can see that the situation is worse than I imagined it could be. The wailers aren’t stopping. It’s like this rain has caused whatever dormant wailers there were to hatch. They are all out now.

Caroline is turning tight circles as we watch the wailers approach our pile from all directions. The first reach the base of our stack and begin to climb. They aren’t as confident as we were. Or maybe they aren’t as desperate. They climb slowly, carefully. That’s good for us. I pick off those that get halfway up the side I’m watching. Caroline fights off hers off with the machete. I help her if she needs it. She helps me if I need it.

But this tactic won’t be effective forever. This first wave of wailers is scattered, spread out. They are climbing the pile one at a time. But soon they will be coming up in pairs. Then threes and fours and fives. And eventually the pile will be overrun. We can’t hold them off forever, and I start to consider that this is the hill where I die. A pathetic little hill made up of spilled brick and concrete.

I fire a couple of shots into wailers that have just reached the base of our hill. I take aim at another and my gun just clicks.

“That’s it,” I say. “I’m out.”

Caroline swings at a wailer and asks if I still have my gas mask.

“My what?”

“That goofy thing you grabbed from the doctor’s office.”

She grunts through a slash across a wailer’s chest then plants a boot into the thing’s stomach. It tumbles down the rubble, taking two others with it. Other wailers have reached the bottom of the stack on my side. They climb over fallen brothers and begin the ascent up to us.

“It’s in my pack,” I tell Caroline about my mask.

“Put it on,” she says and lays down her machete.

I upend the pack and its content pile up at my feet. I push my hand into the pile and feel around until my fingers brush a cold, brass fitting. I pull the mask out and put it on.

Caroline begins chanting something in fast words that I don’t understand. Her hands begin to glow a bright blue and she speaks louder. Her voice climbs to a shout and at the crescendo she lets out a scream. It triggers some sort of blast from her hands. It’s a shockwave of blue light that runs along our pile of rubble and out to the streets. It cuts down every wailer it touches. They lie silent and still. I can’t tell if they are sleeping or dead, but it doesn’t matter. They are down.

The blast stretches out for a couple of blocks then begins to arch over us, coming together at a point just above Caroline. We are now inside of a blue glowing dome.

Caroline collapses onto the top of the pile. I reach to take off my mask and she grabs my wrist.

“No. Don’t,” she says.

A muffled why comes through the mask.

“It’ll kill you. You aren’t made to breath the air in here.”

“And you are?” Again, muffled.

“Apparently.” Caroline lays back. Her breathing is deep and quick. She’s exhausted, like she’s just run a sprint. And, in a way, I suppose she has.

Friday, January 20, 2017

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 14 -- Stampede

It's Friday. That means more story. We are getting to the middle of this thing, big moments coming. Hope you all like where it goes. I do. I really feel like this is one of the best things I've written. I like the plot. I like the characters. I like their backstories. I like their journeys. I'm want you all to like them too. If you are, let me know. If things aren't working for you, let me know that too.

Now, onto Part 14.

Need to catch up? Do it here.

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Welcome to the End//Part14--Stampede

We both freeze. It’s habit. Hear the wailer. Try to figure out where it’s coming from. Triangulate. But, now, just as soon as the first wailer calls, dozens of others respond. Caroline and I both shrink a bit farther back into our little cave. She pulls the machete from her pack, and her knuckles go white around its hilt.


After the reponses die off, end their banging around the buildings and rubble of downtown, another wailer calls. Dozens more respond.


Another call. More responses.
These calls and responses are all coming from different locations. This isn’t a pack or clan or whatever wailers run in. We aren’t talking about a dozen or so staying in place and just making a game out of calling to each other through the rain. There are hundreds out there, and they’re moving.


Maybe they are looking for cover too. They were people once. Being stuck in a downpour like this, that’s your first thought: find shelter. Maybe those base instincts aren’t something that disappear so easily. I repeat that thought over and over, but I know it’s wrong. These aren’t wailers looking for cover.


I pull the gun and let it hang loose in my hand. We haven’t seen any wailers yet, but we haven’t seen much of anything with the rain, and that’s what has me anxious. There could be wailers walking the streets just in front of us, and we wouldn’t be able to tell. I don’t think they are there, but it’s possible.


A wailer calls again, this one close. A block away maybe. It doesn’t wait for the responses to finish before it calls again, even closer now. A choir of respondents scream into the storm. Thunder rolls overhead and even more wailers cry out. Hundreds now, and they all sound like they are on top of us.


“Wait here,” I tell Caroline.


“Wait? Where are you going? You aren’t leaving me here.”


“Just poking my head out. I’m not leaving.”


I take a cautious step out of our shelter. A wailer cries right into my ear. I drop to the ground and a jagged claw catches my cheek. My hand instinctively moves to cover the fresh wound. The gun in my other hand raises and fires two quick shots at an enemy I can’t see.


I fall onto my back and roll into the shelter. Caroline drops to look at me.


“You’re fine,” she says. “Or will be.” She stands back up.


The wailer that caught me has set off a series of calls from others. Their piercing shrieks are beginning to drown out the rain.

Wherever these wailers had been, they are in front of us now. It’s a horror show stampede.


Their foot falls are creating a low rumble. I hear and feel them bumping and rubbing against our shelter. It’s a fragile space that’s fine for keeping dry, but it’s not going to stand any kind of rough treatment. Wailers are anything but gentle. We have to move.


I grab Caroline’s arm. I turn and look to her. “Are you ready?”


“For what?” Her eyes narrow. She’s not understanding.


“We have to go.”


“Out there?” She gestures with her head to the space in front of us.


“Yes,” I say. “This place isn’t stable. The wailers will knock it down, and we’ll be trapped.”


“We aren’t trapped now?”


We don’t have time to debate this. I pull her with me. We’re running. She screams the moment that the stinging rain hits her face. I don’t have any specific destination in mind. I’m just moving.

Friday, January 13, 2017

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 13 -- Rain

Hi, everyone.

We'll get to the story in a minute, but first I need to tell you about something else. I'm part of a promotion that you might be interested in. Here are the highlights. Seventy books from 70 authors, each for less than a dollar. They are all scifi and fantasy, so if you're a speculative fiction fan (and if you're here I assume you are) then this is perfect for you. Restock your Kindle on the cheap. Honestly, some of these books look great, and, if I had the money in the budget, I'd go grab them all. So check it out here.

Now, onto Part 13 of our serial story. Part 13 being posted on Friday the 13th. Just a lucky coincidence. We are still getting decent readership, but I'd always love more. If you're enjoying the story then send others over here so they can enjoy it.

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Welcome to the End//Part 13--Rain

The fat kind of rain patters against the window sounding like someone tapping the glass with their fingers. The drops get heavier and the rain falls harder as Caroline and I watch. The rain is a light tan because it’s not really rain. It’s mixing with the dust and dirt that’s been hanging in the air. It’s raining a mud puddle. Long brown streaks down the window obscure everything outside. We hear water start to drip through the broken cracks and smack the mirror in what was my bathroom.


Caroline turns from the window and looks back toward the closet.


“You don’t have a couple of umbrellas in there do you?”


The building groans and shifts. It may look solid, but it’s not as stable as we think.


“Unfortunately, no.” I grab the hood on the back of her coat and give it a shake. “But we do have these.”


The building groans again. The suddenly wet soil under the foundation has made the footing unstable. Everything shifts slightly, and I turn to Caroline.


“We should go.”


Her shoulders slump. “Ugh, fine.” She tucks her ponytail into the hood as she pulls it over her head.


“Where’s the stupid stove?” she asks and scans the room. I point to the red box leaning against the wall near the closet. She lets out a sigh.


I swing the now-loaded pack on my back and twist my shoulders to shift it to a spot that’s comfortable.


I open the door and Caroline heads out first, hugging the stove to her chest. The rain is roaring now, coming down in dark brown sheets.


I take one last look inside the apartment and see all of my stuff, my life. This is it. It’s literally closing the door on what life was. This is me saying that we can’t go back. Acknowledgement that life is basically a dystopian wasteland. I hesitate for a moment, taking all of it in, then pull the door tight behind me and lock it.


+++++


Mud rain stings. It’s falling harder and heavier than regular, clear rain, and every drop hitting you is like a tiny little fist. And with the rate this mud rain is falling we are getting pummeled.


Caroline pushes her shoulders up to her ears. She holds the stove above her head and, with the rain, it sounds like an out of tune steel drum.


I pull my pack up higher on my back. It’s bulging top keeps my neck protected, but I can feel the rain pelting my arms. I imagine them polka-dotted with bruises when we get back to camp.


After a block Caroline veers right and finds cover under a bit of wall that has fallen off an older building but hasn’t broken. It’s created a bit of a lean-to. And as long as the wind doesn’t pick up and start the rain blowing sideways, we’ll be covered.


“I’d had enough of that,” Caroline says as she puts the stove on the ground.


“Me too,” I say. “Smart call.”


We look out into the gloom. It’s getting hard to see across the intersection in front of us. Caroline sits down and leans against the bit of building that hasn’t fallen. At this rate, we will be here a while.


“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she says.


“No one has.”


“It’s weird, being in a world that’s new to everyone. I’m a kid. I’m supposed to have someone to look to for guidance, someone who has experience with all to this who can say ‘Here …” she pauses to hold out her hand. She looks to her palm, like she can see whatever imaginary object is sitting there. “... this was helpful for me when I was going through that.’ ”


She pulls her hand back and slips it into her jacket pocket. Along with the rain, the wind is starting to pick up. Coming from behind us, thankfully. Our bit of fallen brick should keep us mostly dry. It won’t keep us warm and whatever front that triggered this storm has brought cold air with it. I feel the wind lick at my ankles.


Caroline continues.


“Now …” She pauses again, staring once more at something that I can’t see. I’m sure it’s some mental picture of how her life was supposed to have unfolded. “Now, there’s no one who knows what to do. No one has been through this. We are all just making it up as we go. You, Mack. You I trust. I feel like you’ve got a good head on your shoulders, but even you don’t know what to do. You make your best guess. You use your experience …”


Caroline starts to cry. The tough girl is cracking. The rain is wearing away her hard candy shell, and what’s inside isn’t as sweet anymore. Someone who was ripe with confidence just a few minutes ago is starting to turn. I can’t let her core go rotten.


“Don’t say that,” I tell her. “It’s tough, sure. And it’s scary. But we’re smart. We’re adaptable. We’ll figure this out, and probably sooner rather than later.”


It’s not much of a pep talk. I recognize that as I say it. But it’s something. It’s an attempt. I just don’t need her thinking hopeless thoughts and giving up.


“I know you’re right,” she says. “It’s about determination. Are we going to let this beat us or aren’t we? But this rain. The dark skies that are quickly coming. The wailers …”


And as if on cue, one of them cries.

Friday, January 6, 2017

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 12 -- Resupply

So, apparently we were taking a break for the new year. It wasn't intentional, but I didn't publish an installment between Christmas and New Years. Somehow that week got away from me. So, apologies. We are back at it, though, so don't expect anymore breaks until this thing ends. And I hope that when it does end you'll buy a copy of the final version when it goes up for sale. In the meantime, if you are enjoying the story, let me know in the comments. Or if you have any thoughts on what you've read so far, good or bad, let me know that too.

Now, on with our story.
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Welcome to the End//Part 12--Resupply

“He’s the one I feel sorry for,” Caroline says. “I’m not old, but at least I had a childhood.”


She thinks for a moment more. “The kind of life I’d expected? Normal. I’d go to college. Get a job. Married. Kids. I don’t know that I’d put many details around any of it, but that’s sort of what I expected.”


“It’s what I wanted too,” I tell her and start fishing around in my pocket for keys. “I wasn’t going to get it unless I quit living the freelancer life. Settle down. Hopefully meet someone else who was settled and our journey would begin.”


I point to a building a few blocks up: “That one’s mine.”


I pull the keys from my pocket and hang the ring off a finger. The metal rattles and Caroline smiles.


“Oh, please tell me that, as the world was collapsing around you, you took a moment to lock up.”


“Shut up,” I say. “It’s habit.”


“You’re such a Boy Scout.”


My complex is in rough shape. Some buildings are gone completely. Others are half of what they were. Mine was lucky. It was hit by whatever it was that fell that night, but it survived mostly intact. There are a couple of small holes in the roof of my place. And one large chunk of roof is missing over what was the bathroom, but the stuff care about -- the stuff I came for -- is mostly protected still.


We take the steps up to the fourth floor. These are the steps I used to unload the truck with all of my stuff when it finally arrived, cursing my choice of the top floor in the complex after just 30 minutes of going up and down and up and down the stairs.


Caroline stood behind me while I unlocked the apartment door.


“Boy Scout,” she said again quietly.


The air inside was stale and everything looked a little different. It’d been weeks since I’d seen the place, and when I had gone back it was only for a few minutes. Wailer activity was still hot through this part of downtown, and I didn’t want to dawdle. Now, it all seems like a monument of some kind. I don’t remember what I was doing the night it all fell apart, but, whatever it was, everything is still where I left it. The apartment is a living snapshot of a moment in time.


There’s a stink from the food rotting in the fridge, and Caroline brings her shirt to her nose.


“We’ll just be a couple of minutes,” I tell her and head to the closet in the hall.


I start pulling items from the top shelf and tossing them toward the couch.


Caroline is looking through my collection of DVDs.


“Interesting choices,” she says, her voice muffled by her shirt.


“It’s eclectic,” I say.


“It’s something.”


She flops hard into the chair that’s behind her. I see her relax. She sinks into the cushions. “Let’s not go back,” she says. “They’re all grown ups back at camp. They can take care of themselves. Or maybe you carry this one back too.”


I smile at her suggestion. “You’re welcome to carry back whatever you want to take.”


“You’ve already got me carrying a stove.” Her head is tipped back onto the cushion behind her. She has her eyes closed.


“Well, we can always come back. But stay there for a few minutes. I’ve got a few more things I want to go through. If you’re comfortable there I can go do that.”


She waves me away with a lazy hand. “Take your time. Take your time.”


I move to the bedroom and want to fall onto the bed. Instead, I sit at the foot and start going through the bookshelf that sits against the wall. This place was nice -- new when I moved in, but they didn’t waste any of their money by building extra space. The apartment is tiny. MOst of my stuff ended up in a storage unit across the highway. I’m sure it’s all beaten to hell by now considering what happened to the overpasses nearer Fair Park.


I start pulling titles off the shelves and flip through the pages. I don’t know what I’m looking for. Money? Bookmarks? Reminders of what life was?


I toss a couple of so-called classics behind me, wondering again, as I did when I read them, who made that distinction. Was it just one of those lies that, if repeated enough, become true. These books were a lot of things -- heavy, verbose, confusing -- but they were far from good. But that’s me and my weird tastes. I like something smaller.


I move to the second shelf and grab a couple real classics. My favorites. Both books found on a discount shelf that won’t be taught in any college classroom, but found me at just the right moment. I’d been absorbed into those pages, becoming the main character. Living those stories. I sit the books on the bed next to me and grab one last volume. The Bible that my grandmother had given me. It was tattered and dog-eared from summers spent at camps and weekends in services, but it hadn’t been used near enough recently. But it too often takes moments like we’d been living for the last months to make you realize that. I add it to the top of my pile and move to the closet. Besides, If JR is right, I don’t want to be the only member of the congregation without my own copy of the good book.


There are a couple of pictures of my folks on the bookshelf too, and I grab those.


At the closet, I start throwing clothes into a pile on the bed.


“Wow. Fashion plate.” Caroline is in the doorway.


“We aren’t taking it all.”


“I’d hope not.” She steps to the bed and starts pulling shirts off the pile and holds them up.”


“You know,” she says. “You actually have good taste.”


“You’re surprised.”


“Well the beaten Army jacket is nice, but what can you tell from one jacket?”


“I clean up nice,” I say and toss three more shirts onto the pile.


I start sorting the shirts, anything that buttons up the front goes into one stack. Anything I can pull over into another. Caroline starts to help.


“Anything with buttons stays here,” I tell her. “I’ll grab a few of the others to wear. We’ll use the rest for emergencies.”


She keeps sorting and I go through the pants still hanging in the closet. I’ve told myself that I’ll reserve half my pack for clothes. That should mean about three pairs of pants. I grab the three best pairs of jeans I can find and grab a fistful of the t-shirts. I carry them to the living room to load them in my pack. I grab a plastic trash bag from under the kitchen sink and Caroline shoves the rest of the shirts inside.

I start to load the camping gear that I’ve thrown onto the couch -- mostly cooking gear, travel pots and pans and silverware. That’s when I hear something I haven’t heard since the attack. Caroline hears it too, and we both look toward each other then move to the window. I pull the blinds, and that’s when we see it. Rain.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Goals for 2017: Go for it

It's a new year. Time for new goals. I've done these posts in the past and they've always been very specific. I'll write this. I'll finish that. Very ambitious. Very foolhardy. Not this year. This year I'm resolving to have a new attitude.

It comes from two things. The first, I was watching The Wall the other night. It was on. I was ironing. Quick setup for the game. You answer questions. If you get them right you drop a ball down a Plinko-style board. There are slots at the bottom of the board that represent dollar amounts. Wherever the ball lands, you win that amount. Get the question wrong, drop the ball and lose whatever amount it lands in.

The contestant I was watching at the time had earned $1.34 million in winnings so far. He gets to the last question. He decides to drop three balls on the next question. get it right and he could add $3 million to his total. Get it wrong and he loses, but what are the chances of losing it all? Slim, right?

You can likely see where this is going. He gets it wrong. He drops three balls. They land in $1 million; $300,000; and $50,000. Total: $1.35 million.

He lost it all.

There's more to the game, and he still had a chance to win $100,000 or something, but I had to attend to something else. I don't know if he walked away a winner. But, seeing him lose all of the money, literally a million dollars, on one question was heartbreaking. I laughed that awkward laugh that comes out when you don't really know how to react to something. I felt awful for him.

But then the next day or so, I thought about him more. And what I thought was "Good for him." No, he didn't win the big money. But he didn't lose it either. It was never his. It was just numbers on a screen. But that attitude, the one that says "Go for it," is one that I admire. And it's one that I want to adopt for my writing life in 2017. It's one I should also adopt in the non-writing part of my life too.

This attitude shift came from not just seeing the show, but something else helped cement the idea for me. I am reading through the Book of Luke every morning. The other day I got to the verses where Jesus feeds the 5,000, and something kind of clicked for me. It wasn't just in my writing life either, but throughout everything. God can take whatever we have, no matter how small, and make it great. He takes a few loaves and a few fish and feeds thousands. If he can do that then he can take what I have, no matter what it is, and turn it into something. So, if that's the case, then why am I holding back in my writing life? Why am I not being like the guy on the game show and just going for it? Why am I not writing more and publishing more? Why am I not giving my writing and my ideas around publishing to God and just going for it. Trusting that he can take whatever I give him and make something with it.

So, for 2017, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to go for it, and trust that if I bring God something—anything—he'll be able to make something with it.

There you go. Publicly stated goals. Can't take them back now.

Took a bit of a break from the serial story over new years, but that'll be back Friday. And if you need to catch up, you can do that here. Until then, see you soon.