Wednesday, March 29, 2017

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 23 -- Mom

It's me again. Told you we'd have three posts this week. Here's the second. For me, writing this story, what you're getting today is the point when everything changes. There's a shift in the dynamics of the relationships. Goals get solidified. Motivations begin to get cemented.

Hope this section lives up to that. As for how much more story there is left, we are about 2/3 of the way through, so there's probably six more weeks to go, but that's just a guess.

Enough of my rambling. Here's the story.
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Welcome to the End//Part 23--Mom

I run and find Caroline on the ground, brought to her knees. Her hands are covering her face, and her screams are mixed with sobs.


I look up, and there’s Maggie, her body leaning against the deep orange wall of the food and fiber building. She’s cut across her front, half a dozen slash marks that have gone deep into her chest. There’s something in her hand. It looks like a piece of rebar, probably something she pulled out of the crumbled remains of one of these buildings. I leave Caroline and move to get a better look. If it’s as bad as it seems then Caroline doesn’t need to see her mom like this.


It’s bad.


The gashes across her chest are only the biggest of dozens. They cover her arms and legs. Her clothes are cut to sloppy ribbons. She clearly went down fighting. Not surprising. But I wonder why she hadn’t tried some of her hoodoo like Caroline had.


“It takes concentration,” Caroline says from behind me.


“Wait,” I tell her and put my hands out in front of me in an attempt to stop her. She steps around me and kneels in front of Maggie.


“You were wondering what good being able to do magic is if you can’t use it to save yourself.”


I don’t respond.


“It takes concentration,” Caroline says. She puts her hand on Maggie’s. I reach up and pass a hand in front of Maggie’s face and force her eyes to close.  


“You need to have a moment to connect with the universe, to pull down the power that you need to finish whatever it is you are wanting to do. The older you are the longer it takes. The bigger the spell the more energy you need. Clearly, she didn’t have time. Not from looking around here. Not seeing what happened. She didn’t stand a chance. Neither did Walter or Britt or Bethany. They were overrun.”


I still don’t know what to say. I’ve never been in a position like this. A friend in college lost his mom, but we weren’t kneeling in front of the body, staring into her face. He was gone. She died in a hospital. It was all so Hollywood. He came back to campus and we gave him space. I need Caroline. She needs me. Space is something we can’t afford.


I stand up and give Caroline time to do whatever it is she needs to do. I back away far enough that whatever it is she’s saying to Maggie is just noise. It sounds like distant mumbling. It could be some kind of mystic thing that they do, but likely it’s just a daughter saying a premature goodbye to her mother.


Caroline stands and turns. Her cheeks are wet. She wipes a tear and says: “We have to bury her.”


“Here?”


“You have a better place?”


I don’t.


Caroline tries to lift Maggie, but she can’t. Maggie had a couple inches and more than a couple of pounds on her daughter. I step in and lift her from the ground, one arm under her knees, the other across her back. Her body is heavy without her helping support any of the weight, and I take it slow down the few steps there are leading to the food and fiber building.


I follow Caroline back to where our camp had been. We pass Walter’s body and Caroline points toward her mother’s bed roll.


“There,” she says. “We’ll go find a place to bury her in the morning.”


It’s beginning to get dark. I go lift Walter. He’s heavier than Maggie and in worse shape. He’s awkward to handle in ways that a human body isn’t supposed to be. It feels more like trying to carry a pile of limbs rather than a body.


I lay him in the little space that he’d claimed and join Caroline up near where they usually install the big cowboy statue when the fair is in session.


“This was mom’s favorite thing,” she says, a big smile painted on her face. “She loved the fair. I think that’s why she chose here as where we ran to. It was a safe space for her. Good memories.”


“Plus, it’s pretty open,” I say.


Caroline is looking up like she can see the cowboy now, lost in some mist-filled magic world. Who knows. Maybe she can see him.


“We’d come once a week whenever the fair was going. Maybe more often if she got a deal on tickets. Every time, even if we’d come the day before, she’d make us take a goofy picture in front of Big Tex. The first were usually all smiles. We’d get a corn dog from a stand over there.” Caroline points. “Put mustard all down the front and hold them up in front of us with Big Tex in the back.”


“ ‘Howdy folks!’ ” She says in a deep twang, imitating the talking statue’s catchphrase.


She turns and walks off. I follow.


“I was thinking that tonight we could stay in the food court. It’s covered. The doors are unlocked.”

Caroline is shaking her head. “Tonight,” she says, “I’m sleeping by mom.”

Sunday, March 26, 2017

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 22 -- The Search

It's been a busy couple of weeks here. Vacation and a crazy-busy day job schedule has kept me from posting the last couple of weeks, so we are going to try and make up that time by tripling up this week. Here's the first of what will be three posts. The story is starting to change. Things are happening that will transform our characters.

Hope you're still liking it. As always, thanks for reading.

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Welcome to the End//Part 22 -- The Search

I drop down to comfort her and she falls into my arms. She’s inconsolable so I just hold her. We stay like this for a few minutes. I keep glancing over at Walter, and saying a brief thank you that we weren’t here last night.  That’s when I notice the rest of the park. It’s in shambles. Trees are uprooted. Stucco has been pulled from the sides of buildings. Large chunks of the sidewalk have been pulled up. This wasn’t a small number of wailers that did this. It had to be hundreds. More even. I can’t imagine being there. Walter was probably overrun quickly, but I don’t imagine he went without a fight.


Maggie either, and that’s what I try to tell Caroline.


She pulls back and looks up at me: “She might not be gone.”


“What?”


“This is just her scarf. It’s not her. She could have dropped it or something. I could have been pulled off. It’s a possibility.”


I agree.


“I’m going to go look for her.”


“Then I’ll go too,” I say. “We can split up. If we find her she’ll probably need help. Better to locate her sooner rather than later.”


Caroline stands and starts heading for the Midway. I go the opposite, toward the exhibit halls.


“Hey,” I call out. Caroline turns. “Meet back here in 30 minutes. It’s going to be dark. We need a plan to get us through the night.”


She gives me a thumbs up then heads back toward the Midway.


I’m trying to remain hopeful. I tell myself that Maggie’s smart. She’s resourceful. She’s magical. All those could get her through whatever this attack was. I dig into a pile of crumbled stucco, seeing if maybe the side of the wall for what used to be the food court had fallen on her. Then I climb over the pile to see if she’s somehow been stuck inside. She hadn’t. The building is dark and cold and heavily damaged. The wailers didn’t just limit their stampede to outside.


One thing the wailers did do was break down doors. Despite the damage, the inside of this building is dry. It’s a possibility for tonight.


I circle the building, but Maggie isn’t here. I move on. I’m walking toward the automobile building when I hear Caroline call from behind me. She’s yelling my name. I turn quickly, expecting the worst.


“Did you find her?” I realize that my voice sounds panicked, and I try to calm myself.


Caroline is shaking her head before I even finish my sentence. “She’s not at the Midway, but we’ll find her.” Caroline has a confidence that I wish I could muster.


“It’s been a half hour,” she continues. “You’d said we should stop.”


“Let’s not yet,” I say and start walking again. I head for what’s left of the automobile buildings. Caroline joins me.


There are normally statues in front of the buildings, four of them. They are framed by narrow, tall arches. Not anymore. The statues have been pulled down, art deco relics that are now in pieces on the ground. Large chunks have ended up in the reflecting pool that runs between the two buildings. He arches are also gone, pulled down by the hoards of wailers who came through. A bad feeling starts working its way up from my toes. It tingles my ankles, punches at my knees and crawls up my back.


We get near the entry to the first building. The door have also been pulled off their hinges. Caroline come to a stop, and I pause with her. She’s struck by something. I don’t see it at first. Then, there it is. Blood. It’s streaked across the damp ground. It moves across our path and away from the automobile buildings. Caroline begins to follow the trail, and I follow her.


We lose the trail in a fountain but pick it up on the other side. It passes in front of the Hall of State, another big art deco monster that used to have a curved entry that was taller than the rest of the building and a colonnade that stretched across its front. Both are gone now, The entry was taken out by a rock that first night, the columns pulled down by wailers. It’s a shell now, the doors still intact. Not even wailers could get through the pile of rubble that laid at the entrance.


Caroline is well ahead of me now. Her pace has picked up, and I’m chasing her again. She disappears around a corner that heads toward the area of the fair given to livestock, and that’s when I hear her scream.

Friday, March 10, 2017

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 21 -- It's Walter

Our little serial experiment hits part 21 this week. It's old enough to drink, so a toast to it for reaching this milestone. And a toast to you for reading along, especially if you've been with us since October when this all started.

It doesn't feel like i've been doing this for almost six months,but I guess I have. I'm excited about this story. I'm excited about the new covers. I'm excited that it feels like something that could sell a few copies and find me an audience as a writer. As great as it is to see the number of visits that these posts get, I always wish it'd be more. Same is true with book sales. I don't need to be a best seller, but a better seller would be nice. I do think it'll happen. For some reason I have probably unearned confidence in that.

One last thing. Digi City, the standalone story set in my New Eden universe is free today and tomorrow at Amazon. If you like cyberpunk, dystopian, near-future scifi then you'll like this. It's got all the things of New Eden—data addicts and a corrupt corporate power—plus it features Miller, the possibly-too-earnest-for-his-own-good antagonist from Finding Faded Light. Plus it's got an ending that I love. Grab a copy here then tell all your friends about it.

OK, that's it. On with our story.

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Welcome to the End//Part 21 -- It's Walter 

“So you are a bit of a liar,” I say to Caroline.


“Excuse me?”


We pause at an intersection and I let Caroline pick our path.


“You told me that you couldn’t do any of the magic your mom does,” I say while she decides which way we head next. “You said that was something you left to your mom and sister. Had no interest in it, I believe is what you said.”


“I did say that, didn’t I?”


We go right. It’s a little roundabout if we want to get back to camp quickly, but if it makes Caroline more comfortable then a few minutes detour is worth it.


“I guess my secret’s out,” Caroline says.


“Why is it a secret?”


“Mom doesn’t know.”


“She doesn’t? Why?”


“I made too big a stink about not being interested in it when I was younger. I didn’t know how to tell her I’d changed my mind.”


“So you had your sister teach you some stuff?”


“Her some, but mostly books. I’d study them at night when mom was at work, making sure to be careful about putting them back so she wouldn’t see them disturbed.”


“They have books on this kind of stuff?”


“Nothing you can get at the store. But, yeah, there are books. And real books too. Not some kind of thick leather-bound volume you see in movies with all that frilly handwriting that’s hard to read.  These are book books.”


We pass under the interstate and are nearing camp. The neighborhood turns residential here. Older houses. Smaller. The population mostly lower income. It was an area ripe for gentrification but that never got a chance to push this far east. The homes were small but cute, and being this close to downtown could have gone for quite a bit if the right crowd had ever taken an interest. But they hadn’t, and it was too late now.


The number of bodies in the road has dropped and everything is painted now in a light brown thanks to the mud rain. But there’s something different about the neighborhood. It looks worse. More ransacked. More destroyed. Caroline notices at about the same time I do, and her pace picks up.


“What do you think?” She knows what I’m asking about. Something has happened. Wailers have been here. These houses look torn apart, and it’s only getting worse the closer we get to camp. It’s all visible now. Claw marks. Boards snapped and breaks that are obviously fresh.


Caroline’s walk turns to a jog then to a full run. I’m following behind her best I can, but my pack is slowing me down. She’s a few hundred feet ahead of me.


I call out for her, but she doesn’t stop. We enter Fair Park through a side entrance. She’s so far in front of me that I lose her. She’s turned a corner one way, and I’ve gone another. I turn toward the Ferris wheel, and that’s when I hear her scream. It stops me cold.


I break into as much of a sprint as I can, and that’s when I see Walter. He’s gone. Brutalized and lying in a heap near a planter box. Caroline is sitting near him. She’s holding a scarf that Maggie was wearing before the rain. It’s soaked and dripping water, but Caroline has it up to her face. It’s covering her mouth, but I can still hear her muffled cries.

Friday, March 3, 2017

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 20 -- Bodies

Part 20. 20? Yes, 20.
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Welcome to the End//Part 20 -- Bodies

Caroline puts her hand to her mouth and I gently guide her down another block. I still have my gun out. The wailers aren’t visible, but they aren’t gone. We walk quiet for a few blocks then see another body, this one in worse shape. Whoever he is, he went down fighting. We pass wide, on the opposite sidewalk and Caroline finally speaks.


“Who are these people?”


I don’t have an answer for her, as much as I’d like to be able to give her one. I don’t really think she’s expecting me to actually say anything. We turn another corner, to head back toward Fair Park, and things only get more gruesome. Three more bodies, or what’s left of bodies, and there are more past that.


Caroline begins to cry. We stop walking, and I put an arm around her. She rolls her head into my chest and her whimpers turn to sobs. This is all a little overwhelming to me, I can’t imagine what it’s doing to a teenager.


The only way we escaped this same fate was magic. Literal magic. Our little lean-to shelter was nice for a moment, but it had barely been keeping us protected from the elements. Without Caroline’s magic bubble we’d be out here dead in the wet Dallas streets. I whisper a thank you into Caroline’s ear and can feel her nod her response into my chest. Her crying has calmed and she turns away from me.


“Let’s get back to camp,” she says. “But let’s find another way.”


I agree and we turn back and start walking through Deep Ellum. It’s an old warehouse district that’s turned into mostly come-and-go nightspots and restaurants. And, apparently, it’s where many of Dallas’ survivors headed to when they had nowhere else to go because the number of bodies here is worse. They are all over the streets. Numbers in the dozens down each block. We do our best to avoid passing as many as we can. Somehow that feels respectful. Not to pass. To avoid the temptation to gawk. It feels like the right thing to do. Plus, it helps Caroline stay calm.  I also try to distract her with conversation.


“So when you said you weren’t really into the magic thing and your mom told me that you never really took to it, was that some organized campaign to lie to me?”


She smiles, just a bit.


“I’m not into it,” she tries to tell me. “But I know some stuff.”


“Just small stuff? Like how to make a candy bar appear out of nowhere. Poof up a hall pass for a friend at school. Or to create an impenetrable, hard-shelled dome of light.”

“Yeah, stuff like that.”


“Why didn’t you two want to tell me.”


“The magic thing doesn’t always go over well. Some people want candy bars and hall passes. Others want nothing to do with you. I didn’t want you -- we didn’t want you or anyone to cast us off on our own. We had an agreement to not say anything to anyone or do anything that would pull back that curtain unless we just absolutely had to.”


“Basically what your mom said when I asked the same thing.”


We walk in silence, passing fewer bodies than we had before. Fewer, not none. Caroline cuts a wide path around them whenever we come upon them, and I just follow her lead. The number of bodies is surprising. I want to bring it up to Caroline, say that I didn’t know this many people were still alive, or at least around Dallas. I figure that it’s best not to say anything. Still, I’d assumed that because the people I knew about were gathered in little pockets, like at our camp or at the one in Mesquite, then that’s all there were. I hadn’t considered that some would just huddle up on their own. Keep their heads down and try to survive. It adds a layer of sadness to all of this that we are seeing now. Bring these people into our camp and we could have had something of a little society. A community at least. Strength in numbers.


I think back to what J.R. said he heard, about the church in Oklahoma. It feels like a better idea now. At least it’s a proactive one. Trying to build something. Trying to build numbers, build strength.


People like Caroline and Maggie would be valuable in a society like that. They’ve kept me alive so far, and that was the real truth. I’ve had two moments since all of this happened that I shouldn’t have survived. Two moments when the wailers should have gotten to me, but they didn’t. And that’s only because I stumbled into these magic ladies’ camp early on. Dumb luck, destiny, or providence -- I didn’t care.