Posted by mpiskun
I have several stories out, waiting for a response:
-Always a Soldier sent to Dark Discovery in 12/11
-The Cost that Lies Between Heaven & Earth sent to Heavy Metal Magazine 1/12
-Reflections sent to Black Static 4/12
-Colony sent to Fantasy & Science Fiction 4/12
-The Iron Fence sent to Darker 4/12
While I work on a new piece I feel bad about ignoring The Badgerine, especially since its had over 21,000 hits since its inception.
So, I give to you Paradisus, a heavily flawed story about a post-apocalyptic family, that despite its shortcomings was found to be entertaining by my classmates in my Fiction Writing Workshop. So, without any further fanfare in all its 9,000+ word glory:
— 1 Year Ago —
The Big Bang
It sounded like steel plates grinding glass to dust. Bryan shot upright in bed and reached out his left hand searching for his wife. Nothing but cold sheets, she wasn’t there. Melanie was still downstairs getting ready for Amanda’s birthday party tomorrow. There was an electrical surge, its humming rattled his teeth. The nightlight in the hallway, the digital clocks, and the street lights that usually made their way through the bedroom shades all went out. It was pitch black. The hellish squeal, of twisting steel came again, then three heartbeats of complete silence, then chaos.
A white flash, so bright it hurt to look at, erupted all around him. The windows burst inwards and shards of broken glass glistened like diamonds as they whipped across the room and embedded themselves into the wall. Pictures fell of the wall and the sheet-rock in the ceiling cracked open, spilling white dust. He heard his children cry out for help. Bryan put his feet down on the thick bedroom carpet, ready to run to his children, when the floor tore open. Floorboards groaned and snapped, and the carpet began to tear in several places. Instinctively he leaped back into bed as the floor dropped out from underneath him. The blinding white light stopped and the world went dark again.
His bed slid down and forward. He gripped his sheets tight in his fists, his eyes were wide with fear yet he could see nothing. Having no idea where he was headed Bryan braced for impact. He felt like he was free-falling, gravity all but nonsense. His bed slid sharply to the right and he crashed into his bedroom wall. His children screamed out again and his pulse sped faster.
Moonlight flooded the room. Confused Bryan looked up to see the roof had been torn from the house. His son and daughter begged for him to help. The creaking of steel and splintering of wood made strange, chaotic music. Car alarms joined the chorus as they howled into the night. Neighbors who were just getting over their shock began to cry out for help. Through the madness Bryan stayed focused.
He ran to his doorway and looked in horror as the hallway floor was demolished. Pieces of the dining room table poked through the floor. The second floor of his home had collapsed down onto the first. He took three steps back then ran forward and jumped into the his daughter’s doorway.
Amanda, his three year old, was no where to be seen but her sobbing told him she was in there somewhere.
“Mandy! Where are you sweet-heart?!”
No response, just more sobs. Bryan’s heart began to hammer harder.
Her voice came from the corner of the room. There was nothing but a pile of rubble. Tears streamed down his face.
“Mandy, honey, hold tight! I’m coming.”
His hands ripped into the pile of sheet-rock and roof shingle. Fueled by dread and panic he dug through the debris. Neither splinters nor nails could slow him down. The skin on his knuckles tore and bled as he dug faster still. In the background his son pleaded for help.
Bryan continued to dig, ignoring the pain and puncture wounds of his tired arms. His heart stopped as he cleared the wreckage to find an empty mattress. His daughter wasn’t there!
She was beneath the bed! He put both hands underneath it and lifted it with all his might. A dust cloud rose as rolled it over against the wall.
There she was clutching her blanket and shivering with fear. Hiding under her bed saved her life. His son yelled for help again. Without a comforting word he slung his daughter up over his shoulder ran and jumped over the debris in the hallway. With bare feet he ran across broken glass, wood and nails. It hurt like hell but he ignored the pain. The screams of his son drove him. The ten feet to his doorway seemed like a mile but he made it.
His fourteen year old son, Luke, floated before him. He shimmered in white and blue as if shrouded in static electricity. There was terror in his eyes. Bryan reached up to grab him and the light dissipated. Luke landed on his back as he fell from the air. His father picked him up and slung him over his other shoulder and made his way to the stairs.
The stairs were splintered and broken, a sea of bleached bones in the moonlight. Their remains led directly to his front lawn. Bryan jumped through the wreckage, avoiding the larger shards of fragmented debris as best as he could, until he finally made it to his front lawn. He placed his children on the grass and turned around to look at his home.
The entire first level was gone. It was clearly incinerated, which had caused the second floor to collapse down on top of it. The roof had been sheared off. Bryan’s feet began to throb as blood pooled in the grass. A black screw poked out through his big toe. He turned to look at the rest of the neighborhood. It was equally as devastated.
Houses had collapsed upon themselves and trees were reduced to smoldering stumps. Some had been uprooted and tossed about like leaves in the wind. Bodies lay strewn about the street, twisted in awkward angles. People cried for help all around him. Bryan collapsed on his lawn, put his head between his knees and sobbed quietly to himself, careful not to let his children hear him.
Luke put his hand on his father’s shoulder.
“Dad. Where’s mom?”
Once more Bryan’s heart froze. He wondered how much more strain it could take before quitting on him. He looked at his son’s dust covered face. Tears had cleared clean paths from his eyes to his chin. Amanda sat in shock with her hands over her ears rocking back and forth on the lawn. Bryan did what he thought best at the moment and lied.
“She went to the store to get some things for the party tomorrow. I’m sure she’s fine.”
Bryan looked at the rubble that was once his house and knew she couldn’t have survived. Off in the distance he heard sirens, then came a convoy of U.S. army jeeps and personnel carriers. Of in the distance was the distinctive rumble of tanks.
“Let’s go people. Move into the carriers. We have to move out.”
“What happened?” someone asked a soldier.
“It’s the end of the world!” was his reply.
** 1 **
Bryan trudges through the ashes and the waste because in his right hand he holds onto his daughter. Their footprints leave indentations in the dusty earth but the wind is fierce. Will anyone remember that they were there?
He fights through the death and the plagues that run rampant through the land, because in his left hand he holds onto his son. He ignores the hunger that gnaws at his body because he must. His family needs him to.
For a year they have traveled with one goal in mind, to find peace and safety for themselves. The world had gone to hell after the bombs went off. That day of infamy now goes by many names, ‘Midnight Hour’, ‘Doomsday’, “Zero Hour’ and ‘Trinity’. Some say it was nuclear war but Bryan knew better. There was no fallout and no radiation sickness. He didn’t see any mushroom clouds that day. Others think it was some new type of weapon. Guesses ranged from neutron bombs, EMP waves, and even alien attack. Some conspiracy theorists blamed the New World Order and the Freemasons for Zero Hour. Whatever the cause the devastation was massive. Was it war? There were no invading forces from another country and the United States government was still here. They had set up several military camps throughout but they were far from paradise. The rations were low there, and freedom was scarcer as marshal law ruled absolute. Most chose to live outside the walled-in government facilities. For the majority anarchy was the new world doctrine and a lawlessness that rivaled that of the wild- west now prevailed.
Rumors quickly spread of people developing strange abilities, bizarre cults that fed of off the dead, and animals that walked upright. Women were giving birth to creatures that burst from their mother’s womb angry at the world to which they had inherited. Body and soul were twisted beyond recognition. Man wore the scars of the flesh and mind that day and recovery seemed hopeless.
This world was not a safe place. Bryan thought hard about his options. The government city-states and their oppressions did not appeal to him. Lack of communications meant that their was no way he could guarantee the safety of anyplace without taking the chance of going there and finding out for himself. As his mind drifted he could think of only one place that might be safe. A place that he was familiar with, that called to him. When he met his wife nineteen years ago she had lived in Portland, Maine. He moved there to live with her and there shortly they were married. He loved it there, the slower pace of life, the friendly people, and by God, the lobsters. Even still it was a place of work, of bills, and neighbors. When they wanted to get away from life in Portland they went camping up at the Penobscot River in Bingham. It was heaven waking up to sound of the loons and cooking your eggs and bacon on a skillet over an open flame. Once breakfast was finished they would get in their kayak and paddle up-stream. Off in the distance mount Katadin loomed reminding you how insignificant you really were but you liked it and you felt at home. That was where he needed to go. It was sparsely populated and insulated from the rest of the world. That was where he could finally let his guard down and raise his family and be happy and safe. But first he had to walk there from New York.
** 2 **
As Bryan and his family entered Massachusetts, Interstate 90 loomed before him. It stretched out as far as he could see. Abandoned cars littered the once vital traffic artery.
“How much farther do we need to go?”
“It’s going to be a while, don’t worry about it. Just keep walking sweetheart.”
“But, I’m tired.”
“We have to get to Maine.”
“I don’t want to.”
“We have to see if Mommy is there.”
“O.K., I’ll try.”
Luke shot his father a glance. Bryan shot one right back saying ‘Not now.’
The black top radiated the afternoon sun off its surface in shimmering waves. Despite the fact the cars hadn’t ridden on the highways in about six months it still felt strange walking on the yellow lines that divided the highway. Bryan kept looking back expecting a speeding truck to come out of nowhere and run them down. Clouds drifted past the sun overhead and dark shadows raced back and forth across the road.
As they walked passed a red pick-up truck the driver-side door violently swung open. Bryan instinctively shoved his kids behind him. A tan, worn out work-boot made its way out the open door, followed by ripped and faded blue-jeans. The rest of the person in the truck now emerged. Despite the heat he wore a puffy black ski jacket and matching ski mask.
“Ya don’t wanna pass dis way.”
Bryan slowly reached for the fire-arm in his back waistband, a government issued Colt 1991A commander pistol that he took off a dead soldier he had come across in what used to be Hartford, Connecticut.
“Furder up da road there are da RedMen. Wicked day be. Cannibalism dey ‘ave resorted to, dem fuckin’ pigs. You’re kids dey’ll eat before ya body hits de ground. One a dem I was you see.”
He pulled off his ski mask and revealed his swollen red face, blistered with sacks of yellow and white puss. They looked ready to pop.
“Worry not though. I don’t eat man-flesh no more and here I be, a loner. Dey look for me at night but I have many a hiddin’ spot.” He spread his arms out to show off the hundreds of cars and trucks he now called home.
“If ya stray off the road well, den ya equally as fucked, for then you’ll surely meet da Trinity Kidz. Equally as viscous dey are. Scummy bastards that lurk in da trees like animals. I reckon dey are watchin’ us now. At night da eyes glow in the woods an I’ve not seen a deer since Zero Hour.”
Bryan’s hand made its way to the butt of his handgun.
“I mean ya family and you no harm. I knows a ways around dem. I’ll tell ya….for a fee.”
“I’ve nothing to give you. Thanks for the warning. We’ll be leaving now.”
“Oh? I saw ya reachin’ for somethin’. A fire arm perhaps?. I’ll gladly take it as payment. Ya can’t be without too much protection these days.” The blister sacks strained under the pressure of his toothless smile.
Without his gun his family and he were defenseless but, if what this creature said was true his firearm and the six bullets he carried would amount to nothing. If he could make it east on I-90 to 495 he would be well on his way to New Hampshire and then, at last, to Maine.
“Fine. You have a deal.”
“First, give me the gun.”
“I’ll give you the gun but I will take the bullets up the road with me. I’ll leave them in a blue car when I’m at least one mile away. If I turn around and see you the deal is off and I keep the bullets.”
“A blue fucken’ car? How will I know which one?”
“There can only be about twenty blue cars max in the next mile. I think you have the time.”
Red-face snarled and Amanda moved forward and grabbed her father’s leg. Luke’s hands balled into fists.
“Dad, we need the gun.”
“Luke, trust me.”
“Fine it’s a deal. In one mile you leave the bullets in a blue car. I’ll come for dem when da sun starts to set, no sooner. About one-mile after that there will be a large rock formation on da left. Go down da embankment and there is a stack of blue plywood. Un-stack da wood and there will be a tunnel. It’s dark and tight and sharp but it will lead you past da gangs. Dey don’t know about it, it’s how I travel unnoticed. Dey don’t want to find it for it leads north and then you’ll go from da fryin’ pan to de muther-fucken’ fire.”
He grinned so wide a blister on his right cheek cracked. A small trickle of puss found its way out.
“Then you are in the land of Bane, he who knows all and punishes and wins and devourers.”
Bryan handed him the gun, he took his children by the hand and walked east on the interstate.
“Dad, that doesn’t sound good. Bane? Devourer?”
“Luke that guy is clearly nuts. This Bane is probably a crazy just like him or some urban legend. There’s guys like him everywhere. We need to keep moving.”
He wished he was as confident as he hoped he sounded.
“Daddy, I don’t want to go near Bane.”
“Sweetie, we probably won’t see him and I want to go see mommy agin, don’t you.”
She hugged her father. “Yeah, dad, I do”
Through the corner of his eye he saw Luke direct another glance at him. This time Bryan ignored it. About one mile from where they started Bryan found a blue Ford Escape. He put the bullets in the glove compartment and closed it. They continued to walk.
About another mile later, as the sun began to set, he came to the stack of plywood by the rock formation. It was hard to miss. Two sharp columns rose about fifty feet high with piles of round boulders balanced precariously on top of each. At its base was the stack of blue plywood. Luke helped him to dismantle the pile which revealed the hole in the ground that was supposed to lead them to safety.
Bryan peered in and it stared back like some great black eye. In the distance he heard a gunshot. It sounded like his Colt.
“You guys ready?”
They nodded and held hands.
“Alright, let’s go.”
** 3 **
To many he was Bane, a burly man from the wreckage that was the greater Boston area, where the damage had been significant. The blasts with its deadly vibrations and flashes had splintered the earth. Concrete split open and mud spewed from the city’s wounds. Once the fountains of mud ceased water from the Boston Harbor gushed out and split the ground further apart, devouring all. East Boston crumbled and sunk first. Whatever wasn’t drowned had been set ablaze, tiny spires of flame amid a sea of death. Dorchester bay, in the south, had risen high and forced itself onto shore with deadly results. Thousands had drowned or had been crushed by the waters force South Boston was submerged and erased from the landscape, a modern day Atlantis.
Quincy bay had cracked open. Ferocious blast of steam shot hundreds of feet into the air. The boaters making their way to Peddock’s island tried to scream when they were cooked alive but when they opened their mouths to shout, the hot air rushed in and their lungs blistered and burst. Flesh was steamed loose from the bone.
Watching in horror one mile inland in, Quincy, was Rupert McDowell. He stumbled backwards while walking home from his job as a teller at Patriot Bank, transfixed by the sucking noise and the whistle of the steam from the bay. He tripped on a curb and landed painfully on his back. As he stared up into the sky he saw great clouds forming from what used to be bay water. It swirled round and round and it set of his motion sickness, he began to feel nauseas. Then came the white blast.
He heard ringing in his ears and the world went bright white, then black as he passed out. That was one year ago.
Many died and suffered that day. The world as it was known has ceased to exist and that was just fine for Rupert. He had considered his existence a form of cruel and unusual punishment. He was living in his mother’s house, unable to afford property, and too lazy to get another job to afford any of life’s finer things. Zero Hour changed everything.
Some had pitied him on that day for he had woken badly scarred. His skin was disgustingly deformed. It looked bubbly, but hard and yellow. His face was monstrously disfigured. His forehead gave the appearance of having melted down upon his face. His eyelids had flesh dripping that gave his eyes the appearance of venus flytraps. He no longer had a nose. What he now had was a streak of hardened flesh that covered his nostrils. Rupert was forced to breathe through his mouth and his misshapen lips caused his air intake to whistle. It wasn’t an amusing musical whistle. No, it was a high pitched siren that ended in a throaty gargle. He became know as Shriek.
Shriek may have been badly deformed with his melted face a blistery, yellow husk but he become more gifted than he could ever have imagined. Never in his days of counting bills and processing deposit slips did he ever imagine he could feel so powerful. When he awoke from the flash he knew immediately that he had changed deep down inside. He could hear the thoughts of others and he could see like never before. People moved with purpose, to the tune of a greater power and he found the rhythm in it. Life was a choreographed waltz and the bombs had smashed it into to pieces. The dance was still there though, he saw it, he did. Wicked clever it was, small steps happening great distances apart but there none-the-less trying to regroup and live once again. Now he saw it, he knew it, and he would control it.
His followers came to him, he didn’t need to take them by force. He was special and those who desperately prayed for a leader, a God, or savior found him. His legend grew and so did his flock. He was Shriek the beloved, the one who would lead them but, that would soon change. Drunk with power he needed more and more, and he couldn’t stop feeding off their energy. He was no longer Shriek the savior, leader of the flock. Now he was Bane the Destroyer, the One, and the Devourer of heretics. You believed in him or you died. Shriek was dead, long live Bane!
After time the oceans began to swell once more and made their way inland, purging the death and the stink that had accumulated on the shores of Quincy. It was time to move inland. Bane took his flock north, collecting followers as he marched onward. Nomads they became, taking what they needed. They became known as the Cloud.
Bane knew this was no way to live though. He needed a kingdom and so he meditated until he knew what steps came next in the great dance. Up interstate 495 he traveled. Like army ants the Cloud poured north on the ghostly roads, littered with empty vehicles. They scavenged all that was usable, gas, oil, hoses, belts and screws. The Cloud left nothing behind.
They seemed unstoppable and became more efficient than any of the struggling government city states. Onward they went until they came to the crater.
A giant hole lay in the earth before them. It was deep, so very dark, and smelled of molten black top.
Bane picked up a rock and tossed it down. He waited to hear the clink of the stone but it never came.
“I have foreseen this!” he hissed to his Cloud. “We must travel west! There is a city that is ripe for the taking.”
The cheers reached a maniacal din and they went west to Worchester. The buildings were remarkably intact and there were about two hundred people residing there. Once the city people heard the screams of the Cloud’s marching, charging feet they drew the weapons that they had and prepared to defend what they now called home.
Bane lead the charge and saw the makeshift militia take up a defensive line. Pitchforks, shovels, knives, and rakes glinted in the sun. Baseball bats and clubs of the city dwellers angrily beat the ground, a primal war chant that echoed through the hollow city.
Bane roared. His cry pitched and rose as if alive. The windows on the Hotel 99 shattered behind the city people. The earth beneath their feet shook and kicked up chocking dust. The war cry ceased.
“Bane is here now! This city is mine. My travels have brought me here and I welcome you to join us. Together we are unstoppable, without me you are dead, fuel to my machine.”
There were murmurs in the crowd. Through the din of nervous speak certain words could be heard like, ‘Shriek’, ‘Cloud’, and ‘The One’. Nervous whispers were music to Bane’s ears and his melted lips did their best imitation of a smile. Things were falling into place.
“Never!” shouted a man who sprinted forward and tossed a home-made spear made up of four steak knives tied to a broomstick.
Bane reached out and plucked the spear from the air. “One last time for the hard of hearing. Join me now or die.” He raised the steak-knife spear high over his head, waiting for an answer.
The Cloud grew restless and buzzed with excitement. They cheered and stomped the ground feeding off their leader’s hubris. The city quickly surrendered and Worchester was his without spilling a drop of blood.
Several months had passed since his conquering and Bane now sat on his throne, a large leather recliner in the vault of the “First Bank of Worchester.” His city was thriving and his people numbered nearly two-hundred and fifty. Something wasn’t right though. ‘What could it be?’ he pondered. Bane closed his eyes and concentrated. He reached out with his mind and his thoughts spread like invisible tendrils. Then his eyes snapped open. Once more his face wore a counterfeit smile. ‘Children!’ he thought to himself. ‘We have no children. Most of my men are sterile from the great white and I’ve few woman of child-bearing age that aren’t barren and sullied. I need children to survive.’
He closed his eyes again. This time they opened slowly and he rubbed his yellow calloused hands together. This time he saw two children, so close he could smell them! The great dance went wild in his heart and belly. Oh, and they were special they were, touched by the great white but none the worse for wear.
Bane summoned three of his men and sent them off. These children would be his by the next nightfall, so said the music that made his heart beat.
** 4 **
The maw of the underground cave swallowed up the family as they traveled inside. The cave went down about forty feet. It was a steep drop and Amanda needed to be carried on her father’s back. Luke struggled against the cold, moss covered rocks. He lost his footing and fell several times. As they descended deeper the light began to fade. The rocks got slimier and Luke lost his footing and fell once more. This time he landed on his back with a loud thud.
“You O.K., son?’
“Fine…Dad.” Luke did his best to hide the pain that was shooting up his back.
Once the descent ended the trail leveled off and moved further. In three steps the light was gone. Darkness.
“I can’t see anything.”
“I know, I’m sorry.”
Her grip grew tighter around her fathers neck.
“Mandy, you’re going to have to get off of Daddy’s back and hold his hand.”
“Mandy, we can’t see anything and if you ride on my back you can hit your head.”
She gripped even tighter now. He put one hand around her back and, as gently as possible, he pried her fingers apart with his other hand and brought her gently to the ground.
“Don’t let go of my hand. No matter what!”
“Luke, grab my shirt and follow behind us.”
He felt his son grab his shirt from behind. With his daughter holding onto his left hand, he reached his right hand out in front of him and began to shuffle forward.
He could hear his children breathing and the rocks moving beneath his shiffling feet. He moved slowly. What if there was a hole? What if this tunnel caved in? He began to breathe faster now and his hands grew damp with sweat. He gripped his daughter tighter.
Something crashed behind them and the sound of loose rock sliding reverberated throughout the cave.
“Dad?” Luke whispered.
“Just some loose rock.” Bryan whispered back
Now there was a dripping noise. The first drop hit then settled into an uneven pattering with no particular rhythm. Bryan shuffled faster now, dragging his kids with him. The dripping sound seemed to be moving closer to them from behind. Bryan’s instinct wanted him to shout ‘Who’s there!?’ but that would only scare his kids. A cold chill ran up his spine.
Now there was a cough from behind. Amanda screamed and started to run forward. His hands were wet and her sudden burst surprised him. He lost hold her.
Up ahead he heard a thump then silence. Bryan turned around and reached for Luke’s head. He felt his hands on his hair then pulled his head forward and whispered in his son’s ear.
“Son, don’t speak. I love you. Crawl out of here on your hands and knees. Find you sister and get the fuck out. I think she fell, find her and get out! Be quiet and don’t come back for me, no matter what you hear. If I get out of here, I’ll shout for you but get out of sight.”
Luke didn’t move.
“Go. Now.” He kissed his son on the head and gently pushed him ahead. Now he pressed himself up against the wall and waited.
“I hear yaaaa. I know ya hear me.”
It was Red-face. Bryan’s heart slammed into his chest. He put his hand over it for fear it was too loud.
“Don’t make me shoot. I only want da girl. We can start a family see. You can appreciate dat right?”
Footsteps grew closer. The dark appeared to be squirming in front of him.
“We can stay together if ya like, one happy family an all of that.”
Brian squatted down, ready to pounce. He felt a breeze across his face. Was it Red-man’s breath, did he just walk by?
“Give up ya fuck. It’s a dead end down here! There’s no way out!”
Bryan’s blood pumped harder now. Should he run out and try to knock him down? Should he wait for Red-man to run into him. The footsteps grew closer.
Bryan’s muscles froze, if he runs at him will he get shot?
“There’s no way out.”
He could smell him now. The sweat and the dirt it gave him away. Was he only inches away? Bryan tensed him self up, ready to strike.
Footsteps boomed in front of him, dust was kicked up in his face.
Bryan lunged and found his target. His forehead crashed into his hunter’s sternum and knocked him to the ground. A gunshot went off. In the brief muzzle flash he looked into the eyes of his attacker and saw his surprise. He heard his son shout out and his blood ran hot with anger. He had to fight for his children. He ran his left hand down Red-man’s arm and found the hand that held the gun. He pinned it down and began to pound his right fist down. His first slam missed, his pinkie crashed into the rock floor. He quickly brought his fist up then down again. Flesh! He felt a blister pop and ooze on Red-man’s face. He could smell disease and traces of blood.
Again he slammed his fist down. He felt teeth come loose and break off. The body beneath him struggled but he pushed up on his toes and pressed all his weight on his enemy’s chest. He brought his fist down again and again. The thuds were dull and squishy. He didn’t stop. Red-mans face began to cave in. Bryan couldn’t feel his fist anymore but he kept punching.
The body beneath him began to spasm and he kept punching. There were no longer any thuds, just the sound of wet smacking. Red-man’s body stopped shuddering and Bryan felt Red-man let go the gun.
He grabbed the gun, put the nozzle against Red-man’s chest and fired. Fluff from the winter jacket blew up into his face. There was no scream, he was dead. Getting up to his feet he realized he had no idea which way to go now. His right hand began to throb to the beat of his heart.
“Luke! Amanda! It’s Dad, I’m alright! Where are you?”
He had told his son to run. He felt a cold wave of dread come over him. His children may be out of ear-shot and he had no idea which way to go. Was there no end to this tunnel? Was it a trap?
“Luke, it’s O.K. I’m fine. Where are you?”. Bryan felt relief wash over his body.
“ Dad, I found the way out!.”
“Keep talking! I need to follow your voice. Did you find Amanda?”
“I did Dad. She’s knocked out though. There blood on her head!”
With the fight now over, Bryan’s adrenaline began to wane. He was suddenly aware at how much pain he was in. His hand swelled and his fingers wouldn’t move.
“Is she breathing?”
“Yeah Dad, hurry up!”
The darkness was suddenly pierced by a beam of light. He started to run toward the light, tears streamed own his face. Then he saw the twilight sky. It was a beautiful sight. The bright light of the setting sun made him squint and cover his eyes.
He felt the hug of his son and his vision cleared. Three feet in front of him lying in the grass was Amanda.
** 5 **
The cut on Amanda’s head was superficial. As cuts on the scalp tend to do they bleed excessively causing more distress than damage. Bryan rubbed his daughter’s hair as she slept. Luke collected firewood as nightfall approached and placed it in the hand dug fire pit. Once most of the wood was placed inside, Bryan left his daughter to sleep and he went to his son.
Luke collected dried grass and removed two smooth, silver rocks from his pocket. Neither of them knew what kind of rocks they were but they sparked when banged together just right. Bryan bunched up the pile of grass and his son struck the rocks against each other. After a few strikes some sparks flew and hit the dried grass. Bryan gently blew until the lit embers in the grass caught fire. Pleasant smelling smoke rose from the pile and Bryan picked it up and used it to light the wood in the fire pit. It started slowly then crackled alive and danced itself into a hypnotic rhythm of flickers.
“Why do you keep lying to Mandy? We both know Mom is dead.”
“Luke, she’s four years old. Do you want her to know that her mom died because she was downstairs baking for her birthday party?”
“Parents have to lie sometimes. Mandy needs to think were going to find Mom. It keeps her going”
“And when we don’t find her?”
“When were safe and I think that she can handle it and understand it, I’ll tell her. Look, sometimes we have to stretch the truth to keep you guys safe. The world is a cruel place and I have to make sure you guys find out slowly and when you’re ready. It’s my job. I hope you get the chance to understand one day.”
Suddenly a branch snapped in the brush behind them. Bryan pulled out his gun and pointed it in the direction of the sound.
No there was nothing.
“Show yourself or I’ll shoot.”
Slowly a dark shape emerged from the brush. Its silhouette took the form of a woman.
“Walk towards me, slowly.”
As the figure came closer to the fire he was able to see her for the first time. She was young, a teenager, with black hair and blue eyes. She had a thin figure and carried the slight tan of a wanderer.
“Please, I don’t mean you any harm. I was just passing through and I saw your fire.”
Bryan kept the gun leveled at her.
Luke looked her over and spoke out. “Dad, it’s alright. I don’t think she can hurt us.”
She looked at Luke and blushed slightly. “Thank you.”
Bryan lowered the gun but didn’t put it away. “Come and sit by the fire awhile.” he said gesturing to the fire pit.
“Thanks, I’m Mia. I’m on my way to the city of Worchester. I hear there are amazing things happening there. People have food and clean water and are protected. I just want to be safe and find a place to live.”
“Hi Mia, I’m Bryan and this is my son Luke. The girl resting over there is Amanda.”
“Is she O.K.?”
Luke cut his father off, “Oh, she’s fine, just a small bump on the head. It looks worse than it is” He smiled at Mia.
Mia smiled back. “I’m happy, she looks so cute.”
Bryan interrupted their apparent love connection. “Look, Mia we are headed up north to Maine. It’s not safe for a young girl to travel alone. Why don’t you join us.”
Luke grinned from ear to ear.
“I’m sorry. I planned on going west to Worchester I’m kind of excited about it.”
“You can spend the night with us by the fire.” Bryan offered. Luke felt as if he would die right there.
“Thanks again but, no. I appreciate the offer and the kindness but I like to travel at night. I can hide good in the dark. I travel when others are sleeping and I lay low in the day. It seems to be the safest way when you’re alone.”
“Are you sure?” Luke moaned. “You don’t have to be alone.”
She gave him another smile and seemed to reconsider, if just for a moment. “Sorry, but good luck guys, hopefully well run into each other again.”
Off she scurried into the darkness. She was right, she blended in well. He lost sight of her in seconds.
He turned to face his son. Luke was crestfallen. He wore a large frown were his smile resided moments ago.
“Don’t worry kid. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”
Luke said nothing and put his head down to sleep.
“I’ll wake you in a few hours so I can get some rest.”
Luke was already snoring. Bryan sat by the fire and kept watch.
** 6 **
The Night Has Eyes
Bryan didn’t notice the three pairs of eyes that stared through the brush behind him. His head snapped back when he would start to fall asleep then lurch forward as he forced himself awake.
He wished he had a cup of coffee. He made a mental note to find some of the instant stuff and carry it around with him for nights like this. He watched his daughter’s chest rise and fall with each breath. It seemed like yesterday he was feeding her a bottle, holding her in his arms. On the weekends when he wasn’t working, her one A.M. bottle feeding was his. He would stare into her eyes as she wrapped her hand around his thumb and he would swear to her out loud, “I’ll never let anything happen to you.” He looked at the dried blood on her hair in the light of the fire and tears welled in his eyes.
Suddenly a heavy plastic bag was thrust over his head and pulled tight around his neck. He brought his hands up to his neck in defense but his right hand was swollen and weak. His daughter screamed.
He stood up on his feet but was kneed in the back and dragged back down to the ground. His son now shouted out for help.
Now Bryan quickly arched his stomach forward and threw his left arm behind him and grabbed his attacker’s leg. He lifted the enemy’s leg and spun forward to face his attacker, falling forward and knocking his on his back. He took the free moment to pull the bag from his head.
He gasped for air and quickly scanned the camp site. His children were gone! The attacker got to his feet and charged him. Bryan reached in his rear waistband and pulled out his colt. The attacker skidded to a stop.
“Put down to gun.” The attacker was a normal looking 20 year old man. His facial features were distorted by the night.
Wasting no time on discussion he rushed at the man. He turned to run but Bryan hooked his right arm around his neck and with his left hand put the gun to his temple.
“Where are my children!”
He pushed to nozzle harder into his skull and tightened his hold around his neck.
“WHERE ARE MY KIDS!”
“There going to Worchester. Bane wants them. It’s no use….”
Bryan remembered he only had three bullets left. Using both arms he started to squeeze the man’s neck. The man started to thrash and punch wildly trying to get free.
One punch landed on Bryan’s face, then another. Bryan felt his lip swell up and he squeezed impossibly harder. The attacker tried to punch again put his arm slowed on the way up and started to fall back down.
Another tight squeeze and the arm shot up again then went limp. He was dead.
Bryan ran off to find his children.
** 7 **
Luke and Amanda were quickly tied together and gagged by a blond haired man that his accomplice called ‘Snoot’. The other man, with red hair, put them in a wooden cart that was attached to a blue four-wheeler. Snoot hoped in the driver side, put the key in the ignition and revved the engine.
“Now don’t do anything stupid”, the red-head said, “Bane wants you alive.”
He popped open a large switch blade. “Don’t make Jimmy cut you.”
There was a rustle of leaves behind them. Jimmy turned to see Bryan charging down the hill.
“Get us out of here Snoot.”
The four-wheeler sped off. Luke and Amanda watched helplessly as the father grew smaller and smaller in the distance.
“We need kids in our city. You guys will be taken care off, don’t worry. Bane is a good leader. We eat, we get what we need and if we don’t have it we take it.”
“I’m going to kill you.”
“Who said that?”
“If you touch my sister I’ll kill you.”
“Snoot, you worthless piece of crap, don’t you know how to tie a gag?”
Jimmy checked the gag and it was on so tight the boy’s cheeks had turned white. Jimmy eyed the children suspiciously and sat back down on the far end of the cart.
** 8 **
Snoot and Jimmy untied the gags and brought the children to the First Bank of Worchester, castle of the king of kings.
“Be brave.” Luke told Amanda.
Amanda had tears streaming down her face.
“Don’t worry Dad will find us.”
The tears slowed a little.
“And….and then we can go find Mom.”
A small smile appeared on Amanda’s face.
“You guys are stayin’ put.” Snoot proclaimed.
Jimmy said nothing. He hadn’t said anything to the kids since the incident in the cart.
Jimmy and Snoot walked up to the bank entrance and opened the glass door. An electric chime went off signaling their entrance. No one was there to great them. They took the kids past a row of desks to the open bank vault. Inside was Bane.
There he sat in all his putrid glory, hunched forward in his brown leather recliner. Two topless women , one on each side, held plates of cut strawberries, honey-dew, and blueberries. Amanda screamed at the sight of him. Luke was so appalled at the sight of him that he didn’t notice the naked breasts in front of him.
“Don’t worry little girl, I take no offense. The same God that has blessed me with these good looks has also gifted me with tremendous power. Soon you will come to revel in me, for I am the way.”
“Sam didn’t make it”, interrupted Snoot, “we saw the father coming after us when we left. We may be having company.”
Jimmy spoke up for the first time in since the incident in the cart. “Something’s not right with these kids Boss.”
“Oh, they couldn’t be more right, Jimmy.”
“One of them got in my head.”
“Oh really?” shrieked Bane sarcastically. He stared directly at Luke and his misshapen face smiled. “Ladies, give the kids some fruit.”
Bryan, on the verge of hyperventilating, had to stop running and catch his breath. A painful cramp pierced his left side. His hand throbbed violently. He looked closely at his wound and saw red lines moving up his hand, past his wrist. Was he hot from running, or was he feverish?
He leaned on a metal street sign and took several deep breaths. His heart beat started to slow a little when he looked up at the sign. It read:
I-290 WORCHESTER 19 MILES
Bryan started to sprint.
“You children are very special. Amanda, nobody will harm you because you are not poisoned. Your womb will deliver us our future. Luke, oh Luke, I know you have been touched by the great white just as I have. However, you are just a boy and have much to learn.”
‘I have nothing to learn from you.’
“You can mind-speak, how wonderfully impressive. You are wrong. You have much to learn. For instance would you like to know what will happen to your father?”
“Yes.” cried Amanda.
“You two will wait here with me. Snoot and Jimmy will stand guard outside of the bank. Your father will come here to try and get you at dawn. Then your father will die.”
** 9 **
The sun was rising in the eastern sky. The dark blues of the pre-dawn sky gave way to layers of pink, orange and red. Bryan looked down on the city or Worchester. There were so many buildings he had no idea where to start. He wondered if he should wait until it was dark again but, the thought of his children out there in some stranger’s hands quelled that notion. He put his gun in his waistband underneath his shirt and set off into the city.
There were several men standing guard atop many of the buildings. They scanned the horizon with binoculars looking for unwanted guests. Bryan clung to the early dawn shadows until he saw a building with no one standing watch. It was a large red-brick apartment complex. He sprinted towards it unnoticed, gathered himself for a moment and entered the city.
He wondered what to do next. Bryan figured it was best to lay low, observe and learn what he could. His right forearm burned. The red streaks had gone past his wrist and up his forearm. He started to feel achy, wet and feverish.
A fat man approached him. “What have we here? I don’t believe I’ve seen you before.”
“I’m new in town.”
“Really, where do you live?”
“None of your business.”
“I don’t think I like you.”
Bryan’s hands moved toward his waistband.
Bryan and the fat man turned around.
“Back off chubby, he’s with me.” It was Mia.
The fat man turned around. “And who are you?”
Bryan made his move. He pulled out his colt and brought the butt crashing down on the back of the man’s head. He collapsed to the ground like a sack of jello.
“Mia, quick, help me get him in this dumpster before anyone notices. Bryan hooked his arms underneath the man’s armpits.
“Grab his legs.”
Mia strained with the man’s weight. “Did you have to knock out such a lard ass?”
Together they swung they man into the dumpster. He landed with a thud.
“Mia, how long have you been here?”
“I was just watching from the outside. I got here a few hours before you and I wanted to see if everything was as cool as they said it was. Then I recognized you and that guy started harassing you and….”
“I need to find Luke and Amanda. Bane’s men took him.”
“What? Really? I think I know were they might be. I think I saw a lot of activity by that bank earlier.”
“ That could be it. It’s the best lead I have. Thanks, Mia. You need to go now. I don’t know what’s going to happen and you shouldn’t be here.”
“Sorry, I’m not leaving you. I’ve been alone for far too long. I’ll help you get Luke and Amanda back.”
“Look, I don’t have time to argue. If your going to stick around just do as I say.”
The sun started to rise further above the horizon, shades of azure getting brighter.
“We need to hurry before everyone is up and about.”
** 10 **
Bryan peered around the corner and spied the bank. Two men were guarding it. They slung wooden two-by-fours, riddled with nails, over the shoulders.
“Stay here Mia. Don’t come unless I call you.”
Bryan went to lift up his shirt, with his right hand, to pull his gun from his waistband but the fingers on his hand were too swollen and purple to function. The red streak in his forearm had made its way to his elbow. His shirt reeked of sweat and disease, the type of stink usually found in hospital morgues.
He reached under his shirt with his left hand and pulled out the gun. He held it straight out and made his way towards the bank. This was it. Do or die. He prayed that his kids were inside, that he would see them again, even if he died doing so.
“Well Jimmy. Look what we have here. It must be dear old Dad.”
The both charged, brandishing their homemade maces above their heads.
Bryan fired off a shot that hit the red haired one in the stomach. He crumpled to his knees trying to keep his blood from spilling out with his hands.
The other man continued to charge. Bryan fired off another shot. The shot struck blondy in the head. The loud pop of the gun was followed by the back of his attackers head exploding in a chunky red mist. He fell face first into the ground. Bryan stepped over him and sprinted toward the bank.
He pushed open the door and his heart skipped a beat when the electric chime went off. Seeing nothing he ran around the corner and froze in his tracks.
“I’ve been expecting you.”, hissed the creature of front of him. Luke and Amanda were bound and gagged in the vault behind him.
Bryan pulled the trigger once more. He had Bane dead in his sight. Bane raised his hand and the bullet stopped in mid-air and fell to the ground.
“I do believe you are out of bullets. Look, join your children at my side or die. It’s that simp….”
Bryan charged Bane, ready to strike him with the butt of his gun. He got within arms length of Bane when he was knocked backwards by a powerful force. He landed on one of the nearby desks and it shattered under his weight.
Luke struggled to free himself but he was bound too tight. Amanda’s muffled cries echoed in the vault.
“Look now. You’re upsetting your children.”
Luke struggled harder. His hands began to tingle.
Bryan staggered back up and grabbed the splintered, jagged leg of the desk that he had landed on. He ran forward with his weapon.
Bane motioned with his hands and Bryan was lifted into the air. Another hand gesture brought about screams as Bryan began to get crushed. He dropped the desk leg on the floor and howled in pain. Bryan’s ribs began to crack. Every exhale brought about more constriction.
Luke fought like he never had before. The rope was cutting into his wrists. His hands were getting hotter. His eyes were starting to glow white.
Amanda’s scream intensified at seeing her father die before her eyes.
Bryan gasped. His breathing now was whoops and rasps. Blood began to trickle from his ears. The bank door’s electric chime went off.
Luke fought harder.
There was a sickening crack as Mia slammed the spiked two-by-four into the side of Bane’s head. The mace stuck into his skull and Bryan fell to the ground.
With a shout Luke broke free of his bindings. His eyes glowed white and his hands shimmered with vibrations.
“No!” bane screamed as he lunged toward Luke.
Luke threw an upper-cut that blasted Bane on the chin. His fist was a blur. Bane was knocked up off his feet and onto his back. He landed next to Bryan.
Bryan picked his broken desk leg up and thrust the jagged edge into Bane’s chest. He pushed down on it with all his weight, forcing it deeper, then rolled off, nearly passing out.
Bane struggled to remove to stake from his chest when Luke pulled the two-by-four from Bane’s head. There were large holes in his thick yellow flesh but no blood leaked out. Bryan took the weapon and brought it back down across Bane’s face. The thud was sickening and the monster went limp.
A crowd had gathered outside of the bank. Luke helped his father limp out as Mia and Amanda held hands behind them.
They all stared at Luke. He stared back at them. ‘Bane is no longer the way!’
They surrounded him. One onlooker shouted, “Get them!” and another asked, “Now what do we do?”
Luke stared at the crowd and his eyes shimmered white once more. ‘Let us be!’.
The crowd parted and the four of them made their way out of Worchester.
— Fifteen Months Later —
Luke was awakened by the sound of loons, so haunting yet beautiful. He nudged Mia on the shoulder. “You awake? Let’s go.”
He held her hand as they emerged from their tent. There were three other tents on this campground by the Penobscot River. The red one closest to the river belonged to Ted and Madelyn Fick, friendly folk they had met on their way through New Hampshire. The orange tent about twenty feet off the river was Michael Summers, a single Dad with a six year old son, Jake. Amanda and Jake had become good friends over the past six months. The closest tent to Luke’s, of course, was Amanda’s.
Luke unzipped her tent and poked his head in.
“You up sleepy head?”
“Yeah, I’m ready.”
The three of them walked down river and found the grave marker they had made. Standing in front of it there was a clear view of Mount Katadin.
“This is the perfect spot.” said Luke
“Yeah.” Mandy agreed. “I miss Dad.”
“I do too.”
Mia wiped a tear from her eye. “I can’t believe it’s been a year already. I miss him too.”
“At least he’s with Mom.” said Amanda.
“He fought the infection as long as he could.” Luke put his hand on Mia’s belly. She wasn’t quite showing yet at three months.
“I hope I can be the father he was.”
“You will be.” said Mandy.
“I know you will.” Mia agreed.
The sun peaked out behind the great Mount Katadin and reflected off the river. It shimmered in the rivers current. The four of them walked back to camp holding hands.