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Earth’s Survivors Weekly Serial presentation – 7

EARTH’S SURVIVORS

Earth’s Survivors is copyright © 2016 Dell Sweet. All rights foreign and domestic reserved in their entirety.

Cover Art © Copyright 2016 Wendell Sweet

Some text copyright 2010, 2014, 2015 Wendell Sweet

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LEGAL

This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.

This novel is Copyright © 2016 Wendell Sweet and his assignee Andrea Scroggs. Dell Sweet and Geo Dell are publishing constructs owned by Wendell Sweet. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission.

Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.


Mexico NY: Joel and Haley

Early Evening

Joel had been able to pick up speed once they had left Mexico. The pavement was fairly even, but after the first three or four miles the traffic began to block the highway and they were down to a slow crawl. He could go no faster than ten miles per hour. There were several blind hills, and curves, and there were a lot of abandoned cars and trucks that seemed to be in the least likely places.

The four wheel drive had come in handy, as several times they had to go over the road and into a field, or someone’s yard to get around it. As evening fell they drove partway up the side of a concrete bridge escarpment and set up a camp. They were protected by the trucks, yet high enough to see in all directions.

NYS Route 104: Joel and Haley

Late Afternoon

By the time they reached the outskirts of Oswego the next day, they were ready to stop and rest. John pointed out a large shopping center on their left, and Joel pulled into the mostly empty parking lot and rolled up to the front doors of a large department store. “Thrifty Deal?” he asked John.

“Chain store,” John replied. “You can find a little of everything.”

The other two Jeeps pulled in behind them as they were getting out. Joel walked up to the front doors and tried to open them. “Locked,” he said.

“That’s okay,” Glenn smiled, reaching back into the Jeep. “I’ve got the key.” He handed the jack handle in his hand to Joel as he walked up to the glass doors.

“Well,” Joel said, “I guess here goes.” He swung the jack handle at the door and the glass shattered into millions of green-tinted crystals that skittered across the pavement.

“It’s my first real crime,” Joel said, turning around with a large grin on his face.

Just then a loud alarm began to whoop from within the store, and a split second later an even louder alarm, mounted in a steel box above the doors, began to bray into the quiet afternoon air. Joel, along with almost everyone else, had turned and began to run back towards the Jeep when it went off. The jack handle clattered to the pavement.

“Holy shit,” he sputtered.

Haley was doubled over laughing, leaning up against the Jeep for support. Joel looked at her stupidly for a few seconds and then smiled. Most of the others began to laugh as well, breaking the tension the alarm had caused.

“Y-Y-You,” she tried to say, but couldn’t stop laughing. “I thought you were going to have a heart attack, Joel,” she said, once she had gained some control. She held her stomach and began to laugh again. Joel began to laugh himself, along with everyone else.

“Well… it scared me at first,” he protested. He hadn’t been the only one, he knew. Glenn’s eyes had looked as though they were going to pop right out of his head, he recalled. He seemed to be all right now though.

Glenn walked forward and picked up the tire iron from the pavement. Standing on tip toe he pried the metal box open. He hit the large siren inside with the jack handle, until it finally screeched and then quit. The other alarm inside was still going off. He disappeared into the store, and a few seconds later that one stopped too. Glenn came back outside and peered sheepishly at the small crowd, most of whom had finally stopped laughing.

“If we’re gonna do this on a regular basis,” he said, “we better pick up some real burglar tools while we’re here.” Everyone laughed again, but the laughter died down quickly, and once it had they all crunched across the glass and into the store.

The power was off, it turned out. The alarm had been backed up by battery, and had apparently switched over automatically when the power went off. The mood changed once they had gotten into the store. Just the fact that no one did come when the alarm had  gone off would have been enough, but the empty store had also contributed its share to their somber mood. It served as a reminder that they still had met no other people at all. They had traveled over seventy miles and seen no one, and it reinforced what had happened in all their minds. No cashiers at the empty checkouts, no police cars screaming into the parking lot to see who was breaking in, there was nobody, anywhere, it seemed.

Although the power was off, the water was not, and they availed themselves of the employee showers after they had quickly moved through the store and picked out what they needed. They had gone together through the deserted aisles of the store, unwilling, or unable, to split up.

Joel, his hair still wet from the cold shower; dressed in a faded pair of jeans and a blue chambray work shirt, leaned up against the wall outside the rest room with the other men, and waited for the women to come back out. They talked quietly among themselves as they waited.

“You think Rochester will be the same as here?” Dave asked. He had seemed especially shaken by the alarm in the parking lot, and still seemed shook up over it.

Terry stood silently next to Glenn, tapping the heel of one work boot against the cinder block wall. “It does sort of seem like everyone is gone,” he said, as he stopped tapping the boot heel and straightened up.

“Could be,” Glenn said, solemnly. “It really could be, but I don’t think so. I think there are probably people right here in Oswego. They’re scared, is all. I can’t say as I blame them either, they don’t know any more about what’s going on than we do. Even if they saw us come in, I don’t think they’re about to come running up to say howdy. I wouldn’t,” he paused, before continuing. “If I saw a bunch of people come driving in, I’d probably want to stay away. No police means there is no protection, and they don’t know who we are, or even where we came from, or what we want for that matter. I think though, that there are people. Maybe it’s just going to take some time before we all get back together. I just can’t believe we’re it, I guess.”

“I have to agree with you, Glenn,” John said. “If we were to stay here a while, I would bet we would probably see someone. The curiosity would bring them out, I think.”

“I agree,” Joel said. “I was none too keen on approaching you guy’s back in Watertown either. I thought about avoiding you, as a matter of fact, just going in the other direction.”

“Glad you didn’t, Joel,” Glenn said. The other men nodded agreement as he spoke. “I can see though where a body wouldn’t want to. Especially since there was more than a few of us carrying guns, or rifles, at that point. I am glad you did though. I sure as hell wouldn’t have wanted to end up with that Brad Saser trying to take charge. He was already pushing it pretty hard. Probably would have shot him myself if he had tried, who in hell knows what a guy like him would do.”

“You don’t think they’ll follow us do you?” Terry asked.

“No telling,” Glenn said, “but I wouldn’t doubt it. Guy’s like him are all over though, and I suppose we’ll run into a few just like him eventually. Not much we can do except to be careful, I guess.”

“Think we’ll make Rochester tomorrow?” Dave, asked, as Gina and Jan came walking out of the rest room.

“It’s not far, only about another sixty, maybe seventy miles,” John answered, “but I doubt it. We will probably get there tomorrow or the next day sometime, depending on the stalled traffic of course.” He seemed to consider for a second. “Maybe longer. The stalled traffic is even heavier and it might be ten times worse than this once we get closer. I mean they may have also taken to the secondary roads, so there may not be any real way to get there in one straight shot anymore.”

“That’s about what I figure,” Glenn chipped in, “at least a few days.”

Haley and Lilly opened the door and walked out, and the small group prepared to make a meal and settle down for the night.

Everyone, at Glenn’s suggestion, had changed into sneakers or boots in case they ended up walking. They had taken the time to pick up extra clothes, as well as some more canned goods to replace what they had eaten, and Joel had found some Quick Cold in one of the side aisles.

Quick Cold had only become popular in the last couple of years as a retail item. Before that it had only been used by the medical profession, to transport anything that needed to stay cold, or frozen. Organs for transplant, fresh blood, and countless other things. The plastic bags contained a small stick shaped tube. Joel had filled three large coolers with soda and beer, and tossed in several of the bags after snapping the small cylinder within, to activate the chemical the bags contained. They had instantly frosted up and began to cool the warm cans. A few minutes later they rolled the trucks inside the store and built a fire for the night. Joel took the first shift of guard duty with Scott. Just inside the main entrance.

Oswego NY: Joel and Haley

Late Morning

They spent the morning scouring the store for useful items. After they had loaded the Jeeps, they had left the abandoned shopping center and began to work their way through the seemingly empty city, when they reached the first bridge they were forced to stop.

The bridge was still standing, that was not the problem. The problem was that it was packed bumper to bumper with wrecked and burned out cars and trucks. A large city bus also sat within the wreckage. Dave and Joel scrambled over the cars to see what had caused the huge accident.

At first it seemed that the wreckage went on forever. But as they neared the second bridge the problem became apparent.

The bridge, or more properly put, the twisted steel girders and huge chunks of concrete that had been the bridge, lay at the bottom of a deep gorge, partially submerged in the water. Reluctantly they scrambled back over the cars to tell the others that were waiting.

“Think we could move them?” John asked, as Joel and Dave returned. “I saw a wrecker back up the highway a bit; we could go back and get it.”

“Wouldn’t do any good,” Joel said his voice somber. “The second bridge is nearly gone. Even if it weren’t, I don’t see this one standing much longer either. We took a look at the underside from the other bridge, and a couple of the pilings are cracked pretty badly. I wouldn’t trust it. There is another bridge though, looks like only a couple of blocks over. It’s still up, but I can’t tell from here whether it has traffic on it, the sides are enclosed.”

“Which way, Joel?” Glenn asked.

“Looked like down a little way,” Joel said, pointing back the way they had come. “Take the next right, and it should be only a couple of blocks away.”

“Well,” Haley said, trying to sound positive, “let’s go find out.”

They piled back into the Jeeps, and after some careful maneuvering, managed to turn them around and head back the way they had come. Joel made the next right and started down the street, while Glenn and John, as well as Haley, watched for a bridge on the side Streets that bisected the one they were on. Joel had just slowed to cross a set of rail road tracks, when Haley suddenly yelled out.

“There!” she shouted, pointing down the tracks.

Joel looked in the direction she had pointed, which happened to be down the tracks.

“Shit, that figures,” he said, “a rail road trestle.”

The trestle was a newer one, and the sides were enclosed steel with concrete reinforcements. Probably why I didn’t realize it was a train trestle, he thought, and then said aloud. “Well that blows that, but there ought to be other bridges. This can’t be the only one.”

“Actually,” Glenn said, from behind him, “it ain’t necessarily bad news.”

“What do you mean?” Joel said, staring back down the tracks at the bridge.

“Well, just what I said. It’s still a bridge ain’t it? It’s not a rickety old wooden one either, solid steel and concrete, it’ll hold us, and it does cross the river right?”

Joel looked at the bridge doubtfully. “I suppose so, but… You think we could fit across it?”

“I’ve seen cars and trucks both on trains,” Haley exclaimed, “they would have to fit, or else how could they carry them on the trains without smashing the hell out of them?”

“Good point,” Glenn said, “how about you park this buggy, Joel, and we go take a look at the bridge.”

The other two Jeeps parked, and all of them walked off down the tracks to look the bridge over.

The wooden ties, and the tracks that lay upon them, were well supported. Heavy steel girders ran the length of the bridge, and were supported by massive concrete pilings sunk into the river bed far below. Joel peered down through the ties at the concrete. It was cracked in a few places, but all the pilings seemed still to be firmly anchored in the river bed. “Do you really think it would hold us?” he asked.

“If it will hold a train, Joel, it will hold us,” Glenn replied.

“I mean the cracks, wise ass,” Joel said. “The pilings are cracked. They seem to still be solid, but… I don’t know,” he finished lamely.

“Tell you what. You drive one, and John and I will drive the other two. Everybody else can walk across. I’ll go first even. If it looks the least bit shaky we call it off, and search for something else, okay?” Glenn argued.

Joel thought for a moment before he replied. It might be a good idea after all. Where else were they likely to find a bridge that wasn’t blocked off with traffic? The bridge did seem solid, and it couldn’t hurt to try he supposed.

“Okay, but I’ll start out. You watch, and you damn well better let me know real quick if she starts to go. I’ll be pretty pissed if you dump me and my new truck in the river,” Joel finished, smiling widely.

“Wouldn’t think of it,” Glenn said, solemnly.

“See you on the other side,” Haley said, and before Joel could reply she quickly kissed him. “For luck,” she said, a bit breathless. She turned and along with the others started walking across the bridge.

Joel watched her go. The kiss had taken him by surprise.

“Ah, Joel,” Glenn said grinning, “better close your mouth before the bugs start flying in.” Joel closed his mouth with a snap, and looking a bit embarrassed, walked off towards the Jeep.

John threw Glenn a wink, and they both walked out onto the bridge to wait. Joel started the Jeep, backed around, and drove slowly over the ties towards the bridge, straddling the rails as he went, and he was still thinking of the kiss as he edged slowly out onto the bridge. He looked across and saw Haley waving from the other side. He waved back and then brought his attention back to the truck.

“How’s she look, Glenn,” he asked out the open window, as he inched cautiously out onto the trestle.

“You might scratch the paint a little, but the deck didn’t budge a bit when you eased on to her,” Glenn replied. “I don’t think they brought too many auto-carriers across this deck though, more like freight cars. You only got a couple of inches on either side.”

“Well here goes nothing,” he muttered under his breath as he moved further out onto the bridge. “Still okay?” he asked.

“Good as gold,” Glenn replied. Joel was not entirely blocking the bridge, and Glenn and John squeezed by on one side of the truck. “We’ll be behind you,” Glenn said, as he paused at Joel’s window. “I’ll wait until you’re off, and John will wait until I’m off.” Glenn looked at both men as they nodded their heads.

“Let’s do it,” Joel said.

He eased off the gas and let the Jeep idle its way across the bridge. When he reached the other side he angled off the tracks, parked, and walked back to the bridge. He stood quietly beside Haley and watched until the other two Jeeps were across. As he stood next to her, he noticed how much more aware of her he was. Funny what a little kiss can do, he thought. In fact, he noticed, she seemed to be a little flushed, and with that thought, Joel began to wonder just exactly what the kiss had meant.

Oswego NY: Joel and Haley

Early Afternoon

Once they were back on the main road again, it was late afternoon, and by the time they finally reached the other side of Oswego, they had all agreed to stop for the day.

As they entered the small town of Martville, and pulled into a large field, Joel found himself wondering more and more what the kiss had meant.

They made a half-way decent meal out of the canned goods they carried with them, and once they tired of rehashing the day’s events, one by one they went off to find a place to sleep. They had sleeping bags, and rather than set up the tents they had also brought with them, they all agreed they would rather use the bags.

Joel watched as Terry walked off in one direction with Gina. Obviously something had sparked with those two, he thought. He sat talking quietly with Glenn and John, as well as Haley. When he finally said his goodnights, a few hours later, Haley got up, and saying goodnight, walked away by herself.

While Joel waited for sleep to come, he found that instead of thinking of all the bad things that had happened, he was thinking of Haley, and all the good things that could happen.

Route 104: Joel and Haley

Early Morning

The next morning they were on the road early. The going was still slow, but by noon they were on the outskirts of Alton, a small town about forty miles from Rochester. They were only thirty or so miles from Webster where they would turn off 104, and take route 250 into the small village of Fairport.

A run-down general store, with two old gas pumps sitting on a chipped concrete island, was all that marked the small town. The low speeds and constant use of the four wheel drive, had taken a toll on the fuel tanks of all three vehicles, so when Joel had spotted the small store as they passed a sign for the township limits; they had pulled off into the dirt parking area. The other two Jeeps followed him in and lined up by the pumps.

When Haley and Terry, along with Gina, had first picked up the jeeps, they had filled the tanks by siphoning gas from the dealership’s underground tanks. It had been a fairly easy process as Terry had worked at a gas station before, and had been responsible for, among other things, checking the levels of the tanks and comparing them on a daily basis to the numbers on the pumps to make sure they matched up. He had known where to look for them. The tanks were fairly simple to access. A long piece of hose slipped down into the tank had been adequate to siphon the gas into cans and then fill the Jeeps.

Terry had found a hand operated pump, mainly used to pump kerosene from cans into small heaters, at the department store back in Oswego, and, along with Dave, had adapted the crank operated pump to use it to pump gasoline. The adaptation had been simple. A long section of heavy hose had been slipped over the pumps short tube, and held in place with a small hose clamp.

One by one the Jeeps were pulled over next to the underground tanks, and quickly filled. Haley had been impressed with the idea. It was a lot better than the mouthfuls of gas they had swallowed filling the Jeeps back in Watertown.

After the Jeeps were gassed up they decided to take a short break and eat lunch. They were all getting sick of the canned meat, so they foraged through the small general store to see what was available. Once each had found what they wanted, they had carried it out onto the wide front deck to eat.

Joel sipped at a cold beer while he sat in an old wooden chair eating a large bag of chips. Glenn and John were talking quietly beside him.

“Where do you think the best place to go is?” Glenn asked of John. They had been discussing several places where people may have gathered. They were all hoping to find other people once they arrived in Rochester, but until now they had not discussed where to go once they arrived.

John answered. “Well, the compass is open. I think it would be a good idea to stay away from the North side though. The whole area has been run down for years, and I’m not so sure we’d want to meet anyone who was still alive in there.”

“That bad, huh?” Joel asked.

“Actually, more than that bad,” he replied. “When I was still living there, and still on the City Council, I remember we had constant problems there. The city was always being accused of not caring much about the north side, and to be honest it was based in fact to a certain extent. The city and the council, me included I hate to admit, did let it run down pretty much. Trouble was, when we tried to retake the neighborhoods we couldn’t.”

“Why?” Glenn asked. “Didn’t you have support from the neighborhoods?”

“Not really,” John said. “Don’t get me wrong. There were still a lot of good people trying to live there, but by the time the city stepped in, drugs had pretty much taken over. It got so the police couldn’t even go in there after dark. The drug dealers knew it and used it to their advantage. After a while… well, the good people who had tried to change things just left. The last time I was there, on Clifford Avenue, it was pretty bad. We, myself, and two other board members, decided to take a tour through some neighborhoods ourselves, to see just how bad it had gotten. We had to have a police escort, and even then we ended up seeing only a small part. Most of the neighborhoods were full of drug houses, prostitution, burned out buildings. I’ll tell you, truthfully, it scared me. That was one of the reasons I didn’t run again and ended up moving to Watertown.”

“A lot of parts of Watertown were like that too,” Joel said. “I got to the point where I really had begun to hate the place.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” John said. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not glad that this happened, but… who knows how much worse things would have gotten? At least now there’s a chance to start over again, maybe.”

“You know what really got to me?” Glenn asked. Both men looked at him waiting for him to speak.

“You know where Mobile Alabama is?” they both nodded. “Well, I was down there a few years back to see a buddy of mine I was in the Navy with. We were always telling each other we were going to get together and finally we did. So we were driving down Airport Boulevard, kind’a the main street so to speak, and I was, you know, sort of looking around out the window. Sightseeing, I guess you could say. Anyway, I see this young girl standing in the middle of the island that splits the lanes holding a sign. I figured it was one of those ‘Will work for food’ signs, but as we got closer I saw it wasn’t. I could also see she was pregnant, couldn’t have been more than sixteen or so. I asked my friend to slow down so I could read the sign. I couldn’t believe it.”

“Well, what did it say?” John asked.

“Well, it was misspelled, you know, but it said, ‘I’m pregnant and abandoned, please help me.’ I couldn’t believe it, so I asked my buddy to turn around and go back, but by the time he did she was gone. I couldn’t believe that things had come to that.”

“That’s bad all right,” Joel said. “I’ve seen the other signs, the food signs, but I’ve never seen one like that.”

“I haven’t either,” John said, “but I can’t say it surprises me a lot.”

“Well,” Glenn continued, “that wasn’t the end of it, two days later I picked up the paper and there was an article about her in it. I guess I wasn’t the only one who had seen her. The police had picked her up earlier, and told her not to stand there with that sign. That was in the morning, and it was afternoon when I went by, so she must have come back. Quite a few people had seen her back there in the afternoon, according to the paper. Well, the thing is that somebody did stop and pick her up, but not to help her. They found her body in the bay the next morning. If they hadn’t picked her up the day before, they probably wouldn’t have known who she was, but they did, I guess. The story said they had fingerprinted her, and taken pictures too. I guess they arrested her, ain’t that a slap in the face? Anyhow, that’s how they identified the body… I’ve always wondered about it. Who would just abandon her in the first place? I mean, being pregnant and homeless? I’ve always felt that I should have convinced my buddy to stop right there. Fuck the traffic, just stop and pick her up…”

“…So, I’ve gotten pretty sick of the world myself. It never seemed to stop, and it seemed that people kept coming up with more ways to be cruel. To tell the truth, I’m glad it’s mostly gone, I hated it that much.”

When Glenn finished they were all silent for a few minutes.

Joel thought about the food signs. How many times had he seen them? Countless, he guessed, but he had never stopped. He had been, well, sort of afraid to.

“I think we all made our share of mistakes,” Joel said. “I know I did. I wish I hadn’t, but I did. I guess maybe things are better, in a way,” Joel finished his beer, got up, and retrieved three cold ones from the cooler in the Jeep. He handed one to each of the men before he sat back down in the chair.

“So,” John said, easing back into the conversation of where to go once they arrived in Rochester. “North side is out I think, there’s no way I’d want to go back in there, especially now. East side is mostly old mansions; East Avenue, Park Avenue. West is made up of mostly poor neighborhoods and shopping centers, and farther out small business. South side is a mix, some places are as bad as the North side, and others are as nice as the east side. Farther out though, it’s all malls and big discount stores. I’d say downtown would be a good place to start looking.”

“Why?” Glenn asked.

“Just a hunch, I guess,” he replied. “But where did you go after it happened?”

“I see your point,” Glenn said. Downtown, Glenn thought, was the first place he had thought of going. It made sense to him that it should be the first place to at least check.

“We’ll have to walk, at least I’m pretty sure we will,” John said.

“I believe you,” Joel agreed. “A city that size has a lot of traffic I suppose.”

“Unbelievable,” John said. “An awful lot of it ends up on the Can-of-Worms, but its heavy downtown too. There are still a lot of small companies down there, so I’m fairly certain we’ll have to walk down. We should be able to get within a block or two of the War Memorial though, and that’s dead downtown. City Hall is across from that, and if there are people, that’s where they should be. Of course the only real way to find out is to get there and see.”

The small caravan pulled back out onto the highway and continued on a few minutes later. Long before they reached Webster the stalled traffic began to back up, and they lost a great deal of time winding their way through it, or where that was not possible, pulling into the center traffic divider to get around it.

Even the center divider, a narrow, sloped grassy area double the width of the two lane highway, began to fill up with stalled vehicles, and several times they were forced to get around some other way. Fortunately the areas along the highway were crowded with small restaurants, shopping malls, and gas stations; the closer they got to Rochester. And they all had feeder roads. Roads that were mostly empty now.

The parking lots were fairly empty, and they managed to get around the stalled traffic that way.

When they reached Webster it was nearly 6:00 PM, and a light rain had begun to fall. The exit and entrance ramps were packed solid with cars, and impassable: As a consequence they were forced to drive the Jeeps down the side of the steep escarpment to the road below. Some cars appeared to have either been trying to enter or exit using the wrong ramps, and the results had been catastrophic.

Most of the cars were crushed and blackened shells. A large gasoline tanker sat amid the wreckage. The tanker had apparently tried to exit the entrance ramp and had crashed and burned.

It looked as though gas, from the ruptured tanker, had spread the flames under the entire bridge, and everything had caught. Joel supposed that several of the cars gas tanks had probably exploded too, helping to fuel the inferno.

Once they had negotiated the steep and muddy embankment and driven out of Webster the stalled traffic eased up.

“Most likely everyone stuck to the main routes,” John said. “I’d hate to see what the Thruway looks like though, it’s probably packed tighter than a drum.” The others nodded agreement.

Even though the stalled traffic had lessened, they were still forced to detour off the road several times to avoid accidents or vehicles that seemed to have been abandoned in the middle of the road. It was well after 8:00 PM when they reached the four corners in the small village of Fairport, and the sky was beginning to darken. The rain was coming down harder.

Joel angled the Jeep into a deserted gas station and they all ran toward the door which had been left propped open, thankful they were out of the rain.

They were no sooner inside, when the rain began to pelt the tarmac outside in great sheets. The sky darkened rapidly, and a stiff wind kicked up, blowing the trash that littered the streets through the air.

Joel was staring out the wide glass window when suddenly the street lights began to glow. Within a few minutes they were all glowing brightly, illuminating the wind driven sheets of rain. Haley walked over and flicked on a switch next to the door, and bright fluorescent lights buzzed to life overhead. She clicked on several of the other switches next to the first one, and the outside sign, along with the pump islands lit up.

“Looks like you were right, Glenn,” Joel said. Glenn, grinning, blew lightly on his finger tips and rubbed them on his shirt. “Elementary, my dear Watson,” he said, still grinning.

He was still grinning a few seconds later, when Lilly began to point out the window and screamed excitedly.

“Look!” she exclaimed, “a truck, people!”

Everyone quickly crowded toward the windows to look out.

An older Chevy sat at the curb idling, its wipers throwing great sheets of water from the windshield. The darkened side windows gleamed, reflecting back the bright glare of the station lights. Lilly, and several of the others were waving through the glass in an attempt to get the drivers’ attention.

“Looks like a Suburban… Where did it come from?” Joel asked, puzzled.

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I turned around and there it was. Aren’t they going to come in?”

“Maybe they’re afraid,” Haley said, shrugging her shoulders. “They must see us.”

Everyone stood silently for a few seconds staring out at the Suburban. It still sat at the curb, and it appeared to Haley that the person or people inside it were not going to come in. Just as she had the thought though, the car reversed, and began to slowly back up towards the entrance to the station.

When it reached the station entrance, it pulled slowly onto the edge of the pavement and stopped.

“What are they doing,” Terry asked, sounding slightly afraid.

Everyone else turned towards Joel expecting that he might be able to answer the question.

“I don’t know,” Joel said. “Could be they’re afraid, like Haley said.”

“Might be better to flick off the inside lights,” Glenn said, in a low tone of voice. “It doesn’t look as though they intend to say hello.” He peered out at the truck.

Haley reached over and flicked off the inside lights.

Almost immediately the Suburban’s headlights came on and it pulled ahead slightly, angling the beams into the station interior. The lights flicked up to high beams, flooding the interior in harsh bright light. Almost as soon as the lights had flicked up, the two front doors opened and two shadowed figures stepped out into the rain. The headlights were blinding.

“Listen, man,” One of the figures shouted in a deep voice. “You ain’t welcome here. You come into the city and you will get fucked up.” Silence held, rain drummed against the steel roof. The figures got back into the car. The headlights winked out.

Tiny spots floated in front of Joel’s eyes and he quickly blinked them away. The truck was backing slowly into the road, away from the station.

“What in hell are they doing?” Dave asked, looking at Glenn. “What the hell was that all about?” he asked again.

Glenn shrugged. “I guess we’ve been warned… I didn’t much like it, I can tell you.”

“I didn’t much like that either,” Joel said as he looked over at Dave. Glenn stood beside him, his eyes locked on the car.

Once the Suburban reached the roadway it pulled slowly up to the stop sign at Route 250 and once again sat idling, its lights still off. Joel tried squinting his eyes tighter, to see into the darkened side windows, but they were pitch black, like a limousine, he thought.

“What should we do,” Gina asked? Joel looked at her, and it was obvious she was frightened. In fact, he noticed, everyone, himself included, seemed frightened. Terry was the only one who had brought a rifle into the station with him and Joel noticed it.

“Terry, give me that,” he said motioning at the rifle.

“Be careful, Joel,” Glenn said, “No telling what they’re up to. I don’t know if it’s wise to go out there.”

“Don’t!” Haley said, turning to face Joel. She seemed on the verge of panic.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I only want to show them we’re armed… maybe they’ll take off. Think they’re armed, Glenn?” Joel asked.

“I don’t know, but who knows how friggin’ long they were sitting out there watching us, if they’d wanted to shoot us they could have easily. The lights in here probably lit us up like a damn Christmas tree,” Glenn stated. “I ain’t so sure you should be going alone if you’re going out there though. I’m going too.” Terry and Dave followed them out the door.

The four men advanced slowly toward the car in the pouring rain. The Suburban stayed put, its engine softly idling, and curls of white exhaust floating up through the sheets of rain. They stopped about ten feet from the still idling car, and Joel stepped to the front of the small group with the rifle clutched in both hands. He didn’t want to seem too threatening, but he wanted them to see the rifle.

“Hey, you in the car!” He shouted above the deafening roar of the rain. The taillights flashed briefly as if in answer, and a cold chill crept up Joel’s spine. He shuddered involuntarily. “What the hell is with these guys,” he muttered, to no one in particular.

“They are some kind of assholes all right,” Glenn whispered. Joel looked over and saw that they were all shaken. He tried again.

“Hey, what’s the problem?”

He had meant for the question to come out strong and loud, but it had not. Instead, the words had seemed to choke up inside him, and had sounded strangled when they had come out. The eerie feeling had gotten stronger, and Joel noticed that he felt an almost panicky urge to run back towards the station.

He looked at the others, and noticed they seemed to be panicked as well. What the hell, he wondered, as he fought to control the panic. He found himself suddenly raising the rifle and aiming at the car.

“Don’t shoot the bastard,” Glenn whispered.

“Don’t intend to. I just… I…”

Just after he began to lower the rifle, the Suburban’s headlights suddenly flicked on, and the rear tires spun on the slick pavement, smoking and screaming as they clawed for purchase. The engine whined higher in pitch and the big Suburban seemed to jump out into the intersection. Joel watched as it skewed around sideways on the wet asphalt and roared off towards Webster. A passenger leaned out the window and aimed a rifle at them.

The rifle in Joel’s hands bucked and the rear window of the Suburban burst inward in a spray of glittering black diamonds as it sped away. The shooter ducked back inside. Shapes moved and shifted in the back of the Suburban, maybe as many as half a dozen, Joel thought, maybe even more. No way to know, he decided. The pitch of the motor rose higher, and a few seconds later the taillights slipped out of sight.

“Christ.” Joel said, as his dry mouth tried to work.

“I counted at least eight with the driver and passenger,” Glenn confirmed.

Joel could still hear the Suburban accelerating in the distance over the sound of the rain as it sped away, and feel the heavy pounding blat of its engine in the pavement under his feet. The four men turned away and walked slowly back towards the station in silence.

Joel stopped at one of the Jeeps before they entered, and waited for the other three to catch up.

“Listen,” he said in a low tone, almost a whisper. “I don’t think it’s wise to scare the shit out of the others. Maybe we should tell them the back was empty. Agreed?”

Terry was still swallowing convulsively, but nodded his head up and down like a puppet. Glenn and Dave both mumbled agreement.

“Terry,” Joel hissed, “snap out of it. It won’t do any good if we walk in there with you looking like that.” Terry nodded and tried to calm down. “Maybe you can get Terry aside and talk to him, Dave.”

Just as Joel had finished speaking, the door to the station swung open, and the people inside poured out into the rain. Haley, looking badly shaken, walked towards them with her hands folded across her chest.

“They all had guns… The ones in the back, Joel,” she said. “I looked, we all looked, Joel…. When you shot out the back window.”

Her voice had risen as she spoke, and at the end she was nearly screaming. Joel pulled her to him and held her in the rain. To hell with it, he thought, keeping secrets was never one of my strong suits anyway. It’s probably better this way.

“Joel,” Glenn said. “I think it might be best if we stay here for tonight, instead of going into the city. I also think we ought to pull the Jeeps inside the service bays for the night… keep an eye on them. Probably ought to keep the rifles with us from now on too.”

“I guess you’re right, Glenn. Haley, why don’t you and the others go back inside and get the doors up. We’ll pull the Jeeps in… Okay?” She hugged him fiercely before she let go and ran back into the station. The three of them quickly drove the Jeeps into the service bays, and then locked the wide doors behind them. They locked the front door to the station as well, and they all walked back into the rear section of the garage bays by a small parts room.

Joel propped open the door to the parts room, and turned a small light on inside. The bulb was dim, but flooded weak yellow light out into the garage area, it was enough, he felt, if the Suburban came back he didn’t want them to be perfectly silhouetted inside the station by the florescent overheads in the garage bay.

Haley and Connie began to fix some cold sandwiches, while the others unloaded the sleeping bags and ice chests from the Jeeps.

Joel was into his second beer and his heart was just beginning to resume a somewhat normal beat. Terry walked back from the front of the garage where he had been staring out into the rain. They all half expected the Suburban to come roaring back at any second. The rifles were out of the Jeeps now. Close at hand, just in case. Haley and Connie brought a large stack of sandwiches over, and both grabbed a cold drink, sitting down as Glenn began to speak.

“This changes everything,” he said to no one in particular. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to just ignore it either.”

Joel took a deep gulp of the beer before he spoke. “I guess you’re right, Glenn and, it was stupid to think we should keep it to ourselves. I shouldn’t have suggested it.” He looked around at the small group of frightened people and his eyes locked on Haley’s as he continued to speak. “I thought it would shake everyone up for no reason,” he said. The argument seemed empty and somewhat foolish even to him. “Glenn’s right though. We started to discuss it back in Watertown, and didn’t. Maybe we should have…I don’t know.”

His eyes were sad, Haley noticed, and he shrugged his shoulders helplessly when he finished. Silence hung thick in the air for a few minutes until Glenn reluctantly began to speak again.

“I don’t pretend to have an answer for one,” he said quietly, as he looked around from one to the other. “I guess we can only go with what we know for now. What I mean is what we know from our own personal experience back in Watertown,” he waited but no one spoke.

Glenn continued. “I said before that I spent the night at the gravel pit, and I did, but I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t. I was too keyed up. Hell, we all were. Whatever this is it looks a lot worse now than it did then. This little trip has proven that it was not a localized thing. Probably Rochester is gone,” he shrugged. “No way to know, but is it worth an armed fight to find out? That sounds nuts, right?”

“No… Sounds sane,” Joel said. “We knew this, I think. I think we knew this. Maybe not that it would go this bad this fast, but I think we suspected… Suspected is a good word.”

“Possibly,” Glenn replied. He shook his head. “No, most likely. Most likely subconsciously we knew and didn’t want to face it. I guess the pretending is over now though… Maybe that’s for the best before one of us gets killed taking too much for granted.”

Joel nodded. “I… No, Glenn, I don’t think you’re nuts, if you are then we all are. I think the world ended. I mean the sensible part we all understood. I don’t know what in hell this part is… I mean there has got to be some way to explain or at least understand this.”

“You just did,” Haley said quietly from beside him.

“She’s right, Joel,” Glenn said, “You did. I don’t think this is a rational or predictable world anymore. If it isn’t, then all that’s left, Is simply survival or,” he motioned toward the outside, “Death… Let those people tell you how to live… Or Worse. There is no in between anymore, no walking the fence, the gloves are off, just one or the other.”

“So what’s next?” Gina asked, expectantly.

“If I knew that,” Glenn answered. “I guess I would be God. I’m not, so I don’t know…”

“…Just to make my position clear though, I don’t intend to start waxing religious, but you can bet that I might just start praying. It used to seem superstitious to me. Not anymore. Now it seems important.”

Silence hung in the air for a few moments, and Connie spoke up. “But what should we do? Should we go back, or go into Rochester, or should we maybe go somewhere else?”

“I think that question needs to be answered by all of us individually,” Glenn replied calmly. “It’s not a question one person can answer, and we’ve pretty much stuck together so far, I can’t see splitting up if there’s a disagreement. I think we all need to decide together.”

“I don’t see any reason to go back to Watertown,” Lilly said

“I agree,” Dave joined in.

“There’s nothing there for us,” Amber said.

One by one they all voiced their opinions, until only John, Haley, Joel and Glenn were left.

“I don’t see the sense in it,” Joel said quietly. The remaining three nodded their heads in agreement.

“So… do we go into Rochester, or somewhere else?” Glenn asked softly as he looked around the cramped garage.

“I for one would hate to think we came all this way for nothing,” John said. “I vote we go. If it’s bad,” he shrugged his shoulders, “we get the hell out and go somewhere else.”

Glenn looked back at the small group. “Well?”

Silently, they all nodded their heads in agreement.

“That’s that then,” Glenn said. “We’ll go in the mornin’,” he paused. “Tonight though, I think we need to keep watch. I’m going to take the first watch, who’s next?”

“Me,” Scott said.

“I’ll relieve you,” Dave said, “just get me up when you get tired.”

“That should see us through the night,” Glenn said. “…I think it’s best if we all sleep in here tonight, and on this side, behind the trucks. It might be a bit crowded, but I don’t want to take any chances.” Glenn finished, picked up his rifle, and headed towards the glass enclosed front of the gas station, and the small group began to break apart. Haley spoke up, after most of the others had drifted away.

“Joel?”

“Ssh,” he said, as he put a finger over her lips, “no need.” He led her away and they pushed two sleeping bags together in front of one of the Jeeps.

“Joel?” she said, “I just need to be held.”

“I know,” he said quietly. “I need to hold you.” He took her into his arms and held her as he tried to push the thoughts that wanted to crowd his mind away. Haley slipped off to sleep quickly, but sleep eluded Joel. He lay quietly thinking, still holding her, until he drifted off to sleep himself much later.


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Earth’s Survivors Weekly Serial presentation – 2

Earth's Survivors Weekly Serial presentation - 2

EARTH’S SURVIVORS

Earth’s Survivors is copyright © 2016 Dell Sweet. All rights foreign and domestic reserved in their entirety.

Cover Art © Copyright 2016 Wendell Sweet

Some text copyright 2010, 2014, 2015 Wendell Sweet

This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your bookseller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

LEGAL

This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.

This novel is Copyright © 2016 Wendell Sweet and his assignee Andrea Scroggs. Dell Sweet and Geo Dell are publishing constructs owned by Wendell Sweet. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission.

Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.


Watertown Center New York

Shop and Save Convenience store:

Haley Mae

1:30 AM

“Last one,” Neil said.

Neil was a detective for the sheriffs’ department. It was closing in on 2:00 AM and he and his partner Don had just come back from six hours of sleep to get a jump on the day. Yesterday one of the checkout girls had disappeared between the Shop And Save, a small mini mart on the western outskirts of the city, and home. Earlier this morning she had turned up dead in a ditch just a quarter mile from the front door. The techs were still processing the scene, but it was looking personal. Stabbed to death, multiple wounds, no defense wounds, at least none that he or Don had been able to see, and fully clothed. Her purse had been found nearby, wallet and cash inside. No ID, but her store ID had still been clipped to her shirt. They would know more in a few days once the coroner did her magic. It all pointed to someone she knew, and they had no known boyfriend. The trailer park where she lived had turned up nothing, they had questioned some people at the convenience store, but some had been off shift, so here they were back at the store questioning the other employees.

They had commandeered the night manager’s office which was barely larger than a broom closet, but at least it was a place to sit with enough space left over to call in the workers and ask their questions. Free coffee via the same night manager, who had still not gone home, was taking a little of the six hours of sleep sting off, but to Neil free coffee in a convenience store was like a whore offering a free shot of penicillin to the first twenty five customers.

“Who’s next?” Don asked.

The last half hour they had been interviewing the people who worked the same shifts as Amber Kneeland.

“Haley Mae,” Neil said.

Don looked up and stopped writing in his little notebook.  “How do you,” spell her name, he had meant to ask Neil, but she was right in front of him.

“EM. A. E,” she said with a smile.

“Vietnamese?” Don asked. She was obviously mixed race, African American and Asian, he questioned himself.

“Japanese,” she told him.

“Nice name,” Neil said, “Haley.”

Beautiful girl, Don thought. “Did you know Amber Kneeland?  Sometimes works this shift?” he asked.

“Not really,” she answered. “I mean, I met her, but only in passing… I just started here myself.”

She really is beautiful, Don thought. “You wouldn’t know if she had a boyfriend… Other friends?” he asked.

Haley shook her head. “Sorry,” she said… “What has she done?”

“Nothing,” Neil supplied.

“She went missing last night,” Don said. “Turned up dead this morning.”

Haley shook her head. “Oh my God. That’s horrible. She was such a nice girl… Quiet.”

Neil nodded his head. “So maybe you did know her a little better than you thought?”

“I just started here a few weeks back, and like I said, I don’t really know her… But it might be a girlfriend not a boyfriend.”

Don looked at her. “You wouldn’t know who?”

“No. It’s just a rumor. Someone said it to me… I don’t even remember who… But I’ve never seen her with a guy, and I have seen her with other girls… Maybe also the way she looked at me a few times…”

“Go out with her?” Don asked.

“No… Never… I…”

“Don’t swing that way?” Don added.

Haley frowned slightly before she answered. “I work. I don’t swing any way. But if I did she wasn’t my type. She never asked me out, I never asked her out.”

“Didn’t mean to offend you,” Don said. He shrugged. “She’s dead.”

“She would probably do the same for you,” Neil said.

Haley nodded. “That really is all I know. I hope you find who did it though. She seemed like a nice girl,” Haley said.

“You don’t seem the type for this… Bagging groceries at 2:00 am,” Don said, changing the subject. “You aren’t local or I’d know you… This city really is small despite the base.”

Haley smiled. “Came here a year back with a boyfriend, Army. He left, forgot all about me, I guess. I had this idea of modeling… Tough to get a foot in a door though.”

“Wow, if he left you behind he must be a fucking idiot… Any good?” Neil asked.

Haley laughed.

“Excuse mister smooth there,” Don told her. Neil feigned a hurt look and Haley laughed again. “He meant, have you done anything? I know somebody… Might be interested.”

Haley arched her eyebrows. “I can model. I did a You Jeans ad back in Georgia a few years ago. I just need to prove it to the right person.”

“Escorting? Maybe dancing. It’s strictly escorting or dancing, no funny stuff. Dance clubs… Clothing modeling,” Neil said.

“Probably start out escorting… Dance a little… Then if he likes you he’ll put you into the modeling end of things. He owns a lot of shit… Several car dealerships across the state… Some of the biggest dance clubs, clothing outlets, those bargain places, but still, modeling is modeling, right? Not the big name stuff, but it is a foot in the door,” Don added.

“I can do that,” she said slowly.

Neil passed her a white business card with his own name scrawled across the back. “Tell him I sent you… That’s my name on the back.”

“Jimmy Vincioni,” Haley asked.

“Just V… Jimmy V, good guy,” Neil said.

Haley nodded and tucked the card into her front jean pocket. “I’ll call him… Thanks. Look…” Her voice dropped to a near whisper. “I’m pretty sure she had a girlfriend here… I just don’t know who,” Haley added quietly.

Don finished writing in his notebook, nodded once he met her eyes and then shook the hand she offered. She walked away.

“Beautiful,” Neil said.

“Absolutely,” Don agreed. “You ain’t getting none of that though.”

“Yeah? But if Jimmy V hires her? It’ll be the next best thing.”

Don shook his head, but smiled. His eyes rose and watched as Haley walked away. “Guess I’ll have to have a few drinks at the club if that happens.”

Neil chuckled low. “You and me both,” he agreed.


ONE

March 1st

Watertown New York

Off Factory Square: Joel Morrison

5:00 PM

Joel sat at the bar and watched football on one of the big screen TV’s Mort had put in. It was a slow game, he was tired, and his mind kept turning to other things. He couldn’t concentrate. Part of the allure of the Rusty Nail was the quiet. After a 12 hour shift at the mill with the constant noise from the huge machinery, the quiet had been nice. But that had all changed once the bar had become popular with the nearby base. He needed to go home. The crowd in the bar was starting to build and the noise was giving him the beginnings of a headache. He caught Mort’s eye and went back to his thoughts as he waited.

The Rusty Nail had always been a locals only bar up until a few years back when the economy had taken a nose dive. The nail was wedged up a side street off Factory square. Not exactly easy to find, and that had hurt business too as the old people left and the new people came in.

Mort, Mortimer to anybody that felt like being tossed out on their ass, had nearly lost the small bar and the building above it to the bank. The building above it had six small apartments that Mort had purposely left empty when he had bought the building fresh out of the service thirty years back. Who wanted to deal with tenants, he had said then. But times changed, and so he had sold his house, moved himself into one of the apartments, and then sold the bank on remortgaging the whole building as well as renovating the other five apartments. The bank had come up with a loan that took all of that into account and added a second income source from the apartments that could pay the monthly mortgage and put a good chunk of change into his pocket too.

He had signed on the x, taken their money, renovated the building, moved in the tenants and then taken a hard look at the Rusty Nail. He had decided to completely gut the bar and do it over. He had dumped far too much into the renovations though, including being closed for nearly a full month, and then opened it to find that the economy had taken an even deeper nose dive during those nearly thirty days. The third month into the new mortgage and he had found that he was maybe in a bad spot already.

Joel remembered now that he had sat right at the end of the bar when Mort had talked it over with some others, Moon Calloway, Johnny Barnes, Jim Tibbets, Joel had been welcome to include his two cents which he had declined to do.

“Well, what you do is put the word out to those cab drivers. Believe me, I’ve seen it. They will have them soldiers down here in no time, even if you are off the beaten path,” Jim had said. Jim was a school bus driver for the north side district and less than a year away from a fatal car accident on the interstate. Jeff Brown, who had been a local football star, was doing ten years up at Clinton Correctional for hitting Jim’s car head on drunk and killing him. But that night Jim had still been alive and had wanted to be a part of the New Rusty Nail that Mort had in mind. Something a little more modern. Modern bought the soldiers, but more importantly it also bought women.

“I’m not paying a cab driver to bring me G.I.’s,” Mort had said. “And I know your game. You’re just hoping to get laid out of it.”

They had all laughed at that, except Jim who had turned red. But after a few seconds he had laughed too, and the conversation had plodded forward the way bar conversations do.

“Well, you ain’t got to pay them exactly, give them a couple beers,” Moon threw in.

“Jesus Christ,” Mort exclaimed. “That’s why you boys ain’t in business. You think the beer is free.”

“I know it ain’t free, Mort,” Jim said. “But it don’t cost you that much. You get it wholesale.”

“Wholesale? I drive right out to that wholesale club and buy it by the case most of the time just like everybody else. Cheaper than them beer guys, except draft, of course. That ain’t free. You got to pay the yearly club fee. You got to pay them taxes to the feds. You got a lot you got to pay for. Some fuck crushes your can you’re fucked for that nickle. Jesus… wholesale my ass. It ain’t no bargain.”

“Yeah? … Let’s see,” Moon starting writing in the air with his finger. You get it for let’s say six bucks a case, I know that cause that’s what I pay out there too. So six bucks divided by 24 is,” he drew in the air for a few moments, erased it, and then started over. “How the fuck do you do that, Joey… The six goes into the twenty-four? Or times the twenty-four?” Moon asked.

“Uh, it’s a quarter a can,” I had supplied.

The argument had raged on from there. Once Moon found out he was paying a buck fifty for a can of beer that only cost a quarter he was pissed off.

In the end Mort had talked to a couple of cab drivers. Free draft beer one night a week if they bought soldiers by all week long and told as many others as possible about the place. Within two weeks Joel hadn’t recognized the place when he had come by after shift to have a couple of beers. The soldiers drank a lot of beer, the bank mortgage got paid, and life was fine. Except for the fights, Joel thought, but you can’t load young guys up on alcohol and not expect trouble. Especially when those young men were just waiting on the word to go and maybe die in another battle that remained undeclared as a war. High stress levels meant heavy duty unloading. The M.P.’s got to know the place as well as the soldiers did.

“Joel, you ready?” Mort asked now.

Joel smiled. “I was thinking back…” He had to shout to be heard. Tomorrow his voice would be hoarse. “This place was empty! … Yeah… One more then I gotta go,” Joel agreed.

Mort leaned closer. “Gov’ment tit. I know it, but screw it. It’s all the Gov’ment tit. Road and Bridge projects. Job centers. One way or the other it comes out the same. Even them subsidies so the paper mills can still run. It’s all the Gov’ment tit, ain’t it, Joel?”

“Its is,” Joel shouted. He nodded. It was. This town would have dried up years ago without it. Mort left and then came back a few moments later with a fresh beer.

“Vacation?” Mort yelled.

Joel nodded. “Two weeks of silence,” He shook his head at the irony and Mort’s laughing agreement was drowned out by the noise.

“If I don’t see you, have a good one,” Mort said leaning close.

Joel nodded. “I will.” He raised his glass and then tossed off half of it. A few moments later he was outside on the relatively quiet sidewalk punching numbers into his phone, calling for a cab. The night was cold, but the cold sobered him up. It seemed nearly capable of washing away the smoke and noise from inside the bar. He stood in the shadows beside the door waiting for the phone to ring on the other end. The door bumped open and Johnny Barnes stepped out.

“You ain’t calling for a cab, are you?” Johnny asked when he spotted him.

Joel laughed and ended the still ringing call. “Not if I can get a free ride from you.” Joel told him.

“Yeah, you were always a cheap prick,” Johnny agreed. “Hey, I heard you’re heading into the southern tier tomorrow?”

“Two weeks,” Joel agreed as he levered the door handle on Johnny’s truck and climbed inside. His breath came in clouds of steam. “Get some heat in here, Johnny.”

“Coming,” Johnny agreed. “Man, I wish I was you.”

“Me too,” Joel agreed.

Johnny laughed. “Asshole, but seriously, man. Have a good time. You gonna hunt?”

“Nothing in season… Maybe snare some rabbits. Not gonna be a lot this time of year.” Joel said.

“Maybe deer,” Johnny offered. He dropped the truck in drive just as the heat began to come from the vents.

“Probably, but they’ll be out of season. Rabbit, and I got freeze dried stuff. Trucks packed, which is why I didn’t drive it down here.”

The truck drove slowly through the darkening streets as the street lights began to pop on around the small city: The two men laughing and exchanging small talk.

Haley

The traffic leaving the parking lot had slowed to a trickle, the lot nearly empty. The live shows were over, the bands packed up and gone, the dancers gone before or at the same time.  It was barely sunset and the day was over for me. The next shift would be starting up, I had watched several of the workers trickle in as the others left. A harder group worked the late nights. Even the dancers were a rougher group. For the moment the club was empty except Jimmy, the club boss, Don, the main door security, and me.

“Why are you still here, Honey,” Jimmy asked as he came up to the bar. He was on his way back from the parking lot. It was a short trip across the parking lot to the bank night deposit on the lot next door.

“I had an idea that Harry would be by tonight. He wanted to talk to me,” I shrugged. Harry was a bookie, at least on the surface. Off the surface, or maybe it would be truer to say under the surface, Harry controlled most of the organized crime north of Syracuse. Jimmy… Jimmy managed the club, among other things, but the best description for Jimmy was to say Jimmy solved problems for Harry.

“Wants to talk you into staying here. That’s about all,” Jimmy said.

I turned away and pretended to check my face in the mirrored wall behind the bar. I wanted to Dance. I had suggested to Harry, through Jimmy, that maybe it was time for me to move on if there wasn’t any hope of me dancing. “Anyway, I ended up tending bar. So…”

“So it’s not dancing.” He dug one hand into his pocket and pulled out a thick wad of bills. He peeled two hundreds from the roll and pushed them into my hand, folding his hand over my own and closing it when I started to protest.

“But,” I started.

“But nothing. We did a lot in bar sales. You and I both know it was because of you.” He smiled, let go of my hand and stepped back. “It was me, not Harry,” he said.

I fixed my eyes on him. I knew what he might be about to say, but I wanted to be sure.

He sighed. “It was me that put the stop to your dancing. You’re too goddamn good for dancing, Honey. And once you start?” He barked a short, derisive laugh. “The law thing?  Right out the window. What’s a cop make anyway in this town? Maybe thirty or forty a year?” He settled onto one of the stools that lined the bar, tossed his hat onto the bar top and patted the stool next to him. He continued talking.

“So, thirty, maybe forty, and what’s a dancer make? I can tell you there are dancers here who make better than one fifty a year. And that’s what I pay them. That’s not the side stuff or tips.” He moved one large hand, fished around behind the bar and came up with a bottle of chilled Vodka from the rack that held it just below eye level. He squinted at the label. “Cherry Surprise,” he questioned in a voice low enough to maybe be just for himself. “This shit any good, Honey?”

“It’s not bad,” I told him. I leaned over the bar and snagged two clean glasses when he asked me, setting them on the bar top. He poured us both about three shots worth. “Jesus, Jimmy.”

He laughed. “Which is why I don’t make drinks. It’d break me.” He sipped at his glass, made a face, but sipped again. I took a small sip of my own drink and settled back onto the bar stool.

“So, I said to myself, smart, beautiful, talented, and you have that something about you that makes men look the second time. You know?” He took another small sip. “Man sees a woman walking down the street or across a crowded dance floor, beautiful or not he looks. That look might be short or it might be long. Depends on the woman. Then he looks away. Does he look back? Not usually. But with you he does. There are women men look at that second time for whatever reason, and you’re one of them. I looked a second time, and then I really looked, for a third time. And I’ve seen a lot. That tattoo makes men and women look again.” His eyes fell on the tattoo that started on the back of my left hand, ran up my arm, across my breasts and then snaked back down over my belly and beyond. I knew it was provocative. That was the rebellious part of me. I had no better explanation for why I had sat, lain, through five months of weekly ink work to get it done.

Jimmy rubbed one huge open palm across the stubble of his cheeks. “Jesus do I need a shave.” He took a large drink from his glass. “It wasn’t the tattoo. It caught my eye, but that wasn’t what made me look that third time.”

“Honey, I took a third look because I saw a young woman that doesn’t need to have anything to do with this world. You’re too goddamn smart, talented, for this. So I said no. I let you dance a few times, but I didn’t want you to fall into it. I made the decision that you should tend bar instead of dance.” He tossed off the glass.

“I see that,” I told him, although I didn’t completely see it. He was reading a lot about what he thought, what he saw, into who I really was.

“Yeah? I don’t think so, Honey. And that’s a reason right there. Honey… like a treat. When did it become okay for anyone to call you that, because I remember a few months back when you started hanging around, it was Haley, and pity the dumb bastard who didn’t understand that. Now it’s Honey to any Tom, Dick or Harry that comes along.” He saw the hurt look in my eyes, reached below the bar, snagged the bottle  and topped off his glass. I shook my head, covered the top of my glass with my hand and smiled. He put the bottle back and continued.

“I’m not trying to hurt you, only keep you on track. I’m giving you the keys. You drive. All I’m saying is set your ground rules. Make them rigid. Don’t let anyone – me, Harry, these boys that work here, customers – Don’t let anyone cross those lines. You see, Honey?”

I nodded.

“Yeah? Then why not call me on calling you Honey? I’ve done it since we sat down. Why not start there?”

“Well… I mean, you’re the boss, Jimmy.”

“Which is why you start there. I don’t allow anyone to talk anyway to anyone that doesn’t want that. Let me explain that. You got girls that work the streets. You don’t see it so much here. It’s a small city, but it happens. I spent a few years on the streets in Rochester, bigger place, as a kid. Happens all the time there.” He sipped at his drink. I took a sip of my own drink and raised my brows at what he had said.

“Yeah? Don’t believe it? It’s true. I fought my way up. I have respect because I earned it.” He waved one hand. “Don’t let me get off track.” He smiled and took another sip from his glass. “So, I’ve seen girls on the streets… Whores… It is what it is. Would you hear me say that to them? Maybe you would, maybe you wouldn’t. If a woman sees herself as a whore, if that’s all it is, what it is, then who am I to say different? Do you see? It’s a living, or it’s a life… There is a difference. Now back to you. You want to dance. Some of these girls,” he waved one meaty hand at the empty stage area, “work the other side. Some of them do that for me, some do it on their own. Some don’t,” he sighed. “Either way you would not see me treat them any other way than what they want to be treated. I mean that. If you believe you are a whore and that is what you see, then that is what you show the world, and that is how the world sees you… treats you,” he settled his eyes on me.

I nodded. I didn’t trust my voice. I had been down this road on my own. What did it say about me? That it only mattered that I made it? That money mattered more than anything else? Would I be swayed by the money? Was I even being honest with myself about my motivations? I really didn’t know. I knew what I told myself on a daily basis… that I wanted to follow my Father into law enforcement, but was it whimsical like so many other things in my life that I never followed through on?

“You are not just a dancer. There is a part of you that is, a part of you that likes the way a man looks at you, likes the money. But there is another part that is the private you, the real you. You need to keep those distinctions.” He rubbed at his eyes, tossed off the rest of his drink and rose from the bar stool. “Let me drop you home, Honey,” he asked.

I stood, leaving my mostly full drink sitting on the bar top. “I have my car,” I told him.

“It’s late. Creeps around maybe.”

“Jimmy, every creep in my neighborhood knows I work here… for you. Guys stopped talking to me, let alone the creeps.” I laughed, but it wasn’t really all that funny. It had scared me when I realized who Jimmy was, who Jimmy worked for. In effect, who I worked for. Another questionable thing? Probably.

Jimmy nodded. “Smart creeps. The southern Tier’s a big place. Easy to lose yourself, with or without a little help.” He looked at his watch and then fixed his eyes on me once more. “So you keep your perspective, set your limits, draw your lines,” he spoke as he shrugged into his coat, retrieved his hat from the bar top and planted it on his head, “Don’t let anybody cross those lines. You start next week, let’s say the eleventh?”

I nodded.

“Take the balance of the time off. By the time the eleventh comes around you should be ready for a whole new world. A whole new life.” He stood looking down at me for a second. “The big talk I guess. For what it’s worth, I don’t say those things often, Honey.”

I nodded. “I believe that. And, Jimmy?”

He looked down at me. He knew what was coming. He expected it, and that was the only reason I was going to say it. I knew better than to correct Jimmy V. There were a lot of woods up here. They did go on forever and they probably did hold a lot of lost people. I may be slow but I’m far from stupid.

“Please don’t call me Honey,” I told him.

He smiled. “Don’t be so goddamn nice about it. Don’t call me Honey,” he rasped, a dangerous edge to his voice. “Look ’em right in the eye. Don’t call me Honey. Put a little attitude in your look. A little I can fuckin’ snap at any minute attitude. Let me see that.”

I Put my best street face on. The one I had used growing up on the streets in Syracuse. I knew that I can snap at any minute look. I’d used it many times. “Don’t call me Honey,” I told him in a voice that was not my own. My street voice, “Just don’t do it.”

“Goddamn right, Doll,” Jimmy told me. “Goddamn right. Scared me a little there. That’s that street wise part of you.” He took my head in both massive hands, bent and kissed the top of my head. “I will see you on the eleventh,” he told me.

I nodded. I let the Doll remark go.

I followed Jimmy out the back door past Don who nodded at me and winked. Don was an asshole. Always hitting on us when Jimmy wasn’t around. But Jimmy was his uncle. I was employing my best selective perception when I smiled at him. I wondered if I would ever get used to him. Probably not, I decided, but maybe that would be a good thing. Of course, it didn’t matter. I never saw Don again. Or Jimmy. Or anyone else from that life.

I said goodbye to Jimmy V, crossed the parking lot for the last time and drove myself home. I parked my rusted out Toyota behind my Grandparents house, and twenty-four hours later my world, everybody’s world, was completely changed…


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STAR DANCER

Copyright 2017 Dell Sweet all rights reserved.

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03-19 06:33:02

Twenty Seven

Main Trap

The main trap was exactly as it sounded a trap between the free world and one of the largest prison colonies in the known worlds. Two officers in separate bubbles, both outside the trap itself, controlled the comings and goings. All entrances and all exits were announced to shift sergeant’s colony wide, no access in or out was granted without documentation.

As Far as Superintendant Sam Ellison was concerned Twenty Seven was a super max facility classified as a max. That meant that it went well over the threshold of security for a max prison and came in just under the official super max classification: Lacking the certification because they did not possess a thirty foot wall that completely surrounded the facility.

Superintendant Ellison had petitioned to be moved to the super max classification despite the wall. His argument was short but eloquent: Although they did not possess the necessary wall they did have an absolute barrier, an atmosphere that could not sustain life. Anyone breaking out of Twenty Seven may not have to then scale a thirty foot wall, but they would die in seconds from the lack of oxygen and most likely they would begin to freeze to death before that occurred; or find themselves burning up, dependent upon the phase of the Martian day.

Four soldiers decked out in full riot gear; including fully loaded laser rifles stepped from an el lift at the end of a transport hall just outside of the main trap and looked over the area. Another group at the opposite end of the hall came to attention, spread out across the front of the entrance to the trap, a two story steel monstrosity made of chrome carbon-steel bar work that could not be moved without the machinery that had been specially designed to move it. Before that machinery could be activated both of the bubble officers would be in radio contact with one another and reach complete agreement as to the authenticity of the orders for the movement.

The four officers stepped back into the el, took custody of the prisoner from two other officers that had remained in the el to secure the prisoner and got him moving.

Kenneth Rowland shuffled forward, the chains that bound him and the heavy footfalls of the soldier’s boots were the only sounds in the short hall. He wore a chain around his waist: A second chain ran down to the chain on a set of ankle cuffs and was joined to that chain via a heavy double keyed padlock. His hands were chained with a few short links to the waist chain, also joined with a heavy double keyed padlock. He wore finger spanners that kept his fingers separated and spread apart as well as disabling flexing more than two fingers at one time. A final chain snaked away from the waist chain to an appliance truck that carried a small, metal file cabinet stuffed with files pertaining to his charges and cases, both on Earth and here on Twenty Seven. A soldier pushed the truck. A lawyer representative walked beside Rowland carrying a small camera to record the procedure live to courts on Earth and Twenty Seven. It would also be retained as part of the permanent record.

The ungainly crew moved quickly down the short hall, the soldiers hustling Rowland along faster. When they reached the gate the soldiers there parted and formed a complete circle around Rowland, the lawyer was cut out; left standing on his own. Two soldiers separated from the group and faced the lawyer, watching him carefully: It was not unknown for an attack to occur from a lawyer that had been planted for just that purpose. In 2099, to protest the end of a half century of Fed rule, a Martian law representative had detonated a half ounce of fiber-gel explosives he had combed into his hair in this very trap killing thirty two people. With the rebuild had come the bug lights which could deal with all known manner of electronic and bio bugs, explosives and tagging equipment. The Feds had many enemies.

A series of bug lights in the overhead ceiling came on and almost simultaneously grills mounted in the walls came to life. The air current was stiff and steady. The first lights killed everything biological, and the air movement kept the contaminants moving out of the space. After three minutes the lights died down and a second set of lights came up bathing the hall in blue light. The second set of lights carried destructive electronic impulses within the light wave that would destroy any electronic circuitry. The total time was just under seven minutes. The lights cycled down once more and the regular lights came up. Shorty after that the big doors began to move.

Rowland looked around the narrow hallway. There would be no chance of escape. If he tried anything at all he would most likely wind up dead: And if you were dead it was all over with anyway; so he would bide his time and wait. There would be something. Some mistake and when it happened he would be ready for it.

“Move your ass scumbag!” One of the soldiers gave him a quick shot to the kidneys. The lawyer was blocked and would never see it he knew. Rowland bit down hard, a slight trickle of blood running away from his lip where he had bitten it. He refused to cry out. The door finished its travel and he shuffled into the center of the trap, the lawyer left behind.

03-27 02:20:09

Star Dancer

Mike clicked his Log-link on: “Intra System Cruiser Star Dancer. Present: Michael Watson chief operating officer: Petra Stanovich Navigation officer. Two hours ten minutes and fifteen seconds out of Mars Twenty Seven. Contract FQHPX2879 concludes. U.P.T crew Twenty Nine, one additional crew, see addendum CL44988 per U.P.T crew manifest… Stop two will be Mars One for a tech drop… Contract 771926F… Our last drop will be IO Six… Prefab buildings plus one, to total three now, see addendum 279916BX… Out.”

Petra looked up from where she was programming her navigation interface and smiled. They were at slow speed, orbit maintenance speed; and Mike watched the surface of Mars slip by far below as Petra prepared to break orbit and head for docking at Mars One. He took one last sip of coffee, drained the cup; popped it into an in-seat holder and belted himself in for descent…


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Zombie Kindle Edition by Dell Sweet

Zombie Kindle Edition

Johnny:
I am here in this farm house that Lana and I found a few weeks back. By myself. Lana is gone. I sat down here to write this story out before I am gone too. Maybe that sounds melodramatic, but it isn’t. I know exactly what my situation is.
We have been to Manhattan, outside of it, you can’t go in any longer, and we came from Los Angeles, so we know: It’s all gone, destroyed, there’s nothing left.

The Graveyard:
The moon rode high in the sky. Moonlight gleamed from bits of gravel in the dirt road that lead into the barn. Silence held, and then a scraping came from the ground, muffled, deep.
At the edge of the woods, eyes flashed dully in the over-bright moonlight. Shapes shifted among the trees and then emerged from the shadows onto the gravel roadway. One dragged a leg as he walked, clothes already rotted and hanging in tatters. A second seemed almost untouched, a young woman, maybe a little too pale in the wash of moonlight. She walked as easily as any woman, stepping lightly as she went. The third and fourth moved slower, purposefully, as they made their way to the freshly turned soil. They stopped beside the grave, and silence once again took the night, no sounds of breathing, no puffs of steam on the cold night air.
“Do you think…?” The young woman asked in a whisper.
“Shut up,” the one with the dragging leg rasped. His words were almost unintelligible. His vocal cords rotted and stringy, no air in his lungs to move his words. The noises came once again from the earth and the four fell silent… waiting…
A hand broke through into the moonlight. A few minutes later a young woman’s head pushed up, and then she levered her arms upward and began to strain to pull herself up and out of the hole. She noticed the four and stopped, her pale skin nearly translucent, her black hair tangled and matted against her face and neck. Her lips parted, a question seeming to ride on them.
“It’s okay,” the young woman whispered, “it’s okay.” She and one of the older ones moved forward, fell to their knees and began to scoop the dirt away from her with their hands.
“It’ll be okay,” the young woman mumbled in agreement through her too cold lips.
“It will… It will,” the other woman repeated…


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