That’s pretty much what one of my other in progress novels is about.
I’ve been just as immersed in the “apocalypse” as anyone, the last few years – be it a nuclear winter, a pathogen that magically turns the dead into zombies, a weather-based cataclysm, meteors hurtling toward the earth, or what have you, I’ve seen the movies (and played my share of Fallout games of course). But there are just so many ways the world as we know it could come to an end. There are so many things about a ruined modern civilization that lend themselves fantastically to storytelling.
But, it’s not something I’ve written before. It’s not easy to try and maintain a little creative independence without leaning too much on some other reference material. (This is a lot like my conflict with writing supernatural/vampire fiction. But in the case of those books, I wrote them years ago, before there were many authors aside from Anne Rice and LKH to read at all – the post apocalyptic scene is pretty much overflowing like zombies crawling out of a graveyard at this point.) So it’s been put on the back burner time and time again. I have a lot of work planned on this series, and what I’m putting here isn’t the very beginning either. It’s just a random part.
Read more after the break. I’m fully expecting to add more samples of this one, since it’s a different setting than my typical work. But it deals with what I love to write about, of course – people dealing with hard situations and trying to keep their minds and hearts together.
[Working title for this novel is currently ‘wasteland’ so use the tags on the side to find more related posts if you so desire.]
Although it was nothing like the trucks that had been abandoned at the raider’s outpost of yesterday – a single look revealed those had been obviously used as makeshift beds rather than vehicles – the truck Eddie had gotten his hands on had four doors and four wheels and all the panels were there, although in a variety of colors, giving it a patchwork effect. I felt a little excited at the prospect of not walking all the way to Miri amidst raiders and plague-bearers.
“Are you sure it runs?” Eva asked when she saw it, but Eddie seemed confident enough. The back windows were missing although the windscreen in the front was still intact. Once Eddie roared the engine to life he hit the gas immediately.
I wondered again and again how I knew what I knew about trucks. I felt fairly sure I could drive one if I had to, but why? How could I know my abilities so selectively? As we drove Eva kept a lookout on the passenger side, peering alternatively through the scope of her rifle and around with her eyes. Me and Peter took turns doing the same on the other side. At first the area around us was dusty and dry and the clouds that roiled up from the tires made me nervous as they were a beacon to our location, but after a while wizened grass became prevalent and the road, though still dirt, was now compact enough to hardly maintain a track.
Better than walking, but the truck did make an awful racket, I thought. It made my head hurt. As the day went on and on seemingly without end the noise and the vibration numbed me to everything. I couldn’t even think about what Eva had told me earlier, or wonder about my past and future. I just kept looking for signs of raiders or, worse, plague-bearers.
It seemed like eternity before Eddie stopped for what he said was a piss-break and Eva said would be a good time to eat. I figured there was no point in wasting the chance for either. When I got out of the truck I noticed that Eddie had stopped at the base of a fairly sizable tree and in the dip of some hills: probably the best way to remain unnoticed. I was at least glad I could squat behind a tree rather than in sight of the whole world.
Back in the truck we ate bread and meat and no one seemed to have much to say. Tree or not, I was somewhat glad when we were on the move again, inching ever closer to a place less exposed even if it meant more shaky noise. For lack of anything to do I studied the horizon through my scope. Peter still had next to nothing to say, and I wondered what, if anything, I could do about it. I wasn’t entirely sure why he was so out of sorts, anyway. Sure, he’d been hit in the face, but was that it? Taking a bullet to his arm hadn’t really fazed him that much, so I was reluctant to think the answer was so simple.
We stopped again after another long stretch and now Eddie said we had to refuel. There were several large, faded red jugs in the very back of the truck, although I had paid no attention to it before. Now, since it was nearing dark, he wanted to put one of the jugs in while we were still able to see around us.
So me and Peter got out to stand guard and Eva got in the driver’s seat, ready to floor it if we had to make a quick getaway. Not for the first time I marveled at how organized the two of them were. They were obviously experienced at traveling out here in the no man’s land between cities. I felt antsy, and worried I would miss something, but the eerie silence remained unbroken.
As it got darker I started to feel anxious about being in the open. The truck surely made enough noise to attract anyone in earshot, even a mindless plague-bearer. Though, I had never seen them in solitude – they seemed to congregate together.
Not a comforting detail. I couldn’t see out my window anymore as the moon hadn’t yet risen, so I moved over in the back seat and sought Peter’s hand. If he didn’t feel like talking the least he could do was provide more of his warm solace, I thought. But he did better than that: he slipped his arm around my waist and kissed my ear. I still watched the dark window warily, but Eddie seemed confidant we would get to Wayside soon.
I fancied it would be a walled and secure place but of course it wasn’t. A few rough buildings clustered around what I instinctively recognized as fuel trucks – big silver bodies gleaming in the starlight. I knew they contained fuel, but I didn’t know how much. Eventually they surely ran low. Did they have a source to draw from somewhere else? I couldn’t remember that kind of detail.
As we neared I moved forward and leaned on the middle seat between Eddie and Eva to study the area. A rough barricade of vicious-looking pointed objects, both metal and wood as apparently anything with an edge would suffice to keep plague-bearers away, became visible; the ground surrounding it was blackened and charred. I saw a few armed men and women which were eyeing us suspiciously. Once we were close Eddie slowed and two of the men approached, glaring in the windows briefly before waving us in, grunting that we better not cause any trouble.
From here the small cluster of buildings seemed much more substantial although not nearly as enforced as Derelict. There were no merchants to be seen, and instead of a pharmacy they had a building with a sloppy red cross painted above the word ‘Emergency.’ Eddie drove to the largest building beside the fuel trucks and Eva looked back at us. “We’ll find no inn here. Rather than risk traveling at night, we’ll have to stay in the truck tonight. There is a tavern, though,” she nodded toward the building.
I scrubbed my face with my hands and felt numb to everything. She added, “It’s best not to leave the truck unattended, so we should probably only go inside in pairs, if that’s all right.”
“I don’t care,” I said. “I’ll stay here for now.”
Peter just shrugged when she looked at him. “Fine,” she said. “Fire two shots if there’s trouble.”
“You bet,” I said. She got out when Eddie stopped the truck, and went into the tavern as though she didn’t have a care in the world. Meanwhile, he grabbed the empty jug from the back of the truck and, whistling cheerfully, strolled into the dark where the fuel trucks were being monitored by shifty-eyed men.
I looked at Peter. “How can he whistle in a place like this?”
He shrugged again but gave me a crooked smile so I leaned back and adjusted to face him, resting my arm on the seat. His hand brushed my hair back and I couldn’t help but smile.
“How are you holding up?” he asked in a low tone.
“Fine I guess.” I rested my head on my arm to look at him sideways. “My whole body is stiff and I feel like it’s still vibrating even now.”
“Yeah, tell me about it.” His fingers lingered on my face. “Will you come have a drink with me when they come back?”
I didn’t particularly want to be passed-out drunk, but a small amount of relaxation sounded good, though I would have said yes to him anyway. “Of course,” I said, and he smiled again.
“It could be a while,” he pointed out. “It’s only just dark. The night’s got a while to go.”
I nodded. “I’d rather be bored than running for my life again.”
“Well, I think you’ll get your wish.” He twisted to look around and then fell back again. “There’s hardly anyone here other than the HAS guards. They must keep this place going so people can make it all the way to Miri.”
“Eddie said it would be a day and a half to walk here,” I mused. “And then two days after. But we made it here in a little over half a day.”
“I can’t imagine it’d be smart to park and stop somewhere,” he said. “We’ll probably have to switch off and drive through the night.” Then he hesitated.
“I feel like I know how to drive. Is that weird?” I asked.
“I think I could, too,” he admitted, “but I guess it’s too useful to be weird. Anyway, if we can drive through the night maybe we’ll make it in another day, then. I’d think there’s more than enough fuel.”
“I hope,” I said, chewing my lip as Eddie reappeared from the darkness lugging the obviously-heavy jug with both hands. When he put it in the back I felt the whole truck rock.
“You keep your eyes peeled.” He said seriously, then laughed. “Nah, should be fine, tonight. Mostly HAS out here, which’d usually drive me up the wall, but it’s better in a place like this.”
“All right,” I said, and after he made a joke about what we’d be doing out here in the dark, he left for the tavern.
I felt like it was going to be a long night. When the moon finally crept above the horizon some of the alien darkness was taken from the place and I felt at ease enough to put my head in Peter’s lap and stretch my legs over the rest of the seats, which was still a far cry from the bed at Derelict. I absently studied the ragged interior of the truck and without meaning to I fell asleep.
When I woke up it was so late it felt more like early morning, though it was still fully dark outside. I probably would have slept more but I was hungry, and besides Peter had nudged me gently awake. I rubbed my eyes and sat up, feeling guilty for sleeping when he must be tired, too, only to see Eddie and Eva approaching from the tavern. “I slept so long?” I marveled as I sat up.
“It’s all right,” he said, and I hoped he was back to his usual, sweet self.
I left my rifle in the truck and brought only the handguns with me. Standing and stretching my legs was a relief to say the least – walking was difficult for a few steps. Peter seemed nervous as we entered. Now I noticed a sign declaring it ‘Wayside Tavern’ and I figured it had been the original building as it was certainly larger, but also, made of wood and stone rather than metal. Despite the hour it was still populated with a few dozen patrons scattered throughout at tables and the bar. When I spied the crude sign for ‘restrooms’ I told Peter I had to go, but he still looked antsy and said he would come with me.
Once we had food and drinks, though, he looked a little relaxed. “I feel like you’re miles away,” I said.
“Sorry, Lilah, it’s not you at all,” he said, appearing startled. “Just… I know I must have lived in this place for my whole life, but it still seems so…” He shook his head. “It’s a cruel place. I don’t know how these people keep going. Just for this? To be able to drink at the end of the night to the tunes of an old piano?”
There was, in fact, a piano, although whoever was playing did so only sporadically. “I don’t know,” I admitted. “So much of it seems familiar to me, but I don’t feel like I fit in, either. Maybe in Miri…”
“Miri’s not going to be any different,” he interrupted, keeping his voice low. “Maybe in some parts it’ll be nicer, or cleaner, or whatever. But all of this,” he gestured around with his fork, “is old history. Derelict is the new age. Metal and salvaged parts on the edge of wilderness running rampant with plague-bearers. Miri might be nice in that we don’t have to be watching for them, but…” he trailed off abruptly. “I’m sorry. Don’t listen to me.”
I had hardly thought about what I expected to find in Miri other than the safety of its walls. But I had no doubt he was right – I’d still have to carry a gun to go somewhere by myself – especially given what Eva had said about fertility. Even if I could carry a child I’d be in danger of being abducted just for that, so someone else could pass along their line. And if I couldn’t, well…
“I’m sorry,” he said again, looking worried now. “I’m getting ahead of myself anyway. We still have to find out how we got so far south. And it’s not so bad, not for me, at least – I’ve got you.”
I smiled for him although I still felt like he had a point. “I’ll just be glad to get there so we can stop speculating about it.”
We stayed there for a while but I felt disconnected from the tavern and the rest of its grimy patrons. Peter was probably right about everything – Miri wasn’t going to be much different in most ways. We’d still be paying an arm and a leg for food and ammo and he’d still be nervous if I went anywhere by myself. I didn’t know what Eddie and Eva were going to do with us, either – my own fault for being too foolish to ask. I wanted to find out but when we went back to the truck, they were both asleep in the front seats. Eddie cradled his rifle in a silent warning to any curious passersby. I felt bad slamming the door when we got in but there was nothing to be done about it.
I unbuckled my guns and put them on the floor and Peter did the same. I felt bad that I had slept already so I didn’t mind when he mimicked how we’d been earlier, putting his head in my lap. It was nice actually. I was surprised when I fell asleep for a while. When I woke up because my neck hurt it was still dark although the sky was noticeably lighter. I was half-awake and reluctant to admit it was almost time to leave. Peter stirred and sat up blearily, wrapped his arms around me and lay back on the seat again so I was sort of on top of him, but I fell asleep again so I appreciated it.
The next day of driving felt noticeably more annoying than the last one, I figured because I hadn’t slept well, but everyone seemed out of it. I asked what they were going to do in Miri, and Eva said we could stay with her since she had an extra room. Why she had an extra room wasn’t explained and neither was my question really answered but I was somewhat glad to know that at the end of this infinite vibrating drive would be a room where I could sleep again in the proper horizontal fashion.
After a while Peter took off his jacket and had me change the bandage on his gunshot wound. He seemed more like himself today. When I made to remove the bandage over his eye as well he pulled me into his lap and kissed all over my face until I laughed and had to tell him to hold still.
“How’s it look?” He asked.
“Healing,” I said, and he grimaced.
“Is the scar going to make me look tougher?”
I had to laugh again. “Tougher? I don’t know if it’s going to scar yet. You heal fast.”
“Oh.” He seemed disappointed for some reason. “Well, I guess no scar is better still.”
Again we stopped at midday and took a break to stretch and refuel. The weather was noticeably warmer so I left my jacket in the truck. Again Eddie had stopped by a cluster of trees. As I finished my business I noticed the long grass was concealing a few stacks of perfectly rectangular stones. I glanced around and saw no movement so I curiously poked around with my boot until I recognized it as the remains of a man-made wall. Probably a house, I thought. Before I could do more than gaze at the outline of the structure, a gunshot rang out from behind me.
As I turned, gripped by immediate fear, I heard Peter yell: “Lilah!” And then more gunshots. I ran around the tree and as I moved down the hill I saw from the other side of the truck as a plague-bearer shambled out from behind another copse of trees – another shot and its head exploded. More of their bodies were scattered around the area. I numbly took in Peter aiming at the treeline, Eva scanning wildly back and forth for more movement, Eddie shaking the last of a fuel jug into the tank.
My rifle was still in the truck. I didn’t know if I should get it or just get down. Peter shouted my name again as he stood rooted. “I’m here!” I yelled back.
Eddie tossed the jug into the back and said, “Get in!” Time felt sluggish as I complied, as he swung the driver’s door open again, as Peter fired two quick shots in a row, as Eva backed up to the door that Eddie had opened for her. I copied him, leaning over to push Peter’s door open. “Get in!” Eddie shouted again. Finally Peter was in the truck again and Eddie was accelerating before the doors had closed. I grabbed my rifle and twisted to face the back of the truck, where the hatch’s window was missing. More plague-bearers were running instinctively at the movement of our vehicle. Peter fired twice more and I hit a third, though in the leg – it fell, and through the scope I could clearly see as another bent to cannibalize. I shot that one in the head, more for practice than anything else. Peter fired and the one on the ground went still. Six, seven more and then we appeared in the clear.
“More will come,” Eva was saying, now that I listened. “More will certainly come. They smell the blood.”
“We’ll be long gone,” Eddie said, in what sufficed as his comforting tone.
“I just saw the movement in the trees,” Peter said.
“You’re a good shot,” Eva said. “Very good.”
“There could be more,” he went on like she hadn’t spoken. “Where do they come from?”
“People still make their own way outside the city,” Eddie said. “Eventually the plague gets all of ‘em.”
Faced with that grim prospect we rode for a long while in silence. The gentle hills of the terrain seemed to conceal endless locations, but we saw no more plague-bearers.