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Authors: Glen Krisch

Arkadium Rising (8 page)

BOOK: Arkadium Rising
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"So…" Marcus looked up from his reading, "Jason, this is what you want future generations to read? This is you making your mark?"

Jason couldn't tell if he'd hit the right note with this rendition. He hoped so. He didn't think he had it in him to try a fourth time. "Yes?"

Marcus pursed his lips and nodded, his eyes falling to the page. "Very well. This is more the tone I expect from you. This is your talent shining through.
…" He held the notebook aloft like a revivalist preacher raising high his road weary bible at a tent gathering. "This is the New History."

The lump in Jason's throat grew, threatening to choke him. But as Marcus's expression softened and he looked at him with acceptance, with
, either a tear or a streak of blood escaped Jason's left eye and the lump in his throat eased.

Marcus looked again at the page littered with Jason's awkward, bunched script. He began to read: "But just as the great flood of Noah's age receded and he and his kin disembarked from the salvation of the ark given to him by God Himself, Marcus Grant and his people returned to the flooded plain as explorers and salvagers of a blighted world, the true believers and protectors of the One True Word, the unaltered, unassailable Book of Genesis—the Arkadium."

Marcus closed the spiral and smiled at his brother. "Like poetry, Jason. Like fucking Walt Whitman."

"Thank…"—his voice cracked—"thank you."

Marcus handed the spiral over to Jason and then raised his hand. Jason instinctively flinched. Instead of striking him, Marcus cupped his palm across the back of Jason's head, like a father would his son after a particularly good little league game.

Jason looked at his brother in relief and then went over to stash the secret journal in his pack.

"Remember, not a word to anyone. Not Hector. Not Eldon. No one."


"I will make sure you have the time and supplies to carry on with your work. And it's important work, brother. You could even say it's more important than securing our next meal or finding safe shelter. It's History with a big H. As long as we honor the work and secure it for posterity, it will live long after we're gone."

Jason couldn't help feeling something like pride at the notion of his importance. He knew it was bullshit. He knew Marcus was a mad man. But still…

"The boy…" With the notebook stowed in his pack, Jason turned his gaze to the hydraulic lift pit. Puddled mud slicked the floor surrounding the pit. A mewling whimper issued from the darkened crater.

"Go ahead, pull him free." Marcus hefted his pack and weapons, readying to leave Concord behind for good. "But, Jason…"

Jason stopped short of the pit and looked back at his brother, ready for him to sadistically change his mind.

"Just know the next time I need to pressure you… I won't be nearly so kind."

Jason nodded and hurried to the edge of the pit. He went down on his belly and reached into the murk below. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, and when they did, they alighted on the boy's clear blue eyes.

The boy cried out in fear and tried to shift away from Jason's extended hand.

"No, shhh… No, it's okay. I'm going to get you out of here."

"The God-man… he wants to drown me."

"I won't let that happen. Don't worry. I'll protect you. Just take my hand."

The boy gaped at Jason's swollen lip, his split cheek, his nearly closed eye still leaking tears, blood, or both.

"Trust me," Jason pleaded. He reached farther into the pit, bridging the gap to the reluctant boy.
How bad I must look for him to not want to leap into my arms?

The effort to keep his head above the slurry seemed to hit the boy all at once. He gave in and grunted as he whipped out his hand until it slapped against Jason's. As Jason put all of his weight into tugging him out of the pit, the slurry didn't seem to want to give him up so quickly. His slight seventy pounds felt ten times heavier.

Jason started to slip in the mud toward the pit. "Marcus…"

His brother stood with his thumbs hooking the straps of his backpack, seemingly without a care in the world.

Jason's heel caught on the raised metal lip at the edge of the pit. He pulled hard until the muscles in his back and shoulders felt ready to snap. The boy lifted higher until he grabbed the edge with his free hand and leveraged himself even higher. And in one fell swoop, he pulled free of the muck and flopped onto the shop floor next to Jason.

"You were…" Jason panted, glaring at Marcus. "Just going to let me… fall in?"

"Not at all, brother. Just wanted to see how you react to the new world testing you."

"That wasn't the new world testing me, you evil fuck."

Marcus tried to laugh away Jason's anger, but it never reached his eyes. His lips pulled into a taut line and he turned away, letting his attention fall to the dead electrical tools and the water-logged centerfold epitomizing the beauty of a bygone age.

Jason got to his feet and then helped the boy up as well. He would have to figure out where to track down some clothes for the boy; he still wore nothing more than an undershirt and boxers. He trembled uncontrollably, either from shock or exhaustion, Jason couldn't tell. Covered in the filth from the pit, he looked like he would never get clean again no matter how hard he tried.

"My name's Jason."

"I know." The boy hugged himself for warmth even though the day was a scorcher. His eyes had sunken since Jason first saw him huddled behind the tree in the middle of town. "That's what your girlfriend called you."

Jason shot a glance at Marcus and he could see his head tilt as he listened.

"Delaney? She's not my girlfriend. I've known her for a long time, but I'm not her boyfriend."

"Oh, okay. Whatever. I'm Dylan."

"Nice to meet you, Dylan." Jason felt like a weight had fallen from his shoulders just by finally learning his name. Jason extended his hand to shake with the boy, but Dylan wrapped his arms around Jason's waist instead. Dylan's trembling lessened by the second.

Again, someone pounded on the corrugated metal door, startling Jason. Before Marcus could respond, the door pulled wide, silhouetting Hector and about a dozen other members of the Arkadium.

"We have trouble, sir."

"What do you mean?"

"Austin and Dan were scouting the nearby blocks and spotted some survivors going building-to-building. They're looking for us."

"Survivors? Really? Well, that's fine." Marcus shifted the strap of his assault rifle so he could hold the weapon in his hands. "What's your point?"

As if in response, a multitude of different calibers of weapons exploded one after another. Ten or more people were firing, spraying bullets wildly, close by.

Jason instinctively shielded Dylan with his own body. He searched the confined space for a hiding place. The most secure area was the hydraulic pit, but he wasn't about to subject Dylan to that again.

"Let's take cover," he whispered and grabbed his hand. He circled around a metal work bench that had come free from the wall during the flood.

"Guess we'll have to fight our way out," Marcus said calmly.

"Everyone, listen up!" Hector called out. "Fan out and take cover. Let's clear a path to the river. We'll get our cache of provisions and get the hell out of here."

"Wait!" Marcus called out before anyone moved. "The river is on the other side of town. We can't afford to shoot our way through block by block. What's the force we're looking at?"

"A couple dozen?" Hector said. "Maybe more."

"God damn it," Marcus muttered.

Jason looked out from behind the metal bench. The members of the Arkadium were all in well-covered positions, facing the open door. Marcus seemed unsure of himself as he stood alone in the middle of the shop floor.

Marcus searched for him until he saw where Jason was hiding. "Good, you stay down until we find a good path out of here."

"I'm not going anywhere."

Marcus checked his AR-15's safety, lifted it to firing height and advanced to the door.

"Who is it?" Dylan asked.

"People hoping to teach my brother a lesson."

Jason felt stupid for not accepting the weapons from Hector when he'd offered them to him. Even a knife might come in handy. He stepped out from the cover of the bench and looked for a weapon.

"Don't go!" Dylan called out.

"I'm not. I'm just looking for a…" He spotted the outline of a crowbar covered in mud and kicked at it until it crumbled free. When he picked it up, he felt only marginally safer because of it. "This."

"What are you going to do with that?"

The boy had a point. A crowbar wouldn't stop a bullet, and he wasn't planning on getting close enough to anyone to brain them with it.

He noticed sunlight bleeding through the cracks between the wallboards behind Dylan.

"I'm going to get us out of here." Jason checked to see if anyone was paying attention to them, but no one was. All of the Arkadium were firing off bursts from their weapons. Craig Miller, a man surely close to retirement age, fired from the cover of the doorway. When he moved to get a better angle, his head flew back and the back of his head exploded. His wife, Mandy, cried out and rushed to his side. Others fell as they were hit as well, their bodies peppered with grievous wounds.

Jason wedged the crowbar between two boards and was able to pry it loose with a couple tugs. The wall was fragile, the water and mud undermining its integrity. He removed another board and now had enough room that he was able to stick his head through. The hole opened up to a service alley dominated by loading docks and dumpsters. The retreating floodwaters left behind the swampy stench of rotting vegetation.

"I'm going to go first, and once the coast is clear, I want you to follow, and I mean
. Can you do that?"

"I'm the fastest in my whole school," Dylan said with a smile.

Jason ruffled the boy's blond hair and then hunched over and crawled through the improvised exit. He huddled near a dumpster, trying to get his bearings. It sounded like the skirmish was limited to the other side of the building. The crazed fire/counter-fire had slowed to occasional bursts. Across the alley were two squat brick buildings. They were no more than four feet apart, and the gap between was blocked by a tall, unkempt hedge.

Even if the path didn't lead anywhere, it might make for a good hiding place.

He rushed back to the opening, and called out, "Dylan, come on!" When he didn't appear right away, Jason's heart began to race. "Dylan!" he shouted.

A moment later, Dylan's face appeared through the ragged opening, and Jason felt relief. He easily crawled out into the alley, and when he stood up, he held a broken broom handle in his hand.

"Sorry, I needed a weapon, too." Dylan held the broom stick high like a spear.

Jason placed his hand on the boy's back to guide him to the shelter of the alley. "Let's get out of—"

A middle aged man with a bloody scalp and painful limp raced around the corner and into the alley. He staggered, nearly fell over. It looked like he'd taken a bullet in the left leg. He looked like he could have once worked at the ruined service station or some other blue collar occupation. He wore faded jeans that were muddied at the knees, and a gray button-down work shirt with a red kerchief in the front pocket. He stopped in this tracks when he saw the two of them and pointed a pistol at them. His hand trembled horribly as blood continued to flow from his split scalp.

"Wait, please! Don't-don't-don't," Jason raised his hands, pleading. He stepped in front of Dylan.

"I'm so sorry." The man closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. Jason flinched and the shot went wide, missing him by several feet.

"No!" Jason cried.

The man found Jason in the crosshairs and fired again, but the magazine was empty.

Jason grabbed Dylan by the arm and dragged him to the cover of the nearest dumpster.

"He just shot at us! That's Henry! Henry shot at us!" Dylan said in stunned disbelief.

Jason peered around the corner and saw the man named Henry, whose hands seemed to be trembling even more as he struggled to load a fresh magazine. Jason took advantage and sprinted toward him, and just as Henry properly loaded the magazine, Jason launched himself at him, spearing him in the torso with his shoulder.

Henry flew back against the low wall of a loading dock, his skull crunching against the concrete. Jason disentangled himself from him and stepped away. The man's eyes rolled back in his head and his whole body twisted in a fit of spasms.

"What did you do that for?" Dylan whimpered behind him.

"Oh my God." Jason's legs felt weak. The man's spasms slowed and then stopped altogether. His eyes settled and stared blankly into the blue afternoon sky. Jason immediately felt a wave of nausea and fell to his hands and knees in the muddy filth of the alley and purged bile and little else from his empty stomach. His skin broke out in a clammy sheen and his head swam with dizziness.

"You killed Henry!" Dylan cried.

"Oh… God…" Jason mumbled.

A staccato of gunfire closed on the alley. Jason looked up from his purge and saw two young men with AR-15s enter the alley from the other side.

"Look what we have here, Brad."

The one named Brad aimed his weapon at Dylan. As he opened fire, Dylan dived behind a stacked pile of wooden pallets. Bullets bit into the wood, sending a shower of splinters into the air.

Jason grabbed Henry's pistol (
the man I killed, God damn, I killed someone!
), leveled it on the one named Brad, and fired off a round. The guy flinched backward, and at first, Jason wasn't sure where he'd been hit. But then a dark red dimple appeared in his temple and began to leak a steady flow of blood, and as he began to tumble over, the other member of the Arkadium strafed the brick wall five feet from Jason with a burst of gunfire. Jason fired again and missed. His third shot struck the guy in the shin and he fell over in a screaming, writhing mess.

With adrenaline surging through his system, Jason checked the alley for any newcomers. No one was coming, but that would surely change with how that guy was screaming.

BOOK: Arkadium Rising
11.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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