Authors: Godsby Jim
of the Apocalypse – Part 1
story of post-apocalyptic EMP survival
few people watched Ash Hobbes as he drove his Mercedes into the parking lot of
the mayor’s office. It wasn’t much of a lot and it wasn’t much of an office,
but what else did he expect from a town like this? The bystanders, a guy in a
checked shirt with a pack of smokes in his pocket, and a woman with a skirt so
short that it barely covered her thighs, were joined by another couple of men.
They all stared at Ash with their noses screwed up in anger.
want to kill me,
And I don’t blame them.
was a sunny day, but the mood of Pasture Down couldn’t have been gloomier. The
life savings of half its residents had been wiped out almost overnight after a
promising looking investment had gone bust. Or Ash had told them it was
promising, at least. The fact was that he’d swindled them out of as much money
as he could.
got out of his car and clicked the lock button. The bleep seemed to distract
the bystanders for a few seconds, but before long their burning stares were
back on him. His expensive car was the biggest one in the lot, and the gleam when
the sunlight hit it was blinding. It was funny how tastes changed. He
remembered when he and dad once spent a year fixing up an old Dodge. He
wondered if the old man still did that kind of stuff. Ash used to be good with
hands, but he’d let them go soft. If they had even spoken in the last fifteen
years, his dad would have given him hell for that.
better get out our money back, asshole,” shouted the man with the cigarettes in
crowd of four had turned into seven now. Was that enough for them to be called
a mob? Ash had never had a mob after him before. He’d been chased out of one
town, three years ago, but that had been by a drunken guy in a pickup truck.
Ash had made him eat dust.
the building, the mayor showed him through to his office and took a seat. He
didn’t invite Ash to sit, but that wasn’t exactly unexpected. The mayor had been
voted into his position through a slew of promises to the town, number one
being the boosting of their economy. He’d invested heavily in Ash’s scheme
using chamber funds, and when it all went south he found himself running the
town at a deficit. Judging by how luxurious his chair was, it didn’t seem like
his office decorating budget had taken a hit.
mayor pulled open his drawer and poured out a brandy. Ash would have loved one,
but if a drink wasn’t on offer then he wasn’t going to ask.
can tell you’re busy,” he said, diplomatically. “So I won’t stay.”
the short of it.”
mayor had a bald head but it seemed like his eyebrows had tried to compensate
for it, because they had grown to nearly twice the size of a normal person’s. Every
time he finished speaking he did a little scrunching movement with his nose and
then took a sip of brandy. He wore a suit but the tie was loosened as though
he’d already done a hard day’s work, despite it only being lunchtime.
I guess if I’m getting straight to the point, said Ash, “I better say that it’s
gone. Everyone who put in a dime, you included Mr. Mayor, is coming up short. The
investment tanked. These things happen, you know? Rise and fall, boom and bust.
The market is wild and sometimes you get burned.”
mayor’s face started to get red, and his sips of the brandy became more frequent
until finally he screwed his nose up and then tipped the glass toward his mouth
and drained it.
a few words away from a hiding,” he said.
folded his arms. He’d been here before. The threats were usually empty.
the way things are going across the shore,” he said, “we Americans gotta stick
together. So I’m not going to leave you high and dry. If I see anything else
that could turn some green for you, I’ll sail it your way.”
mean to say the money’s all gone?” said the mayor.
Just get through the next uncomfortable
five minutes and I’m out of here.
mayor picked up his glass then slammed it down on the table.
you better get the hell out of my office,” he said.
the parking lot, the mob had swollen until it became a throng of furious faces
Say what you will about me
, thought Ash,
but I can sure bring a
. There were men and women of all ages waiting for him, though
most of the population was curiously white. Guess diversity hadn’t hit Pasture
Down yet. It was the kind of place where one half of the population farmed and the
other half worked in the mines, and anyone who strayed from those choices of
profession was looked at with suspicion.
goddamn thief son of a bitch,” shouted a woman old enough to be Ash’s grandma.
had blocked the exit now as if they were challenging him to run them over. For
the first time he felt his skin start to itch. This was becoming a little too
real. Maybe he should have just skipped town straight away.
got nothing on you, you thieving little scumbag,” shouted a man wearing a
had only one thought on his mind now; he had to get to his car. In there, with
the doors locked and windows up, he’d be safe. He could blast out the radio to
drown out their abuse and if any of them punched his car and dented it, he’d
claim on his insurance. If he had to run any of them over trying to leave, then
that was their fault for standing in the way.
man in dark blue jeans and a Knick’s shirt strode across the parking lot. His
fists were clenched, and from the swell of his arm muscles it looked like he
was used to throwing punches. Ash focussed on his car. Just a few strides
across the lot and he was out of there.
he got nearer to his vehicle, a man stepped from the hummer next to it and
blocked Ash’s way. The Knicks guy covered the parking lot distance and soon he
too stood in the way of his escape. A woman, with a single string of her fringe
dyed purple, took a set of keys from out of her purse, smiled at Ash and then
scratched them across the Mercedes from the windshield to the bottom of the
bumper. As the key tore across the paintwork, he wanted to put his hands to his
Knicks guy took shallow breaths and his cheeks looked ready to boil. As he
stared at Ash his eyes became little black balls that seemed to burn with the
fire. Ash didn’t feel so confident with anger anymore. His practiced words and
slippery gestures left him, and he didn’t know how he was going to get out of
people started to close in on him in a circle. Pretty soon he’d be in the
centre of it, and he could almost feel the punches and kicks that were going to
come his way. The only thing that stopped him going completely out of his mind
was the idea of Georgia at home. The reason for it all, the only thing that
made this crap job worthwhile.
get my money back by carving you up,” said the Knicks guy. From the growl in
his voice, Ash knew that he meant it.
looked over the shoulders of the man and his heart jumped. At the end of the
parking lot, leaning against her cruiser and smoking the life out of a roll-up
cigarette, was Sheriff Ellie Ashurst. Ash couldn’t tell if she’d seen him, but
there was no way she could have missed the angry mob. So why wasn’t she coming over
he shouted. “Sheriff Ashurst.”
the sheriff flicked her cigarette and looked the other way, Ash realised that
he’d scammed her out of money too. He remembered that she made him cheap-tasting
coffee and filled in the paperwork from an arrest while he persuaded her to
give him her savings.
mob closed in and Ash realised that help wasn’t going to come. He couldn’t get
to his car, and he sure as hell couldn’t fight. This beating had been a long
time coming, and he’d always known that. Somehow, he thought he might get away
with it. Just long for Georgia to… It didn’t matter. He was about to get his
head smashed in.
Ash braced for the first blow, the crowd parted. A man pushed his way into the
middle. He faced the crowd and held out his hands to stop them moving closer.
isn’t going to solve squat,” he said. “All it's gonna get you is a night in
Ellie Ashurst's cells. And don’t think it’s not big enough for all you folks.
This bastard might have drained us dry, but the people of Pasture Down don’t
take an eye for an eye.”
gladly take his eyes,” said the Knicks guy.
ignorant, Kenny Reedley. And it’s time you learned to stop your tongue running
away from your brain.”
crowd, with their anger dissipated for the time being, began to drift away. Ash
breathed a sigh of relief. He knew he’d come close this time.
he said to the man. “Didn’t catch your name?”
man smiled sadly.
you can’t catch my name now, but you sure as hell had no problem cashing my
check. Name’s Tony Shore, you son of a bitch. Now you better leave town before
they start queuing up to kill you.”
night fell on a place like Pasture Downs, it fell fast. The sky above looked
like a black duvet sprinkled with silver glitter, and when the stars blinked,
it almost looked beautiful. Ash felt himself start to get drowsy, and that
wasn’t a good idea when he was going at seventy miles per hour. He wound down
the window and let the cold breeze slap his skin, but even that couldn’t cut through
the need to sleep.
slowed the car to five miles per hour and then turned off the road. He killed
the engine. He was still over two hundred miles from the Bolton tunnel, the
only passage way through the Lantern mountain range that separated him from the
city. The geography around him reminded Ash of footage of the moon; nothing but
rocks and dirt for miles on end. Somewhere east of Pasture Down was a forest,
and apparently there was a national park nearby. If someone was in the mind for
it, they could get through to the city by driving over the mountains, but if
they decided to do that, they better have a week set aside for the trip.
and his dad used to go on camping trips. They’d say bye to mom, load the van
and then head to the forest where they’d spend a week hunting, fishing and
brooding in silence. His dad always looked a little more content when he got
away from it all. Not happy, but just free from the crushing weight of his job
and having to support a family. He’d taught Ash a whole manner of survival skills
on their trips, but over the years Ash had let the knowledge slip from his
mind. He just hoped there would never come a time when he needed to remember it.
out his mobile and hit the speed-dial. Three rings later, a groggy woman answered.
better not be drunk,” she said.
you too, hon,” said Ash.
cleared her throat. She’d probably been in bed for a few hours. That was her
usual routine. TV until eight, then a book in bed until nine. It pretty much
went that way every night, especially since their last doctor’s appointment.
After seeing the doc, Ash decided to let her have her routine. There was no
point him making the effort to go to bed at the same time as her if there was
nothing doing. The baby wasn’t going to come without IVF, and Ash was going to
have to scam a few more towns until they could afford that.
she said. “I’ve got a meeting at eight. I’m not in the mood for Drunken Ash
pause. Then she said “You sound upset.”
reached under the chair of the driver’s seat and twisted the handle. The chair
reclined a little.
fine hon. Honestly. Listen, I’m coming back tonight.”
Thought you were setting off tomorrow.”
was, but I miss you.”
didn’t sound genuine,
he wondered what kept them married. For Ash, they were glued together for the
rest of their lives, and that was that. He sure as hell was never going to
divorce, because he’d seen what happened to his brothers after mom and dad
split. But he could never tell what Georgia was thinking. He wished he had a
manual he could flick through, kind of like a survival guide but for marriage.
It certainly would have made his life a hell of a lot easier. The fact was that
they didn’t have fun anymore. They lived together, but didn't enjoy life
together. They were sort of drifting. It felt like they weren’t compatible
sometimes, like an overweight guy trying on a suit four times too small. You either
lose weight, or you ditch the suit. Ash was trying damn hard to make the suit
the hell?” said Georgia. Her voice dragged him out of his thoughts.
I zoned out there a little.”
not you,” she said in a quieter voice.
got someone there with you?”
pulse began to fire.
swallowed, but a lump was growing in his throat. For a second he felt like he
was burning up and wanted to let the breeze in, but the car window was already wound
tell me what the hell is going on.”
I heard someone.”
the house settling,” said Ash.
definitely not that. The stairs just creaked.”
voice quietened to a whisper, and there was a panic in it that Ash had never
heard before. Georgia didn’t scare easily, and she was a hell of a lot tougher
than her thin frame suggested. He wanted to hang up and call the police, but he
didn’t want to leave Georgia alone. He felt powerless.
the landline next to the bed?” he said.
swallowed, and his throat felt like sandpaper.
you better call the police.”
my god, Ash. He’s on the landing. He’s walking toward the bedroom.”
felt like screaming. He wanted to fire up the car and drive at a thousand miles
per hour, but even if that were possible he would still be too late. His heart
beat so fast it felt like his chest was going to explode.
Georgia, you gotta call the police.”
just rattled the door handle, Ash. He’s coming in.”
the police. Now.”
door’s opening. Oh my god.”
was going to shout at her and beg her to call the police, but suddenly the line
it,” he said.
tapped the speed-dial number on the phone and tried to get her back, but it
wouldn’t ring. He pressed nine-one-one, but couldn’t get the familiar dial
tone. Then he realised that the display on his phone was dead.
a goddamn time for this to happen.
felt like he was going out of his mind with worry. The only thing he could
think was that his phone battery had drained, so he was going to have to gun it
back to town to get to a phone. They could all beat the crap out of him for all
he cared, but he had to get back and call the police. Georgia might have been
hundreds of miles away, but he was damned if he wasn’t going to do something.
twisted the key in the ignition, but instead of the roar of the engine there
was a dull silence. The only sound was the breeze as it brushed the leaves of a
nearby pine tree, and a tin can as it rattled its way along the road.
looked at his dashboard and he realised that the lights had gone out. First his
phone, now his car.
What the hell was he going to do?
He opened the car
door, stepped out onto the ground and prepared himself for a long walk back to
the time he got back to town his feet ached and his head throbbed. He had
grabbed a half-full water bottle from his car, but he’d drained it dry hours
ago. He remembered the survival rule of three that his dad had taught him; you
can go three minutes without breathing, three days without drinking and three
weeks without eating. Luckily the air was fine, but his body ached for water.
he got to the first street in town he went by Farley’s liquor store. The light
on the front, usually illuminated, was dark. There was a car parked outside,
and two guys stood in front of an open bonnet.
the oil,” said one. He had a dirty rag over his shoulder as though he was a
man, tall with beefy shoulders, shook his head in contempt. “Oil doesn’t have
anything to do with the dashboard, you dolt.”
are funny things.”
is your head.”
streets of Pasture Down were hardly Vegas at the best of times, but Ash had
never seen them this dark before. Ash looked as far as he could along town, and
he couldn’t see a single light glowing. By the car, one of the men held an oil
lamp over the bonnet.
a great thing to do when you’re checking the oil,” said Ash. “What if it caught
men turned to look at him. Ash felt his stomach tighten when he realised that
he’d sat in the living room one of the men not long ago and told him how much a
good idea it was that he transfer a few thousand into Ash’s company’s account.
worry yourself a second. A few thousand now becomes ten thousand in a year.
That’s a new car. An extension on your house. You’ll be the envy of everyone on
flitted in the man’s eyes and his face became stone. He stepped forward, and
the dirty rag fell from his shoulder.
bother me if it set on fire,” he said. “As long as you were in it.”
beefy-shouldered man squinted.
the fella who screwed you over?”
man nodded. “That’s him.”
could sense that it was going to get ugly.
fellas. I’ve got an emergency.”
you’re blind, you can see that we all got one. Goddamn power cut.”
way’s the station?”
business you got with the law?” said the man. He bent and picked up the rag and
wrapped it around his fist like a prize-fighter.
the space of a few seconds they’d circled him, and Ash didn’t even have time to
run. All he could do was try to duck and dodge as fists flew at his face. His
cheeks stung with each blow and he heard a crack when the beefy-shouldered guy
hit his nose with a haymaker. For a second, Ash was blinded by pain.
pick-up truck turned the corner and pulled to a stop in the middle of the road.
It looked like a standard Toyota, except that it had been adapted so that the
back of it had a waterproofed roof and hooks along the framework for bags to be
stored. The engine faded, and for a few seconds the punches stopped. Ash got up
from his knees and saw that Tony Shore, the man from the parking lot, walked
handy fists, fellas. You get off on a three-way?”
hell do you want, Tony? Thought you were too good for the town?”
added beef shoulders, “What are you doing away from your ranch?”
gritted his teeth. “I’ve got as much right to be here as you. Just because I
live outside Pasture don’t mean I’m not from here. Now you better leave this
man tightened the rag around his fist.
you’re looking for a beating too?”
reached into his pocket and pulled out a Smith & Wesson M & P pistol.
He pointed it at the man’s head.
you’re looking to lose your head.”
men grumbled and walked over to their car, but not before beef shoulders gave
Ash a kick in the gut. Wheezing, Ash felt an arm hook underneath his armpit and
pull him to his feet. Tony Shore smiled at him. It wasn’t a warm smile, and Ash
could tell that contempt was hidden underneath it, but he would take whatever help
he could get right now.