Authors: Nicholas Ryan
Stories of Surviving the Apocalypse
Copyright © 2016 Nicholas Ryan
The right of Nicholas Ryan to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any other means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the author. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
The story of America’s rise from out of the apocalyptic ashes is not a grand tale of bloody combat.
It’s not a triumphant collage of soldiers and tanks charging into battle against the undead hordes.
It’s simpler than that.
It’s more heroic.
America’s rise from the horror of the Apocalypse is the stories of her survivors; the men and women who refused to submit, the stoic determination of a proud resilient people who stood fast and fought back in isolated pockets and in small bands until the undead were purged from the world.
These are the stories of America’s real heroes who won back the land from the infected, and never gave up hope.
Their stories are our stories. The tapestry of their tragedies, hardships and horror when woven together becomes the fabric of who we were… and who we have become.
It was everywhere – just dust, and the black burned bones of a hundred buildings that once had been the homes and businesses of folks in Riverton, Wyoming.
Just two years after the end of the Apocalypse and the death of the last of the ‘Afflicted’, there remained very little left to serve as a reminder that this town was once a thriving western community. But for Stacie Morton and her family, Riverton was still home. She couldn’t let go.
She wouldn’t move on.
She was standing in the middle of the road, waiting for me. She was staring away to the west, her face uplifted, gazing at the craggy ragged edges of the Wind River Mountain range, their caps still blanketed in the last of winter’s snow. The wind whipped across the ground, stirring up swirling clouds of dust and black sooty ash. She didn’t turn to greet me. There was something distant and forlorn in her expression.
I got out of the car and pulled the collar of my jacket up high around my neck. The taste of dirt and grime filled the back of my throat.
She turned then and her expression slowly transformed – like someone coming reluctantly awake. She nodded her head and scraped hair away from her face.
She was an attractive woman in her early forties with long auburn hair, tinted into shades of orange by the sunlight. She tried to smile, but amidst all the heartbreak and devastation that surrounded us, I guess it was just too much.
We shook hands. “I’m John Culver.”
I shrugged. “Freelance journalist, actually.”
Her grip was firm, her fingers calloused, the nails broken and cracked by the toil of hard work.
“Thank you for meeting me,” I said. I tucked my notebook and pen into the pocket of my jacket and squinted my eyes against the swirling dust. The wind was blood warm against my face.
Stacie shrugged her shoulders.
We were standing in the middle of the town’s main road – four lanes of blacktop almost completely covered by layers of shifting dirt and dust. On the far side of the street was a low brick building, its walls crumbled, its windows like vacant blank eyes. It looked like it had once been a bistro. I followed Stacie silently and we stepped onto the cracked concrete of the sidewalk where we were shaded from the sun and protected from the persistent wind; it moaned through the broken building and rattled rusted sheets of corrugated iron so that they flapped like the wings of prehistoric birds.
“Thank you for meeting me,” I said again.
“It’s no bother,” Stacie said. There was something thin and strained in the tone of her voice; it was like the color had been bled from a picture. She sounded hollow – emptied of hope and future. She thrust her hands into the pockets of her faded denim jeans and stared back over my shoulder. Her distance was disconcerting; it was as though she were somewhere else – some other time. I cleared my throat and turned to see what she was staring at.
On the opposite side of the wide road, at the arms of an intersection, was a two story square brick building. The front of the structure had been ripped away leaving a pile of red bricks and building rubble spilled across the sidewalk and onto one lane of the road. The interior looked scorched and blackened.
“What is it?” I asked gently.
Stacie pointed. “This road was East Main Street before the Apocalypse,” she said, the words still without tone or inflection – just a dry sound in her throat. “And that was the Post Office.”
I looked with fresh eyes, past the dust covered traffic lights that still swung like rusted hinges from their poles, back to the intersection.
“And was the post office significant?” I asked.
“To me it was,” Stacie said.
“When the first of the ‘Afflicted’ reached Wyoming?”
We stood in silence for another long moment and the wind seemed a mournful lament. It undulated into faint little breaths of breeze and then came back stronger, more determined. I keep my eyes narrowed to slits. Stacie Morton glanced sideways at me.
“You get used to the wind if you stay around these parts long enough,” she said simply.
“Is it always like this?”
“No. Only since the Apocalypse.”
She shrugged and then sighed. She turned to me then, her face powdered in a fine grey dusting of grit. “Some say it’s the restless souls of native Indians,” she began. “This whole part of Wyoming was once a reservation.”
“And what do the others say?” I raised a quizzical eyebrow.
“Others say it’s the restless souls of everyone who died here during the horror of the Apocalypse,” Stacie’s face was grim. “Over ten thousand dead in less than a day – each of them contaminated with the ‘Affliction’. Each of them turned from living into the undead. Some folks believe it’s their spirits that haunt Riverton.” She sighed and squared her shoulders like she was shrugging off a weight. “Either way,” her voice hardened. “Nature wants the town back. And it’s getting it too. Every day the dust and dirt hide just a little more. In a few years time there will be nothing left – just wasteland.”
“Will you leave then?”
“No,” Stacie’s voice became dismissive and a glitter of enduring pride shone in her eyes. “We don’t give up that easily, Mr. Culver. We’re tough out here. You need to be to survive.” She shook her head and drew a deep breath. “We’ll stay. It’s our home. It’s where I belong.”
I reached into my coat pocket for my notebook and wrote a page of hasty notes. “You said, ‘we’?”
Stacie nodded. “My husband, Wade and my daughter, Savannah.”
“Where are they now?”
“Home,” she said unhelpfully.
In compiling the interviews for this book I had learned that no two people dealt with the shock and devastation of the undead Apocalypse in the same way. For some, talking about their experiences had been cathartic – they had talked freely as if to share what they had endured somehow purged them of their guilt and burdens. For others – like Stacie Morton – the horror was something they kept bottled inside; a poison they sought to keep contained.
I propped my shoulder against the crumbling wall of the old bistro and stared back at the ruined Post Office building. Stacie Morton shuffled her feet, kicking her boots in the dust. On the ground nearby was a child’s sock patterned with delicate designs of sunflowers. It was thick and grey with dirt.
“Where were you when you heard about the spread of the ‘Affliction’?” I asked carefully, uncertain whether she would respond.
“At work,” Stacie said grimly. “I was a registered nurse in the operating room.”
“Is the hospital still standing?”
“No,” Stacie said bleakly. “It’s about five miles west of town. It was the first building the Air Force bombed once the ‘Affliction’ broke out. We thought it was contained.”
“Within the hospital building?”
“Yes.” She lapsed into a long silence and I could see the shadows of nightmarish memories flicker behind her eyes. Her mouth worked like she was chewing her lip. Then finally the tension seemed to seep from her body, until she appeared almost exhausted. “A man was brought in to the hospital,” she said at last. “He came in to the Emergency Room. No one knew what was wrong with him. He was isolated and the nurses on duty started drawing blood. The man suddenly acted like he was possessed. He bit one of the nurses.”
“You saw this?”
“No,” Stacie shook her head. “I only saw the blood. It was running in puddles across the floor when I was leaving.”
“We all did,” Stacie said with a tone that sounded like injured pride. “The police were called. The man was barricaded in a room eating the corpse of the nurse. There was blood on the walls, the floor… everywhere. The door had been locked and several of the doctors had piled chairs and tables across the hallway to keep him trapped.”
“The nurse… did you know her?”
Stacie Morton turned on me and her eyes glinted grey as the blade of a dagger. “Of course I did, Mr. Culver!” she lashed. “We all knew each other. It’s a small town – small community. Everyone knows everyone else.”
I made a gesture of contrite apology and lowered my head over my notepad, hoping she would continue. I waited for several minutes.
“When the police came they evacuated the hospital – sent everyone home,” Stacie went on eventually in the far away voice she had used when I had first met her.
“Did you know that it was the ‘Affliction’? That the man was a carrier?”
“Yes,” Stacie said. “It had been all over the news of course, right up until the transmissions ended and the world started blacking out. There were Ham radio operators… we knew the east coast was lost. We just didn’t figure the ‘Affliction’ would reach so far west – not out here…”
“But the police couldn’t contain the infected patient?”
She shook her head. “He broke out of the room and attacked two of the local officers. One was little more than a kid. They both turned, of course… and that was the beginning of the end for Riverton.”
“What happened next?” I asked in a small voice.
Stacie drew a deep breath. “We were all outside the hospital, standing behind these barricade fences that the local fire brigade had erected. Then we saw the front doors of the hospital smash open in an avalanche of glass, and all the police came out, running for their lives, turning to fire over their shoulders. It was chaos. A ripple of panic went through the crowd of bystanders. Then one of the cops went down on the lawn. An ‘Afflicted’ seized him by the ankle. The cop shot the undead from point blank range, but it was too late. The policeman had already begun to turn.”
“Everyone ran for their lives?”
“And the Air Force arrived?”
Stacie shook her head irritably. “No. That wasn’t until the next day,” she said. “When they knew the town had been completely overrun. A couple of jets flew low over the town and carpet bombed the area.”
I wrote the details down, scratching into the notepad as quickly as I could. “You and your family were lucky to survive,” I offered.
Stacie scowled. “No we weren’t,” she said bitterly. “We were prepared, Mr. Culver. Luck had nothing to do with us living through the Apocalypse. What got us through was preparation.”
I looked up from my notebook curiously. There was steel in Stacie Morton’s tone and in the way she held herself. I sensed it was best to encourage her to tell her story of survival rather than to try to steer the interview into the details that interested me. “Tell me what happened next,” I said simply. “In your own words.”
For a long contemplative moment of utter silence, Stacie Morton seemed to waver. She sighed at last and her gaze seemed to turn inwards, recalling. Remembering.