Read The Scattered and the Dead (Book 1): A Post-Apocalyptic Series Online

Authors: Tim McBain,L.T. Vargus

Tags: #post-apocalyptic

The Scattered and the Dead (Book 1): A Post-Apocalyptic Series (10 page)

BOOK: The Scattered and the Dead (Book 1): A Post-Apocalyptic Series
11.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Not that Travis had acquired a lot of sexual experience, either. He’d had sex with three girls. Two of them he’d known throughout school and had long term relationships with. The third was a black girl he met at a party who was inexplicably really into him. She seemed ashamed the next day. Maybe they all were to varying degrees, but the party girl made no attempt to conceal it. He also might have gotten a blowjob from a stripper at Isaac’s bachelor party. He didn’t remember it very well, but someone made a vague joke about it one time, and when he thought about it, it seemed like a thing that possibly happened somewhere in the drunken blur.

“Seems like you’re doing better, though,” Sean said. “Those first few days were rough, you know? I kind of thought...”

Travis avoided eye contact as Sean trailed off. He stared straight down at the planks of wood under Sean’s sandals, noting the green shade the wood was taking on as the weather wore it down and stained it, wondering if he should try to slap a coat of that waterseal stuff on there to protect it while he still could.

“Look, I kind of thought you weren’t going to make it is all,” Sean said. “Maybe I’m full of shit, but it just seemed like you were going this way.”

All Travis wanted to do was look away, but he couldn’t. His vision panned along with the movement of Sean’s hand as it rose to his head, shaped itself into a finger gun and fired into his open mouth. Sean rocked his head back, his eyes staring up at the chipped paint on the wood overhead, holding still in that head-blown-off position to complete the suicidal pantomime.

Go.

The fuck.

Away.

Travis didn’t say anything. He looked at the house across the street, wished there were some way he could teleport there, some way he could will himself into being alone.

Sean popped up from his death pose, and Travis couldn’t help but see his massive smile out of the corner of his eye. Sean laughed and wiggled his feet in a way that made his sandals slap against the porch a few times.

“Hey, I’m sorry. Come on, though,” Sean said. “That was funny as hell, and you know it.”

 

 

 

Erin

 

Presto, Pennsylvania

29 days after

 

As her torso skimmed over the back of the couch, Erin wondered how her life had led to this, this belly flop onto a dead man’s sofa. Even when she was Izzy’s age, when most kids have a touch of daredevil to them, she wouldn’t go down the playground slide face first.

Izzy stood on her tip-toes and poked her head through the open window, whispering.

“Hey, Erin.”

“What?”

“Watch out for zombies.”

Izzy’s grin was punctuated by the missing teeth on her top jaw.

Erin squeezed her eyes shut. She’d told Izzy to quit with the zombie stuff. Which had been a mistake. Want an eight-year-old to never quit doing something? Ask them not to do it.

She rolled off the couch and onto the carpet, trying to channel her inner ninja. Quiet. Calm. Not scared shitless. She wiped her hands on her jeans before picking up her only weapon -- a hammer. A real ninja would probably have some kind of sweet sword. A katana, or whatever. Also real ninjas probably didn’t get sweaty palms.

She took two steps, brushing past a recliner. She glanced down and gasped.

Izzy thrust her head into the living room.

“What happened?”

Erin waggled the hammer at her, shooing her back out of the window.

“Nothing. Stay there.”

The corpse lounged in the chair, stretched out like it was just getting settled in to watch the big game. The flesh was almost completely gone. What was left behind was just skin and bones. Literally.

Erin pushed out a quavering breath. Not the first body she’d seen. And it definitely wouldn’t be the last.

She inched forward, hunched over in a defensive position, reaching a hallway with three doors. She paused after every step, trying to listen over the
kerthump-kerthump-kerthump
of her pulse. Flattening herself against the wall, she pressed her fingers against the first door. It was like being on the world’s worst game show:
Johnny, tell us what’s behind Door Number One!

Brand new car or brain-eating monster?

She pushed the door open, hammer clutched in front of her, like that would protect her if a zombie came charging out, teeth bared, intent on taking a big old bite out of her noggin.

Now that she thought about it, she was less ninja and more like a squirrel running into the middle of the road and then stopping to face the car bearing down on it. Staring at the grill, probably thinking to itself, “Oh fuck.”

Lucky for her, Door Number One was an empty bathroom.

She took another breath and moved on to Door Number Two. As this door swung open, she couldn’t help but imagine the homeowner shotgun-blasting her in the face. But this room -- a bedroom -- was empty, too. Same for the office across the hall. Just like every other house they’d been through since they left the FEMA camp, this house was vacant.

Unless you counted the dead.

Back in the living room, she addressed the stiff on the Barcalounger.

The skin was a dark, mottled brown, dried out like leather. And yet so thin she could see through it in spots. She thought of the crispy brown shell left behind after a cicada molts. Maybe that’s what happened to this guy. He didn’t die. He just shed his old skin and left this behind.

The hair was gone, and so was the nose. The eyes were just empty sockets, but she could still clearly make out ears. The mouth gaped, showing off a set of perfectly straight teeth. Good genes or braces, Erin would never know.

It wore a red shirt and jean shorts, both stained from when the body released its juices. Like a Porterhouse on a hot grill.

She almost retched at the thought of meat in the presence of this stench. Meat was actually one of the few things she didn’t miss from Before. Not that their diet was completely devoid of meat, she supposed. The cans of soup had those little gray gristle chunks floating amongst the noodles and broth the color of radioactive waste. Technically chicken.

In the beef stew, a darker shade of gray gristle chunks waded in a pool of gravy, mingling with mushy carrots and potatoes. Supposedly beef.

And then there were the Spaghettios, some of which had the nutritious addition of franks! She didn’t even know what kind of meat those spongy pink tube slices were claiming to be. She probably didn’t want to know.

It was all for the best anyway, because there wasn’t any fresh meat. Unless she wanted to learn to hunt and butcher her own. And she did not, thank you.

She got another whiff of death. It wasn’t really the time or the place to be thinking about food, really. And yet food was the whole point of her being there.

Before she headed to the kitchen, Erin grabbed an afghan from the back of the couch. The corpse’s shirt said, “I’d Hit That,” with a drawing of a golf ball on a tee. Add some sunglasses and a can of beer in a Palm Beach koozie, and it could pass as a bad Halloween prop. She tried her best to keep Izzy from seeing the bodies, fake-looking or not. The bonus here was that she also protected Izzy from seeing that stupid shirt.

She unfurled the blanket like a flag and draped it over the remains, then signaled that Izzy could come in. Izzy squatted on the windowsill and cannonballed onto the couch, plugging her nose because of the smell.

“Hey, Erin.”

She started almost every sentence this way, demanding Erin’s full attention before she’d actually start the conversation.

“What?”

“Do you think zombies poop?”

“What?”

“They have to, if you think about it,” Izzy continued. “Otherwise they’d keep eating brains, and it would keep building up and building up, until eventually they just exploded.”

Erin just shook her head. Crossing by the lumpy form under the blanket, she noticed one hand protruding from the edge, the bones looking more like a claw than anything human.

The thing that struck her over and over was how much they all looked the same. Sometimes the clothes tipped off the gender and maybe the age. Like in this case, she’d guess: male, 45 years old and up.

But for the most part, it didn’t matter if they had been skinny or fat, black or white, Catholic or Muslim, gay or straight: they all looked the same once they were dead and rotted. It made all the crap that happened in the world -- politics and war and bigotry of any kind -- seem extra stupid and pointless. Now that the world had ended, most stuff from Before seemed stupid and pointless.

Even the little things. Like how she used to spend half an hour on her hair every morning. Washing, blow-drying, flat-ironing. All to get her already-straight-hair a little extra straight. Now she barely looked in the mirror in the mornings.

Or how her mom had a conniption fit if she got a C on her report card. Because all that Trigonometry was really coming in handy in the post-apocalypse. She could have done with a little less tangent and cosecant and a little more How to Build a Fire.

How to Forage for Food.

How to Kill a Zombie.

She whipped through the cabinets in the kitchen, finding a few ketchup packets and a box of strawberry-banana sugar-free Jell-o. She turned to the sack of bones on the recliner.

“Congratulations, sir. You’ve just won the Worst Food Stash Ever award. The prize is a box of sugar-free Jell-o, which I will accept on your behalf.”

Plastic crinkled as she pulled a shopping bag from her pocket and shook it open. She plunked the so-called food into the bag, feeling like Charlie Brown with his trick-or-treat bag full of rocks.

She reminded herself that they didn’t actually need the food. They had a pretty good cache back at the house. But it was mostly beans. And she hated beans.

As she passed the lounger, she noticed a box next to the chair. It was red and yellow and proclaimed, “26 Sticks Inside!”

It looked like she and Izzy would soon be snapping into roughly 26 Slim Jims. Hurray.

At least it wasn’t more beans.

Her lips pressed together in a line as she read the description of the product: Mild Smoked Meat Snack. They weren’t even allowed to call it beef jerky.

“I spoke too soon, sir. Obviously you were a man of impeccable taste.”

She tucked the box into the shopping bag with the rest of the haul and made for the door. Now that would have been a useful class: How to Survive the Apocalypse with Nothing but a Box of Slim Jims.

 

 

 

Travis

 

Hillsboro, Michigan

47 days after

 

The bike juddered between his legs, his knees absorbing the shock and jolt of every rock he rode over. And then the tires moved back onto asphalt, the ride went back to being smooth, and he sat once more on the bike seat. There were cars piled up here and there on the road, places where he had to ride into the rocks to get around them.

It was Sunday. No booze. No weed. No pills. It was his off day. He had a rotation.

It was unseasonably warm. Some last gasp of summer or something, Travis thought. The sun was a ball of fire in the sky, pushing its heat down onto the back of his neck. He felt like a paper tray of chicken nuggets resting under those infrared lamps in the high school cafeteria. He had sweat through his t-shirt, and the moist fabric clung to his back. If he’d known it would be this hot today, he wouldn’t have worn black.

Another group of cars cluttered the street, front ends bashed in and stuck together in some permanent four-way car-kiss. He veered off of the road again to get around them, droplets of sweat gliding down his back when the bumps shook them loose.

From what he and Sean could tell, the EMPs had knocked some of the newest models of cars out—the ones with the electronics and microchips and such—which, along with the general panic, led to a bunch of traffic jams and wrecks that day. He thought the burst of energy would render most every car useless like it did to computers, but apparently not. From what Sean had told him, and he’d apparently confirmed the validity, some of these could have the electronics reset merely by unplugging the battery for 30 seconds and plugging it back in. The ones from the late 90s and early 2000’s could be salvaged in many cases, along with anything older. Anything newer than that had fried chips and motherboards, though. They were all junk. Either way, nobody was going to come along and clear all of the streets for him, so Travis stuck to his trusty bicycle for now.

He rode on. No destination in mind. Just a ride. A task. A movement. A stretching of the legs. A rapid beating of the heart. Fresh air pumped into the lungs. Something to pass the time, to fill the time, to kill the time. Something to do to feel human in an empty world.

He pedaled harder and felt the warmth in his gut, the fire in his legs, the perspiration pouring from his chest and back. An idea popped into his mind, a fully formed thought that seemed to take shape in his head all at once as though broadcast from somewhere outside of himself. He thought maybe his life wasn’t so different in some weird way, some fundamental way. He pedaled hard with no place to go. Isn’t that what he did before? Isn’t that what he’d always done? He toiled without purpose. He spun in place, never went anywhere. He’d never found a passion, a sense of place, a guiding light. He just was.

BOOK: The Scattered and the Dead (Book 1): A Post-Apocalyptic Series
11.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Way of Escape by Ann Fillmore
Things We Never Say by Sheila O'Flanagan
Wild Blood by Nancy A. Collins
4 Impression of Bones by Melanie Jackson
Bitten by Cupid by Lynsay Sands, Jaime Rush, Pamela Palmer
Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand
The Valley of the Wendigo by J. R. Roberts