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 (3 page)

BOOK: The Scattered and the Dead (Book 1): A Post-Apocalyptic Series
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“24 to 36 hours,” she said. “That’s how long it takes from bite to death. A few cases have been reported making it a little longer, but based on the way my wounds look, I won’t make it through the night.”

“What if you’re wrong?” he said. “I could call the sitter and take you to the emergency room, get a doctor to look you up and down. Maybe you just need some antibiotics to clear up that infected stuff swirling off of the wound. That’s all.”

“Antibiotics won’t do shit,” she said. “You’ve seen the stuff on TV? Well, that’s the edited version. That’s what the government wants you to see. The internet has the real shit. A bunch of photos of bites that look just like mine, yeah? All those people die. And they don’t just die. They come back. I will turn like they did. Like Carlos.”

Mitch realized he was holding his breath and made himself inhale. Then he took a big drink of booze.

“I don’t want that,” she said. “I want to die in my own home, on my terms. We’ll do it in the basement, I figure.”

“You know I can’t do that,” he said.

“You have to,” she said. “I can’t do it myself.”

It took him a second to catch her meaning. For her, suicide meant an eternity in hell.

“Think about it from my perspective, Jan,” he said. “If I do it, I’ll wonder forever if maybe I was wrong. Maybe you could’ve pulled through or something.”

She pressed her lips together, and wrinkles surrounded her mouth. This expression always surfaced when something wasn’t to her liking.

“Fine. You’re right,” she said. “I know what we can do.”

Mitch plugged the tip of the bottle into his face and drank long and deep.

“After this, you have to get out of here, out away from the city. Pack up everything you can and find a place away from everything. A place fit for living without electricity and all. A place with a well with a hand pump and a fire place or wood burning stove or something like that. A chimney, you know? My parents’ cabin on the lake would work, maybe. I can’t remember if it has a hand pump.”

“I think it does.”

“No matter how all of this plays out, you have to take care of those boys,” she said. “Because I can’t help them anymore.”

Tears welled in her eyes. He watched her face shrivel as she fought to hold them back, her bottom lip shimmying like it always did when she tried to avoid crying. Mitch could tell it wasn’t going to work, though. Not this time. He moved close to hug her.

 

 

 

Baghead

 

Rural Oklahoma

9 years, 126 days after

 

He followed the dirt trail across the field, the grass reaching dewy blades out to smear their wet against the ankles of his pants at every opportunity. Clouds of dust kicked up with each step so it looked like his tattered shoes were smoking, and his head stayed angled toward the ground like it always did, eyes peeking through eye holes to watch the earth slide by below. The strip of dirt cut a diagonal way toward the village, a gash through the weeds where feet had pounded the life out of the plants.

He didn’t mind walking. He’d done it plenty. For where he was headed next, he would need a car, he knew, though, and he would need gas. You had to know somebody to make that happen. You had to talk to people. And so he would.

He thought about dead mice as he walked, the decapitated ones that littered the ground outside of his car. The gray cat always left them there. After he’d eaten the heads, of course. Sometimes the cat even managed to get one into the car, climbing through the hole in the rear windshield that served as his cat door with a carcass pinned between his teeth. He wondered if his cat would still be around, still sleep in the car with him, by the time he got back here. If he ever did.

 

When he didn’t dream of the dead cities, he dreamed of women. Nothing sexual, at least not usually. Just variations of the same dream over and over. He’d be staying in a cabin somewhere with a girl, and she’d get to asking about his hood. And in the dreams, he could peel the fabric from his head to find his old face underneath. Clear, clean flesh restored, filling him with an almost religious feeling, like something one would feel upon witnessing the resurrection of a dead child. He’d stare in the mirror, tilting his head to look upon himself at every angle, overwhelmed with relief, overwhelmed with the sense of his self made whole once more.

And when her fingers reached out to brush along his jaw, he felt the smooth skin of all of femininity. But that’s what always woke him up, what made him realize that this was a dream, that it couldn’t possibly be real.

Reality wasn’t feeling whole, he knew too well. It was the other kind of hole. It was a hole you never stopped falling into.

 

The bar was mostly empty this early. Light flickered behind the frosted glass of the sconces along the walls, the flame trying and failing to fight off the gloom in here that persisted even in broad daylight. Day or night, it felt like walking into the shade of a thick patch of woods to enter this space. Dark and dank.

He stopped a couple of paces inside the door, glanced around the room, examining things in silhouette, waiting for his eyes to adjust. He saw the shape of the bartender standing over the bar, the flickering light reflecting off of the glossy wood countertop before him.

He saw a figure a couple of feet to his left that he first thought to be a man and now believed to be a coat rack draped with a couple of jackets. He moved into the room, striding down two steps and weaving around a couple of tables on his way to the bar.

The bartender didn’t look up. He never looked up, at least not at the bagged head that stood in front of him now. Lots of people were like that. They didn’t like looking at his baghead, at his one messed up eye visible through the hole. He thought it looked insect-like in some way, the bad eye.

“Guy in the corner was looking for you,” the bartender said. He flicked his head to the left, eyelids fluttering, though he never looked up.

Baghead turned and headed that way. Color and contrast began to repopulate his vision, rising up to replace the shaded tones. The tables and chairs came fully into focus to his immediate left and right. Looking beyond them, a man sat in the corner, heavy stubble shrouding his jaw, shaggy hair hanging in his eyes. The man stared straight at Baghead as he approached, a half smile curling the corners of his mouth. He brought a cigarette to his lips, the smoke spiraling through the candlelight over his head.

As the gap between them whittled down to arm’s length, the man spoke.

“I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’re the guy I’m supposed to meet here. The one who signs his letters ‘Baghead.’”

 

 

 

Mitch

 

Bethel Park, Pennsylvania

43 days before

 

Mitch got the kids fed and put them to bed early. He thought shock must have fully set in by now. He didn’t panic. Instead he watched the world through a lens adjusted to a soft focus, just on the edge of getting blurry. He stared off into emptiness, nodding periodically while his younger son, Matt, described the plot of an episode of Sponge Bob. He supposed the whiskey helped keep things that way, helped keep reality at arm’s length.

Janice slept on the couch through this process, and she still slept there afterward while he watched TV from the recliner next to her. She hadn’t wanted to sleep, had fought it, but he coaxed her into relaxing for a few minutes, and she passed out. She needed it. Even if she was right and she didn’t have a lot of time, she needed it.

He flipped through the channels. Most every station spouted grisly details about people shitting and coughing up blood until they croaked all across the southeastern United States. CDC people rehashed the same talking points as always: blah blah ebola-like symptoms mixed with flu-like symptoms, blah blah reasonably contained, blah blah no cause for panic, blah blah wash your hands. That was his favorite. Wash your hands. Like if you start hacking out your insides, just spritz a little water on your hands. Should clear things right up.

Janice’s shoulders jerked, and she moaned faintly in her sleep. As his eyes swiveled to her, his mind lurched back to that moment when he walked into the kitchen and she dumped all of this on him. He still couldn’t quite grasp it. The concept was too big. His brain couldn’t digest it all at once. Not only would his wife be dead in a few hours, he would need to kill her.

What the hell? Kill her? But then... Maybe that would be better than bleeding out through the eyes, ears, nose and rectum. That was how they described bleeding out the ass on the news. “Rectal bleeding.” Or maybe it was better than...

Christ on a crutch.

He didn’t want to think about it, so he stopped. He clenched the tip of the bottle between his teeth and tipped it back for a long guzzle. The whiskey was almost gone now, but there was an old bottle of rum under the sink as well, a few beers in the fridge.

His gaze fell back to the TV where a government official spoke directly into the camera, assuring everyone this wouldn’t spread to the rest of the country.

Right. It’s all sunshine and cookies from now until the end of time. Definitely no rectal bleeding for the lot of us.

Mitch turned the volume down and watched the images flicker on the screen in total silence. The end of the world was happening, and he was watching it on network television. As reality TV goes, this wasn’t very entertaining. He’d rate it a 3 out of 10 on IMDB so far.

Janice’s ribcage expanded and contracted on the couch in slow motion. She was all the way out. He wondered if she’d be mad that he let her sleep. Maybe it would be best to wake her up before long here.

He remembered how things used to be, when they first met. Before life became a blur of kids and work and asses parked on the couch all evening every evening, they’d been happy. Life had been exciting and strange. Every experience was new.

They went to film festivals and concerts. They were still young enough to seek out connections to art and culture in earnest. As adults, movies and music felt more like commodities than anything human or honest that meant much to anyone. But when they were young, they were on fire to figure out the world around them. They wanted to connect to it however they could, to connect to each other however they could.

He remembered that after a film festival in Chicago, they wound up parking behind an abandoned barbecue place and fucking in the back seat of the car. He was 23. They had been together for a year and a half. Thinking back on it now, it felt like those were two different people than the ones in this room.

Now? Now he was watching TV. Even though his wife had something like 10 hours to live, he was watching TV. But then what else was he supposed to? He thought maybe that was how life worked. You went through it with a feeling like you should be doing something important, but you could never quite figure out what that was, so you watched TV instead.

He rose from the recliner and placed a hand on her shoulder. He thought perhaps mere contact would wake her, but it didn’t, so he gave her upper arm a shake. Her eyelids fluttered and opened, and her head jerked upright.

“You let me sleep,” she said. Her voice sounded thick and tired, though she didn’t sound as angry as he expected.

“I figured you could use the rest,” he said.

“How long has it been?” she said. “You know what? It doesn’t matter.”

She hesitated for a long moment, craning her neck to look around as though something interesting was happening on the ceiling.

“It’s time,” she said.

Mitch mopped the back of his wrist over his lips, eying the empty bottle on the end table a few paces away.

“Already?” he said.

“It’s time.”

 

 

 

Baghead

 

Rural Oklahoma

9 years, 126 days after

 

“Wait until you see my car, Bags,” Delfino said as they circled out behind the bar. “It’s a piece of art. A big old tank, man. Older than you or me, but it runs like a dream. A wet dream at that. Heh.”

Again dust kicked up with every step they took, the land out here a mix of sand and gravel with the periodic weed sprouting out. The car he slept in sat near the river, where there was at least a little green around. Out this way, it was pretty barren. Pretty brown.

They rounded the stucco corner of the building, moving into the dirt lot out back. Delfino didn’t need to point out which car he meant. There was only one vehicle parked here, a boxy 1970’s beast of a sedan. It looked less like a piece of art and more like a piece of shit, he thought. Windshield cracked down the middle and spattered with pebble wounds, fenders all rusted out. Two creases gouged the passenger side from front to back where it looked like the car had dragged along a fire hydrant or something. He couldn’t tell if it was off white or just dirty. The thing was possibly worse looking than the Ford Focus he’d been sleeping in, though the tires weren’t flat, at least.

“This is the classic,” Delfino said, tapping the hood. “1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88. Hop on in.”

Bags opened the door, and it sank a little as he pulled it toward himself, pulling half out of the hinges.

“What’s with the door?” he said.

“Don’t sweat that. You’ve just gotta, like, lift it as you pull it closed.”

BOOK: The Scattered and the Dead (Book 1): A Post-Apocalyptic Series
11.45Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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