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 (9 page)

BOOK: The Scattered and the Dead (Book 1): A Post-Apocalyptic Series
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He remembered her as she was before all of this, a montage of images playing in his head with the saturation turned way up so the colors were brighter than real life.

Yellow sun shined on her face, reflected off of her hair, shadows framing her jaw on the opposite side in grays and blacks. Her jaw was distinct, feminine, striking, attractive. It made her look sophisticated somehow, intelligent, clever. When she smiled, it transformed, her chin becoming more prominent, emitting some wave of happiness into the air, making her seem a little more approachable than the sophisticated version of herself. She was smiling when they first met.

Even as she pulled on a shirt and her face was draped in t-shirt fabric, he could recognize her by her jaw alone when the fabric pulled taut enough to reveal its shape. He couldn’t believe it had just happened that way by chance and biology and genetics. Someone must have sculpted it, must have painstakingly selected the lines and forms for it to turn out with such striking character. It was the only way.

That image faded, and blue water lapped at her shins, her skin pale and smooth as always like cream. She waded out into the water, the sky gray and cloudy above them, the wind roaring all around them.

Then she stood in the kitchen with her back to him, her neck angled so her head rested beneath her shoulders as she worked to prepare a meal. As she moved to the cutting board, strands of hair shook loose from the rest, spilling from the back of her head to hang down on each side of her face. He saw her arms move, heard the knife thump out a rhythm against the wood as she chopped up some ingredient he couldn’t quite see.

He smelled her smell now, heard the rise and fall of her voice, felt the smooth and cool of her skin against his.

There were no words for the weight these memories piled on his shoulders and chest, no words to capture the sense of great fortune and misfortune he felt all at once, a mix of the best and worst luck—the best in knowing her at all, the worst in having her torn away in one swift motion, a gaping void left in her place, a negative somehow, like a black hole threatening to collapse all nearby reality.

He sat there in the kitchen, shoulders hunched, elbows resting on the corner of the table. Alone in the quiet. The weight of it stacked up on him until it became hard to breathe. He choked on the emptiness, the wind catching in his throat for no good reason. His face got all hot. He wanted a drink, but he couldn’t now. Not for a long while perhaps. He had to keep it together. For the boys.

Yes. He rubbed his eyes, willing himself to focus on the here and now. He patted a hand on the tabletop just to feel something solid, took the last sip of coffee, lukewarm now.

Weapon. He needed a weapon. At some point they had inherited an ax, but the handle snapped years ago, and he never got around to replacing it or repairing it. Still, he could probably still use the half-handled ax like a hatchet. With the reduced leverage of the short handle, he might have to hack at it a few times to finish the job, an opportunity he didn’t relish.

The other option was a sledgehammer that had been in their shed when they moved in, abandoned by the previous owners. It had hardly moved in seven and a half years. That would probably cut down on the time necessary to do the deed, pare it down to a single stroke of the hammer. On the other hand, it was heavy to the point of diminishing its mobility, making it a lot more awkward to administer than the ax, especially if the thing was moving at all.

So the same basic question remained: Chop it or bludgeon it? How could he decide something like that? How could anyone?

He fished a hand into his pocket, fingers riffling through keys until he found what he was looking for. A quarter. Fortune would decide. Heads for ax, tails for hammer.

He flicked his thumb and the coin tumbled in the air, paused a moment at the apex of its arc and spiraled down. It slapped the table, bounced three times and then gyrated a while before it finally settled down enough that he could see the face of it.

Tails.

So it was decided.

He stood, his knees creaking, his mouth dry. He moved to the back door. An odd awareness of his surroundings came over him, like he would remember this moment, this walk out to the shed, forever. The way the morning sunlight slanted into the windows, looking bright but not quite all the way warm yet. The sound of his footsteps, the clap of the impact followed by the floorboards faintly squealing from somewhere below. The cool of the door knob against the palm of his hand.

He pushed the screen door and passed through the doorway, the chilly air surrounding him now. He inhaled, and the cold shocked the flesh inside his nostrils, stinging. He opened his mouth, and his gasp and ensuing breath coiled into swirls of steam in the air in front of him. Too damn cold, especially for May.

He shuffled toward the shed. His feet crunched on the grass. The sun sat just above the treeline in the distance, the ball of light unable to muster enough warmth to keep the chill at bay.

His fingers undid the latch and he gave the shed door three tugs before it screeched and came unstuck from the frame. He stepped into the building. It took his eyes a second to adjust to the the lack of light. Once they did, he could make out the handle protruding from the pile of things in the rear left corner. The hammer was where it was supposed to be. He picked his way past a lawnmower and snowblower, and he shifted a few boxes out of the way. There. He gripped the handle, lifted it, felt the heft of it in his mitts.

He tried to imagine the swing. He could muster a sense of how it would feel in his hands, the strain in his arms reaching the pinnacle of the swing and then the power of the downward stroke as gravity chipped in to hurry its descent. He couldn’t picture it, though, couldn’t picture her as the object of his aggression... or the thing that used to be her. In his mind, he could only imagine a pumpkin on the other end. A jack-o’-lantern bursting into a mushy orange spray.

He stood there for a long moment with the head of the hammer hovering at ankle height. His heart hammered in his chest, and he could feel the throb of the blood in his ears. He felt a tingle in his eyelids, an almost electric sting along the perimeter of his vision that made it seem like he needed to turn the brightness of reality down. His mind was blank. Empty.

Finally, he shook his head, turned and walked back over the grass through the back door and into the kitchen. He carried the hammer in front of him, holding it out in an awkward dangle like something he was loathe to touch or maybe a little bit frightened of.

He opened the basement door and flipped the light switch. The fluorescent bulbs flared and brightened. He listened for a moment. Silence. That was good... right? Somehow the quiet made him uneasy, though, and the overwhelming urge to close the basement door and deal with this later buzzed up and down his limbs.

He brought the sledgehammer up and let the head lean over his shoulder like a baseball player waiting in the on-deck circle. That’d be easier to manage during his descent. Again, he listened. Still nothing.

Screw it. Enough pussyfooting, already.

He started down the stairs, scowling and shaking his head a little for the first few steps. His disgust with himself faded as he got closer, though. He needed to focus.

He moved with care now, each step revealing a little more of the basement floor below. Two steps shy of the bottom, the chair came into focus. Part of the chair, anyway. It had come apart. The back and seat were still connected, but the front legs were gone. More importantly, the seat was empty. She was… He corrected himself.
It
was gone.

A scraping gasp made the hair on the back of his neck prick up. Then he realized that it came from his own mouth. Shit.

The main chamber of the basement stood empty in front of him. Motionless and silent aside from the flicker of the fluorescent bulb over the canvas chair he’d sat in the night before. The rest of the basement remained out of his view, though. He’d need to take a sharp turn upon hitting the floor to get a look.

Sweat greased his palms and sluiced over his forehead, soaking his brow. His heart beat like a kick drum about to cave in, every thump throttling his ribcage.

Again, the impulse to run up the stairs came over him. He could feel it like a fiery itch in his legs that he could only scratch by turning about and sprinting.

But no. Enough of this. No more fear. He had the hammer. Just two more steps and he could see what he was up against.

His foot lifted off of the step in slow motion, heel then toe. The wood sighed as his weight shifted, and he froze in that position for a couple of seconds, like a flamingo with one leg up. Nothing happened, so his motion resumed, the foot sinking down to the next step, twisting a little as it settled in without sound. Now the other heel and toe lifted, hip rotating forward, foot nestling down on the next step.

One step to go. This was it. He closed his eyes, sucked in a long, deep breath, and before he could exhale, he felt icy fingers grab his hand. He opened his eyes, tried to free his hand to be able to use both arms to bring the hammer down. Her grip held, though, and he only succeeded in pulling her closer. Wrenching against her hold again, he lost his balance and crashed backward onto the stairs, the hammer falling away and landing beneath him.

Now her torso lurched forward, her head bobbed. He tried to scramble backward, elbows and hands pistoning, scrabbling along the hard edges of the stairs, but it was too late. Her face got close. The lips brushed just shy of his wrist. Her hair swung down, concealing his hand from view, and then he felt the cold teeth pierce his flesh.

 

 

 

Travis

 

Hillsboro, Michigan

46 days after

 

Sean sat on the swing next to him. They rocked and watched the daylight hitting the street swell and wane over and over as clouds passed in front of the sun. The day drained from yellow to gray and back before them.

All he wanted was for Sean to leave, which he realized held some irony. They were the last two people in town, the population whittled from 6,600 to two, and he just wanted to be rid of the guy.

“Saw raiders at the supermarket again last night,” Sean said. “Took a look after they moved on. Looks like they finally got into the pharmacy over there. Too bad. I was hoping to stockpile some antibiotics, you know?”

“Yeah, that sucks.”

Sean tilted his head at Travis, squinting.

“Did you happen to get any?” he said. “Antibiotics, I mean?”

“Me? Nah.”

The squint intensified for a second and let up. Sean looked out toward the street.

“Damn raiders. They’ll tear you a new one,” he said. He said that a lot. He seemed to either not quite grasp the meaning of this idiom or love it so much that he tried to shoehorn it into every vaguely applicable situation. Travis found both possibilities equally amusing.

He took a drink and Sean followed suit, both lifting jars to their faces, tipping them. They drank sun tea. Lukewarm.

It was a booze day, but Travis didn’t want to drink in front of his uninvited guest, didn’t want to tip off the mountain of booze and pills and cigarettes he was sitting on. He didn’t know if this was out of pure greed or a sense that something like that could come between them. There were no laws out here now. If you wanted something enough, you could take it or even kill for it without much chance of consequences. Travis had something he knew people would kill for. A lot of it. He doubted Sean would be the person to do so, but still...

“You think you’ll ever leave here?” Sean said.

“I don’t know. You?”

“Think I might have to eventually,” he said. “I’ve got enough to get through this fall and winter, but even if I got a kick ass garden going next spring, I don’t know if I could build up enough food for another Michigan winter, you know what I’m sayin’? I mean, sure we could go door to door to scavenge more canned goods, maybe even a lot, but a lot has been looted, and at some point those will run out, too. It just seems smart to go south sooner than later, you know?”

“Yeah, maybe. I guess I’m not worried about it yet.”

“Hell, you don’t worry about much, do you?”

Travis shrugged.

“That’s cool, though,” Sean said. “I wish I didn’t worry so much. You’d think keeping busy most of the day would prevent anxiety, but it sure doesn’t. I can tell you that.”

He wondered what Sean even did all day. Dudley Do-Right-ing must get exhausting, right?

Just leave so I can drink, dickface.

“Hey, though, here’s another reason to get out of here,” Sean said. “Girls. There are no girls here, man. Not one. The end of the world is a frickin’ sausage party, at least in this town.”

“That’s true.”

“I mean, we’ve got a lot on our plates at the moment, but that’s going to become a problem,” Sean said. “I haven’t gone this long without getting laid since middle school, man.”

Christ, what a douche, Travis thought. And a liar. Sean was one of those guys that had no idea how to talk to girls. He endlessly described things that happened in video games or professional wrestling matches to them. They might even be interested in him, but he’d squander it by being horribly, horribly dull or even outright annoying. There was no way he’d been with many girls.

BOOK: The Scattered and the Dead (Book 1): A Post-Apocalyptic Series
10.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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