Authors: William Allen
Walking in the Rain
Copyright September 25, 2015
All Rights Reserved
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not in any way to be interpreted as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations is entirely coincidental and totally fictional. Totally, man.
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
Walking in the Rain-Surviving the Fall
Home Fires Burning (Book Two)
Hard Rain Falling (Book Three)
Hunger Driven, A Zombie Short Story
A Feast for Crows (forthcoming)
As always, this book is dedicated to my family. Fedra, keep on trying, honey…
A Special Thanks to M.C. Allen, Clarke Ferber, Lizah Martin and Beth Golic for their tireless dedication and willingness to help out as crash test dummies for this book.
Getting shot sucks. That first night home, I slept like a baby, which for me meant fretful and unable to get comfortable. At least I didn’t piss in the bed like a real baby. My mattress felt too small, and after all these months, I just could not get used to sleeping alone. I missed Amy snuggled up next to me, but by mutual agreement, we decided to try to abide by the house rules for now. My mother was still trying to get her head around our announced engagement.
That I’d arrived home unheralded, back from the dead, was a pretty big shock for my family to endure. That I’d picked up a fiancé—and a whole other family—was added to the mix. At least my dad and Uncle Billy took these things in stride. My mom, not so much. As for my sister, Paige, she just kept staring at me like I was a ghost. Or the boogieman.
I looked at my watch and saw it was nearly 4:00 a.m. That was enough sleep, I decided, and crept out of the bed. Part of it was a desire not to wake Scott or Alex, both snoring away on inflatable mattresses on the floor. Alex, who was the son of Isaac Sheldon, and one of my closest friends, had been staying here most nights to lend an extra hand, and trigger finger, should the homestead come under renewed attack. His dad, mom, and little sister were staying at the other house, and I nearly broke into tears when I saw them all together.
The other part of my care was in deference to the ache that still flared up when I stretched the healing wound in my abdomen. Lord, and I thought it took a while to recover from the little love tap to my trauma plate back at the farm. Live and learn, as my father always said.
Dressed in saggy basketball shorts and a tee shirt, I was presentable enough to hit the bathroom down the hall, and I proceeded to do just that. I tried to ignore how my once comfortable clothes still hung off my gaunt body like a tent. I was never chubby, exactly, but the months on the road carved off any extra body fat and not a small portion of muscle as well. Mom tried to hide her shock at my appearance, but I could read the look in her eye. Good thing she didn’t see me when we reached the Keller farm.
Once my bladder was empty, I spent a moment in the dark washing my hands and enjoying the convenience of running water. More often than not in the last month, I’d enjoyed this luxury, but rarely in privacy. Potable water that wasn’t boiled over a hasty wood fire was a treasure most pre-lights-out Americans never thought about.
Back out in the hall, I felt my legs carrying me down the way. I passed Paige’s room, where she was most likely dreaming of evicting all the squatters who just took up residence in her room. Amy, Lori, and Summer were sleeping on the floor, a temporary accommodation, and no doubt, my sister would be eager to rid her private domain of these strange interlopers. That would happen soon enough, if my parents opened up the rest of the accommodations in the house under the hill.
I wanted to peek in and check on Amy, but I respected my sister’s space enough to forgo the urge. Before I left for Chicago, I was accustomed to my little sister’s frequent efforts to antagonize me. Since becoming a teenager, Paige seemed to have turned into a shrieking, scolding nuisance. Yesterday, though, she just spent a lot of time staring at me, her face a mask of concern. Whatever caused this change in attitude, I didn’t want to upset the balance at the moment.
, I thought and proceeded on through the living room and out the heavy, metal front door. The earth-sheltered, two-story house was built to my father’s security-conscious specifications, which meant extra-thick brick and masonry construction for the walls that projected out from the artificial hill. Actually, two sets of block, with a layer of compacted earth in between. Rebar and metal reinforcements ran all through the block, and a reinforced, single-seam metal roof sat on top. Dad was paranoid, but also proven to be a bit of a prophet. This home, at least, survived the pulse without a hiccup in the electronics. Just like I had predicted.
On the screened-in front porch, I found one of the rocking chairs to be occupied, and I was shocked to see my father sitting there. Like he was waiting for me. “How’s the gut?” he asked softly.
“Hurts, but I’ll be fine. What are you doing out here?”
I saw the silhouette shrug. “I couldn’t sleep either. Not too long, anyway. Been like this since the lights went out. You know, just too much to worry about.”
I understood. The attack that claimed my grandfather two months ago had not been the first or last time the homestead had been under fire. “Tell me how Grandpa died,” I said, not really wanting to know but feeling the need anyway.
“I’ll trade you. You tell me what the hell is really going on out there, and I’ll give you the details of how Pops died. We’ve been stuck here since the event happened, mostly. I check on the neighbors, saw Paul in town that one time, just after what happened with Pops, and that’s about it. What I’m hearing on the radio has me wondering if I was paranoid enough before the lights went out.”
“Truck not working?”
“Of course it’s working,” Dad said with a wry chuckle. “Tractors, too. Billy’s Harley still runs like a top. Plus, the truck Mike and his family showed up in. The problem is we just don’t have the manpower to leave here for long. We got a lot of trash drifting through, and we have to stay on guard all the time.”
“Yeah, we had that problem, too, at the farm. The Keller farm, I mean.”
“You mentioned them. Your girl, Amy, did too. They took care of you?” my father asked.
Once all the crying and carrying on had settled down the day before, we all sat down for an early meal while I related the outline of my trip. Several times, I saw Amy or Scott start to add something, some detail I’d glossed over, but after the third or fourth time, I gave them a warning look—they let
tell the story. Simple, straightforward, and bloodless. I’d explained the bullet holes and other injuries as simply “things that happened along the way.”
“Yes, sir, they did. We helped their youngest, their only daughter, and her husband and daughter get to the family farm, and they invited us to stay awhile. So we stuck around, helped out, and that’s when we met Lori and later, Summer.”
“So is anybody going to come looking for those vehicles we hid in the barn?” Dad asked pointedly. He knew my story left out a ton of stuff. I really didn’t know where to begin explaining all that had really happened but figured the vehicles would be a good place to start.
“The Humvee is a loaner, all legal and everything. Colonel in charge of one brigade of the Arkansas National Guard signed it out to me. Got the M-240B from an Oklahoma National Guard captain, but I think that is more of a ‘fell off the back of the truck’ kind of thing. I guess you could say those were in payment for services. I have a contract and everything. And Colonel Hotchkins even wrote me a nice letter explaining the Hummer.”
And that was true, too. I still carried my important papers around in a sealed plastic bag, just in case.
“Were those the same services that got you shot?” Dad asked, dubiously.
“No, sir. I got that one on my own time. Just went to check on Lori and Summer’s parents when we got a chance, there in McAlester. We got ambushed as soon as we got out of the Suburban. Well, I got shot later, but that’s how the action started. The doctor at the armory patched me up and did the same for Summer. Amy’s vest took a few hits, but that wound on her head…” I looked down. This was not how I wanted to get into that subject.
“So you somehow convinced a bird colonel to lend you a Humvee, in a world where transport is awful scarce? That must have taken some doing is all I’m saying. How about the Suburban?”
“No, that was a pure battlefield pick-up, as you might say. Homeland guys lit up our convoy outside Muscogee on I-40. I returned the favor and got their ride. As for the Hummer, I think the colonel took a personal interest in our case.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Because his son would have been about my age if he had lived.”
I gave my father a short rundown on the rumored details of Colonel Hotchkins’s exit from the Regular Army and my supposition about his son. I told him about seeing the family pictures in the colonel’s office, including those of a son, and that at some point, the son stopped showing up in the photos. And the smiles I saw in the later photographs looked strained.
Dad grunted and stroked his beard. “I just can’t see an angle for this colonel of yours. Why did he even bother with you guys? Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad he did. Real glad. I just don’t like the idea of recruiting children soldiers. Saw too much of that overseas.”
I sighed, suddenly tired of trying to play nice with my words. Dad would either get it, or not. Despite all he’d seen here at the ranch, he was still not grasping the fundamental change. That country, that world, he inhabited before, was all gone. Died when the lights went out and people started to get hungry.
“You wanted to know how bad things are out there, Dad? I’ve seen the crucified bodies and listened to men and women I couldn’t help as they were tortured to death for sport. The random, casual murder, and the selling of children into slavery. Giving guns to kids? Hell, at least that way they have a fighting chance.
“And in addition to all the general lawlessness and killing that’s just part and parcel with this madness, we also might have a real, honest-to-God civil war breaking out. This is between state National Guard units, under the control of their governors, and at least part of the federal government. At least, whoever was giving those Homeland bastards their orders,” I said, pausing to take a breath before continuing.
“Which is why the Humvee and the Suburban have been searched twice for tracking devices. Found three on the SUV, plus we pulled the battery connection on that fancy SINCGARS radio in case it was transmitting location data. Strangely, the Humvee only had one GPS tracker, and we left that behind in McAlester before we pulled out. All the way here, I worried about giving my name, my full name, just in case there really is some kind of DHS watch list out there. There might be a real war starting out there, and we just got caught up in the storm of events. No reason to bring that crap back here with us. And that’s the reason the Suburban is sporting that ugly ass paint job, too. All Scott could find was the red, so he did a quick spray down so we didn’t look too much like Feds.”
In the hazy light that preceded dawn, I saw my father’s face gradually come into view from the shadows. He was watching me steadily, but with no expression. “I knew it had to have been hard, Lucas. Can see it in your face, in your eyes. You’re not the same boy as when you left, just like I wasn’t the same when I came back from my first time deployed overseas. You’ve seen the worst of mankind, son. Hell, all of your group has, I’d reckon. I’ve seen that thousand-yard stare from just about everyone you brought here. You just can’t let it eat you alive.”
That was different, too. At home, everybody usually called me by my given name, Lucas. I preferred Luke, but I would answer to either. I had to smile darkly at the last part of my father’s comment. No, it wasn’t my bad dreams that were trying to consume me. That was just the cannibals.
“Like I said, I saw just about as bad as you can imagine, Dad. Up to me, I’d pull in here and never set foot out there ever again. I wanted to contact you, try to send word over the Amateur Net, but I was too worried about getting you DXed to try.”
I saw the old man nod. DX was a term I learned from my father and from books I’d read. Stands for “Directional Finding” or intercept, and was one way the Nazis tracked Allied spies in World War II. The technique was simple, and militaries did it these days as a matter of course.