Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Chapter 17 of The WRONG KIND of DEAD: “The Last Convoy”

From the ALL-NEW, Yet-To-Be Proofed and Published FINAL BOOK of the SAGA of the DEAD SILENCER

PREVIOUS EPISODE:  “The Third Stage Is Called ‘Bargaining’”

We’re told to meet our plane past the other side of Monument Hill, on the long straightaway north of the tall butte. Before we set out, I tell Agnes, Elyssa, Brother Christopher, and rest of the tribe about the deal I was trying to broker.

“I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the old Aesop fable about the house dog and the stray. What happened was the stray dog was cold, wet, and hungry. The house dog came upon him shivering and starving in a ditch and brought him home. The stray dog couldn’t believe what he saw. The house dog always had food. He never had to sleep in the rain. His coat was full and clean and combed. Then the stray dog saw the house dog’s collar.”

I look at my people. They’re not in the mood for stories. To the point, then: “Think about these phones they gave us. Already we’re being told we have to have them on us at all times. I don’t know about you, but I rather cherish my freedom to leave the damn thing in a drawer and do something without being bothered.”

They’re still unmoved. “Once we get in,” I say, “it’s going to be really hard to get out. We’ll be tracked everywhere we go, and not just by our phones. We’re already reality show stars—while we were freezing and hungry, these people were sitting in comfort and passing judgment on how we lived. If that doesn’t bother you, then I don’t know. So if you’d rather still take your chances on the outside than have to work for someone else to make your living—don’t forget, we’ve all got to get jobs—now’s the time to let me know so we can get you on your way.”

“Sir,” says Brother Christopher, “the quicker we get in there, the quicker we can get your son and daughter out.”

“All right, then. Is everyone else in on this?”

“So everything will be the way it was before,” says Danielle. “I mean, all we have to do is get jobs? That’s awesome.”

I can’t help smiling for how ridiculous I must sound. “It’ll be like coming home. The one we lost a year ago today.”

“Seems like a dog-year ago,” says Chloe.

“People,” I say, “think about this. I mean, how do you even know we’re being told the whole truth about this place? What if it’s nothing more than a slave labor camp with benefits?”

“Sir,” says Seth, “with all respect, what if we’re free for all time from the stinkers? I mean, look, I’ll help you out any way I can, but what if I want to stay?”

“Everything is up to you. I’m not making anyone do anything. I’m just telling you what we’re getting into.”

“Well, it sounds good to me,” says Jared. 

“Me, too,” says Garrett.

“Wait a minute,” says Ethan. “You were just going to send us on our way, not even give us the choice to come?”

“I thought it was better everyone be free than stuck inside some fence with a collar on. If that makes me a bad guy, fine. As it is, you have your choice.”

“I don’t like it. We’re not bikers.” Brother Christopher shoots Ethan a look and he adds, “Sir.”

“Ethan, listen. You’re going to the Redoubt. Like Seth, you can stay there if you want. Who knows, maybe I’ll like it enough to stay, too. I’m just saying that anyone who doesn’t want to go, this is your last chance to take off.”

“Maybe they’re trying to talk you out of it so you’ll want to come to it more,” says Elyssa. 

“We’re going, all right? So let’s saddle up. Next stop, Larkspur, Colorado. You’ll know it by the C-130 in the road.” I look at everyone. “Or just stay here and argue about it, and blame me for missing your flight back to paradise. Agnes, are we ready to roll?”

“Waiting on the word, Admiral,” she says. 

“All right. Everyone who’s going to Wyoming, follow us.”

Agnes takes my arm and we walk away to the ladder hanging from the cockpit of Mom’s Taxi. “The colonel sent a message,” A.J. says, running up behind us. “He says we should be moving.”

“We’re on our way,” I say. “No, don’t text him that. Let’s go.”

“Derek, darling, husband mine,” says Agnes as I grab the ladder and begin pulling myself up. “Just so you know, I forgive you for trying to be a noble dumbass, if only because I knew by looking at you that you weren’t at all disappointed for failing to ditch me along with the rest of the family. What I want to know, though, is what on earth possessed you to tell everyone that?”

“Because they were going to find out about it sooner or later. It had to be quite the dramatic shot, with Colorado Springs exploding into flames before us, while I bargained for the freedom of my people. Any one of the vehicles around us had to have a dash cam to capture all that, while Grinnell’s phone supplied the audio.”

Agnes pauses below me on the ladder. “Um, honey…that’s paranoid.”

“You heard Scuzz. He and his people were watching our run today on their phones before we met them. Drones are filming us from wherever we are. Now we have these phones to catch audio, while providing exact GPS coordinates to wherever we go.”

“What?” says Agnes, climbing up into the cockpit. “You mean they’re just streaming this live?”

“If I heard Dietzen right, they edit all the footage they get of us up in Wyoming. They can spin it any way they want to.”

“So that’s why you did that stupid thing hanging from the ladder earlier.”

“It was more than just Scuzz and his people watching us.”

“Well, pardon my French, but fuck those people. I’m sick and tired of them being a factor in our decision-making.” Agnes glances over at A.J., in her corner of the cockpit cage, finger-scrolling through the messages on her phone. “We’re going to have to figure out something to do with those things, too,” Agnes says.

“I still think it’s funny,” she says, reaching through the bars to squeeze my hand. “Despite his best efforts, our poor, put-upon hero has the full weight and power of his family behind him.” Agnes smiles, and it’s not that weak little half-smile I’ve been used to seeing all day. “How will you ever manage?”

I’m looking away over the flatbed as the young men and women load into their trucks and SUVs. “That’s not what I took away from our last powwow. At best, they think I’ve just lost it. Too much time out in the wilderness, too crazy-scared to come in out of the weather.”

“Like going feral?” 

I turn to face my wife. Her smile is still there, but there’s no mischief to it. “Derek, darling, husband mine—everyone put your headsets on, please—in the end it will be you and me and A.J. and Damon, and Elyssa. Everyone who matters.” As we slide the headsets on, Agnes’ voice says through the earpieces, “Anyone else who wants to come along who isn’t a complete pain in the ass is welcome. But they’ll do it our way, or they can go do it by themselves.”

My wife pushes her tortoiseshell frames up the sweat-slick bridge of her nose and turns the key. The Powerglide engine roars to life. I look towards the southern horizon as it falls away behind us. The smoke blows south with the wind, out of sight, out of mind where we roll down the north face of the tallest point on I-25 in Colorado. From this point, you’d never know that the second largest city in the Centennial State, second only to Denver, is on the other side of the ridge. Given enough time, it won’t be.

Goodbye, Justin. Goodbye, Rene. Goodbye, Colorado Springs, everyone and everything I once knew, burning bright in memory….

“Mama Elyssa sent a message,” says A.J.


“She says she’s sorry and she loves you.”

“Awww,” says Agnes.

“For what?” I say.

“She probably thinks you’re angry with her because she hit you in front of Grinnell,” says Agnes.

“What? Huh. I’d forgotten about that.” 

“Well, plotting to abandon everyone who loves you so you can play hero by yourself could be distracting. Not that I would know.” I look at Agnes. She smirks back at me.

I turn to A.J. “Tell Mama Elyssa I love her, too.” I look towards Elyssa driving the SUV behind us. I see Danielle handling the phone—I was going to be pissed if my second wife was texting and driving—so I smile and wave. Elyssa almost jumps in her seat to see I’m not angry with her for—what? I put my finger to my lips, then hold both hands up in an effort to impress upon her that the matter is closed. It doesn’t stop her from blowing me teary-eyed kisses all the way down the hill. I can only imagine what it’s like for everyone riding with her.

We ride along the long S-curve between a butte on one side, and rolling horse pasture on the other. I wonder how many bones, human and animal, are concealed by the tall, unkempt grasses, amber and red in the failing evening light. Elyssa blows the horn, reminding me that what matters here and now is her, my son with her, and the other child in her belly.

When I look up, I see the long convoy winding behind us beneath the vast and darkening sky. Our SUVs and trucks were enough for the start of our run today, but now we have the Abundant Life people in their trucks, and the two school buses. Most are still on the long slope of Monument Hill. 

I can only hope wherever it is we’re going has more good going for it than bad. Sure, our alternative was to be either eaten and/or cremated alive, but what if we just saved ourselves only to become cattle for some sick bastard’s farm?

Yes, I know what that sounds like. Hope the best, prepare for the worst, right? I try to take some pleasure in what we’ve got going for us. Still alive and in the game, for one.

I’m also grateful Agnes doesn’t drive the 75 mph speed limit through this long, descending grade that winds beneath a high ridge before curving about the butte. It’s immediately past the butte on the long straightaway that cuts through Larkspur, that we come upon the C-130 in the road—with two more behind it.

Men with light sticks guide our trucks up the wide ramps into their cargo holds. Riding up off the highway into something that can accommodate Mom’s Taxi with room to spare is breathtaking, to say the least. I don’t have time to admire my surroundings, though. I’m first out the hatch and down the ladder. 

I go to the SUV pulling up alongside Mom’s Taxi. Elyssa steps out to meet me. “What is it, sweetie?”

“I need to get that notebook out of my luggage.”

“Oh, that book Dr. Hearn wanted you to bring? I kept it with me in the front seat. Here.” Elyssa turns and reaches up into the tall vehicle. “This is it, right?”

“Right.” As I take the book I turn to the sound of running feet. It’s A.J., running up to meet Elyssa. Elyssa turns to hug her.

“So are we one big happy here?” says Agnes, walking up. 

“Not yet,” says Elyssa. She steps towards the rear of the truck where Brother Christopher stands with Ethan, Danielle, and Teresa. Teresa stands holding her child and Damon at once. Elyssa takes Damon from Teresa, kissing her on the cheek as she does so. Teresa smiles gratefully back at Elyssa.

“Now the family’s complete,” says Elyssa, coming back with Agnes’ and my son squirming against her shoulder.

Agnes takes Damon. We walk through the parked trucks and other vehicles the C-130 is collecting on its way to wherever the hell we’re going. Brother Christopher, Ethan, and their wives and children join us as we approach the NCO supervising the loading. He tells us to walk with him; we’re expected to behave ourselves because we get to keep our weapons, as we’ll need to be wearing them for effect as we lead our people down the ramp once we leave the Redoubt. We hear all this on the way to the personnel deck.

I don’t have a chance to sit before I’m called up front. “Executive debriefing,” says the sergeant.

“Right.” I turn to kiss my wives and children. I hand Elyssa the notebook. Brother Christopher and I lock eyes and nod in silent understanding before I follow the master sergeant out of the passenger area towards the cockpit.

NEXT EPISODE: “Fear the Reapers”

For the price of a happy hour drink you can enjoy many delirious hours slashing and shooting your way through the felicitous hellscapes of my first two SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER books, available in Kindle and paperback from Severed Press. We commence the collapse of civilization in Bleeding Kansas, wherein our intrepid hero, Derek Grace, must survive a plane crash, combat with the undead at the local Wal-Mart, an exploding fire truck, a female hardbody assassin, and lots of walking dead people-things.

Book 1 has ONE exploding head
on its cover.

I’m told it reads even better in German. This edition from Luzifer Verlag also sports a hellacious one-of-a-kind cover courtesy of ace artist Michael Schubert:
You can buy this German version stateside here.
You know you wanna.

Book 2, Grace Among the Dead, steps up the game with a tale of love and redemption, the living dead, and a flame-throwing monster truck. We’ve got an arc going from decadence to...respectability?...for our hero. As close as it gets, anyway. You should savor this big book o’ hell while it lasts, because things are about to go completely to shit.
Book 2 has TWO exploding heads.
See the pattern here?

They’re also available in Canada and the UK.