Friday, January 29, 2010

Story Update

I would like to apologize to my readers for not having a story post up this week. Just been feeling rather wiped out this week. I will have one up on Monday. Promise.

Keith

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Do We Really Need To Pretend We Still Like France?

I knew it was coming. Somebody out there had to start criticizing the United States for helping out in Haiti.

And I was right.

It comes of course from an expected source. Alain Joyandet, France's International "Cooperation Minister". Joyandet (I will not grant him any honorifics) has accused the US of "occupying" Haiti. This from a country that raped Haiti for nearly a century, culminating in a bloody slave revolt in 1804. Joyandet also seems to have forgotten France's own occupation of Algeria from 1830 to 1962, or the occupation of Indochina from 1858 to 1954, an occupation that fractured the region and probably eventually led to the Vietnam War. Another item he forgot is America's role in pulling France's ass out of the fire in WWII. But schools in Europe are now de-emphasizing America's role in WWII, teaching that we only lent humanitarian aid and emphasizing the fact that the US was trying to remain neutral in the war. Never mind the millions of US soldiers that were killed in Europe.

This Joyandet asshole even physically attacked a US air traffic control official after a French plane was turned away because the Port-au-Prince airport was overtaxed and a safe landing was impossible. I suppose he would have blamed us if we had allowed the plane to land and it had collided with another plane killing all aboard and wasting billions of dollars in sorely needed resources. The plane was able to return safely the next day and land.

I figure it is just a matter of time before some dumb ass conspiracy theorists come forward and present "proof" that America somehow rigged the earthquake so we could gain control of Haiti.

It is times like this that I truly believe that the US should pull out of the UN and tell the rest of the world that they can just solve their own problems from now on. The US spends more in foreign aid than any other country and yet when we are in economic trouble the rest of the world points and whispers that we are just getting what we deserve.

I am not saying that the US is perfect, it is far from it. We are after all the youngest of the world powers. But we have come a long way in 234 years. My question to the rest of the world is this, how far have you come in this time and where would you be without the US? Be honest.

Keith

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Land of Shadows: Chapter III - Hide & Seek

Very much aware of the danger, Dee took a lantern up to the roof of the bar to signal to the twins as they approached. With no other lights on in town the glow of one small lonely lantern was easy to spot. They came down from the north east end of town, same as she had so she was sure that they had followed the same trail she had. But they had taken a Hell of a chance travelling at night, relying only on speed and night vision goggles to get safely through. It was foolishness such as this that proved in her mind that she was right to not invite them in the first place.

She got out her own night vision goggles to watch their approach. They were not using headlights as those would only draw further attention. The light source was not powerful enough for long distance in the active mode so she switched to enhanced passive. It gave her a headache if she used them too long, but at the rate they were coming it would not be long.

She watched the two fiery silhouettes wend their way through the streets, the motors of the bikes glowed white under them. A large red blob popped out of an alley just ahead of them and Dee shouldered her rifle but the angle was bad, she could not get a clean shot. It suddenly turned and she could make out its shape better. A thick chest and four spindly legs. She could not see the antlers but knew it was just a deer. It bounded over a derelict Toyota and quickly lost itself in another alley across the street. The twins did not even slow down. She lowered her rifle and began heading down.

She met them in the parking lot behind the bar. The three of them stood facing each other for a few tense moments without saying a word.

"You two dumb shits have no idea what you're getting yourselves into do you?"

"We just came to help! He was our father!" the girl shot back.

"Just cause he wasn't my blood don't mean he was not my father too! Now get those bikes loaded up on the truck."

"Are you taking us back?" the boy asked dejectedly.

"I don't know yet, either way, I want to be on the road before the sun comes up! There's wraiths out there so try to be quiet!" The two of them glanced about nervously before Dee barked an order at them to get moving and went inside. She went upstairs to get her gear and hesitated for a moment at the typewriter before setting down at the little writing desk.

She typed furiously for a while, got up looked out the window to check on the twins progress. She nodded and returned to her typewriter. She typed a couple more lines before taking she sheet out and adding to the notebook with her earlier writing.









She carefully returned the machine to its case and took everything down in to load in the Volvo.

"Get in the back of the truck" she ordered them. To top everything off she had forgotten bring her coffeepot so she was operating at a caffeine deficiency.

A wonderful aroma carried by a brisk morning air was coming from the open driver's side door of the Volvo. She peered inside and saw, sitting on the huge doghouse between the front seats was a small 4 cup coffee maker plugged into the inverter. The coffee was from a vacuum packed "brick" the twins had brought. She had no doubt this was intended as a bribe. Well it wouldn't work she told herself as she poured the steaming rich brown liquid into a stainless steel insulated cup. She would drink it, but she would not go easy on them. Not one damn bit.

"Ok, you can come along, but you do everything I say, don't make me regret letting you tag along, don't give me any shit!"

They grinned and quickly piled into the Volvo. Allison called shotgun and received no argument from James. At fourteen he was already 5 feet 10 inches tall and 115 pounds. He looked somewhat how she had always pictured Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow, and his lanky frame was somewhat crowded in the front seat. The radio gear in the Volvo was installed behind the front passenger seat, meaning it was permanently adjusted as far forward as it would go. The already limited legroom was diminished to the point where he would have been sitting with his knees crammed into the dash or wedged against the doghouse and passenger door. With their additional gear there was now barely enough room for two people to sleep back there. But that was ok with her. She fully intended for one of them to be awake at all times. Either driving or standing watch.



* * *


He had listened to the motorbikes coming into town from the manager's office of the motel he had found on the east end of Manitowoc. He had hoped to meet up with at least a small pod of slaves foraging in the area. He knew by smell there were some in town, perhaps even a nest nearby. But either they were just not aware of his presence yet or their masters were being too lax in discipline. There was also the possibility that they were group of unclaimed beasts, what the human vermin would call wolflings. If that were the case then it would be difficult to get what he wanted from them. But not impossible.

This body was getting too worn out to carry on much further. He was as disgusted by the physical weakness of this host as he was impressed by its strength of will. He knew it possessed the knowledge to get at least one of the many vehicles in the parking lot running, but would not let him at it. When he was not blocking him from it entirely he was leading him around in circles with distracting snippets of memories baiting him with tidbits of knowledge that on the surface seemed related but in actuality lead him down unrelated dead end paths. All of his other hosts had been much younger. Simple minded fools in comparison.

When his previous host had lain dying in that old drug store, the feeble old man had seemed an easy target. He had gone into the drug store looking for something to help preserve the host for just a few days longer. But the host had very little knowledge of pharmaceuticals and was nearly completely illiterate. Even had the host been a fully trained doctor and willing to help, it was too late. He again wished that he was able to take more knowledge from host to host. But really he was lucky to be able take basic language skills.

The old man had approached without apparent consideration for his own safety. He had been entirely too trusting. But the host was young, perhaps the youngest one he had ever been fortunate enough to stumble upon. And the humans were so compassionate about their young. The old man had apparently encountered his kind before and recognized the danger as soon as he got a good look at him. Or more likely it was the smell of the host's deteriorating body that alerted him. But by this time he was too close and too slow to react. The stinger had ripped through the belly and struck the old man just under the chin. In a matter of seconds he was paralyzed and ready for takeover. It was a frightening experience as always. He was so vulnerable at these times and so exposed. Though they had been in a sheltered spot it was still very cold and the frigid air sapped his strength. He almost did not make it in time.

Now in his current state there was no way he could hope to get ahead of them without help. But if he just laid low he could let them just slip past him in their hurry to find him. That would work just as well. He returned to the recliner in the motel office and pulled a blanket up over himself. Several dozen horribly stale candy bars were in a bag on his lap. They were nutritional voids but they would supply the host with simple fuel for energy to carry him a bit longer and that was all that mattered.

A short while later a scratching at the glass door alerted him to their presence. He could see the shadow of it looming just outside the door. He let it in because it was too stupid to figure out how to open it by itself. He groaned as he saw its gravid state. He had maybe three days with it.

There would be no others around, that was just the way it was. Not even the slaves were stupid enough to want to be around when juveniles first emerged to devour everything in sight. But he had learned a few things from the humans that would keep him alive during that initial feeding frenzy. He commanded the slave to stay where it was and searched out a cleaning supply closet and found what he needed there. Then he curled up on the floor with the pregnant wraith and went to sleep. Had someone walked into the motel lobby at that hour they would have been treated to a most disturbing image.



* * *


Dee was already in a foul mood when they left and spending two hours arguing on the radio with her mother did not improve her mood. But after searching the north side of Manitowoc all day with no sign of Mr. Fisher she was becoming more and more frustrated. She knew he could not have gone too far on foot. There had been other wraiths in the area and their scents were confusing the dogs. She decided to wait till after nightfall and do a search with the night vision goggles. She returned again to the bar she had camped in the night before and rest before resuming the search. One of the twins suggested something that she had already been considering. There was not a mechanic on Door island that was better than Mr. Fisher at getting an old rust bucket on the road again. The possibility existed that he was already a hundred miles away. If they hadn't found him by morning she would continue south and hope to pick up the trail again.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride

Monday, January 18, 2010

Running Late on Story Post

I am running a little late on the story post this morning, will try to get it out this afternoon.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Feedback Wanted

I have been putting story posts up here since May of last year. I have recieved a few positive comments which I appreciate very much. But so far these comments have mostly been from one person.

The comments have dried up over the last month and I am beginning to feel like I am talking to myself. I would love to get some feedback positive or negative, something to let me know that someone is at least reading it. Have I made a huge mistake taking my story in this new direction? Are the story posts too infrequent? Am I wasting my time?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Land of Shadows: Chapter Two - Unwelcome Company

The day had dawned bright and clear, but clouds had begun rolling in from the southwest and the temperature had dropped about ten degrees. The bridge was open and as she drove past the checkpoint she waved to Micheal Eastland. She smiled slightly at herself remembering the crush she used to have on Micheal. They were still good friends but he was married now and they had a little girl at home.

There was a line on the southeast end of the bridge. Returning hunters by the looks. Some she knew, some she did not. Little by little the town was growing.

She turned west onto Maple looking for any clue as to which way he could have gone. At the intersection of Madison she stopped the Volvo and got out. Of course Bo and Duke tried to get out but she ordered them to stay in the truck. The pavement was in pretty bad shape here, there was more pothole than road in fact. The mud held numerous tracks left by vehicles that had come through the intersection, but all sets were incoming save one remnant of a track. It was a big 4x4 too. A small glint of metal gleamed from one of the ridges formed by the deep tread of the tire. It was a small spiral of steel like something formed by a drill bit. Even at 94 he was the best diesel mechanic in town and was pretty good at metal fabrication, so with the help of a couple of younger assistants he was kept pretty busy in his shop. He was always covered in small metallic bits, and his truck, when not in use was parked right there in his shop.
She pulled out her walkie talkie and pressed the talk button.

"Hey, Mike, you were on the bridge Thursday right?" His response was hesitant and he sounded so embarrassed she truly felt sorry for him.

"Yeah. I didn't know what he had done, so I just let him through. I'm sorry, if I had known..." She interrupted him before he could continue cutting himself down.

"I just need to know if anyone else left heading south." She knew that a log was kept of all the people that came and went and the direction they were headed in case something happened and a search party needed to be sent out. She waited patiently there by the tracks. She could almost hear him rifling through the pages on his clipboard.

"No he was the only one. Said he was going to get some supplies from town and might be gone all day." Dee thanked him and turned off the radio before he could apologize again. The tracks turned south on Madison so she did too. The tracks quickly faded on dry pavement but every time he drove through a large pothole he left fresh tracks for her to follow.

* * *

They came to an abrupt and unexpected stop halfway between Two Rivers and Manitowec on Wisconsin 42. This stretch of the highway was also known as Memorial Drive as it ran along the lake shore. The view was breathtaking this morning but neither he nor his captor had paid it any attention. Jewels was experiencing a moment of satisfaction at his captors' consternation. The creature was beating at the truck with a crowbar in a blind fury. But the current situation was not the truck's fault, nor was it even the fault of the tree that had suddenly sprung up in the center of the highway. Things had been going too easy for the last few hours and it had not been paying attention like it should. This was quietly encouraged by Jewels.

Jewels had no real control of his own body anymore but if he worked real hard he could exert some influence or cause some distraction. He found that by bringing his attention to an itch between his shoulder blades he could magnify to proportions that the parasite could not ignore and it would be distracted until the opportunity to do something about it arose. Which is exactly what he had been doing just before the truck hit the maple tree that had just been a seed stuck in a crack in the pavement when most of the world population had checked out.

The truck had not been going more than twenty-five when it struck the tree, but that had been enough to destroy the truck. Only the fact that fastening the seat belt was was such an ingrained habit had prevented them from going through the windshield. Jewels found himself wishing they had been going faster. That would have ended things right there. They had been forced to exit on the passenger side because the driver's side door would not open. The buckled fender was butted up against the leading edge of the door. It would take more strength than the parasite could have forced out of Jewels' thin frame on the best of days to open the door. He was forced to climb from one bucket seat to the other and maneuver past the gear shift and and the shifter for the transfer case. Getting out of the truck he slipped and fell hard on the pavement.

During the parasite's subsequent tantrum against the innocent truck Jewels found that he had control of his voice.

"Are you going to be finished sometime soon?" he asked in a startlingly calm voice between what were becoming almost desperate gasps for breath. "For such a superior life form you have an amazing short temper." This only renewed his unwelcome guests rage and he smashed out what was left of the windshield and knocked off the mirrors. Jewels could feel his blood pressure raising at an alarming rate. He could picture his escalating heart rate as a car's tachometer, the needle getting dangerously close to red line. He wondered how much goading it would take to push it over the top. What would a stroke feel like?

"You maggots are nothing without someone else to carry your stinking broods. You build nothing and destroy everything you touch."

"Shut up old man!" his voice screamed. Jewels thought he had touched a nerve and continued.

"You're vermin, ugly, filthy and stupid, no imagination, why the fuck we're so scared of you I just don't understand. You are cast offs you live like cockroaches in swarming over a shitpile ... "

"Shut up you old Fuck!!!" his voice shouted, barely recognizable. Jewels could feel the rage flowing from the parasite. It was squirming inside him, churning in his belly. He thought maybe he might have a chance. Piss the thing off enough to blow a gasket. But suddenly the rage just evaporated and it reasserted control.

Jewels could only sit there helplessly as it restored his full sensory inputs. He was suddenly aware of the pain in his joints, his hips. He realized how seriously neglected the stump of his leg had become. Ulcers had formed between his stump and the prosthetic. If not taken care of soon the infection would require that the rest of his leg be cut off. But then he realized that the parasite had just a little more planned for him. He watched in horror as his left hand laid itself on the cab of the truck, his arthritic fingers making a fist but with the pinky extended just over the edge of the passenger side doorway. The right arm reached out, grabbed the door and slammed it viciously. Jewels screamed. This time it was fully his own cries of pain he was hearing.

Having no choice but to proceed on foot he limped off to the southwest. If his leg held out he would make it to Manitowoc before dark.

* * *

Dee pulled up alongside the wrecked truck feeling grieved and relieved at the same time. She fully expected to find his dead body slumped behind the wheel. But the truck was vacant. She carefully examined the scene. Very little made sense about it. The damage to the truck was extensive, but a lot of it was unrelated to the accident. A crowbar lay across the hood. Somebody had just really wailed on the truck. Jewels was not really known for having a temper, but then again he was not really known for turning on his best friends and killing them either. She tried to open the driver side door and found it jammed. Crossing to the passenger side she opened the door and gasped at the sight of the blood spattered on the door frame. A mashed little finger fell out of the door to the crumbled pavement. She felt suddenly ill. She was not normally a squeamish person but this was a special case.

There were no other tracks about and her adversary was not in sight so he must have left on foot. The blood was dried so several hours at least had past. But he was on foot so was losing his head start advantage. She went back to the Volvo and let Bo and Duke out. She gave them a scrap of one of Jewels old jackets for the scent and let them out to sniff the area. Bo was confused at first and Duke was totally lost. The parasitic wraith had changed Jewels' scent and it was throwing the dogs off. She led Bo over to the blood spattered door. He sniffed around a bit at first then began heading southwest as she expected.

She drove into Manitowoc as if expecting to be ambushed at any second. But she did not see any sign of him. 'Too much to hope for that he might have crawled off somewhere and quietly expired' she thought to herself and immediately felt guilty for it. Once again she wished that this task had not fallen on her.

It was five thirty when she entered town so she started looking for a place to hole up for the night. Navigating through towns was tricky enough in daylight. As well has having to maneuver around abandoned vehicles in the road, there was crumbling pavement, occasional trees growing up where they had no business being and areas where the road had collapsed entirely. At night it could be impossible. But Maritime Drive was relatively clear. At least until it abruptly ended at 10th Street. Three trucks had piled up at the intersection. Only the fact that one of them had collided with a south bound cement truck on tenth had kept them from tearing through the chain link fence alongside 10th and continuing on into the river.

She idled there for a moment considering her options. The intersection was blocked completely.
The bar caught her eye. It was on a sturdy looking two storey brown brick building at the corner on the north side. The awning served as the bar sign and half of it was missing so it simply read "Bar". The windows on the first floor were all barred and most of the glass was intact on this side. It looked to be as good a place as any for her to spend the night. She backed up and pulled into the parking lot on the east side. There was a long covered porch along on this side with four doors that opened up onto it. They all proved to be locked. She let Bo and Duke out again.
"Check it out boys." she ordered, and the dogs quickly began sniffing about the building. She circuited the building with them, a shotgun cradled in her arms. But the dogs never hit on any suspicious scents. She paused at the front door of the bar, trying to peer inside past the bars and the dust but could see nothing. The door was locked, the bar had not been open yet. She sighed and pulled out her lock picks. She could pick a lock but would never have been able to make a living as a thief. After five minutes the lock finally gave up, she felt it was more in sympathy than because of her skills. She was just glad old Bill Parsons was not around to see how long it had taken her, or Heaven forbid, the twins. Either one of them could pick most locks in less than thirty seconds.

Bars were usually good, secure havens and she had often camped in them when out scavenging. They have easily secured points of entry and few windows. This one was pretty much as she pictured it from outside. The bar counter had polished marble top with oak panelled sides and brass rails and fittings. The beer taps were either antique or reproductions. A mirror covered the wall behind the bar so the bartender could keep one eye on the patrons at all times. Bottles and glasses stood in neat rows on the shelves behind the bar. A stage towards the rear served for live band performances or Karaoke nights. Tables and booths provided the seating. Sixteen years of dust covered everything.

But that just made the one clean spot on the counter stand out from the rest. She slowly spun around expecting to see Jewels standing behind her with a crowbar, ready to cave in her skull like he had done to her Daddy. But there was no one there. She felt slightly silly for scaring herself. Bo and Duke would have let her know if anyone were here. There were boot prints on the dusty hardwood floor but they were not fresh. A few weeks or months maybe. And the "clean" spot on the counter was the same. A Crown Royal bottle and a single shot glass stood sentinel on the counter there. The bottle was about three quarters full. She hoped that the bar's one remaining regular customer would not choose tonight to visit his favorite pub.

She searched the building and finding it secure decided it would be a good place to camp for the night. She unloaded some essential gear and supplies from the Volvo. There was a large studio apartment on the second floor. The bed was not too dusty. Stairs led up to a door opening onto the roof. She retrieved a pair of binoculars from her pack downstairs and surveyed the area.
The sun had gone down by this time, it was a cool night. The air was crisp and clear. No street lights or stadium lights to soften the falling darkness. Stars shone by the millions, possibly billions she thought. Anyone that had grown up before the disappearance would look at the sky in wonder. For decades man had been losing the stars to the growing city lights. But to Dee it had been like this ever since she could remember. It was beautiful, yes, but it was a beauty she sometimes took for granted. The moon was about 3/4 full so there was enough light to see the creature moving around about a block away. It was big and shadowy and it moved in absolute silence. It did not seem to be alert to her presence, but she would have to be quiet. Where there was one, there would be others. She rechecked the lock and the basement. There was very little she could do to secure the Volvo any more than it already was so she just left it. She would trust the dogs to alert her to any dangers. She looked over to the streamlined silver case and briefly considered banging out a journal entry. It was so tempting. As never before she felt the need to have that connection with her father, but she determined that it would just be too dangerous at this time.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride

Monday, January 4, 2010

Land of Shadows: Chapter One - Goodbyes

Portions of this story will be published as typecasts. These are typed pages that have been scanned into the computer as an image file. These are crucial to the story and should be read in the order they are published. I was having problems getting them to load right but figured it out. Just click on the image and a full size image of the page will be displayed.


The sound of typing, tentative at first, but with growing intensity echoed through the quiet and street. The few people that passed the old house stopped for a moment as if hearing a familiar song, one that brought back pleasant memories of happier times. Occasionally a passerby would stop and look towards the house as if considering climbing the stairs and knocking on the door, but none did. On the covered front porch were a few boxes and a some large envelopes of the type used for greeting cards, sympathy cards in this case. There were even a few wreaths made from local wildflowers as well as some Peace Lilies that could only have come from a greenhouse.

Of all the houses on the street it was one of only three that was not covered in drifts of dead leaves. New shingles showed where the roof had been patched in several places. The house itself looked to have been sorely neglected in the past, but unlike its neighbors it was in the process of being repaired. And fortified. Broken windows were boarded up and heavy new shutters had been installed on all the first floor windows. Thick steel bars covered the basement all windows like cages. New boards stood out in sharp contrast from the more weathered lumber of the porch itself and the steps were all new. A faded real estate sign leaned against the front wall of the house.

The inside of the house was simply decorated, almost spartan. The hardwood floors had recently been sanded and refinished and the walls bore a fresh coat of paint. The overhead fixtures gave no bright warm glow, they were dead reminders of a dead era. The rooms were instead lit by candles and oil lamps. The sound of the typing came from an upstairs bedroom, the room was bare of all furnishings save a single office chair, a small propane heater and a grey steel typing stand. It had two sections that would fold down at the sides when not in use, but at the moment both sides were up. On the left side was a stack of fresh 8 1/2 by 11 inch printer paper. On the right side was a large insulated mug of hot cocoa spiked heavily with DeKuyper's Buttershots. If one were to be as rude as to read over her shoulder one would notice many errors at first but as the reader progressed through the page the errors became less frequent.

Between the stack of paper and the spiked hot cocoa, there was a much used Olympia typewriter, burgundy and cream colored with chrome trim. It had been considered a relic from the past long before the disaster that turned the rest of the world into a ghost town, but it still worked like its designers intended. Sitting in front of the typewriter was young woman with blond hair and grey eyes. She had a slim athletic build and obviously spent a lot time outdoors. She was dressed comfortably in a flannel shirt and sweat pants, her shirt was unbuttoned revealing what some might take to be a sloppy appendectomy scar on her abdomen. Big fuzzy bunny slippers kept her feet warm. Though the rest of the room was a little too warm from the propane heater, the floor was cold. Her eyes were red from recent crying and as she reached the end of the page and read what she had typed fresh tears began to flow.








Her full name was Delores H. Mason, but even her adopted father did not know what her middle initial stood for. Not that it really mattered.

She pulled the typed sheet from the machine and slipped it into a folder. It was to be the first of many typed pages to go into her journal. She closed the typewriter case and crossed the room to the propane heater. It had a larger twin downstairs. The burn was clean enough that no venting was required and a built in carbon monoxide detector would theoretically alert her to a problem, but she didn't trust it enough to leave it burning unattended. She carried it into the master bedroom but did not bother to light it again before burrowing under the thick quilts piled on top of the bed.
In one fluid motion the dart was pulled from her wrist sheath and flipping through the air. The red and black bug was pinned to the window frame with an audible twang. She decided to just leave it there till morning.


* * *

With his headstart he felt that he could afford a few moments to rest and pulled the truck off the road. The thing had once been been a much loved and respected member of the community,but those days were over. He knew what he had been forced to do had condemned him, but there was no going back. He again tried in vain to regain control. His deeply lined face was pale and contorted in agony for a few moments reflecting the internal struggle. For a long time he sat there in rigid silence. Suddenly his face lit up in triumph as one gnarled arthritic finger, then another released their grip on the steering wheel. Then with a scream he threw himself across the bench seat of the old truck sobbing. After a few moment he straightened himself up in the seat.

"Nice try old man. You're strong, I'll give you that. Don't worry, I'll only need you for a little while longer, once I find a stronger host you won't be needed any longer." The voice was without emotion and the face was a dead mask, but if one were to peer into his eyes they would see black pools of despair.

The monster put the truck in gear and once again headed down the road. Fatigue was irrelevant. He had to get back to the nest soon.


* * *

She awakened in a tangle of blankets. Her alarm clock would not be going off for another hour hours, the sun would not be up for another two. She felt like an old sweat sock and soon realized that she smelled like one too. It had been a restless night. She threw some more wood into the firebox of the makeshift water heater she had built. The whole system was gravity fed and supplied through the rainspouts. She had about half an hour before the water was hot enough for a shower. Just long enough to fix herself breakfast.

At first glance her kitchen appeared to be very modern, save the antique cast iron wood stove which stood where a stainless steel range with glass cook top had been. On closer examination the old wood stove was actually one of the few functional appliances in the kitchen. A small generator in the basement kept the refrigerator upstairs and a chest freezer in the basement going. They were the only things she was willing to spend her fuel rations on.

But this morning she didn't even bother cooking, just fixed herself a cold sandwich and large insulated mug of coffee.

After showering and dressing she left the house in a somewhat baggy pair of camouflage pants, a black sweatshirt, boots and an old Army jacket. The camo pants had a lot of pockets and all of them were packed with the necessary items. Like everyone on the island she never went anywhere unarmed. She was carrying two incendiary grenades, one fragmentary grenade, a small bottle of windex, a very nice Gil Hibbon Wilderness Survival knife that had been a present from her father, a small first aid kit, a Metaba Model 6 Unica autorevolver and a Beretta 9mm. One of the reasons this island was so secure was that anyone over twelve had a gun and knew how to use it. Any suspicious looking animals were shot on sight and checked out by Dr. Cooper or one of her assistants.

She kicked the starter on the old Honda motorbike she used around the island. It would not do for her hunting trip. The Honda started with its normal cloud of blue smoke. Its two stroke engine was about used up, the reed valve was leaking and the rings were worn. Perhaps she would let Mr. Parsons fix it up for her while she was gone. She crossed town to her parents house and parked the bike around back.

Like most of the early post disappearance settlers of the island, her adoptive parents choice of dwelling was more dependent on security and defence than comfort and convenience. It was a concrete block building with steel gates over the doors and windows. It used to be a business But as the island became more secure, additions were made. Like the covered deck on the side of the building that dominated half of what had been a parking lot. Her father used sit out there on summer evenings enjoying a cool breeze. Emily would sit at his feet, dutifully alerting him to any pending visitors or trespassing squirrels.

Emily was out on the porch this morning, sleeping in her accustomed place at her father's now vacant chair. At the approach of the familiar Honda she opened her eyes and struggled to her feet. Like most big dogs, the years tended to weigh heavily on her. She was arthritic and slow to get moving, but her eyes were still bright and alert. She probably should not have spent the night out on the deck but Beverly had not been able to get her to come in that night. She had run a small space heater outside so that Emily would not get too cold.

The big dog so wanted to go bounding across the lot to greet Dee, but no longer had to ability. It was sometimes heartbreaking for Dee to watch her childhood companion struggle so. Bo and Duke however did come bounding out to greet her. They were Emily's latest and last puppies. They were no longer puppies though, being three years old.

Beverly came out so see what the commotion was about and smiled at the sight of Dee on her knees wrestling with the two Rottweilers. The smile quickly faded. She knew why Dee was coming. She also knew that despite all her arguments to the contrary Dee would be leaving to hunt down her father's killer. She did not object to him being hunted down. It was necessary and inevitable. She just did not want this unpleasant duty to fall upon Dee. But she knew that she would be giving Dee everything she asked for no matter how much she disagreed.

She surprised herself when Dee asked the expected favors by simply reaching into her pocket and pulling out the key to the Volvo.

"Take Bo and Duke with you. They are the best dogs your father ever trained. I don't know if they are as good as Emily, but they can track a wraith better than any dog on the island."

"Are the twins around?" Dee asked glancing about as if expecting to be ambushed.

"No, I sent them to stay at Stacy's for the next couple of days."

"That's probably a good idea." If anyone on the island could keep the twins in line it was Stacy. In the early days after the disappearance she had found and successfully cared for toddler on her own for several months and even after joining the group she was very self sufficient.

Dee performed a quick, but complete check of the Volvo before pulling it out of the garage. Depending on when they grew up most people think of Volvos as either boxy family oriented sedans and stationwagons, or sleek new, Eco friendly cars. This fell into neither category. The Volvo C303 was a Swedish military off-road vehicle and while it was boxy in the extreme, it was not a family grocery getter. Its Mercedes built diesel had been replaced by a propane powered, turbocharged Chevy V8. A roof mounted turret would accommodate a wide variety of guns and all the glass had been replaced by one in thick bullet resistant plexiglass. A hitch mounted cargo rack would carry whatever gear would not fit inside the vehicle.

She spent a couple of hours packing things into the back of the Volvo. Food, ammo, a few changes of clothes. She hesitated for a moment upstairs and at the last minute decided to take the typewriter with her. She secured it in its case and grabbed an unopened ream of paper. She took one last glance in her room before shutting her door. Beverly had promised that the twins would come by and make sure the house was taken care of.

The small dart pinning the bug to the wall was left forgotten. The acidic fluids from the bug's foul body would in the days to follow severely etch the thin blade and stain the wood window frame. Dee would cuss herself for her carelessness afterwards.

She was unaware of two pairs of eyes watching her as she headed for the Oregon Street Bridge.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride