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


  1. Keith, I enjoy reading your writing. I like the format, the clickable typewritten page, your style, and the fact that you're doing this at all for the benefit of the rest of us typewriter nuts.

    I posed a question on one of the forums a year or so ago. You helped me with an answer, and I am grateful for that. It's clear that you care about people, and are willing to open yourself up to them.

    I will continue to visit from time to time, and I have you up on my tool bar.

    Erik G.

  2. Well, I have to admit that I am doing this for myself as much as for anyone else. I have always enjoyed creative writing, but really did not recieve any encouragement in my endeavors until I met my wife. Up until recently I have been too busy with business to give it much time. But with the economic slump, business is in the toilet. Caroline told me not to worry about money just take some time off and do some writing. So lately I have been doing just that and find that I love it.