Thursday, October 6, 2011

Land Of Shadows: Chapter XXVIII - Sunrise

They moved the boy out of the lobby and into an office nearby.  Elias examined him thoroughly, packed gauze in the wound and bandaged it up.  Old habits died hard and he just happened to have a pack of antibiotics on hand that he'd liberated from an underground cold storage unit.  He would have felt better getting him on IV antibiotic, but that was not an option now.  They all gathered around him with questions, but he didn't have any satisfactory answers.  He had no idea if the young man would make it.  His immune system had been compromised. 

He felt Allison would be a problem, she was distrustful of the boy and kept on hand on her gun every time she was near him.  Someone would have to keep watch on the boy at all times. 

Dee, sensing that Ally would be a problem too assigned her and Olly to explore the base, but warned them, especially Olly, not to touch a damned thing.  She felt the need to explore a bit too.  Aided by one remaining working electric Jeep they found in the tunnels, they quickly found that there was more underground than above, but given the description Elias had given them of the base in Alaska that was not surprising.  There was a huge network of underground tunnels and bunkers, one area in particular, caught Dee's interest.  It was a habitation on the west side of the complex.  Rather than the spartan barracks of the other habitation areas these were divided into lush apartments with the most luxurious being at the end.  It was a subterranean penthouse suite.  The door to each apartment was labeled, President, Vice President, Secretary of Defense, etc. 

But the most wondrous thing was that the whole subterranean complex had power, provided by some kind of automated fusion power plant.  The Alaskan complex had housed the smaller prototypes for the Houston complex Elias had told them. 

Everything was laid in carefully preserved arrangements.  Clothes were in vacuum sealed bags.  Food was carefully preserved in deep freeze or sealed metal containers that would last a century of more.  An armory was supplied with carefully sealed ammo boxes and crates of weapons that reeked of cosmoline that reminded her of Billy Parsons. 

The whole thing was painting a very dark picture. 

"Just what the Hell were your employers up to Dr. Hood?" she demanded of him that evening while he was in the infirmary changing the boy's bandages.  He'd moved him there as soon as he learned of its existence.  Elias handed the soiled gauze and bandages to June for her to dispose of.  She still did not speak to Elias much, but she was always there like his shadow.

"Look, I was just the company doctor.  They recruited me because I was a good doctor with military training and I looked pretty,  They didn't give me a handbook with all the company's dirty little secrets the day I signed on."

"But you had to know something was not right with all the cloak and dagger shit!"

"You didn't grow up in the shadow of big multinational corporations so I'll make allowances for that.  Suffice it to say that government spies were nothing compared to their counterparts in the private sector.  They had fewer rules to follow and better equipment and backing.  The Company had a lot of money tied up in this project and they did not want details leaked out to competitors.  I don't know for sure what they were up to.  I never really could see the purpose of the whole program.  I mean projecting a man into the future in yearly increments has little benefit.  It was strictly a one way trip.  From a medical standpoint you could in theory project a severely injured man a year into the future and then take the whole year to prepare for his return and have everything you could possibly need to save him.  But the projectors, even the small one in Alaska suck a lot of power.  Fire it ten times and you've used enough to power a small city for a year.  There really just is not that much profit in it." 

"But you've got your suspicions."

"I do."

"Well ... "

"The Company, GPMS, had it fingers in a lot of pies.  But the big three were weapons contracting, aviation and pharmaceuticals."

"So?" she asked not getting what he was driving at. 

"GPMS was one of the biggest promoters of enforced contraception.  The company PTBs thought that one of the biggest problems in the world was not so much a matter of dwindling resources, but out of control population growth.  One of the CEOs was quoted in an interview as saying the world would be a better place if ninety-eight percent of the people on earth would just go away.  Of course the question was asked, what two percent would remain?  He responded that of course the two percent that was most like him."

"Nice guy."

"Yeah.  Well he died mysteriously shortly afterwards.  Back in twenty-five there were three outbreaks of a previously unknown virus.  They were quite lethal and very contagious.  But they were rapidly contained.  Almost like somebody had advance warning.  The third was the most lethal of all.  It killed one hundred percent of those infected.  And entire town wiped out.  These were all in different parts of the world, continents apart.  So no one really took notice.  But the company that handled the containment and cleanup afterwards in all three was GPMS.  It was an expensive cleanup in each case because the virus can lay dormant for years without a host.  Everything had to be sanitized or burned."

Dee suddenly understood.  Gather your desired "survivors" together, project them into the future, release your perfect engineered virus.  With no viable hosts left the virus will die off long before you return.  Your survivors return to a world cleansed of the surplus population, build your Utopia. 

"And you worked for these people?" Dee asked. 

"As did about three percent of North America and Europe.  More if you count all of their little subsidiaries and satellite companies."

"So, what about this super virus you think they created?  Is it here?"  She glanced about nervously as if expecting to see it seeping through the walls.  She had grown up fighting very visible and tangible foes.  The idea of coming up against something she could not see to fight was terrifying. 

"I doubt it, this is where their preselected survivors would have been housed.  I don't think they would have wanted it near them.  I know I would not.  I would think it would have needed an aerial dispersal system.  Something their aerospace division would have provided I guess.  I'm sure it's out there somewhere"

*     *     *

Dee told the twins of her conversation with Elias that night and nobody slept well.  In fact everyone but their mystery guest was awake when the alarms went off. 

"Reactor Control Malfunction.  Overcharge condition exists." a recorded voice announced.  "Unscheduled projector sequence initiated."

"What the Hell?" Dee muttered as the headed for the infirmary.  Elias was calmly pulling on his jacket when she got there.

"Our friend in there must have done something to the reactors before we got here." he told her.

"What does overcharge condition mean?"

"It means the reactors are banging out full power overcharging the batteries, overloading the control boards."  Olly supplied from behind her.

"Yeah, what he said." Elias agreed. 

"That's bad?" Dee asked.

"Very bad"  Olly told her.  "It could destabilize the reactors.  They've been running unsupervised for years, who knows what condition they're in." 

"You don't seem too worried about it," she said to Elias.

"The self repair systems can diagnose the problem and either initiate repairs or begin a controlled shutdown.  This was designed to be completely autonomous.  Just like the Alaskan facility."

"Yeah that worked out just fine didn't it.  Mile wide crater and the entire world population sucked into limbo!" Ally piped in from behind Olly.

"Quarter mile,"  Elias corrected.

"Whatever!" Dee kicked a nearby file cabinet in frustration "And you can just sit there and wait for it to happen?"  Dee demanded.

"Look, I'm a doctor, not a nuclear engineer.  The possibilities are this.  One, the reactor repairs itself everything is fine.  All part of the standard safely drills.  Two, the reactor cannot repair itself and we get a warning to evacuate the base, we put on some of the rad suits in that red locker behind me hot foot it out of here in one of those electric Jeeps, the reactor explodes and we don't came back to Houston for about two hundred years.  If the projector malfunctions and fires again we all get sent forward and start over again.  Nothing we can do."

"You can't do anything?"

"I can shut down the projector, but those generators are going full blast, that power has to go somewhere, it may just insure that the reactor blows."

Dee felt panic rising, she had never really told him the full story of his father's journals.  Just enough to convince him that they were going in the same direction.  How could she convince him of what she knew needed to be done.

"You have to stop it!" a weak voice pleaded from behind them.  They turned to the young man on the bed. 

"Worlds merge, the Bodachs will come.  We will all die!"  His voice sent a chill down her spine.  He sounded so old and something about the way he called them Bodachs. Only one person she knew ever called the wraiths that. 

"He's right, my father knew.  We have to stop it.  We have, what about fifteen minutes?"

"Twelve" Olly corrected.

"Your kidding right ... " Elias started, but he suddenly found himself staring down the barrel of Dee's newly acquired Sig-Sauer 9mm. 

"You will shut it down and I will go with you to make sure you do it."

"You realize that if those reactors blow ... "

"I know enough,"  She turned to Olly and Allison without dropping the barrel of the gun so much as a tenth of a degree.  Elias knew anything so much as a twitch and she could blow his head off.  "Olly, Ally, put the boy here in one of those Jeeps and get the fuck away from here!"

For once they did as told without protest. 

"You won't shoot me, I'm the only one that can shut it down."

"I will shoot you in the knee and drag you wherever I need to if I have to.  Move!" She got him moving out into the hallway.  As soon as she was sure the other two were out of earshot she felt she could talk more freely.  He was leading the way but she prodded him to a faster pace with the muzzle of her gun. 

They were on the surface headed for the dome they had seen earlier.  At the entrance way of the dome they found a large steel door.  A covered security panel was set in the wall by the door. 

"You can open this?"

"As the first human test subject they gave me emergency override authority.  There should be an access point in the projection chamber that I can use to abort firing the projector.  I've never been here, but my fingerprints and retina scans are on the company computers."

"Yeah, what does that mean?"

"I think so."

"Do it Dammit!"

Elias lifted the panel and placed his palm on the scanner."  For a while nothing happened.  Dee could feel herself sweating.  Then the panel lit up and a moment later the door slid open.  He looked around somewhat bewildered for a moment.  When asked he just shook his head.

"Nothing, it's just so much bigger than the Alaskan projector." he looked around for second and then nodded, "There it is."
He crossed the room to a service panel and pulled it open revealing a computer set into the wall.  The system status was immediately displayed.  This was a dedicated terminal so there was no extraneous windows or menus to navigate.  He took a moment to read the display.  He tapped a reading to enlarge it and began cussing.


"It's worse than I thought.  According to this the batteries will rupture in three minutes.  After that it is just a matter of minutes till the reactors destabilize.  It is not fixing itself.  I don't know enough about it to fix it."

Olly would probably be able to figure it out, but if Olly and Ally were doing as they were told the would be getting as far from here as possible. 

"I think if I overload the emitters and let it fire as normal it will take the whole base with it."  This dome has more shielding and is better built than the one in Alaska.  The effects shouldn't go further than this base."  He looked uncertainly at Dee.

"Don't look at me, I don't know anything about it!"

He turned and began tapping furiously at the screen. 

"What will this do to us?"

"I don't know."  The projector fired.  The world dissolved into white light. 

*     *     *

Allison several times tried persuade her brother to turn back, but Oliver would not allow it.  He refused to even slow down.  The electric Jeep was fully charged when they started out but its batteries were old and weak.  They made it fourteen miles back the way they had come before it quit.  Only then did they take the time to look back.  They waited looking for any sign of their eldest sister.  The sky to the northwest lit up like a sudden sunrise.  Eyes watering and squinting against the flare they still stared until if faded.  They didn't dare go back to check it out. 

There were sealed dosimeter badges in the first aid box on the Jeep.  Olly passed out three and they waited. 

Three days they waited.  The dosimeters never registered anything above normal background radiation.  Ally was nursing the boy along and he was getting better, but was still not really answering any questions.  On the thrird morning Ally woke up to find her brother gone.  She spent half an hour cursing him and Dee and the world in general.  It was late evening when he returned.  He reported that there was nothing left but perfect half spherical hole in the ground where the base had been. 

They sadly returned home.  Ally cried herself to sleep that first night.  She dreamed that Jewels was standing watch over her.  She woke up to see the boy standing watch.  Olly was asleep. 

"Sleep now Ally Ally Oh" told her.  She fell asleep thinking it just another part of her dream.  It had to be, Jewels was the only one that had ever called her that.

*     *     *

Ten thousand years later.

They stared out at the desolate landscape.  The remains of the base shattered behind them.  They had spent the last three days getting as far from it as possible.  The first day they had rode Penny as hard as they dared, but led her for the next day. 

They camped that night without saying a word.  Neither had seen sign of another living person. 

She stayed up late mulling the situation over and keeping the fire going.  She looked up suddenly to see twin green lights peering at her from across the fire.  'Great,' she thought to herself.  'Wolves'.  It slowly stepped forward and its scarred blunt muzzle came into the light.


The rottweiler stepped forward into the firelight and nuzzled his snout under her hand.  She scratched behind his ears and he wagged his whole rear end in enthusiastic greeting.  Despite everything Dee felt everything would be alright. 

Elias woke early and found Dee and the new arrival already awake.  He moved last night's coffee pot over the coals of the fire.  Together the three of them watched the sunrise on this world they had inherited. 

© 2011 R. Keith McBride

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Land Of Shadows: Chapter XXVII - Surrender

Sandy helped the old man settle back into the couch in lobby.  They had been here three days.  She still had no idea what this place was or why they were here.  But Puck insisted that the man and who had kidnapped the old man's daughter was headed here.  Whenever she pressed him on the matter he would only mutter something about the man killing his father, sometimes he would say the answers were in his father's journals.  The details all seemed rather fuzzy and would change and shift.  She did not doubt that he was being honest, but she did doubt if he was being factual.  The last few days he had been operating at a fever pitch.  He had been driving like a madman and would rarely let her behind the wheel.  She loved him but had begun to fear him. 

The old man was barely hanging on.  His belly was distended like pregnant sow's.  She didn't have to open his shirt to know that his whole abdomen would be a massive bruise.  She could see the little fuckers moving about just under the skin.  He smelled like he was dead already.  She checked the load on her .45, there was one in the chamber and five in the magazine.  At most there would be four of them more likely three.  It was time to end this.  Puck would not like it.  For some reason he had a soft spot for the old man.  But he had gone off looking for something.  She had only seen him a couple of times in the last two days

She flicked the safety off the Colt and looked to the old man.  His breathing was labored.  For a moment he looked at her and she could see clear lucid calculation in his eyes.  She shivered despite the seventy-eight degrees of the lobby.  But he faded out again and she though it was just her imagination. 

Movement outside caught her eye.  She moved to one of the big broken glass panels to see if Puck had found what he was looking for and come back. 

She could barely believe her eyes.  A man leading a horse, a woman, two teens and a younger girl were approaching.  The youngest girl fit the description in the old man's daughter to a tee. 

"Jonas, is this your ... " she started to turn and ask, and found him right behind her. 

His eyes were clear and full of malevolent life.  His shirt was now a bloody rag.  She started to back away from him, but he moved with impossible speed.  He grabbed her and pulled her towards him in a hateful embrace.  She fought with him but somehow he managed to get her gun.  She heard it fire even as she felt something slicing into her own belly.  Something warm and slick found its way into her shirt and began cutting into her, frantically digging at her flesh. 

In desperation she bit into the loose flesh of the old man's neck.  She drew blood it filled her mouth with the foul taste of rotten meat.  But he loosened his grip enough that she could get free of him.  She kicked out and caught him in the hip.  He lost balance and fell to the floor in a heap.  But still she was being torn into by at least two of the abominations.  She felt herself losing her balance.  One of them was actually inside her now.  She stuck her hand in her shirt to grab it and a pair of razor sharp claws sliced her index finger off at the second joint.  She pulled her hand back stared at it. 

She saw Puck burst through the doors at the north end of the lobby.  And then everything faded. 

*     *     *

Puck could no longer clearly remember exactly why he was here.  He was going to bring more of his kind here, but why.  He was was beginning to feel oddly disconnected with them.  He was more than this withered black thing carried around in his belly.  But even among his own kind he was never fully accepted.  They obeyed him, they feared him, they were in awe of him, but they hated him too.

His memories were beginning to blur too.  He was having trouble separating his and the host's memories.  He even found phantom memories that he doubted came from either, possibly from a previous host, but he did not know for sure.  He found himself making up stories and believing them.  In his seven thousand years he had taken so many hosts, but it had not been until he was snatched from his home world and forced to take his first native host that he'd had so much trouble. 

But with Sandy he found peace and acceptance.  If he activated this human machine again, he knew that it would merge his world and the human world.  Sandy would be torn from him.  He decided that was not acceptable.  This body would eventually die, but he could find a new host and stay with Her. 

Yesterday he had found what he believed to be a control room.  The power was even still on and the machines appeared to work.  He had absently pecked at a few buttons here and there at random, but without being able to read he had no idea what if any effect he was having. 

A gunshot interupted his thoughts.  He sprinted through the maze of corridors he had been searching and slammed through the door.  The old man with the belly full of workers was dead in a heap.  Sandy was staring at her dripping red hand she had just pulled out of the bloody tatters of her shirt.  He had experienced anger before, but rage like this was entirely alien to him.  He rushed to Sandy and eased her to the carpeted floor before ripping her shirt open.  He reached into the wounds in her belly and began yanking the infant wraiths from her belly.  There were three of them.  Each one he pulled out he squeezed in his fist till its little body popped.  They slashed and stabbed at his fingers with the sharp little claws, but it was of no consequence to him. 

He could do nothing for her, he fled from the horror of it but emerging from the front door of the building he found a woman staring at him with a weapon pointed at his midsection. 

"You have to help her!" was the first thing out of his mouth.  "Please hurry!" 

Dee stood there in shocked wonder at this turn of events.  The thing she had pursued halfway across the country was standing before her, hands dripping with blood and begging for her help.  She could easily cut him in half with the submachine gun, but for some reason she was unable to pull the trigger.  He turned and ran  back into the building.  She could hear him calling back to her to please hurry.  Allison was out from behind the UPS truck screaming.

"That's him, for God's sake don't let him get away now!" 

Whatever it was that had frozen her momentarily evaporated with that.  She sprinted after him, expecting a lengthy persuit, but he had stopped just inside the lobby.  The carnage inside told a confusing tale.  A wasted looking old man sprawled on the floor, his guts spilling all over the carpet, a pretty young blonde woman with similar belly wounds had been gently laid out on the floor.  The remnants of three emergent wraiths littered the floor around her.  Dee was no doctor, she knew some first aid, but nothing that could help here.  She turned to look behind her at the others. 

Elias moved to the girl's side and began quickly examining her.  It was hopeless.  Too much blood had already been lost.  Her liver was shredded, one kidney was gone and her large intestine bisected in several places.  Even had he had a fully equipped trauma center with staff, he doubted that he would be able to save her.  She shuddered once and was still.  Elias placed a bloody finger on her carotid artery, felt nothing.  Dee placed her hands over the girl's face and closed her eyes.  She looked to her adversary and saw the utter devastation on his face.  Though she wanted to hate him she suddenly found she could not, perhaps it was some sort of pheromone reaction like her father and Dr. Cooper had told her about, perhaps it was that he just looked so young and so lost. 

But still it needed to be done.

She stood up and pointed her weapon at him.  The safety was already off.  She fingered the trigger.  He lifted his own pistol.  But he did not point it at her.  He held it with the butt of the gun towards her. 

Puck probed inwards and suddenly found that all lines of communication were open.  Deek/Jewels welcomed a dialog with Puck.  They conferred without any conscious words.  The understanding was total, the decision, unanimous and equitable.  But there had to be a certain degree of cooperation for it to be carried out.

Dee watched in with barely suppressed revulsion as a thin black appendage emerged from the young man's belly.  He grasped it in one hand being careful of the stinger and it gently wrapped itself about his wrist.  The young man tugged and the tail tightened its grip.  It was clearly a painful process, but Dee was reluctant to interfere.  She gestured them all to stand back.  With a sound like a rubber glove being pulled off a greasy fist the parasite suddenly emerged.  It was a tiny thing, fragile and helpless without its host.  From head to the base if it's tail it was about eight inches and wrinkled, thin root like appendages trailed out from its body.  When it was clear of the wound the tail unwound from the boy's wrist and he dropped it before he himself fell to the floor.

It let out one short keening wail before a single gunshot echoed across the lobby silencing it. 

© 2011 R. Keith McBride

Monday, September 12, 2011

Land of Shadows: Chapter XXVI - Showdown

Elias looked down at the trio huddled in the shadow of an overturned truck.  They were just kids.  The oldest would have been just out of diapers when he stepped into the projector chamber.  The other two were barely older than his silent companion seated behind him on Penny.

They had obviously been through Hell.  They were clearly exhausted and somewhat battered.  A large Rottweiler lay with his head across the lap of the younger girl.  The older girl clutched the handle of a beat up square case in her sleep.  A shotgun lay across her lap. 

The dog woke up as he stood there holding Penny's reins.  Elias stood his ground as the dog started growling.  The girl clutched at his collar even as she wokeup.  In the time it took him to glance from the dog to the younger girl and then back to the older girl, she had the shotgun pumped and aimed at his face. 

The standoff was brief, none of them really felt like putting any effort into a fight even had they been so inclined.  They spend most of the afternoon talking and trying to stay cool in the shade.  They were quite enthralled by his tale, but the younger  girl, Allison, was skeptical.  Dee, however was more quietly accepting of his story, as if it verified something she already knew or had heard.  She told him of her own quest that had started out as simple vengeance, but had grown into something much more.  Since it appeared that their goals were so intertwined they decided to travel together. 

They camped that night in the partial shelter of the overturned truck.  He finally did learn the girl's name was June when she opened up to Allison that evening.  They were close to the same age.  But he was still very concerned for the girl.  The image that came most often to mind when he thought of her was a time bomb with the clock face painted over.  

Being the only one not on foot Elias scouted ahead.  He found a small town a couple miles south and returned to inform them.  By that evening they had all re-equipped themselves from a small gun shop.  The dry climate had preserved the guns perfectly.  

*     *     *

The old man in the back seat of the tow truck was dying.  Sandy recognized the signs.  Puck seemed oblivious to it, but she could smell it. 

They had picked the old man up at the side of the road, next to the smouldering carcass of a dead ATV.  He had been raving about his kidnapped daughter.  That was the only reason Sandy had not put a bullet in him already.  She hoped to reunite him with his little girl before it was too late.  

*     *     *
 Deek/Jewels contemplated the old man for some time.  It was decided that at the earliest opportunity he/they would wrest control from the parasite and eliminate this new threat it he/they could.  He/they were stronger now.  It was only a matter of time before they would be stronger than the invader.

*     *     *

The trip down through Texas was mostly uneventful.  That had seen very few wraiths.  The weather was warm but dry this far south and the wraiths liked humid conditions. 

*     *     *

Global Power Management Systems Inc.

The five of them stood staring at the sign over the main entrance checkpoint.  A chain link fence topped with rusty razor wire stretched off into the distance on either side.  Empty aircraft hangers stood nearby, barracks had been replaced with low office buildings and Air Force fighter aircraft had been swapped for an assortment of private jets and helicopters, but the place still looked and felt like the military air base it had been.  The parking lot was full of cars and unmarked company vans.  But what really dominated the scene was the large domed building loomed at the center of it all. 

Elias was the only one that knew what it was,  he had spent enough time in the Alaskan projection chamber examining the latest test subjects to recognize this one.  It was much larger and above ground, but it was close enough. 

The other three looked to him, and he shrugged before leading Penny through the checkpoint and the empty guardhouse. 

There was a circle drive at the largest office building, a glass and steel cracker box.  A large awning shaded the entrance.  A UPS van with six flat tires, ramp down and the rear door rolled up was parked near the entrance to make its last delivery.  Behind it was flatbed tow truck.  Dee was just beginning to think the tow truck looked out of place when a bullet slammed into the sidewalk at her feet.  Bits of concrete sprayed her ankles and she ducked behind the UPS van.  She was soon joined by the others. 

"You know this thing is just a pop can on wheels," Allison informed her. 

"Fine, you go out there and find me an armored car!" Dee snapped back at her.  "Let me think!"

Their own personal time warp seemed to form about them as they scanned for any possible cover, but they did not even really know where the shooter was.  Finally after what seemed like an hour but was in reality only six minutes Olly spoke up.

"We're pinned down and we have no place to go.  Why hasn't he finished us off?  If he got here before us he probably had plenty of time to set up a proper trap.  Why wait?"

It was a good question. 

Dee flipped the safety off her Colt SMG and  stepped out from behind the van.  She ready to duck back at any sign of movement.  But nothing happened.  The others were calling for her to come back.  But she took a step forward instead.  The big glass doors were just twenty yards away.  She proceeded slowly, not knowing what their enemy had in mind.  At ten yards she paused, thinking she heard something.  She was ready to bolt when the door swung open. 

What she saw was the one thing she was totally unprepared for. 

© 2011 R. Keith McBride

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Land of Shadows: Chapter XXV - Boom

Dee and Allison sat in the shade of the Flying J truck stop they had pulled into hoping to get propane for the Hummer's big empty bottles.  They kept casting nervous glances towards the pumps where Olly was working on under the big military vehicle.  It had been a week since Dotty had saved them all at the cost of her own life.  In that time they had made it most of the way down across Oklahoma without really talking about it.  But Dee had accidentally activated Dotty's security system while they were filling the propane bottles.  Olly was disarming the system now.  Dotty had never given them the ten digit code to disarm the system and her thumb was not conveniently available right now.  Olly seemed confident that he could disarm the system.  But something was bothering her about the whole situation.

"We killed her didn't we?"  Ally had asked suddenly as Dee was contemplating whether of not any of the snack foods inside would still be edible.  They had been shipped out of the factory months before the twins had even been born.  But some of them had no natural ingredients at all or were packed so full of preservatives that they would still be fresh when the final trump was blown.  She had just decided to chance the Pringles when Ally's question derailed her train of thought.  She looked into her younger sister's face and saw the anguish and guilt there and knew that like a splinter under her fingernail, it would have to be dug out now before it could fester. 

"Get this straight, those fucking monsters killed her, not us, not Olly, not you!" 
"But if we hadn't ... she would still be back in Manitowoc in her lighthouse.  She would still be alive!" 

"You can 'what if' till your blue in the face and it won't change a thing.  Dotty chose to come with us.  It was her decision.  She knew what she was doing.  She saved our lives.  She would not want us to waste that gift by wallowing in guilt."  She felt like she was handling this badly.  If only their mother were here.  She would know better what to say.

They lapsed into silence.  Dee glanced over to the Hummer again.  It was shaded by a large awning sheltering the propane pumps.  Beyond the Hummer were the big silver propane cylinders.  It suddenly clicked in her brain why she was so nervous.  She was about to call out to Olly to push the truck away from the propane tanks when she saw him emerge from under the truck.  He turned towards Dee and started running. 

Ally was still going on about being responsible for Dotty's death when Dee kicked her off the pop cases she was sitting on.  Ally started to protest but caught the expression on Dee's face.


Ally wasted no time and rolled to her feet and ran. 

Fifty yards and Ally started to slow down and look back. 

"Keep going!" both Dee and Olly yelled at her.

A hundred yards and Dee glanced back over her shoulder.  The look of terror on Olly's face spurred her on.  Two hundred yards and Dee wanted to duck behind a lone boxcar sitting on some rusty tracks leading nowhere.  But Olly shook his head.  Anyone else and she would have thought they were being overly cautious.  But that was not Olly's nature.  The twins had both been taught the fine art of blowing shit up by that nine fingered master, Billy Parsons.  So they kept running.  She was wondering how much time they had when Ally suddenly seemed to disappear into the dry barren landscape ahead of her.  She felt a moment of panic just before she too "found" the dry stream bed Ally had stumbled into.  Ally was already scrambling towards a big round pipe that passed under the road to the west.  Olly followed them in and sat down on the galvanized metal of the pipe. 

"Cover your ears and breath real shallow." he ordered them.  Dee was about to ask how long when Olly held up his hand fingers spread.  After about a second he put one finger down.  When he took his hand down and covered his ears Dee put her head down and exhaled, forcing as much air out of her lungs as she could.  None of the really heard the explosion.  It was more like being hit by a four ton water balloon filled with hot water.  Had their lungs been full the sudden pressure of the shockwave would have caused numerous ruptures in their lungs.  The first explosion was followed by two larger ones and several smaller ones.  In silence broken only by the ringing in their ears the three of them stumbled up onto the crumbling blacktop.  Olly was bleeding from both ears but did not seem to notice. 

They stood on the road looking to the north where the Flying J had been.  It was a flattened and smouldering ruin now.  There was not even enough left to really burn.  Debris was still raining down .  The old boxcar was now about twenty yards south of where they were standing now.  Dee looked at Olly and he just shrugged with an odd half grin on his face.

The three of the took stock and it looked rather grim.  Dee was the only one with more than a knife with her shotgun.  And she only had three shells for it in her pocket. 

They would soon be crossing into Texas on foot and unarmed.

*     *     *

The girl tugged at Elias' shirt and shoved the binoculars into his hands.  A thick plume of black smoke and dust on the horizon to the southeast.  The explosion they had heard earlier this morning had spooked Penny and only a firm hand and the fact that she was carrying a two riders, their gear and supplies kept her from bolting.  It must have been something big.  The initial explosion sounded like a car bomb.  He had heard a few of those back in the marines during basic training.  Whatever it was had set off something else. 

He pulled the reins to the left to head Penny in that general direction.  It was not terribly far out of the way and he felt that it was worth investigating. 

*     *     *

Elias was not the only one watching the smoke and wondering what it meant. 

Jonas heard and felt the rumbling and looked up to see the pillar of smoke to the south.  He didn't know if it was the man that had stolen his rebellious bitch of a daughter, but it was surely a sign.  He did not think he had much time left.  His left hand was a swollen red mess with ugly red lines just beginning to reach up to his wrist from the putrid stump of his left pinky.  The abdominal pains from the little terror gestating in his belly were stronger and more frequent.  And he was frequently blacking out because his blood sugar was fluctuating wildly.  But he intended to die with his hands around her throat and let the abomination he was carrying in his gut finish the job.  He climbed back on his battered ATV and followed the smoke. 

© 2011 R. Keith McBride

Friday, May 20, 2011

Land of Shadows: Chapter XXIV - Lane Ends Merge Ahead

Sandy stared at the young man sleeping next to her.  The man she had come to love in just a few brief days.  She was worried about him, though he was sleeping peacefully enough now, he was frequently troubled by nightmares and would spend half the night thrashing about.  Lines creased his forehead even now. She gently brushed the thick blond hair that had fallen across his face back.  She wished she could help him, but he was as tight-lipped about his nightmares as he was about that nasty vertical scar on his belly.

His obsession with Houston was even more troubling.  She had never been further south than Arkansas and that was bad enough.  Her father had died under her own hand just two miles north of the Missouri border.  It had been to spare him anymore agony and it often haunted her in her own dreams.  But it held a not of pride for her too.  She had been the one strong enough to do what needed to be done.  Her brother's could not bring themselves to do it no matter how much their father begged.  She and her brothers had burned his body and continued home.  It could be worse though, he could be headed to Florida.  Her mother was from Miami and said she had not heard of anyone coming out of Florida in ten years. 

She got up and went about getting ready for the day's travels.  It was a cool this morning but she had a feeling that by this afternoon she would be wishing the AC was working in the truck.  She wondered why anyone in their right mind ever settled this far south.  She did not realize that the blasted landscape they were crossing was the result of an uncontrolled wildfire that had swept the region two years ago, burning everything in its path.  She only saw the patchy drought starved grasses and the stunted looking twiggy little trees that were only now big enough to be called saplings.  There weren't that many buildings left standing along this stretch of highway. 

By the time Puck was awake she already had breakfast ready.  They were on the road again fifteen minutes later with him at the wheel.  She was surprised to learn that he could not drive or read and she had set about rectifying that situation.  The reading would take a while, but he had mastered driving within an hour. 

It was nearing noon when Puck slammed on the brakes, jolting Sandy out of her nap.  The reason for the sudden stop was obvious as soon as she opened her eyes.  The behemoths blocking the road were at least twelve feet at the shoulder, their massive gray bodies forming a veritable living wall blocking the road.  Their legs were as big around as a man's body.  One of the beasts turned to them, its tusks gleaming in the sun.  It sprayed a blast of dust from a pothole in the road up onto its back from its trunk and regarded them calmly as the others slowly trod across the interstate.  Both of then just stared in awe as the herd of African elephants crossed majestically in front of them.

*     *     *

"Well, I'll be damned!"  Deek and the old man exclaimed in unison.  This was beginning to happen more often.  Puck's growing distraction with the girl was giving them much more freedom of movement, but a strange thing was beginning to happen.  They two of them were becoming as one.  Two personalities cannot exist within the same confines of the human brain without problems.  Deek was frightened tried to resist at times but Jewels viewed this with resignation.  He did not know if it would necessarily be a bad thing but the loss of self troubled him.  He had lost much since he had been taken over, and could never hope to be a whole person.  Aside from being reduced in status to the equivalent of a disembodied hitchhiker, there were gaping holes in his memory.  Deek had never been complete.  But the alterations made to the boy's brain by the parasite and Jewels' presence would allow for the formation of an entirely new and whole person.  Sadly, neither believed they would live long enough for this merger to be run its eventual course.

This crossed their converging minds in an instant, before they both returned their attention to the elephants.

© 2011 R. Keith McBride

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Considering a Change of Address.

I have been considering a change of address for my story blog.  Blogger has been problematic from the beginning.  The editor is cumbersome and does not like the inclusion of photos (such as my scanned journal pages).  I am thinking about the feasibilty of moving the whole thing to facebook. 

Any input would be welcomed.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Land of Shadows: Chapter XXIII - Oklahoma

Puck helped Sandy up into the truck. He had no idea why he did this, she was perfectly capable of climbing into the cab by herself. She smiled at him as she slid into the driver's seat of the of the big flatbed tow truck. He found himself momentarily mesmerized by the curve of her backside and the fit of her jeans. He tried to put himself in a clinical frame of mind by analyzing the musculature of her leg, but that backfired as he found himself remembering how strong and athletic she had been just this morning and a felt a rekindling of lust. This was tinted by a strong desire to see her smile at him as she had afterwards. That one smile had elicited feelings in him that were unfamiliar and frightening. Lust he understood, but not this. On impulse he reached out to snap her neck and once and for all put an end to this madness. Instead his hand caressed her neck and idly traced the shape of her ear. She shivered and told him that if he kept that up they would never get moving. He reluctantly fastened his seat belt and dropped his hand down into the seat between them. She turned and smiled at him saw the look on his face and the smile melted away.

"What's wrong, handsome?" asked Sandy as she turned back around to face him. But he had no answer for her.

* * *

Dee found the old relic in a recreation of an old trapper's cabin that had been built in the east wing of Bass Pro Shop. It was a 1930 Underwood portable typewriter. It was not as refined as her father's Olympia but it seemed to work fine, a little stiff from sitting but a shot of a aerosol carburetor cleaner in the segment and the escapement would loosen it up. A good machine oil applied sparingly only if needed because oil attracts dust. The ribbon was dry, but her father had taught her a trick to fix that. She should be able to find everything she needed here.

As the blizzard raged outside she found a quiet corner of the huge mall to update her journal. It was that or hang around camp listening to Allison and Olly bicker back and forth.

Dee closed the case on the liberated Underwood, leaving the half page she had typed in the case. Then she looked down at her fingers. It had been a bit messy but the WD40 had done the trick. A little bit sprayed on the ribbon had brought the ink out nicely. Now her fingers were stained from handling the ribbon but some alcohol would take care of that.

Tomorrow they would be on the trail again, but tonight she planned to unwind a bit.

* * *

Stepping across the Kansas Oklahoma border was like stepping from winter into summer. 

They found a big cinderblock building just off the highway that turned out to be a gun store with an indoor shooting range. Elias and the girl both took the opportunity to replenish their stock of ammunition. The guns were all perfectly preserved in the dry climate. Elias selected a vintage Winchester rifle. It was a model he was familiar with and he could almost always find ammo for it. He tested it out on the firing range after a thorough cleaning.

In the basement behind some crates he found a steel door. There was a huge padlock hanging loose from the hasp on the door. He considered just closing the lock but didn't like the idea of sleeping here without knowing what was on the other side of the door. Inside he saw what looked like an old Cold War era survivalists bunker. It was well stocked with canned goods and dried foods.

A huge old rat was gnawing open a box of old crackers nearby, unfazed by his presence. But a rat this size was actually a good sign. No wraiths nearby. Elias tossed a rusted and swollen can of beans at the rat missing completely. The rat looked at the can, looked at Elias and waddled lazily off, unimpressed.

Back behind some large shelves and racks was what appeared to be a well decorated little girl's bedroom. There was an expensive digital camera on a tripod aimed at the bed. On a desk just outside the taped off "walls" of the bedroom was a computer and printer, also on the desk were a few hundred round .22 ammo boxes filled not with bullets, but micro SD memory cards. Easily hidden, easily erased. He had little doubt what he would find were he to open the files they contained. An open folder under the desk with some color prints confirmed this. He looked behind him and sure enough she was shadowing him. She had said maybe ten words to him since she had shot her father. He sometimes tended to forget she was even there except when they were riding. She would sit behind him with her arm around him or clinging to his coat. She was terrified of Penny.

He quickly ushered the girl out of the bunker and locked the door before she could see photos.

After checking all the doors and windows they turned in. Penny was stabled in the shooting range and they were camped in one of the gun shop's stock rooms. Elias was confident that they would be within spitting distance of Houston within the week. If they survived that is.

* * *

The haze of smoke from the fires surrounding them was making it difficult to see what they were shooting at, but the fire was the only thing giving them any light. A wraith burst through a glass window to Dee's right but was dead before it hit the ground, its head reduced to a pulpy mass by Olly's pump action shotgun.

"I'm out!" Ally shouted from behind the counter she had taken refuge behind. Dee yanked a .45 from her belt, clicked the safety and tossed it to her. The gun crashed through the glass display case in front of Ally. Carefully avoiding the larger shards of glass that threatened to sever arteries if given half a chance and ignoring the smaller pieced that bit into her fingers, Ally snatched the weapon, disengaged the safety and fired a couple of rounds into the head of a wraith that was being held at bay by Duke. Dee's rifle clicked on an empty chamber so she switched to her sawed off shotgun. It was a short range weapon that had to be broke open after each shot, but would knock down a charging bull elephant with one shot. She might be able to get one or two of them before she was out. Then they would be on her.

The wall to Dee's left exploded out, raining drywall and splintered two by four studs out. The biggest master wraith she had ever seen, with claws nearly 2 feet long, burst through and landed right in front of her. She pumped her remaining two shells into the head and neck of the thing before she realized that it was already dead. Light was now blazing from the whole in the wall as the roar of the Hummer's engine filled the room.

Dotty leaned out the door and yelled at them to for Christ's sake get in. They did not need a second invitation. But before they could get in Dotty suddenly stiffened and tried scream. Two long curved swords erupted from just under her breasts and all she could get out was a sputter. The claws yanked upwards pulling Dotty out of her seat. Another pair of claws lashed out and decapitated her as neatly as a guillotine. There was, mercifully, no spray of blood from her severed neck as her heart had already stopped beating. The beast was dead from four gunshots to the head before Dotty's head hit the floor. There was no time to grieve or even to gather her remains before they had to flee. Dee sadly had to yank Dotty's body from the driver's seat and leave it there on the tiled floor next to the wraith that had killed her.

© 2011 R. Keith McBride

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Working on a new story post.

I would like to apologise to my few readers for not getting a story post up in a while. Been very busy and just have not had a lot of time to sit down and put anything down. But I am curretnly working on the next chapter.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Land of Shadows: Chapter XXII - A Bad Day

Jonas squatted on the pot trying his best to take care of business. But it just was not happening. Not like yesterday. Damn that dump had almost been a holy experience. He felt like friggin Superman for an hour afterwards. Like he could have run down to Park City or maybe even as far as Wichita and trotted back. But struggle as he did all he produced was one little minnow of a turd and that made that God Damned hemorrhoid itch like mad. He wiped his ass and then with one jagged thumbnail proceeded to dig at that sum bitch. He hit it just right and it was almost as good as sex. Not that he knew much about that lately. His wife had died eight years ago, screaming under the claws of a nightmarish Hell spawned thing. He dug at the hemorrhoid for a bit longer before wiping his thumb on the hem of his jeans.

Uncontrolled diabetes had rendered him impotent years ago. His feet were a constant pain and his digestion frequently troubled him. Scratching that damn hemorrhoid was damn near the only physical pleasure left to him on this cursed world. And now he was constipated again. He dumped a pitcher of old wash water in the toilet to flush it and went to see if that no good daughter of his had fixed supper yet. At twelve she was shaping up quite nice. A real pleasure to look at. At times he could even feel a stirring in his loins as he watched her, but his impotence was saving her from that at least. It didn't prevent him from giving her the back of his hand when she pissed him off, or just happened to be in the wrong place when he was in a bad mood. Like now.

The kitchen was quiet, empty and cold. It would be at least an hour before dinner could be ready.

"Damn that lazy child!" he muttered to himself as he went to the back door. She was spending more and more time out wandering lately. Especially in the winter when the monsters were holed up somewhere. She had probably gone out back to check on that runt piglet again. He would take the axe out there and put a stop that tonight. The sun was going down so he decided to take his rifle. There was snow on the ground, but you could never be too careful.

Standing on the back porch he could tell that she was not in the barn. The lights were all dark and there was no way she would be out there in the dark. At twelve she was still afraid of the dark.

There were a lot of factors that could have caused the closing of the day to end differently for him. He could have looked to east first and not seen the silhouette of the stranger on horseback, his daughter might have decided not missing or the generator might not have picked that time to quit. But the single factor that might have changed things the most would have been if he had just been able to take a decent dump tonight. That always put him in more pleasant frame of mind.

He would tend to the generator after he had dealt this this interloper. Probably just out of gas or something simple like a clogged filter. But it was just the perfect topper to an already crappy day. Right now he was pissed off, his daughter was nowhere in sight and here was this approaching stranger. He had to vent on somebody and here the Lord had supplied him with a perfect target.

As he watched the man come down off the highway he crept over to the corner of the house so he could watch him without being seen. He quickly crossed over to the remnants of the mobile home that squatted on the property to the west of his. He circled behind it and peeked out again.

The man had dismounted the horse to better navigate the maze of trucks and and broken down tractors in the yard of the house across the road. He crossed the road quickly and the man was still unaware of his presence. He seemed to be making his way directly to Jonas' house. In his paranoia he believed that he was probably here looking for his daughter's young pussy. He imagined the stranger lying in wait, watching his daughter go about her business, a pair of binoculars in one hand, his dick in the other. Well Jonas would be damned if he would let this stranger have her!

With stealth gained from years of hunting for his food, he got behind the stranger without being seen or heard. But he could not just shoot the man in the back and be done with it. It was not any kind of ingrained sense of honor that prevented him from blowing the trespasser to kingdom come.

No, nothing like that. It was because Jonas had long ago touched on a great truth. If you went to Heaven, everyone would worship the same master or his minions. It was pretty much an exclusive club. Unless you martyred yourself or had the pope declare you a saint, then you were low man on the totem pole. And Jonas had long ago given up the idea of going to Heaven anyway. But in Hell, the people you killed were destined to serve under you for eternity. The more people you killed the more powerful you were in Hell. Even before the disappearance he had done quite well for himself. Serving in Iraq had been quite profitable. He could kill any damn towel headed bastard and get away with it as long as he took certain precautions. Getting booted out on medical reasons for his diabetes had slowed him down, but not stopped him entirely. At the time all the people bugged out he had already twenty or more bodies tucked away here and there on the farm. Mostly drifters, drunks, drug addicts and salesmen. But his first wife and a state trooper were buried out there too.

The disappearance could not have come at a better time for him. He had just finished a putting trooper in the ground and turning his attention to his partner when he noticed that the second was not quite fully dead yet. He raised the shovel up above his head, being very careful to keep his eyes locked on the big man's eyes when the man just suddenly was not there anymore. There was a soft sound of air rushing to fill the void where he had been. His uniform remained. Jonas had dropped the shovel and stared as the uniform slowly caved in on itself. Being very careful not to touch it himself he had picked up the shovel again and prodded at the now vacant clothes. Not so much as a toenail remained. He had somehow been cheated out of this one. He would have been a good one too. Young and strong. It spooked him badly but there was still work to be done. He buried the empty uniform and placed the gun holster in a heavy ziploc bag just like the other one. He never knew when an extra gun might come in handy.

They had come by asking questions about a missing teenage boy he had buried the week before. And he felt at the time that his run was nearly over. It would not be too long before the police came with cadaver dogs and backhoes and forensic experts. Of course he intended to be dead before then, and maybe take a few more cops to Hell with him.

But it was not to be.

The disappearance had slowed him down, but it had not stopped him. He still managed to snag the occasional drifter. If they were alone they were fair game, if they travelled in a group, he usually doused the lights and let them pass. His second wife had been the daughter of a man that had passed through here that first winter alone. She had been docile enough after the first couple of times he had beaten her senseless. But when she had tried to run away with their daughter he just could not let that slide. He had tied her to a tree on a summer night and let the black beasties have her. She was too weak to serve adequately and her constant mewling was irritating enough on this side, there was no way he would want to put up with that shit for all eternity. But he didn't even bother burying the bodies anymore. He just left them where they fell if it were summer. The monsters took care of the disposal for him. In the winter he just drug the bodies out into the woods and left them somewhere. He was already planning where he would dump this latest trespasser.

"You just freeze right there in your tracks or I'll shoot you where you stand!" He ordered as he stepped out from behind an old Farmall and cocked his rifle. "You come her for my daughter I reckon. Well you cain't have her. Now you just march right on ahead there and tie the reins of your horse to that there tractor. She looks like a fine animal, wouldn't want her to bolt now if any sudden noise were to spook her."

Elias did as he was told and turned to face the man that had so easily taken him captive. He was not really a big man and he looked to have at least a decade on Elias, but there was an evil air about him. He remembered his father telling him that anyone can be dangerous. A ninety year old quadriplegic can best a trained Marine if he has a sharp mind and the will to kill. And Elias had no doubt that this man had the will.

Elias tried to think of some way to escape, but sometimes there just simply was no way out. The man was hanging just far enough back that he would have plenty of time to shoot Elias if he tried anything. He was directing Elias well away from anything that could possibly be used as a weapon or cover. He just walked where the man pointed and soon found himself in front of the steel sided barn to the southeast of the house he had been heading to. The man gestured Elias to open the door. The door screeched along its track but opened easily enough.

"Gonna haf to grease those wheels soon dontcha think?" The man asked. But it didn't appear to Elias that he was looking for any kind of response, so he kept silent.

He hesitated there at the edge of the barn's shadow and the man pointed the rifle at his knees. He stepped inside. The interior of the barn was pitch black. The door faced to the north so even had the sun been up or the moon been full, no light would have reached the interior. Elias had once thought himself above common irrational fears, especially fear of the dark. But in the last few years he had discovered sound reasoning to dread being caught outside when the sun went down. But this barn was somehow worse. He knew that death waited inside.

The darkness of the barn closed about him in an almost palpable sense. He stepped forward into the gloom waiting for his eyes to adjust. Just as dim shapes began to form in front of him a light flared behind him casting long dark shadows that danced menacingly across the jumbled landscape of the barn's interior. The dancing light calmed a bit as the farmer set the lantern on a nearby workbench bolted to the concrete floor.

Elias looked about the barn trying to find something that would help, but the crazy old man fired a shot into the concrete floor at his feet. Chips of cement sprayed across his pants leg, some of them even cut through to his shins. He yelped and jumped back.

"Look here!" Jonas yelled at the intruder. He wanted to be looking in the man's eyes when he put the bullet into him. Had to really, or it didn't count. The man was a tall and strong, a worthy addition. He raised the rifle and lined up the man's left eye in the sights of the rifle. He could feel the familiar surge in his loins as he pulled back on the trigger. It was the only time he truly felt alive anymore. He knew he would have to change his drawers afterwards, but that was ok. It was a further sign of the divinity of his purpose.

The gun thundered in the confines of the the barn. The corrugated metal gave back a terrible echo. His knees buckled and he collapsed forward.

Elias stared at the fallen lunatic for a few seconds surprised that he was still alive.

"Who owns who now you SICK BASTARD!!!" a voice shrieked from behind. Elias whirled around to see the owner of the voice and saw a young girl of perhaps eleven clutching a large revolver in both hands. She was bundled in a large parka and a what looked to be four or five pairs of sweats. And the expression on her face as she approached the inert body sprawled out on the concrete floor did little to reassure him that his situation had improved. She fired the gun with each step as she advanced on him but her hands were shaking with rage so that she missed each time. Elias froze so as to not draw her fire. When the hammer started clicking on empty chambers he moved, quickly removing the gun from her hands. She fought him like a wildcat for a minute or two, kicking and biting. Then she went limp. He started to set her down, but she resumed fighting. It was like one of those cartoons he had watched as a child, the cat buzzing and hissing around the dog like a mini tornado. He managed to get her pinned to the floor before she went limp again. He waited a few moments, expecting her to start up again at the first sign that he was letting his guard down. But when she began sobbing he knew the fight was over.

"I'm going to Hell now, I killed my father!" she wailed. Elias let her go for a moment. He turned the man over and checked his pulse. It was there, thin and weak but there. Elias could never bring himself to kill in cold blood. Self defence was one thing but to execute someone that was already down was completely different. Totally violated his Hippocratic oath. But he did not have a problem with letting his fate be decided by the elements. The last fourteen years had instilled him with a deep practical streak that would have been alien to him in previous years.

"Does that run?" he asked pointing to a big Yamaha electric ATV parked against the wall. It was one of the few things in the barn not covered with years of grime and dust. And it had a large cargo rack, presumably for carrying his kills home. In reality it was just as often used for carrying kills out into the woods. The girl nodded and he began loading the man onto the cargo rack. He was heavy, but at least his bowels and bladder had not cut loose yet. There had been a thick stand of trees across the highway that would do.

But first he had to go check on Penny and get her stabled.

The girl was still in the barn. She was silent and docile at the present. He led her into the house where she wordlessly sat on a couch in the living room. The house was well kept but dark. He asked her if there was a generator somewhere and she pointed back out to the barn. He lit some candles so he would not be leaving the girl in the dark.

After that was done he made a quick run out to the woods and tied the man to a tree a few yards in and quickly left. But not before he saw a couple of skeletal figures tied to their own trees. His conscience a little cleared, he hurried back to the farmhouse.

The generator was a well maintained Honda that started on the first try. The tank was full, so he had no idea why it was not running. He suspected that the girl had something to do with it. She was still a big question mark. He hoped that she would sleep tonight, but as exhausted as he was, he doubted that he would.

* * *

He woke suddenly, hurting all throughout his body. He tried to move his arms and found them bound. He was sitting on the ground tied to a thick maple tree. His feet were free, but he was too weak to try to push himself up. His chest hurt and his fingers were numb from the cold. The last thing he remembered was that traitorous little bitch shooting him. He looked down and saw the blood soaking the front of his coat.

It was a fight to keep his eyes open. Despite his best efforts he found himself drifting off.

Death was near and he would welcome it.

Pain flared in his side during one of these brief lapses. He rolled away from it and got to his knees painfully. He did not even notice that he had broken off a pinky doing so. A shadow moved nearby. It was a massive thing with sword like claws. He stood slowly to his feet to face the creature that would soon carry him to Hell.

© 2011 R. Keith McBride

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Land of Shadows: Chapter XXI - Good Samaritan

The roof of the church library had leaked and soaked the books. Its shelves yielded little of interest or use to him, but there was an atlas that was still intact and dry, He took some time to study it while the weather had him stranded. It was almost a straight shot from Hesston to Houston. Elias closed the atlas and set it back on the shelf, but the rotten wood gave out under the weight of the massive old book and the shelf collapsed. He quickly stepped back as the avalanche of books cascaded across the moldy carpet.

Not for the first time he found himself questioning the wisdom of this trip. But he had already put it off too long. After his last trip south he had vowed never to go any further south than the Kansas/Oklahoma border.

He had barely escaped with his life after he had walked into that nest of Shadows in Las Vegas. Some called them wraiths, some called them shades, demons, or ghosts. But whatever the name they were nasty characters.

At the time he had only been back three years, four years since everyone had been spirited away. He had been wintering at the Bellagio, staying in a suite which would have cost him half a year's salary for one night. But their rates were much more affordable now. He had an excellent view of the Eiffel Tower in front of the Paris Las Vegas Hotel. But the huge fountain the Bellagio was so famous for was a bit of a disappointment. Now empty and dry, the pipes and pumps clogged with sand. The robotic jets forever stilled. Tumbleweeds littered the floor and the submerged lights now exposed and broken. The crystal clear waters of the artificial lake gone, a victim of the Mojave Desert.

But he was living the good life. Plenty of gas to run the generators. No need to hunt, plenty of canned and dried food to be found in the casino kitchens and nearby stores. In the whole winter he had been staying there the temperature had not dipped below thirty-six degrees at night and the days were sunny and warm.

Things had been great, at least for a while. Then it started getting weird. He began to feel like he was being watched. He had awakened one night sure that something had been in the room watching him. Nothing had been there when he cut the lights on. But when he got up to check things out he found that something had broken the seal on several five gallon water jugs and let them drain out onto the suite's kitchen floor. As he stood there watching water drain from the jugs a sprinkling of dust tickled his nose and he looked up in time to see a ceiling tile settle into place. He didn't sleep for a week after that. He abandoned the Bellagio and found a room in a smaller hotel. Someplace with a solid ceiling and less hidey holes. He also took to carrying a gun with him wherever he went, not just when he was hunting.

One day while gathering food he had seen a manhole cover slide and drop into place. He pried up the manhole cover and peered into the darkness. He unfastened a self powered LED flashlight and shook it a few times to charge it up before descending into the darkness. He memories after that point were vague and often tormented him in nightmares. He could not even recall escaping clearly. He could only remember weakly crawling out one of the flood tunnels. He had been badly mauled and had lost most of the gear he had gone down with.

That was not his last encounter with the shadows, but once he figured out that they didn't like cold weather he headed north.

Now here he was intentionally headed back into the heart of shadow territory.

He packed his gear, saddled Penny and headed out. The snow was knee deep but the sky was clear and the sun was warm. He had hoped to make it to the next town before sundown, but by the time the sun had started to get tangled in the naked trees to the west. There was a road to either side of interstate that had been severed by the highway. He doubted that there was any pavement under that snow. There were however a few farmhouses and steel roofed barns. He bypassed a farmhouse of more recent construction in favor of an older house with a large stone chimney visible on the west end, A metal barn with a sliding door sat to the southeast of the house. He should be able to stable Penny there. The sanctuary at the Mennonite church had developed a certain ... aroma after three days. He weaved his way through a maze of rusted trucks and derelict tractors. The thought of ambush never crossed his mind. It was far too cold for the shadows to out and even had it been warmer they did not like to go out in the daylight. The possibility of an insane gun toting farmer protecting his land from trespassers did not enter his mind either. Which was why he was so surprised when the one that had crept up quietly through the snow behind him ordered him to freeze.

* * *

Dee was never so happy to leave a church behind her. The chapel would have made a cheery enough home had one not encountered its previous occupants, but Dotty was the only member of their party that had gotten a decent nights sleep. The three nights in the Uni had not been much better. It had been somewhat cramped quarters when she was a child living with her adopted parents, but with four adults and a dog it had even more so. But tonight they would be sleeping in comfort at the Bass Pro Shop just off I-70. They were less than a couple of miles from her biological parents old home in Independence and the home she and her adopted father had been forced out of by the wraiths so many years ago. It was so tempting to engage in a little side trip down memory lane. But now was not the time. Perhaps on the way back.

They parked the Hummer one of the service bays of the boat shop on the west side. Dotty opted to stay with the Hummer while the rest of them explored and scavenged for supplies. They needed more propane for the lanterns and for the Hummer, ammo, arrows, kerosene, windshield washer fluid, matches or lighters, salt, soap, socks, new boots for Allison and Oliver and first aid supplies to replenish their seriously depleted first aid kits. And Allison announced that she had to have some feminine hygiene products which started a rather juvenile exchange between her and her brother. Dotty put a halt to that by the simple means of whacking both parties on the back of the head with a rolled up Spring 2027 edition of the SunTracker catalog.

Dee found herself at the main entrance on the north side of the building. The waterfall had long since quit running and the dried pool at the bottom of the falls showed no signs of life. But the huge fireplace and lounge would make a good spot to camp. A cold draft from a door that had been blocked open by a shopping cart needed attention. She shoved the cart out into the parking lot where it hit a boat trailer and spilled. She looked to the west and for a moment thought she saw a thin plume of smoke. It was perhaps a mile away unless she had just imagined it. The sun was little more than a pale disk behind the clouds and held little sway with the barren snow covered Earth. She was letting the gloomy weather get to her. She turned back inside and let the door swing shut behind her.

* * *

The cuts were healing, but the one ear was still a tattered mess and always would be. He had lost a toe, chewed off after becoming so badly infected that biting it off hurt less than leaving it. The belly wounds had been itching something awful. He was weak still. That was why he was such an easy mark for the coyotes that had been watching him. But they had not counted on the half wolf bitch that had been following him either. She was not full wolf nor man's lapdog. She was outcast from the pack. She had no love of wolves or dogs, but even less for the little coyotes. If she could deny them their fun and food so be it. She waited until the lead coyote made its move then leapt to the side of the big black dog. Her jaws closed on the back of the smaller animal's neck as it lunged for the hind legs of the dog. Her heavily muscled jaw clamped down and she threw her weight into a twisting motion that snapped the coyote's neck. It was over before it even knew it had been hit. The rest of the coyote pack broke and and ran. None of them were willing to challenge her. She was big for a wolf. She could have dominated her pack if her coat had been like the others. But her coat was white and her eyes pale and pink. They would not accept her.

She knew without knowing how or why that she would follow this strange black dog. He had a purpose and a direction and she had none.

He had silently watched the brief struggle, unsure of the intent of the newcomer. The exchanged greetings in the usual canine manner and the black dog began sniffing the ground, picked up a scent and began following it. She sniffed the scent too. It was faint flowery smell with an underlying musk, familiar yet strange. A primitive part of her brain associated this scent with trouble. But he was following it so she would too. It lead to a clearing where a small fire had burned. The scent pooled here and mingled with others like it but different. Most were female, but there was a male among them. Long shallow ruts ran to the south in a parallel line, and the black dog began to follow them.

Bo began to pick up the pace. His new companion kept with him and he moved forward more confidently.

© 2011 R. Keith McBride

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Land of Shadows: Chapter XX - Someone to Watch Over Her

They had been inside the Uni for a couple of minutes when Allison asked why it wasn't freezing in the camper. Dee opened up her jacket for a moment letting the warmer interior air get to her. It was indeed warmer in the Uni than it was outside, far warmer than could be accounted for by simple lack of wind. If memory served there was a thermostat towards the cab of the truck. It had a simple bi metal thermometer reading a balmy thirty six degrees. She realised that a warm breeze was drifting across her ankles and bent down to investigate the vent. Warm air was blowing gently forth. It stopped after a moment. She opened a panel next to the bathroom door and checked out the battery stack. Each battery had its own charging circuit and indicator. Six of the twenty four batteries were completely dead and another eight were only registering about five percent or less. But ten of them were showing at least half a charge. It was enough that the heaters were working, keeping the interior just warm enough to keep the batteries from freezing. There were solar panels on the roof charging them during the day. It was a testament to the engineering of the camper's electrical system and its controllers that they were working at all. Probably if someone were to go up on the roof and sweep the solar panels off they could get a little more heat inside. And the way the storm was picking up, they would not be going anywhere today.

She opened the door into the cab and found that the cab had fared far worse. The seats were a moldy mess and the dash was covered with snow from the holes in the windshield. She could see Olly approaching the camper. She imagined that they were getting concerned because she and Ally were taking so long. She pulled out her walkie talkie and called to Dotty, telling her to pull the Hummer up to the door of the camper. They would be spending the night. A few minutes later they were all inside.

The overnight stay in the Unimog turned out to be three days. Despite frequent sweepings of the solar panels they were only able to keep the remaining batteries charged up to fifteen percent by the end of the second day so they spent a lot of time huddled under blankets. But the storm ended the second night and the day broke with the crystal clarity you only get on cold winter days. The sky was clear and the sun was bright and the solar panels began to charge the depleted batteries. But the strain of the previous days use had been too much for two of the batteries and their indicators never rose past the red line. But the remaining eight had an eighty five percent charge by sundown. It was a good thing too. The snow had covered much of the Hummer and it would have be be dug out before they could proceed. By the time that was done nobody felt much like driving, so they spent yet another night in the Uni. The only consolation was that their opponent in this race would surely not be having any better luck in this weather than they.

* * *

He was losing himself. He had never experienced anything like this before. He had experienced sex before, but that was just mechanical function and instinctive animal experience. Mostly he just allowed the animal portion of the host's brain take over and perform the tasks necessary to get the job done. Over the years it had seduced and used quite a few women and men to get what he wanted.

But this time he had found himself not wanting to draw away and let the body take over. He was suddenly reluctant to hurt her. He held her naked body close to him as he kissed her lips, neck, and breasts. He knew she had never done this before and that just excited him more. He fought for control and distance, but found that difficult so for the first time ever he found himself losing control.

It was a glorious and disturbing experience that left him exhausted and rattled.

The weather had stranded them at restaurant in Independence. It was a large building, remarkably intact with the bonus of having a rather large fireplace in the dining room. They camped in the dining room in front of that fireplace. The restaurant had been part of a large chain that had prided itself on its home style cooking in an old country store setting. This had been lucky for them as many of the antiques on display had come in quite handy. An old oil lamp, some frying pans and some kitchen utensils had been put to use that first evening. In a store room they found a few dozen bundles of wood for the fireplace so they were quite comfortable.

It was after they had made love that first time that she had rolled over to look into his eyes and asked him a question that left him mentally scrambling.

"Don't you think it's about time you told me your name?"

It was only then that he realized how many holes there still were in his persona this time around. Desperately he searched but could not find it. What the Hell was it with these creatures and their incessant need to name things. Was it not enough that something just was? Must everything have a label? A name floated to the surface of his mind and he blurted it out without even thinking.


She giggled and for some reason he did not kill her.

That night he left the inflatable bed they had set up near the fireplace, relieved himself out back and returned to the dining room. He did not return immediately to bed though. He quietly pulled up a chair and sat backwards on it with his arms crossed over the back and chin resting on his arms. He stared at her for hours wondering what the fuck was wrong with him.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride