Yesterday I put out the first part of a follow-up short story that tracked Mac and the crew on a new adventure. You can read the original short, A New World. Also to save you confusion here’s part 1 of this short – Follow-up: The Dark Road.
After we survived our first night under the new world order, everyone wanted to scatter to see if their families remained among the living. It seemed logical to check on loved ones. It seemed natural to turn to our parents, to the authority figures in our lives, for direction. But when the plague hit, we were without those figures. I won’t go so far as to say the absence of authority saved us, but it made us cautious and it made us evaluate everything from a different perspective.
Because we were all together at my house, we made the first smart decision of our lives, we stayed put through the night and sobered up.
The morning after Tammy killed Mrs. Miller, we sat on my deck watching the sun creep down the western hill to light up the town. Tammy had brewed a pot of coffee and we huddled around the table, sipping in shock.
Nobody rushed off. Instead, we drew closer. It almost felt like we were the family gathered around the table.
We made a decision. We’d search, but we’d do it together … one house at a time … Sean’s first. I could feel the hurt radiating from Tammy, but to get to her house required crossing a road. We all understood we were in uncharted, yet not unfamiliar territory. If pop-culture dictated our new world, we’d find ourselves alone in a world full of the undead. Caution trumped everything else.
No way we could hope to last without caution.
But we proceeded with that misconception in mind. We armed up from my dad’s study and slipped along the stone steps leading down the hill to Sean’s back yard.
Sean’s house sat silent and empty. A single blood trail dragged to the front door.
Encountering nothing, we pressed on for Corrine’s house. Her home lay empty as well, but her dad had left a note on the fridge. Her family had fled in the night. I’m not sure how they got wind of what was happening, but they didn’t stick around to see how things would turn out. They bolted for her aunt’s cabin up in Vermont, trusting Corrine to be safe and catch up with them when she was able.
Corrine took it with her usual grin and shrug.
We cleaned out the houses of anything remotely useful and after several trips up to my house, prepped our fortress for siege.
“What do you want us to move?” I asked the waitress as we finished up our early morning breakfast and watched the bloody fingered dawn claw its way over the piney New Hampshire hills. “Your infant daughter who’s immune to the disease, a cure for the disease, or maybe it’s just information?”
“First off.” The waitress held up a hand to halt my mouth. “I’m a grandmother and my daughter can more than take care of herself. Secondly, you watch way too many movies.
“I just need a simple delivery,” she said, shaking her head with amusement. “My granddaughter has asthma and I came across a pair of inhalers in a trade the other day. I know it’s not an emergency at the moment, but I’d rather she have them and not need them than the other way around.”
“Why not have one of the good ol’ boys drop them for you?” Corrine gestured to the thinning ranks of truckers at the board.
“It’s off their normal routes.”
“I’ve heard things are getting a little rough on the roads, what with the fortified roadblocks and wandering herds,” Sean chipped in. “Are things really as bad as we’ve heard?”
“Roland, sweetie,” the waitress called over to a husky trucker. “Please explain the road situation to these children.”
Corrine bristled at the motherly tone, but as the trucker lumbered over, dwarfing a mug of coffee in a massive paw, she relaxed. I noticed the change and wondered what it meant. Corrine never backed down from a fight.
Maybe she’d found a kindred soul.
Roland flipped a chair around and caused an alarming groan as he sat.
“Name’s Rolly …”
Part of me freaked when Tammy so casually killed Mrs. Miller. I know the whole dead, not dead thing swings back and forth depending on who you’re talking to, but Tammy opened that lady’s head like a rotten pumpkin with her Dane axe. Dead, alive and dead, undead, almost dead, not quite dead yet, it’s all the same in the end.
I know everything changed in that single night, but death is easier for some of us.
Aside from Mrs. Miller and the shambling shadows down the road we didn’t see any dead folk until later in the afternoon when we trekked over to Tammy’s house. I’d like to say everything turned shiny and we all moved on to live in a little commune in the woods surrounded by nature and gooey goodness, but life never turns out like Disney movies.
Geared up, amped up, and edgy we rolled for Tammy’s house after breaking for lunch. With six of us, clearing Sean and Corrine’s house flowed like we were a Seal Team.
Or so we pretended.
The streets sat in empty silence. I swear even the animals knew the world was cocked. It seemed like the apocalypse had dropped in the dead of night, leaving us alone in an all too familiar setting.
We covered the distance at a nervous trot.
Uncertainty laced our every move. If life is a game, we were the noobs.
Tammy’s front door lay closed, somehow foreboding compared to either Sean or Corrine’s. Hefting weapons, we tiptoed up the steps.
“Blood,” Sean whispered as he peeked in the front window. “I don’t see any bodies, but there’s definitely blood smeared on the floor.”
We’d all been tense since we woke up that morning, but something new in the hunch of Tammy’s shoulder put me on edge.
“You solid?” I gave her a friendly bump with my hip.
Her silence and focus unnerved me.
I glanced around. Evidently everyone else felt it too. We all seemed to be holding our breath and trying to stare at Tammy without actually looking at her. For a second she just stood there as if she could knock down the door with her glare.
“I’m fine,” she muttered and proceeded to unlock her front door. Like a wraith she slipped inside, leaving us to exchange a quick glance before following her.
We stopped, bunching up in the foyer. Uncertainty and surprise punched us all in the face as we tried to process what we were looking at. A barfight had rolled through. Furniture lay ripped and scattered. Glass crunched underfoot. The family portrait dangled from one hook above the fireplace.
In a clump we shuffled into the living room where Sean had seen the blood.
He wasn’t wrong.
A blood-streak traced a highway of gore from a crimson lake congealed on the stain-resistant carpet. Gripping our weapons a little tighter, we inched our way along the trail.
I led the way, trying to keep from stepping in the ichor.
“You know they used chocolate and jam in the old movies,” Casey whispered from the rear, a telling grin met me when I glanced back to him. I couldn’t be sure, but I would swear he was actually enjoying this. Tread probably thought he was in a video game.
I stopped and the others bumped into each other like a long train clanking to a halt.
“That a fact?” I kept my eyes on him for a sec and then decided lightening the mood might not be the worst idea in that moment.
“Yeah,” Casey continued in earnest. “Later they graduated to more realistic stuff, but the classics are classics for a reason.”
I chuckled. It may have been forced, but I think the others caught the drift. Everyone rolled their shoulders or stretched their necks. Without saying it, I passed along the need to loosen up. Not that I had any idea why we needed to do that, but we all knew that rolling into a game tense was the perfect way to get kicked in the teeth.
“Spread out,” I whispered. “But keep together.” I confused myself.
“Support,” Corrine replied.
I nodded. Everyone else understood and dispersed as I followed the trail to the kitchen.
My heard pounded.
Something about the corner to the dining room tweaked me out. I couldn’t tell you what tickled the hairs at the back of my neck, but it was there. Inching forward, I tried to peek around the corner without actually stepping through the door.
Nothing happened. I strained to hear any sound.
With my warhammer cocked, I stepped into the room and into the arms of Tammy’s dad. For a moment my brain refused to register my danger. Only after Sean stepped through the other door to the dining room and grabbed Mr. Riley by the back of the neck did things click into place.
For a split second I stared into dead eyes as numb hands scrabbled against the leather jerkin I wore in place of armor.
His teeth snapped together like a mouse-trap, inches from my face. His bulk drove me to my knees as I used my hammer as a last-ditch shield. Then Sean heaved and spun the bulky man across the dining room table to flop in a trembling heap in the far corner.
Like his teeth, my mind clicked with understanding.
By the time I had clambered to my feet, Corrine had vaulted the table and punched a hole in Mr. Riley’s skull with her heavy trench knife.
“Did he get you?” Sean asked through a breathless adrenaline surge.
Across the room, Corrine stood over the twitching stump staring at the congealed goop on her knife. “That was intense,” she mumbled as the knife slipped from her fingers to land with a dead thump on the edge of the area rug. Her eyes flew wide and she booted all over the floor.
“I think I’m ok.” Dazed, I wandered away from Sean and rounded the table to stand beside Corrine.
She finished the emptying process and stood up to drape a shaking arm over my shoulder. We stared down at Mr. Riley’s husk. No words exchanged, but I knew I owed Corrine and Sean my life. I turned with a settling breath and hugged her as tight as I could manage. Relief, fear, and shock packed into that hug.
She crushed me back.
I felt the adrenaline drip out of her, leaving her spent.
“Guys, where are the twins?” Sean asked from the door.
Corrine dropped me to the floor and turned to Sean. “Weren’t they behind us?”
“And Tammy?” I asked.
Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed it. Don’t forget, you can still get copies of Genesis: Atom & Go delivered before Christmas. I know Amazon guarantees pre-Christmas delivery, so grab a copy as a stocking stuffer.
I plan on releasing the rest of this short before Christmas as well.
In the meantime, keep on reading, keep on stepping back to think rationally, and keep on flying the Black.
Click this link to find The Dark Road 3