Fig Street is Copyright © Wendell Sweet 2018.
All rights foreign and domestic reserved in their entirety.
Cover Art © Copyright 2018 Wendell Sweet
Some text copyright 1984, 2010, 2014, 2015 W. G. Sweet
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your bookseller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
This novel is Copyright © 2018 Wendell G. Sweet. Dell Sweet, W. G. Sweet and Geo Dell are publishing constructs owned by Wendell G. Sweet. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission.
Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.
June: Jimmy Chang’s
“So, listen, it’s like this. When I die… No… It has nothing to do with when I die. Okay, when the people in my life who have screwed me over die? They will have to pay for what they did to me,” Bobby Weston said.
“Oh. Oh, okay. I got it. The eventual retribution deal. In other words, okay, screw me over right now, but when I die you are so done,” John said.
“Okay. Yes, but not totally. I won’t get them back, God will do it for me.”
Johnny chuckled. “So God, the God, will personally pay these low rent bastards back for you… Sweet. Very sweet.”
Bobby nodded. “And it’s all biblical too. I mean completely. God says he’ll take care of it. Don’t worry about it. I got you.”
“I would like to hear God say I got you somewhere, because to be honest I have never heard him say it here. It seems kind of like a scam though that you got to wait until you’re dead to hear it. I mean what the hell is that? Who can say if that’s the deal, whether it’s real or not? I mean that is kind of a perfect con job. That’s like… That’s like those bank account scams. You know, the guy approaches you and says: “Hey! I got a million dollars in this account, but those bastards won’t let me have it. Talking about some sort of transfer fee. That’s messed up too because I don’t have no transfer fee. I mean, that’s messed up isn’t it? I can’t get the money… My own goddamned money, it’s my money, without paying this transfer fee.”
“Jesus Christ, you make me wanna give you the money, Johnny.”
“Exactly, and that is the scam. You give me my money for the transfer fee. We set it all up legal too, and bam. I got you. I’m gone. Your money’s gone. It’s a wrap, and you never see that money back or whatever I promised extra to you to get you to do it. So… So this thing is the same. You’re dead, how do you know?”
The crowd in the bar was quiet. It was early yet, the noisy younger crowd wasn’t in yet.
Jimmy Chang’s was a neighborhood bar. You wouldn’t think so in East Glennville which seemed predominantly white, but the Asians had been here far longer than some of the prominent white families. Jimmy Chang’s grandfather had come for the railroad work out west back in the 1800’s. When the work died out he had brought his family north and settled in Glennville. There were three branches of the family now: Jimmy, who ran the bar the old man had built first and saw through the dry years of prohibition. His sister Alice who ran Chang’s which was about the closest thing that Glennville had to a Coat and Tie restaurant. And Jimmy’s uncle Billy who owned a truck stop just outside of the city. The truck stop was known across the U.S. by truckers who had spread the word. Bobby had eaten there more than once. It was better food than any of the other nearby diners, and more of it too.
Bobby smiled, ignoring the pain in his side. It had been there a few days now. Maybe a little too much jogging, that stitch in your side that didn’t want to go away. Maybe he had pulled or sprained something: Who could tell. He’d had it before, or something like it, and it had passed. This would too. “Listen, Johnny… It won’t be like that for me because I’ll be right there… I’ll know… I’ll see it.”
“No… No… I mean, like… You are alive now… I’m alive now. Two seconds from now I drop dead, how do you know what I see or don’t see? How can you know even? I mean you have to die to collect, that’s pretty suspect to me, man. No die. No know,” Johnny shrugged his shoulders.
Bobby nodded. “I know. I see. But I…”
“… Been dead before… I know…” He shook his head. “It’s about the only thing that makes me believe.”
“Yep. I mean, I believe you. I don’t think you made it up. I’ve known you all of your life. I believe it.”
“Me too,” Bobby agreed. They both laughed.
Johnny hadn’t moved to Glennville and become friends with Bobby until his early teens, but he had heard the story. Back in the fourth grade Bobby had gone fishing alone. He had crossed the Black while the dam wasn’t running, and crossed over to Saints Island to fish. He had been to that island before as a younger kid with his dad. It was an easy cross, but Bobby hadn’t known anything about the dam and the levels of water in the Black. How they could change in a matter of a minute or two. When he had started back across the top of the dam to cross the Black to get back to the main road he had slipped and gone under. A fisherman had just happened to see his head as he went under. He had managed to snag Bobby and get him to shore, but he had stopped breathing, his lungs full of water.
Bobby had been in the hospital for a month in a coma. Then one day he had awakened. The same old Bobby: Like nothing had ever happened. Except he swore that he had not been dead that whole time, or gone away from his body even when he had been dead on the river bank. He claimed to remember every part of it; all of it, right down to the fisherman’s thoughts as he had hauled Bobby out. “This kids a goner,” he had thought. “Ain’t no hope for him at all.”
Still he had gone to work, picking up his arms, flushing out his lungs, pounding his back, compressing his chest to empty the lungs. If you lived near the river things happened more often than people thought that they did. A truck had stopped on the road above the river and a power company employee had scrambled down the bank to the river. He had taken over and begun CPR; the training was required. He had never used it until then.
He had even turned Bobby upside down and wailed his back hard enough to leave bruises. He had been as surprised as anyone else had been later when Bobby had coughed, sputtered, and then began to breathe once more. Between the two of them they had laid him out on the seat of the power company truck and the man had driven him the three miles to the Glennville Community hospital.
Johnny had never forgotten Bobby relating that experience to him. He had tried to tell his parents but they had dismissed it. Johnny hadn’t. Over the years the story had never changed and Johnny had come to believe it.
He sighed and looked around the bar. The day was growing old, already a few of the younger crowd had wandered in. Looking to nail down a stool or a booth for the evening.
“Coming in earlier and earlier every day, huh?” Bobby said.
“Exactly what I was thinking… Pretty soon it won’t be our place anymore at all.” Johnny sighed again.
“Hey, let’s go to Billy’s. They got those tables right outside. The night is nice. Shit, summer will be gone before we know it. I’ll buy steaks, what do you say?” Bobby asked.
“I say that sounds goddamn good to me, that’s what I say,” Johnny agreed. He threw a ten on the bar and then followed Bobby out of the bar.
July: Jimmy Chang’s
The bar was beginning to fill up. A young guy with a shaved head and a couple pounds of metal in his face slid in next to Bobby and eyeballed him hard. Bobby turned away. He looked over at Johnny and Johnny raised his eyebrows in a What the hell gesture.
Bobby had swung by Johnny’s work place at the Ford dealership and picked him up after work. Johnny’s car was in the shop. He could have gotten a rental right through the dealership, cheaply too, but that went against Johnny’s principle of paying for something he could get for free. A ride from Bobby was free. Always had been since they had been in high school driving clunkers that would have been better off in the junkyard. Johnny had always joked that somehow Bobby always seemed to get the better junker. It broke down less, ran better, was more reliable. He didn’t know how that could be, but it had always worked out that way.
“Time moves on. It all becomes relative,” Bobby said picking up a conversation on politics that Bobby himself had started. The kid’s cologne drifted across to him. Something from back in high school. Patchouli maybe, heavy and cloying. He picked up his beer and took a deep drink. His usual smile was not in evidence.
“Yeah…” Johnny cleared his throat and took a sip of his own drink. “I just hate those bastards. Relative or not, and I ain’t saying it isn’t relative to the way we vote, live, whatever, but the politicians seem to stay the same. No good, broke down lying bastards that would gladly swipe a lollipop from a little kid and then sell it back to them in the guise of some public work project. And!” He smiled widely. “Make the kid think he had gotten something in the deal.”
That bought a ghost of a smile to Bobby’s lips. “Hey, let’s take this out back,” Bobby suddenly suggested.
“Uh… Sure,“ Johnny agreed. “You gonna pound my ass or what? Sorry I called the politicians all broke down bastards, I know Ruth’s brother Don is one.” Ruth was Bobby’s wife of twenty five years.
Bobby laughed. “No ass pounding, just need a little fresh air.” He shot a hard look at the young guy who looked away and nursed his flavored vodka. “Besides, Donnie is the worst of the worst.” He laughed and Johnny joined in. He caught Jimmy’s eye and motioned toward the back door; Jimmy nodded. He didn’t like his bottles walking out. He owed the deposit on them. And he was one tight bastard, but he knew that Bobby would be bringing his bottle back.
They stepped out into the bright moonlight of early evening. The air was cooler. For the last several days it had been super hot. Global warming they said, global holy shit it’s hot, he thought.
“So what’s up with you? … You putting your garage addition on this year,” Johnny asked, fishing for the subject that had bought them outside.
“Oh yeah. Yeah it’s going up. Got the loan. It’s in the bank account. Hired Jeremy Jefferson. Starts in two weeks.”
“Shit. I’m hanging out over there every night after it’s done.”
“Me too,” Bobby agreed. They both laughed again. Bobby sighed heavily. “Cancer, man, the big C.” He sipped at his beer. “All through me… Nothing to do for it.”
Johnny was struck silent. “I don’t even know what to say,” he said at last.
“Well there’s nothing to say,” Bobby agreed.
“But you’re still gonna build that addition?”
“Yeah… Hell yeah… I’ve waited for that forever. Besides. I’ve known men that had a few months left to live that far outlived that.”
“That what they said? A few months.”
“At the outside,” Bobby said quietly.”
The silence spun out. A small group of bats left the tall chimney which was all that remained of an old plant across the tracks and flew across the moon.
“Damn Indiana Brown Bats,” Johnny said.
“Yep. Had to tear the factory down, but they couldn’t touch the stack. Had to fix it up instead… Preserve it… Christ they’ll be sticking money into that stack for the next several centuries to keep it up. Can’t let it fall it’s their natural home now.”
“Yeah… I was shocked when the EPA decided to do that.” The bats flew off and the silence returned.
“So… What you gonna do… I mean really… What are you going to do? What can I do?” Johnny turned to Bobby.
“Really nothing… Come on over and hang out. Watch the garage go up. I’m positive I’ll beat this shit. I don’t really even feel bad… Sick.”
“Sounds like you don’t believe it,” Johnny said.
“You know what? That’s right. This ain’t like being dead… I don’t feel it. I feel like it isn’t real. Just a phase in my life someone got wrong is all…” He made eye contact and winked. “Did you know that once Donnie tried to talk me into some land deal? Swamp land!”
“Yeah… I remember you telling me. Real swamp land too,” Johnny laughed.
“Bastard sold it all and him and his partners made a few million on the down low. Who would think you could sell swampland? Not me.”
Their laughter rose up into the moonlit summer sky. Bobby tipped his beer bottle, drained it, looked at Johnny, “Another?”
“Yeah… One more,” Johnny agreed and laughed.
October: Bobby’s House
Johnny Miller stood at the edge of the sidewalk and stared at the half finished garage. His German Shepherd Tank beside him. Ruth, Bobby’s wife, had stopped the construction as soon as he had died. The garage had sat there unfinished all through the balance of the summer and into early fall. He had heard the new owners intended to finish it before winter. He thought about that. Bobby Johnson was barely cold in his grave and some other guy was going to finish his garage and sit down and have himself a beer. A beer Johnny and Bobby had planned to have once it was done and never had. Never had, had the time for. Two weeks after their night at Jimmy Chang’s when Bobby had told him about his cancer; he had dropped dead of a massive heart attack. Forty three. Healthy. Worked out twice a week. Jogged. Bang: Out of the blue. And Ruth had already sold the house and been gone for three weeks. Gone for three weeks. Back to her people in Minnesota. Jesus please us.
Tank’s nails clicked on the pavement and Johnny looked back at the sidewalk from the garage. The German Shepherd wagged his bushy tail and cocked his head. Johnny smiled. So the big C hadn’t taken him. How was that for ironic? He wondered briefly about the life after death conversation they had, had. Well, he decided now, if there was some kind of life after death Bobby was right there. He lifted his head and looked around. Maybe even watching him right now. He wondered about that for a few moments and then the big dog whined, breaking into his thoughts.
“Yeah… Let’s go, Tank. Let’s finish this walk, buddy.”
Tank needed no further urging, eagerly examining both sides of the walk as he began padding down the sidewalk once more, tugging lightly at his leash. Tank crossed the short expanse of leaf strewn berm, stopped suddenly causing Johnny to plow into him, and then took off into the street dragging Johnny with him. The end of the nylon leash burned his palm as it Tank yanked it from him and broke into a gallop. Johnny lunged off the berm and into the roadway trying to catch it, but he was too late. Tank was already across the street as he straightened, chasing after whatever had caught his attention.
He began to straighten from the crouch he had found himself in when the entire world suddenly burst into bright light.
Sisters of Mercy Hospital: Room 357
Becky Miller smoothed the sheets that covered Johnny, careful not to disturb all the wires and tubes that were a part of who Johnny was now. Her brother spoke from the doorway behind her and she turned and gave him a strained smile.
“Sorry,” Dell Anders said. “I thought I would offer to sit for a while… Let you get a break… Some sleep.” He moved from the doorway and hugged her to his chest. He felt her chest hitch, once, twice and then she began to sob. He eased her over to the chairs and sat her down, pulled another close and held her as she cried…
…Johnny was walking the tracks that split the neighborhood behind Fig Street: It was night… Silent and he was not alone, a young boy walked beside him. Talking quietly as Johnny listened: leading him forward; guiding him through the darkness…
“…It’s me, Bobby,” the dream boy told Johnny Miller.
Johnny stared at the kid as they walked the tracks. He had noticed something was familiar but he hadn’t been able to place what that was. He looked down at himself. He was the same. An old man following along as a little kid walked the tracks, balancing on the rails. He stopped, lost for a second.
“You okay?” Bobby asked as he stopped and turned back to face him.
“Yeah… I think, but why are you in my dream? I didn’t know you then… This place… Did I?” Johnny asked.
“Yes and no. We share certain things.” He walked back and looked up at Johnny; his face serious.
“Will you come with me?” Bobby asked urgently.
This is the strangest dream I’ve ever had, Johnny thought. He stared around at the dark trees; the cold moonlight glinting off the steel rails. The young boy faced Johnny where he stood in the road.
“It’s no dream, Johnny, no dream at all, honestly. You can’t think of it as a dream either. If you do it’ll kill you, man. For real, I swear… Will you come?” Bobby asked again. His bright blue eyes seemed to glow as they locked on Johnny’s own.
“Where?” Johnny asked. The sound of his own voice startled him. It had changed. Become a child’s voice. A voice locked on the edge of change. A voice in between man and boy. He glanced down at his body and was not surprised to see that it had also changed. What he saw was a child’s body. And not just any child, but the same child he himself had been so many years before. The same wash faded jeans, with the same patched knees. He clearly remembered those jeans. Clearly remembered his mother carefully mending the knees. The same scuffed high top sneakers, with the same knotted laces. He raised his eyes and stared back at the small boy.
Bobby moved closer, seeming to float above the surface of the road. “Now. We need to go now. There isn’t much time,” Bobby told him.
The darkness split apart, and gray rock walls sprung up where the trees had been. In the distance Johnny could hear the laughter of children echoing against the cold stone walls. The laughter turned to screams. Shrill, panicked and growing closer, the low bass growl of a wolf mixed in with the screaming. Johnny started to move towards the sound.
“No! Bobby told him. “You’ll die. Not yet. We have to be first, see? We ain’t yet. It’s too early, man. Too early. you’ll die if you try to stop it now.”
“But?” Johnny asked aloud in his child’s voice.
“Home, man,” Bobby told him. “Home first, then here, after.”
The rock walls suddenly faded, replaced by a night darkened and quiet street. Houses lined one side of the street, a huge gravel lot filled the other side. Beyond the edge of the gravel lot long rows of leaning, crumbled buildings stood outlined in pale moonlight. The remnants of a chain-link fence ran partway down the street, still enclosing the buildings in places, overgrown and fallen in others. Johnny turned toward the houses and began to walk
“Here. Right here,” Bobby told him as they walked towards one particular house.
Johnny skirted the dirt front yard of the run-down old house behind Bobby. Peeling gray paint clung to the weathered clapboard, glass from the shattered windows lay glittering in the darkness. The few that remained were filthy yellowed panes set in crumbling frames, impossible to see through. Flecks of gray littered the hard-packed dirt yard. He rounded the side of the house and stopped. A long rope dangled from a broken second floor window. “Here?” Johnny asked.
“Here,” Bobby agreed. He began to climb the rope to the window that stood open above it. He paused part way up and stared back at Johnny where he stood watching. “Climb it, man. That’s my room up there.”
The rope was not nearly as hard to climb as Johnny had thought it would be. He made his way quickly to the top, and eased over the sill into the small room. The room was dark and quiet. He made his way to a narrow cot in one corner and sat down next to Bobby. “And?” he whispered.
“Morning. We gotta wait for morning. Then we can start. Then we can do something, see?”
“No,” Johnny whispered, “I don’t see… Start what? Do What?”
“We all gotta meet,” Bobby told him. “It’s hard to explain. You see, I was here. I lived here, and there are two other kids here. They live close by. We gotta do something important, see? And we need you. We need your help, man, get it?
“No,” Johnny replied honestly, “I don’t.”
“You will. Go to sleep, man. In the morning we’ll start. In the morning. It’ll be different this time. It will.”
Johnny laid down on the narrow cot and closed his eyes.
Sleeping in a dream, he thought. A dream about sleeping. Weird.
“Not a dream,” Bobby reminded him as he spiraled away into darkness. “Not a dream.” …
Fig Street from Dell Sweet, due this Fall from Smashwords, Amazon, Nook, Kobo and iBooks…
By DELL SWEET
Published With Amazon Digital
Copyright 2014 Dell Sweet
Copyright 1976, 1983, 1987, 2009, 2014 independAntwriters Publishing & Dell Sweet. Copyright renewed 2015, Dell Sweet. All rights reserved
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your bookseller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Much Thanks to: M. Laughlin, C. Maxon, G. Dell, C.J.
Somewhere in everything that I have written over the last seven or eight years, resides the story of this book. I spent a few hours trying, but I could not find it. There are times where I irritate myself and this was one of them: Because although I could have easily rewritten the information I spent the better part of an hour looking for it; as if somehow that made more sense. Of course it didn’t turn up. Things that were close to explaining it turned up, but not the text I remember writing. So I will write the story once more.
In 1976 I was a young man and I wanted to be a writer. I wrote a short story about this closed up series of caves where bad things happened. I didn’t know what bad things happened there, only that they were bad; probably very bad. I had some vague ideas, Russians, Dead people, Military types. All the things that used to scare me back then. I struggled for what was probably a few months and managed a short story that had very little to do with the caves and more to do with some post apocalypse cave man who was affected by radiation deformities, part of which made him want to kill and eat other people. That short story was sixteen pages long, handwritten, and everyone who read it thought maybe it was a joke of some kind and maybe I should consider doing something else instead of writing.
So I put it away and life took a giant step forward to 1983. I found myself working at home and had a lot of extra time on my hands. I happened across the manuscript as I liked to think of it, all sixteen yellowed and dog eared pages, and began to re-write it. It held my attention for a while and then life took another step forward to 1987. Still working at home, only now involved in the world wide web, as we called it. A thing most people thought would go nowhere at all. I got back into writing and fell into that story. This time it actually went where I wanted it to go, where I thought it should go all those years before. I wrote it and then wrote a sequel, and then a few dozen short stories and then life took another giant step.
When things shook out again it was 2010 and I was in a position to once again write. I thought about that first book, and the sequel, and the short stories, all lost now, gone to who knew where. Thinking didn’t bring them back but it did get me writing again. The first thing I did was re-write that book. It came out nothing like that long before first book had: It had taken a few twists and turns in the writing; in trying to remember what the other book had been about so many years before, and colored by all the things that had happened during that passage of time.
In any event I liked it, so I wrote another part and added it to it, and then another, and pretty soon there were twenty books written from that long ago first book. A series really. Then I wrote another book, and another, and one day I woke up and realized that I was not still hoping to be a writer, I was a writer.
Sometimes I would think about that first book and regret losing it, but I would also remind myself that if I had not lost it I would have never written all of the other books that I had written, or at least not the way they were written,. Maybe they would have been better, maybe worse. Who can tell when you think about changing circumstances. I moved on, literally forgot about those books and stories, and then one day my son called me and told me he had found those files in a digital format. All of them. He doesn’t know if we can get them or not, or if they will be readable if we are able to get them. He only knows we have a shot at getting them.
To make a long story short we did get them, and everything except for the second book was easy to get and download to my own computer. The second book was not easy at all. I ended up using a program that downloads the file no matter what condition it is in. It simply fills the corrupted sections with zeros. Amazing. I got about 95% of the second book that way. Small sentences missing here and there, a few words or a paragraph there, but easily reconstructed.
I marveled over the technology that allowed me to pluck that book out of time, nearly twenty years of it, and then took a walk back through time and read that first book and those short stories from way back then. There were some that I did not even remember writing until I began to read them and then the story flooded back into my head. It was great.
The thing was life was busy and I had a lot of work laid out in front of me. It took awhile to get back to that first book. I debated over whether to do anything with it except read it and then let it sit. But after I read it I decided that in very many ways I liked it as much as the books I had written to replace it. In some ways even more.
That is this book you are about to read. Started when I was a kid just out of the service with a young wife and son, finished when I am at the other end of that spectrum. Kind of funny. Maybe it puts end to what I began. I don’t know. I do know I liked the book then, I thought the story just flowed from me and I really felt a part of it, and that has always been the hallmark of good writing to me, being right in the story. Falling into it. Starting to care about the characters and their circumstances.
So here it is forty years late: The road to publishing this book was a hard one, but I hope that you like it as much as I have enjoyed watching it come together.
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
This novel is Copyright © 1976 – 2014 Wendell Sweet & independAntwriters Publishing. Dell Sweet is a publishing name for Wendell Sweet. All other copyright notices are herein encompassed. All national and foreign rights are reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the author’s permission.
Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print.
Ira Pratt stared at the squared board lost in thought. If he moved to the right, he would surely lose two checkers. Maybe, he thought, as many as four. Moving to the left would not help either. There was actually only one semi-safe move to make, and that was straight ahead. But even that move could put a hurtin’ on his few remaining checkers, he thought. Nothing to do for it though, but move it, and see what happened.
He stared into the thoughtful eyes of the older man across the table, trying to read them. No good, he was a master at hiding his thoughts. His face was calm and carefully composed, not so much as a smile played at the corners of his mouth.
Ira gave in and decisively moved one checker forward and then leaned back into his chair, waiting to see what the older man would do.
“Well, I see you have left me little choice, Ira,” the older man said. He picked up one of his own checkers and carefully slid it forward as he finished speaking.
“That was what I was hoping you’d do,” Ira said grinning as he jumped two of the older man’s checkers.
“No doubt about it, Ira, you’re just too good for me,” the older man replied. He smiled widely, and pleasantly, and then changed the subject. “How about we take a short break, Ira, maybe go for a walk. You must get tired of beating me all the time?”
“Well,” Ira replied, “I kind ‘a get the idea you let me beat you some times, but sure, I wouldn’t mind a break at all.”
“I would never let you beat me, Ira. It is a good thing we don’t play poker though. I might gamble the entire kingdom away trying to beat you,” the older man replied laughing. “Besides I have my reasons for wanting to take a break right now. I see it like this, if you and I take a break, maybe once we return your concentration will not be so keen, and then maybe I will win one of these games for a change.” He rose from the small table as he finished speaking. “Ready, Ira?”
Ira closed his eyes. He could have kept them open, and a few times he had, but the trip was unnerving enough without adding the visual aspects to it. Not that there was anything to see except darkness for the split second they would be traveling, he thought. Still…
He opened his eyes. They had actually only been shut for less than a second, but in that space of time they had traveled a considerable distance, or at least seemed to have. The small table that had been before him was gone, replaced by a lush green valley. A calm blue river flowed across the valley floor far below. He followed it with his eyes as it wound away in the distance.
“It’s beautiful,” Ira exclaimed, “but will it still be…?” He let the question trail away.
“Yes it will, as will several others, Ira. But it need not be this place, there are so many to choose from,” the older man informed him. “Come.”
Ira blinked, and when he opened his eyes they were standing in a high mountain meadow. Wild flowers covered the meadow, and a large, summer-fat herd of deer grazed peacefully among them. A large buck raised its heavily antlered head and stared at the two men, but perceiving no threat went back to grazing the field.
“This is also beautiful,” Ira said quietly.
“It only matters where, Ira. There are so many. There were even more, and there will be again.”
“I’ll have to tell Cora about this place, and the other,” Ira replied, still watching the deer graze.
“You should, Ira. In fact, there will be many things to tell her. Things she will need to know, Ira.”
“Yes. The time is short.”
“I was afraid of that,” Ira said slowly.
“There is no reason to be afraid, Ira.”
“I know that. I guess I mean afraid, as in I wish it didn’t have to happen.”
“I knew what you meant, Ira, but it is necessary. As much as I would wish that it was not, it is.”
Ira nodded his head slowly. “I know.”
The two men stood in silence for several minutes, watching the deer in the field. It seemed so peaceful to Ira, a good place to be, a good place to live, and that made it harder to accept that most of it would soon be gone. The older man spoke, breaking the silence that had fallen between them.
“Would you like to look at some others, Ira?”
“I believe I would at that. I think I’d like to look at as much as I kin before it’s gone, I guess. Does that sound wrong?”
“No, Ira, it does not, I too wish to look… Ready?”
Ira nodded but did not close his eyes. Darkness enveloped him, and a sense of speed. The absence of light was complete; he could only sense the presence of the older man beside him as the traveled through the dark void.
– 2 –
Far below the small city of Watertown New York, Richard Pierce sat working before an elaborate computer terminal. He had just initiated the program that managed the small nuclear power plant hidden deep below him in the rock. A small handset beside the computer station chimed, and he picked it up and listened. He did not speak at first, but as he listened a smile spread across his face. “Very good,” he said happily, when the caller was finished, “keep me advised.” He set the small handset back into its cradle and turned his attention back to the screen in front of him. The plant had powered up just as it was supposed to, no problems whatsoever, and that made Richard Pierce extremely happy. Two more days tops, he thought, and then maybe I’ll get out of this dump.
He supposed he should feel honored that he was even here. It was after all one of the biggest projects in the country, albeit top secret, but he could not help the way he felt. He was close to a mile underground, totally cut off from everything and everyone, and he hated it. If he had a choice, which he had not, he would never have come at all. But he had written the software that handled the power plant, as well as several other sections of the underground city, and that made it his baby. There were a couple of small bugs, mainly due to the fact that no one had been allowed to know what the entire program was supposed to do. The way the rewrites were going however, it looked as though he would not be stuck here anywhere near as long as he had originally thought, and that was something to think about. He had begun to feel that he would never leave this rock bound prison, and wouldn’t that be a real bitch.
– 3 –
At a large gravel pit on the outskirts of Watertown, Gary Jones carefully maneuvered the wide mouth of the loader bucket over the dump box of the truck, and pulled back on the lever closest to him to release the load. Ain’t this something, he thought as he slowly topped off the dump box, barely 10 AM and we’ve already sent out twenty seven truckloads of gravel to the base.
Six men out sick, and another forty truckloads to deliver before five tonight. What in hell are they doing with all this gravel? He wondered. It was a question he had asked many times before, and still had not gotten an answer to. Uncle Sam paid well though, and on time to boot, so he guessed he probably shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. He signaled the driver, and he pulled away with a whoosh of air as he released the brakes. Another dump truck lumbered up to take his place, and he pushed the questions out of his mind as he began filling the box.
– 4 –
In Seattle Washington, Harvey Pearlson sat at his wide mahogany desk and talked quietly into the phone.
The extravagantly appointed office was located on the top floor of one of Seattle’s most highly regarded newspapers. Pearlson had worked his way up from the bottom, after starting as a carrier in 1955, sixteen floors below.
“No,” Pearlson said quietly, “I don’t want to know. I just thought that maybe it could be handled in some other way.” He listened for a few minutes nodding his head as he did.
“Yes, yes I see, but?” He rubbed his eyes as he listened. “No, I don’t,” he said emphatically, “I happen to like him a great deal, and if you give me the time…” The voice on the other end of the line cut him off, and he once again listened quietly.
“I see,” he said, once the voice had finished speaking. “No, I do understand. I won’t. Do you think I’m that stupid? Give me a little credit here, will you. You wouldn’t even be aware of it if I hadn’t called you in the first place, for Christ’s sake.” He listened for a few seconds longer, then hung up the phone.
There was no reasoning with Weekes, he told himself, and he was going to do what he was going to do. For Frank’s sake, he wished he had never called him at all. Too late now though, he told himself, far too late. After all, he had done his best to swing Frank away from the story, but Frank Morgan was not a man who could be easily swayed, and, he told himself, unless he wanted to find himself in the same circumstances, he had better just shut up and let it go. He reached over and thumbed the intercom button.
“I’m going to be out the rest of the day, Cindy, and if Frank Morgan comes looking for me before he leaves, you don’t know where I am, correct?”
“Anything important comes up you can reach me on my mobile, Cindy.”
“Yes Sir, Mister Pearlson.”
Harvey Pearlson picked up his briefcase and left the office. Whatever Weekes had in mind, he wanted nothing to do with it, and he didn’t want to be available for any sort of questions that might arise either. It was unfortunate enough that he had started the whole ball rolling;he had no intention of sticking around to see where it ended up stopping. No, he told himself, the lake was the best place to be. The only place to be, and he intended to stay there until the whole thing blew over just as he had been told to.
He took his private elevator down to the garage area, walked across to his Lincoln, and drove out of the parking garage, turning right on Beechwood. He passed a hooker standing at the corner of the building, and thought just how badly Beechwood Avenue had gotten as of late. He would have to speak to the security people when he got back from the lake. Putting up with the hookers that had taken over the avenue at night was one thing, but broad daylight? Standing right in front of the frigging building? No, something would have to be done, and if the security people couldn’t take care of it, maybe he’d speak to Weekes. After all, he owed him one now, didn’t he? He pushed the thought away, signaled, and pulled out onto the loop. In an hour he’d be at the lake, and then he could forget about the whole mess, for today at least. He eased the car up to sixty, and leaned back into the leather upholstery to enjoy the drive.
– 5 –
April 11th 1952
Ira Pratt drove the old tractor carefully down the side of the slippery hill. It had been raining for close to three days, and it didn’t look as though it was going to let up right quick, he thought.
The rain was causing all sorts of problems, and not just for him, he knew, but for the cows as well. The biggest problem was the creek, and the only way the creek wasn’t going to be a problem was to unplug the thing.
He sat on the tractor as it slipped and slid its way down the hill through the gray sheets of rain. Ira let out a sigh of relief once it reached the bottom. For a second there, he had been sure both he and the old tractor would end up in the creek, but God was smiling on him today.
He slipped the worn gearbox into neutral, and sat looking at the rush of muddy-brown water. The creek was a good four feet above the point of flooding, and he wasn’t sure it was a smart move to try to put the tractor in that. The tractor was sure footed, but so was a goat, and he’d seen more than one goat end up on its ass. But there wasn’t anything else for it. If he didn’t move the trees that were clogging the creek, and flooding it out and over the banks, then he might as well just sit back and watch a couple more cows drown.
Ira knew cows, pretty much anyhow, and every one that he and Cora owned were just as stupid as any other cow he’d ever seen. The cows didn’t understand flooding, they didn’t understand how the water could weaken the banks, and so the big dummies just walked on down to the creek, just like any other day, and got swept away when the bank crumbled under their weight. Three days of rain and four dead cows, and though cows were stupid, they weren’t cheap.
Ira sat in the pouring rain and stared at the creek. Normally, the creek was no more than eighteen inches deep at the most. Course normal wasn’t what it was today, he thought, and wishin’ it was wouldn’t make it so. It was his own damn fault, he reminded himself. Two of the trees that were clogging it had been there last summer, and hadn’t he promised Cora he’d take ’em out before fall? He had, but he hadn’t, and so here he was in the pouring rain fixin’ to half kill himself to get ’em out.
Looked like the best way, Ira thought, might be to try and snag the biggest one right from the bank. He squinted as he shielded his eyes to peer through the rain. One thing was for sure, sittin’ on the tractor and thinkin’ about it, wasn’t gonna get it. Reluctantly, Ira climbed down off the tractor and edged closer to the bank. The rain was coming down hard, but the section he stood upon seemed solid enough. “Probably what the cows thought,” he muttered as he moved closer.
He walked back to the tractor, unwound a long section of chain from behind the seat, and walked back to the creek. The top of the bigger tree was sticking a good three feet over the bank, and he was glad that it was. He could see that the water was rising faster, and moving along quicker, and he had no wish to get any closer to it than he had to. Quickly, but carefully, he wound the chain around the tree and pegged the links with an old bolt to hold them. Looks good, and solid as well, he thought as he slipped the other end of the chain over the bucket. He genuinely didn’t want to try and turn the tractor around. In fact, he thought, as muddy as the ground was, he’d be damn lucky just to get it back up and away from the creek when he finished.
He gave an experimental tug at the chain, and then climbed back up on the tractor. Carefully, without grinding the gears any more than he surely had to, shifted into reverse. He played the clutch out slowly and brought up the slack in the chain.
“Well God?” He asked, looking skyward, “You keepin’ a watch down here? I could sure use a hand about now, Lord. Amen,” Ira finished.
He let the clutch out a little further, playing the gas pedal as he did, and let the tractor go to work. The oversized tires spun, caught, and the tractor began to slowly back up the steep bank, pulling the tree out of the muddy water as it did. Ira released the breath he had been holding, and just as he did the chain snapped in two. Ira barely had time to register what had happened, when the old tractor flipped, crushing him beneath it.
ALEA IACTA EST
June 15th: Seattle Washington
The wind kicked up along Beechwood Avenue in Seattle’s red light district. A paper bag went rolling along the cracked sidewalk: Skipping over Willie LeFray’s feet where he stood watching the traffic… thinking. One trick… The right trick… Somebody with money and he could call the night good. Just enough to get a good high… Or enough to get enough shit to get a good high tonight and maybe a good high tomorrow when it all wore off and the jingle jangles set in? … Maybe, he decided. Maybe. Willie stood watching the cars as the paper bag bounded over his feet and tumbled along the avenue.
– 2 –
For Franklin W. Morgan, just Frank to his friends, June 15Th, had been a particularly hard day.
As he sat at the small, scarred, wooden table at Mikes Pub on Sixth Avenue, nursing a shot of gin, his thoughts turned inward, mulling over the same problem he had been mentally chewing for the last several weeks. It always came back, no matter how far away he pushed it. It slipped right back to the front and began to hammer away at him. But today was much worse. It had seemed endless as it dragged on, and he had been able to concentrate on next to nothing. He had avoided the office, and Pearlson, no sense compounding things when he was so close to the truth by chancing a confrontation with Pearlson.
Pearlson was… Pearlson was, a piece of shit, he thought. However, at the moment it wasn’t just Pearlson that had him so keyed up and anxious, it was leaving, and, he supposed, that was just as it should be.
The thing that had made it difficult to get through was the pressure and anxiety he always felt when he was on the trail of a promising story. That and the stress associated with the story.
It was not so much the stress his job placed on him; he had always dealt with that quite well. He knew what it was, and what it had been for several weeks now. All of those late night calls to his sources in New York. No sleep, virtually working around the clock; sifting through the information this source or another provided; sorting out the truth from imagination, and getting to the facts, or as close as he could get to them. That, coupled with the fact that he had been the only one, save Jimmy, who believed it, and now Jimmy was apparently missing so he could add the disappearance of a good friend to the growing list of worries that kept him up at night. This was turning into a three ring circus damn fast, and he didn’t like. He didn’t like it at all.
He was sure now, or as sure as anyone could be. But, who the hell would believe him? Not his editor, that was for sure. He would not soon forget the day two weeks ago, when he had approached the subject with him either. It had been partly his own fault, Frank realized. He had not been as prepared as he should have been. He had also possessed no hard facts, he reminded himself, and he had speculated far too heavily for Pearlson’s taste. Even so, he was just as convinced as he had been then. No. More so now, he amended.
Two additional weeks of digging into it, with Jimmy’s help, had produced a wealth of information, and it was no longer just conjecture as the old man Pearlson had said, but a steadily growing stack of cold hard facts.
Pearlson had still laughed, and told him he should try writing fiction for a living. But there had been something else lurking just behind that laugh, hadn’t there? Perhaps a hint of nervousness maybe?
Pearlson had also suggested that just maybe Frank needed a vacation, and, things being the way they were Frank had taken him up on the last suggestion.
Screw him, Frank thought as he sat at the table and drained the last of his drink… Just screw him.
That was what had made his days so long and his nights so sleepless, he reasoned. Churning around in his head was all of that knowledge… Along with fear, fear of what that knowledge may mean.
But did he actually know anything? He asked himself, and could he actually prove what he did know? Yes, Dammit… And just as suddenly, probably not. He couldn’t prove all of it yet, at least not entirely, he admitted.
Not for much longer though, he told himself, the proof part of it was about to change. He had made plans to go to New York. Directly to the source, so to speak, and find out just exactly what was going on. No conjecture, no guessing, no screwing around at all. If Pearlson wanted facts, Frank would get them one way or the other, he had decided. And the suggestion to take a vacation couldn’t have been a better cover for him to go under, he reasoned.
No, he decided, it wouldn’t be much longer at all. Two weeks in upstate New York and he would know for sure. Frank saw no way that Pearlson could kill the story then. Not faced with cold hard facts.
But Pearlson could be an idiot, what if he still rejected the truth even after the facts were presented, he asked himself. Well, if he did, Frank reasoned, that would open up a whole new set of problems. Maybe Pearlson was involved somehow… Maybe not, but the whole thing had smelled of a cover up from the start, and if Pearlson cut the story loose, if he still placed no faith in it, then there had to be a reason, and maybe… And maybe shit! If it turned out that way, then maybe it would be time to move on.
He rose slowly from his chair and fighting his way through the crowded table area, made his way to the bar.
“Another Gin, Mike,” he said, once he had gotten the old man’s attention. “On second thought hold the ice , just straight up.” He stared miserably at the jukebox in the corner that blared incessantly, and silently urged it to fall silent as he waited for the drink. His thoughts, still clouded, turned back to the problem he was constantly turning over in his mind, when a glance at his wristwatch reminded him of how late it actually was.
He turned his attention back to the bartender. “Shit! Mike, I’ve got to go see the kid’s and I am already late,” he threw a twenty on the bar, “that should cover the tab.”
“What about this?” Mike asked, holding up the shot glass.
“You drink it, Mike, I truly am late. I’ve gotta go,” Frank replied as he started to turn towards the front door.
“Hey?” Mike called in a questioning manner. Frank turned back to the bar.
“Get some sleep, Frank,” Mike said, “your eyes look like two piss holes in the snow.”
“Yes mother,” Frank joked, “I will.”
Frank smiled to himself. They always played this game, and had been at it for the twenty years that Frank had been coming into Mike’s. Mike seemed to think it was his duty to mother him, even more so since Jane had died.
“See you in a couple of weeks or so, Mike,” Frank called as he stepped out the door. He glanced at his watch once again as he did. I’ll never make it, he thought, no way.
He resigned himself to the fact that he would more than likely be late, and not for the first time this week. He had already been late three times, picking up Patty and Tim from the sitter.
Cora Pratt, the sitter, could pitch a real fit when she wanted to, he thought. “Well I’ll deal with her when I get there,” he mumbled to himself. Besides, he thought, tonight I don’t have to pick them up, just say good-bye for two weeks.
The heat assaulted him as he stepped out of the air conditioned comfort of the bar, and he winced.
Twenty seven years of living in Seattle had not changed a thing for him. He felt about the city as he always had. It was too hot in the summer, what there was of it, and too damn cold and windy in the winter, and it wasn’t home. He still thought about it as a place he was only visiting. He never had gotten used to it, and, he knew, he never would.
Frank worked the handle upward slowly, pulling the driver side door of the company car open carefully. He had to as this one stuck if you were forceful, and then he would end up crawling over the damn passenger seat to reach the driver’s side. It seemed to him that he had once had this car when it was new. It was hard to tell though as it was a pool car, and the younger generation of reporters in the press pool beat the hell out of all the cars.
“Too many hot-rod kid’s driving the piss out of them,” he said aloud as he keyed the motor and pulled the Plymouth Voyager out into the traffic. He headed out of the city, towards the suburbs and Cora Pratt…
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So I woke up yesterday morning about 3:00 am because my cat insisted that I wake up. He does that. I guess he gets bored sometimes and wants someone to bug so he comes and wakes me up, meows a few times and then leaves. If he continues to meow it means … “Get up you fat %^&$#@& and let me out right now!” I understand cat relatively well.
So about three years ago my mother bought me a lamp. One of her summertime rummage sale romps and she dragged back this touch lamp with glass shades, and all the shades have pictures of horses grazing next to a field and a stream. Very pastoral, peaceful, made me think good things. I used the lamp on my desk for about a year and then installed an overhead lamp so I can see to type better on my monitor… Did I really just say that? Yes, I did.
So my excuse was that I wanted to see better as I typed, but the truth was I couldn’t see much of anything on my desktop, it was all murky and indistinct so I installed an overhead fluorescent light and nearly blinded myself, yanked that out and screwed one side of a clip on lamp to the wall above my router and called it good… Ahhh, the things you can get away with when you don’t have a wife.
A few days later I noticed the touch lamp sitting forlornly next to my desk so I picked it up thinking … “I need a bedside lamp.” And there it went and stayed.
So the cat comes into the doorway at 3:00 am and meows, I awaken, look at the shadow, wonder if it is a cat or that damn raccoon that has been hanging around: The raccoon in the television commercial that follows the woman to bed because she calls it thinking it is her cat bugs the hell out of me and I am probably blind enough to make that mistake. Don’t ask me when I would have let the raccoon in… So I click on the lamp to better see the cat and make sure it is a cat and I’ll be damned: My horses grazing next to the stream and field are not horses at all I see as the light comes on and nearly blinds me; they are bright glowing white unicorns… Yes, unicorns grazing next to that stream and the field. I look at the cat, the cat looks at me as if to say “I could have told you they were unicorns, Susie.” The cat is a real wise acre. I blink but it is still 3:00 am and the horses are still unicorns and the cat is still meowing so I get up, pad to the door and let him out. I return to bed thinking I must do something about this. After all this is the same mother that bought me A pink high heel shaped tape dispenser that my visitors picks on me about all of the time.
“Hide it in the basement.” I say aloud… No good. We don’t have a basement.
“Well, the pantry then.” Uh, no, we don’t have a pantry either.
I make it back to bed. Look at the lamp carefully and yes, this is no mistake every damn horse in the field on all six glass panels have spiraled unicorns on their narrow heads. I sigh, turn out the lamp so I don’t have to see them, but there is no sleep for me, the cat and the disturbing unicorns have awakened me so I pop on Netflix: LOST season 5 episode 8 and watch it. After all, if it is going to be weird I may as well enjoy it… Geo
This is the short story that turned into Rocket. I will leave you with this, enjoy the weekend, Dell…
Dying World is an unpublished short story by Dell Sweet.
All rights are reserved by the author. Copyright 2018 Dell Sweet
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person dead or living is purely coincidental. This work is licensed to this blog only. You may not copy, transfer or quote this text; excepts verse of two paragraphs or less strictly for critiques. Anything more requires author permission.
Los Angeles district
My hand reached across the bedside table searching for the headset as it buzzed. Petra moved beside me, mumbled, obviously displeased that the buzzer was still going off. “Wake the babes,” she said, as coherently as she could.
My hand finally closed on the headset. I untangled my head from the sheets and jabbed at the on button as I bought the device to my face. I mumbled into it.
“Mike? … Mike?” The voice sounded excited. Over excited. I opened my eyes fully in the semi darkness, got up and out of the bed. I was barely used to sleeping off ship, it was only my second time. But I had missed Petra and the babes so much. The gravity was horrible. I felt overweight, out of shape. Petra said it passed, but I hated the waiting and the truth was that for me, with only short stays it never would pass.
“Brother… Brother. Listen to me, brother, listen to me… Can you hear me? … Are you there?” The voice was my oldest friend, Tom Richards.
“Tom… Tom, calm down. What is it.” Do you know,” I looked at the clock: A thing I rarely ever worried about shipboard, “time it is? Petra’s upset, you could’ve waked the babes
“You’ll have to wake them anyway,” he said bluntly.
“What?” I asked. I made my way out of the bedroom quickly, stumbled to the kitchen and pulled a stool from the serve through and sat down.
“I said you’ve got to wake them… And Petra. This is serious!”
“What is serious, Tom? You’re scaring me more than a little. What’s wrong? … Has it? …” I couldn’t bring myself to say it.
Tom had worked at one of the biggest penal colonies on Mars for the last several years. Three years before he had fallen in with Petra and I when we had decide to buy our own Star Cruiser and seek our fortune. He kept close contact when the men and women he had come to know, including some that were part of the Federal Planet Association that controlled all of Earth and all the other planets as well. When things had gone sour for the FPA the year before Petra and I had decided now might be the time to start a family. My wish was to get Petra off the ship, she had wanted to have children before it became too late. Bring them shipboard in a few years. After all a Star Cruiser might not be a bad place to raise a family. They were protected after all. The Feds had dozens of cruisers of their own that patrolled what they considered their borders to keep us safe as we delivered supplies and more to distant outposts.
Star cruisers were protected, but with just so few ships to protecting hundreds of private cruisers it was becoming a hard job.
We were docked on Earth. More properly put, we were docked at UPT fifteen, twenty-two miles above Earth. I was on the planet with Petra.
“We lost a big chunk… A big chunk,” he was whispering now.
“A big chunk?” My mind was beginning to focus.
“A big chunk… The Feds are pulling out… Right now, they’re pulling out. They’ve done their calculations and we just slipped past the point of no return… I got a shuttle on the way, but believe me when I say this is no easy deal… You got to get them ready… Move fast… You there?” He whispered.
“How much time,” Mike heard himself say. His face felt numb. He stood and trotted back to the bedroom on autopilot.
The end had been coming for generations, but it had been suppressed, kept from the public in the best possible way, ignoring it. After all someone was always yelling about the end coming. There was always some doomsday prophecy being rolled out. The Feds had found out long ago that shaking your head with a crooked smile on your face was the absolute best way to fight it. It said exactly what words could not say. Words that affected the same thing would have fanned the flames. The nod and he crooked grin worked.
And that had been their tactics for the last year since the voices had begun to shout louder and louder. Nod, smile, move on to something else. Meanwhile the atmosphere had been leaking from the planet Earth faster and faster. Tonight it had passed the point of no return. He and Tom had discussed exactly that scenario. In fact he had intended to discuss it with Petra on this visit. Maybe it was time to pack up the babes and go ship board… But they had never found the time. It seemed there were so many other things that crowded in and so little time before Star Dancer had to leave dock again. Time with Petra, time with the babes, talks of the new crew manifest with Tom. The year before Tom and Marva had become full partners and they had moved up several notches on the cargo drops for the Feds. Large contracts: Full time work. No or little time off. In fact they had discussed the possibility of another ship, maybe even bigger than Star Dancer. It was incredible to think it, but collectively they were worth trillions and they could easily handle the loans they needed. And then Earth had taken a sudden turn for the worse. And a turn is what had started it.
For millions of years the Earth had wobbled in her orbit. Many had thought that was an unfortunate occurrence in the early years of civilization, but they had come to learn that without the wobble there would probably be no way to sustain life. They hadn’t predicted that the hole that had been in the ozone layer, growing wider and wider would suddenly begin to vent atmosphere. The venting of atmosphere was small at first, but life a small hole in a raft the constant rush of atmosphere widened it.
The Feds had known and suppressed the information. The news agencies that were still owned by free stations broadcast it and for once the nod and grin failed them. Even so it was far too late. By the time everyone realized just how late there had been a complete clampdown on the news sources. Tom had feelers out and the news had been trickling in that the situation was untenable. Still, Mike thought that meant years. Apparently it had not.
“They think it will completely blow out within a year. Apparently once it hit this point it is all downhill from here.”
“My God, Tom,” I said “I meant how long do we have to get there… To make it?”
“Oh… Oh… Fast. Lift off in three hours. I can’t hold it. I had to fight to get a slot. They’re freezing any passenger flights solid. No one leaving at all until they say so; if we weren’t cargo… Still, I don’t know what traffic will be like… Delays… Boarding through the station, so I would just come directly to the ship… Put it in a cargo bay… Petra could do it. And… You’re under an assumed name… I had to lie, pretend to be you to push the flight schedule, so they believe you’re on board with Petra and the babes. It seemed smart… The alternative would have kept you tied up for hours, maybe days, and the ship grounded.”
“I see. I see that… PETRA!” I screamed into the semi darkness. “Get the babes, get ready, we have to go now!” I spoke back into the headset, realized I was still holding it and dropped it to the floor. I tapped my wrist twice and turned on my personal link system. “Where will you be?” I asked Tom.
“Space gate ten. I had to move to the ready line… Fifteen ahead of us right now.”
I nodded, realized the camera link was off, ”We’ll be there in a n hour tops… Depending.” I clicked off and began stripping off my sleepwear so I could get dressed.
We had prepared for this possibility, although we had both believed the government propaganda. Both believed it would be solved. Still Tom had warned it might not be true. The people he had been in contact with said otherwise. The people he had spoken to said the hole could not be fixed, reversed, repaired, it was over. This had happened on many other planets, a few in our system. It was like the great reset button in the sky, and when it was over everything on Earth would die off. The atmosphere would leave completely. Then, a few million years in the future something would shift in the great mystery that was the universe and the whole thing would start over agin. The atmosphere would slowly reestablish itself, then life would reawaken from the frozen seas and it would begin to establish domain once more. Maybe. On some worlds that had not been the case. On Mars the atmosphere had been lost and they had not been able to reestablish it. They had nearly perished before they had managed to reestablish themselves on Earth. And Earth’s peoples had not known that had happened until the discovery of the ship that had bought the seeds of humanity from Mars to Earth all those years before, in the Ice of Antarctica.
Global warming. If not for global warming Standard would not have been in Antarctica exploring at that particular day when the warm winds had expose d the hull of Mayosythia from its frozen tomb. Mayosythia, the pictures and grainy video had been on the news channels for months and then suddenly the story had disappeared from the headlines and a few years later Standard had invented Starlight Drive. Probably not a coincidence, Mike thought now. He was surprised at the random thoughts running through his mind as he hopped, one boot on, one in his hand and finally made the bedroom door.
The bedroom looked like a hurricane had swept through it. The babes were both on the wide bed, quiet, well behaved, a new game they most likely thought. Petra’s eyes met his own, wide frightened.
“Tom has it worked out. We are prepped and on standby to launch. We have plenty of time to get there, Petra… We do.”
I went to a console in the wall, punched in the names Tom had given me and downloaded the ID we would need if we were stopped. I looked around, there was nothing else here that we needed. Petra gathered the babes as I grabbed the two backpacks she had stuffed full of essentials for the babes and we rushed through the kitchen and into the service port lights going on and off before and after us, tracking our progress. The babes wide eyed and babbling baby-talk as we went: Excited for the new adventure.
I checked the charge meter, three quarters, more than enough. I punched in the kill code and shut down the juice port on the old runner. Three minutes later we were hovering in the air, rising slowly up through the top of the service port, the port yawning wider as we rose, and finally breaking clear of the port and rising above the house into the darkness of early morning L.A. That was when I saw the pup I had bought home for the babes just two days before. The pup to raise with the babes, looking up at me from the rear yard area. Body wriggling.
“It’ll die,” Petra said as if reading my thoughts.
“I know.” I set the runner down on the lawn, levered my door-lock open and ran through the house to the rear yard attachment. The pup came running, her whole body squirming with happiness, as if she knew she had just won the lottery. I picked he up and tucked her inside my shirt. She curled against my stomach. Tucked her nose into her tail and seemed instantly to drift off into sleep before I made it back to the runner.
Petra looked at the small bulge in my shirt.
“Makes you look fat,” she laughed in spite of everything, the fear and tension she must have felt.
“Let’s hope so,” I said. I felt the pup move as I lifted into the air and accelerated into the dark skies.
It had taken forever but we had made it to Space Gate ten with no incidents of note. Considering what we had expected and the shock we were operating under it was amazing that my flying, the unauthorized flight, none of it had caused suspicions or alerted anyone. The shock came when I saw what awaited us at Gate Ten. Not Star Dancer, the intra-crusier we owned and operated, but one of the larger, newer ships. A Fed ship. She was unmarked. No name graced the curve of her bow. Her viewports were black and rose stories into the air. My heart sank, but I tapped my wrist anyway.
“Tom,” I called. I had little hope. Tom was probably already in a holding cell waiting for the Feds to pick him up. Marva’s voice came to me.
“You will be coming around to bay sixteen,” her voice said. “We’ve been expecting this delivery… You’re a little late, be glad I don’t place you on report… Stand by… Disengage engines…”
I tapped the control sticks and let the runner drift momentarily. The digital tug line caught us and we began moving sideways and down the front of the ship. Marva said nothing else. Petra and I both sat silent as we were maneuvered around the giant ship. Her thoughts probably a mirror of my own, what next? What had happened to our own ship? Where was Tom?
It took more than twenty minutes to make the trip down and across one side of the ship. We finally slipped under one Starlight pod and a yawning chasm of a hanger opened before us. I saw no one.
“Shut down your engines please.” It was an automated voice. The ships computer. The runner slowed to a crawl and made its way inside the hanger.
“All passengers must remain on vessel until the atmosphere has been restored. Leaving your vessel at any time prior to the restoration of…” The voice stopped and then began again. “Atmosphere has been restored. You have been cleared to leave your vessel once ship personnel arrive to facilitate disembarking. United Planet Technologies thanks you for shipping with us.”
“First damn thing I’m going to do is gut that voice system,” Tom said.
I laughed. I had had no idea that I had been so scared, so nervous. Beside me one of the babes pulled away from nursing and giggled. Petra soothed her.
“Jesus, Tom… What happened. What is this ship? Where is Star Dancer?”
“Happoed,” the baby giggled.
“Terrica, you said a word!” I became all melted and soft at once. Something about your baby speaking will do that.
“Jerrica,” Petra corrected.
“Jerrica,” I corrected. I was not my first time making the mistake and it probably wouldn’t be the last. Hopefully I would get it right long before they were old enough for it to be a big deal. “Jerrica,” I said again. Terrica looked at her sister as if she knew perfectly well who she was.
I glanced out the window and saw a smooth wall part and make an opening into the interior of the ship. Tom and Marva came through with a half dozen others, all crew I remembered. I released the door-locks and we stepped from the runner onto the ship.
The conversation lasted well into the morning, concluding just before takeoff with me on the bridge with Tom and Petra at the navigation station where she had always been on the old Star Dancer.
Star Dancer Two
The answers were not so complicated. Tom, Marva and Petra had signed the papers for the new ship weeks before. It was a surprise and would have come to us completely ready for flight had the world not taken a sudden turn.
They had moved her from dry-dock. Some interior work left unfinished: Her name as yet not on her bow. These were things that could wait, as far as the Feds were concerned. Wait for a time when things on Earth were not so volatile. They had commissioned her with nothing more than database entries, no official words or ceremony. As it turned out Star Dancer Two was the last ship ever commissioned from Earth. From anywhere in the Federated system, for all any of them knew.
She was preflight tested. Tom himself had captained her. She was loaded with Fed materials for a new colony. Star Dancer and nine other ships under command of Dancer Two had left the day before. Even though Star Dancer was a fast ship, with our speed difference we would catch her in a matter of weeks and assume command of the fleet. The shocking news had come later in the flight. The news of what our cargo and destination really was: The news that there had been no mistakes, no carelessness. The Feds had known we were off planet and they had made sure that we had made it back to the ship.
We were less than two full days into our flight when Earth became a fireball and all communications with the planet failed. Subsequently all communications with colonies and bases in the Federated system failed as well. All of it had been routed through Earth or Mars. We had no way of knowing what had happened on Mars, but something serious enough to shut the relays down. Mars had gone silent: Communications became loose messaging systems between the other ten ships ahead of us….
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I love cats, don’t you?
My mother’s cat Cali is a special cat. No really, she is a training cat and has been since she was a kitten. She trains…. Wait for it… Me and mom to hunt.
She started this a few years back. She employs the catch and release method. It works like this.
She goes outside in the early AM or late evening while it is still dark. Apparently this is the best time to catch anything alive that does not have a handgun, switchblade or cat repellent to protect itself. Even a good lawyer might help, but alas, the wildlife around here can’t afford representation by a good lawyer or even a Saul Goodman/Slippin’ Jimmy.
So, dark out, and good ol’ mom has her bedroom window open so the cats can go in and out. Nice, otherwise they come over and wake me up by meowing until I get up and open the door. Man, you would think God would have thought of this when creating cats, right? Give them the ability to open doors…. On second thought no… I don’t want to have to go down to the local jail and bail my cat out a few times a week.
So, dark. Yesterday morning at 5:00 am training commenced for the spring season. Mom heard Cali come through the window doing her excited mumbling cat talk. Never heard that before? Get yourself a killer cat and domesticate it. Every time it is going to attack anything it gets all excited and does little spitting choking, talking stuff. Then it kills something. Either that or the cat is epileptic and no one knows.
So Cali zips past mom doing that spitting choking/talking thing and mom thinks ROH, ROH. Or something like that. I think nothing of it. Why you ask? Well because I am sleeping and when I am sleeping I rarely care about or mentally comment on cats or cat actions.
So in my dream I’m talking to someone and all the sudden … CRASH!!!!
“What the hell!” I ask the person in my dream, but they know nothing. Next thing I know I am awake and out of bed heading over to see what the crash is and I run into a vampire swooping from the ceiling in my shop trying to kill me. I scream, but of course I’ll deny that I did, and the bird, which is what the vampire was, squawks and flies the other way.
“Mom?” I yell. It’s a little house, but I was somewhat panicky.
She tells me her cat bought a bird in. No need to tell me because here it comes again. A blackbird, probably as big as the damn cat is. I duck and get to the back door and open it. Now if there is a grizzly bear out there it can get in and kill all of us. Hey, it could happen.
Ten minutes of chasing the bird around and it finally realizes the open back door is not another trap and out it goes. I close the door and glare at the cat who appears to be critiquing my hunting skills and finding them lacking, because not only did I not catch the bird I let it get away.
“Oh well,” I tell the cat on the way back to bed…
Here is a short story for you for dropping by my blog…
I wrote this short story more than thirty years ago. It was an idea I had in my head and couldn’t shake…
Copyright 1982 Wendell Sweet all rights reserved…
PUBLISHED BY: independAntwriters
Copyright © 1982 – 1996 – renewed 2013 by Wendell Sweet All Rights Reserved
This blog edition is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this with another person, please point them to the copy on this page. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
No part of this book may be reproduced by any means, electronic, print, scanner or any other means and, or distributed without the authors permission. Permission is granted to use short sections of text in reviews or critiques in standard or electronic print..
This is a work of fiction. Any names, characters, places or incidents depicted are products of the authors imagination. Any resemblance to actual living persons places, situations or events is purely coincidental.
“Stay down next to the friggin’ bank, Johnson!” Beeker yelled. Beeker could see that Johnson probably wouldn’t be hanging around for long. He didn’t have the sort of balls that Simpson had. And a fire fight was no fuckin’ place to have to baby sit. Why was it that he always ended up up with all the ass-holes any way? They had been pinned down in this particular position a sandy beachhead for fourteen days. Sand and water in front of them, Jungle behind them. The gooks were on the other side of the river, and if the man upstairs the man that pulled all the friggin’ strings, Beeker liked to think, didn’t do something damn soon they might not see fifteen.
The fire was just as heavy as it had been on the first day. Non-stop. Round after round of machine gun fire, and mortar rounds that came so fast it was hard to tell when one ended, and another began. But the man upstairs, now that was something to consider. What was it with him, anyway? Vacation? A little mental constipation? Just how long was long enough, for Christ sakes. Johnson crawled over, eating some dirt as he came. But at least he had crawled. The numb son-of-a-bitch had walked the first few times. Like he was out on a goddamn Sunday stroll.
“Sergeant Beeker?” he whisper yelled over the sound of the gunfire. “Shouldn’t we maybe oughta return fire, sir?”
“Hey, fuck you, if I say we lay low, we lay low. Now, shut up and crawl your white-ass back over to your position, mister, NOW!”
Johnson went, he didn’t have to be told twice. Beeker was one mean bastard, and he had absolutely no desire to mess with him. Even so this whole situation didn’t set well in his mind, and that was mainly due to the fact that it didn’t make any sense. And how in hell could it? he asked himself. There was no answer, because there could be no answer at all. Fifteen days ago he had been safe and sound in… In… It wouldn’t come. Someplace. He had been someplace, not here, and he had been safe, and he had been sound, he could remember that much. He could also remember waking up here with Beeker, Philips, and Ronson. In the middle of… Of… Where am I? He didn’t know that either, and they weren’t disposed to tell him. Other than waking up in the middle of this fire-fight, he couldn’t remember jack-shit. He made the outside perimeter, and curled up into a near ball as he pressed himself into the dirt embankment.
“About fucking time,” Beeker yelled above the roar of gunfire… …They had been pinned down for the last several hours, with heavy fire from the North Vietnamese regulars. It had finally fallen off somewhat. It was time to make a move, and Beeker was no fool, he had every intention of getting his men the hell out. They’d already lost four good men on this mission. He couldn’t see losing any more. He looked across the short, smoky distance, directly into Ronson’s eyes, and signaled left, away from the sand, towards the jungle that pressed in from behind them. A quick sideways flick of his own eyes told him that Johnson and Phillips had caught it too. Beeker signaled Ronson out first, then Phillips, and then Johnson. It was a slow go, belly crawl for the first few hundred yards. The bullets continued to whine above them, but they all made it one piece. Two hundred yards in they were able to stand. The jungle finally offering some protection. Beeker led the way quickly yet carefully, through the lush greenery. The others fell in behind him silently. Two miles further through the dense jungle, they finally lost the distant sounds of gunfire, and the jungle fell nearly silent. They fell silent themselves, moving as quietly as they could from tree to tree. Aware of the noises that surrounded them. A short while later when the gunfire had completely fallen off, the jungle seemed to come back to life. Bird calls, and the ever present monkey chatter. That was a good sign to Beeker, if the jungle was full of gooks, the birds sure as fuck wouldn’t be singing. They pushed on through the night, and morning found them… Morning found them…
… “Oh, man,” Ronson complained. “Fucker dropped the ball again,” Beeker agreed wearily. He was leaned back against the side of a burned out hut, smoking a cigarette he’d pulled from inside his jacket.
Johnson didn’t have the slightest idea where they were, let alone what they were talking about. Beeker had led them through the jungle and at first light they had come upon a small village. They had crept in warily, ready for whatever lay before them. There had been no need, it was empty, save a couple of dozen scattered bodies, busy gathering flies. He had thought Beeker would move on. He hadn’t. They were still here. But where here was, and how Beeker had found it, eluded Johnson.
“Sure as fuck did, he always does towards the end though,” Phillips agreed. “Gotta work it out… Make it just right. Set it up for the next one.”
“Yeah, well, we made it this far,” Ronson said. He grinned, and then the grin turned into a full fledged smile, and he began to laugh. Phillips joined him, and a second later, when Johnson was sure Beeker was going to open his mouth to tell them all to shut the fuck up, he started laughing too. “Oh… It’s good, look-at-him,” Ronson said, holding his side, and pointing at Johnson, “he don’t have a friggin’ clue.” That seemed to drive all of them into hysteria, Johnson saw. Including Beeker, who was usually hard-nosed and moody. He was doubled over too. Holding his sides. Tears squirting from his eyes.
“That true?” Beeker asked at last, once he had managed to get the laughter somewhat under control. “That your friggin’ problem is it, Johnson, you don’t have a clue?” he stopped laughing abruptly, and within seconds Ronson and Philips chuckled to a stop. “Do you have the slightest idea where your white ass is?” Beeker asked seriously.
“No… Well, a jungle, I guess,” Johnson answered.
“No… Well, it could be a jungle, I guess,” Ronson mimicked in a high falsetto.
“Is it?” Johnson ventured in a near whisper.
“Look…” Beeker waited for silence. “Take a break, it’s gonna get worse. Why don’t you have a smoke and kick back… Enjoy the break?”
“Well, the thing is that I don’t smoke, bad for the lungs. I’m pretty careful about my health.”
“Really?” Beeker asked politely. He chuckled briefly, lit another of his own smokes, and then spoke softly. “I would like your complete attention, Johnson, do I have it?”
He cut him off, his voice a roar. “In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a fuckin’ war goin’ on, you pansy mother-fucker. A fuckin’ war, Johnson, you understand that, you ain’t gonna live much fuckin’ longer anyway. Get with the program mister, now!”
Johnson’s eyes bugged out, but as Beeker finished he forced himself to speak. “I know that… I can see that… It don’t mean I havta die though, not necessarily.”
“Man, Beek, don’t waste your time, he hopeless, same old shit, like Simpson. Like all those friggin guys before Simpson,” Ronson said.
Beeker drew a deep breath, winked at Ronson, and then spoke. “Yes it does,” Beeker said calmly. “It does because you ain’t a regular. You ain’t been here long enough, and you don’t mean a fiddler’s fuck to anybody. And that sucks, but that’s life, Johnson,” he paused and looked over at Ronson. “How long was the man upstairs gone the last time? Fourteen days, am I right?”
“As rain,” Ronson replied coolly.
“And where are we now?” “Seventeen?” Phillips asked.
“Uh uh,” Ronson corrected, “eighteen, man, remember? Seventeen was when Simpson bought it, and this ass-hole came into play. Replacement, supposedly.”
“Right!” Beeker said. “It is eighteen, and that’s why nobody gives a fuck about you, Johnson. Eighteen’s too far, we’ll be done at twenty, he never goes past that, and I’ll bet bullets to bodies you’ll buy the farm long before we’re done with eighteen. Depends on how long the man upstairs gives you, see?”
“No,” Johnson said slowly, “I don’t see.” Seventeen? Eighteen? What the hell was that all about? he wondered.
Ronson chuckled. “I think he’s confused, again, Beek.”
“I think he was fuckin’ born confused,” Phillips added.
“Seventeen? Eighteen?” Johnson asked aloud. He didn’t get it, not completely anyway.
“Have a cigarette,” Beeker told him.
“I told you, I don’t…”
“Yeah, right, fuck that noise, there’s a pack inside your jacket… Check it… See if I’m right.”
Johnson fumbled with the jacket snaps, and finally pulled the jacket open. A half pack of smokes resided in the inside pocket. A silver Zippo tucked in beside them. He looked up with amazement.
“So?” Beeker asked, smiling widely.
“One of you guys stuck them there, while I was sleeping, has to be,” Johnson said.
“And when was it that you were sleeping, Johnson? For that matter, when were any of us?”
Johnson thought about it. Had they been awake for fourteen days? Not possible, he told himself. He Looked over at Beeker. Beeker just smiled.
“None of us have. None of us have to, unless he makes us… Don’t you get it yet, Johnson?”
“Yeah, don’t you get the feeling someone’s putting words in your mouth?” Ronson snickered. He began to laugh once more.
“Can’t be,” Johnson mumbled.
“It is, and hey, it’s a bitch, ain’t it? But think of it this way. Us three have done this… Five now?” he asked to no one in particular.
“This’ll be six,” Phillips replied.
“Jesus, has it really been six?”
“This one makes it,” Ronson agreed as he stopped laughing once again. He leaned back against a nearby tree and fired up a smoke. His eyes twinkling as they locked on Johnson and Beeker.
“Okay, it’s six. You’re an extra, Johnson, you got wrote in to replace Simpson. You see the man upstairs figures it like this. You gotta kill somebody every once in awhile, right? Otherwise he’ll lose the readers attention. So he writes in disposable’s. Yeah, man, it’s a bitch, but it’s you. It sure as hell isn’t gonna be any of us. You don’t kill off the main guys, it don’t happen,” he softened his voice. “Look, it was hard for Simpson too. He kept him with us for better than ten chapters, and you know, I liked that sucker. He was all right for a white dude.”
Johnson swallowed hard, lit up one of the smokes from his jacket, and leaned back against the side of the hut. The silence held.
So,” Beeker finished quietly, ” you gotta deal with it man… You just got too… It won’t be long…
Hope you enjoyed the cat humor and the story! Have a great week, Dell…
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“… I remember the times we spent there… When it was still good for all of us,” Rain said. Her eyes teared up; she shifted the baby and looked at Michael…
Earth’s Survivors SE4: The story of Candace and Mike
Posted by Geo Dell 04-28-18
Happy Saturday! This morning I will leave you with a look at Earth’s Survivors SE 4 which will be available the first part of April at all the major booksellers.
A little background on SE 4 and what it is: SE 4 is the story of Mike and Candace. In the Zombie Plagues Mike and Candace are prominent characters, but in the Earth’s Survivors books they are barely mentioned at all. This book gathers all the story lines of Mike and Candace and brings them together and provides the missing pieces that explain where they went to. This is yet another fan suggested book. Candace and Mike are the Characters that the most questions are asked about in both series. Hopefully this will satisfy those questions, Geo…
Earth’s Survivors Se 4: The story of Candace and Mike
By Dell Sweet
The Earth’s Survivors SE series follows follow Mike, Candace and a few other survivors as they struggle to stay alive in a vastly changed world. In the early morning hours of March 1st great change came upon the entire planet, touching the small northern New York town where Mike and Candace lived. Earth’s Survivors SE four is the only story that completes the original story of Candace and Mike…
This is Copyrighted Material!
This material is NOT edited for content
THE EARTH’S SURVIVORS SE 4
The story of Candace and Mike
PUBLISHED BY: Dell Sweet
Earth’s Survivors: SE Four: the story of Candace and Mike is © Copyright 2017 Wendell Sweet, all rights reserved.
Additional Copyrights © 2010 – 2012, 2014, 2015 by Wendell Sweet, All rights reserved
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your bookseller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
The small crowd of people was armed, Mike saw, long before they actually reached the wide street and crossed over into their parking lot. Behind him, in the store, he had heard the sound of breaking glass several times. Presumably Candace and Patty breaking open display cases.
“Think they can see us in here?” he asked.
“Probably too dark,” Glenn answered as Candace and Patty came back with their arms loaded down with high powered rifles and shotguns.
“Careful,” Candace said, her breath coming fast. “These are loaded.” A small line of blood ran away from one knuckle as she passed Mike a rifle that looked like it would be more at home in a war.
“You’re hurt,” Mike said.
Candace laughed. “Just glass from a case… It’s nothing.”
“Not a girl,” Mike said
“Or even close,” Candace agreed with a smile. She stepped close to the front of the entrance way, still deep in shadow, but just behind the shattered doors.
There were a dozen of them when they came to a stop just thirty feet away from the doors. Women and kids, the old man and a younger guy hanging toward the back. The two men and three of the women were armed.
“We know you’re in there,” The lead man shouted out. He was an older man, short silver hair, thin, the ragged remains of a suit hanging from his shoulders. “We don’t want trouble… Just company… Safety… The nights are pretty bad now. I guess you know.” He made to step forward again.
“No… Right there is fine,” Candace said.
The man stopped. “I told you, we come in peace.” The man said as she stepped from the shadows. Ronnie moved out with her and a second later Patty and Mike joined her. Mike motioned to the rest to stay inside.
“Every bad alien movie I ever saw started just exactly that way,” Candace said.
“Is that what you think?” The man asked. “Aliens? Well, I’m no alien… I don’t know what happened but I don’t think it was alien, or aliens, unless you count the meteor that might or might not have hit us. And I’m obviously not one of the gangs or I wouldn’t be out here in the daylight talking to you.”
The silence held a long time.
“You hear me?” The older man said.
“I heard you,” Candace agreed. “What do you mean one of the gangs? Not one of the gangs?”
The man laughed. A short hard laugh that had nothing to do with amusement at all. “Are you serious?”
“If I wasn’t serious I wouldn’t have asked,” Candace told him.
“But… Okay… Why can’t we do this in there? Look at what I have here… A handful of scared mothers with a few children. The young guy at the back is okay. Why don’t we do this in there? I don’t like being out in the open. It’s just the gangs we have to worry about.” He looked off in all directions as he talked.
Candace looked over the group and then over at Mike. “Nothing we can’t deal with,” Mike agreed. Her eye’s met Patty’s and then Ronnie’s. They both nodded. “So you know there are more of us inside. Don’t be stupid.”
“Wouldn’t think of it,” The old man agreed. “John,” he said.
Candace just nodded and motioned him forward.
They were all gathered around a small fire that Glenn had started for heat and light. The nights were still cold. Glenn had built the fire in an empty fifty five gallon drum they had rolled out from the back. It the smoke detectors had still been working they would have had trouble, but as it was the smoke just gathered high up in the steel rafters and found its way to the outside from there.
“What do you know,” John asked. “That might be a better place to start.”
“Practically nothing,” Glenn answered. “We all met downtown a few days back… Earth quake… Meteor. Everything wrecked and no answers.”
John nodded. “Okay,” He rested his head in his hands for a moment, and then looked up. His eyes were red; the bags under his eyes bruised and heavy. “The second. It happened overnight, the first, the end of the first. I don’t know what it was, anymore than you do, but I suspect the meteor they said would miss us didn’t. Maybe that started a whole chain of events. So, aliens? No. I think our own government did us in though. I can see your view too, because there is something alien about it. About the way we would view it, the way you would view it. Yesterday the planes came over. Big Cargo planes. Sprayed blue stuff over the entire city. We thought for sure we were done right then, but whatever that was it didn’t kill us, didn’t seem to do anything to us… But I wonder, I really do…” He seemed to zone out for a second.
“John?” Glenn asked quietly.
He laughed. “Sorry. I need sleep. Sleep is what I need. Gangs,” he took a deep breath. “This city, most of the cities I’ve been hearing about on the CB are controlled by Gangs now. They’re out all night rounding us up. The other survivors…” He frowned heavily. “I’ll be straight, not much use for other men… ‘Less they think like them. Not much use for the children either. Women, gas, cash,” he laughed again. “They seem to think a day will come when it will all be worth something again.”
“You don’t?” Candace asked.
“I don’t,” John agreed. “I think somebody mucked up badly… I can’t believe it was all an accident. Washington? Dead. L.A.? Dead. New York? Dead as well. There have been reports of the President being killed. In the end the Secret Service deserted him. The few that remained fled. The whole thing fell apart. And it’s no better in other countries from what I have heard on the CB. Some of it could be exaggerated… Could be fear talking… But I don’t think so. I think most of it is absolute truth. I think it all failed and we’re on our own. That’s what I think.”
Candace looked over as Patty sprang to her feet and walked away into the darkness of the store. “I’ll be back,” Candace said. She got up and followed.
“I appreciate the truth, John,” Mike said.
John nodded. “Upset us too. Nothing for it that I can see.”
“Where are you from,” Mike asked.
“Rochester… Haven’t heard much from it except there is a glow to the west… Could be they still have power there.”
“Hey inside!” This from the parking lot that was now edging quickly toward twilight.
“Shit,” Ronnie said. “Forgot all about that.” He jumped to his feet and headed to the opening, Mike right behind him.
“Guess we’ll have to post a guard or something,” Mike agreed. He stared out at two small groups that stood in the darkness looking around at the deepening shadows. Ronnie spoke.
“What is it you want?” Ronnie asked.
“What is it we want? Are you kidding me? We want in there, out of the cold, the night.” The guy was tall and dirty looking in the darkening light, but Ronnie supposed they all probably looked a little rough. “Talking like that ain’t gonna get you in here,” Ronnie told him. “In fact it will get you an invitation to hit the road.”
A woman who was leading the second group, off to the right of the first group spoke up. “Look, man. We’re all on edge right now. We just want to share your shelter. Manny is not so good with diplomacy.”
“Manny?” Ronnie asked.
She nodded to the other group, “Manuel… Manny.”
“These groups ain’t bad,” John said from beyond the doorway, hidden in the shadows.
“You vouch for them?” Mike asked.
“No… I won’t go that far. I will say I have seen them around… They are not part of the gangs that are all over the place at night in the city. Not these two.”
“Good enough for me… Ed? Ronnie? Anyone else have an objection?”
“We’ll just watch them kind of close,” Dave said.”
“Okay… Well, somebody better go get Patty and Candace… Just to be safe.” He turned back to the parking lot and the two waiting groups. “Slow,” he called out. “Slow and keep those rifles pointed down.”
Copyright Dell Sweet – 2015 by Wendell Sweet and his assignee Andrea Scroggs. All rights reserved. Dell Sweet is a publishing construct owned by Wendell Sweet, independAntwriters and their assignee Andrea Scroggs.
This preview is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This preview may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this preview with another person, please point them to independAntwriters at sotofo.com. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Nine Fifty-Nine A.M.
I lowered my wrist to my side, settled myself back into the shadows of the treeline and raised my binoculars to my eyes.
I swept the back deck and rear entrance, shot across the fence to the next house in line: Nothing; and nothing. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I had been wrong all along.
Being a private detective isn’t all thrills. Most of the time it’s doing exactly what I was doing: Sitting and waiting. For hours sometimes, with little to show Other times you just happen to walk into the middle of something, get everything you need in those few seconds and feel a little guilty about even charging for it, let alone keeping the retainer… If there was a retainer… But of course I always fight past that. After all money, making a living, is why I do this job.
Apparently this job wasn’t going to be one of those kinds of jobs, but what kind of job was it going to be? Hard to tell.
I was watching the house of Paul and Melinda Fields. At Melinda Field’s request. She was a friend of my wife Joan. So you would think that the request would have come from my wife to help her friend, but it had not. It had not come that way at all. It had come instead in the form of a phone call to my office. Melinda had called and asked me to meet with her, and she asked me to keep it quiet. She didn’t want her friends to know, meaning my wife too, I concluded.
I was okay with that. You get a lot of that sort of thing as a private eye. People think odd things, maybe they’re even a little paranoid. If a woman or a man thinks his or her loved one is cheating on them they sometimes want to keep the information as quiet as possible. They want to know. You’re the private dick so it’s okay if you know, but they don’t want anyone else to know.
This was day two and I was about to burn up the retainer. I had nothing at all to show for it. But as I said that is the private detective game most of the time. Waiting and seeing. I simply hadn’t seen anything. Well, almost nothing. Apparently Paul did keep things from his wife. Right now for instance he was supposed to be at his office. He wasn’t of course. Joan had left for work, but he hadn’t. And more than once he had checked the windows as though he were expecting someone. Peeking out of the drapes, sliding the deck door open and peeking out before he stepped outside sipping his coffee as he looked around and then quickly stepped back inside. Odd.
Odd, but not exactly indicative of much of anything at all. He had done nearly the same thing yesterday and I had wasted nearly four hours watching him pace the deck, check the windows, pace the kitchen, refill his cup, pace the deck some more, and then finally get in his car and drive to the office in the early afternoon.
Paul Fields was a contractor. Not one of the big ones, but not one of the small ones either. They lived in a nice subdivision. Melinda sold real estate. Between the two of them they did very well. She drove a nice BMW and he drove a new Ford pickup. One of the big ones with the big price tags. It looked as though it had never hauled anything in its life. All shiny black and chrome. Lots of chrome.
The man lived in Jeans, work boots and button up chambray work shirts. He was in his early forties, looked thirty five. Fit, attractive in some ways. I could see why she might think he was screwing around. I just didn’t see any evidence of it if he was. Maybe, I thought, I should have run it past Joan. Maybe she felt this same thing a few times a year, once a month. Who knew. The only thing that had stopped me was that Melinda had made it a condition of hiring me. And so I hadn’t.
I lowered the glasses, slipped a cigarette from my pack and lit it, and then settled back to smoke as I watched. I know, they’ll kill me, but isn’t life killing us all every day? I know, I know, excuses. I got a ton of them.
I took a deep drag and blew the smoke out my nose. I glanced at my watch. Another hour and that would be it.
It was about then that things got interesting. Paul had, had the drapes open on the rear sliders. They suddenly swept shut. My first thought was that he was about to leave for the office, but out of the corner of my eye I caught a taxi drift up to the curbing a few houses down and stop. It sat idling for a few moments and then the back door popped open and a woman stepped out and hurried off down the walk toward Paul’s house.
I got the camera up and snapped a few dozen pictures before she was out of my line of sight, but who knew what they might be worth? She was moving fast and her face was not fully turned toward the camera. She had one hand up, brushing at her hair as she walked. I changed the card and slipped the other into my pocket. I hated to be short when I needed to shoot.
There was a gap in the drapes. I couldn’t see much through the shadows as I focused with my binoculars. The digital camera didn’t offer much better on zoom, but I clicked a few shots off anyway. Many times I had found the money shot in the pictures I didn’t think would be worth anything at all. I then began to scan the second floor bedroom drapes for movement. There was a set of sliders there too that opened onto an upper deck.
A little movement caught my eye so I kept the lens focused there. Something or someone brushed up against the drapes, they stuttered open for a brief instant and I clicked off another dozen shots out of habit. You just never knew where the money shot was going to be, or if there was even going to be one, but if you didn’t shoot you couldn’t get anything.
I put in another hour, but there was nothing much to see. I had just about made up my mind to shift my cover to the front of the house just in case she slipped out earlier than I thought she would, when a Yellow Cab rolled up to the curb of the house next door, and then coasted to a stop, presumably, out of my line of site in front of Paul’s house. I cursed under my breath. Piss poor planning on my part. No other way to see it. I could have gotten a clear shot of the woman, whoever she was.
All in all it made no difference though. The retainer was shot, and most people never went past the retainer. He was fooling around with someone, most likely, and maybe one of the shots I took would even be enough for Melinda to recognize who the woman was. If though, proof was all she was after, she had that.
I retreated back into the woods and made my way to a dead end service road where I had parked earlier, tossed my gear onto the front seat of the beat up old Dodge I used for surveillance, and followed it in. A half a day shot. I had another case to look into, a simple straight forward process serve. I had some good information on where the person should be, hopefully she would be. Maybe it could be a slam dunk kind of day. Well, except for missing the exit shot. I cursed once more under my breath as I keyed the old Dodge and headed back into town.
Nine Twenty-Seven P.M.
I shifted into park, dropped the keys into my coat pocket and levered open my door. At the last moment I turned and retrieved my binoculars, camera and the small .380 I usually carried when I was somewhere where unexpected things might happen.
The process serve had been a bust, I was tired and grouchy. I palmed the small gun in one hand. I had found myself in the woods more than once on surveillance jobs. Bad neighborhoods a few times too. The .380 was small in my hand, but a large comfort in my head.
I had started with the gun after a friend of mine who worked for the PD and moonlighted as a private eye, small stuff, mostly process serving, had been ambushed by an angry husband he had been trying to serve divorce papers on. He’d been shot four times and had barely survived the hurried ambulance trip to the hospital emergency room. The PD career was done, and the private eye stuff too, although a few of us threw him a bone when we could: When he was sober. I decided I’d rather have something to show.
I had nearly bought a .44 caliber, but one test fire had convinced me to leave that for something smaller and hopefully non fatal. I know, I shouldn’t really be concerned with that. After all if I am going to have to use a gun to defend myself it should be capable of laying someone down. I just haven’t been able to believe in it yet. I have flashed the .380 twice and ended violent confrontations right there. My ex-PD friends say don’t pull it unless you mean to use it… Maybe… Someday.
I dropped the camera and the gun into my other coat pocket, wound the binocular strap around my hand and walked around the back to where my office is. Joan and I have a deal. I don’t track whatever I have been walking through all day into the house and she won’t divorce me. She was that passionate about it. I emptied my pockets, slipped off my boots I used for the woods, which did, I noticed, have something that could have been mud, bear shit or even dog shit that I could have picked up crossing my own back yard, on them. Joan’s poodle, Mister Tibbles. We’ve agreed to hate each other. I thought about a sniff test, decided to pass, I never could distinguish poodle shit from bear shit anyway, slid on my slippers and walked the shoes to the back door.
Joan called down from the upper level, probably the kitchen. More specifically the bar that was just off the kitchen. My office was on the lower level. You could translate that as basement and you would be correct. I would only add converted basement.
“Yeah… It’s me,” I called back.
“Be careful in the backyard. I took Mister Tibbles out and I couldn’t see where he went.”
That answered that question. “Uh huh,” I answered.
Nothing else floated down to me. I left the landing and walked down to my office. I transferred the pictures off the two cards, then opened my image program as I dialed Melinda’s number. She picked up on the first ring. Her voice low, sexy. It said Please buy this property from me, baby. Sexist, yes, I know. I try not to be. And I felt even worse about being one because of the bad news I was about to give her.
“Mike,” I said.
“Oh… Mike.” She sounded surprised.
I ignored it as I loaded the pictures and searched through them one by one. “Melinda, I have some bad news…. I’ll send you a report on this, but I thought I should call and talk to you just the same… Instead of you reading it in a report.” I searched through the thumbnails as they came up. “I have a few things left to do, but essentially… You were right, Melinda… There’s no easy way to put it, your husband, Paul is seeing someone.”
I continued flicking through the thumbnails and selected two that might be useful. One shot through the upstairs drapes showed a woman. I ascertained that from the dress she wore. Her face however was turned away from the camera, a blurry blob in shadow.
The second photo showed her hurrying from the cab. Part of her face was obscured by one hand. I would work on both photos as well as I could and try to get something that Melinda could identify. Melinda stayed silent on the phone.
“I don’t know who the woman is,” I admitted. “She outfoxed me and that doesn’t usually happen. Maybe she was being careful or maybe she’s a little paranoid… I…”
“I know who she is, Mike.”
I stopped. “You do?”
“Yes… I… I had hoped you would identify her though… I wanted to be absolutely sure.” She said sure, but she sounded very unsure.
I transferred the two pictures to some other software, started with the first one from the bedroom shot through the drapes, and selected the areas to work on.
“Mike,” Melinda said even more softly.
“I’m looking over a few photos I shot right now. Trying to get a good, clear face shot,” I told her. She sounded on the verge of tears. Like she was unraveling over the phone. It made me wish I hadn’t addressed it over the phone at all.
The face became clearer pixel by pixel. I have a good machine, it didn’t take long, and I didn’t have to bother with the other photo. “The picture’s coming up, Melinda,” I told her, but my words clogged in my throat as the picture finally came up, and I fell silent myself. She spoke into my silence.
“Mike… I would have told you, Mike… Mike?” She sounded panicked.
“What?” I managed.
“I wasn’t sure… Not completely, Mike.”
“But you hired me to find out? Me? Why didn’t you hire someone else?” A hard ball had settled into the pit of my stomach.
“I… I don’t know… I thought… I thought… I thought you would want to know… Mike… Mike I didn’t really think it through. I was angry… Upset… I wasn’t thinking straight, Mike. I wasn’t.” Now it was her turn to fall silent. I could just barely hear her breathing over the phone in the hardness of the silence.
“I’ll send the retainer back, “ I said at last into the silence. “You… You know maybe this was best… I don’t guess I would have wanted one of my friends to be the guy on this… Finding out. It’s just a little hard to think right now.”
“Sure it is,” She agreed. “I’m so upset.” She sobbed once as if trying to choke it back and then the soft sound of her crying came over the phone.
I was not at the point of tears. I was at the point of anger. That hard place where it’s brand new and you can’t seem to swallow it down. I was there, at that place. It’s a hard goddamn place to be and I realized she had been there too, maybe still was. It was also a dangerous place to be.
“I have to get the hell out of here,” I told her. Twice I had found my eyes locked on the .380 where I had set it on the desktop what seemed like a million years ago.
“Me too… It makes me sick to know it for a fact.” She was still crying but trying to get herself under control.
It was spur of the moment, but my mouth opened and with no artifice the words tumbled forth.
“I have a cabin… It’s nearly the weekend… Up in Maine… It’s a drive… Isolated… A good place to think.” Silence from the phone. “If you wanted to… Oh hell.”
She laughed a small laugh, followed by sniffles and a few seconds of silence. “I’ll meet you somewhere?” She asked.
“Airport? … You could leave your car in the long term lot… Pick it up Monday or so…”
“Let me get some things together…” She went back to crying for a few moments. “I’ll just… Just leave him a note.” She laughed again, sharply this time. “You know what, I won’t… I’ll be there in… An hour? An hour, Mike?”
I nodded and then realized she couldn’t see that. And so I told her I would meet her there in an hour. I clicked off, slid the phone into my pocket and just sat there for a moment. My eyes dropped back down to the gun and it seemed to hold me hypnotized for a length of time. Like a spell I had to break. I forced myself to look away. I got up and walked away from it. I went up to our bedroom and filled an old suitcase.
I half expected Joan to walk in, see what I was doing and stop me, but she didn’t. I expected her to say something when I came back down the stairs and crossed through the kitchen to the back door, but again she didn’t. If she was sitting there in the gloom of the bar area or had migrated farther into the shadows of the living room, I couldn’t say. She said nothing. Mister Tibbles growled lightly and that was it.
I moved the car, backed my Jeep out of the garage and out into the street. A few minutes later I was cruising the interstate through the darkness, heading for the airport…
Check out the short story collection this story came from: Mister Bob…https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/mister-bob/id1197058839…
Earth’s Survivors: Doomed
Mar 15, 2018 | Kindle eBook