FREE Fiction Friday by Rex Crossley (Pt 2)
Welcome back to FREE Fiction Friday. This week we continue Rex Crossley’s dystopian epic: Where Were You When the World Changed.
Previously: Leaving his bunker for the first time one year after the zombie outbreak, Paul Layton discovered that the world had changed while he was away. Children disguised to look like zombies prowled the streets, huge flocks of silent, red-eyed crows patrolled the skies and there wasn’t a walking corpse in sight. Suddenly finding himself locked out of his bunker, Paul was forced to rejoin the world, ready or not. Want to read Part 1 first? Here it is!
Where Were You When the World Changed?
Part Two: What the Hell Happened to Warren?
by Rex Crossley
Paul rested against the cold, unyielding surface of his emergency shelter, panting, certain that all of his yelling and hammering had only made his situation worse. Whoever had stolen their way into his bunker would never open the door to the howling lunatic outside. Surely the weird kids running around in the area would avoid him like the plague as well, now. So much for getting answers.
He needed to come up with a new plan, and quick. He had no idea what to expect out here. The rules had obviously changed completely while he was underground.
He knew that to make an informed decision, he required information. That meant exploration and observation. He pressed his palms against his eyes, rubbing them furiously, picturing the emergency backpack full of essentials sitting just on the other side of the door he leaned against. Paul shook his head, fighting against another rage attack that would just end up bruising his knuckles and ego further while bringing him no closer to getting back in there.
His fanny pack was full of ammunition. Expecting to be assaulted by zombie hordes, he’d stuffed it with as many cartridges as possible. Safety first, his scoutmaster had always told him. He briefly wondered if his old scout master was still alive, then decided that he didn’t care.
His cammies had two big pockets, one on either thigh, and the total sum of his provisions were there, including one canteen of water in the left and six expired protein bars in the right. The survival knife in his boot was his last resource. It was the kind with the screw-off cap in the hilt that housed fishing line, hooks, matches and a poncho.
He’d left some back-up gear hidden in his house but the fire took care of that. He decided it was time to leave his comfort zone. The longer he sat in his yard, the lower his chances became of surviving. Everything was quiet. That meant that his recent actions; firing his pistol, yelling and pounding on his shelter, could have been heard for miles.
Paul walked around to the front of his house where everything remained as he’d left it; cars and corpses. The crows had only attacked him, leaving the corpses alone. It didn’t make sense. Crows were scavengers, preferring dead flesh over a living target. He absently scratched the places where their claws and beaks had broken his skin, as he contemplated what to do.
Deciding where to begin was overwhelming. The only friends he had were fake work friends…and Warren. Warren! That was the answer. As soon as the idea came to him, Paul started walking. Warren lived almost on the other side of town. It would be a long hike and he wanted to make it there before nightfall. He had no illusions that any vehicles were mechanically sound after they’d been left sitting for a year. They were all potential deathtraps.
Paul was certain that he would find Warren secure in his own bunker. After all, he was the one who had sold Paul on the idea of building one in the first place, and no one knew as much about surviving the apocalypse as Warren did.
That’s all he ever talked about when he visited Paul’s hardware store. Warren was one of those conspiracy theorists that believed the government was behind everything. He had loads of information to back up his suspicions and Paul really enjoyed getting him worked up during their talks. It became his mission to come up with a situation that Warren couldn’t blame on the government. Aliens…government secret spy plane testing. Bigfoot…advanced combat training operations specializing in camouflage. Loch Ness Monster…secret government experiment with dinosaur DNA. But the one thing Warren loved to talk about the most, that every conversation always came around to, was the zombie apocalypse. Eventually the bug in Paul’s ear started to make strange sense and he found himself asking Warren for details and then finally got him to help with constructing his own shelter. If anyone knew of a back way in, it would be him.
Paul walked down the middle of the street, not trusting the corpses even though none of them had moved. The last time he walked in the sunshine, the planet was under assault by the walking dead and those memories still made him uneasy. He was tempted to run or at least jog to quicken his pace but he was too afraid he would miss a clue vital to his survival. Now that he had a plan, the last thing he needed was to run into the arms of a zombie or frighten an armed survivor.
“Dammit! Get in there!”
A gruff, angry voice came from inside a yellow, ranch-style house he was passing. Paul quickly ducked low enough to hide behind the wild, overgrown hedge lining the sidewalk in front of it and drew one of his pistols.
“I’m going to kill you!”
There was something disturbingly familiar about the voice that made it impossible for Paul to ignore. He walked over to the hedge, mindful of the pair of corpses in his path, and did his best to see in through the open windows from his position by the street but the interior darkness made that impossible. If he wanted to satisfy his curiosity, he would have to get closer.
“Ass-hole!” Spoken vehemently, almost as though the words were separate, and the pattern of speech was definitely one he had heard before.
He had to know who it was for sure.
Keeping low, he slipped through a break in the hedges, passing a rusted mailbox that still read “KARSHNER” in bold letters, and maneuvered to the nearest window. His back pressed up against the aluminum siding, Paul listened to the voice continue to rant above him.
“Why won’t you go in there? I just took you out!”
Exhaling to steady his nerve, he turned and stood enough to get a peek inside. What must have been a nice sitting room was now trashed from multiple lootings. A tall man with wild curly hair and a long, braided beard stood, trying to stuff a pair of binoculars into a full backpack. He ranted.
“What is wrong with you?”
Putting a face on the constant stream of irritated babble was all Paul needed. It was the last person he wanted to see during the God-forsaken apocalypse. It figured that when the shit hit the fan and the world’s population was theoretically wiped out, this guy would turn up. Fuckin’ Scott.
“I don’t under-stand!”
The most irritating person from Paul’s childhood that he had spent the entirety of his adulthood avoiding had somehow managed to survive zombies and who knew what else to appear two blocks from Paul’s property on the very day that he decided to come out for a supply run.
Nice one, God.
Paul ducked down and prepared to make a run for it. Scott was an unbearable ass and Paul was certain that things could only have soured since humanity went belly-up. Just being in his vicinity brought memories swirling back into Paul’s head. He remembered playing a game of Yahtzee with Scott and a couple of other friends when they were young. Scott had the worst luck, the dice weren’t cooperating with him at all. Paul and the others couldn’t help laughing and Scott’s face got redder and redder until he scooped up the dice and fired them across the table. Most of them hit Paul, one of them chipping his front tooth. Then there was the time the same friends were at an arcade and, while walking back to Paul’s car after dark, Scott managed to somehow piss off a group of older kids that were drinking around a pick-up truck. They chased after Scott and even ran into the side of the car, denting it, before Paul was able to get it started and drive away. Needless to say, Paul had no desire to reconnect.
Glass shattered overhead. Binoculars sailed through the window, and bounced across the lawn, burying themselves deep in the hedge. Paul narrowly avoided crying out in surprise. Scott roared with rage and Paul heard the distinct sound of what was left of the furniture being thrashed around the room.
Instead of crossing through Scott’s potential field of vision, Paul ran along the front of the house and ducked through the hedge into the neighbor’s yard. In his haste, he almost ran right into what looked like a black doghouse. A chain ran from a stake into its dark opening and a powerful stench assaulted him from within.
The black “paint” shifted and moved hypnotically in waves along the surface of the doghouse and he realized that it wasn’t paint at all It was a coating of thousands of little insects. It was impossible for Paul to tell what kind of bugs they were as he watched them swirl and twist in complex patterns in front of him. The motions were captivating as they undulated, seeming to make patterns that Paul could almost understand. He edged closer for a better look and the patterns continued to shift. The designs were so close to being comprehensible, that Paul felt that if he could reach out and make a few adjustments, everything would become clear. He raised his arm and leaned in even closer.
“Why is everything so annoying today?”
Scott’s voice coming from behind him snapped Paul back from the trance the bugs were inducing. A column of them were extending from the roof of the doghouse, almost touching Paul’s outstretched hand. Paul pulled his arm back, clutching it to his chest, and stumbled away. He swiftly crossed the neighbor’s yard and kept low for a while until Scott’s ranting faded into the distance.
Once he was sure he was far enough away, Paul slowed down and re-holstered his weapon. He stayed on the sidewalk now, unwilling to advertise his presence by going down the middle of the street again. He was just glad Scott remained as oblivious now as he had been before. Paul had spotted him on several occasions, almost running into him twice during public festivals — oddly enough one of them was a Zombie Walk, but was able to slip into the crowds unnoticed before being spotted. Unfortunately, crowds were gone now.
The sun was just kissing the horizon as he reached Warren’s street. He wanted to get back to a secure location before dark, realizing that without power the darkness would be more absolute than he was accustomed to and that could prove deadly since he still knew so little about the new world.
He could already see that Warren’s house was still standing. This being an older area of town and the houses here had actual working shutters on their windows. Warren’s were closed.
Paul kept an eye open for traps that his survivalist friend might have set but other than the razor-wire capping the back yard’s privacy fence, he saw nothing out of the ordinary. Chances were any traps Warren set would have been sprung long ago but Paul deferred to caution.
The gate was unlocked and swung open easily despite the tall grass. Stepping through, Paul was greeted by the sight of the stone that served as Warren’s bunker door standing wide open and he froze. That was the last thing he had expected to see.
The back yard set-up was identical to Paul’s; large moss-covered stone next to shed and a propane grill. Paul’s eyes kept returning to the open shelter door and his heart was racing. Had Warren exhausted his supplies? It was possible but unlikely. Warren had been stockpiling far longer than Paul.
He drew his pistol again and carefully walked over to investigate, having no idea what to expect. The tall grass swished against his pants but otherwise everything was utterly quiet. The breeze that had greeted his emergence from his own bunker was absent now and the air was taking on an oppressive humidity.
He reached the hatch and called down the metal steps that descended into darkness. “Hello? Warren? It’s Paul. Paul Layton.”
There was no response from below and Paul was vitally aware of the daylight fading around him as the sun went down. Steeling himself, he entered Warren’s apocalypse bunker.
The metal steps rang against his boots as he descended. Reaching the bottom, he took in the room which was barely visible in the fading sunlight. It was identical to his own but the shelves here were completely bare. Everything useful, including the sleeping cot and the lye for the latrine was gone.
He made a sweep of the room, his boots echoing in the deepening darkness, to be certain that he hadn’t missed anything in his assessment. He hadn’t.
The light was almost gone when he finished his circuit, returning to the door. With a swift, practiced motion, he reached up and pulled it closed against the night. He found the circular handle in the dark and turned it until he heard the heavy clunk of the lock engaging.
He relaxed a little and used the railing to find his way back down the stairs. When he got to the bottom, he found the corner where Warren’s cot should have been and sat down, resting his back against the wall. The silence and darkness were complete. He had traded his low-provision bunker for an empty one. Despite his intentions at the start of the day, he had been unable to better his situation.
His mind raced as it tried to process all of the information gleaned during his excursion but one question kept coming back to him over and over, until he finally relaxed enough to sleep and he spoke it aloud while drifting off.
“What the Hell happened to Warren?”
Keep an eye out for future installments from Rex Crossley and The Horror Within.