Foreword to Survival
Hello One and All,
What you are about to read, and experience has never been done here before.
A complete novel, forty-seven chapters written
solely by twenty-three writers here on Prose.
Each character, every development came from the minds and talents
of these wonderful people and they are to be commended
for their talent, desire, and drive to see this through.
At the conclusion of each chapter, you will see the writer’s name.
Each of them had to put up with me over many areas of confusion
at times and wouldn’t surprise me at some point they wanted
to “cyber strangle” me. But when it was all said and written,
collectively, we came to what I feel, and what they feel is a stunning
conclusion, as well as interesting and adventurous circumstances
throughout that brought an ending worth all of our time and effort put forth.
If you never read another novel in your life, then this one
should be the one your eyes need to feast on.
Over the course of the next 47 days, beginning this Thursday, you can ride
along with us and read what each of us has seen, and yet, this will
be the first time each writer will see this in its entirety from
beginning to end, minus the standard misspellings
and other errors that happen to us all.
Consider this a teaser until Thursday.
Collectively those who were involved are:
Famewriter – HandsOfFire – Finder - anarosewood - JaneF – MidnightInk Moonsinger128 – PaperbackFish - weather_green - GinelleColour - Chacko_Stephen Mnezz -Thereisnospoon – Wordlove – TeaRise - Scratch77 - EvelynDawn
Firstborn60 - 1912writer -Trousers - chainedinshadow - TW - Danceinsilence
I also want to give a special shout out
to SadieBug, who, for all practical reasons
became my second set of eyes,
helping with the editing.
Her help has been beneficial to all of us.
Normally, you would simply flip the page, but in this case just scroll down—and enjoy.
“We must stop them before they do irrevocable harm. Give the order.” said the president.
It was an ordinary day in June of 2024, no different than the day before. People were scurrying to work. Others were lounging along a beach somewhere. Kids were playing, lovers were loving, and simply put—life moved on.
The world was getting back to business since the final and permanent cure for Covid was put in place back in March and distributed worldwide. Yes, life was getting to be good again.
But it all stopped with a blinding flash of light and immense explosions not heard since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Screams barely heard amidst the noises of crumbling buildings, streets and highways torn asunder. Fires broke out in huge numbers, and people died.
All that was left to hear were the after rumblings. The world went silent.
Survival: The Beginning
My name is Bryan Kirkland. I am a former Marine, and I am here to tell you we are in trouble.
The war had been over for ten years. Ten long bitter years of recovery.
The United States, North Korea, and Russia had finally went ahead and did what the world feared most and that was massive destruction.
If you look around, you would think you were hurtled back into the past at least a good thousand years, maybe more.
Gone are the tall skyscrapers that once reached up and touched the sky. Gone, are the quaint houses in suburbs with the friendly, and not so friendly neighbors.
Gas refineries exploded, sending massive, sweeping fires for hundreds of miles, decimating everything in its path like molten lava. Earthquakes erupted, opening the ground to swallow hole anything within its grasp.
Highways are torn into rubble; cars are littered everywhere you turn. Airports are a shambles. Train stations, shut down. Ships? There are none. It’s all gone. Basically the only transportation is either a bicycle or your feet.
2024 was to have been a very good year for many people, since that was the year the final vaccines for Covid were handed out and had finally made us immune to a disease that killed over two-million people here and nearly thirty-million worldwide. We were finally on track to going back to business as usual. Things were starting to look good again. Instead, it became a nightmare come to life.
The business as usual has come down to survival and regaining a new purpose for our lives.
Power supplies at best are still minimal but there are people working on that. Water supplies though are difficult. All the water needs to be boiled first, strained, and then boiled again, to insure there are no contaminants floating around. Even then, what few people I now know, like me, they do it a third time just to make sure. The difficulty here; it takes five gallons of water just to have two liters.
The other problem is food. Meat is no longer an option as all the animals that once roamed the world are extinct, or so I would imagine, since there aren’t any here, except for the fish, but they too are contaminated. In order to eat fish, you have to cook it until it is burnt, and the taste is putrid when you get right down to it.
Because of this; a hybrid growth system was eventually put in place. Mostly vegetables and fruit, but enough were built to sustain life. That took some doing, but eventually over a hundred were built. At least no one goes hungry.
The big thing though, is communication. Not the one-on-one but the communicating by phone and Internet. With the satellite systems down, the way things were done in the past is just not doable.
Even regular phone systems are at a proverbial standstill without power and the satellites. If you were one of the lucky ones to be able to beg, borrow or steal a walkie-talkie and had battery packs that still worked, you were okay except for the fact the range in order to communicate was limited. I found a ham radio and tried to reach someone, anyone, anywhere, and no luck. Nothing but dead air. No electricity, no satellite systems to work off of, makes that a no option deal.
Funerals have been quick. Dig a hole, place a wrapped body in the hole and cover the person up. Say a few words and move on. Sounds cold and heartless but the truth is; everyone, including me, mourn every damn day for the loss of a life. The elaborate funerals are a thing of the past. We just move on and keep our feelings to ourselves.
But even all of this isn’t as bad as the rest.
Hospitals, what few there are, are unable to function without electricity and I was told it could be at least another six months before electric power grids would be fully operational. More people would die needlessly until that could be worked out. Medicines that people need are just not available, or the drugs that take an inordinate amount of time to create.
What few medical specialists there were, were also working on something just as vital as human life, and that was the continuation of life itself. Women can no longer give birth without hemorrhaging and dying, and the babies never survive. No one has given this a specific name as yet, but without the ability to procreate life, humanity will eventually cease to exist.
But we are rebuilding. Not the fancy million dollar homes, but at least they are livable. Carpenters and other workers, work side by side, creating new structures to live in and survive the harsh winters, rains and even hurricanes and tornados. The weather has no clue what happened, so it just keeps on rolling along.
We were lucky though. The fallout from the explosions didn’t leave too much in the way of acidic rainfall and disease, other than constantly purifying the water. Of course when this first happened, the initial fallout from the radiation killed millions of people I suspect. Those of us indoors were able to find some protection, some shelter. Others were crushed from falling buildings, earthquakes, fires and so on.
I wish I could say I knew what the rest of the world is doing, but I can’t. I can only account for the nearly 2,000 people that once boasted a population of nearly nine million are doing. Surviving. L.A. is a city buried in ashes.
Last week, thirteen people managed to find their way here from the north. They told several people that San Francisco is under water and that they barely escaped in time. They said they left there about a year ago, hoping to find other people alive, which they hadn’t and followed what roads they could or trekking through wooded areas to avoid massive sinkholes in the ground.
This whole thing is a mess.
What’s more—even after all of this, there were groups of marauding bands running around, openly stealing what supplies they could and killing people who stood in their way. After all we went through, you would think they would want to band together, but their leader or boss or whatever he is called, Lionel Banks, is an evil, twisted man. Seems his calling card when people are killed is to burn a set of twin snakes into their bodies. He is a twisted son of a bitch.
A few weeks ago, about twenty people came to me asking for help. They wanted leadership, and since I was in the service they felt I was the best option. Granted, I know what to do when a situation came up, but this was a new breed of dog we were up against, but I agreed.
After a few days of them coming to me, I spent time looking for something, anything to give us some kind of protection and I finally found a badly damaged Dick’s Sporting Goods store and a Walmart in just as bad of shape. Rummaging around, I came up with two dozen rifles and twelve handguns that were workable, and a good two dozen throwing knives; the kind that when they hit the target, it’s lights out. Shells were doable. It was a start. The big question was—would it be enough?
I came across a woman named Leila Espion. Fairly attractive, but with rugged looks all the same. Guess when the end of the world hits you in the ass, it changes us all. But she appears to be a good woman and a police officer; or was. I asked her if she would like to work with me to keep some sort of civility in place and she agreed.
At right around 5’6” and maybe 140, with short jet-black hair, her green eyes relayed to me she wasn’t afraid of taking on the responsibility and would help me put some plans in place of which I really didn’t have a plan but was working on one.
I later called for a meeting of several neighborhoods that were rebuilding to discuss and hopefully find a solution to stop Banks and his men—somehow.
On top of this, we have to face another war, one that either keeps humankind alive, or, one day one of us wakes up and realizes we are the last person left alive. And I’m betting that Lionel Banks wants to be that person.
Not on my watch.
If by chance you missed the Introduction:
Survival: Friends and Enemies
People started filing into the designated ‘meeting space’ for the neighborhood I am currently visiting. It was nothing more than a patch of flat ground with a large salvaged piece of wall on rickety beams protecting us from the weather.
I stood at the front of the meeting place, watching all the people trickling in.
Everyone will be given a background check before they enter by the only person I know I can trust until the end—someone I consider a friend, Leila Espion, formerly a police officer.
Finally, everyone is here. Leila enters the meeting place and gives me the signal to proceed. I do so immediately, while she walks behind me.
“You all know why we are here,” I announce loudly to bring everyone’s attention to me.
“Lionel Banks is bent on destroying what’s left of the world—but we will not let him!”
The crowd does not roar as the long destroyed movies of the past.
The people around me look grim and terrified. Some are too scared to fight, some are too scared not to.
“But how?” a frightened young woman asks. “What on earth can we do? We have no supplies and are packed into houses like sardines!”
People began to voice their agreement, and I winced. It is just like the last neighborhood! I can only hope that a fair amount of the people here would agree to join in the fight.
“We may not have much,” I agree, before grabbing two items out of my pockets—one knife and one gun. Two of the few I had managed to come across.
“But I do have a few of these. We are also resourceful enough to make use of whatever we have!”
A few people nod. That is all I can hope for.
“You came here because you know Banks is a threat,” I remind everyone. “A threat that must be faced. If you are not going to face him, go home. If you do want to fight, stay here, and we shall fight.”
Some people do leave. I hold back a wince.
“Well, what do we do?” a young man asks me.
“The first thing we need to do is defend our borders, ourselves, and our resources,” I explain. “We may not have many trees, or any concrete, but we have rubble. We must make walls, and we must guard them. You can make weapons and give them to anyone who needs them. I will meet with you later to discuss offense. I’m leaving one of my… people here to supervise.”
One of my ‘people,’ as I called him, steps up next to me. I give him a curt nod and step back while he gives his own ‘speech.’
I survey the crowd and try to make a plan. I look for people to make weapons, to lead, and to fight. Finally, it is my turn to talk again.
“Any volunteers to start guarding?” I ask. Five people step up, and I point out three of them. “You three, head out there now. Stay in eye—and earshot of each other. Seem as inconspicuous as possible. Everyone else, try and get started on the wall. I’ll be here for the next day or two.”
I’m surprised they listen to me so well. They don’t even know me!
Suddenly, Leila whispers something in my ear. “Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer, Bryan. That’s a quote from one of those movies; the Godfather, I believe.
This is some very crucial advice.”
I suddenly feel more nervous and confused than before.
Lionel Banks is no fool. He never got to where he did by being one and he wasn’t about to start now.
A rather imposing figure at six-foot even and 250, all muscle, deep set black eyes and smooth complexion that once upon a time had that boyish look the women loved so much, but not so much now being 51, But Banks new business and how to make money and he was both shrewd and ruthless. Who else but him could pay professional medical doctors the money he did to keep from entering the military? As far as he was concerned they could die for him, but he wasn’t about to die for them. His greatest asset, his knowledge of martial arts. Ninth degree black belt in both Karate and Ju-Jitsu. He could kill a man with one blow.
He stared down at the goon before him.
“What information did my spy send?” I ask, and the goon shivers at my word. I hold back my laugh at his weakness, but my eyes must shine with glee.
“She … she said that someone named Bryan Kirkland is organizing defense,” the goon whispers. “Kirkland worked for the marines, you see, so people think he might be a good leader.”
Fools, my head screams.
The goon fidgets. I am caught between amusement and anger.
“Well?” I demand. “What are his plans?”
“Well, Mister Banks,” the goon responds, “He’s just setting up defense. You know, a couple of guards, some walls—nothing big at all. Oh, and he has a few weapons.”
“WHAT?” I bellow, momentarily snapping. I try to calm myself immediately. “Leave. These people are no threat, but these weapons are. We’ll… need to eliminate the person who found them.”
“Of course, Mister Banks,” the goon agrees. “Your spy has done well impersonating Kirkland’s friend. The cop, I think.”
I smirk. At least I have one competent worker, and Emery will be a wonderful mole.
I start to walk to where the girl is locked away, but change my mind.
“Gardez vos amis proches et vos ennemis plus proches encore,” I whisper, once my goon leaves. “Keep your friends close, but your enemies even closer.”
As things were being done, one person in the background smirked at Leila. Monique had had a serious disdain over Leila for years and honestly, she had hoped her half-sister hadn’t survived, but she did. Over the early years before things happened, it always appeared that Leila always seemed to be the favored one to get anything done. Leila-this, Leila-that. It was infuriating. Monique couldn’t help thinking of a way to pay Leila back for keeping her in the background all these years.
Payback is going to feel so good, and when she had the chance, Monique would pay her back in spades.
Survival: Taking Action
I stand with my back to the rest of the people, surveying the scene outside the meeting place. It’s all I can do to keep my emotions from showing on my face but I’m sure Leila can still see small traces of panic and confusion. She steps up so she’s right by my side and leans against the makeshift doorway, watching the three boys patrolling outside.
“Do you think three watches is enough?” I mumble quietly, not wanting anyone else to hear me. Heaven knew the panic that would arise among the people if they found out I didn’t have a solid plan just yet. Hopefully, by the time I moved on, everything would be in semi-working shape. My first priority was helping these people.
She nodded. “They’re very capable and young. Not too old like some of the people in there to be of assistance when help is needed.” She hooks her thumb over her shoulder, also keeping her voice low. “No offense to them but when push comes to shove, they aren’t going to be adding anything to the team.”
I open my mouth to say something but clamp it closed. She’s right but I don’t want to admit it. To look at half of those people in there as lost causes for our fight was enough to make bile rise in the back of my throat. I barely had a handful of people on my side and now, it was drawn to my attention that they wouldn’t be of help.
“I know all of these young men,” she continues. “Don’t worry; they’re perfect for the job.”
Nodding quietly, I remain where I am as she disappears back into the meeting place. I can hear low whispers and murmurs but when I turn to hear better, it goes quiet and everyone’s eyes are on me.
“Where do we start with the wall?” An older man pipes up, obviously edging in on his early eighties.
I scan the room for a brief second before answering. “As I said earlier, collect the rubble. Grind it into powder, mix it in with water, I don’t care how you do it, just make sure it holds.”
I quickly walk up to where Leila is standing and barking out orders. “Pick out the people you think are best for weapon-making and get them on that. The others send out to the streets. I want able-bodied people collecting rubble, ones that will be quick so as to not draw too much attention.”
Leila frowns. “I think starting on weapon processing right now would be a little too obvious. Lionel Banks most likely has men everywhere, looking for things like this.”
“Then be careful about it,” I explain. “Choose a more hidden location, one they wouldn’t immediately suspect and get to work. All of you.”
“You can use my father’s old bakery.” Felix stood up. He had grown up in the town and I had met him only once before. The bakery was bigger than any other bread shop I had ever seen and had room for the machinery we would need.
“Okay, we’ll start there.” I nod at him, thanking him silently. “If Banks and his men catch on or if we suspect they know, we can always move it.”
I turn to Leila once more who has already begun to separate the group according to the two groups I need. When she’s done, I have about seven people, five males, and two females, which will be gathering rubble from the streets and bringing it back.
We decided on the remains of the library as the mixing headquarters. It was right on Main Street and one of the few buildings that were still standing. It gave us access to plenty of rubble.
Hopefully, they wouldn’t notice a few people roaming around Main Street and find it too suspicious.
We disperse and I lead my group out, one by one. My heart is hammering in my chest as I quickly run along the side of the desolated post office and down the back alley to the bank.
Money was of no value now as everything was destroyed and there was nothing to buy. I had yet to check the building and safes but as far as I knew, people had already looted it and left town.
I hunker below the barriers in the back parking lot of the library, which sits right next to the bank, and motion for the others to quickly follow. It wasn’t until everyone was hiding behind the same cement barrier that I started talking.
“I need two or three people to go through the whole town and locate where every single last one of these cement barrier things are,” I start, keeping my voice low.
“The others will go out and start collecting rubble. There should be five-gallon buckets that are still useable in the back of the hardware store. Don’t carry more than you can run with.”
They nod, not speaking. My eyes land on Felix who had been the only one to volunteer to do this job. Sadness settled over me, weighing heavy on my shoulders at the thought of the millions of people who’d had their lives ruined.
I grit my teeth, determining to slowly, but surely, fix the country. The sooner things were better, the sooner people would be able to live their lives again.
“I only have one rule,” I say before I send them off. “Your life is more important than cement and rubble. If something happens, you leave whatever you have behind and get out of there—get somewhere safe. I can’t lose any more people. You got it?”
They nod, not speaking because of the fear that’s choking them and holding back their words. I send them off, patting them on the back as they leave one by one.
Now it’s just me, sitting in a pile of ash, listening to the eerily haunting sounds of the empty town.
I had a job to do and I had to get it done before nightfall.
Survival: The Remains
I watch the sun suspiciously, knowing that if I just move fast enough I’ll make it in time. I can do it; I know I can. I’ll be able to make it to my destination and back before nightfall.
The afternoon light casts rugged grey shadows across what was once the familiar streets of L.A. Even though I hadn’t grown up here, I’d grown fond of it in those few years before the war.
I study the rubble in the streets with a focused, survivalist mindset. I look for anything worth taking with me, ignoring what the structures once were, what they once meant.
Sentiment doesn’t come easy to me anymore; not after ten years of pushing it down.
But every once in a while, it bubbles back up. I used to mock anyone foolish enough to travel back to their hometown, intent on seeing what was left of what they once had, who they once had. Still, here I was, crawling around the remains of a place I once knew. A place I once called home.
As I climb over the rubble, I force myself to center the mental map in my head and focus. The worst thing I can do now is get lost. I make sure to keep to the shadows, stay out of the open, and never let my guard down. That’s always important, but even more so now, when I’m alone.
One more street over, and I’m in what once was a residential area. The view ahead of me looks more like a tripped-over Lincoln Log village than an urban street. The houses are crumbled and pillaged and left to be forgotten. I squat behind a rusted, wheel-less car, if it can be called a car anymore, and scan the area. Not even the wind moves.
It’s foolish of me to be here.
I’d told myself that I was coming here to retrieve my hidden stash of weapons—if anyone had foreseen the war coming, it had been me. It was the truth, but a nagging thought told me I was wrong. Told me I was weak and sentimental like the rest of them, wanting to revisit home. Wanting to believe for just one second that things could go back to the way they were ten years ago.
Ten years. God, that makes me feel old.
I slide away from the car, hand ready at my side to draw a weapon if I have to, and sprint across the torn-up road. I stop in the doorway of a dilapidated house, the second story just a memory, the first in shambles. It’s almost unrecognizable, but I know it’s the right place.
I step into the crumbling structure, my eyes swiping left and right as I meticulously scan the area. No signs of life. No salvageable parts. I don’t think about the memories I have from this place—it looks too different to bring back any. I expect to feel something, but I don’t feel a thing, just a numbness that starts in my fingers and ends as a buzzing in my head.
I grit my teeth, tearing at the floorboards. It’s easy work; the boards are loose and, in places, already missing. I cling to the hope that no one’s found my hiding place yet, that it hasn’t been ransacked.
The ceiling of the house is long gone, and the room darkens as the sun continues to set, disappearing behind the half of the kitchen wall that’s still standing. I’m kneeling in shadows now, everything a deep blue as my hands dig into the wood and the nails and the dirt and the debris.
I don’t let myself feel relieved when I feel the metal of the latch; I need to stay alert. I hastily pull the rest of the floorboards away, revealing the metal door underneath. My eyes fall back to the latch—an untouched lock still attached. For just a moment, I let myself grimace out a smile. There was hope yet.
I pull at the chain around my neck, taking it off. I’ve been wearing it for ages—since the beginning—waiting for this moment to come. My fingers slide along the chain, brushing past the ring and onto the key. It fits inside the lock perfectly and makes a satisfying click when it opens.
After all these years, I’ve finally unlocked my secret bunker.
Survival: The Outcasts
“Did you hear that? Did you hear what she said about us?”
“Yes, too old to be of assistance.”
“Not going to be adding anything to the team.”
The outcasts huddled together whispering. Her words betrayed her as a bigot, someone who would leave them behind, when she felt they couldn’t keep up, when they no longer could contribute. War and time had taught them that survival was dependent on never placing your fate into the hands of those who did not value your existence.
They looked at each other and smiled with missing teeth. The grime and filth of outliving so many clung to their faces, settling into wrinkles formed from years of existing on the edge of hunger making their bodies appear older than they were. They knew their appearance worked to their advantage, making people constantly underestimate them.
“Where do we start with the wall?” They heard one from their group pipe up, trying to prove his worth to that girl Leila.
“Pssssss...Be quiet. Get over here.”
“I was just...”
“Pitching in? But didn’t you hear her? It doesn’t matter. She has already singled us out as worthless to the survival of those they’ve selected.”
“But, Bryan, the Marine...I trust him. I was a Marine, my father and grandfather...”
“Those were different times.”
“But Semper Fidelis, Esprit de Corps. We’d never...he’d never…”
“Maybe, we’ll see. Talks a good game. But the girl, Leila.”
Each eye met the direct glaze of every other. In the silence, a pact was made.
The group hunched together as one, heads down, calmly pounding rumble into dust as they had been instructed, slowly, rhythmically. Watching and waiting was what they did best. They had, over the last ten years, watched so many younger than themselves leap to action, itching for a fight, running toward battle, dying foolishly.
They sat in place, pounding, and pounding, together like the drums heard over distant mountains when this land was young, before the internet. These outcasts, remembered the ways of the twentieth century and the lost technologies learned as children from their parents and grandparents. Able to understand the meanings of the winds and clouds.
Versed in listening to the untouched universe revealed in the stars at night and the still visibly swirling dots of satellites endlessly circling the scarred planet. They, the oldest survivors, not by chance but skill. And they pounded and pounded.
“Hey, you over there, could you keep it down?” It was Leila. “I’m trying to think over here. You guys probably don’t understand but we need to build strong teams. Bryan will be returning, and he’ll be expecting a plan. He’s counting on me. I need weapon builders not more damn piles of dust! There is a fight coming and we need to arm and train. You guys better just plan to die hiding behind that wall...so could you keep it down?” Her voice dropped to a mutter, “You useless old pieces of shit, dragging down the whole team, I’ll have to tell Bryan it’s time for you all tooo—”
Two hands came up around neck choking her silent and then others came up working, to twist her head off like a chicken. One of the others, who took great personal pleasure, possessing a knife, rushed in and ended the struggle with a quick stab piercing deep. They hung the carcass upside down and drained the warm blood out into the large pounded vessel they had made together. In the passing of it amongst them all, they drink their nourishing fill.
The butchering was quick and expert with strips of flesh set away to lie hidden in the sun to dry. That night, a fire was built, and a spit arranged so when the rest of the team came back from their duties they were surprised.
Felix, smiled at the site of fresh cooked meat, “What have you guys been up to? Did you scare up some game.”
“Come eat with us. Enjoy. It is not much. Just a bit of French cooking we learned to do from back in the day.”
Felix sat down across from John and Monique. He had no appetite for food as he was tired, so he passed on the cooked meat. Instead, he had a cup of water and joined in the heated conversations. Everyone was laughing and rubbing their bellies, burping to the unexpected feast served to them; their enticement was obviously shown in their actions and on their faces since they hadn’t eaten a decent meal in a decade, which was quite the truth.
Across from him sat Jacob. They smiled at each other, and the glimmer in Jacob’s eyes sent an unspoken message to Felix. Hope hid everywhere, even in the ruins of the past, filled with rubble and ash.
Monique and John looked at each other in disgust; yet laughed in selfless remorse over eating human flesh.
Monique muttered soundlessly as she took another bite of cooked flesh, thinking, Who is going to save you now? No one, that’s who.
Survival: Removing Obstacles
The morning comes slowly, the sun trying to break through a thick fog and the damages caused to our planet. It’s not a pretty sight, the weak light showing off all of the devastation brought by men and the ones that greed ruled over everything else. There were times where a forest would spread far before her eyes, so many rich shades of green to bring joy to the eyes and senses. And now, all there was left was barren land and lost hopes, showing only the naked remains of a city in the background. A place that had once been filled with the energy and voices of people that still had something to live for.
They sit by a small dying out fire, half hid by a tall wall, which was once a part of the impressive Natural History Museum. Amusing to be honest, because in a matter of a few decades, all of them would just be a part of the past.
She gazes at the man sitting opposite her on the ground. He seems to be rather uninterested in what was going around him, a numb expression coloring his face until she decides to speak in heavy tones. It wakes him up a bit.
“Do you think that was necessary, John? What your little goons did to her? I mean, sure. It was amusing, and we all had a laugh after, but I’m not sure how HE will react.”
A woman in her late thirties asks, with a dry smile. Her face is dirty, the dust from carrying all the rubble, taking a toll on her already shattered appearance and strained muscles. Not that she cared. She wasn’t here to deliver the pretty sights but to slow down this already crumbling mission. Well, even if those people had any chance of winning, their prospects would soon drop. No one wins with Banks or even gets to run away to talk about his defeat. Not a single soul will be safe while he was still around. Just a matter of time before the only few that will remain standing will be those left on the right side of this war. And Monique planned on taking a warm spot between the fools that were still breathing by Lionel’s side.
Honestly, she didn’t’ even care about much anymore. Her sole goal was survival, a bit of respect for her tribute, and a few extra rations of food to fill her empty stomach that fit so tightly to her back these days. Hey, we were all dying anyway, it might as well not be from hunger. There were so many more fun ways to die. Leila could testify to that—if she were still around.
“Now, now. Don’t call them like that. You know Bryan uses the term voluntaries, so let’s please amuse the poor guy for a little while. He’s going down under anyway, so let’s play along for a while.”
The man smiles for a moment, rubbing his face and moving fingers through his thick brown beard. Then he suddenly becomes agitated.
“Hey, it wasn’t my plan to go with that, but she started to get careless and a bit cocky, dropping her act too fast. Making it clear that she wasn’t the person everyone thought she was.” He stares at Monique and grows very serious.
She looks at him and nods slowly. The real and honored officer of police, Leila Espion was a professional and would not let her ego and temper get the best of her. She was trained to handle all circumstances. Beyond the moment when a sharp blade shifted deep into her flesh, ripping her guts, and leaving a surprised expression to her lovely face.
Mmm, I guess she did not foresee such action from her older sibling. But then again, we were only half-sisters, and she always was a sore thorn in the center of my existence. I enjoyed ripping her organs apart, even though I made it fast. A little kindness, and a farewell gift to my baby sister.
I gaze at John and smile slowly, remembering what I have heard about the delicious feast by the fire.
“I understand, John. They were a little hungry and bored. Maybe if she bit her tongue more often, no one would have bit into her... not as soon, anyway.
“Now, back to other things. Our dear, Mister Kirkland is a bit busy now, walking down the memory lane and collecting the few weapons that he still has. Still thinking he is invisible in his weary ways, but the shadows are always there, lurking and waiting.”
The man nods as well and pulls out a sharp knife and plays with it, lost in thought.
“Do we have a new one to fill in her spot?”
“That is yet to be approved, we have to make new choices now. What about that Brewster woman? She seems feisty enough?”
“I don’t know, Monique. Besides, I have to tell Banks what the hell happened. And he ain’t gonna be happy about this.”
“Why is that? You think he might be upset?”
She asked this with sarcasm dripping down her lips. Of course, she knew the answer to that question, they all did. Fear was the only thing they knew while walking in Lionel’s shadow. And with what happened now... their lives might become even shorter. There is a smile still lingering on her face while she looks at John’s knife. It was still worth it.
Twisting that blade felt like pure freedom.
“None of your business, but I have to report what’s happened. Then I’ll pitch him on Brewster.”
Monique was about to question him again but thought better of it.
“Okay, I need to get moving. See you in a day or two.”
“Be careful, John. Come back to me safe.”
“Don’t I always?”
She gazes at him but doesn’t answer, just nods with a confident nod.
We will see about it, this time. But then again, maybe John might stick around for a bit longer. In the end, she would miss him if something happened. Not that she would ever say that out loud, her thick exterior could not show cracks.
There is a sudden hissing in the darkness as the radio turns on. I’m not sure why I bother anymore. I haven’t heard a human voice from that thing in forever. The radio is old and battered, military grade from when the military still graded things. Its camo pattern is still visible, although it’s so dark now that all I can see are the barest glints of metal from where the paint has been scraped off.
After carefully concealing the weapons I’ve unlocked from my bunker in a safe place for needed use, I decided to come here and try the radio again, which again, is useless.
Standing in the ruins of the library, the smell of musty, old, mildewed books surround me. The library was not a place that I frequented before. Before. Before the world turned on its head. Before the sun set on this skeleton kingdom. Before our lives were worth less than a good pair of boots.
But the library is somewhere I have found solace in. It is one of the few places not stripped to the ground, because who needs books? Several hundred were taken in the first year or so after the disaster, until the buildings became too damp and the books too degraded to make the trip for firewood worth it. So now what’s left are dark lines of shelves with books fused shut and more often than not stuck down with mold, slowly crumbling into piles of debris. Maybe that’s the other reason I come to libraries whenever I can. To remind myself of what we’ve lost. What we’ve taken from ourselves.
The radio crackling knocks me out of my reverie, and I realize that I’ve been standing here in the dark for some length of time I don’t want to contemplate. Everyone is relying on me, so what am I doing staring off into space? This is not the sort of thing I can let myself fall into the habit of doing. But the Marines seem so long ago, and I’m not getting any younger. I click the radio off, and the sudden silence settles over me like a thick blanket. God, I need one of those.
I force myself to take a step forwards, and then another. Although I do go to libraries often, this time I’m looking for something specific. I feel my way carefully along the aisles, watching closely for stepping stools and other obstructions. The only light shines from a staircase window high above me, so everything around is clothed in shadows.
I need to get upstairs, although how I’ll manage that I have no idea. The closer I get to the staircase, the brighter it is and the clearer I can see the damage ten years of neglect have wrought upon it. The balustrade—an obsolete word if I ever saw one, is missing in several places, and the stairs themselves don’t look like they can support much weight.
Something shifts in the darkness and I tense immediately, every muscle ready to fight. If the Marines taught me one thing, it was how to respond to a sudden attack.
Part one: pinpoint location.
The shift came in a shadow by the back of the library, where I’d come in from. Probably a recent arrival, trying to be quiet.
Part two: mark exits/exit strategies.
This one is trickier, the only exit I know of aside from the window, two stories up, is effectively blocked by the assailant. If I tipped over a bookshelf though, I could loop around enough that I would be reasonably safe unless the assailant doubled back as well, which was unlikely. The other option was to use my firearm, but the limited supply of ammo made that a last-resort strategy.
Part three: understand assailant.
They were still hiding, unwilling to show themselves. They might be someone just looking for somewhere out of the wind to sleep, and scared witless by the armed ex-army type haunting the building. Or they could be one of Lionel Banks’ crew, looking to gain some extra points by taking me out. Another Marine training kicked in—assume the worst.
I began to move towards one of the bookshelves. Push the bookshelf over to block the path and move around to the other side of the room and exit through the back of the library. Simple enough, and the commotion with the bookcase should draw the assailant’s attention away from my other activities.
When I move, I move fast. I had already knocked over the bookshelf and started running when I heard a scream and a surprised voice behind me.
“Sargant Kirkland, is that you?”
I pause because I know that voice. I’d have thought he was back at camp by now.
He steps carefully out from behind the overturned bookcase. His hair and eyebrows are completely covered in the sticky dust kicked up by the commotion, giving him a comically surprised expression. “Sargant! I’m so glad I found you.”
“Felix. What are you doing here?”
“I came to find you. You’ve been gone a long time. I got back to the camp with the rest of them, but... ”
I suppress a sigh. “But you figured I might need help.”
He looks awkwardly at his torn and ratty sneakers. “Well, yes. It’s like you said. We’re all worth more than a bunch of rubble, and you’re for sure worth more than whatever you’re looking for. We need you alive if we’re going to face Banks and his gang.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that you’re looking out for your teammates; that’s what we should all be doing. But I don’t need help. That’s not how I operate.” I turn away.
“You want to get up those stairs and you don’t need help?”
I can’t see him, but Felix’s tone is laced with disbelief and goddammit, he’s right. I do need the help. Felix could get up to the second floor in a heartbeat, whereas my climb could take hours. And by that time, it might be too late.
I turn back to Felix and say, “Okay. You want to help? Up on that floor is an atlas section with a big table. I heard—never mind how,” I add as he opens his mouth to ask, “that there’s a book up there we can use. The title is Historical Sketches of the L.A. Area. It was one of the rarer ones, so it should be protected in a glass case. Get the book, get back down, and we get out as quickly as possible. Got it?”
Felix’s eyes are shining, and I start to wonder what I’ve gotten myself into. “Of course Sergeant! I’ll be right back.” And he is away, scrambling up a bookcase by the side of the room.
“Be careful Felix,” I mutter under my breath. “Someday your generation will inherit the world. I’d rather you be around to experience it.”
Bryan couldn’t help but worry about the boy. Skinny kid, barely 17, and he certainly has no fighting skills, but the boy has heart. There is a fire inside him, you can see it in his gray eyes. He wants to help so badly. Maybe I’ll take him under my wing and teach him a few things on how to defend himself.
Looking down, Felix said, “What is it?”
“What were you thinking about studying in school if you could have gone?”
Felix begins his climb, all the while thinking about Bryan and the man he idolized.
At 6’2”, 225, and around 38, Bryan Kirkland is an imposing character. From what Felix had heard spoken about him, the man is a professional with weapons and explosives, a martial arts expert, and even had two tours in Afghanistan, received a silver star for meritorious action. His sandy brown hair and piercing blue eyes and rugged looks could make anyone shiver in fear if they didn’t know him. The small scar over his left eye, so the story went, came from a hand-to-hand struggle when he was overseas.
All Felix wanted was to be just like him some day.
Survival: Watch Your Six
The search for Officer Leila Espion must stop!
A few weeks have already gone by, and we still do not know where she is. Where could she go? I have no idea. But her sudden disappearance is causing a little panic amongst people around me and also becoming a roadblock, which I do not need right now. We are on the brink of a vicious war with Banks and life itself, and I rather not have another headache thinking about her.
I know times are difficult, but I only have two shoulders to lend for people to cry on. There is not enough time for emotional therapy to comfort everyone while also dealing with many impediments at hand, and worrying about missing people, too.
My priority now is laying out a viable blueprint that keeps us alive for another day.
There are always hurdles standing in the way of progress, however, with a good strategy, we can be well-prepared to fight enemies within or foreign. We are battling for survival, and that real combat will be tough and requires sacrifice. It demands a sharp and focused mind of peripheral vision to see the abrupt issues ahead of time that could hinder our mission. I want to keep on moving forward.
Things are looking upbeat reconstructing the City of Angels, trying to mimic what once used to be a shining and vibrant city full of promises, beauty, and mystery, where many people yearned to get lost in their dreams. All we need is a clear road map that could save most lives, so we can enjoy the sunset later on the beaches whenever the chaos is over.
I hold an emergency meeting about Leila’s disappearance. I know everyone is getting tired of these gatherings but this one is critical.
The room is crowded as usual. I clear my throat and speak with a fiercely loud voice to not show my exhaustion and fear of the unknown. Leaders must suck up setbacks and implement resolutions; they’re thought to never show fear or failure or hesitation. You cannot win a war with that kind of attitude or tactic, especially the unknown battles that are lurking in the shadows.
“Listen up everyone, with the inadequate manpower and resources we’ve got, we’ve exhausted searching for Leila, and as much as I hate to say this, we need to stop searching for her, and use that time for our work. We have a lot to do. I know it’s not something you’d like to hear from me but that’s all we can do now.”
I am not a statesman or a guru of motivational speakers, but a grit of pressure can do justice today. Looking around the room at all the sullen and worn-out expressions, I resume. I need to be honest and transparent.
“It’s been a few weeks where no one has seen or heard from her. She has either joined the rebels, given up her responsibility, or the worst-case scenario; is dead, lying in a ditch somewhere. No one knows her location. But we cannot afford to be distracted in repairing our city by wasting another minute, day, or weeks looking for a dead or deserting soldier. For all we know, her disappearance might be another Lionel Banks’ doing. We just don’t know anything.”
I can feel a dread of smoke filling the room when I mentioned Banks’ name. I do not blame them though; the man is a ruthless sociopath and a killer.
“From this point on, we’re going to be paired with someone to watch our six in a group of two or three at most. We are in this for the long haul until this thing ends. More than ever, we must be true soldiers; that way, we can stay vigilant and stay safer until everything becomes normal again. Can I get a volunteer to take Leila’s place, please?”
I can see the disappointment on their faces, but everyone nods to show their support on this decision.
A young girl, Haley Kings raised her hand.
“I can help. I’ve watched how Leila worked and I’m pretty sure I can do what she did.”
“Haley, if you know what to do, then you’re in. Your friend there, Veronica, can be your wing woman. Watch your backs, both of you, please!”
“Yes,” both say.
“Good. Before we are adjourned, can I also get two other volunteers? I have a mission of vital importance.”
Miles Thomson and Sue Jenkins signaled their desires to be involved. Both were young teens when things went down. They lost their parents and many of their friends, but the two remained close and are very much in love with each other. Where one goes, so does the other. In these times we live in, they still have that look of youth on their side.
For now, everything seems to be taking shape.
As a marine, carrying responsibility on my shoulders is nothing new. I got used to it. I have the scars to prove it. The weight only becomes heavier and burdensome when I lose soldiers on the battlefield. That is something you can never get used to or get over. It haunts your soul, searing your entire being from the inside out. Now, I am about to send Miles and Sue into Banks lair with no experience at all. I can only hope the idea I have will work. Otherwise, I’ve sent them to their death.
I can’t stop the eerie feeling inside my head. The mission is quite deadly, especially when I’m planting such untrained and ill equipped people.
It’s like feeding them to a pack of famished wolves; anything could go wrong
unexpectedly. A slight slip of the tongue from Miles or Sue could get their heads cut off, if not bullets between their eyes. Thinking of such kinds of outcomes makes the worried feeling in my guts even worse; I know the risk, but it must be done under the current circumstances, even though I can’t guarantee their well-being—or their safe return.
A good shepherd keeps his herd safely in the barn. With Leila missing, we are down to 1,999 people and possibly more I don’t yet know about. That is not a good badge for a leader. It could also cripple or slow down the pace of our advancement.
Thus, every breathing soul is vital to repairing a brighter future, our future, and I cannot afford to lose another person on my watch again.
We must open our eyes and ears and stay alert because there are many sharks in the shallow waters. Lionel Banks is planning on waging a dangerous war with what is left of our lives. We cannot let that happen.
“Okay, this meeting is adjourned for now.” Turning , Bryan says, “Miles, Sue, stay here. I want to go over the plan I have for you both.”
There’s a sort of tension nestled in the back of my mind that I can’t shake. Miles and Sue left at the first hint of dawn, hopeful and drastically unprepared. They left with smiles.
They left like they thought that they had a chance.
Expect the worst.
Leila’s open ended disappearance doesn’t help with my train wreck of thought, it’s like a taste on my tongue that won’t fade away, acrid and bitter. She has to still be alive. I know her so well. She’s a fighter, a survivor. She’s out there somewhere.
I’m overseeing the mixing of the sludge that will somehow turn into a wall, watch as this group of people, in between useful and useless, dump buckets of chunky concrete into toxic water from the river that could kill you in six seconds flat. This isn’t going to work. But if it’s going to lull them into a false sense of security, then I’m not exactly going to stop them.
One of the scouts steps in through a gaping crack in the wall, and speed walks over to me. He’s slight and so thin it’s like he has wires underneath his pale skin instead of bones, can run like the wind but can’t do much else. He has one of those names that’s meant to be forgotten—Matt, Ben, Jay, or something like that; so I don’t remember it.
He runs a hand through his grimy hair, nervous. “Sargant?”
I raise an eyebrow. “Yes?”
His eyes land on the uneven floor. “I found a body.”
“I appreciate you doing a thorough job, but is that really that important?”
Bodies are such a common occurrence now. The world’s trying to kill us, after all. Some of them aren’t even found soon enough for a flash funeral. They’re scattered everywhere, like dust.
“I know, but there’s something… different about this body.”
Something in his tone of voice sets me on edge. Not that far. I was already teetering in that direction.
Is it Miles? Sue? Can’t be. I know that they probably won’t make it out alive, but it’s too soon. They have some skill. Enough to get them in. In, but not out.
….then who is it?
Curiosity kills cats and will also probably kill me. But I have to know. It’s my duty, after all. I’m the leader.
And if these people can’t pour and mix by themselves, then we have much bigger problems than I had originally thought.
“Let’s go, then.” I tell him.
There are wisps of fog in the sky, or maybe smoke. The air is thick. I hope it isn’t a long walk.
We hurry through the shambles of what was formerly the business district, the buildings seem to sigh as they loom over us. Hopping into one of the cramped alleys, I swear I see a frog with three legs.
The war, the aftermath, changed us all. Not physically, like the frog, but mentally. It left scars on our minds, scars that no one could see.
“In here.” A squat building with giant windows, rimmed with sharp spikes of glass. An office building, most likely. I imagine when it was full—full of people who milled around like ants, sipping lukewarm coffee, disgusted with their boring lives. I long for that boredom, I wonder if they would now too.
The body is right by the door, in plain view, impossible to miss. A chill shoots up my spine.
Eyes wide open, staring at the burned ceiling.
Mottled bruises circle her neck. The scout was right. This body is strange, indeed. Veronica was strangled. Murdered.
Her fingers are curled loosely around something.
“Head back.” I order. “I’ll be back soon.”
A grim nod is all I can muster. He takes one last look at the body, then dashes off like there’s fire at his heels.
Veronica’s hand is like ice as I peel her fingers off of a box. Thin. Cardboard. Empty. I remove it, hold it up to my face, to inspect it, to get a closer look. To confirm my suspicions.
It’s a box that held ammunition. Bullets.
That brings me a scrap of relief, only because I have something rational to cling on to. Some straggler must have found her, wanted bullets badly enough to kill her.
I’m about to stand up when I see it. I peer at her wrist.
Carved into her skin, carefully and methodically, is a symbol that makes my blood turn as cold as Veronica’s.
Twin snakes, wrapping around each other. This was no accident. No unrelated event.
Because that symbol can only mean one thing.
Banks. He knows.
He hopes Bryan enjoyed his little surprise. Bryan, that idiot. Thinking he didn’t know. But he had eyes and ears everywhere. He knew everything.
He was enjoying this, perhaps too much. But he was untouchable. He could do what he wanted.
And what he wanted was for Bryan to think he had a chance. For Bryan to get so close to his goal, he could almost taste it.
And then, he would destroy him.