Based on the series by W. G. Sweet

Episode 6


independAntwriters Publishing


Copyright © 2019 by independAntwriters All Rights Reserved

Writers: W.W. Watson, Geo Dell, W.G. Sweet, G.D. Smitty

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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 person’s places, situations or events is purely coincidental.

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Rochester NY: Joel

Late Morning

Joel came awake with sunlight streaming in through the windshield of the small car. He looked around at the road. Stalled cars for as far as he could see in any direction He was somewhere outside of Rochester, but where, he wondered. He thought back to Rochester.

The drive into the city in the early morning had seemed uneventful right up until the attack had come. Afterward he had berated himself, cursed himself for not taking the events of the night before more seriously, but he knew that the truth was that none of them had. None of them had, and now he was the only one left. The only one left, and he was alone because of that decision.

They had just passed a large mansion, or what had once been a large mansion on East avenue: Nearly into downtown when the attack had come. The last Jeep, Ed… Terry, Gina? He couldn’t remember for sure, but it didn’t matter, they were only the first to go. The Jeep had blown up behind them. One second it was morning silent; birds whistling from the tree lined street, and the next a roaring fireball had erupted from the Jeep. The Jeep had lifted into the air engulfed with flame, and had come back down a split second later a twisted, shattered wreck. The roof ripped open crudely as if a giant can opener had done the job: Glass gone, body twisted. Blackened shapes, still moving, clearly seen through the flames.

They had all panicked. Joel had hit the brakes, somehow convinced they had driven over something in the road. Landmines. The word leapt into his mind and kept repeating. The second Jeep had rammed into them, Scott, Lilly, Jan, and that had distracted him further. As he had lifted his eyes he had seen the men squatting beside the once elegant mansion. A rocket launcher on one man’s shoulder, and he had known the truth.

His foot had seemed to leap forward of its own accord and slam into the gas pedal, but it was too late. His eyes swiveled back and he saw the rocket leap from the launcher. A second later a black curtain had descended.

He had come to hours later. The vehicles’ nothing but twisted husks, still burning in the black night. He could feel the heat from the fires. He had lain for what seemed like a long time trying to orient himself, make sense of what he last remembered, and what he now saw. Time did nothing to sort it out. It still made no sense some time later when he had first tried to sit up. Pain had flared everywhere and the black curtain had descended once more.

The second time the fires had been out. Heat still came from the blackened shells, but the fires were dead. The moon was high in the sky, bloated, bright silver.

He had moved slower, and while it had been close he had managed to fight past the first pain when he had moved.

His left leg was bad. Not broken, but cut badly, maybe sprung, after all he had lain with it twisted to one side for what he assumed was a very long time. He used part of his shirt to wrap his leg as he let his head clear.

His head was worse. Pain inside every time he tried to move too fast. It felt like liquid sloshing around inside his head, his brain shifting with it, slamming into the bone cage of his skull, and he wondered if it were true, or just something his mind provided in explanation of the pain. As he sat the pain eased enough for him to stand. Standing helped to ease it even more and he began to search.

What was left was hard to understand at first. Pieces. An arm here, a leg there, bones blackened in the wreckage. A pool of blood where his head had lain. No other blood anywhere, and more than enough pieces and bones to make him sick.

Vomiting had pulled the pain back full force and he had found himself exiting into the black curtain once again. It was dawn when he had found his way back and a sense of urgency to be moving had set in.

His head was better, but his leg seemed worse. He had set out limping, staggering, but had managed a fairly reasonable walk after a few hundred feet. A shattered convenience store a few blocks down provided bottled sports drinks he rounded up from the aisles. He drank two straight down and his head began to clear. He watched the sun began to rise, the street lights wink out, and then taking more bottles with him he began to walk back out of the city. Keeping to the back yards and alleyways of homes and businesses. He had no idea how long he had walked. He had no idea where he was right now.

He looked down at the cars interior. Key’s hung from the switch. He didn’t have a lot of hope, but he twisted the key and the starter began to turn over: Slow, barely there, but then it picked up speed in a rush and the car stuttered to life, coughed, nearly quit, and then smoothed out and began to warm up.

The muffler was loud, one side of the windshield was a stared mess, but the gas gauge stood at three quarters of a tank. Joel shifted the car into first and pulled from the side of the road bumping over the cracked and tilted pavement as he went.

The driving was slow going, but an hour later he reached the outskirts of the city of Oswego. Had he really walked so far in the last days and nights? How much time had slipped by him, he wondered, but he had no answers. For the last twenty minutes he had been following deep tire tracks that cut around the stalled traffic, and the closer he had gotten to the city the more he had found himself having to slow down and cut around the stalled traffic, following the muddy tracks.

He had no idea who had made the tracks, and it made him more than a little concerned. He wound slowly through the stalled traffic, going around where he had to, and he was almost into the downtown section when the car became hopelessly mired as he tried to get around several vehicles blocking the road. It had been close before, but the front wheel drive had pulled the small car through despite the churned up ground. This time it was buried up to the undercarriage, and there was no hope of getting the little car out.

Joel shut it off, and leaving the keys in the switch where he had found them, walked off into the downtown district.

When he came to the first bridge, he scrambled over the cars, and walked to the second bridge. He saw the same scene that he had seen a few days before: The bridge collapsed into the river. A large steel service walk that had run beside the bridge, however, was still intact, and he carefully walked across it to the other side.

He walked slowly down the crowded roadway, and eventually out of the downtown section. It had been eerie to say the least.

When he reached the other side of the city, he stopped at a used car lot by the side of the road. An older Chevy pickup sat among the line of cars and trucks that fronted the road, and Joel walked over to examine it.

The four wheel drive truck looked to have been used fairly well. It was dented and rusty, but Joel liked the look of it. He walked around it and looked it over. The tires appeared to be in good shape, wider than most, as well as being tall and aggressively tread. He looked in the corner of the windshield, noted the stock number, and headed in the direction of a small trailer at the back of the gravel lot. The trailer served as an office, and he knew that if the keys were to be found, that was where he would find them.

 He hoped the keys would be there and that the truck would start. If not, he supposed, he could cross the street to a new car lot that he had noticed. He would prefer the old Chevy, but if there was no choice he would cross the street and take one of the shiny new pickups that sat on the lot.

He supposed he would even be better off taking one of the newer vehicles, but he didn’t want to. Even the old Chevy was newer than any truck he had ever owned, and all the newer trucks he had seen, seemed more like cars than real trucks. Even the Jeeps had been more luxury vehicle than an actual off road vehicle. The old Chevy looked like it had already seen its share of rough roads and would have no problem with them.

He had marveled while walking through the downtown district at how many things had changed in just a few days. The grass was growing. The temperatures were higher, vegetation seemed to be making a fast grab at every inch of real estate. Like it had only been waiting all these years to take back its own.

He found the keys on a small board in the cluttered office, and headed back to the old Chevy. He had to pump it several times before it would start, but it had eventually caught and started, with a large cloud of black smoke pouring out of the rusty tail-pipe when it did. Almost flooded it, he thought. The smoke cleared as the truck warmed up, and he sat and waited for the idle to fall off before he pulled out onto the roadway once more and headed north out of the city of Oswego.

March 16th

West of Mexico NY: Joel

Things had gone bad fast. There had been two significant earthquakes, The first time he had nearly wrecked the truck, the second one came as he was pulled to the side of the road trying to ease the pain that had come back full tilt in his head. The truck leapt forward, and then darted sideways, Joel managed to get his hand out to stop his head from smashing into the dashboard, but only barely. The truck had finally stopped rocking and the world came back into focus. He pulled the truck back onto the roadway, careful of all the new cracks and devastation, and found his way to a small roadside strip mall a few miles farther down.

The lot was deserted. Half the store at the opposite end was collapsed. A small mini mart, a drug store and a pawn shop were still standing; untouched. He had made his way into the small store, found the drug aisle and was surprised to see it intact. The one back in Rochester had been emptied of drugs.

The leg was swollen against the pants material, the rags he had wrapped around it had stopped the blood flow, but had done nothing for infection. He peeled the rags away now, taking a good part of his skin with it, and looked the wound over.

Something had punched a deep hole into his leg. The area that had pulled away was oozing puss now, the skin around it red and swollen. He had helped himself to a bottle of peroxide, some antibiotic creme, iodine and some bandage. He scrounged up a fast meal while he worked up the nerve to work on the leg. He probably wouldn’t feel like eating afterwards.

He had no fever, and he counted that as a good thing. He finished some energy bars and three bottles of water before he limped off to find what he still needed. Two aisles over he found a small knitting needle. The point was sharp. It was wide enough to allow him to push it in to get to the abscess he was sure was there. He carried it back to the aisle then decided maybe something to help with the pain might help. He searched, but there was nothing stronger than beer in the now warm coolers, and that was covered with a gray moss he didn’t want to chance touching. The drug store nearby probably had some pain pills he could take, but he wouldn’t know how much would be safe. It probably wasn’t a good idea to be out of it in this world any longer. Maybe later, he decided. He would have to visit to get antibiotics anyway. Reluctantly he limped back to the aisle and sat with his back against the shelving as he arranged the items he needed around him.

The peroxide came first. He broke the seal and poured half the bottle over the wound. There was some pain, but the bubbling and foam that appeared told him what he had already guessed, the infection was bad.

He spun the top off the iodine, spilled a little into the dimple of the puncture wound and then inserted the knitting needle into the bottle and left it to soak in the iodine. He wasn’t positive if it could disinfect it, but he was reasonably sure it could. The pain was intense when the iodine hit the raw wound, but it abated after a few moments. He picked up the needle, but just touching the wound with it sent shock waves of pain up his leg.

He stopped, stretched backwards against the shelving, bracing himself firmly. His breathing was hard and fast, tears had squirted from his eyes and stained his dirty cheeks as they rolled away to his jaw line. Sweat had instantly broke out on his brow. He couldn’t stop at a mere touch. He had to shove the needle down far enough to be sure he punctured the abscess so it could drain. He steeled himself, took a deep breath, centered the needle over the dimple and drove it down into his leg before he could think anymore about it. The pain came fast, but his mind shut down just as quickly.

He had awakened hours later, the sunlight lower in the front windows. The leg was draining freely, fresh blood now, but he could see that the poison had also drained. His head felt better, his stomach more settled. He took his time and grimaced only slightly as he poured first the remaining peroxide into the wound, and then the balance of the iodine. Both hurt, but the pain was nothing like it had been. Antibiotic creme and some bandage and he was finished. He sat, staring down at his hands. Dirt, blood, who knew what else. He made his feet and limped off into the store looking for supplies for the road. A few moments later he was loading them into the passenger side of the truck. A quick search through the drug store turned up antibiotics, an ace bandage that might help, and some vitamins. He didn’t know if the vitamins could help, but he was sure they couldn’t hurt. A few minutes later he had bent the pawnshop’s steel mesh, protective door open and smashed out the front door glass with a jack handle from the truck. The exercise was making his leg hurt, but the skies were turning dark and he wanted to hurry before nightfall came.

The pawn shop was a nightmare inside. Every single cabinet was locked. Even so he found a gun cabinet, managed to pry it open, and left with two semi automatic nine mm pistols and a dozen boxes of ammunition. He got to the truck, debated on the ammunition, and went back to see if he could find more. The problem was he didn’t know where to look. He found nothing, but he did liberate a shotgun and a whole case of slugs for it. He made his way back to the truck tired out, sweating, his leg aching deep inside. The bandage was soaked through with blood so he changed it as he sat in the truck and gathered his strength.

The leg of the jeans he had been wearing were a tattered wreck. Blood and gore streaked the leg to his boot top. The once white sock stained deep red and black in places. He needed clothes. His shirt stank, and was stuck to him with sweat. His boots, he hadn’t really noticed until he had just taken a hard look at them, were melted in places. The leather looked sandblasted and ratty. He took two of the pills, washed it down with water. Next big town, he told himself, he would get clothes.

A light rain had begun as he pulled the truck back out on to the roadway, heading for Mexico as the rain bounced up from the pavement and covered the surface with a gray mist.

Mexico NY: Joel

The truck was far better suited to the task of driving over the wrecked roads than the little car had been. A few short hours later he stopped for a rest in a small town at a local gas station.

He siphoned gas from the underground tanks, and scrounged a light lunch from the combination gas and food mart, dragged a beat looking aluminum lawn chair out from behind the station, and sat down to eat. He sipped at a warm beer as he ate. He hadn’t tasted beer in forever, it seemed to him, and he enjoyed it even though it was warm. He finished his lunch and climbed back into the cab of the truck. It started without hesitation this time. He nosed it out of the small station and headed north once more.

Ten miles down the road, as he passed through another small town, the truck suddenly quit. He coasted to the side of the road, shifted out of gear and tried to start it. Nothing, it turned over and over. He stopped before he could chance running the battery down. Night was moving in. Whatever the problem was it would have to wait for daylight.

Watertown NY: Joel

As he drew closer to Watertown the stalled traffic thickened, and when he reached the Watertown Center exit a heavy rain began to fall, which slowed him down even more. He followed the same muddy tracks that cut into the steep grassy embankment down to the road below the overpass. He slid the last twenty feet to the pavement, and proceeded slowly along the rain slicked street.

He had just passed the Watertown town limit sign, when he noticed the fresh muddy tracks had cut across the road and into a field on the right. He slowed the truck, and let his eyes follow the tracks into the field of standing hay.

A gray pickup truck rested in the middle of the field, at the end of the deep muddy grooves it had cut as it plowed through it. It had slued around at the end, and now sat facing the road. Joel shivered as a cold chill crept down his neck and into his spine. He couldn’t explain the feeling that had crept into him when he had spotted the truck, but it set him on edge immediately. This had to be the same truck he had been following since before Oswego.

He stopped, but did not leave the truck. Instead he stared through the rain slicked windshield at the Ford. It appeared to have been abandoned after it became stuck in the field. The rain streamed across the darkened glass of its windows, and down the sides of the gray steel body. He fought the urge to get out and check the pickup. Someone could still be in it, hurt maybe, he reasoned, but he was sure his leg would never allow him to make the trip out to the truck and back. He felt unreasonably positive that the truck wasn’t empty, that someone was watching him as he sat idling in the road. He put the truck back in drive and drove past, shaking off the chill that had passed through him, and sped up a little as he left the truck behind in the muddy field. It was nearly night, the gray of the afternoon moving toward blackness.

When a set of headlights appeared behind him a couple of miles down the road, he stared at them through the rear view mirror so long, that he almost slammed into the rear of a stalled tractor-trailer in front of him. He looked up just in time and managed to miss the truck, but slid off the road and into the front yard of an old, peeling green house.

He narrowly missed hitting the rickety front porch, and fought to bring the truck back under control as he shot past it. He goosed the gas pedal and the truck swung around, clipping several bushes that fronted the porch, but the truck was now angled toward the road. He gave it more gas and steered it back onto the roadway at last.

He looked into the rear-view as he gained the road, and he could now clearly make out the shape of the gray pickup behind him. It was gaining, and when it reached the tractor trailer, it seemed to skim by on the outer edge of the road without slowing at all. Joel jammed the gas pedal into the floor board and the old truck began to shudder as it picked up speed.

He glanced back, and as he did, the truck blew by on his left in a spray of water that momentarily covered the windshield. Joel instinctively released the gas pedal and jammed the brake pedal, while working the wiper switch. The old truck shuddered in protest and began to slide down the road.

The windshield cleared as the truck slowed down, and he watched as the Ford spun sideways in the road. It came to rest in the center of the road, blocking it from side to side.

Steam rose from the hot tires. Its black windows gleamed in the light rain as tiny rivulets streamed across them towards the ground; washing away some mud that still clung to the lower body.

Joel drew a deep breath into his lungs as the truck slid the last few feet and stopped. He ended up still pointing straight in the right hand lane, about twenty five feet from the pickup.

He reached for the rifle that had slid off the seat onto the floorboard, as his heart beat quickly in his chest. The passenger side window of the Ford slowly lowered as he watched.

The black glass gave way to a dark gray interior, and the young dark-haired kid that sat behind the wheel of the truck slowly turned towards him. Joel could see his yellow and crooked teeth, from where he sat in the truck, as he grinned. Two other faces moved beside him. His heartbeat sped along crazily, and he fought to control the panic he felt rising inside him. He clicked off the safety on the rifle as he slowly eased it up onto the seat beside him. The dark-haired kid continued to grin, a cigarette plastered into one corner of his mouth, jittering up and down. Talking to the others, probably, Joel though. The kid raised his rifle and pointed it out the window at Joel.

“Hey!. Get outta that fuckin’ truck, man. Come on, man, get outta there right now!”

Joel heard the words over the rain, over his own closed windows, but there was no way he intended to get out of the truck. The kid motioned with his head and the two others with him climbed out the passenger side of the truck: Laying their rifles across the hood; aiming carefully at him, Joel saw, which was completely ridiculous. It was a shot of maybe twenty, twenty five feet. You could do that with your eyes closed. Unless…

Joel swung the rifle up fast and popped off a shot aimed at the kid at the outermost edge of the hood. A split second later he was sighting on the second kid. No one had shot back, the driver was still grinning foolishly, but he didn’t think that would last long. They had no idea what they were doing. Playing roles in a movie they had seen once. Something like that, Joel told himself.

The dark-haired kid in the truck finally raised his rifle and aimed at him. It was almost funny, Joel thought, looking at the rifle jerk and jump on its way up, but the next instant, when the windshield on the passenger side cracked loudly, he was stunned to see a small hole punched through it when he looked. A nest of cracks ran away from it, and small crystals of glass glittered on the dashboard.

He quickly ducked, levered the door open, and dropped to the pavement. He raised the rifle to his shoulder, aimed, and fired. As he did he heard another shot, and felt a stinging sensation in his left leg. The right side of the kid’s face dissolved as Joel’s shot found its mark. He saw the spray of skin and blood hit the black passenger side window behind him, as the bullet shattered it almost simultaneously. The young man continued to grin with what was left of his face, he shot once more.

Joel saw the flame lick from the end of his rifle, as he dropped towards the ground. The shot missed, and he heard the ford’s engine whine as the tires began to bite into the pavement, producing a high pitched scream. Joel dove back up from the ground, and shot once more at the truck, that was now sliding around and heading for him.

He dove back into the truck just as the pickup hit the still open door, and tore it from its hinges. It flipped up over the already braking pickup, and clattered to the pavement. Joel keyed the ignition, and jammed the truck into drive. The tires spun and began to smoke as he mashed the gas pedal to the floor and tore off down the road. The truck slewed around behind him, and began once again to give chase.

Although the truck shuddered in protest, Joel did not let up on the gas pedal: Instead he kept it jammed to the floor. The truck edged up and past eighty before he eased off.

At just under ninety, the truck rattled loudly, and the large tires hummed as it sped down the road with the gray pickup seemingly welded to its rear bumper. Joel used the stock of the rifle to smash out the rear glass of the truck, and fired twice into the windshield of the Ford. The windshield blew inward, and the Ford locked its brakes and spun sideways on the road.

The tires caught, and the pickup truck flipped into the air. When it landed it rolled several times before bursting into flames, where it came to rest in the middle of the road.

Joel mashed the brakes on the truck, and slid to a shuddering stop in the road, craning over his shoulder, staring out at the burning wreck behind him. As he watched the gas tank caught, and the truck lifted from the road with a loud, Whump! It clattered back down seconds later, scattering parts of itself across the rain slicked roadway as it did. Joel stepped cautiously from the pickup, and continued to watch as the truck burned.

He was still watching a split second later, in horror, as the kid spilled from the wrecked car.

The right side of his face was a raw mass of meat, and curls of flame and smoke leapt from his clothing as he tumbled out of the inferno and hit the pavement. The flames on his clothing seemed to flare up as if in anger, and then, within a space of seconds, die out altogether and disappear. Smoke curled from the kid. Joel stared momentarily transfixed. And then bent over and vomited on the road. He stayed, hunched over for a second, before he turned, crawled back into the truck, and quickly started it.

Before he pulled away, he glanced into the rear view, back at the truck. As he watched the flames leapt and flared into the rain filled skies. Joel shifted into first and drove quickly away.

He pushed the truck hard until he arrived in Watertown; constantly checking the mirrors, expecting the truck to reappear at any moment. It didn’t, and when he almost lost control of the truck sliding around a stalled car in the road, he finally slowed down, afraid that he would wreck the truck, and end up dead, or dying on the side of the road, finishing the job the kid had started.

He turned right at a four corners, passing a small gas station that sat there, and headed into the city, still glancing nervously behind him. Just as he topped a small hill he glanced back once more. There was no one in sight, so he pulled off into the parking lot of a small store and turned off the motor.

He sat for a moment, with the rain streaming in the opening where the door had once been, listening. He half expected to hear the truck’s engine roaring towards him. He didn’t, the air was silent, save the thrumming of the rain on the steel roof of the truck, as it fell and splashed its way to the ground.

He slowly became aware of the pain in his left leg, as his heart slowed down and resumed a somewhat normal beat again. He stepped out of the truck to the ground, testing the leg. Dark blood covered a large area of the outside pant leg, just below his hip, and the blue denim fabric was shredded and burned. It now matched the lower leg.

The skin was spit open for a few inches, he saw, but the bullet had only grazed the upper thigh. He breathed a sigh of relief, turned and walked towards the store. He took his rifle with him, and, glancing back at the road, listened carefully before he entered the store. Nothing.

Inside he slipped off the jeans and clenched his teeth tightly together as he sprayed the wound first with a disinfectant, then poured a full bottle of peroxide over it. He wrapped the leg with clean white gauze, and taped the flap tightly. It stung a great deal, but he was afraid of infection, and it wasn’t likely he would be seeing a doctor soon, he thought. The other wound had opened and was bleeding freely once more so he changed that too.

He looked out the front glass doors when he had finished, still listening, then stepped outside. He had seen a small shopping center when he pulled in, to the left of the store, and set off towards it now, to replace the bloodied and torn jeans.

He picked up two complete sets of clothes, leaving the others where he had removed them in the aisle of the store. The blood had nearly sealed the boot on his left leg to his foot, he discovered, so he pried them both off, washed his feet as well as he could with bottled water to make sure there were no wounds under all the blood, and then pulled on fresh socks and a new pair of boots.

He walked back over to the store, and then back to the rear coolers. He was surprised to find them still cold, and was even more surprised to hear a small fan kick on as he pulled a cold beer from within. He hesitated, then pulled out one more.

He walked back towards the front counter, went behind it, and sat down on the stool that was there, staring out the wide glass windows at the parking lot as he sipped from the can. The rain dripped and drizzled, letting up somewhat.

“Well, I made it this far,” he said aloud. He shook his head, lowered his face into his hands and began to weep.

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