AMERICA the DEAD: EPISODE NINE
AMERICA the DEAD: BOOK ONE
Based on the series by W. G. Sweet
AMERICA the DEAD: BOOK ONE
Copyright © 2019 by independAntwriters All Rights Reserved
Writers: W.W. Watson, Geo Dell, W.G. Sweet, G.D. Smitty
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AMERICA the DEAD: EPISODE NINE
The fires burned low around the small open area. The six of them sat quietly watching the stars come out.
Joel shifted and Haley curled into his side, head on his chest, eyes closed.
“Okay?” Joel asked.
“Um hm,” she agreed. “Just tired.”
They had met Cathy Cross on their way out of Tremont, just before they had made it back to I 81. She had been on foot, walking the tree line, heading vaguely south. She had heard them coming, she had told them, and ducked into the woods. Something, maybe the sight of what appeared to be two women traveling alone, had made her come back out and fire her gun into the air to get their attention. The gun had nearly made Haley drive on. Her initial impulse had caused her foot to ram the gas down, but a split second later Alice had spotted Cathy where she stood just outside the treeline and got her to stop the van.
Haley had stepped outside the van, machine pistol ready, willing to waste the precious few bullets she had left if she had to.
“You’re not weird are you?” Cathy called out. She was maybe a hundred yards away. Nearly lost in the tall grass. Her own rifle was clasped tightly in her hands. Not aimed at Haley and the van, but ready for whatever the van and its occupants might bring.
“There are four of us… Our men are hurt,” Haley called. She panicked immediately when she realized she had unintentionally told the truth. Just blurted it out, but she fought the panic back.
“Will you take me?” Cathy had asked.
“It’ll be cramped, but yes,” Haley agreed. “If you don’t mind the cramped space… We’ll get another truck as soon as we can… Bigger.”
Nineteen straight hours of driving had bought them into the next morning and a small dealership on the outskirts of Fredricksburg. They had made good time running along the edges of the black topped former highway. Outside of Fredricksburg the highway had once again become congested. They had finally been forced to take to the high grass in the fields more and more to find their way around the traffic. They had found the dealership and pulled right up to the front doors of the showroom just as dawn was breaking.
They had met John Campbell as they were searching the lot for a suitable truck. They had heard his truck long before they had seen it, but there had still been no chance to hide their own truck to remain unseen by him. They listened as he fought his way around the same obstacles they had, apparently following their tracks they had cut through the soft shoulders and the fields of tall grass. The motor rose in pitch, straining, and then fell back to idle as he once again made the roadway. When he came into view he had seen them about the same time they had seen him and raised one hand in a happy wave. Haley had breathed a sigh of relief.
With John’s help they had liberated two trucks from the dealership lot, gassed them up, and made it to the other side of Fredricksburg and a sporting goods store that had not been completely ransacked. They had stocked up on ammunition, and with Haley leading they had struck out again, once more heading south. Scott had come back first, the next morning, Joel had come back later that day. Both a little slow, groggy, but healing.
Alice leaned forward and shifted the meat that simmered over the fire. Wild turkey. They had met a flock of them pecking their way through a field twenty miles north. She had been able to walk right up to one that only bristled, and threatened her before she shot it. She had felt bad after she had shot it. She had never hunted a day in her life, but a few minutes later Scott had been helping her to gut the bird, pluck the feathers, and then they had continued on down the road to where they had set up camp for the night.
They had backtracked to I 81 after the detour to Fredricksburg and were now just outside of Harrisburg. Harrisburg was off limits. Someone had made and posted signs over the crumpled city limit signs where they had fallen. One word, PLAGUE written in all caps with dripping red paint making it seem even more ominous to them.
They had backtracked once more to where they now were, looking for a place to both cross what appeared to be a large lake in places, and avoid Harrisburg. They had found no way across what they were sure had been the Susquehanna River, but was now a large inland lake. So far across in places that they could not see the other side. Slow, deep, and carrying all manner of debris. Tree limbs, pieces of houses. Bloated animal carcasses and who knew what else. As night closed in now they could see a red glow on the horizon. What was left of Harrisburg that was not flooded was burning brightly. No doubt a cure for the plague. It had made them all quiet.
“We’ll have to skirt this somehow tomorrow, won’t we?” John asked now.
“I thought about that, but no. I think it makes no sense to go back up along the river, or what we hope will turn back to a river, looking for a place to cross. I don’t think there will be any bridges left. All of that stuff had to come down stream… I think any bridges that were there to cross are now gone. No… I think, find a boat, pack our supplies into it and make our way across to the other side,” Joel said thoughtfully.
“Be dangerous with all that shit floating downstream,” Scott said.
“Very,” Joel agreed. “I Think we do it in daylight. Get ourselves ready… There are places where we can see across. We go slow, carefully get to the other side and get the hell out of the water as fast as we can.”
“That would work,” Alice agreed.
“I think so,” Cathy added. “But we’ll have to find a boat, right? Will there be a place close by?”
“There should be,” John said aloud. He seemed to be thinking. A second later he had one of the map’s open and spread in his lap. “Where there is water,” he said vaguely.
“There are boats,” Scott finished and smiled. John gave Scott a crooked smile which made him blush.
“We just need to work our way back north along the waters edge. Eventually we’ll find a marina or a boat dealership, something,” John finished. He gave Scott a look again, seeming to enjoy the way he made him feel uncomfortable. He had already told Alice that she was lucky she had him, he was a beautiful man. Scott had wondered over that statement until the facts of the situation had dawned on him. John had simply laughed.
“That should work,” Joel agreed. He tended to hold his head stiffly. His neck seemed to pinch when he moved it too quickly. The skin was healing and the muscle in his neck was sore. It felt stuck, like part of it had healed improperly, or bonded to something it shouldn’t have. He could feel a tearing, pinching feeling when he moved it too far. The plus side was that it was becoming less. So maybe it was just the muscle itself healing. Healing slowly, he told himself as he flexed it carefully and rubbed at the raised ridge of stitching.
“I think she sewed it to your ear,” Scott said and ducked as Haley batted at his head. He chuckled until Alice gave him a shot to the ribs. “Shit. That’s not fair, working together.”
“Sure it is,” Alice disagreed.
Joel smiled. “I do seem to hear better when I flex my jaw,” he said.
Haley swatted his arm. “So mean, saved your head, might have had to amputate it too, yet you’re so mean.”
Cathy flexed her jaw. “Hey, me too.” Everyone laughed, breaking the tension. A few minutes went by and Joel began to talk once more.
“So, the boat, make our way across and stock back up, get another truck, continue on our way.”
“Right,” John agreed. “Unless, well, but you don’t want to travel by night.”
“But what, though?” Haley asked.
“Well, we’re going south and I bet that lake is going south too.”
“Some,” Scott agreed. He had taken the map and was looking it over. “It does go a little south, but it mainly goes East… Back to the east coast… At least the Susquehanna did, so I assume the lake does as well.”
“Plus the debris,” Alice said
“Good idea if not for that,” Cathy agreed, “So, back to the boat, get across as fast as we can and get on our way.”
Joel nodded and one by one the others did. “Okay, so that’s decided.” He turned back to the turkey sizzling on spits over the fire and rubbed his hands together. “White or dark,” he asked.
“Oh, dark,” John said and made eyes at Scott. Cathy giggled.
Joel and Haley
Kumbrabow State Forest
Valley Head WV
They had left I 81 once they had crossed the Susquehanna river. They had been unable to find it again easily. They had instead kept south on back roads and flat land where they could make good speed. The farther from the main roads they went the easier it was to travel. The roads were less congested. The problem was that the destruction was wide spread. More than once a section of road they were following had disappeared into water, or into a ravine. It happened fast, you had to pay attention. They had found the state forest area, pulled off on an overgrown road and made their way a little deeper into the forest. A ranger shack had supplied what looked to be a good place to sleep for the night. It would be the first time out of the trucks in a few days. It would feel good.
“I could stay right here,” Cathy said. “I really think it’s beautiful.”
They were inside near the wood stove they had kindled. A deer carcass hung just inside the doorway. They had shot it right in the front yard of the shack shortly after they had stopped. Steaks were cooking on top of the stove in a cast iron pan.
“I like mountains too,” Haley agreed.
“Yeah, except, this would not be a good place to be in a few months when winter rolls in I bet,” Alice threw in.
Cathy frowned and then sighed. “Didn’t think of that.”
“Reason we are heading south to begin with,” John said. “Easier winters… We hope.” He sighed too. “But it is pretty. I love it too. So… I don’t know, wild, I guess. Primitive. I could see me living in a place like this, but only if I had a partner who was a good hunter… Well supplied before winter. Safe. More people to help. Life would be a little tougher here, I guess, but the beauty might be worth it.”
“I think south will be tough too,” Scott said. “Hurricanes, storms, flooding I would bet, after all, all that water ends up down there some place and all the rivers have to be overflowed… Maybe even changed course. And living down south brings its own problems. Like it’s hotter than hell several months out of the year, even if you live on the Gulf. The storms. Snakes, and bugs that can kill you.”
“What?” Joel asked.
“What?” Scott asked him.
“Bugs that can kill you? And, what kinds of snakes.”
Scott laughed. “Snake of all kinds. Too many to list. That is semi tropical. Probably will be tropical eventually, maybe even is now. All the animals that call it home were controlled because of the people population. We already noticed most animals made it and the people didn’t, so those snakes are not afraid of much of anything anymore. Scorpions, bot flies, kissing bug, fire ants, a lot more. Most can’t kill you but they might make you wish you were dead. Now the snakes can kill you, and it’s not like you can run to the hospital.”
“Jesus,” Haley said. “Thanks, Scott. Thanks a lot.”
“Hey. I didn’t make these bugs, I just thought you should be aware. Look, it’s not a big deal, just something you have to be careful of. Like… Like, say, freezing to death up north. My first winter up there I went out in January, 32 below zero with the wind chill. No hat, and my ears froze so goddamn fast I thought I would lose them.”
“Only takes about ten minutes to get frostbite when it’s that cold,” Joel said.
“Yeah,” Haley agreed. “Lucky you didn’t lose them, part of them.”
“Okay, so see? It’s the same thing. Different area of the world. You just have to be aware of it is all. Learn.”
The cabin shook as something slammed into it from outside.
“What the fu…” Scott began.
“Douse that lantern… Lock that door,” Joel said as he lunged for his machine pistol where he had laid it down by a small, pine table.
The cabin plunged into darkness and they were all momentarily blind from the lantern light. A few seconds later their sight began to return.
“Get your guns in your hand now that you can see,” Joel whispered. “Jesus, don’t shoot any of us… Watch the windows.”
There were two small windows that had been set into the cabin wall, one on each side. The one side, Joel remembered, faced the deep woods. The other faced the road. He motioned everyone toward the back of the cabin so they could look forward and see out of both windows.
“Shoot the window out we don’t have a way to stop them,” John said.
“A man, or a bear, can easily break one of those windows if they want to,” Haley said quietly. “It’s no protection at all.”
Something slammed into the wall directly behind them and Cathy screamed before she could stop herself. Something answered from outside at the back of the shack. A low growl that turned into a snarl that did not sound like any animal any of them had ever heard.
“Oh God,” Cathy said. Haley pulled her to her and buried her head into her breast. “Shh… Quiet, Cat, quiet.”
The silence came back heavy and then whatever the something was, it continued to bump its way around the side of the shack, seemingly headed toward the front. Silence and then the shape of a man appeared in the g;lass of one side window. A second later and the glass shattered; the figure began climbing into the room.
The gunfire was deafening inside the little shack. The man blew into pieces long before he made it through the window, and was tossed back out onto the grass. A second later another came to the window and snarled at them. All of them fired. Silence returned fast and hard. Cathy sobbed from Haley’s breast where she held her tight.
“Sss okay,” Haley told her. “It’s okay. Ssh, it’s alright.” The seconds dragged and the silence remained, punctuated only by Cathy’s sobs. Joel and John made their feet and went quickly to the doorway. Flashlights in their hands. “Scott?”Joel turned back around to him. “Scott don’t let anything in here,” Joel told him.
“No way,” Scott agreed tightly.
A few moments outside told them everything they needed to know. Noises from the woods told them more. They were back quickly.
“Plague,” Joel said. “Get whatever you can get fast, probably guns only. There are more of them back further in the woods. We’ve got to go.”
They drove the overgrown dirt road carefully, there were dozens of plague victims crowding close to the road, shying from the light, but not wanting to. They made the small county road they had followed in, turned south and drove into the night.
Joel and Haley
Asheville North Carolina
The day was clear and bright as they skirted what they were certain was Asheville North Carolina and headed toward the Georgia border. They would be in Georgia just a short time before they crossed over into Alabama. Billy and Beth had told them they had not been far into Alabama before the state had disappeared, the highway sinking into the sea.
They were three trucks riding the sides of the roads angling their way across wet areas via whatever high ground they could find. They were close to the Georgia border when the attack came.
The trucks had come around a curve ahead of them and swept past on the other side of a wide highway median. Joel had known by the way the men in the trucks had watched them that this was not going to be a friendly meeting. The trucks had slowed. The center median was flooded, there was no way they would make it across there, but it was less than a mile back to where there was a crossing. The same crossing they had used to get onto this side of the highway. Joel had picked up the CB handset in his truck and told the rest to follow him.
He had no place in mind. It made no sense to go back, forward made the most sense. He picked up as much speed as he could and the other two fell in behind him as he skirted the road, running into the fields where necessary. A half hour bought them in view of a small town off the highway they were traveling. Joel drove off the edge of the highway and crossed through the fields into the town
The roads were rough, most of the town was a shamble, but the streets were quiet and darkened by the overgrowth of trees. The downtown section was full of abandoned cars, Joel spied a garage up ahead and angled into the parking lot. A little work and they managed to cut the locks off the garage doors and raise them. An hour after they had driven into the lot they were hidden away inside the garage. They had left the trucks and were gathered quietly looking through the dirty glass at the deserted streets.
“They will follow our tracks right off the road,” Joel said.”
“And if not they had got us on the road with no safe place to fight from,“ Scott said. “We have concrete block at our back here. They don’t know this is where we went.”
“Maybe,” Joel allowed.
“There,” Haley said and pointed.
One of the trucks they had seen on the other side of the highway idled down the street in low gear. The load exhaust reaching them inside the bays.
“How in hell did they find us so fast,” Alice wondered aloud.
“I don’t know,” Joel said.
“Maybe mud… Wet spots on the road from where we crossed out of the fields and headed down this way,” John offered.
“Dammit,” Joel agreed. “That’s it.”
“Nothing for it now,” Scott said quietly. “Well, do we bring it to them or let them bring it to us?”
John Frowned, Haley spoke up, Cathy right behind her. “I say take it to them. That’s one truck we can take out, out of three, right now. Might make the others think twice about it.”
“You’re sure it’s one of them?” Alice asked.
“Positive,” Joel said.
“Then we got to do it,” Alice agreed. “How?”
“We can’t shoot through this glass… Go around back, out the back, I mean. We’ll take him as he rolls out of the other street corner,” Joel decided at last. The rest followed him out the back door and around the building to the overgrown weeds and shrubs that hid the corner of the building.
A few moments later the truck rolled through the intersection on the opposite side of the garage and they opened up on it. The driver floored it and the truck scorched the pavement as it jumped ahead, but a split second after that the motor died and the truck bounced as it slammed back down to the pavement; drifting across the road headed for a small playground on the opposite side of the street and a construction area just beyond that.
A second went by, another, and the front passenger door opened and three people jumped from inside, stumbled, rolling onto the ground, trying to get to their feet and then began to sprint off down the street as the truck continued on, mowing over the chain link fence of the playground, and then hanging up on a small concrete barrier just inside the fencing line.
Joel led the first man and carefully fired. The man collapsed to the pavement like a rag doll, arms and legs flopping as he tumbled to an awkward stop. The second runner stopped, turned, and opened up on them. Haley felt the wind as a bullet zipped past her face before she heard the shot. At the same time she was pulling the trigger on her machine pistol. A notoriously bad weapon for long distance shooting, but a killing machine in full auto mode. The man seemed to start a slow tap dance for a second and then slowly toppled forward onto the pavement. A pool of blood spread quickly from under him. The last runner turned, a woman, threw down her weapon and raised her hands. A shot rang out and she topped over into the street.
“Oh my God,” Cathy said. She choked back a sob. “I didn’t mean to kill her. I didn’t mean it.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Haley said. “If you hadn’t, I would have.”
“But she surrendered,” John said. “She was surrendering to us.”
“Well, too late. She never should have come after us. We can’t take prisoners. Do you think they would have? No. They would have killed everyone. Maybe not us… Me, Cathy and Alice. That would have been worse. Don’t cry for her she made her bed and she’s dead now. Fuck her,” Haley finished quietly.
“It is what it is,” Alice said softly.
“Hey… Hey, hey, hey,” John said. “More!”
A second later the whole day seemed to come alive with noise. Gunfire crashed non stop as the other two trucks rolled onto the street and began firing. The battle was short lived. The last truck never fully turned onto the street. One of them got it with a lucky shot, the two front tires blew out and it dove for the ground. The huge tires making it seem sloped at a steep angle down onto the rims. The men inside the truck scrambled to get away as the men inside the lead truck continued to fire.
Eventually the gunfire fell off. No one moved. They had seen three men run from the last truck, back down the street. Two had lurched while they were running. They seemed to have been hit, the other might have made it, Joel thought. The silence held. Nothing. No sounds. No shots. Joel looked around and saw Cathy sprawled on the ground, the side of her face missing. He looked away quickly, watching the street carefully. From somewhere farther away they heard a motor turn over slowly, grinding to life. It caught, quit, and then caught again. The idle evened out and a few minutes later the engine rose to a higher pitch, almost screaming as it fled from the small city, east, back toward the highway.
Joel drew a deep breath. “Bring her inside,” He said tersely. Inside they laid her out on one of the work benches, but it was clear in just a few moments that she was dead.
Joel paced back and forth in front of the windows, pausing to listen. Across the street the first truck popped loudly and then burst into flame, a trail of fire running away from the rear of the truck toward the street and the garage where they were.
“Great… Okay, listen, we have got to go. We have got to go right now before that fire turns real bad.” As he spoke a car at the curb in front of the garage caught fire as the pool of gasoline found its way under it. Old oil on the motor, something, it caught fast and began to burn right along with the other truck.
“We should bury, Cathy,” John said.
“We should, and any other time we could, but this time, no,” Joel said. “Either of those tanks could blow at any second. Then we’ll be forced to run. On foot, because there will be no way out,” as he spoke he began yanking up the closest garage door. Scott wrenched another up close to him. Haley shoved up the last one.
“But it’s wrong,” John said. He was frozen in the middle of the floor, glancing back and forth to Cathy’s body. Joel walked quickly from the door to John. He didn’t hesitate, but threw a quick punch at his jawline. “Scott,” he called as he caught him. Scott was there a second later and together they shoved John’s unconscious body into one of the trucks.
Haley, Scott and Joel himself drove. Screeching out of the garage and across the pavement out into the street. The trucks jumping and diving, motors growling, the tires spinning and screeching as they fought for purchase. They were less than two blocks away when something back at the garage blew up. Joel sighed and followed Haley as she made her way out of the small city and southward once again.
Joel and Haley
Fort Deposit Alabama
It was early morning. One moment the road had been there, and the next it had been gone, angling away down into the water. They all stopped, shut down the motors and looked over the water.
Joel fitted a pair of binoculars to his eyes, as did Scott.
“Way out,” Joel said as he passed the binoculars to Haley.
“Yeah… Yeah, hardly see it,” Scott agreed. He passed his own binoculars to Alice.
Haley lowered her binoculars and then passed them off to John. John had been quiet lately, but he was speaking to them. “So we’re here,” Haley said.
“We are here,” Joel agreed.
They had stopped two days earlier when they had found a small marina and picked out three boats, trailered them, and hooked them to the trucks. It had made the going slow as they finished the last few miles into Alabama looking for the place where it ceased to exist, but it had been worth it. After all, they had decided, they would have to have boats. Get them now or get there and have to back track to get them.
“It’s not deep at all,” Scott said as he looked out over the water. “It’s, like, barely there, maybe just inches… I wonder if this is high tide or low tide?”
“Good question,” Joel agreed. “We’re here, we have time, let’s wait and see. We may find ourselves driving quite a lot of the distance.”
“Or backing up from here to higher ground,” Haley joked.
“I don’t think so,” John said. “Look. There are no marks anywhere that resemble water rings… That means this might be high tide right now. If so, and it’s only inches right now, this road might be high and dry in a few hours.”
Joel nodded. “Tides can be a foot or more in places.” He snapped his fingers. “Billy mentioned a truck dealership not far from here. Four wheel drives.”
“Right,” Haley agreed. “What do you have in mind?”
“Four wheel drive, and those kinds of trucks sit higher… Put some wider tires on them, what do they call them, tires that float over the top of the mud instead of sinking in?” No one spoke. “Well, I can’t remember the name, but we should put tires like that on them, wider, that should do better if we have to drive on the bottom… Sand, mud… Just in case it doesn’t go all the way out.”
“Now?” Scott asked.
“No. Let’s see what is up with the tide first. We have the time now. It’s on our side,” Joel said. “I saw a herd of goats back a mile or so, I say we go get us a goat, come back here and make a celebration meal.”
“Kill the fatted goat?” Haley asked.
“Kill the fatted goat,” Joel agreed. “Honey, you feel okay here alone? Me and Scott will head back and get a goat. You can get a fire ready, a place to stay… Probably for the night.” He looked off to the sides. “It’s clear over in there.”
“Go ahead,” Haley said. “We’ll get a fire going and get set up… Wait on you.”She leaned forward and kissed him. “Come right back,” she said.
“Will do,” Joel agreed. “John? You want to come or stay here?”
“Stay,” John decided.
“Anyone else?” Joel asked.
“Just you two,” Haley agreed as Alice and John shook their heads once more. Joel smiled, bent and kissed her once more, turned and left.
Fort Deposit Alabama
Joel and Haley
“This should be low tide,” Joel said as he stared up at the sky, eyes shaded by one hand.
“Should be,” Scott agreed.
They had spent the last few days observing the tides and working on the three trucks. They had found a garage a few miles back while they had been searching for tires to swap out the ones on the first truck. A rusted truck had sat on the cracked and kudzu choked pavement. Wide mud tires on all four corners. A few minutes work had gotten it to run at a choppy idle.
Scott and Joel had driven it out in to the Gulf themselves, ten miles on the odometer, but it had plowed along with no problem. The bottom was hard packed sand, not mud. The water at low tide was no more than a foot deep, at least where they had driven. It had been a good deal farther out to land, maybe twenty miles or better, maybe less than another ten: Distance over water was hard to tell, Scott had said. Joel had tended to agree with that statement. To him it looked like the land mass had gotten no bigger at all. He had begun to wonder if it would.
They had stopped, debated, and then decided to drive back. They had little fuel, no boat in case it did get deep, and no idea how far they had to go. As far as the binoculars could show them, the water looked no more than a few inches deep.
That had been four days ago. Their own trucks, now equipped with wider, aggressively tread mud tires should be able to drive right over the sandy bottom: Dig themselves out if they did bog down. The question was whether the drive to the land could be made in one low tide window. The deeper question he had asked himself more than once now was why? Why was it so important to reach a spit of land that was cut off from the mainland. Abandoned by nature to the ocean? And what would be there?
He had no answer except a vague certainty that it would be safe. Safe from the gangs, safe from the dead, safe.
Haley touched the back of his arm, he turned and smiled at her where she stood with Alice. Behind them, John was checking over the trailers they intended to tow behind the trucks with Jayne. They had picked up Jane back in Hayneville where they had found the tires and a still standing garage to do the work in. It had taken two days to break down the tires on all three trucks and swap them out with the new ones, using only jack handles, crow bars and a foot operated air pump. There had been no generators anywhere close by. On the way back they had nearly driven into a big one that had been left by the side of the highway. That generator was now attached to the third truck.
They had met Jayne Singleton on the second day. She had stayed in hiding the first day and night watching them. Three men traveling with two women, it had looked all wrong to her, but by the second day she had decided to take the chance.
She had seemed unsure at first, even after introducing herself, and so they had spent an extra hour feeling each other out: By the time they decided to head back to Fort Deposit, Jayne had been with them.
There was no friction between any of them. They seemed to be able to work together as though they had known each other for years, Joel thought now as he lifted his eyes back to the sky. He looked back down at Scott and shrugged.
“Let’s do it,” Joel said aloud in the quiet afternoon sky. “Let’s take a look.”
The Alabama Gulf
Joel and Haley
They were past the point they had traveled to previously, 12 miles on the odometers. Twice now they had crossed deeper sections where the trucks had slipped down into the water driving slowly across the sandy bottom, water nearing the tops of the door-sills. The island was closer, but the sun was setting and soon the tides would be changing, rising. Joel picked up the radio handset as he coasted to a stop.
“A few more hours… By midnight we’ll be in high tide… From now on out it will be rising.” He didn’t ask the question.
“I say keep going,” Scott answered after a few moments of silence.
“No sense in stopping,” John said a brief second later. “Jayne says so too.”
“Well, except we can’t swim,” Joel said half joking.
The silence held a few beats. “That’s why we have the boats,” Alice answered with a laugh.
Joel re-set the handset and dropped the truck into gear. He was making maybe three miles an hour tops, with darkness coming it would be even harder to see into the water. He shifted back out of drive.
“I think I’m going to ride the hood… sounds crazy, I guess. But I think we can make better time… I can let you know to slow up if anything looks funny, bad,” he shrugged.
“Does that mean you aren’t sure, because it sounds like a plan to me,” Haley said. Joel smiled as he leaned forward and kissed her. A few minutes later he was on the hood: One wet foot for his troubles. He looked behind him and saw Scott climb out on his own hood.
“No way are you getting all the fun,” Scott called. He scrambled up onto the roof of the truck and Joel followed suit. A few moments later they were traveling through the shallow salt water. Joel lowered his hand and moved it in a forward motion. A few moments later he gave the okay sign, and leaned across to the drivers window.
“What is that? Speed wise?”
“Ten, a little less, maybe,” Haley told him.
“Ten it is,” Joel said. He sat up straight once more and watched the small waves as they seemed to roll toward the truck. With the tide beginning to turn he supposed that was exactly what they were doing. His eyes shifted to the island, which now seemed to take up a much larger space on the horizon. His eyes returned to the water shifting from side to side and ahead. Not long now, he thought. Not long.
Joel and Haley
It was not far past the sunset when the nose of the truck rose out of the water and skimmed along across no more than a few inches of water. The moon had drifted behind the cloud cover, the headlights were on, but they did more to hide the surface of the water than anything else. They illuminated a small area ahead of the truck and then seemed to be swallowed by the night.
Before the bottom had risen, the water had been growing steadily deeper as they traveled. They had once again been slowed to just a few miles an hour, plowing through close to two feet of water, and there was a current with the depth that tried to pull them sideways. Joel had been close to calling it off, turning around, or getting the boats ready if there was not enough time to get back before the tide was fully in. A few minutes later they had begun the climb from the water and found themselves where they now were, proceeding slowly through the darkness in just inches of water.
The moon peeked out from the edge of the clouds and an island took shape before them, partly hidden in mist, the island stretched away on both sides. A quarter mile to the beach, no more. The moon slid free and the island was lit up fully. Trees, broken pavement delineating a road that disappeared into what looked to be a jungle. They were both standing on the rooftops now, knees flexed, arms pumping, screaming, as the trucks finally left the water behind and drove up onto a wide sandy beach. Birds lifted from the surrounding trees, momentarily blotting out the moon once more, as Haley bumped the truck up onto the wide beach, followed closely by John and Alice.
The fire burned brightly on the beach. They were close to the tree line, watching the tide bring the water up the long sloping beach., waiting for sunrise.
“Never make it at high tide,” Scott said. He worked open a pack of peanuts and tilted them above his mouth. He chewed thoughtfully.
“Probably has risen a good eight feet out here,” Haley said.
“At least,” Jayne agreed. She blew across a cup of broth and sipped at it.
“Maybe an hour until daylight,” Joel said now. He shifted his back where he rested against a tire, one arm around Haley.
“Be a good time to bring something in by boat though,” Alice said.
“Yeah,” Scott agreed. “Plenty deep enough now.”
Rifles and pistols lay nearby. There was no way to know what to expect, but to think there had been no living souls on this land that had died and turned would be foolish they had agreed. They would get no sleep tonight, and at sunrise they would start inland, looking the island over.
The conversations flowed back and forth along with the occasional subdued laughter in the darkness. The Sky began to lighten behind them, gray light spilling across the tops of the trees. Far out on the water the first red-gold arrows of light touched the water and awakened what looked to be an ocean.
“Hard to believe we drove across that,” Haley said from his lap. Her head rested against his thigh, eyes slitted. She rose to one elbow and then sat up as the others began to stand.
The broken roadway ran through the jungle of vegetation and they drove it slowly into the interior of the island. There were several roads that cut off from the main blacktop, but there was no time to follow all of them. They passed through the overgrown remains of two small towns. Empty. Cars sitting on the streets on flats, buildings overgrown with kudzu and other vines. Mounds of sand trying to wipe out everything the Kudzu had not taken.
In places the road looked washed out, as if water had flowed across it at some point. The four wheel drive took them down into the resulting ravine or through fields and dry stream beds to get around it and up the other side. They drove through a slightly larger town twenty miles inland. Several large stores, a few car dealerships still stood: Sand covered most of the roads and streets everywhere they drove. The doors that lead into the stores were drifted shut four feet high in places. They stopped to dig one out, broke the locks from the aluminum door frames, only to be rewarded with a moldy interior that had obviously been flooded at one time. Somewhere inside a clicking came to them, a few moments late three dead, not much more than putrid flesh on skeletons, had come from the aisles to meet them. They had taken them out quickly and nothing else had come from the depths. Even so they had forced themselves to walk the interior to be sure. They were even more convinced the entire store had been submerged when they left it an hour later. The aisles were full of sand in places. The roof had collapsed in others and sand and what had probably had once been seaweed clogged some aisles.
Scott opinioned that most likely every car or truck in sight had a motor full of sand and was worthless. No one argued the point. They had gone through the town slowly after that, but they encountered no more dead. They had returned to the main road, driving farther into the interior of the island.
Fifty miles inland the land rose steeply and then flattened out. They stopped once the island began to spread out below them. They could see all the island from this point. The end of the journey was not far ahead. No more than five miles ahead, cliffs dropped down into the ocean. A much deeper area of water than what was behind them capped that end of the island. The western and eastern views were nearly equal. Off to the west there was a second smaller island that was removed from the main island by a small channel, at least it looked small from where they were. The distance was hard to judge, they would have to drive it, but it was far less than the fifty miles they had driven, maybe half that, Haley thought.
Whether heading east or west, roads snaked here and there, away from the main route, or what they considered the main route: Woods covered parts of the island, wide plains other areas. Nothing alive moved anywhere they looked.
“I think,” Joel said as they sat on the hoods of the trucks and drank warm bottled sports drinks, “This whole place, or most of it, was flooded over. I guess we can all see that, but I mean for a time, a long time. Any life washed away… Including people.”
“So what’s to stop that same thing from happening again,” Alice asked. She looked nervous even as she said the words.
“I would bet a tidal wave… No, tsunami triggered by the quakes, rolled right over everything on the coast. Probably took days to recede. That’s why there is no one here.” Jayne said thoughtfully.
“Wouldn’t happen again?” Alice asked.
“I don’t think so,” Scott said. “I think it’s been quiet for months now… I think this place is safe now… Maybe the only place in the world without dead. I think the dead in that store were trapped by the place being locked up. Probably locked it up themselves for protection… Drowned when it flooded.”
“We’ll have to be careful if we come across something like that again,” Jayne said, more to herself than anyone in particular.
Silence held as she finished, a few nods of agreement.
Joel upended his bottle, drank deeply and then grimaced. He looked at the label. “Cherry Cucumber,” he said aloud. “For real? Who in hell thought that up? Haley, take a letter to…” He paused as he looked for the manufacturers name on the bottle without success. “Well, to these sonsofbitches,” he said in his best Clint Eastwood imitation. “Tell ’em we won’t be drinking no more of these bastards.” He grinned, turned and spat on the ground. Scott applauded.
“No more Clint Eastwood, that sucks,” Alice said with a sad face.
“Or cold beer,” Scott said and grimaced.
“Or panty-liners,” Jayne said and then pulled a face. Haley broke into laughter so hard that tears squirted from her eyes. Alice joined in. Joel, John and Scott just shook their heads and looked at one another.
“I… I can’t believe you said that,” Haley said. She laughed harder.
Joel cleared his throat and looked out over the island. “A perfectly good conversation,” Joel said and sighed dramatically. Haley gave him a shot in the ribs with one elbow. They all laughed then.
Okay… Okay,” Jayne said eventually, “but really… Here we are, what is this place now that we’ve found it?”
“Alabama Island,” Scott answered promptly.
“Yeah… Alabama Island,” Joel agreed.
“Okay, but what is it to us,” Jayne said
“Home,” Haley said. “It’s home.”
The silence held as one by one they each nodded.
“We’ll need to make more trips,” Jayne said at last.
“A lot of trips,” Scott agreed.
“What do we need,” Joel asked, as Haley produced a small pad of paper and a pen.
Joel and Haley
The tide was on the way in when they reached the shore and rolled out onto the long flat beach. The trip was faster now, knowing for a certainty that the land was there, but it was still a close run between the tides.
As the days passed and the trips became more regular, they planned on leaving on the low tide, collecting all the materials they needed, and coming back on the next nearest low tide. That usually meant a layover, as it took time to collect what they needed, and as the areas around Fort Deposit were nearly stripped clean of any and all building materials or supplies: They found themselves venturing farther out. Some were back on the island while another group was out. Today two groups had met up and come back together.
The old road had been cleared of sand in most areas simply by driving over it, in others with shovels and hard work. The highest area had been officially named Mount Alabama, and a rough camp was set up there. It was the highest point on the island, therefore worthy of the name, they had decided. Piles of materials had been trucked in across the water and stored there under the trees, but they had not yet begun to build.
Joel lead the way down the road and into a forested area that was part of Mount Alabama, but a quarter mile from the actual summit. Here the trees were very old growth. Massive trunks, and heights that went well beyond a hundred feet with large spreading limbs. They had all been taken under the spell of the place since they had first stumbled across it on the third day. Unlike some areas they had discovered, where submersion under salt water had killed the trees, these trees had either never been submerged, or had not been submerged for long. There were thriving and imparted their beauty over the entire area.
As Joel stopped the truck there was nothing there to denote the fact that they had chosen this place to build: It looked like nothing more than a scattered tent community under the huge trees. The six survivors had become twenty during their supply runs, and Joel had no doubt the twenty would become fifty before they ceased their runs to the mainland. Others were there, he could feel it. He, Haley and Scott often talked about it. It was easy to understand their reluctance to come out of hiding and join them. It had taken those with them some time, it would take those remaining some time too.
Joel jumped down from the truck and watched the others pull in. Two of the new trucks were stake-rake trucks: One driven by Scott one driven by Kyle, one of the newcomers. Kyle had been a farmer in the old days. All of his own animals that had survived were here now, including a half dozen cows, fifty chickens, and a nearly blind dog named Bam-Bam. Kyle helped Bam-Bam down from the truck and then walked over to Joel where he stood with Haley, Alice and Scott.
“Six cows and four pigs. Scott’s got a bull and John has twelve pigs that are about as wild as I have ever seen. Like to have eaten us as we were trying to load them… No horses yet.” He pulled his hat from his head, wiped away the sweat from his face and then put the hat on backwards. Joel smiled.
“That bull?” Scott said.
Haley smiled. “Pissed off?”
“Very,” Scott agreed. “I think take it out in the field before I release it. Make sure it calms down and doesn’t just charge us.”
Joel laughed. “I know it’s not funny. I never really thought about how to get it out of the truck once we got here.” He sighed. “Well, we’ve got five acres fenced for it… Should have built one of those chutes you see on rodeo shows.”
“Are you a secret cowboy,” Alice asked Joel as Jayne walked up.
“If I am, I’m one of those McMurtry cowboys. The real ones not the cleaned up versions.” Joel laughed.
“So… We could back it up to the gate, close in the sides before we let that door open, maybe it will shoot right out the back and kick rocks,” Scott said.
“Kick rocks?” Joel asked.
“Hit the road,” Haley supplied.
“Hmm, well, if that’s our best option let’s do it.” Joel agreed.
The bull turned out to be easy, it was the pigs that were trouble. They dropped the latch on the back of Scott’s truck and the bull took off. They dropped the door latch on John’s truck for the pigs, and instead of taking off into the woods to become wild pigs they could hunt on occasion, they stayed right in camp. Raiding garbage, knocking down tents, and chasing kids around. They had to shoot two of them before it was over and the other ten had finally run off: As night closed in they had all eventually found a reason to laugh about it.
“Okay, there are more pigs we can get. What we’ll do next time is release them a little further away. The thing is they’re going to be dependent on us until this island springs back and starts supporting all the life it should be. We’ve released rabbits, and a few dozen nutria. It won’t take long for them to breed and become a food source for the pigs, but until they do they will search us out and look for food. And a pig will eat anything at all. A cat, puppy, garbage, which is what we can feed them. They’re omnivores so they’ll search out vegetation and eat that too,” Kyle finished.
“You mean feed them cats and puppies,” Jayne asked.
“I didn’t say that,” Kyle said. He frowned “Okay, maybe it sounded that way. I meant garbage. We can feed them garbage so they aren’t trying to eat our cats and puppies.” His face was red.
“So long as you are not trying to feed them cats and puppies,” Jayne said. She seemed to enjoy getting Kyle wound up. It was an easy process. He was somewhere south of infatuated with her and immediately got both defensive and tongue tied when she spoke to him.
The fire in the center of the tent city was burning brightly. Both pigs were spitted and cooking over the flames. Food for a few days only with twenty adults. There were six children here too. None had come through with their parents, all had been on their own and taken in by the people that had come to join with them. Some were past the trauma on those first days back in March, some were not.
“Deer,” Jayne said after a pause. “Equally important as cows.”
“I agree,” Joel said, “but getting them here alive is the trick. We need a way to get animals here in larger quantities to release them.”
“What about, probably stupid,” Jayne said, “But what about by sea? Hear me out.” She raised her hands when the comments about how shallow the water was had started. “Wait.”
“Let her finish,” Joel said.
Jayne smiled. “Thanks. Okay, so water. Yes, we’ve just a few inches here and inbound from here. I think that is getting deeper almost daily, but I realize it will be a long time before it’s deep enough to take a boat with any real cargo on it. Not enough draught, but the Gulf side of the island is plenty deep. We can leave a port in Georgia, Mississippi, even Louisiana and get here from the Gulf side.” She finished with a twisting of her mouth and a shrug of her shoulders. “Should work, right?”
Joel was nodding.
“Will work,” Haley said. “That’s a great idea.”
“I have to agree,” Scott said. “That will work. Kyle? Do they make something to haul animals over water?”
“Oh yeah. And if we can’t find something ready built we can get a barge and outfit it ourselves. Anybody plumbed that channel between this island and the little one?”
“Looks deep,” Joel said.
“Probably is plenty deep, but let’s find out exactly how deep,” Kyle said. “In fact, I want to go tomorrow and bring back a seaworthy boat… Something fifty, sixty feet long. A fisherman… Better yet a tug. We’ll need a tug if we’re bringing back a barge… Might need two tugs in fact,” He laughed and waved his hands at everyone. “Sorry, got carried away… Here’s the thing. That channel would be perfect to build a dock on… Some place to unload. This side of the island is far too shallow. The Gulf side is too deep with nothing but cliffs. That channel is perfect: If it’s deep enough. So, I can get a boat. A tug would be good because it’s already going to be set up with depth finders, fenders, a good powerful motor. And as I said if we end up with a barge we’ll need a tug boat… We’ll have it.”
Joel looked around to nothing but nodding heads. “Looks like the ayes have it,” He said and laughed.
Everyone laughed and then the laughter died away. “Well, that’s another thing right there,” John said. “I know of no better time to bring this up, but we probably should make something official before things get bigger here.”
“For instance, I’ve been following you since before we came here, and there is no doubt you are the guy who runs things here, but it isn’t official. Now suppose some guy comes along and decides he should be in charge? I’m not for that. That’s like some of these other settlements we hear about. We’ve all listened in to The nation and their broadcasts. They have it together there. They’re growing because they have established rules and leadership, and we could have it together here just as easily, but we need our leadership established. We need to have it decided. That place, a few others I have heard of or talked to have leaders. It’s right up front, no dancing around it…” He shrugged. “Maybe I’m overstating the obvious. We should elect you the main guy here… However that goes.”
“You and Haley together,” Jayne said solemnly.
“No, really, that’s the way it should be,” Alice added. She clasped one hand to her mouth and her eyes began to leak.
“Okay,” Scott raised his voice and waited as everyone quieted down and turned to pay attention to him. “Listen! A motion came up to legitimize this place,” He laughed along with the others: As the laughter died away he continued. “Here’s the deal, John and a few others of us believe it’s time to make the leadership of Joel and Haley official.” He had intended to say more, but he was drowned out by the cheering that erupted. He would never have believed twenty plus people could make that much racket. The dogs were barking, the children running around in circles and screaming.
“Jesus,” Jayne said. She turned to Joel, an amused look in her eyes along with the tears.
Joel stood. “Okay, okay,” he tried. He finally had to lift his voice above the din. “Okay! Hold it down folks, I’m sure they can hear us on the mainland.” The noise died down, but they were all staring at Joel expectantly: He had no idea what to say next so he sat back down, embarrassed. Scott stood and brushed his hands against his jeans.
“So here it is: I don’t know anything at all about how to form a government, but I suppose it goes something like this; we all decide it, vote, and that’s that.” Nodding heads met his words. “So the idea was Joel as the leader of this place, Alabama Island. Haley was suggested too. That would be it. I guess that’s a king and queen?” He looked and sounded doubtful.
“A monarchy,” Jayne answered. “Like the motherland… England”
“A monarchy,” Scott repeated. He still looked doubtful. “Anybody against it?”
Dead silence greeted his words.
“Okay, for it?”
The noise split the air again, wolf whistles, shouts of Hell yes, more. The dogs were once again barking and howling. Scott sank back down to the ground.
Emmett Wolf stood and lifted a nearly full bottle of bourbon skyward. His other hand held a sheaf of plastic drinking cups. A few seconds later nearly everyone had a drink of straight bourbon in their hands.
“Joel and Haley,” Emmett bawled above the general din. The crowd repeated his words and the drinks were downed. “To Alabama Island,” Emmett yelled. The drink cups went around again and everyone toasted to Alabama Island.
“I don’t know how much use this crowd will be tomorrow. You might want to plan an easy day,” Scott told Joel. He had to raise his voice above the din of voices.
“It’s crazy,” Haley said.
“Oh, I think they’ll party all night long. After all, they just elected America’s first king and queen in well over 200 years,” John opinioned. “I think Kyle and I will bow out early. Want to catch the midnight tides and get in there early tomorrow morning.”
Joel nodded. “I’ll be going with you.” He turned to Scott. “Do you think you’ll have enough sobered up to begin plans to build a dock? Check that depth, figure out some way to get in there?”
“Yeah. I think it will go as is. I mean the depth. We have a stack of railroad ties we salvaged a few days back. Here or up top. That will make a dock. I think my idea was a dock, further down the road when this deepens.” Scott answered.
Joel turned back to Haley. “You be okay here alone?” he asked.
“My loyal subjects will make sure I am,” Haley said. Her words were joking but her eyes said she was a little overwhelmed.
“Don’t sweat it… Don’t let anyone treat you differently. Don’t think of yourself differently. It will be old news in a few days and you’ll be okay with it, okay?”
She nodded. “Just not sure if I like it much.”
“I understand that,” Joel agreed. “I’m pretty sure I’ll never be comfortable with it myself, but it’s done. One way or the other it had to happen. I was thinking more along the lines of a committee the way some other places do, but I can see where this has its attractions too… Ease of making things happen… A lot of responsibility though.”
“Is it ever,” Scott agreed.
“And you volunteered me for it,” Joel said.
“Who else could do it?” Scott asked. “No. You were the only choice… Besides, we can change things to some other form down the road if we need to.”
“You think so?” Joel asked.
Scott looked out at the people as they laughed and danced in the firelight. He tried a lopsided smile on his face. “I hope so.”
Joel rose from the ground and dusted the sand from his pants. “Well, I hereby appoint you and Alice as council to the monarchy: let’s get everyone eating before Emmett gets them too far gone.”
Scott laughed, picked up a metal scoop near the fire and banged it against a pot a few times. In no time at all lines were forming as the pigs were lifted from the fire, burnt and crispy in places, juicy and dripping fat in others, and carried to the tables. A layer of palm leaves had been laid out on the table tops, and the pigs were lowered onto them. Alice, John and Jayne began carving and serving. Joel, Haley and Scott fell back and watched, marveling over how so much had changed in just a few hours.
Amazon: Book One: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01H5PM49W
Amazon: Book Two: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01H5Q9S36
Amazon: Book Three: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01H5Q9W0A
Amazon: Book Four: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01H5QNOKY
Amazon: Book Five: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07D3D9Z2S