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My name is not really Erica Stevens, it is a pen name that I chose in memory of two amazing friends lost too soon.I was born in New York and moved to Mass as a child. I spent my time growing up between NY and Mass so I have some interesting times when sports games roll around. I was fortunate enough to marry my best friend over two years ago and I don't know what I'd do without him. I have a large, crazy, fun loving family that just loves to laugh. My parents are the strongest people I know. I have an older brother and sister, and a younger sister, who have blessed me with many nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews. I am nowhere near as old as the great nieces and nephews make me sound. I love to read and have wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old. I also write more adult romance novels under the pen name of Brenda K. Davies.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Survivor Chronicles: Book 4 (Chapter 11, Al)


Al,

 

   Al stood in the doorway of the living room and watched as Riley tenderly washed the arms and chest of the little boy. She placed a clean t-shirt on him before grabbing a fresh towel and dipping it into a different pot of clean water. It took a few minutes but she finally succeeded in scrubbing the dirt and smeared food from his face before settling back on her heels to study the child.

   No matter how hard he tried, Al couldn’t seem to tear his eyes away from the little boy. The slender frame, and the slack expression on his face, conjured memories of his siblings when they’d been at their sickest. He found himself hoping just as badly as she was that Riley’s plan would work. He hadn’t been able to save his siblings, but just maybe they would be able to save this lost child.

   When she was done, Riley pushed the pots of water and towels aside. She lifted the bottle of L-Dopa and turned it around in her hands before pulling the top off. Her fingers were nimble as she pulled out two pills and used the top of the bottle to crush them on a book. She brushed them into a glass of water that was about a quarter of the way full. She sniffed at the water before taking a small sip. Her nose wrinkled and she pulled the glass quickly away from her.

   “I don’t think the taste is going to bother him Ri.” Xander’s tone was kind in order to ease the harshness of his words.

   “Not after what he was eating,” John muttered and Carl elbowed him sharply in the side. Al shook his head as John shot Carl a look and rubbed at his offended ribs.

   Riley still appeared troubled as she turned her attention back to the boy. “Can you help me?” she asked Mary Ellen.

   Mary Ellen nodded and took hold of the boy’s chin before tipping his head back. “I wish we knew his name,” Riley murmured as she forced the glass between the boy’s lips.

   “Victor. His name is Victor,” Jim said from behind him. Al hadn’t even heard the man approach; it amazed him that someone Jim’s size could move so quietly and with such ease. Al stepped aside to let Jim further into the room. “I saw it on a basketball trophy upstairs.”

   “I like it,” Riley said as she poured the liquid carefully down the boy’s throat. Though he swallowed, he showed no sign of the medicine tasting as nasty to him as it had to Riley. Like a robot, or a puppy, Al thought as Victor took small sips of the water. “I played basketball when I was your age,” she said to Victor.

   “Peter doesn’t want you to do this?” Jim inquired.

   “No, he doesn’t,” Carl said.

   “Can I ask why?”

   “He thinks they’ll be a threat if we can cure them, that they will be a drain on the food supply,” Al answered.

   Jim lifted an eyebrow as his gaze went from Al to the boy again. “I can see his point on that, but he’s a child.”

   “They aren’t all children though,” Al said.

   Jim leaned against the wall and folded his arms over his chest. “True, but this might not even work and they are all people.” 

   “Peter has the same amount of concern for people as he would for a snake,” Riley murmured and wiped away a trickle of water that ran down Victor’s chin.

   Al rubbed at the stubble lining his jaw as he watched Riley with the child. It was going to break her heart if this didn’t work; he knew the hope of this was the main thing driving her since Bobby’s death. It was a good part of what had been keeping him going too, there had to be something good left in this world, something worth working toward other than just fighting to survive day after day. There had to be something more out there.

   But was what they were doing here, the more that they were searching for, the more that they needed? Were they making a mistake? Al tried not to think about that question, it was too late now to change anything anyway. There was no turning back and he wasn’t about to take the hope of this away from Riley, the others, or even himself. In this room there was hope. Beyond this there was only the broken roads they had been traveling and the promise of a cabin that may not even exist anymore.

   It seemed like far too bleak a prospect right now; one that he didn’t want to focus on. 

   “I think you may be right,” he said. Victor finished off the rest of the water and Mary Ellen lowered his head back down.

   Victor’s eyes remained distant as he stared blankly at the wall across from him. Riley placed the glass down and stood away from the child. “How long do you think it will take if it’s going to work?” she asked.

   “It could be an hour, or a day, maybe even a week. There’s no way for us to know Riley,” Xander said as he rested his hands on her shoulders and began to massage them. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

   “If we have to put him in the car like this Peter will fight us on it.”

   “That’s something to worry about tomorrow,” Al assured her. “For now let’s just watch over him and see what happens.”

   Riley nodded and sat before the boy again. She set the glass aside and leaned against the loveseat at her back. The shadows under her eyes made her appear even younger and for a moment she looked more like one of The Lost Souls than one of them. Al shook his head to clear it of the haunting image and turned to walk out of the room. He wouldn’t mind a drink himself, he’d actually prefer something a little bit stronger than water if there was any liquor in this house.

   In the dining room, he searched through the bottom of the hutch before uncovering a bottle of Crown Royal. It wasn’t his drink of choice but as he unscrewed the top and savored in the scent, he thought it was exactly what he needed.

   “You read my mind.”

   He glanced over his shoulder at Carl and rose with a crack of his knees. “It just seems like what is needed,” Al said.

   “You’re not going to get any argument out of me,” Carl told him.

   Al handed the bottle to Carl and pulled some glasses down from the top of the hutch. He glanced at the shadowed stairwell but he didn’t see anyone above and he didn’t hear any movement. “Let’s hope they’re sleeping,” he said.

   “I’m sure they are. Let’s drink this outside,” Carl suggested. “The smell of that rotten food will have my stomach turning before the whiskey does.”

   Al nodded his agreement and followed Carl out the door to where they had left the truck and cars. John and Donald followed them outside. Al handed Carl the glasses after Carl had settled himself onto the lawn. He watched as Carl poured the amber liquid into the glasses and passed them out to the others. Donald waved the glass of whiskey away before settling onto the ground beside Carl.

   Al’s gaze turned to the sky as the stars began to appear there. The twinkling lights were such a beautiful sight, one that he couldn’t tear his eyes away from as he sipped at his drink. No, whiskey wasn’t his drink of choice, but he thoroughly enjoyed the warmth that was beginning to work its way through him as the alcohol seeped into his system. The chirrup of crickets began to sound and for a brief second he felt the overwhelming urge to cry as he took in the stars, listened to the familiar sounds that had once filled the night on a regular basis, and savored in a simple drink.

   Human, he felt almost human again.

   “At least they had good taste in liquor,” Carl said.

   “That they did,” Al agreed.

   “What if this works on the boy?” John inquired. “Are we going to try to round up all of The Lost Souls if Victor happens to come out of whatever it is that has a hold on him?”

   “I don’t know. That’s too far ahead to even think about,” Carl answered.

   “If this is the way to help them than we should try to save as many of them as possible,” Donald said.

   “I think Dick, that’s what I think of Peter as now, is going to blow his top,” John said.

   “I think Dick is a much more suitable name.” Carl lifted his glass and saluted John with it before downing the rest of the contents in one long swallow. Carl refilled his own glass before topping off Al’s and John’s for them.

   “Peter might just be all growl and no go,” Donald said. “You know, maybe he’s all bluff and bluster but no bite.”

   Al swirled the liquid in his glass before lifting his head to meet Donald’s rust colored eyes. “I really hope you’re right.”

   “He’s still a dick,” John muttered and sipped at his whiskey as he walked over to the edge of the driveway.

   Dancing through the woods like fireflies, Al spotted four sets of eyes about three feet off the ground, and watching them, from amongst the trees. He froze, his pulse nearly doubled in the course of a second as fear curled through him. Al couldn’t tear his gaze away from those vivid, eerily disconnected eyes. At first he thought they belonged to humans that had crouched to watch them from the shadows. He almost dropped his glass on the ground to grab for his gun, but then one of the sets of eyes swiveled to the side and he was able to see the long neck of the animal the eyes belonged to.

   He still might need a gun, but he didn’t drop his glass. “Coyotes,” Carl said and he rose to his feet.

   Al nodded as John retreated a few steps away from the driveway. Another head turned away and then the animals were slipping through the shadows so stealthily that Al couldn’t hear their passing over the crickets. “I don’t want to tangle with one of those things but every time I see one, they give me a happy feeling,” John said and took a sip of his drink.

   “Glad to hear they can make your night,” Carl said.

   John chuckled as he moved closer to them. “Well they don’t make me as happy as a girl would, but yeah, they did make it a little better.”

   “I hear that,” Donald said.

   Al tilted his head back to look at the stars again; he took a deep breath and felt some of the tension ease from his shoulders and back. But then, good friends always had a way of making even the worst circumstances feel a little bit better, and he considered these people closer than people he had known for forty plus years.

   “To surviving,” he said and raised his glass to cheers with the others.

   “To surviving,” they said. Their glasses clinked together and Donald raised his finger to flick it against John’s glass.

   Al was turning away with his drink when Jim appeared in the doorway. “I think you guys had better come back inside,” he said in a tone of voice that made Al freeze mid sip.

   Donald rose to his feet. “Is it the boy?”

   “No, it’s Peter.”

   Those words made Al go cold; there was something in Jim’s eyes that brought to mind death. The glass tumbled from Al’s fingers and though it landed upon the grass it still broke into a couple of pieces. Fear spurred him onward but Carl made it to the doorway first with John close on his heels. Al followed behind with Donald at his side. Jim led the group swiftly toward the living room where they had left the others.

   Even before they reached the den, Al could hear the raised voices coming from the back. He recognized Peter’s deep baritone and Riley’s higher pitch as they spoke in a tone that made Al realize that whatever was happening was beginning to escalate.

   “He’s a child, an innocent child. You can’t hurt him!” Riley said fervently.

   “I’m not going to allow this to happen! I’ll kill him before this goes any further!” Peter spat.
   Al slid the gun from his waistband and gripped it before him as he stepped into the living room. Jim, Carl, and John spread out, moving closer to Xander, while Donald moved in the other direction, toward Mary Ellen. Al froze when he spotted Peter standing in the middle of the room with one gun pointed at Riley, and the other aimed at the back of Victor’s bent head. Riley had her hand on Xander’s arm, holding him back as he tried to get in between her and Peter. Mary Ellen was standing by the wall next to the loveseat; her empty hands were raised in the air above her head.

   “How did he get two guns?” John asked in a low hiss.

   “Shh,” Carl silenced him.

   “Oh look it’s the cavalry,” Peter snarled. “I bet every single one of you knew about this scheme of hers. I bet every single one of you were plotting on how to keep me out of this.” Peter moved the gun away from Riley and trained it around the room at each of them as he spoke.

   Al stiffened as Carl lifted his gun and pointed it back at Peter. “Don’t Peter, just put the guns down and we can talk about this reasonably,” Carl grated through his clenched teeth.

   “There is no talking about this. This is something that cannot be allowed to happen. This is an abomination in the worst form. This child and what she is doing shouldn’t be allowed to happen or exist!” Peter retorted.

   Xander pushed Riley’s hand aside and took a step in front of her as Peter swung the gun back toward her. “Don’t!” Riley cried and tried to push Xander out of the way but he remained planted where he was.

   Al’s heart began to pound a little faster as a muscle in Peter’s jaw started to twitch. Donald was wrong, he realized. There was far more than just bluff and bluster to this man. There was a madness that had seeped through his mind and rotted his soul. It radiated from his eyes; it showed in the sweat beading along his upper lip, the florid color of his face, and the large vein that was beginning to pulse in the center of his forehead.

   This is what insanity looks like, Al realized.

   It had finally happened, whatever thin thread of control Peter had been holding onto had been shredded by the discovery of the child. His brain had been starting to rot before then, but the discovery of the child had caused whatever fa├žade of normalcy Peter had been exhibiting to slip away completely. Now there was only a spiraling pit of madness left to him.

   Peter swung his gun toward Carl when he took a step forward. “Don’t move!” Peter spat. “Or I will kill him.” Carl glanced at Victor. “Put your hands up!” Carl’s jaw clenched, his eyes hardened, but even still he raised his hands slowly into the air. “You, you put your gun down!” Peter barked at Al. Al glanced at Carl and the others but when Peter’s finger tightened on the trigger of the gun he was aiming at the little boy, Al lowered his gun to his side. “On the floor!”

   Resentment and anger boiled within him, but he bent down to lower his gun to the floor before rising slowly again. “Put your guns down, Peter. It will be fine; we will just leave the boy here when we go tomorrow. We won’t take him with us,” Carl said in the tone of a parent trying to calm a three year old having a temper tantrum.

   “There will be other children and other people. You think I’m ever going to believe that you’re just going to walk away from this? I don’t. You think I don’t know that you’ve already considered leaving me behind. I’m not stupid. There is no way I’m going to allow you to leave me high and dry with no supplies, and without the added protection of more people to keep watch.”

   Al glanced at the unmoving boy and then at Riley and Xander. She had stopped trying to push Xander out of the way but the color had completely faded from her face. He spotted the gun at her hips that she had her hand resting on, but Peter would be able to shoot Xander before she got the gun free. John was in between Carl and Xander, his hand was on the gun at his waist, but he didn’t make any move to try and pull it free as Peter kept his gun aimed at Carl. Donald had moved closer to Mary Ellen who remained unarmed in the corner behind the boy. Al didn’t recall seeing Donald with his gun outside but he couldn’t be sure. He doubted Donald would have gone outside unarmed though.

   “So what it is that you want us to say or do?” Carl inquired. “Are you looking to take people with you, to tie yourself to someone? What is that you want?”      

   “I want Josh, Freddie, and Rochelle to stay with me, and I will be the one driving the truck from now on. You won’t leave me behind if I have them with me.” Al knew that Peter would handcuff the rest of them by keeping the children by his side and by taking control of the supplies. No one would do anything that would risk the children’s lives.
   “That’s not going to happen,” Jim said through clenched teeth. “My son isn’t going anywhere with you.”

   Peter swung the gun toward Jim as the large man took a threatening step toward him. Before any of them could react, before Al even knew what was happening, Peter pulled the trigger. Mary Ellen let out a small scream but slammed her hands over her mouth to stifle the rest of it. Al jumped and Carl leapt to the side as the man that had been standing between them stumbled backward. Jim’s mouth was open as he crashed into the wall; his hands clasped his chest but a large red stain was spreading across his shirt.

   Already beginning to recover, Carl was lowering his guns back down from above his head and Riley was trying to get out from behind Xander. Even though they were both already armed, Al knew that neither of them was going to get a round off in time to stop Peter from shooting more of them. Peter smiled smugly as his guns were already focused on Carl and Xander. There was a look of supreme satisfaction in Peter’s eyes that Al knew he would never forget. It would be as seared into his mind as clearly as the memory of his dying siblings, and the first time he’d ever met Nellie.

   This was what Peter had wanted all along, Al realized with a sinking sensation. He’d wanted them all dead and he’d wanted their supplies. Maybe Peter had been hoping to drag out their lives until they’d made it to the cabin, but they’d come to an impasse far faster than any of them had expected.

   Though everything seemed to be moving in slow motion, Al knew it had only been a second or two since Peter had fired the shot that would eventually end Jim’s life. He knew he wouldn’t be in time to save everyone, but there was no way he was going to do nothing while he watched his friends get murdered in cold blood. Kneeling down, he was grabbing for his gun when multiple gunshots sounded and blood splattered around him.

 

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Survivor Chronicles: Book 4 (Chapter 10, Carl)


Carl,

 

   Carl stood on the side of the door to the farmhouse and nodded to Xander to push it open. Xander turned the knob and ducked back to press himself against the wall across the way. Carl held his breath as he waited for something to come charging at them from inside. They had discovered the house after leaving the highway and entering the next town; it was the first one they’d come across that hadn’t had its windows broken out or its front door hanging open.

   Carl counted to fifty before poking his head around the corner of the doorway. The shadowed interior kept all of its secrets until he flicked his flashlight on and shone the beam around the small hall. The beam revealed racks of coats and shoes on one side and nothing but a forest green wall on the other. The scent of mildew and age permeated the hall; there was another closed white door across from him.

   “Mudroom,” Riley said quietly from beside him.

   He realized that she was right as he stepped inside. He crept across to the other door and shone the light through the window to aim it around the inside of the house. He could see the open door of the fridge, and the blue linoleum floor, but the beam didn’t go much further than the kitchen. Carl grabbed hold of the knob and pulled the door open.

   The stench of rotten food, or at least he hoped it was only rotten food, hit him hard. He recoiled from the potent aroma and threw his hand up in a useless attempt to block the smell but it had already been seared into his nostrils. Carl edged his way into the kitchen, the open fridge door directly to his right blocked most of his view of the room. He pushed the door of the fridge closed in order to reveal more of the wooden kitchen cabinets.

   Food and containers littered almost every inch of the floor. Most of it was moldy, and decayed beyond recognition, but it looked as if someone had at one point been eating it, he prayed not anytime soon. There were fingermarks in the nearly gone sticks of butter, and in the sugar and flour that had been dumped on the floor.

   “Oh ugh,” Riley said from behind him and threw her arm over her nose. Her blue eyes were watering, her nose wrinkled as she stared at him over top of her arm.

   “Maybe this isn’t a good place to stay for the night,” John muttered.

   A clattering noise from somewhere deeper in the house brought all of their heads around. Carl couldn’t tell if it had come from upstairs or down though. “I don’t think that’s a cat,” Xander said in a low whisper.

   “Maybe we should find somewhere else to stay,” John said more forcefully.

   “It’s too late to be driving around looking for places,” Carl told him. He brought his gun up before him as he stepped from the kitchen and into the dining room. “Plus this is a pretty rural area. There might not be a whole lot of other options around here.”

   “We’ll check upstairs,” Jim said and pointed to Josh, Mary Ellen, and Nancy to follow him to the stairs leading upward from the dining room.      

   “Be careful,” Carl said before continuing on to the den and finally the living room. His beam played over the photographs lining the walls and the furniture filling the rooms but he didn’t see anyone amongst the belongings of the home. He was turning away from the living room when an odd rubbing sound reached his ears.

   His right arm went straight out before him as he spun back to the room with the gun raised. He held the flashlight up with his other hand to study the shadowed recesses more closely. He didn’t see anything within the room and didn’t know where someone could possibly be hiding, but he knew there was someone else within the room.

   John placed his hand on Carl’s shoulder and slid past him to stand in the corner of the room. Carl pointed to the right, toward the end of the couch. He thought that might be where the noise had been coming from. John nodded and began to creep forward. The space between the couch and the wall didn’t look as if it were big enough for a five year old to hide behind, but then he never would have expected Nancy to fit into the trunk that she had crammed herself into. Riley and Xander came in behind him and moved toward the front of the couch as he walked to the end opposite of John.

   The tension in the room was nearly palpable; he didn’t even hear a breath from anyone as he kept his flashlight focused on the wall opposite the couch. He didn’t want whatever was back there to know that they were approaching the piece of furniture. Something scraped against the wall again as Carl stepped around the arm of the couch. He kept his gun before him as he spun, bent down low, and shone the light into the dark recesses behind the couch.   

   At first all he saw was a human back and then a face turned slowly toward him. Carl almost fell on his ass as for a second he thought the child was going to launch at him and try to eat him, but the boy remained crouched behind the couch, his hands clutching something that Carl couldn’t see. The dull look in the boy’s eyes, and his slack expression, made Carl realize this boy wasn’t going to attack them; that this child was one of The Lost Souls.

   “It’s a child,” Riley whispered from where she was kneeling in the middle of the couch so that she could peer over the back.

   “It’s a sick child,” Carl emphasized. He took a crouched step closer to the boy whose cat green eyes remained unwavering and unseeing upon Carl. Those eyes were vivid in the glow of the flashlight, and more than a little unsettling, but Carl knew they couldn’t leave the child there.

   Carl held his hand out to the boy but he remained unmoving behind the piece of furniture. The child simply raised his hands and took a bite of whatever it was that he was holding. Carl had the unsettling feeling it was some of the remains that had been sprawled and rotting on the kitchen floor. His stomach turned over at the thought, but he continued to hold his hand out to the small child. It was difficult to tell the boy’s age due to the dirt smearing his face and the sharp angles of his sunken cheeks, but judging by his size Carl guessed he was no older than six or seven.

   “It’s ok.” Carl coaxed the child like he would coax any other animal he was trying to get out of hiding as he waved his fingers at him and spoke in a low, soothing tone. The boy didn’t seem to be afraid of him, but he didn’t move and he didn’t acknowledge Carl’s words as he continued to stare unseeingly forward. “We’re not going to hurt you.”

   “I think we’re going to have to move the couch to get him out,” Riley said.

   Carl nodded his agreement and rose to his feet. Riley and Xander climbed off the couch and he and John each grabbed an end. They lifted it up and moved it away from the wall. The boy didn’t run away but his head turned to take in the people that gathered around him.

   “Careful,” Xander said as Riley edged around the couch and crept closer to the child.

   Carl’s nose wrinkled as he moved closer to the child’s other side. Though the boy wasn’t covered in feces or urine there was an aroma emitting from him that led Carl to believe he hadn’t washed himself since all of this had started. He was pretty sure there were three day old bodies, on a hot August day, that smelled better than the child did. At least these Lost Souls appeared to be coherent enough to take care of their waste in a civilized manner, but then most animals were careful not to sleep in their own waste or to have the odor of it on them.

   Animal, that was what he was convinced he was looking at right now. A human being who had been stripped of all coherent thought and left only with the ability to live in some form or another, no matter how good or bad that form was. At least the boy wasn’t trying to eat them though, that was a bonus.

   “It’s ok,” Riley said as she knelt at the boy’s side and reached out to touch his arm.

   The boy turned toward her but didn’t acknowledge her hand upon his arm. “He needs a bath,” John muttered.

   “We’ll get him one,” Riley assured him.

   “Just be careful,” Xander said again.

   “I am,” she murmured as she ran her hand over the boy’s bruised arm.

   Unlike the more vicious ones these Lost Souls didn’t have the petechial rash the angrier ones exhibited. It was strange to see the different effects of whatever was raging through the ones that had fallen ill so up close and personal. They were both completely different from each other. One was full of rage and uglier than a hairless cat with boils. The other was calm, and though not the healthiest looking, there was still something human to them. The boy dropped his hands away from his face and remained against the wall as he stared blankly ahead of him.

   “Help me get him up Carl,” Riley said.

   Vicious man-eater or not, Carl wasn’t at all thrilled about the idea of touching the child. They still didn’t know how this disease spread, he was ninety-nine percent sure it wasn’t through touch or bites, but his skin crawled at the idea of coming into such close proximity with one of those people on purpose. Even so, he couldn’t just walk away from him. Carl suppressed a groan as his fingers wrapped all the way around the child’s bicep with room to spare.  

   He helped Riley lead the boy out from behind the couch, they moved him into the center of the room and settled him on the ground. “We’ll get some water and we can wash him off,” Riley suggested.

   “You better get a fire hose,” John muttered.

   Riley shot him a disapproving look and though Carl wanted to do the same, he found himself secretly agreeing with John. He took a step away from the boy and wiped his hands on his jeans. It wasn’t enough; he needed to find some soap and a scrub brush as soon as possible. None of it seemed to bother Riley though as she knelt before the boy to study him more closely.

   “He’s pulled out some of his hair but he hasn’t picked at his skin like some of the others,” she murmured.

   Carl looked down at the pink bald spots on the boy’s skull. “That’s because he had food to keep him busy in the kitchen,” John said.

   Riley finally showed some sign of being repulsed as her upper lip curled and she leaned a little further away from the child. “Can someone get me some water and towels?” she asked. “After we clean him up we can try the L-Dopa on him.”

   “We’ll make sure the rest of the house is empty first, and that the others are safe, and then we’ll bring you some,” Carl told her and nodded to John to follow him from the room.

   “See if you can find him some clothes too,” she instructed as he moved toward the door that led into the den.

   “We will,” Carl promised her.

   “I’m going to stay here,” Xander said. “I’m not leaving her alone with him.”

   Though the child remained unmoving in the middle of the room, he understood Xander’s concern as Riley settled in beside the boy with her gun in her lap. She was too focused on trying to save someone to realize how much of a risk the boy could represent to them. “We’ll be back soon,” Carl promised.

   Xander stepped away from them and walked over to stand protectively beside Riley. John followed him into the den and pulled on the sleeve of his shirt to halt him in the dining room. “Peter is not going to like what she wants to do,” John whispered.

   Carl nodded as he glanced toward the doorway leading outside. Peter was still out with the cars, or at least he had been the last time that Carl had seen him. “I know and I don’t care. It needs to be done; we have to know if there is something we can do for those people. It may be our biggest help in all of this.”

   “Or it could be our biggest downfall,” John said.

   Carl didn’t want to acknowledge that, if he did he would have to acknowledge the fact that it may very well be better for them to let people suffer and die. To let that boy suffer and die. He’d never thought of himself as an overly compassionate man but he simply couldn’t walk away from that broken child without trying to do something for him.

   “It could,” he said thoughtfully.

   “But we’re going to try it anyway.”

   “Isn’t that what humans have done throughout history, trial and error? Sometimes it worked in our favor and other times it was a giant failure. It’s always been a live and learn process for millennia.”

   “Yeah well, tell that to the people at Chernobyl.”

   Carl chuckled as he glanced at the still empty doorway. “Come on let’s go find the others.”

   They met Jim at the top of the stairs as he came out of a bedroom on the right. “It’s all clear up here,” Jim informed him.

   Carl stared at the shadowed room beyond Jim. “Did you look in every spot, even the really small ones you wouldn’t think anyone could fit into?”

   Jim frowned at him and folded his arms over his chest. “What happened?”  

   “We found a boy downstairs, he’s one of the ones that just wander aimlessly about, one of The Lost Souls as we’ve come to call them,” Carl told them. “And he had crammed himself behind the couch.”

   “I made sure to look everywhere,” Nancy said quietly.

   She would have thought to do so, Carl realized with a sense of relief. Jim stared down the stairs past him and John with a thoughtful frown on his face. “Are you sure the boy is one of these Lost Souls?” he inquired.

   A chill slid down Carl’s spine as Jim’s words caused a thrill of apprehension to shoot through him. The sick ones are smart, he thought, far smarter than they had given them credit for a few times. The child didn’t have a rash, but how did he know for certain that all of the angrier ones would have the rash? Without a word, Carl spun on the stairs and rushed down the steps. He could hear the footsteps of the others behind him as he raced through the dining room and back through the den. He was breathless by the time he arrived in the living room. Riley jumped to her feet at the sight of him and Xander spun toward him.

   “What’s wrong?” Riley demanded.

   Carl inhaled a shaky breath as he took in the immobile boy still sitting on the floor staring at the wall. The cannibalistic ones may be smarter than he liked but this boy wasn’t one of them. He put the gun back in the waistband of his jeans. “Nothing,” he assured her. “The house is clear.”

   Riley didn’t look as if she completely believed him but she didn’t question him further as her attention turned back to the boy. “Did you find any clothes for him?”

   “No, I forgot,” Carl told her.

   “I’ll look for some now,” Jim volunteered. “I know which room is his.”

   “I’ll go with you,” Nancy said and turned away from the door.

   “Don’t tell anyone else the boy is here,” Carl said before they could leave the room. They exchanged puzzled looks before turning back to him. “I’ll explain later, just don’t let the others know he’s here yet.”

   “Peter?” Jim asked.

   “Yes.” That seemed to be all Jim needed to hear as he bowed his head and left the room.

   Mary Ellen brushed past Carl and walked over to where the boy sat. “He’s so young,” she murmured.

   “He is,” Riley agreed before going to stand next to the window. She pulled the blinds down to peer out; Carl spotted a swing set in the growing twilight. One of the swings was swaying back and forth in the small breeze outside. “It’s going to be a long night,” Riley murmured before releasing the blind and stepping away from the window.

   “We should probably go get the others,” Mary Ellen said.

   Carl was dreading speaking with Peter but he wasn’t going to avoid the man; that was the last thing he was going to do. “I’ll come with you, I want to get the L-Dopa, some towels, and water for him,” Riley said. “Will you stay with him?”

   Mary Ellen nodded in response to Riley’s question. Carl didn’t think it was the best idea for Riley to be around Peter, there was a little too much hostility between the two of them, but Riley was already walking out of the room. Carl and Xander followed behind her while John and Mary Ellen stayed in the room with the boy.

   Al was standing on the porch with Donald when they left the house. Claire and Freddie were standing near the truck with Rochelle. Carl searched for Peter but didn’t see him in the growing darkness. “Where did he go?” he asked Al.

   Al didn’t even ask who. “Peter’s behind the shed.”

   Riley hurried down the stairs and to the car. Carl waited until she was searching through the backseat before continuing to talk with Al. “There’s a boy inside. A Lost Soul.”

   Though his attention had been focused on the shed, Al’s head slowly turned toward him. “How bad of condition is he in?”

   “Not as bad as some of the others we’ve seen. He’s been eating the food that was in the house.”

   Al glanced at Riley as she reemerged from the car, and then Peter as he appeared from behind the shed. “We should probably try and keep them separated and Peter should be kept away from the boy.”

   “I was thinking the same thing,” Carl agreed.

   Riley climbed the stairs of the porch and disappeared inside. “Are we good to go inside?” Rochelle inquired.

   “Yes,” Carl answered. “It would probably be best if you went straight upstairs though. The food rotted downstairs and it smells like crap.”

   “Thanks for the heads up,” she said as she walked by him.

   Carl followed them into the house and tried to appear casual as he stood protectively in the doorway of the den and waited for the others to file upstairs. Even with Peter safely above, he couldn’t shake the feeling that this night was not going to end well.

 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Giveaway!

 I've decided to start doing monthly giveaways. These giveaways will run on Erica and Brenda's pages. There will be five winners chosen. The first prize winner will receive a $50 GC to Amazon and a signed paperback of their choice. The other four winners will receive a $5 GC to Amazon and a paperback of their choice. The winners will be chosen at random. 
To enter simply go to the Erica Stevens FB page. https://www.facebook.com/ericastevens679
 

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Survivor Chronicles: Book 4 (Chapter 9, Riley)


Riley,

 

   The sun was beginning to peak around the edges of the curtain when her chin hit her chest again. Riley’s head shot up and she blinked in confusion as she stared around the small room. She’d been waking up in some pretty strange places lately, but even still, it took her a minute to figure out where she was. She bolted upright when she recalled the events of the night and grabbed hold of the curtain. Taking a deep breath to steady herself, she pulled the material back a little to peer out at the dawning day.

   Her eyes instantly went to the large pickup truck the others had taken shelter under last night, but she saw nothing beneath it. Panic clawed at her chest as she stared at the empty place where Xander, Donald, and John had been less than an hour ago. Her hand clenched around the curtain as she slowly rose to her feet. She scanned the parking lot but she saw no sign of them amongst the vehicles in the lot.

   “Did you see them?” she demanded, though she had remained the closest person to the window. She hadn’t been able to move away from it throughout the night. A few heads lifted to look at her but the others remained asleep. “Did you see where they went?”

   By the backdoor, Carl placed his hand on the floor and pushed himself to his feet. His bones cracked, his eyes were on the floor as he strode quickly toward her. It seemed as if he didn’t have the energy to lift his head until he reached the window. Riley focused outside again as Carl stopped on the other side of the window and pulled the curtain back to peer out at the parking lot. He released a low curse and stood on his toes to try and search over top of the vehicles.

   “I’m sure they just moved,” he muttered but the tension in his voice was palpable.

   She’d heard Al’s approach before he rested his hand on her arm and stepped next to her. Riley’s heart hammered in her chest, tears burned her eyes but she refused to shed them as she continued to scan the parking lot. They had to have moved, but where? How could she have fallen asleep? How could she have lost track of them in the night?

   Self-hatred and dismay were beginning to swamp her when she spotted the door of the truck inching open. She couldn’t see who was opening the door but she leaned forward in search of her friends. John’s head popped up for a second and then disappeared again. He reappeared once more when he squirmed into the bench seat of the truck. She’d never felt so relieved in her life but she saw no sign of the others with him. 

   She watched as the truck pulled out of the parking spot John had left it in. Behind it, she spotted the two cars pulling out. The overwhelming urge to cry swamped her but she took a steadying breath and turned away from the window. “They’re coming,” she told the others. “We have to go.”

   Mary Ellen reached over and shook Rochelle’s shoulder to wake her and Jim lifted his head. Carl turned away from the window to survey the family that had given them sanctuary last night. “Do you plan to stay here?” Carl asked them quietly and shot a look to where Peter was sitting against the wall with his chin on his chest. He appeared to be sleeping but Riley wasn’t entirely convinced about that.

   Jim looked toward Peter too and then his family. “Where are you going?” Claire asked.

   “To a cabin in the Catskills, hopefully we can make a home of it there, or at least a stand for a bit,” Al informed them. “You don’t have to stay there with us, but I don’t think staying here is a good idea. Not anymore.”

   Claire and Jim exchanged a look that Riley couldn’t read but they seemed to be having some kind of silent conversation. “We have no food here, no supplies, but we may be able to find more, and they haven’t found us here.” Claire wrapped her arm around Freddie as she spoke; her gaze darted worriedly over them. “We don’t know what’s out there and we’ve made a stand here for this long.”

   “It’s not safe in here though,” Jim said.

   Riley heard the truck’s engine as it pulled around to the back of the building. “They can’t wait out there much longer for us,” she told them. “Not without drawing the attention of some unwanted company.”

   “I want to go,” Freddie said quietly. He twisted to look up at his mother. “I don’t want to be alone anymore and I think it’s only a matter of time before they find us. What happens if we can’t find anymore supplies? Or what if they get dad? What do we do then mom?”

   Claire stared at Freddie for a minute before looking toward her husband again. Riley could see the indecision on Claire’s face but she also felt the sway that her son’s words had over her. Riley looked toward Nancy as she lifted her head to study the family. Though she’d had a bit of a breakdown last night, she seemed to be back in control of herself now. Nancy rose unsteadily to her feet and leaned against the door.

   A soft knock on the backdoor drew all of their attention to it. Nancy’s hand was shaking as she unlocked it and pulled it open to reveal Donald standing in the doorway. Riley strained to see past him to Xander, but Donald was blocking most of the frame.

   “We’ll come with you,” Claire finally said. “I don’t want to be alone anymore either.”

   Jim gave a brief bow of his head. “Someone is going to have to ride in the back of the truck,” Carl said.

   “I will,” Freddie volunteered eagerly.

   “I will too,” Josh said quietly and knelt down to shake Peter’s shoulder.

   The man confirmed Riley’s suspicions that he wasn’t asleep when he immediately lifted his head and focused directly on Josh. Riley waited to hear what he was going to say but he remained mute as his eyes drifted past Josh and latched onto her. A shudder rippled through her, there was something about his gaze that made her flesh crawl. She was gripped with the certainty that during the night something inside of him had completely unraveled. That there was a madness, even worse than the sickness outside, now slithering through his mind.

   There was a part of her that was tempted to lift her gun and destroy that madness before it swallowed them all whole. She didn’t bring her gun up though, instead she found herself frozen by his stare, unable to look away. She may feel like he was no longer there anymore, but he’d done nothing to hurt any of them.

   Peter broke the stare first and focused on where the others had begun to gather by the back door. Riley found herself finally able to draw a breath but she couldn’t shake the memory of that stare or the sensation of ants crawling over her skin. She rubbed her arms but it did nothing to ward off the chill that was creeping through her system.

   Trying to shake off her lingering dread, she walked over to join the others. She wanted to speak with Carl or Al but the words were lodged in her throat. She didn’t even know what words she would use, or have any idea of what she would say.

   Before she could decide what to do, Xander stepped up next to Donald on the stairs; Riley forgot all about Peter as she pushed past Nancy and flung herself into his arms. He grunted from the force of her impact but his arms wrapped around her and his hands pressed firmly into her upper back as he hugged her closer.

   “Don’t do that again,” she said as she kissed his mouth, then his cheek and finally buried her face in his neck.

   “I’ll try not to,” he promised her.

   She leaned back to look at him and grabbed hold of both of his cheeks. The gold and green flecks in his bloodshot, and swollen hazel eyes, were some of the most beautiful things she had ever seen. “Are you ok?” she demanded.

   He nodded and kissed the tip of her nose. “I’m all good Dumbo.”

   She glowered at him. “You’re an ass.”

   “I know but I much prefer you angry to worried.”

   Riley shook her head at him but she kissed him again before releasing him. They had to get on the road and she really wanted out of this room. “We should go.”

   He kept hold of her hand as he turned and led her over to the car. “You need some sleep,” she told him as she took the keys from him and slid into the driver’s seat. Nancy and Al climbed into the back and she turned to see Josh, Freddie, and Jim climbing into the back of the truck. Carl closed and locked the doors behind them. Spooky hopped out of Nancy’s lap and settled onto the console in the middle of the car. Riley absently scratched behind the cat’s ears before starting the car and putting it into drive.

   Pulling out of the parking lot, she spotted a group of sick people by the front door of the building across the street. She could almost feel the hunger radiating from them as they began to move toward the vehicles. Driving down the road, relief filled her as she turned onto the highway again. She didn’t see anymore sick people once they got back on the interstate, but she could feel them lurking within the shadows of the woods along the side of the road.

   “Please let us get there today.”

   She hadn’t realized she’d said the words out loud until Al spoke from the backseat. “It’s a good possibility.”

   A part of her wanted to shout with joy but she was afraid to get too far ahead of herself as they drove around a bend and began to climb higher into the mountains. Xander’s head dropped against the window and he began to snore quietly. Riley found a strange sense of comfort in the noise and she began to zone out. Without thinking, she leaned over and turned the radio on.

   Static squelched through the speakers and she hurriedly turned it back off. The sudden silence was almost more than she could stand as they rounded a bend in the highway, but the static was just a stark reminder that there seemed to be little left out there.

   Riley was forced to slow the car as they came across a large jumble of vehicles in the road. She drove into the grass of the median and onto the other side of the highway. She was almost onto the pavement when she saw the people amongst the shadows, watching them from the woods. At first she thought it was the rabid sick ones, but when they remained unmoving she realized it was The Lost Souls standing amongst the trees. Her foot eased on the gas pedal so that she could watch as the people remained unmoving.

   A part of her was tempted to pull over and see if perhaps they could take one of those people for the L-Dopa experiment, but there were too many of them within the shadows. These sick ones had never displayed any hostility before, but there was no way to know how any of The Lost Souls would react to them. There were at least fifty of them gathered within the shadows of the forest, a number that was far higher than she was willing to deal with right now.

   Her eyes slid over their bony shoulders and sunken cheeks. Most of them weren’t even wearing clothes anymore, and the ones that were could almost be considered naked for the scraps were barely covering them. They weren’t picking at their skin and hair but the absolute stillness of them was even more unnerving as she drove by person after person standing as still as stone.

   Riley shuddered and tore her eyes away from the tree line. The going was slow along the highway. A rockslide at one point forced them to double back to the last exit they had passed. Riley’s joy over possibly reaching the cabin today began to dwindle as the sun rose higher into the sky and they were still trying to find their way back to the highway. It was hours later before they finally returned to the interstate after driving through a cluster of small towns and back roads.

   “Take this exit,” Al told her.

   A green exit sign was lying on the side of the road when she made the turn. She studied the nearly empty parking lot of the large mall on their right as they drove up the ramp, but she had absolutely no interest in getting off of the highway to explore what appeared to be a rather busy area as more businesses and stores were revealed on both sides of the highway.

   “Where are we?” she asked quietly as Xander and Nancy had fallen asleep again about a half an hour ago.

   “This is Middletown; we’re only about thirty miles away now,” Al answered.

   So close, and yet so far, she realized as the sun dropped steadily lower in the sky. They were about five miles away from Middletown when she pulled to the side of the road to stretch her legs, grab some food, and hopefully refill the car. She didn’t know if they were going to make it much further before nightfall, but they certainly weren’t going to be able to drive there if they didn’t stop for some gas now.

   Riley climbed out of the car and tilted her head back to take in the pink sky. The air seemed fresher here, less oppressive. Mountain air, she thought as she closed the car door, but she knew it was more than that. The air was becoming clearer, the red was bleeding out of the sky, and she couldn’t help but think that the blue would be returning for good soon.

   The others were gathering near the back of the truck as she eyed the woods. The pressure in her bladder was more than she could stand for much longer. “I’ll be right back. Nature calls,” she said to Xander as he rubbed at his eyes and yawned.

   “You shouldn’t go alone,” he told her.

   “We’re not that close Xander.”

   He gave her a lopsided grin that caused her heart to melt. “Believe me, it’s not my idea of a good time with you either. That will come later.”

   Her mouth dropped when he winked at her. She hated the heat that crept into her cheeks as she turned away from him, but she couldn’t stop it. “Jack ass,” she muttered.

   His chuckle did nothing to soothe her irritation with him as she walked into the forest. She heard his feet crunching on the leaves and sticks behind her, but he stopped walking when she ducked behind a tree. She did what she had to do quickly and stepped out from behind the tree. She was about to rejoin Xander when some movement in the trees caught her attention. Her hand went to her gun as she scanned the thick foliage surrounding them.

   Riley couldn’t help but smile as a deer head popped up over top of a mountain laurel. The last thing she wanted was to eat Bambi, but the deer was proof that there was food here; that there was hope for survival amongst these mountains. She was turning away from the deer when something else caught her attention. Through the swaying trees, she could see a distant house on the horizon.

   The deer darted away when she walked toward the house. “What are you doing?” Xander hissed from behind her.

   She waved her hand at him as she strode through the trees. She stopped walking and stood at the edge of the wood line to stare at the small blue farmhouse in the distance. “What are you doing?” Xander demanded again as he stepped beside her.

   Riley stared down at the mound at the far side of the pasture. Her stomach twisted as she realized that it was another strange heap of horses. The already bizarre seemed even more disturbing with the luscious green grass that was growing in the pasture around them.

   “There’s people there,” she said quietly.

   “What makes you say that?” he inquired.

   She pointed to where a deer was hanging from a hook off of the barn. “That deer hasn’t been there for long.”

   “No it hasn’t,” he agreed.

   The snap of a stick cracking behind them brought both of their heads around. Carl and John were fifteen feet away and moving through the woods toward them. “What’s up?” Carl inquired.

   “There’s a home,” Riley answered and turned back to the farm.

   Carl stepped up to her other side and looked down. “More mounds,” he said.

   “More mounds,” she confirmed. “The people in the house are alive though.”

   “So strange,” he murmured as he rubbed at his chin. She thought that was understatement of the year as she turned her attention back to the mound of dead animals. “I think it would be best if we found somewhere to settle in for the night,” Carl said but his voice was hushed. “We’re not going to make it to the cabin today.”

   “Do you want to check out the house?” Riley inquired.

   Carl was silent for a minute before he shook his head. “I don’t see any reason to risk a confrontation.”

   “And I’ve had enough of people pointing guns at me,” Xander said.

   John nodded as he shifted from foot to foot. “I have to agree with that.”

   “I don’t think staying on the roadside is a good idea, not after that mob we saw yesterday. We should try and find shelter,” Carl said as he lit a cigarette.

   So did Riley, but she didn’t say so as she turned away from the farm. “Let’s get moving then.”

   They made their way back through the woods and to the others. Donald, Jim, Nancy, and Al were moving through the sparse vehicles abandoned along the roadway searching for supplies and gas. Freddie, Rochelle, and Josh had gathered near the car, and though she knew they weren’t much younger than she was, she suddenly felt ancient as she stared at their bowed heads.

   She didn’t want to look, but her gaze drifted to Peter as he moved through another set of vehicles in search of something. He appeared completely normal, but the look she’d seen in his eyes earlier still haunted her. With a sigh, she followed Xander and the others down the embankment to the roadside. 

   Climbing into the car, she waited for the others to join her. Al settled in beside her and pointed down the road. “The towns were all small through here; it shouldn’t be hard to find a remote home or store to stay in. I hope,” he added in a mutter.

   Riley really hoped so too as she shifted the car into drive. Her gaze scanned the still roadway, she saw nothing out there but she knew the unseen was often more frightening than the seen.