Short Story: Shattered Memories: A Beginning

Posted: 2011/09/19 in contest, Short story, Zombie fiction
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Shattered Memories: A Beginning

By: Dale K Ostrom

No matter how long it’s been, no matter how many times his eyes closed for the night it came, the enveloping darkness. Within the darkness lay a never ending night mare, forever unfolding like a paper crane. He used to think it would fully shatter his sanity, like glimmering shards of a broken mirror. But the pieces never fell; they only hardened into unyielding steel. Forged of hatred, vengeance, anger, tied like links in a chain. So now the dream played every time his eyes closed, and it was welcomed.

Steven Harper opened his eyes slowly. The room was pitch black; a humid sweat clung to him as he reached for the bed side clock. The blocky blue numbers read 2:15 A.M. What had awakened him? He laid there wondering, his eyes closing to drift back to sleep. But then it came again, a morbid, blood curdling scream. The forceful pain in that scream cut through all thoughts like a razors edge. A child’s scream that tore through the air, a scream beyond any nightmare.

All sense of sleep lost he threw the sweat sodden sheets away and hurried through the darkness. Throwing open the closet door he reached in grasping the cold steel barrel of his father’s Remington 12 Gauge. In hand he raced out of the bedroom, heart pumping rapidly in his chest. A cold pit of dread filled his stomach with a deep leaden weight. Down the hall his bare feet smacked loudly against the cool wood floor. He grasped the stair well banister in a white knuckled grip, listening for the intruder. But the only sound was the drum beat of his heart, blood pounding in his ears like waves against a rocky shore. Somehow that made it worse, the oppressive silence, mixed with the humid summer air made him hasten down the stairs. A raging bull, ripping pictures off the wall, excising a loud moan as he descended.

But he’d fixed that last fall…..

Reaching the bottom, he vaulted right, kicking a stand whit his bare feet. It skittered down the gloomy hallway, creating a loud crash as it came to rest, the porcelain vase that had sat upon it smacked loudly against the door to Sarah’s room. The pain was a forlorn thought that never registered in his mind though, or the broken pieces of the vase that dug into the soles of his feet, tearing at the soft flesh.

The children didn’t like to be alone. Not after their mother had died in a tragic accident a few years back.  Steven couldn’t blame them in that; it was a hard thing for a child so young to endure. It had nearly destroyed him too, but they needed him. Adam, Sarah, Megan; they needed him more than the selfish desires that had crossed his mind. They were all he had left now to live for. Dating hadn’t seemed right after Kirsten had died, now the kids all slept together in Sarah’s room at night. He’d tried separating them, but by morning they were all in there again….

Sarah. Tall and beautiful, with her mother’s tan complexion. She had those soft doe brown eyes, and such full long brown hair. She liked to crawl in his lap during football season and have her hair brushed and put up into braids. The perfect young women! She’d be starting kindergarten come fall; her mother would have had to make a scene, surely.

Then there was Adam. Light brown hair, eyes like a clear morning sky in the Big Horns. Somehow he always held up stronger than he should have for a child his age. But he was smart, always asking questions Steven didn’t have the slightest answers to.  He was always ready for a new journey into the unknown; it helped to remind Steven that there was more to the world beyond their front door.  Adam would be looking forward to Second Grade and making up monster stories with his friend’s.

Finally there was Megan, she seemed the odd one out most time. A head of short blond curls that would never stay down. The biggest blue eyes that loved to twinkle like starts when full of mischief. She had an independent streak a country mile wide, and stubborn to boot, with a fierce lions temper. He always liked to think she took after him the most, but then again she took Kirsten’s death harder than the rest. The counselors added that up to her young age, that she couldn’t comprehend what death meant. But he knew better, she was her mom’s baby. Always clinging to her like a lost puppy whenever they were out. The weeks that followed the accident Megan would wander the house asking “Where’s Momma?”

It tore him apart to look into those big blue eyes, full of innocent confusion and tell her, “Momma can’t come home baby girl.” She still asked on occasion, and cried at the answer he painfully gave her. But she bounced back like a yoyo on a string, and before long her sweet laughter filled the house once again.

They were everything he had left, his life and soul now.

But now he hesitated to open the door. The eerie silence was broken only by an odd moaning, drawn out and sorrowful. It sent a splintering chill down his spine, and Steven was afraid.  It wasn’t fear for himself, but he was terrified at what may lay beyond that door.  In the room where he had kissed them all goodnight, before taking his Ambien and retiring for the night… He didn’t want that to be the last time, it couldn’t be possible. This couldn’t be the end of their smiles, the soft laughter, the tender hugs, yet as much as he prayed he’d open that door and they would all be peacefully sleeping. That feeling in the depths of his dying soul told him it to be a lie. The same felling had come upon him the night the phone rang when Kirsten died, he’d known it would change his life forever, and it didn’t matter a damn bit if he picked up the receiver. They say once fate places you in its merciless clutches, there’s no escape.

So with icy tendrils snaking toward his heart, his mouth dry, feeling stuffed with wool, he reached out with shaking hands. The brass knob felt cool against his clammy skin as it turned open, the door slowly swinging inward.

Then it all turned into an unthinkably savage nightmare, he’d seen cleaner butcher shops.  What waited him on the other side of the soft pink door was chaos. At first all Steven noticed were the curtains flapping lazily in the breeze from the open window. Then as his eyes adjusted to the dim moonlit darkness he found himself in hell. The TV lay broken in front of the window, its screen shattered underneath, the dresser lay mauled on its side, the drawers ripped out and thrown around the room. Blood stained clothes and blankets laid strewn out upon the floor, bloody hand prints dripped wetly from the walls. Oozing onto the saturated carpet. The mattress lay half off the bed as if someone was desperately trying to get at what lay beneath. The sickening coppery taste of blood filled his nostrils even as he felt the bile coming up in his throat.

Leaning over he spilt the contents of their last meal upon a pile of blood speckled toys. Only the shotgun save him, holding him upright as vomit spewed out of his mouth. When he was able to stand again and wipe the sweat and vomit from his face, he saw the first body. Half covered in a blood sodden heap of torn and ravaged flesh in the corner, he felt his mouth go dry as the urge to retch came upon him again. But there was nothing left, Steven could only stare; her soft brown hair was a matted mess of blood plastered to the side of her now pale face. Her brown eyes stared lifeless and empty at the celling. Worst was the gaping hole in her neck, like a savage dog had brutally clamped his jaws around the soft warm flesh and tore it out.

He was petrified, staring at his life as she laid dead on the floor, an overpowering stench of death and decay hanging in the air, mixing with the coppery scent of blood. He stared in a numb daze as the room began to spin slowly around him, the shock hitting him like a torrential river of ice. His whole world was crashing in, like a tidal wave, a wave to wash away the sandcastle they’d built on their trip to the east coast. Each grain of life slipping slowly into the sea, lost forever to the drifting tides.

All hope lost, he hardly noticed when something cold and wet gripped weekly to his ankle. He slowly turned his gaze downward, only to find a small blood soaked hand grasping him from beneath a mass of ruined linen.  Holding in all hope, Steven slowly lowered himself to the floor pushing back the sheets to find big blue eyes staring up at him dimly.  He quickly withdrew the rest of the coverings back to reveal little Megan’s ravaged body.

“Daddy,” she said, smiling up at him weakly.  “The boogey man came.”

He gently pulled her broken body into his lap, holding back the tears he refused to let come. “It’s ok baby, the boogey man’s gone now; Daddy’s going to make it all better.” He tried to sound reassuring, even as her eyes began to fade.

“Daddy, where’s Mommy?” She said.

It was all he could manage to speak beyond the lump in his throat, yet his voice still came out in a choke. “Don’t worry baby girl, you can see Mommy soon. We’ll all be together very soon.”

A slight smile played across her blood stained lips, her eyes glittered with a moment’s happiness. “I love you Daddy! Adam made the bad boogey man go back in the closet.” She said, letting out another shuddering breath, her lungs rasping through the puncture in her throat. Blood slowly trickling out, as her life faded.

“Don’t worry about that now baby; it’s going to be all right. Mommy’s going to come get you now. Never forget how much I love you…” His voice trailed off as he looked away. How could this be real?

“I’m so tired Dad, can I go back to sleep now?” She asked even as the last spark of life left her eyes. Her eyelids came to a gentle close as she took her last shuddering breath of life, leaving him as quickly as she came.

“Goodnight baby… Daddy’s going to join you soon.” He brushed her blood matted curls back as he leaned down and kissed her forehead one last time. “I love you angel” Then the moaning came again, louder than before. It was coming from the closed closet door to his left.

Gently raising her head, he lifted Megan up, and placed her down upon the askew mattress, then turning he walked over to where Sarah lay. He fixed her hair the best he could before laying her down beside her sister, and placing a gentle kiss upon her cold brow.

Picking the shotgun back up off the floor Steven made his way over to the closet door. With a shaking hand he grasped the brushed silver handle, and slowly opened it outward. What was inside defied all rational sense. Inside was a man with wisps of graying hair sticking out from a sunken in skull, the left side of his face was ripped off; his eye was hanging out of its socket by a tendril of red flesh. The stench of rot and decay assaulted him as he watched the man take another bite out of Adam’s small body. His clothes were torn and falling off his body, gashes and bites showed here and there between the tears. A guttural moan came from his throat every time he swallowed a piece of flesh from Adam’s mutilated corpse.

The man had broken off Adam’s right arm, now only a stump remained, raged tendrils of sinew hung from the stump, white bone jutting out. It was a grizzly seen; his stomach had been ripped open, the intestines pulled out. The murderer kept reaching in and grasping at more innards, pulling them to his mouth and devouring without care. Blood covered everything,Adamsclothes were shredded, his eyes stared up at nothing, lips twisted and frozen in a terrified scream, but the dead had no voice.

Steven stared on in mute shock, as the butt of the shotgun was pulled tight to his armpit. His finger wrapped around the trigger, the cold steel feeling warmer than anything in that small room. The creature finally noticed him, raising unseeing eyes up to the barrel of the shotgun that was mere inches from its face, and Steven pulled the trigger. Click. “Shit” he said. He’d forgotten to load it. But there was no time to waste. Grabbing the shotgun by the barrel he raised it back over his head.

“When you get back to hell you son of a bitch, just remember. I’ll be coming to kill you again. You fucking bastard.” With that he brought the butt of the shotgun down with all the force he had left in him. It slammed into the man’s gray top so hard that he heard the audible crunch as his skull caved in. Then he raised it again, and slammed it down, again, and again, and again. Blood and brain matter sprayed the back of the closet with each swing. Chunks of bone breaking free of the pulverized flesh, each hit made a loud wet smack. He couldn’t say how many times he hit the man before his strength left him, but when his weak arms finally dropped the gun. There was nothing left of the man’s head. White and red, shattered pieces of bone were stuck into the butt of the gun, a reddish, gray ooze ran from what was left of the corpse.

With arm’s that felt like Jell-O, Steven forced himself to pick up his son’s small body. Then on shaking legs he brought it across the room to lie next to his sisters, and closed his unstaring eyes. Yet his death scream would never go away, it stayed in a fixed pain filled scream. How he managed to continue was a mystery, his will was broken, his soul destroyed, but he did what he had to.

Steven went to the hall closet and found a clean quilt his grandmother had made him when he was a child. It felt right to him as he ran his fingers over the intricate needle work; the loving care that had made it would lead his children into their mother’s arms. He went back into the room and covered there body’s so the only thing that showed was their faces. If he didn’t look to close at the blood and cuts, the bites, he was able to pretend they were just asleep. He kissed them all once more, and then turned to leave the room. As he reached the door, an eerie moan stopped him.

Steven turned just in time to see the quilt move as Sarah’s body gave a violent shake before she sat upright. His breath caught, disbelieving eyes stared as she turned her head towards him. Her eyes were dead and unseeing, her mouth working up and down in an odd chewing motion. Blood still seeped from the hole in her throat, and then she moaned again.

“NO! You can NOT! Lay back down and rest. I demand it!” he screamed at her. But she wasn’t listening; she climbed off of the bed with stiff uncoordinated movements. Her feet shuffled along the floor as she made her way towards him, the eerie moan still coming through the hole in her throat. “Noooooo!” He screamed at her! “Damn you!!!!” he yelled. Steven wasn’t even sure who he was yelling at any longer but this wasn’t right, had he died and finally gone to hell? But before she could reach him he slammed the door shut, and then held it as she began to scratch against the wood. Why wouldn’t she rest? It was because he couldn’t save them wasn’t it, it had to be!

He started back for the stairs muttering to himself, “I’ll make this right, yes… Yes I will. I refuse to let you suffer any longer. You must rest, and then I will join you!”

Everything became a faded black memory after that. The bedroom, the .45, he made sure to check the clip. Then back upstairs to find all three now clawing at the door for freedom. He yelled at them to go back to sleep, but when they wouldn’t listen, and so he finally raised the gun.  Aiming at the door he imagined them there at head height behind it, and then he closed his eyes. The tears finally came then, they streamed down his face in an unstoppable monsoon that had been held off for too long, it snaked tracks through the drying blood that had gotten on him. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

“BOOM,”  “BOOM,” “BOOM.”

With a shaking hand, and free flowing tears, Steven turned the gun on himself. Placing it in his mouth he closed his eyes, relishing in the taste of gunpowder of hot steel. He began to laugh as his finger found the trigger, and he pulled it.



Three years later.

Everything had changed since the night of the outbreak, everyone had changed. It was originally thought to be a mass cult perpetrating multiple murder suicides through-out the U.S.  That thought was quickly dismissed as morgues began to be attacked from within their own doors. Failed surgery patients that had been pronounced dead began to rise, attacking surgeons and patients alike. The outbreak spread like a prairie fire, humanity’s need to distance themselves from infection made it worse. That just led to further infection as those running infected turned, infecting others.  It was chaos the first year, but as humans are opt to do they adapted, learned. The major cities had been hit the worst, and were quickly abandoned by all living occupants that remained. The hordes of population in such metropolitan areas were called “Zombie Stews.” The population that had led to high rises, 1000 unit apartment complexes, it all just fed the fire. That was the first change that people made in aftermath of July, 21st, year 1 PZA, (Post Zombie Apocalypse).  People now lived in scattered tribes, behind new stone structures, they built dry motes, dead falls, anything to slow the advancing horde. The centuries almost seemed to reverse as the world began to look more like a nightmare from the dark ages. Yet, trade still continued, a new government was born, life went on. For some at least…..


Gabriel lowered the binoculars, cursing under his breath. The safe house had been compromised; corpses had been piled up a safe distance from the structure and set to blaze.  Someone had drawn them in, and then dispatched them after safely behind the steel enforced door.  He had built this safe house himself a year after the virus hit.  It was never safe to rest in the open anymore; bandits could be just as bad as the undead. The building was constructed of gray cinder blocks, reinforced with rebar and concrete. It was painted to blend in with the surrounding grass lands of theWyomingprairie. A dull brown, with mixtures of tumbleweeds tacked to the walls. It had one main entrance, maid of solid steel, with a reinforced latch bar inside. No windows dotted any of the sides, but a skylight on top let in light, while a rope ladder hung down to gain access to the roof top. He had designed it as simple as possible as not to draw attention. But someone had found it out anyway; last he had come this way there had been enough rations left for a 6 months siege. It was hard to say how long its new occupant had been there. Now it was time to find out who they were, and why they were here.

He raised himself up on one knee to survey the area before making the track down. You couldn’t be too cautious these days; it wasn’t just the bite of a rattlesnake that could take you down. Out here a dozen things could kill you, or worse maim you so that you had no choice but to die in agony. The prairie grass could just as well contain a mutilated zombie that could no longer rise. However unlikely due to lack of population in the region, only a reckless fool would take that chance. As he raised his hand to shade his eyes from the merciless sun that was beating down from overhead, he spotted a dust cloud rising of to the east, coming closer, and fast. Gabriel quickly threw himself back down to the ground lest he be spotted on the rise he was on; from their direction he was an easy spot, with the sun to their advantage. He brought the binoculars up to bear again, training in on the cloud. At first he couldn’t make anything out, and then as he focused in they came into sight. “Shit,” he cursed softly, 3 men riding in a small SUV, there vehicle was in ill repair, junk yard resurrection he determined. It was missing the front hood and the left fender, the sunlight glinted off the broken windows, cancer holes covered the body, and the paint was a cornucopia of bright colors. “Fuck me,” he cursed again, the only thing worse than the undead, were the Raiders. They killed without mercy, taking what they wanted, raping, stealing, murdering. These men had no conscious; they were blight upon humanity. At least the undead would kill you and be done. Raiders tended to enjoy torture, they would use their captives to lure in undead, let them get a few bites. Then they’d watch as the once human being turned into an unthinking, mindless monster. They would then take the fresh turned into encampments that were too large for them to take by force, and let it loose.  Looting became easy after that, the living that escaped would run to the next colony, and the undead were put down. All they needed with little resistance. It was a twisted cycle they enjoyed, yet the new government did nothing to stop it.

So Gabriel laid back and got comfortable, watching as the SUV shambled closer like a rotten corpse, coming to destroy whatever innocence was in his safe house. As he waited, he let his hand reach down and loosened the .45 in its holster, reached behind his back and made sure the Kukri was clear on his belt loop, last he made sure the flash drive was still secure around his neck. He kissed it for luck and whispered a prayer to those lost. Never could be too safe, action came fast, the unprepared died first and fast. He hadn’t made it this far in his mission to die at the hands of Raiders, or of the virus.

The SUV came to a sliding stop in front of the main door, the three men all piled out and began to shout and point at once. At the distance Gabriel couldn’t make out there words, but by the view he got in the binoculars, they weren’t happy. All three men wore tattered clothes, just as mismatched as the rusted bucket they rode around in. The 2 closest to the door appeared to be in their mid-twenties dirt stained faces displayed expressions of displeasure, spittle flying out between missing teeth. The younger two wore no firearms that he could see, only make shift crude cudgels. Crude but effective at close range, the leader carried a small caliber pistol that he was waving around in the air. They were definitely arguing about something, and it appeared what they wanted was in the safe house.  He generally didn’t involve himself in the affairs of refugees; he had his own worries to deal with. Yet as he never let an undead walker cross his path unmolested, neither could he allow these three to leave the area living.

Throwing himself to his feet, Gabriel dusted himself off and checked his weapons again. After making sure they were secure he turned back to his AZAU, (Anti Zombie Attack Unit).  It had taken a six month time frame at a secure safe house up in Gillette to complete, yet he still wasn’t done. Gabriel couldn’t help but take a second to appreciate its destructive beauty.  He’d found a scraped out military buggy out at the old Ellsworth Air Force base in South Dakota on a scouting mission.  But it fit his needs, after all the mechanics had been upgraded, and rebuilt. Everything designed with quick change outs in mind; he’d installed a complete reinforced roll cage, pulled off all the original doors, and placed Plexiglas coverings over the entire cage and underfoot. It gave a clear sight to the ground between his feet, sight was important when traveling in abandoned cities.  He’d heard of people thinking themselves in a safe location, only to exit their vehicle and having a decayed zombie munching on an ankle. Clear sight all around and a third exit out of the top where he planned on placing a turret in case he got surrounded. Vicious blades stuck out of the hubs, a beautiful idea taken from old chariots. Rows of vicious razor sharp spikes gleamed dully in the sunlight off the front and back end of the buggy. He’d managed to find a M134 mini-gun on the old base to mount out of the front window, with a remote firing mechanism. It was a thing of beauty he thought as he pulled open the plexi door, and fired it up.  He flicked the ignition switch and the electric motors whirred to life.  The solar battery’s reading a full charge, while the backup gas generator only read 1\4 tank. He’d need to find fuel soon.

Gabriel threw the AZAU into drive and floored the pedal; it lurched into motion sending him flying over the small hill he had just used to survey the land. He could imagine the look on the Raiders faces as he came hurtling toward them, the PA system screaming out a barrage of old rock. Yeah, it was a thing of beauty in this forlorn land of misery, but everyone had their part to play. What could you do when fate had its hands on you anyway?

He ran full bore down the slope, hitting the brakes and stopping 20 paces from the Raiders location. Three sets of shocked eyes stared at him; one of the younger had managed to stain the front of his patched BDU’s with piss. His lip quivered as nervous eyes flickered back and forth to his companions. Gabriel sat for a minute, letting it all soak in before flicking off the music that beat a screaming rhythm of vengeance. The raiders continued to stare at him uncertainly as he removed himself, with a tedious lack of indifference from the buggy.

The lead Raider, a man into his years, mouth lacking most all his teeth, what remained were yellow and jagged. His mismatched clothes were too big for what remained of his scrawny frame. He wore what might have been once a yellow t-shirt that was now too stained and stiff to be called anything but brown. His brown eyes stared out at him uncertainly from close set brows, his lips tightened into a grimace. A few strands of hair were left on a balding scalp that showed various scars.

The younger Raider with the piss pants finally spoke first, more balls than sense. “What the fuck you want mister? We aint got no business with you, so you should just get on your lil pony and bugger off.”  That earned him a smack from his partner, who got a glare in return.

The leader stepped forward, silencing any further protest from piss pants. “I’m not sure what you’re coming down here like the devils taken a bit out of yer ass boy, but as you’re here now.” He began, “I say we have you outnumbered and your dumbass just lost your ride.” A satisfied smirk crossed his face. Piss pants nodding his head stupidly in agreement.

Gabriel let out a small chuckle at that as he began to pace back and forth, keeping his eyes on leaders’ gun. “Well as to that, I’m going to have to disappoint you, as well as show you the error in your thinking.” The leader began to speak until Gabriel raised his hand for silence. “What we have here in fact is a group of worthless pukes. Such a sorry group to be had as that, so I have shown up just in time it seems.” He said, stopping and flashing an innocent smile.

“Wha-what did you just say?” Piss pants spluttered. “Ima gonna cut your balls off for you and shove them up your own ass, right Mike?” He said, glancing at the leader who nodded in approval.

“I’m going to have to agree with my friend there on that point. Seein as how I pull this trigger here and your eyeballs is gonna be splattered to the back of your skull boy.” He said, raising the pistol at Gabriel’s head.

“Well that’s where you’re wrong,” Gabriel began again. “Cause that pistol doesn’t have a single round in it, the way your hands shaking gives away your lie.”

Mike began to look around nervously at his companions. “Well maybe, maybe you’re right, and maybe we got a little hasty. See where just here to collect someone who’s got a pretty bounty on her head.” He said licking his dry lips. “What say you help us, and we can split the money? Fifty-Fifty, easy as pie, then we can all go our separate ways?” Piss pants started to comment but was quieted with another smack. The third raider just stared, looking like he wanted nothing but to run.

Hmm, so that explains a lot then, Gabriel thought to himself. What could possibly be in there that’s worth sending these goons out after? The new government usually uses there Peace Keepers to track down fugitives, so it couldn’t be them. But who else has authority, power, and the resources to keep Raiders in line? Those questions would have to wait though; it was time to end this. Without another glance at the three, Gabriel pulled out his 1911 .45. The pearl grips fitting smoothly into the palm of his hand as he turned back, leveling it at Piss Pants head. “Boom,” he fired splitting the silence of the prairie like a thunderclap. Piss pants dropped as the back of his head blew apart, sending blood and chunks of brain splattering against the front of the SUV. Just as quickly he followed through on the silent one, while Mike uselessly pulled the trigger of his pistol. As Gabriel finally drew bead upon him he dropped to his knees, a puddle of piss grew around his knees as he began to beg.

“Oh God, please. We didn’t mean it, please don’t kill me. Oh fuck no.” He said, begging and offering up prayers, and his daughters, his wife. This is what Raiders came to; the undead had more humanity than this garbage.

Gabriel looked down at him, as he kept asking for mercy. “God’s not here now, God wasn’t there the night the devil came into my home. The night I lost my soul, and I’m sure God won’t be waiting for you now.” With that he put down the last Raider execution style. “May the devil take your soul so that I can kill you again when my time comes.” He said, repeating his killing prayer.

With the three dead, Gabriel put them out of his mind. They weren’t worth losing an ounce of sleep over anyway. He turned his attention to the safe house and who was inside. Or he thought as he caught a glimpse of movement from above, on the roof. Knowing trying to force his way inside was a pointless endeavor and he could scream all he wanted, it wouldn’t make a difference. Whoever was in there would only make themself known in their own good time. So he turned back to the buggy and sat down with his back against the front tire, pulling out a chocolate bar he’d found a few days back. He began to eat it and hum an old nursery rhyme to himself while rubbing the flash drive he always kept around his neck.

It was well into sunset before he heard anything; the last rays of sun were at the peak of the concrete safe house. Perfect timing he grudgingly had to admit, your backs to the sun and I’m blind. At least this one has some semblance left of intelligence.

“Who are you, and what do you want?” A woman’s voice called out to him, a tinge of fear riming the words.

Gabriel waved up to the sun soaked outline he saw, “Well I was kind of thinking the same thing, especially since you’re in my safe house? Do you know the trouble it was to build this thing all the way out here? Not to mention your enjoying my rations.” He said, a bemused smile coming to him at the prolonged silence.

“I, I, I’m sorry,” she called back. I didn’t realize anyone was using it. I needed a place to rest is all,” She began. “My names Jade, I’d let you in but you killed those three without a hint of regret, how am I to know you won’t kill me too?” She asked.

“As to that you won’t know unless I do, will you?” He asked, “But if it makes you feel any better I’ll leave all my weapons out here. Can’t say I go around looking to hack people up for fun. The undead have that pretty well covered.”

There was a long silence as she seemed to consider what he said. Gabriel began to think the woman had decided against letting him in, but then he heard the screech of metal against metal as the latch bar was drawn from the door. With the tiniest creak a shallow sliver of lamplight came from a crack in the door. It washed over him just enough for whoever was in there to see him clearly.

“Ok like you said, leave the weapons and I’ll let you in” She said, voice shaking with uncertainty. But Gabriel did as he promised, dropping first his Kukri, then his .45, he pulled a knife from each boot, then one hidden up his sleeve. Setting them all in a pile next to the buggy he turned around in the lamp light cast by the door, his shadow growing long across the prairie. “Is, is that all?” She asked.

Gabriel gave her a nod as he smiled, “As long as you’re not infected I don’t see as how I’d need them anyway. Wouldn’t you agree?”  After a moment the door finally opened all the way, and she stepped away, giving him room to come in while staying out of reach.

After his eyes adjusted to the glaring lamplight he gave a look around to re-familiarize himself. The floor was made of bare dirt, with an ample fire pit in the middle of the room. A cot sat against the wall opposite the door with a simple stand beside it. To his right were rows of shelving that held MRE’s, a few were missing, indicating she’d been here awhile. On the next shelf were rows of ammunition cans filled with various calibers. Sitting below the shelf a simple reloading bench sat with used MRE’s packages. The ladder that led through the skylight had been raised again to keep the room clear in case things didn’t go her way. Finally he turned his inspection on the mystery woman.

What he found was surprising; the woman was beautiful to say the least. Her dirty blonde hair was tied back from her face with a red bandana. Her deep blue-green eyes were studying him as he looked at her; a tinge of fear hidden in them, her high cheek bones complemented the sharp point of her nose. Her lips were full with a slightly pouty downturn that somehow made her seem innocent, yet dangerous at the same time.  She wore a tight forming tank top that showed of tanned muscular shoulders, and an ample bit of cleavage poured out the top. She was tensed and standing in a position that would give her maximum leverage should he attack. Her brown khaki shorts showed strong thighs, her right leg pulled back, heel kicked out slightly in dark brown hiking boots. She was ready for something, but he didn’t know what, and he intended to find out.

Gabriel was about to speak when she said, “So, are you about done staring at my tits? I mean honestly you’d think you’ve never seen a pair, now pick up your jaw.” She gave a soft melodious laugh as his face began to burn.

“I wasn’t staring,” he countered. “I was just sizing up my intruder.”

That just made her laugh all the louder, “Well in my defense the door was unlocked.” As if that reminded her, she went back to the door and placed the latch bar back in its place. The muscles on the back of her tanned thighs standing out as she lifted the bar into place. She looked back over her shoulder in time to catch him averting his gaze, small blessing she made no comment.

“So,” he said, “Might I ask why those Raiders seem to think you have a bounty on that pretty little head of yours?” He studied her reaction to the question but she didn’t seem to notice, she just fidgeted nervously at the door…

“Sometimes, people have secrets that other people would rather not be let known.” She said matter of fact. Gabriel kept studying as she turned away and began to clean up the empty MRE packages. “It could be that maybe I was a reporter, ya know, before the virus.” She stopped and moved an empty package back and forth. “Might be I know things that the new Government would rather keep hidden.”

That stopped Gabriel in his tracks. What could she be eluding at he wondered? That the virus was intentional? But that’s what he wanted wasn’t it? It gave his vengeance meaning then right? It was all coming to fast, fate had him by the balls again, and he didn’t like it.

She turned back then, taking her turn studying his reaction, her eyes piercing the shattered husk of his dark soul. “What about you?” She asked. “What are you doing out here all alone, besides saving damsels in distress?”
His throat had gone dry, it took a minute to collect his thoughts and answer again. By then she was looking at him more intently, looking at his flash drive. Without thinking he brought his hand up and grabbed it tightly. Looking away he walked to the MRE’s and said “I have matters to take care of, I owe the devil a visit. He seems to be better at hiding than most though.”

She seemed intent to let that answer suffice for the moment, but if he knew anything about pre-virus reporters…. Well she’d catch him off guard when she was ready.

“Seems a fair enough answer these days,” She said. “What about that flash drive you have? You seem more than protective of it?

Gabriel turned then, looking into her eyes, letting her take what she will from it. “It’s nothing, just some memories that belong to a dead man. He asked me to hold onto them.”

“Well,” Jade said. “I suppose that’s a worthwhile answer, everyone needs their secrets. So now you have yours and I have mine.” She looked at him then her head cocking slightly to the side, her brow raised. “What’s your next move if you don’t mind me asking?”

That took Gabriel by surprise for a moment, but it was his opening. If he could get himself next to her, maybe this Jade would lead him to the Devil? Then he could fulfill his promise, and then rest could come. He smiled then, truly smiled. “Well darling, as it happens I’m in between jobs, and it seems like you could use some help.” He trailed off hopping she’d take the bait.

Jade gave him a sly smile then, “Is that your attempt at being sly? If so then you need to work on your people skills.” She turned somber then, “I could use some help though, and if it turns out you get what you want at the end too. Well I guess we both win. What do you say?”

Gabriel closed his eyes then, offering up a silent prayer to the dead that haunt his dreams. He didn’t open them again. “Where do we go?” He asked.

She turned that smile on him again, “I like a one track man, and we head forBaltimore. I need to meet a contact.”

Gabriel kept his eyes closed then, in the cool air of the safe house. He kept his eyes closed and let the dream play again. Let the memories of a dead man come back to him, of the lives the Devil took from him. Vengeance was coming!






  1. lacie says:

    Awesome dale! Great job

  2. shane says:

    1 vote

  3. Dale says:

    Thanks for the vote Shane!

  4. christina says:

    1 vote!!!!!!!

  5. Tim says:

    Not bad little brother…. You got my vote

  6. jason mcguire says:

    I voted Dale

  7. jason mcguire says:

    1 vote

  8. Dale says:

    Thanks for the votes! To clarify voting you have to comment “1 vote” also to comment put ur name and email in. It doesn’t send you anything. I believe it’s just to verify your real! 🙂

  9. laura sterling says:

    1 vote from me.

  10. Roger Gilliam says:

    1 Vote

  11. Peggy Gilliam says:

    1 Vote

  12. lacie says:

    1 vote!!!!!!!!

  13. lacie says:

    1 vote
    Lacie tinker

  14. crystal mcguire says:

    1 vote

  15. Becky Branderhorst says:

    a good read !!…I vote !!

  16. Brandon says:

    1 vote

  17. Billie Cochran says:

    1 vote

  18. Dale says:

    Thanks for the votes everyone! I’m hoping to turn this into a full book. I need to polish up what I wrote here. Wanted to before I submitted but I found the contest last thursday so It was a rushed write. Only had Sunday to write it and Monday to edit it at work lol:) Any reviews or advice would be great as this is my first real attempt at a story! 🙂 thanks again for the support!

  19. Ken Kaunitz says:

    1 vote

  20. Greg says:

    1 Vote

  21. Stephanie says:

    1 Vote

  22. Kiauna says:

    1 Vote

  23. Travis Zellitti says:

    Im impressed

  24. Kevin Gillihan says:

    1 vote.

    Very intriguing story for sure. The beginning was very brutal and somewhat unsettling to read being that I have a child of my own. But then again that is a real snapshot of a scenario that would unfortunately play out all too often in a world like that. I imagine that a story as tragic as Stevens’ would unfortunately happen so often that it would become commonplace. The second half reminded me some of Terry Brooks’ Genesis of Shannara series with the world laid to waste by a global catastrophe. Filled with creatures and bandits and a hero with a heavily-modified suv. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. I really think you’ve got something here and you better keep it going! Very nice.

    • Dale Ostrom says:

      Thanks Kevin, I appreciate it. I know the begginings pretty brutal, it was hard to write I can tell you that. I also have children of my own. I wanted to take a more physiological approach to this book. So I took Steven and tried to show the reader how much his kids were his life since losing his wife. Then in order to understand how losing them could break a mans spirit and mind I had to approach it brutally so you got the feel of what he was going through. Then to make it worse after he laid them down they get back up. The trama of that broke him. I’ll be reworking this section and making changes here and there. But what I tried to hint to the reader is that Steven becomes Gabriel. Through the book there will be glimpses into that. But gabriel is unaware. In his mind he thinks he’s Stevens brother. That’s my main focus in this. I appreciate you reading it and leaving feedback. This is the longest story I’ve ever attempted and my first submission.

      Also I haven’t read that yet. I read the elfstones of Shannara and the books surrounding it. That was years ago. I’ll take a look at it while I’m waiting on the last wheel of time book 🙂 Thanks again!

      • Kevin Gillihan says:

        Hey Dale I hope I didn’t give you the impression that I was being negative about the first part of your story. That wasn’t my intention at all. I think the brutal nature of Stevens’ tragedy was vital in the shaping of his character. Because it was so tragic, the audience will really identify with the main character and why he becomes what he becomes. It makes the reader care about what is going to happen and that makes for an engaging read. I think you did a great job at that for sure! I haven’t read that series but have heard a lot of talk about it. I should check it out.

      • Dale Ostrom says:

        Hey, Kevin
        No I didn’t take it that way, but that was one of my worries with this story. I knew how hard it would be to read and I was worried people might get the wrong impression from it. But thanks again! I’m just glad to get some feedback. I’m going to start writing on it again this weekend, 12hr shifts make it hard.
        Definitely check them out, it’s a great series. Lost a great author when he passed.

      • Kevin Gillihan says:

        Cool, I’m glad that it didn’t come across that way. I’m glad that you went ahead and wrote it anyway. Ambition is a good thing. I will definately check that series out!

  25. Travis Zellitti says:

    1 vote

  26. Jessika says:

    1vote for me Dale nice job!

  27. jeremiah tinker says:

    1 vote

  28. wotco says:

    1 vote

  29. Ron Keim II says:

    Great book guy!!

  30. Ron Keim II says:

    1 vote

  31. bj says:

    1 vote

  32. Dale Ostrom says:

    Thanks everybody for the votes. Hoped you enjoyed it.

  33. dustin knight says:

    1 vote

  34. Ja packard says:

    1 vote

  35. Kayce brooks says:

    1 vote

  36. Chelsea Fuhrer says:

    1 VOTE!!

    Great job, Dale! I will definitely buy your book!:-)

  37. Evan says:

    Very nice fella!

  38. Evan says:

    1 vote

  39. Kevin Gillihan says:

    Look at you all winning and stuff. Good job brother! Keep em coming!

    • Dale Ostrom says:

      Thanks Kevin. I really appreciate all the support, it helps drive the urge to continue with this project. Ive been trying to write any semblence of a book for the last five years. Yet everytime I tried, Id get a couple paragraphs in and sputter out. I think it’s because I was always trying to write fantasy, my preffered reading. I really have to thank ZAI for hosting this. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to come up with anything, but this story fell into place. It was amazing how much I was able to write on this in one day. I have a good outline for the rest of the it, an awesome ending planned. So this has been really fun. Your support has been the best by far, getting your feedback has really helped! So thanks ZAI, Kevin Gillihan, and everyone who’s voted. I’ve really enjoyed this and the story’s that are on here, are amazing.

      • Dale says:

        By the way, don’t forget that you can vote on more than one story! So to who likes this story be sure to check out them all and vote for the ones you like!!!!

      • Kevin Gillihan says:

        Yeah Dale, its my pleasure. I used to write a lot more in college and whatnot but after that the problem has always been my motivation. This site and contest along with your most welcome support has really pushed me to try once again. I know exactly what you mean when you talk about how much you can get done in a day. I think I spent about 3 hours on mine but your story is much longer than mine so you really must have been typing like a madman. Even though technically this is a contest, I believe that its more important to encourage fellow writers. Motivation is hard to come by usually but it has really been great to find such a positive atmosphere here. Thanks again for your support and I am anxious to read what happens with Gabriel.

      • Kevin Gillihan says:

        Oh also Dale, that Shannara series Genesis of Shannara mixes the magic side of Shannara with a post-apocalyptic setting of modern time America. Its really very unique and has my favorite elements of both genres. Thought thar might give you some ideas possibly since you mentioned you like the fantasy side.

  40. Ben says:

    1 vote

  41. leash79 says:

    1 vote

  42. Shawna says:

    1 vote!!

  43. Shawna says:

    dale i always love ur stories!!.. i cant wait to read the hole thing!.. or maybe i’ll wait for the movie…hehehe

  44. Bill says:

    1 vote

  45. Jeremy blazek says:

    Good job dale

  46. Lee says:

    1 vote. Good job Dale.

  47. jay says:

    1 vote

  48. Michelle says:

    1 Vote.

  49. bryan huebner says:

    1 vote

  50. Leah says:

    1 VOTE

  51. Jeremy blazek says:

    1 vote

  52. Adam hastings says:

    1 vote

  53. Dale Ostrom says:

    Thank you everyone for the votes and comments. The support has been unbelievable. This contest was a lot of fun and showed me where my writing genre lay. Appreciate it and enjoyed all the stories. Kevin, keep writing bud. Lookout was great!!!! Also thanks for taking the time to read my story and give me your thoughts. Win or Lose it’s been great guys!!!!! May your aim stay true, and your blade never rust!!

  54. scott sterling says:

    1 vote

  55. Kemp says:

    1 vote

  56. brenda says:

    I vote

  57. Linda says:

    1 vote

  58. Michelle says:

    1 Vote

  59. kassidy says:

    one voteeee 🙂

  60. Fred says:

    1 Vote

  61. Betty says:

    1 Vote

  62. Thomas says:

    1 Vote

  63. Makayla Tinker says:

    1 vote

  64. Kevin Gillihan says:

    Wooooooooo!! Go Dale!!!

  65. Stephanie hansen says:

    1 vote

  66. jeremiah brandon says:


  67. cherise Ence says:

    1 Vote

  68. Savannah Tinker says:

    1 vote

  69. Chelle says:

    1 Vote.

  70. Jesse Peterson says:

    1 vote

  71. bently colby says:

    1 Vote!

  72. Tommy says:

    1 Vote.

  73. Mike Ence says:

    1 Vote! Love It

  74. Camielle Ence says:

    1 vote

  75. Camielle Twitchell says:

    1 Vote

  76. brandon tinker says:

    1 vote

  77. Dale Ostrom says:

    Wow. That’s all I can say!!!! I’m really going to have to finish this now!!!!!! Thanks to everyone!!!!! You guys are the best!!!! When I finish the book it’s definetly going to be dedicated to all of you for the support in this comedy alone!!!! Thanks

  78. Dale Ostrom says:

    Stupid self correcting phone. The end of comment was contest not comedy lol

  79. Derek says:

    1 Vote.

  80. Derek N. says:

    1 Vote

  81. Lisa says:

    1 Vote

  82. Nichole says:

    1 Vote

  83. Bob says:

    1 Vote

  84. Abbie says:

    1 Vote

  85. Nancy says:

    1 Vote

  86. Randi Alvey says:

    1 Vote

  87. Laura says:

    1 vote

  88. Stryker says:

    1 vote

  89. Jason says:

    1 vote

  90. stephzombie says:

    1 vote

  91. Jason says:

    Congrats. I wrote 50 Days of Blood. Enjoy the new toys!

  92. Kevin Gillihan says:

    Good job Dale! I knew you could do it!

  93. Dale Ostrom says:

    Thanks Jason and Kevin. Contest was great. Had a lot of fun and read some good stories. 🙂

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