About Me

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Writer, soldier, thinker, and science fiction lover. I just can't seem to find a way to divide my adventurous self of constant outdoor activity and exercise from my nerdy self playing games and going to conventions. So why not just be both?

 I am a young professional living out of Tallahassee, Florida for the past five years. I have been on a deployment with the United States Army and continue to work outside of my other occupations to better myself mentally and physically. My passion for writing is driven by my passion for everything I find entertaining in life, and of course by my friends and family.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

City of Ashes (Part 2)

Bryan had never imagined he would be the type of person to run towards gunshots, yet here he was. It was the only thing he could think to do, to find someone who wasn't after him. He didn't even know why the people were after him, or why he had been attacked in the first place! He just wanted his son, to hold him again, and to leave this filthy abandoned town.

In the middle of the road laid, slumped on one side, a mass that was slowly being coated in a fine layer of ash. The gunshots had slowed. Bryan tried to peel his eyes off the dead man. He had never seen an actual dead person before. Not even at a wake. Something about it just felt, odd, it was like the man was still alive. Bryan expected the man to move, but he laid flat, not moving under the ash.

Bryan was near by an open market, or at least what use to be an open market. He heard another single gun shot and some voices from over a chain-link fence. Bushes obstructed a clear view. He moved closer pushing apart dead branches to peer in.

A single police officer stood with his back to a building. Old rotting kiosks surrounded him, a silent ghost audience. Several people approached the officer, carrying a random assortment of jagged rusting blades. A single man sprinted forward, the officer fired a shot. The man kept coming. Two more shots and the man stumbled forward. The others in the crowd rushed forward. The officer turned and ran. His pursuers close behind. The officer went into the nearest building, shutting the door behind him. The crowd pounded at the door with their hands and weapons. They began to spread out, moving around the building, around their trapped prey, cats getting a cornered mouse.

Bryan looked on the man the officer had shot. Slumped, silent like the other he had seen. And then a twitch. Bryan expected a call of pain. But the man lifted his arm up and planted his palm on the ground. Lifting up onto his knees, the man stood, stumbled, a drunkard having only taken a hard tumble. Then moved forward joining the crowd as if nothing had happened.  

Bryan had never seen a man shot before, just as he had never seen a body before. He had expected the bullets to shred the man, drop him with one shot, like a movie. At least not get up right after having been shot!

A deep whine blurted out. The heavy exhaust from a small motor. Bryan looked over. A fat man had started a chainsaw.

Bryan scrambled back away from the fence. He had to help the police officer. He stayed low enough to keep the bushes between him and the crowd's line of sight, it wasn't difficult, the bushes were thick and tall despite being dead in some patches.  In the back of the market and building the officer had gone in, there was a general store across a short alley. Bryan went around to the front of general store. The windows were smashed in.

Climbing in the store was mostly empty, racks that were left were empty, or turned over. A few loose items remained. There was a set of metal stairs that ran up one wall and led to a single floating office on the back wall. Bryan took the stairs up. There was the single office that was void of furniture and left with only pieces of board and piping as its d├ęcor. Its only inhabitants appeared to be ants that came from the single window sill.

Bryan lifted the window, cracking the aged glass with the force of lifting it up. Across the way Bryan could see the officer come into view. They stared at each other, the older officer soaked in sweat.

Bryan picked up one of the boards and began sliding it across the window sill. He hoped it would work. The officer saw what he was doing and opened his own window. Just as the board made it across to the other side resting near the officer, something pulled his attention away. Bryan couldn't see what it was.

They were in. The officer raised his firearm. The deafening pops were silenced with the bright flash of the muzzle. Bryan couldn't see them, only the office, and the officer's desperate look. The officer turned, up and out the window. The cop's worn shoes slipped under him on the worn creaking board. Bryan held on tight. The movement ramming splinters into his skin. The cop stepped into the office and Bryan pulled the board back in. A glass bottle smashed against the side of the building.

Bryan looked down, below a woman in a tattered worn yellow apron screamed in anger at him.

Bryan and the cop didn't need communication. Scared animals don't need to tell each other of their fear. The two bolted down the stairs and out of the general store.

The two took off straight down the street dead ahead. To Bryan's surprise, the older cop ran faster, and seemed to have a general idea of where he was going. Fine by him. Bryan would get them lost, and into another pack of those people anyways.

Bryan followed the cop down a side street, looking back to see their followers. There were none.

It was another block down the street, another neighborhood, before the cop looked back and realized they were alone, for awhile. He stopped running, as did Bryan.

"Right there." The cop motioned towards a nearby house, the door was open, and overall the house seemed somewhat in one piece.

Bryan let the cop go first. He entered with his pistol up. Bryan waited a moment, and followed. The cop continued searching the small house, with his back turned he spoke.

"Shut the door."

Bryan nodded, more to himself, than to the command's of the cop. He closed the door. The house still had some of its furnishing in it. He used a small nightstand to prop against the door. The lock seemed flimsy but he locked it regardless.

Bryan jumped. A man was there as he turned.

It was the cop.

"Thanks for that out there."

"Oh, y-yeah, of course."

"No one else is here. How did you get here?"

"I came, looking for my son."

"On foot?"

"No, I have, had a dirt bike." The cop grinned and shook his head.

"Come on, let's sit in the other room for a moment."

The living room still had its couch, it was covered in dust a small amount of ash which had blown in. There was also still a coffee table, loveseat, and random decorations on the fireplace mantle.

The cop plopped himself on the couch. A thick hoarse sigh came from his sweaty face. Bryan seated himself in the loveseat. He hadn't realized how much his muscles hated him until now.

"What's your name?"

"Bryan."

"Dan, Dan Harvey."

"How did you end up here Dan?"

"My partner and I do patrols around here periodically, we knew some kids got in with their dirt bikes some we came to get them out. Looks like it was just you."

"Actually, I came looking for my son, you didn't see him?"

"Son? Well, no we just heard the motor. Ran into them and haven't seen a sane person since."

"You think they're insane?"

"Well they sure as hell ain't your average town folks."

"I mean, I-I pushed one onto a spike, in defense, and he got off like it was nothing. And then I saw you shoot one, three times, and he got back up!"

"It's not that unusual."

"What?" Dan sat up, his age showing how exhausted he truly was.

"I've seen drug addicts break arms and wrists and not even flinch at it as they twist it to the point the skin breaks. Moving after being shot or pulling off a spike isn't all that amazing for someone doped up enough."

Bryan swallowed hard, Jerry was somewhere out there, with a bunch of drug crazed lunatics wandering around. Bryan sank deeper into the chair and despair.

There was a long silence that filled the void between them. Silent enough the hairs of a dog could be heard moving in a breeze.

"A large group is odd."

"What?" Bryan asked looking up at Dan.

"So many people doped up. If that's what it is. It does add a possible explanation." Dan pulled in a raspy gulp of air with the sound of aged exhaustion. "It was July when the dogs started going missing. Everyone began to suspect animals, then people started going missing."

Dan stood up, there was a creaking and Bryan wasn't sure if it was the couch or Dan's knees. Bryan tracked Dan as he walked to a boarded up window and looked out between one of the slots.

"And then one day there were no more disappearances." He turned back and went to the other window to peer out. "For a long while there was nothing else. I don't know if I just responded to more calls, but I suddenly found myself working on more suicides then ever before." Dan returned to the couch. "Responding to suicides is a taxing experience. My wife and I went out not long ago. We went off into the hills to take in the sights of the mountains. We came along a bridge, pulled over. We were parked next to a gorge and there are walking trails that lead up to it with no barriers. We were going to take a picture of the sight from the bridge. As we stood there, a woman walked up from one of the trails and by us. She offered to take a picture of us. We politely declined. She kept walking, to the end of the bridge, where she smoothly stepped off the edge into the gorge. It was so smooth, with no hesitation, it was like she was expecting the trail to keep going. And that sound, that sound, it sticks with you."

Bryan sat still, or frozen. The events of the day and the sudden calm demeanor along with Dan's story left him with nothing else to feel but a cold sweat.

"You, you think they are connected?"

"Hmm? The disappearances? Possibly. Town is only a few miles out. The woman, I, I really don't know."

"Well," Bryan tried to think what to say, "I'm sure your wife's fine."

"Oh she doesn't feel anything anymore, a collision took her from me."

"I-I'm sorry..."

"Don't be. We need to get moving though."

They both stood once more. Bryan's knees throbbed with a weak ache and knew it would get worse.

"How many rounds do you have left?"

"A single magazine, do you have a weapon?"

"No, hey don't you have a radio?"

Dan sighed. "This little one," he said nudging towards his shoulder radio "will only get line of sight. It's not made to get out of this area. I've tried before. I could in my patrol car."

"How far is that?"

"A bit away, we got cut off by another group that was trashing it when we tried to get away."

"Think it's worth a shot?"

"Yeah, as long as the bastards didn't destroy it."

The two proceeded out. This time, taking their exit out of the back. Dan didn't want to be seen on the streets in the open. Bryan agreed it was a sound decision. As the two crunched through dead grass and over another privacy fence, Bryan was lost in his skepticism.

He believed Dan had plenty of experience, an old beat-cop like him would. But Bryan couldn't buy into the people being drugged up enough to explain the things he had seen. Something seemed off, and his instinct, no something even more primal screamed every time he saw one of them.

"Look, there."

Bryan looked up to where Dan was pointing. Through the haze of the smoke and lit by the looming red sun, black smoke rose.

"Do you think it's a part of the coal fire?"

"No, smell that? It's chemicals, smells like tires." Bryan was afraid to admit he couldn't smell it. In fact everything smelled like smoke to him here. But he took Dan's word for it.

"You want to investigate it? What about your patrol car?"

"It's near that general direction, we would either have to pass by it, or go out of our way to go around. I want to know what it is."

Bryan followed in silence. He wondered if Jerry could see the smoke too, maybe he would head to it in hopes of help. Maybe it was Jerry, trying to signal someone. Bryan bit his tongue. That was a stupid thought. Jerry was a witty kid, he would figure out a way to get back to safety. Hell, he may even be at the truck now, wondering where his father was.

Bryan swallowed something fowl tasting. But it very well could be a worse story for Jerry, he could be a lot of danger, trapped without his father, or worse.

The duo continued down a dirt path, passing between a stone wall and rod iron fence. The gate was left open between both. The shrubs were dead, but the trees still grasped at life. Above a crow cried out. Just as Bryan saw the beady eyes of the bird it was off into the air. It's emaciated body disappearing off into the ash filled air beyond the tree tops. 

A single stone building came into view on ahead. As they approached, Dan slowed and his feet became lighter. There were more buildings they could make out among the trees, and the crackling of a large fire could be heard.

There was a wooden fence that collected ash, and once was used to keep animals within the property. Dan moved closer, moving into a crouch. Bryan copied, he also noted a two dead animals contained by the fence. Fresh animals, too eviscerated to identify.

There was a clearing in the center of several small buildings, perhaps used for houses, but nothing like the rest of the town. There were live, albeit thin chickens which clucked and moved about. Several people moved about, wandering, and different, them. In the center a post  stood, a large hook hung a figure through the left lung. The post still ablaze, tires burning putting out thick black smoke into the air. A car, a police patrol car, pushed in near by also ablaze.  A sickly smell drifted over the duo.

Bryan looked away. His throat restricting. His stomach rose. A liquid pushed in his throat. Bryan forced his muscles shut and looked up straining. The body's burning stench overpowered the smell of the tires, or mixed with it, and it burned at Bryan's eyes.

Beyond the burning alter, a church, with a caved in corner and two eyes looking right at them.     





  

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

City of Ashes (Part 1)

Bryan leaned against the front of hid dark truck. A haze caused a red casting in the sun above, the haze coming from an old fire that continued to burn miles away.

Bryan looked down at his watch and noted the time late in the evening. Jerry was expected back. Bryan and his 13 year old son Jerry used the surrounding hillside for dirt biking. Despite the large trees of the Washington hillside, it has enough trails to satisfy Bryan's adventure, and enough dips and turns to get Jerry's thrills out.

Bryan swiped ash off his truck as he made his way around to his parked dirt bike. Bryan only got to see Jerry one a month after the divorce. Jerry loved dirt biking, and Bryan wasn't a huge fan but enjoyed being outside and liked seeing his son happy. Usually they took the same trail while dirt biking, both because it was familiar and because Bryan wasn't nearly as good on the roads as Jerry was. Of course, things changed.

Today was different, earlier in the afternoon Jerry wanted to take a separate trail, Bryan didn't like the jumps and twists, but allowed Jerry to have fun exploring, being a kid, being a boy. But it was getting too late, and Bryan hated feeling like the over worried father, but he had his limits.

Cellphone reception was spotty to say the least on the hillside. Bryan and Jerry used short range Motorola radios which worked better, but were also very limited. Bryan attempted one more call over the radio before he started the bike.

"Jerry you there? Jerry if you hear me you gotta' start heading back." There was no response. There was a possibility that Jerry could hear him but wasn't able to get a signal out. More likely, Jerry was still riding and couldn't hear the radio over the sound of the engine and his helmet.

More ash fell from the sky. The hillside Bryan and Jerry used was located a few miles away from an abandoned town called Shepard's Heights. The town suffered from an accident where a coal mine caught fire in the late sixties. After a decade, the smoke got worse and parts of the town began to collapsed causing a few deaths. The governor stepped in with assistance from the Federal Government and forced the citizens to relocated. The properties were all condemned and taken by the government with eminent domain. There were a few elderly couples that fought the move and were allowed to stay under the provision that upon their deaths, the property would become government land, but the numbers were in the single digits now. The lack of meaningful oversight and enforcement allowed hikers, historians, and dirt bikers to use the lands around the town as long as they stayed out of the town itself. The town was fenced, and government vehicles periodically went there, but Bryan never paid any attention to them as they seldom crossed paths.

Bryan's stomach twisted, the idea that Jerry may have had an accident, but he pushed the knot aside. He hated to assume situations and find that he was simply causing himself more stress. But to think that maybe Jerry went to the town and had been caught was another all too realistic concern, especially knowing Jerry had a few problems in school following the divorce. Bryan wouldn't blame Jerry, but he hated that he saw his son act out at times. A shame that would burn in his cheeks. He wanted to teach Jerry to be humble, but at 13 it was like moving mountains.

Bryan kick started the Suzuki 125. It roared, and felt powerful in Bryan's hands. He had purchased twin bikes for himself and Jerry. He had thought the 125 may have been too big for Jerry, but Jerry proved to be more than capable.

Bryan pulled on his helmet and started off down the trail.

The fork in the road was about 3 miles Bryan guessed. It was rough which Bryan thought messed with is perception of how far he had gone. To the left was the route he had taken earlier, and the route he and Jerry usually took. It lead around and came out near the truck. A glimmer of relief came to Bryan, Jerry may have come back and then taken that route to the truck. It would add time to his ride and he may be at the truck waiting for him now. But parental instinct said otherwise, and he turned to the right route, the route Jerry had taken.

Bryan slowed, he couldn't handle the bumps and jumps like Jerry could. He even pulled up closer to the trees at times. 

Every twist and turn and every large root or small log he thought he'd be sent flying over his handlebars. He was looking for his son, not a broken wrist.

The trees began to clear out as the ground leveled. There was a clearing, with overgrown grass. Bryan came to a stop in the center. The grass came up to his knees as the sun beat down on his helmet. He saw the tree line across the field and the red warning signs indicating the condemned town ahead. The area was prone to random collapses from the underground fire.

Bryan knew that's where Jerry had to have gone, it's where he would have gone. He could see a perfect trail that Jerry would have taken on his dirt bike. The adventure of going to the town was too much for a 13 year old to resist.

Goddamn it, stupid kid, trying to get himself arrested or worse.

Bryan started off again down the trail, pulling back harder on the throttle moving faster with less care for his own safety and a growing concern for his son's. Bryan flew down the trail. Unlike the previous this trail was level and smooth with only weeds and minor branches on the ground. A single dip into the ground led him to the first obstruction in his path.

Ahead he could see a sign, as he approached he realized the sign was mounted on a chain-link fence. He would never had seen the fence in time to stop had it not been for the blaring white and red sign. Bryan slowed to the point he was walking his bike with an idle as he came within reading distance of the sign.
"WARNING: KEEP OUT, OPEN SHAFTS"
Not far off to the right of the sign where a post of the fence stood, was an area where the fence had been cut and lifted up. The opening was large and had probably been there for sometime. At least that meant that Jerry wasn't a vandal too. It was large enough for a man to walk under. 
Bryan had to get off his bike and walk it under the hole in the fence, but he could see tire tracks in the soft dirt where Jerry had gone. 
He was now within the city limits of Shepard's Heights. The dirt trail cleared out more and started heading uphill. Bryan followed his only option and started forward riding his bike once again.
The smoke grew thicker and ash fell like a heavy snow storm. The ground was soft and smashed easily under his tires. The trees began to look skinny and sickly, reaching up desperately for light like a man drying of thirst in a desert. 

It wasn't long before his wheels felt the firm hold of concrete under him, and the first neighborhood came into view. The houses were spaced out, and had thin coats of ash across the top. Bryan saw a person moving one of the yards of the third house down. He sped up thinking it may be Jerry, but quickly realized it was an adult. 

Bryan slowed his bike down knowing he had made a lot of noise. If it was a cop or some park ranger he was already in trouble, but maybe he could find his son faster. He realized the man ahead was wearing a plaid shirt, and jeans with suspenders. Certainly not any sort of official Bryan had ever seen before. 

Bryan recalled that some people were allowed to stay, generally elderly, but he thought by now there wouldn't be any left, and he certainly did not think they were within the town itself. He was under the impression that the people who stayed were on the outskirts, or the rural areas where the ash wasn't as bad and sudden collapses weren't as common. The idea that an older man would trespass seemed taboo too, but Bryan had encountered senile and borderline crazy older men so it too was possible. 

The man had gone inside just as Bryan reached the short fence that surrounded the front yard. The grass was brown and ash collected around in patches of dirt. The house was yellowed and in disrepair. The front door was missing and the windows were either smashed in or boarded up with graying two-by-fours. 

Bryan shut off his bike and removed his helmet. The man had gone inside without even paying the sound of the approaching motorcycle a second glance. Although he had glanced at Bryan coming. And that was the source of a chill in Bryan's back, not that Bryan had saw him, but that he had saw him looking. 

Setting his helmet aside on his bike Bryan moved forward, over the little fence towards the front door. The dark shadows casting out barely reluctant to creep out of their inner sanctum. Bryan slowed as he neared the doorway. His chest was tight, his stomach suddenly rotten. He couldn't explain the sudden desire to turn back, or why the man seemed so, surreal. His heart pounded and instinct screamed to leave. Had it not been for love, he had left long ago. 

But he knocked, meekly on the door frame.

"H-hello? Sir?"

There was a rustling somewhere in the darkness of the house. He waited, his throat growing tight. His eyes unable to pierce the darkness within the house.  

"Anyone?" He pleaded.

The rustling noise never stopped. Dry, like metal on rock.

Bryan swallowed hard, but a newly emerged lump would not go down.

Bryan took a step crossing the threshold into the unknown.

Squinting his eyes hard his eyes slowly began to focus, making only shapes out of the darkness. There was old furniture, a banister to a flight of stairs, and old wooden floor, and a glow from the next room. Not a white glow like from an electronic but a low yellow. The sound was louder, the metal on stone and wood.

Bryan crept closer to the next room. He could here a paddle of soft steps in-between the sound now. He swallowed hard once more, but to no avail. He turned the corner.

A dim flickering light made it difficult to see again. He could tell to the right of the room was a pile of refuge, large jagged objects protruded every which way. To the left he noticed a dark spot in the wall, another room where small slights of light were coming in from a boarded up window. Then the left wall of the room hand a small pile of what he assumed was coal. The man in his plaid shirt shoveled the coal into a fire place, but his actions only further suffocating the fire that was dying. The man had not turned to Bryan's presence, he continued shoveling small bits of coal into the dying fire.

"Um, excuse me sir, I am sorry to barge in on you, but I'm looking for my son."

The man stopped. Bryan swallowed hard, but the fear clogged his throat the again. The man turned and regarded Bryan for a moment over his shoulder and turned back to the fire place, uninterested in Bryan.

"He's a small boy, 13 years old..." he was lost as the man said nothing. "...sort of fragile shoulders." He said aloud more in memory of his son than in description.

"Sometimes fragile things are harder to break than they seem." A croak came from the man. Bryan had gotten lost staring down at the floor. He looked up in confusion to meet a blur.           

Bryan flung his arms up in a defense. A hard clang met his elbow and sent him stepping back from the pain. He stumbled, tripped, and landed on his butt.

The man swung the shovel again hitting the walls above Bryan. Bryan flinched down and kicked up. His heel striking the man's thighs. The man reared up with the shovel directly over his head, preparing to swing down. Bryan flailed in a panic, throwing his arms up to shield his face in a last attempt and kicking out once more.

His heels connected with the belly of the man and toppled him back. The added weight and position caused him too to trip and fall into the pile with a sickening splat and crack. There followed a silence.

Bryan hadn't even realized he was clenching his eyes shut. He opened them to a silence in the room, with his heart beating in his ears. He could see better than before now, and the room was filthy, something crusty and brown was on the floor , and dirt with rocks littered the corners.

He searched frantically for the man. He searched so hard he overlooked him twice. And there, before hi he stood slightly erect, slouching and not moving. Through the man's back, and out his stomach stood a broken pipe that had been protruding from the refuse.

Bryan swallowed hard again. A gummy feeling over took his mouth and throat. He waited. He waited longer for the man to move. He had never killed anyone before. It was then that Bryan became acutely aware of a noise from outside. A running motor.

He stood and went to the adjoining room where he peeped out of the slots created by the blocked window. Outside was an old truck still running, it had crashed into his dirt bike. There were three men outside as well. They were throwing parts of his bike around in the air scattering them, one stood off to the side with a torch.

"What the fuck." Bryan whispered. His heart raced again. He had to get out. He headed back into the room and stopped.

Bryan's blood ran cold. The room was as he had left it. But the man was missing.

There was no one in the room with Bryan, dead or alive.

He took several steps out and saw no one around the corner. He moved further, and no one in the hall. He edged around the corner, and saw the man in plaid. His back was to Bryan, he was walking away, outside towards the other men, as if the wound inflict caused him no pain.

Bryan's eyes widened, his lips trembled which he stop by biting them and holding them in place. He looked around for another viable exit. The next door was boarded up, he couldn't go outside, so he had to go upstairs.

At the top there were several doors that lined the narrow hallways. Bryan took the right and nearest door. Throwing the door open he saw a small double bed against the wall which he passed. Atop it was a small, curled up, wet mass. He didn't stop to look at it, to acknowledge what it really was or wasn't. There was a single window, it too had the glass smashed in. The glass lay in bit on the carpet which was hard and crunchy under Bryan's steps.

Bryan climbed out of the window onto the slick and loose shingles of the roof. He could hear the men inside the house now. An inarticulate scream of rage came from downstairs. Bryan hurried his short steps. He came to the edge. He squatted down and began to lower himself down. His hands gripping the gutter tightly. As his legs dangled, he dropped, with a thud.

Bryan pushed off the ground, tall weeds grew where grass had long died. Bryan ran to the fence, passing a small child's swing. The fence was low enough he could easily toss his body up and over the fence.

Bryan found himself in a single one way road with fences on both sides and left over metal trash cans lining the once occupied area.

Bryan ran. He ran as fast as he could, pumping his legs, pumping until his veins pumped glass.

Bryan stopped, his heart burned. He realized he did not know where he was, or where to go from here. He looked back behind him, and no one followed. 
 
In the thin air, the falling ash almost concealed a crackling pop. Bryan's ears perked up. In rapid succession, but controlled and spaced, the pops continued in the distance. In a daze Bryan squinted his eyes in the direction he believed the noise to be coming from. The loud snaps in the air familiar yet so foreign suddenly. Fireworks? Why where there fireworks?
 
And then, Bryan realized his own stupidity.
 
They were gunshots.