Ash V. II

He stirred in his sleep, finally awaking after a long slumber. He slept well and his amnesia was gone, he could clearly remember what had happened to him in the woods. He was attacked.

He looked around and remembered where he was, in the back room of the gas station with the old couch. He noticed a figure was sitting across from him. The figure was examining Marcus as he moved. A sense of dread filled him as he realized he was being watched.

How could I have been so foolish? He thought. He just walked into a strange village he knew nothing about and fell asleep. For all he knew he had walked straight into a trap and evil intentions were about to be carried out on a now vulnerable Marcus.

“Who are you?” a masculine voice asked demandingly.

“Marcus, my name is Marcus.”

“What are you doing in my town? Arnold took a big risk letting you stay back here.” The figure said, referring to the first man Marcus had run into during his stay here.

The man was tall, even while sitting Marcus felt tiny compared to him, he also had a big bushy beard that seemed to hid his face with help of the room already being quite dim.

“I just needed a place to stay, I was quite weary and needed a place to rest. I was attacked and robbed by a group of bandits. They left me for dead in the woods near here.”

As soon as Marcus said the word bandits, the man’s face grew pale with fear.

“What? You were attacked by bandits?! And then you came here?” The man screamed hastily.

Suddenly, on the defensive, Marcus yelled back, “I did not led anyone here, after they attacked I-“. Just then, the sound of a large vehicle filled the valley, the noise getting louder with each passing second.

The instant he heard the noise, the tall bearded man grabbed the shotgun that laid on his lap and ran to the window. “Those had better not be your friends! If they are I’ll kill you where you stand!”

Marcus then joined the man by window, they saw a large armored vehicle creep down the road in the direction of the station. In the vehicle sat twelve men, their faces shrouded by gas masks and their hoods. The man ran out of the room leaving Marcus alone.

Marcus sat and tried to listen to the events unfolding outside. It sounded like a heated argument but he could not clearly hear what each person was saying. He desperately hoped that this was a peaceful arrangement, he knew that this looked very bad for him, if the conversation outside went south, the man would surely kill him for bringing ill fortune to his town. But even despite this, that was not his main reason for wanting peace of course, he had become so weary of war and destruction, the world had seen enough violence and bloodshed.

Finally, he got up to investigate what was going on outside. He sneaked up to one of the old windows and watched the strangers speak with the residents of the gas station. There were three men speaking with two of the townsfolk, them being the bearded man and the man who had let him stay in the village. Most of the strangers stayed near their vehicle while three of their comrades spoke with the two men The strangers were all wearing armor that looked military grade and they all looked identical. They wore gas masks covered by a hood and had chest armor that looked like football gear in nature but was obviously made out of a tough metal. The rest of their bodies were covered in dark clothing. All of them carried impressive assault rifles.

All the residents of the station stood outside of their shacks, watching the event unfold with their weapons out ready to fight for their lives. That was the law in this cruel new world; fight for your life and trust no one. That’s what these people were doing, honoring the law.

As he walked closer to the crowd, everything turned for the worst. Suddenly, gunfire rang through the air, who started the confrontation Marcus could not tell, but he saw the bearded man and his companion laying lifeless on the ground. In such a small moment of time the entire town became a war zone. Gunfire rang from every corner. The people of this town would fight to the death if they had to.

Marcus fled back into the main building, he saw a back door and ran through it escaping into the back and then ran straight into the forest. He ran until his body could take no more, the adrenaline coursing through his veins gave him enough vigor to keep going until the now distant gunshots dissipated.  After being completely worn out from his flight, he sat down on the ashy cold ground for a while to regain his strength, he was tired and cold. He wanted to start a fire but knew it would give him away to anyone who maybe searching for stragglers from the fight. No, he didn’t want to risk being exposed to anything for that matter.

He sat against the trunk of a burnt dead tree and pondered what had happened while he waited for the proper time to return to see if anyone survived. He wondered who the strangers were, they didn’t fit the M.O. of the typical marauder, they were much too civilized and equipped.

After sitting there for about an hour he grew very cold. He began to pace around to keep himself warm. But finally after two hours had passed he had had enough, he turned back towards the station. He hiked through the dark desolation that was the forest and made it to the old gas station once again, he hid nearby and watched the town for any life. He waited, but there was nothing, not a single noise, did anyone survive? He wondered. He walked into the town, bodies littered the ground, the buildings were covered in bullet holes. No, nobody who lived here survived the battle.

He mourned those who died, but now he had to move on. He scrounged through the towns shacks for supplies, all of them were in disarray, as if someone had searched through everything, but the odd thing was that nothing was taken. The strangers came here for something in particular. This theory was supported even more when Marcus found in one of the shacks, a hidden safe that had a hole busted into it. Its contents were removed, and whatever was originally in it Marcus could not tell. But it was the only thing in town that may have been looted, but even then he had no way of knowing for sure.

He found in one of the shanties, the townspeople’s supply cache. In it were some varied ammunition, a few cases of canned food, some bottled water, and a few planks of wood. He guessed that there might be an abandoned town nearby, and that’s where the townsfolk had gotten their supplies.  He also found an old, but still running ATV in the back of one shack. After finding the key in the main building of the gas station, he loaded the ATV with as many resources that he could fit. From water, to food, to other useful miscellaneous items, he loaded it all.

He started the ATV and headed down the cracked, ash covered road, making sure to go in the opposite direction of a set of tracks leading away from town, the ones left behind by the strangers after they left. Evidence showed that after the battle, they returned to their vehicle and headed west. Because of this, Marcus decided to go east.

He saw on the side of the road an old burnt, but legible road sign. It read:

Argyle 75 mi.

Seneca Falls 16 mi.

He then decided to go check out Seneca Falls, perhaps there were enough supplies there to sustain himself for a little while. Given the name, he guessed there may be water there, likely fresh given the region he was in. Mountainous regions, like where he was, weren’t affected as badly by the fallout of the war, so most mountain water was safe to drink. It was water that flowed from the ruined cities that could never be trusted.

He drove down the road for several miles, watching the frozen war torn landscape for any threat that maybe hiding around a corner ready to pounce on him like a mouse. He didn’t worry too much though, with humanity slowly fading into obscurity the roads began to be a lot less populated, highwaymen were becoming much more of a rarer sight. Even so, especially after his last run in with marauder, he made to keep an observant eye on anywhere someone could hide.

Eventually, the road brought him up a mountain and through one of its saddles. Once atop of the saddle he could see a great distance. This was where the small mountain range ended so he could see for miles and miles. He looked down and made out a small ruin down below. He could see several grey buildings but that was it. This was the remnants of Seneca Falls. The distance and dim sunless light blotted out any details of the ruin.

Nightfall was coming, he needed to find shelter soon. The already dark world would be pitch black in a matter of hours. He began to drive but the engine of the ATV started to spudder, and then the vehicle shut off. Out of a gas. He was stuck.

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A special thank you to Alan K. Jackson who worked as my scribe in this short story.
Check out his New YouTube channel: A.K.Jackson Channel

Featured Image: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-x5DnF0u02zs/T4KdsnbYU6I/AAAAAAAAAT4/1ow5AecQJMA/s640/gasstation_easterroadtrip_MG_3184.jpg

I hope you enjoyed this story.
-Michael B. Kubly

Map

image

In my last two posts I accounted the stories of Marcus and Caleb. Two completely different characters from different times living in the continent known as The Heart Of The World in a fictional world. The map above shows the world where Marcus lives. Of course the world is far bigger than this, but I decided only to show this part because its the place Marcus resides and it would unnecessary to show more. Caleb lives in the same map, living in the nation known as Elysium which will one day become the elysian barrens shown here in the map. Hopefully this map will help give perspective to my stories that I’m making into a series that I will be publishing here on this site. Thank you.

Adolescense

Perhaps if we hold an upstairs room and keep the lights off. Then well be able to last a lot longer and be less noticeable I thought to myself, yes! That could work, we find a large skyscraper, go to the top level, lock it down and stay silen-.

“Mr. Erastus!”

I jolted forward from my daydream to the sound of my World History teacher yelling my name, I knew he knew I was daydreaming, and he certainly wouldn’t let me get away with that. That wouldn’t be Mr. Finch’s way.

“Could you do your classmates a favor and answer my question?” He asked, with an evil smirk across his wrinkly pale face.

“Yes sir, could you repeat the question?”

“What year was the World Alliance signed?”

Crap. I had no idea in the slightest what year it was signed, I thought extremely hard, I dug deep into my memory, but found no promising answer.

“2A 243, sir” I finally answered with a sense of defeat in my voice.

Mr. finch then started laughing and sarcastically exclaimed, “The great World Alliance was created in the same decade as when Alakite colonists first discovered the Kathara Isles!” He immediately stopped laughing and said with a serious tone,” Mr. Erastus, I didn’t appreciate my student not taking my class seriously, now either pay attention or get out!”

“Yes sir, I’m sorry sir.” I said quietly.

What a jerk, I thought. Mr. finch was a bitter old man, and everyone in class thought the same. He was a hard and strict teacher, nobody uttered a word, a whisper, or a simple noise during his lectures out of fear of his harsh correction. As far as I knew he was in his sixty’s, and had no wife or kids. Perhaps he was lonely, and he vented his frustration of life through his teaching. Though if that were the case, loneliness in my opinion is no excuse for being a complete jerk.

I tried to pay attention to the best of my ability, I mostly ignored what he said and just copied what he wrote down on the board for notes. I’ll just study it later. I always did that with my classes, I didn’t really listen to what the teacher said, I just copied what they would write on the board so that I would have the basic concept of what to do when the test came around. Because of this lack of true academic initiative you can imagine that I don’t do very well in school. I’m a C student, I’m not successful but I’m also not a failure. I’m okay with that because if we’re honest the only people in my life who truly care about my grades are my parents. In my eyes so long as I graduate I’ll be fine. I’m comfortable being a C student.

After what felt like thirty years in limbo, the bell finally rang. It was finally time to go home. I rose from my seat and collected my books from under my chair. Just then Mr. Finch approached me and said with a confidently evil voice, “I expect I will no longer have any reason to call you out in the middle of class again, Mr. Erastus?”.

Happy that it was a Friday, I was no longer angry for being embarrassed in front of the whole class by him, so I joyfully replied, “I certainly hope not, have a good weekend Mr. Finch.”

He nodded back as if to say, ‘You too’.

I then left the classroom to go to my locker where my friends commonly met after school. You see, me and my best friends Mark and Stephen (who were twin brothers) got really lucky this year and got all our lockers really close to each other. Mine and Stephen’s lockers were adjacent to each other, Marks locker was to my right with one other locker between us. That locker belonged to some guy named Finn. Oddly enough, Finn never actually went to his locker, in fact I don’t even know what he looks like, but Marks insists he knows him. I insist that Finn doesn’t exist.

I approached my locker, Mark and Stephen were standing there talking about their day. They turned when they saw me coming their way.

Being twin brothers, both Mark and Stephen have similar appearances, they both had brown curly hair and had oval faces. The biggest thing that separated their appearances were their faces and their body sizes. Mark was tall, stocky, and wore glasses. Stephen on the other hand was quite the opposite, he was skinny, short, and didn’t have a single muscle on his body except for his legs. That guy could outrun a horse, and because of that he was the prize of our school’s track team.

“Mr. Caleb Erastus! Have you been daydreaming again?” Mark teased, mimicking Mr. Finch’s voice with scary accuracy.

“Shut up!” I replied jokingly, “So do you guys want to come to my house Saturday night so we can play some Apocalypse City?”

Apocalypse City was our favorite video game. It was pretty straightforward, you start in a huge city where you can interact with everything, the NPCs (non-playable character, or extras), the vehicles, the buildings, everything. The goal is to survive and save as many survivors as possible. There are three modes: Zombie, Nuclear War, and Asteroid (nobody has ever survived asteroid). Our favorite mode was Zombie, where you randomly appear somewhere in the city, and a random NPC would become a zombie and they attack other nearby NPCs and the plague spreads. It has become routine for us three to play Apocalypse City when we all hang out.

“I’m down.” Said Stephen with his brother nodding in agreement, “We have to beat Asteroid mode before graduation!”.

“Three weeks to beat a nearly impossible game? Challenge accepted my dear friend!” I remarked with confidence. “hey, I have to get going. I’ll see you guys Saturday night. Later”.

I grabbed my backpack from my locker and walked through the zoo that was my school. I said hi to the people I knew as I walked through the crowds, but I made a point to make short conversation with each person that tried to talk to me so I could make it out of the building as soon as possible. When school was over, my only concern was going home, but it seemed like everyone wanted to prevent that. I talked with at least twelve people about meaningless things until I was finally able to make through the glass doors to the outside of my school. It was a sunny day, the sun shined down glowing everything around me, it was warm but a small wind cooled the day, it was truly a beautiful day.

I got into my paper-white, fourteen-year-old Sedan with a dent in the door, and drove off. My house was only a few blocks away from my house, I drove to it and pulled into the driveway. The house was a red ranch house in the middle of a small middle class neighborhood.  We had lived in this house ever since I was little, my parents couldn’t afford anything bigger. My father owns a small hardware store and my mom is a receptionist at a local law firm so were not poor but we certainly aren’t rich.

I unlocked the door with my key, nobody was home yet so I had the house to myself. I walked through the long hallway going into my living room. The hallway was filled with family photos and had two doors. One door led to the kitchen and the other door went into another hallway that was home to even more family photos and my sister’s and parent’s room. My mother was obsessed with taking photos when my sister and I were kids. She took pictures of anything and everything that was remotely related to our childhood, I would always complain when she pulled out her camera, and she would always say the same, “You’ll thank me when you’re older”. It’s funny, 12 years later and I still haven’t thanked her for it.

I walked into our living room. Our living and dining room were in one big room, with the living room on the left and the dining room on the right from the perspective of the hallway. The living room had a large leather couch facing the wall. From the view of the couch you had a large chair in which we usually read from, on the right side was an uncomfortable loveseat that nobody sat on unless they absolutely had to. The dining room was a dark wood table with four wooden chairs for each of my family members.

I laid down on the leather sofa. It was soft and comfortable, years of use had rendered it plushy and covered in scratches. When I laid down I sunk into it, I was always tired after school so I would always take a nap directly afterward.

I awoke to the sound of my mother walking through the front door. She walked into the kitchen and put what sounded like groceries on the kitchen counter. She walked into the living room and told me to get up and join the living. I reluctantly got up and went into our kitchen, I grabbed a soda and I drank it while leaning against the kitchen counter.

My mother walked into the kitchen and said, “hey Cal, how was school?” with sincerity.

“It was good, I made Mr. Finch angry again.”

She frowned, and then joked “With you, that shouldn’t be hard to manage!”.

I laughed. My mother was a small slender woman with long straight brown hair, she never disregarded how she looked, so there was not a single moment my sister and I saw her without her makeup or had not done her hair. She cared deeply for her children and was a great mother to us.

Eventually my father came home from work followed by my sister. We all gathered at the dinner table, my father had picked up a Ready-to-eat chicken and we all began to partake and reminisce about the day.

“Any news?” my father asked while making his plate.

“I got a call from my father today, he’s coming up next weekend”. My mother replied looking down in almost shame.

My father rolled his eyes and sighed, “I just bought two expensive bottles of wine, what am I supposed to do? Dump them?

“We can drink the one bottle over the course of the week and you can dump the second before he comes”.

My grandfather was a senator who traveled due to his occupation and often visited his only daughter when his was in the region. This was a dreaded occasion for my parents because my grandfather was an alcoholic so whenever he would come over my parents would drain everything in the liquor cabinet so he wouldn’t get into it. My mother had dealt with his alcoholism most of her life so she tried her best to keep it from me and my sister.

My father was a hard man, he worked hard his entire life and all the stress and work had made his heart a little callous, he wasn’t a very sensitive man. He didn’t grow up rich like my grandfather, he had to fight and claw to get where he is at now, but despite all the stress, he always kept a strong sense of righteousness and thus he was brutally honest with people. So whenever my grandfather would come over and ask where the alcohol was, if there was alcohol, the only thing my father could do was be honest.

But the worst thing about my grandfather in my opinion was not his drinking problem but how he saw my dad. Being a senator, he was always surrounded by prestigious people so he never really approved of my mom marrying my dad.

“Are you sure he can’t stay somewhere else?” My father asked my mother hesitantly.

“No, he insisted on staying here” she replied, suggesting she had asked him personally if there was anywhere else he could stay.

My father sighed. “Any other news?”

“Yes” my sister said silently, then spoke up, “I was watching the news this morning and scientists say that a small group of asteroids are entering the solar system…”

 

To Be Continued.

Ash

It was four in the morning somewhere in a large burnt forest where he awoke in pain. His name was Marcus, but at this time he had no idea who he was because he was suffering from a concussion. The pain he was feeling seemed shattering, like every bone in his body had been broken and twisted, the pain was so intense that the only thing on his body he could move was his eyes.

He laid on the frozen ash covered ground for what seemed to him like days, but were really only several hours. He could do nothing but examine the dark smoky sky and recollect his memories. Quickly he remembered who he was, the people he knew, the old world, and the war that only happened a year and a half ago. He hated to think about the old world, this was because he didn’t like to remind himself that the world was once green, the sky once blue, and the water clear. But no, now it was all black. Marcus knew that if the world kept getting colder, there would be no hope for humanity. But there was still hope for the world, Marcus was starting to realize that in the past couple weeks the temperature had actually been rising, and the sky was getting brighter.

After several hours of laying on the ground in truly agonizing pain, he finally had enough strength to pull himself up out of the dusty snow on to his feet. He had a terrible limp in both his legs, so it took him several times to get up and not collapse under his own weight. Once he learned how to keep himself up without falling in pain, he started to analyze his surroundings. He noticed he was in a crater, not a large one, but one that may have been formed from some kind of explosion. The dead trees surrounding the crater had all fallen over, like a great wind had come out of the crater and knocked them down.

After he found his way out of the crater and out of clearing of fallen trees, he walked into the forest. The woods were black and he could hardly see anything. He was tired and still in pain, he knew he needed to find shelter, he noticed behind him past several trees was a narrow cliff that someone could easily climb up. As he was walking toward the cliff he tripped over something in the snow. Marcus knelt down and began to unearth the anomaly out of the snow, this wasn’t much of a challenge for him because the snow was very powdery and easy to move. When he was done, he was severely shocked at his discovery there laying in the black snow was the corpse of a man. Marcus had never seen a dead body before; he didn’t know how to react. Sure he felt great pity for the man, but didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t just leave him there, but he couldn’t give him a burial or a cremation; the ground was frozen and he didn’t have anything to start a fire, so he just did what they always did in the movies: he prayed for him, then closed the man’s eyes and put the man’s jacket over his face. Marcus noticed that the man had binoculars around his neck. He decided to take it so he could find a shelter once he reached the vantage point.

Climbing up the cliff wasn’t much of a challenge for him either. The cliff wasn’t that steep, and there were a lot of rocks so there was a lot of traction. To add onto that, the boots Marcus was wearing were leather mountain boots so climbing was very easy.

After several miles up the mountain side, he finally found a proper vantage point over the valley. He looked across the desolate land, desperately searching for any sign of human life (or at least anything green). The entire valley was burned and it seemed as though there was nothing left alive. He searched the valley from the edge, all the way to the horizon which was covered by mountains and dead trees that looked more like jagged and broken toothpicks. He started to fill his mind with depressing thoughts that he could be the last man standing, the sole survivor of Armageddon.

When it seemed as though there was no hope of finding any sign of human life in this valley, he saw it. Deep in the valley he saw a line of smoke coming out of the dusty valley. He instantly pulled out the binoculars, cleaned the dust of the lens, then followed the smoke to its source. There he saw a gas station with a parking lot that had several shanty shacks. The name of the gas station was unrecognizable due to the distance Marcus was at. After seeing the twisted dead landscape, he suddenly noticed how incredibly quiet the land was, there was nothing, no birds chirping, no sounds of animals wandering through the trees, absolutely no sounds of cars speeding through a nearby highway. Not even the earth dared to make even a whisper here. The wind didn’t blow, the trees didn’t drop, and it seemed as though all water stood still. It seemed like he was the only living thing left on the planet. All his life he had never felt as lonely as he felt then. After experiencing such a feeling of almost complete loneliness, the only words that could leave his mouth was, “I’m losing hope.”

Soon after, he lowered himself down from the bluff and headed straight for the gas station he spotted from the bluff. It was several miles from Marcus’s current location. Due to the unknown pain that was still running through his bones, he walked at a very slow pace. As he wandered through the forest he stumbled across many terrible things. During his walk he found many animal carcasses that lay frozen in the snow, he also stumbled across several burned corpses that the fires of the bombs had claimed.

Marcus began to weep, and asked himself “How did it come to this?”

“The war has taken everything from me. It has taken my family, my friends, my home…” He paused and realized that all his life, even before the war he’d never really had a place to call home. This was actually a good attribute for a new world like this. Those who were born travelers, could quickly adapt to the new lifestyle, the desolate land demanded refugees to cover the broken roads with the footprints of weary desperate travelers. This is what Marcus was, a refugee. Except he wasn’t like most drifters that covered the roads, most travelled in bands or in a tribe. Not Marcus, he would much rather travel alone than with others. There was something unique about him that neither he nor humanity could identify, but all his life he was wondering whether it was a positive or negative influence on his life.

He soon found a small stream in the forest after walking several miles. He fell to his knees and began to blindly drink the water with no regard of what toxins might be in the water. After his thirst was quenched, he found a calm section of the stream that he used as a mirror to see his reflection.

His reflection was somewhat deformed from the ripples in the water, but he could still see a good image of his face. He had brown frayed hair that was at a medium length and would sometimes cover his eyes and was somewhat wavy at the ends. He also had a thin trimmed beard which was pretty normal for men in the post Second Age because a razor wasn’t necessarily easy to get ahold of. Most men just trimmed their faces with scissors, but almost no man was clean-shaven. At first glance Marcus’s eyes appeared to be hazel but were really blue. He was wearing a black shirt with a grey neck, his pants were dark blue but were very dirty. His dark, leather boots came up to his shins. To cover himself and keep him warm he had a long, dark brown coat that went down to his calves. The only possessions he had on him was the clothes on his back. He had nothing else, no food, no water, no weapons.

Eventually, after several miles of walking he finally found a clearing. In the clearing there were vehicle tracks in snow that were filled with slush. The tracks went down a hill and attached to a highway. He followed down the tracks then slipped down the hill, all the way down to the paved road. Most of the road was covered by a layer of snow and ash but some of it was exposed. The main clue that it was a road was the railing, abandoned cars in the ditches, and old highway signs that still stood despite the war. He wandered down the highway then saw a sign sticking out of the ash, it said “Gas station, one mile.”

After the long mile to the station, he was finally there, the gas station stood right in front of him. The gas station was pretty intact, there were five shacks that were put together with what seemed to be car parts, next to the station was a small shop. On top of the gas station were broken neon lights that spelled out “baby dragon gas.” After reading the sign the only thing Marcus could say was, “What a terrible name.”

He walked straight away toward the shop. Inside the shop was a middle-aged man behind a snack bar. Before the man could say a word Marcus interrupted him saying, “Do you have anywhere I can lie down?”

“There’s a couch in the backroom that you can crash on, so long as you promise not to cause any trouble.” The man responded firmly.

“Thank you, and trust me I won’t try anything.” Marcus impatiently replied, then headed straight for the backroom.

The room was very messy, and the couch was uncomfortable; but Marcus didn’t care, he was tired. He collapsed on the stiff couch, used his jacket as a blanket then laid his head on the cushion, turned to his side then quickly fell into a deep sleep.

 

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Photo: https://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/traveler-magazine/photo-contest/2012/entries/130212/view/