Authors: Anne Ferretti
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by this author.
Copyright 2013 © By Anne Ferretti
All rights reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in retrieval form, or transmitted in any form by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without express permission from the author.
n nature, competition to survive guarantees only the strongest species will prevail, thus eliminating the unfit. It is the evolutionary theory known as survival of the fittest.
Table of Contents
snow funnel charged across the frozen tundra of what was once an Oklahoma oil field. The tops of the derricks stood barely visible, held hostage under mountains of ice that cascaded down in frozen waterfalls over the hapless machines. At the base, and scattered whether the eye cared to see or not, were the dead. To the casual observer it appeared Mother Nature had gone mad.
Bundled head to toe in subzero gear, Captain Austin Reynolds stopped to rest at the edge of the field. He watched the snow funnel with disinterest. He viewed the landscape in the same manner; his senses dulled to the sights before him. Having witnessed the madness first hand, he knew there was nothing natural about it. He knew when the freak storm descended upon the country, wreaking its havoc in less than forty eight hours, Mother Nature had not been on the stage for this play. She’d bowed out in haste, allowing an unknown to steal the show.
Austin’s gaze traveled out across the harsh white expanse, past the bodies, towards the three suns hovering just above the horizon. Damn infernal suns. They’d held the same spot for six months, with the same brilliant halo of light surrounding the center sun, and the same mock suns, crescent in shape, one on each side. The edge of the mock suns facing the center sun were a dull orange in color and away from the sun was comet-like in appearance with a white tail disappearing behind it. Austin’s gaze shifted up to the sky above, which despite, and in spite of the presence of the suns, remained a dismal gray.
General Roth had called the suns an atmospheric phenomenon. What they were was not important to Austin, nor did it matter in light of events occurring shortly after they appeared. What was important, and Austin tried to anticipate, was what chaos the final act might bring. The second act had been mild compared to the first, and he suspected the third was going to be a shit storm. He lowered his gaze back to the uncharitable landscape in front of him.
Never trusting a calm aftermath, Austin knew that lull could be either friend or foe, usually the latter. Shaking his head at his own thoughts, he disagreed with his choice of words and shrugged. Calm didn’t give an accurate view of his new world, but in comparison, it worked as well as any other. The future was now blurred to the point of not existing, except as a memory that never happened.
There wasn’t time to contemplate the loss of his future or that of mankind’s. Austin’s main concern was survival, which meant navigating the frozen terrain stretched out in front of him. Having calculated the time it would take to cross the field and reach the next town, he decided they would forge ahead. Back tracking meant running the risk of exposure and that was a vulnerability he could live without. The terrain was relatively flat, so even running shouldn’t prove too difficult.
He glanced over his shoulder at the sled loaded with supplies, lifelines ignored under less dire circumstances. More than once he thought of ditching it, but caution over what might lay ahead trumped inconvenience and the sled journeyed on with them. If luck fell their way, they would find another ATV.
Austin accepted the responsibility of being one of two humans left, never questioning why him or if he had the tenacity to survive. Having tip toed the line between good and evil, even traded punches with the devil a few times, he knew he had it. Lesser men considered him arrogant, cocky really, but he didn’t have time for lesser men. They were the first to cry for his help when the devil came calling.
Having the rotten luck of being born in Deadbear, Alaska, a community on the fringe of nowhere, Austin and the cold were very familiar. Not that living in Deadbear was all bad, except when you throw in your mom splitting before your fifth birthday and your old man being a raging alcoholic. Those two shit factors would turn life in paradise bleak.
While other kids texted, tweeted and updated their social status, Austin took care of his old man. Care entailed endless nights making sure his dad didn’t wind up face down in the snow froze to death and days where he worked odd jobs for food or money. Not easy tasks in a place where below zero temperatures were the norm and the winds could knock over a small pick-up truck. School had been optional. Eating had been optional. No one cared, least of all the old man. Not long after his tenth birthday, fate threw Austin a bone that changed his life course and saved him from a similar demise.
Now, sixteen years later, standing in the middle of an Oklahoma that resembled his childhood home, he wondered if fate had only prolonged the inevitable. He pushed up his goggles to rub his eyes, but his neoprene gloves were an obstacle to what should have been a simple task and the frigid air didn’t allow for leisure. He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, hoping to produce a bit of moisture. Nothing was simple any more. He rubbed the best he could. After a few seconds he dropped his goggles back in place, hoisted the sled straps over his shoulder.
“You ready?” He looked over at his travel companion Luke Taylor, a nineteen year old kid he’d saved on his way through Louisiana.
Luke nodded. “I can pull.” He offered his hand.
“I’m good. It’ll be dark soon.” Austin tightened his hold and stepped forward, relieved to find his assessment was accurate. The frozen surface of the field made for an easy pull, allowing him to break into a jog. Luke followed. There wasn’t time for small talk, nor did the conditions allow it. The fading light served as a constant reminder of the need to find shelter. They maneuvered around the oil derricks and the frozen corpses to the other side of the field where they picked up tempo.
Within a couple of hours they arrived in the next town. The narrative, abhorrent to
as it was, hadn’t deviated from every other town and city they’d forged through over the past months. Signs of life were void. No people. No animals. Only a town entombed in snow and ice with dead bodies lying about in macabre contorted fashion. Poor souls dropped from the sky, left to rot where they landed, or rather, frozen in their perpetual horrid death. It was the only time the weary travelers were thankful the temperatures hovered around the zero mark.
A few months in they’d learned to ignore the bodies, even became numb to the sight. After the initial drop there wasn’t much that could stun or surprise a person with quite the same impact to the senses. Austin had attempted to write down the events of that day, but the words eluded him. A day to live in infamy, the phrase often used to describe spectacular moments throughout history, fell short in all aspects of that which took place six months earlier. He gave up trying to give it the right words. In his journal, and whenever it was a topic of conversation, he referred to it as Drop Day or simply The Drop.
Waving his hand, Austin signaled in the direction of a grocery store. A large sign above read Lucky’s Grocery and Feed. Austin trudged on to the store not waiting to see if his companion followed.
Luke followed, but at a snail’s pace, all the while eyeing the broken entrance doors with trepidation. Lucky’s looked anything but. He knew he was being a sissy, but despite the captain being the only living being he’d seen since the Drop, Luke expected zombies or something equally depraved to pounce on them from every dark corner. He couldn’t come around to thinking like the captain, who had accepted the fact they were the last of the living, wasn’t afraid of anything or anyone, and had already charged through the doors into the dark interior of the store. Luke hung just outside the entrance for a few seconds longer before squaring his shoulders and stepping through the shattered glass doors.
Once inside, Luke again looked around, stopping to inspect each dark corner where shadows lurked and, if he stared long enough, sometimes moved. He pushed up his goggles and blinked several times. The lines between light and dark blurred as the day began to fade away, but nothing moved. No zombies pounced on him. He sighed, as much in relief as in disappointment. At least you could kill a zombie. In theory anyway.
Just past a small snow drift stationed in front of the entrance Austin waited. Once Luke jumped over, Austin pulled the sled farther into the store out of sight from the windows. Luke did another quick survey for signs of movement, grabbed a shopping basket and followed after Austin. The store had the usual sights one expected to see, shelves fully stocked, carts lined up ready for use, bags, both paper and plastic, ready to be filled. The only thing missing was the customers.
Down the cereal aisle, Austin stood watching his breath appear and disappear in front of him. He’d removed his face mask and slowly rubbed his hand over his shaved head. A habit he’d carried forward from childhood. A habit his wife would have instantly recognized as a sign, not of frustration or helplessness, but of debating options, of coming up with a plan. The scruff of his beard hid a handsome face that looked younger than its twenty six years. His wary blue eyes, hard from life’s experiences, reflected a maturity well beyond that.
“Find more batteries. Double Ds and As.” He instructed when Luke caught up.
“The usual.” Austin replied. “And watch the lights.”
Luke dismissed this warning with a wave of his hand. He didn’t need a reminder about the lights. Luke strolled past several aisles – baking goods, pet food, ethnic food – and turned down the aisle of misfit grocery products.
The further into the store he ventured, the less natural light remained. Using a tiny key ring flashlight to navigate the shelves, Luke continued to shop. He blocked the light with one hand, leaving it on for only a few seconds at a time. The first thing he placed in the basket was batteries, of all sizes. In their ‘no electricity’ world, batteries were their only life line. No phone a friend. No fifty-fifty.
A pack of D batteries slipped from his grasp, clanking loudly into the basket. The basket tilted sideways almost spilling its contents. Luke grasped the bottom and held his breath. He tilted his head, dog like, listening for even the slightest indication the noise might have attracted unwanted attention. But the store was a tomb, shrouded in a blanket of thick silence. He breathed again, gathered the remaining items they needed for the night, and hurried to the back of the store.
Inside the grocery’s dairy freezer, Austin had removed several crates, rolled out the shelves and set up camp for the night. Luke placed the basket in the corner of the freezer. He grabbed items for their dinner, canned chili, saltines, bottled water and chocolate donuts. Austin pulled the heavy freezer door closed tight entombing them in darkness. Soon the darkness was pushed to the corners by a battery powered lantern set on an empty milk crate.