Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Writing Wednesdays: The Reformed 1.1

February 1, 2021

    Kent Andrews cracked his knuckles.  The popping annoyed Chloe and he knew it, but still he continued.  If she was going to keep on working with the Reforms then he was going to keep on protesting.
    She eyed him.  Kent shrugged, snapping his neck left, then right.  She particularly despised neck popping.
    “What?” he asked.  He didn’t hide the frustration from his voice.
    “How many times have I told you that doing that will give you arthritis?  When you can’t use your hands or turn your neck, don’t come crying to me.”
    Kent snorted.  “You still think we’re going to live to be old after everything we’ve been through?”
    The annoyance drained from her face.  For a fleeting second Kent could see the haunted look of the past three years flash across her eyes.  He was almost sorry he asked, but before sorrow could form, hard determination reappeared.  “Of course I do.  You don’t?”
    “No.  I don’t.”  The same images flashed through his mind.  The throng of people closing in.  Not knowing who was who.   Total chaos.  Hands clutching and grabbing, but the one that mattered slipping from his grip.  Screams and gunshots.  Loud wails and gentle moans.  He could still hear her shriek as the things pulled her away.  Daddy!
    Kent drained the dregs of the coffee, the bitter taste of expired beans fitting his mood.  He needed another cup.  Silence hung between them as he refilled the mug, letting the steam rise and warm his face.  Another cold day.
    “I should be back early tonight.  There’s not really much left for us to do.”  Kent didn’t say anything.  Chloe moved from the table and stood next to him.  “Maybe we could get some alone time in?  It’s been a while.”
    Her fingers traced his jaw, but he barely felt their touch.  Where is the woman I married?  He sipped the coffee, turning his face away.  He knew it hurt her, but she deserved it.  How could she want to help the monsters that took Kallie?
Soon she was out the door.  Kent wasted no time.  He threw on his thermals, grabbed his rifle, and headed out.

    Giant snow drifts hid most of the surrounding land.  Even the Mississippi River was concealed, though its churning gave its location away.  Kent sat in a tree on a deer stand, reclining against the pale bark.  His rifle lay loaded and ready at his side.
    He’d been sneaking out hunting for several months now, leaving after Chloe left for work and returning home before she came back.  She knew nothing of his trips into the wild.  The counselor in her would say that they paralleled his inner mind’s descent into darkness.  She’d be right.  Out in the wilds, where things before the Fall were ruins, Kent could find peace.  The budding life within the compound proper was just too much for him.
    Here he could let his mind roam.  He could lose himself in his savagery, like a man going native among scalpers.  The depression of the city did not exist outside its boundaries.  Stepping away was the only time he felt alive any more.
    So why do I keep going back?  He didn’t know.  He guessed he still loved Chloe, but it was no longer the flame it had once been.  After Kallie disappeared, his life went one way and hers went another.  He didn’t understand why she wanted to try and help them, the now-called zetas, as if renaming them would change their identities.  No, they were zombies.  Monsters.  Scum that deserved death, not redemption.  A bullet to the brain was the only mercy he’d show them.
    A few hours passed.  The sun brought a warm glow to the air, but Kent reckoned it was still below freezing.  Occasional gusts would chill him, even through the heavy thermals.  The woods were quiet, but they were not empty.
    Through the binoculars he could make out three shambling figures moving slowly towards the city.  His scent was concealed beneath clothes and a deodorizer, but the rag in his duffel would draw their attention.  They were still far out when he climbed down from the stand and made his way to a low hanging limb a few yards away.  He unlatched the container and slung the bloodied rag over the branch, careful not to touch it.
    Back in the stand he watched the creatures change direction.  Smelling the rag, they no longer shambled but instead ran.  Kent picked up his rifle and leveled his scope on the man on the left.  The thing’s mangy face came into view, skull-like and hollow, and he pulled the trigger.  A second later, the head was gone.  Kent repeated the process with the man on the right.
    The last zombie ran on, slowing only slightly once it realized its companions had fallen.  Kent pulled his scope up and stalled.  He hadn’t noticed before, but this one was young, a girl, probably around ten when she changed.  Wet, tangled hair fell from her head, the same auburn color as Kallie’s.  Kent shivered.
    It would be on the rag in seconds.  It might even be smart enough to see the trap, but he doubted it.  If it made it to the city, the CRC would certainly find it.  It’d be captured and whisked away to one of the RC plants and within a month released out into society, a beta.  A Reformed.
    Kent stared through the scope considering what the do.  Killing them wouldn’t bring back Kallie, but neither would letting one go.  And this wouldn’t be the first time he’d killed a child.  But she looks so much like Kallie...  He lowered the gun and watched the zombie grab the soiled rag.  It groaned as it licked the blood from the cloth, biting and gnawing like a dog chewing gristle from a bone.  There was no denying its hunger, its need for nourishment.  But Kent Andrews felt no sympathy for it.  They were always hungry.
    It stopped and sniffed.  In the quiet woods, Kent could hear its inhale, wheezy and thick.  It did it a few times and then went back to the rag.  Its back was to him now.  And while it took nourishment from the rag, it no longer resembled a small girl but instead the monster that it was.  He took quick aim and ended its existence.
    The rest of the day passed quickly.  Kent moved around to the various stands he’d constructed or found, baiting and killing with ruthless efficiency.  By two o’clock, he’d dropped twelve zombies using only fifteen shots.  The sun was deep in the western sky when he decided to head back home.
    Adrenaline had kept him warm throughout the day, but now that the excitement was over he was starting to cool off.  Long shadows kept his eyes jumping, fully alert for any lingering dead.  But the trip was uneventful, and soon the lights of the compound appeared.
    The place was a large, walled city.  Before the Fall it had been called Middle Port, a small city on the western edge of Illinois.  Now it was known as the Hub by some, Locus by others, and Central Station by most everyone else.  It was the largest of the newly established city-states, current population near two million, not counting betas.  It also was the headquarters for the Capture and Reformation Coalition.
    The west gate was still open as Kent made his way through.  Security wasn’t as tight as it was in the early days, though he still had to walk through the militia lines to enter.  Similar to airport terminals of old, he made his way through his usual line.  As always, Dave manned the station.
    “How’d it go today, Kent?”  
    “Not too bad.  Got fourteen of ‘em.”
    The older man chuckled.  “Good.  Keep it up.”
    “I plan to.  Looks pretty dead around here.”
    “Yeah, cold weather’s keeping most everybody inside I guess.  Or the dark.  Been a few RC crews in and out, but that’s about it.  Couple a transport vans.”  Dave spat.
    The two got along great.  Like everyone, they’d both lost family to the hordes.  Dave was as bitter as Kent when it came to Reformation, though, and because of that the two were fast friends.  If not for the man’s formidable size and prowess, not to mention years of military experience, the Hub’s militia would have decommissioned him after the first betas were released.
    “Well, let’s hope I got more than they brought in, huh?”
    “Gotta head back to the house before Chloe gets home.  Later on.”
    He made his way down Center Street to the large hotel building.  He saw a few stragglers out, moving quickly to get indoors before sunset.  Kent scoffed at the double standards.  In public, people would say they supported the CRC, that they believed betas should be integrated back into society.  The same people hid behind their walls when the betas came out at night, terrified or angry as the next person.
    Before he entered the lobby, a convoy of dark vans drove past him.  They were unmarked, but everyone knew what was inside.  For a wild moment he thought about following them, sneaking behind the betas when they were released.  Maybe even doing a little late-night hunting.  He knew he could do it, but he wouldn’t beat Chloe home, nor would he be able to get away with the murders, either.  The same hiding people would call his actions heinous in the day and execute him without a second glance.
    He watched the last of the taillights disappear.  “Not tonight,” he said.


Crystal said...

Interesting story!

I'm VERY jealous that you're reading both Mockingjay and The Way of Kings. I haven't had the chance to purchase either yet. But next week, Brandon Sanderson will be in Seattle!!! I plan on being at the book store to see him and I'll probably pick up The Way of Kings then.

Mattson Tomlin said...

my new favorite.

logankstewart said...

@Crystal: Thanks. Did you catch last week's 1st installment?

That's awesome that you get to meet Sanderson. The book is massive and quite a work of art itself. Good luck.

@Mattson: Thank you very much. Did you catch last week's 1st installment?

Jay Belt said...

Good stuff, I'm looking forward to more!

logankstewart said...

@Jay: Thank you. Me too!

Okie said...

Great piece of work here. You've got a cool, intriguing world....not just your average "zombie infestation", but some new dynamics and new tension. Keep it up. :)

logankstewart said...

@Okie: Thank you very much. I've got some ideas that make the traditional zombie a bit different; hopefully it pans out.