Golden Age

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic


Richard P.O.V.

Chapter 14 (v.1) - Especially In Michigan

Submitted: October 05, 2019

Reads: 56

A A A | A A A

Submitted: October 05, 2019

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Especially in Michigan

 

 

Little Ricky is racing along on his brand new bicycle. It’s bright red, with black seat and handlebars. He had gotten it for his eighth birthday. Cody’s ahead of him, he’s always been the faster rider. Not this time, Ricky thinks with a smile. He stands up, and leans forward, put all his muscles to work. He takes the turn faster than he ever has before, he can hear Cody laughing hysterically up ahead. Ricky is going so fast, all the trailers are a blur, until they all bleed into one. He can hear the neighbors yelling at him to shut the fuck up, and slow the fuck down. He doesn’t care. He hears Cody’s laugh getting even further away. How is this possible? He’s never been this fast, even Cody’s never been this fast. Everything around him is covered in a fog. He’s coming up to the part of the park that turns into Dead Man’s Hill. Cody’s laugh turns to screams. Ricky reaches the top of Dead Man’s Hill. It gets its name from the turn at the bottom, if you aren’t careful, if you go to fast, you jump the embankment and fall twenty feet into a lake. There’s a log in the lake, looks like a dead body. Except now… now it really is a dead body. The lake has turned into a river. The fog isn’t fog, it’s smoke. Black, billowing smoke. The body that’s supposed to be a log in a river that’s meant to be a lake is joined by more. And more. And more. And more. Dozens turn to hundreds. All reaching out to Richard, calling his name. He sees his mother, blood dripping from her ears, and eyes, and throat. So many more have that same look. His brother Brad is behind her, skin pale blue and eyes black. Green vomit drying on his shirt. A hand grabs his shoulder, but he shrugs it away without looking. So many people, burnt and charred bodies. He pushes through the crowd. He sees the kid from Shining Hope that bullied Cody. He’s laughing as the blood spurts out his neck, his pants down by his ankles. The dick sucker is behind him, his eye black, and oozing blood. He starts recognizing the bodies now, the people. All people he’s hurt, maimed, murdered. He wants to scream that he’s sorry, that it was nothing personal. He did it for his brother. No words come out, just silence. He hears Cody screaming again, but further away. He sees his mom again, and goes to her. He wants to plead with her, tries to, but he has no voice. She looks at him, anger and pity in her bloody eyes.

“You were supposed to protect him,” she says. Richard’s face turns to horror as she reaches for him. He turns to run as everybody surrounds him, reaching him. Crushing him. All theirs voices mixing together in one long howl of pain and anger, repeating his name over and over and over and over and over. He’s spinning around so much, that they all melt together. He can no longer see individual faces. They all form together into one person. Her eyes, her hair still pulled back in that ponytail. It’s Kelly, her skin blackened, and cracked. Falling off her bones in flakes. Raw and red underneath, pulsing. It’s only her now, Cody screams are louder, calling out for Richard now. He’s too busy staring into Kelly’s eyes. Unlike the others, there’s no anger there, only sadness. She holds her arms out, bones showing underneath.

“This is all your fault,” She says to him.

Richard shakes his head, still unable to speak.

“You have to make this right.” And she disappears. The smoke is disappearing. He can smell… salt? The voices have silenced to a low rumble, almost a distant thunder. No, not thunder. Waves. Richard turns once again, and the river that’s supposed to be a lake is now an ocean. The body that’s supposed to be a log standing in the middle of the river is alive, and waving at him. Richard takes a step closer, then another step, and another step, and another step. White sands surround him for miles. To his right is a pier that  goes out from the shore endlessly into the ocean. He hears the call of a seagull, somewhere in the distance. He steps onto the ocean, walking on the waves until he reaches Cody, who’s treading water. It’s so clear, Richard can see his legs kicking. He looks down into that gap-toothed smile.

“Hiya, kid,” Richard finally speaks.

“Time to wake up, Dickie.”

 

 

 

 

*** **

 

 

 

 

Richard awoke in a cold sweat, and screamed when his eyes came into focus. Cody was only inches from his face. Cody screamed back at him, and jumped back. He fell flat on his ass, and despite the terror that just washed over him, Richard busted up laughing. Cody gave a little laugh, and stood up. He walked over to Richard, and helped him stand.

“You okay, Dickie? You were screaming.”

“Was I?”

“Yep. You have a bad dream?”

“Kid, you have no idea.”

He’d been having nightmares ever since they left Shining Hope. Well, technically, the day after. Once they made it to the other side of the river on their getaway, he had passed out, and slept wonderfully. He had no idea how long he had slept, but the sun wasn’t quite on the horizon when they were woken by an old black man and a giant Indian. Once the brothers had convinced them that they were not a threat to them, nor were they a part of that massive eyesore forming across the river, they were allowed to go on their way. The old black man told them of a village less than two weeks away, and told them his sister ran it. She would give them shelter, if they were willing to work for it. Richard politely declined the offer, not wanting to get involved with any other Survivors or Refugees quite yet. The big Indian told him that some place is better than no place, and then they disappeared into the woods. The brothers had packed up their meager belongings, and headed back towards the river. Richard had doubted if anybody had even noticed the mayor’s psycho was dead, let alone that he and Cody had vanished. They had walked about two hours when Cody pointed behind them. The skies towards Shining Hope had turned black. No other clouds in the sky, Richard knew it was smoke. It blotted out the King’s Mountains. He told Cody that a storm must be brewing, and urged him along not wanting to tell him the truth. Shining Hope was burning. Somebody must have partied too hard.  For two weeks, he believed that. It wasn’t until they came across a small caravan that they heard the stories. The village had sent out all their defenses to find a couple of murderers, and a dragon had swept through and burnt it to the ground. The caravan was on their way, to help in any way they could, and maybe join their society. The small group were eying them suspiciously, but still offered to take the brothers along. Richard kindly refused, and they went on their way. The group told them they heard over eight hundred dead, and the dragon wasn’t done. It was burning everything in its path, raping virgins, feeding on their corpses. Richard obviously believed nothing about dragons, but knew in his heart that Shining Hope was gone. He knew that if he hadn’t killed that psycho, the defenses would have stayed, and maybe have saved Shining Hope. It was his fault. Since that day, he’s had nightmares. Nothing like last night, though. The dream did give him ideas, though. A sense of direction.

Richard and Cody grew up in a suburb forty-five minutes northwest of Detroit. For the first eight years of his life,  his family would take summer vacations along the gulf coast. Panama City Beach, where the sands were as white as snow, and hot as coal. The waters were always a calm blue, more blue than the clearest sky. They never had more fun than when they were there.

His parents separated shortly after his ninth birthday, with the divorce finalizing the following spring. His dad moved west, back to Seattle with his family. The next two summers were spent at his father’s house. They never went back to Florida. Carnage came the year Richard turned eleven. Detroit was one of the earliest cities ravaged by the Carnage virus, as another of its suburbs had the highest Muslim population in the country. Many went to witness the peace treaty in the Middle East. They came back in celebration, unknowingly bringing death along. Richard’s mother was a nurse at the University of Michigan hospital. She was one of the first to die. By then, all air travel had been grounded, but it was too late. The plague had already spread. Richard’s older brother Brad was seventeen at the time, and had his learner’s permit. He decided he would take the younger two cross-country to their father, in  hopes that he was still alive. They had made it into Indiana before the expressway was too clogged to go any further. Richard could still remember the bodies hanging out of their cars, people walking along the pavement, screaming in fear. Others vomiting blood, as more was pouring out of their ears and eyes. Brad spent most of that walk shielding Cody’s eyes from the horrors. Richard was still too young to fully comprehend what he was seeing. He was fascinated by it all, it was like a real-life movie. What he remembered most happened thirty miles outside of Gary, Indiana. The traffic going west was a dead stop. I-94 going east wasn’t as bad. It was still somewhat traversable by car, if the people were going slow. Richard and his brothers watched it all happen, as if in slow motion. They could tell the driver of the semi had the plague, at that point still nameless. His windshield was splattered in blood before the accident. Richard couldn’t judge the speed he was going, but the truck ran into a group of people standing outside their cars. Brad tried to scream and warn them, but they didn’t listen. People went flying like ragdolls. One woman was stuck to the grill of the truck as it slammed into the stopped cars. Her torso had severed from her legs on impact. Richard could still hear her screams all these years later, if the wind blew through the trees just right.

The three brothers kept going west, long after any hope of finding their father alive was gone. Brad never gave up, though. Even as Richard grew from an innocent prepubescent into a sulky teenager, Brad kept them going, never showing any negativity. He was their rock, always joking with Cody, making sure he was cared for completely. It was through him, the former Boy Scout that they learned what they needed to in order to survive. They learned from whom they needed to stay hidden, and who would be likely to give them a place to sleep and some food for the night. Despite all of this, it wasn’t until after Brad died that Richard realized that he didn’t have any idea what to do, or where to go. He was playing it all by ear, which was exactly what Richard had been doing. No longer.

“Hey, kid,” Richard said, calling Cody over from his early morning crow hunt.

“Yes, Dickie?”

“Remember Panama City?”

“Yeah… We’d go there all the time, thirty years ago.” Always thirty years. Why thirty years?

“Not that long, kid, but close. Remember all the fun we had?”

“Yeah. Remember that time? There was a hurricane, and we kept getting knocked back by the waves?”

“Yes, Cody. How would you feel if we went back? Maybe live on the beach?”

“Really? Are you sure we can?”

“Well, I don’t know what it’s like anymore, but we can see, right?”

Cody jumped up and down, rubbing his hands together. Richard started laughing, he couldn’t remember the last time he saw Cody this excited.

“It’s a long, long ways away, okay? I don’t know how long it’ll take us, and I don’t know who or what we’ll run into. I don’t even know if it’s there, hurricanes could have wiped it away, yeah?”

“Okay. Hey, Dickie. Remember that time, thirty years ago…”

Jesus, this is gonna be a long trip. Why’d I have to say anything? Richard smiled. It was good to have purpose again. Maybe the nightmares will stop.

 

 

*** **

 

 

 

Richard looks along the shoreline. There is nobody around, just Cody and him. The piers are collapsed, mostly just pillars jutting out of the water. Testaments to a more civilized time. Everything is so bright, the white sand is blinding. The warmth feels so good on  his feet. He bends over, and runs his fingers through the sand. He wipes them off on his pants, and smiles.

“Well, we made it, kid. We’re finally here.” Cody doesn’t answer. Richard is all alone on the beach. His heart starts to thud in his chest. He hears screaming, then sees arms waving at him in the waves. He tries to get to him, but the waves are so strong, the water feels thick, almost like a  jelly. He finally makes it to the spot where Cody went under, but he’s gone.

“Hey, Dickie.” He hears Cody, and turns back towards shore. Cody is standing right where they were, smiling and waving at him. Cody smiles, and tries to go back. Something is holding him in place. He looks down, and sees two hands on his foot, pulling. The person is smiling back him, an evil, charred smile. The hand reaches out of the water, grabs him by the shoulder, and pulls him down towards that evil smile.

 

 

 

*** **

 

 

 

He awoke with a jolt. He must not have screamed, Cody was still snoring. He was covered in a cold sweat, and shaking violently. He got up, and put more wood on their meager fire. He had no idea what time it was, but he had no desire to go back to sleep. When will these nightmares end? He wasn’t sure, but he figured they wouldn’t be going away any time soon. That’s just fool’s wishing, as his father was prone to say. As he sat there, huddled by the little fire, he made up his mind. As soon as the first rays of sun appeared, he would wake Cody and start their journey South.

For nine days, they walked. They followed the river until it turned into a lake. The brothers hid amongst the trees, keeping an eye for any evidence of human activity. All they found was an abandoned fishing shack, complete with rods, nets, and even a  small rowboat. They spent an hour or so digging up worms for bait. Cody didn’t find it very funny when Richard put one down the back of his shirt. Richard almost peed, watching Cody run around like a little girl.

Cody was excited to take the boat out and do some fishing, but Richard refused. He had no idea if the cabin still belonged to somebody. He had no desire to be in the middle of the lake when they found out. Still, the lake was teeming with trout. After a few misguided attempts at casting, Richard finally got the line out. Within ten minutes, he was reeling in a fish. Once he got comfortable enough with his own casting, he decided to show Cody how to do it. Cody’s first cast was perfect, even going further than his brother’s.

“Lucky bastard. How’d you do that?”

“You’re a piss-poor Indian, Dickie,” he laughed.

Richard stopped dead in his tracks. Brad’s voice just came out of Cody’s mouth. They were the last words Brad had ever said to Richard. When he asked Brad what the hell was he going to do without him, that was his response. Whenever they went camping as kids, Richard would always end up lost, nor could he start a fire. He couldn’t fish, and he despised hunting, an almost unheard of attitude in Michigan. Brad would always call him a piss-poor Indian. Their mother would always chide Brad, telling him to stop it, “Ricky’s trying his best.” She’d then kiss him on the forehead. He could still smell the stale beer on her breath after all these years. Brad’s gentle ribbing and constant jokes eventually got to Richard. He stopped caring, stopped trying to learn. Now that he needed to know, wanted to learn, everyone who could have taught him as dead. He tried learning from the various tribes they came across, but they learned from the past. Most had no trust of outsiders. Especially any that might be considered a liability. So, Richard learned as he went, and remained a piss-poor Indian.

By the time they called it quits for the day, the brothers had caught seven trout. Cody caught five, but Richard had snagged more. They just took the bait and ran, as it were. Cody kept bragging about it until Richard threw a fish at the back of his head. He started a fire, and they  cooked their day’s work. Richard didn’t think they’d be able to eat all seven, but every bite proved better than the last. Before he knew it, the trout was gone. Richard felt so full and content, he even played his banjo until Cody fell asleep. He hadn’t touched it since the night in Shining Hope.

The moon was rising high, peering down at them through thin clouds. Richard put some more wood on their fire. For the first time in an eternity, he drifted into a dreamless sleep.

 

 

 

*** **

 

 

 

He was brought back into the waking world by something gently tapping at his foot. A rough voice, graveled by age was speaking words he didn’t understand. As sleep left his eyes and the world came into focus, he saw a tangle of wild grey hair, and a beard too match. His hair was white as snow, but his skin was tanned and leathered from the sun. He smiled down at Richard, eyes of the palest blue. In his left hand was the most beautifully carved hiking stick Richard had ever seen. His right hand was resting on a dagger that was sheathed to his hip. He spoke again in a language Richard didn’t understand.

“What’s he saying, Dickie?” Cody was awake, and pushed back against the wall, his blanket pulled up to his chin. The old man tensed up, but smiled at Cody.

“I don’t… I’m sorry, but I can’t…” Richard pushed himself up. He was wishing his knife wasn’t so far away. The old man’s smile turned to a frown.

“You’re not Coeur d’Alene,” the old man sighed. It was not a question. Richard began to understand. He took a step forward, arms out. The old man’s hand tightened on his knife. He gave Cody a long, cold stare.

“You’re obviously not Devout. And you’re too old to be…” he trailed off. He let go of his knife, and turned his back to the brothers. He started shuffling through his shack, making it obvious he was checking to see if anything was stolen.

“You boys make it a habit of breaking into people’s homes, and stealing their shit?”

“No. We didn’t steal anything,” Cody told him, offended at the accusation.

“The fish, boy. You stole my fish.” He smiled and winked at Cody.

“The lake’s not your house,” Cody said, smiling back.

“Sure it is! I’m the ugliest mermaid that ever lived!” His laugh echoed off the walls of the shack, and Cody laughed along with him. Richard started to let his guard down. The old man turned his attention back to Richard. He gazed at him with his blue eyes, so pale they were almost grey, but didn’t say a word.

“Hi… I’m, uh… I’m Richard, and this is…”

“No! No names. You won’t be around long enough for me to care.”

“Are you kicking us out?” Richard asked him. He wasn’t arguing the validity of the old man claiming this shack. He was more worried about the dark skies forming to the west. It looked like it was going to be one hell of a storm. The old man, put both hands on his hiking stick, and sighed a deep, low grumble. Richard thought for a second he was hearing thunder.

“You can go out and catch as many fish as you can reel in. Salt it, cure it. Take it with you. I’ll give you until noon. Then you will be gone.”

“But, the storm…” Cody blurted.

“Then you best hope you catch plenty. Quit your jabbing, and go.” When he saw the brothers weren’t in any rush to move, the old man ran his hands through his hair in frustration. His hair was so dirty and greasy that it stood in place, sticking straight up. Cody fought hard not to laugh.

“Look,” the old man started. “This lake belongs to the Coeur d’Alene. They’ve entrusted me to guard it. It’s sacred to them. So sacred, in fact, that while you are fishing, I have to go tell them you’re here, and why. They’re a peaceful people, but believe me. They have no love, nor trust of outsiders. You’d be best to just leave this place.”

“But they trust you? Why?” Richard was curious, but didn’t want to come right out and ask how some old white guy was entrusted with guarding a “sacred” lake.

“Because I saved the Indian princess, pal. They wanted me to marry her because of it, see? But she was too damn ugly, I offered to take a house on a lake as my reward. Now, here I am.”

“Bullshit.” Richard said. He was starting to get annoyed by the old man and his lies. He now had his knife resting in its sheath. He felt so much better with it where it belonged. Braver, stronger. More confident. Cody could sense the tension in the air, he was pushing back into the corner of the shack, trying to hide behind his blanket. The old man just smiled, and waved him off.

“Don’t know who you are, kid, don’t know where you’re going. Don’t fucking care. Don’t bother going west. Nothing but trees and bears. Helluva mean pack of wolves, too. From here, head east for about two miles. You’ll get to the old highway, heads north to south, or vice versa, whichever way you wanna go. The Coeur d’Alene have cleared it of all traffic for ten miles in both directions. North is Devout territory. Obviously, you don’t wanna go that way unless you’re God-fearing folk. I ain’t, so I don’t go that way.”

“That’s fine,” Richard said. “We’re heading south, anyway.”

“Are ya, now?”

“I thought you didn’t care,” Richard said, maybe a bit too confrontationally.

“We’re going to Panama City Beach,” Cody said. “It’s in Florida.”

“Are ya, now? Well, that’s a long way to walk, that’s for sure.”

“I think we’ll manage.”

“Oh, for sure, for sure,” said the old man. He spoke so calmly, that Richard felt that maybe he was being too paranoid against him. The old man pulled a satchel across his shoulder. “Listen, boys. When I was your age, all I ever wanted was to retire in Florida. So many girls in bikinis oughtta keep an old man’s heart going. But trust me when I tell you that there’s no more Florida. Carnage should have come knocking a couple years earlier, if you know what I mean. Mankind doomed themselves well before that plague came. Climate change, global warming, all that shit. The Carnage virus came too late to stop it. No more retirement village, no more titties bouncing, keeping me going. Save yourself a lot of heartache. There’s nothing there for you.”

“Well, I’ll be sure to take the advice of a complete stranger to heart.” Richard was getting tired of this man’s constant rambling. He just wanted to get moving before the storm hit. He was beginning to doubt everything this man had said, including it being Indian territory.

“Advice is free, boy, so let me give you some more. Coeur d’Alene territory extends ten miles south on that highway. The cars and trash and shit piles back up. Beyond that point, it’s no longer safe. You’ll want to move as quickly and as quietly as possible. Can’t tell you how long it lasts, their territory is always shifting. Especially lately. The Zombies seem not care so much the last few weeks, they don’t send their missionaries this far south to keep order.”

“What’s south?” Cody asked. He was still nervous, but rejoining the other two.

“Nothing good. Now, the boat floats. Go get some fish, and get the hell out of here. Noon, remember that. No later.” With that, the old man left the shack and wandered into the woods. Richard and Cody were left staring at each other.

“What just happened, Dickie?”

“I have no idea, kid.”

“Okay…”

“Let’s get in the boat, and start some fishing, yeah?”

“Okay.”

 

 

 

*** **

 

 

 

Their haul wasn’t as great as the night before, but the fish they did get were bigger. They weren’t out on the water very long. Richard didn’t care for the way the sky looked, and storms always made Cody nervous. By the time noon rolled around, they were already back to shore, and walking through the woods. Richard decided to follow the old man’s instructions, and headed east. Not so much because he believed him about the bears and wolves, but mostly to avoid the storm. They had only made it a little more than a mile before the storm hit.

The wind swept through the underbrush, sending pine needles into their backs. The branches were crashing so hard together, that Richard could barely hear the thunder. They were hidden well under the cover of the leaves that they weren’t getting hit by the majority of the rain, but the leaves also blocked out most of whatever light there was. More than once, the brothers tripped over roots and rocks. Cody wanted to stay put, and wait until the storm passed. Richard felt the same way, until a bolt of lightning took out a tree a hundred yards away. The whole world had turned to white for just a split second, then everything had stopped. Richard saw the tree explode before he heard the world come back to life. Cody screamed in terror, but Richard kept him going. Eventually, Richard saw the edge of the woods. It was a solid grey wall with nothing beyond. This is it, we’ve reached the End of the Earth. They reached Land’s End only to see six lanes of highway. The rain was so heavy, the winds so strong that Richard could barely see the four people standing on the highway out in the middle of the storm.

“I don’t fucking believe it,” Richard muttered.

“What?!” Cody yelled, wanting to be heard through the wind.

“Stay behind me, kid,” he shouted back. Together they walked towards the group. It was the old man from the shack. Next to him was a person that Richard could only assume was the elder. The other two he guessed were just muscle.

“Punctual, I like that!” The old man shouted.

“I’m surprised to see you,” Richard shouted back. “With friends.”

The old man glared sideways at the group. The Elder just smiled back.

“They strongly suggested I join you. To keep you safe. Let’s get going, if I have to look at this smiling prick any longer, I may just stab him.” The Elder laughed at him.

They started walking down the highway away from the Coeur d’Alene. Richard was not happy having this fool of a man be his guide, but not nearly as unhappy as the old man himself.

“What’s your name?” Cody asked, barely heard over the rain.

“Thomas.”

“Hi, Thomas,” Cody said.

“What are you protecting us from?” Richard yelled.

“Orphans,” the old man yelled back.

Richard turned back. The Coeur d’Alene had disappeared.


© Copyright 2020 B.P. Banker. All rights reserved.

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