I'm #closingcircles and finishing projects before starting anything new.
With this story, I'm letting readers glimpse behind the scenes of my writing process and encouraging them to help me find mistakes and leave their thoughts in the comment section.
Thanks for reading and being a part of this process.
Read the PROLOGUE here
Read CHAPTER 1 here
Chad studied the last two
playing cards cupped in his palm, fighting a smile. Taunting the fates would cost his edge.
Drake, a notorious bad
winner, had already crushed him during the evening's two previous games. If Chad lost this hand, the sacred law of
three-out-of-five took effect. Drake
would spend the rest of the night gloating and Chad would have to wash the dishes
piling up in the sink. And of all the
chores, Chad hated dishes the most. The
nasty cold, soapy water chilled the bones in his knuckles.
Chad couldn't decide if
he wanted to pair the queen or hearts or the six of clubs.
As a large vanilla
scented candle flickered beside them, Drake scraped a can of deviled ham with a
Chad squinted, trying to
block out the irksome clatter. "I
hate when you do that."
gone." Drake raked the spoon
against the bottom of the can. "You
can make all the noise you want to when it's my turn."
Chad snorted, locking
eyes with Drake.
"Well, what are you
waiting for?" Drake rang the inside
of the can like a bell with the spoon.
"You have only two left to choose from. Call."
savored the moment, "have any…queens?"
"Go fish." Drake, beaming, tossed the can and spoon
aside and picked up three cards lying face down on his lap. "After I win, you can clean that can up,
"Damn." Chad reached for the pile between them. "I thought I had you that time."
"Guppies can't catch
tigers." Drake reorganized his
cards. "It's one of nature's edicts."
Chad drew a two of spades
from the deck.
To hell with Drake's
uncanny good fortune.
Before the plague, he
dominated video and board games.
Neighborhood kids who gambled with him lost lunch money and baseball
cards, refusing to come over after they realized that the oldest brother could
not be beat. When the power went out for
good, games were all Chad and Drake had left.
Backgammon's appeal ebbed early on, and chess proved fruitless. Drake always snuck in for the kill with his
knights. Even if Chad took out the
horses early, Drake would checkmate him with pawns and then revel in winning
with the game's weakest pieces.
Lady Luck preferred Drake.
Chad, on the other hand,
excelled at athletic activities. Drake
would be out of breath long before Chad ever broke a sweat. He could knock baseballs to the next block
from the neighboring roof where the brothers often swung golf clubs and wooden
bats scavenged from abandoned garages and sheds.
Over the past two years,
Chad had become a better shot with guns.
"I'm getting tired
of games, Drake. Why don't we go
"This is just an
excuse to get out of losing." Drake
leaned back on his elbows, holding his cards close to his chest. "Didn't you get enough yesterday?"
"Could have been
"Yeah, and it could
have been better. You didn't listen to
me when I told you to stop shooting. If
we ran out of bullets, we'd still be in there."
Chad, not in the mood for
a lecture, huffed.
"What do you
fluid." Chad flicked the lid of a dull chrome Zippo open with his
thumb. "How about you? Low on anything?"
"No, I'm good."
Drake set his cards down, tapping their
backs with his fingertips.
"I also wouldn't mind
looking at the stars."
"And where do you
plan on stargazing, Galileo? On top of
Old Lady Scott's house."
"That place still
smells like cats."
Drake snickered. "It could smell like your bedroom."
Chad ignored the fight
bait and returned all the playing cards to the pack. The stink around Old Lady Scott's cottage had
nothing on the death that poisoned the air inside the Megacenter.
After closing the worn
flap on the cardboard container housing the deck of cards, Chad returned them
to the stack of board games beside Mom's brown recliner. He couldn't stand a mess. Putting things in their place kept the world
Drake yawned. "Ready?"
Chad blew out the candle,
turning on a flashlight. The beam
pierced the dark room, reflecting floating dust motes. Mom called them spirit flowers when Chad
first discovered the translucent specks wafting about, telling him that they
were the souls of their ancestors watching over them.
Did her soul watch as
Chad followed Drake up the stairs, to the hallway dividing the master bedroom
from the two smaller ones?
In the center of the
hall, Drake reached for a dangling thread and pulled down the attic door,
unfolding an access ladder.
He pointed up. "You first."
Chad grabbed the wooden rail
with his free hand and climbed, the ladder's joints squeaking under his
weight. Drake followed, pulling up the
trap door behind them.
Stepping on the
crossbeams as not to fall through the ceiling, Cad followed a pathway cutting
through boxes filled with the family's holiday decorations and toys the
brothers had outgrown but were too sentimental for Mom to throw away.
Past the oblong box
containing the fake Christmas tree and plastic wreath Dad hung on the front
door every year, a plywood flap attached by hinges covered a jagged oval hole
in the roof. Chad flipped off his
flashlight, swung open the cover, and poked his head through the opening.
Suspended like a jewel among
the cloudless, starry night, a waxing gibbous moon illuminated the pavement and
overgrown grass below. Thankful for clear
visibility, Chad tucked the flashlight into his pocket.
Though their stockpile
included plenty of batteries, conservation remained crucial. Finding high priority supplies randomly
buried in the houses dotting their neighborhood took longer and longer before
paying off, forcing deeper treks into the surrounding blocks.
Chad wasn't naïve.
One day there would be nothing
left worth pillaging, and they would have to leave the nest. Outside of monthly camping trips, vacations to
Disney World, and school field trips to Tallahassee's soaring capital building,
Chad had never left Port Wallace.
Leaving their sanctuary and striking off into the world frightened him
as much as the reanimates.
In small numbers, the corpses
were easy to kill, but there was no telling how many flesh-hungry packs wandered
the uninhabited streets. Equally
dangerous, a starving traveler might kill for supplies as fast as the herds
could strip the skin from your bones.
Chad envied the night sky's
"Just Orion making a
run at the sky again," Chad said.
"The lawn needs a mow."
happening. It matches the rest of the
block anyway. Come on, climb up. Let me out of here."
Chad pulled himself out
of the hole, his blue jeans scraping on the shingles. Standing on the hipped rooftop, he scanned
the dark houses lining Lister Avenue while adjusting his holster.
A southern wind wafted in
the peaceful crashing waves from the Gulf of Mexico.
A second later, Drake was
standing beside him, checking his revolver's bullets. "Where do you think we'll find fluid? The Robinsons'?"
Chad hung out with Timmy
Robinson a lot before the change. An
only child, Timmy told a million dirty jokes and was the first kid Chad ever
saw smoke a cigarette. Once he went
door-to-door, collecting donations for the TR Foundation, a play on his own
name so he could buy a new bike from the Megacenter. Chad shot Timmy while searching for Robotech
comic books in the Robinson house, once in the chest before putting him down
for good with a shot between the kid's clouded red and yellow eyes. Drake disposed of Timmy's parents in their
said. "Think we cleaned it
"Beach Mart is
"Yeah, but Double S
has more crap inside."
Drake walked to the far
left of the roof and picked up one of three metal ladders from a pile on the
roof's edge. Chad grabbed the other end
of the ladder and pulled—a sharp click echoed down the street as the ladder opened
Chad checked the empty
A single sheet of newspaper
twisted along the pavement.
mouse." Drake heaved the ladder to
the edge of the roof, bridging the six-foot gap to next door neighbor's mansard
roof. "We should ditch the bikes
and boost a car."
knelt before the makeshift catwalk.
"You never got your license.
permit doesn't count."
"Does so. It's not my fault no one ever showed you
"And where would we
"I don't know. Anywhere.
"Doesn't sound fun
Drake sat on the base of
the ladder as Chad got on all fours and crawled between the buildings.
Chad turned around and held
the other end for Drake while he crossed.
The adjacent rooftop lodged
their collection of bats, golf clubs, and tennis rackets. Balls filled several plastic milk crates, and
he noticed they were low on tennis balls—something to keep an eye out for. After Drake traversed the gap, the brothers
carried the ladder to the other edge and repeated the process, this time
creating a bridge between their neighbor's house and Old Lady Scott's.
The breeze stirred and
"Next time, I'm
wearing a sweater. You can really feel
fall coming in." He wrapped his
bare arms across his worn Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T-shirt, covering
Donatello's faded sneer. "I bet it
snows this year."
"It never snows
here. You should be thankful we're not
someplace like Philly or Chicago. I bet
whoever's left is dick-deep in snow right now."
"Think the rots
freeze up there?"
"If they did, it'd
be like a statue garden."
"People would have a
fighting chance. You could walk up and
blast them. Pick them off one by
one. They could sweep in and clear the
streets with those big machines they use to plow snow."
"Jesus, the smell when
they thawed… Remember when Dad's fridge
broke and all the deer meat went bad?"
Once the brothers reached
Old Lady Scott's flat, L-shaped roof, they wheeled their beach cruisers to the pediment
overlooking the driveway, listening for movement in the streets.
"I tell you, this
house stinks," whispered Chad.
"Cats. I smell cats."
Drake chuckled. "It's all in your head."
"No, it's not."
"We can make it top
priority, spend a day down there cleaning it up."
"Hey, you're the one
acting like a pretty, pretty princess."
"I was just
"Yup. I heard ya.
Look at your damned stars so we can get on with it."
When they started making
runs two years ago, the brothers attached a pair of hemp ropes to a red brick chimney
on the right-hand side of the roof.
Drake picked up one of the loose ends and tied it around the frame of
his green beach cruiser, lowering the bike over the edge of the house. Chad affixed his end to a matching black
bike. Drake's bike touched ground, and
he used the rope to climb after it. Chad
joined him, making as little noise as possible.
They untied the bikes and
wheeled them to the street, searching again for any movement.
They mounted their bikes
and peddled towards Bearden Circle, a winding, S-shaped road leading to Cappo
Drive and the Stop and Shop convenience store.
The riskiest leg of the
journey, dangerous shadowy areas blanketed feral trees and shrubs taking over
the tall, tightly-spaced houses lining Bearden Circle.
Chad peddled harder,
putting as much distance as possible from the edge of the pavement by riding on
the double yellow lines.
"There hasn't been
too many of them lately," said Chad after they made the curve. "Even less than three months ago."
anything. I think they're all inside the
Remembering the suicide
in electronics, the hairs on Chads arms tingled. Looking towards the road's inky shoulder, the
shadows suddenly seemed more ominous.
second," Drake said when the brothers reached the bent stop sign at the
intersection of Bearden Circle and Cappo Drive.
Before them, the Treasure
Ship, a towering Spanish galleon rising high above one of the many marinas
dotting Wallace Bay, stood sentential over Cappo Drive. In another time, the immense building served
as a restaurant, gift shop, and bar. Chad's
tenth birthday party was held in the third floor's main restaurant. A man dressed as a pirate twisted two hot-dog
balloons into an orange sword and a red parrot that sat on his shoulder.
He couldn't recall how
Mom's voice sounded anymore.
Drake panted. "Think it's empty?"
"I loved watching
the boats pass under the fishing bridge from the upper deck."
"One day, we have to
go in there."
"I still say it's a
giant trap. Once inside there would be
no way out." Chad turned the bike's
handlebars from side to side, digging the front tire in the sandy gravel. Movement out of the corner of his eye pulled
his attention left, towards the two-lane bridge bisecting the Grand Lagoon from
Wallace Bay. "We should fish
"Instead of casting
lines from the fishing bridge or the Dolphin Pier, we need to find some kayaks and
cast lines on the open water."
"What happens if we
hook a shark that wants to eat us?"
"We'll get a spear
or a harpoon or something. Stick it in
one of its eyes."
"A hammerhead would
pull you in."
"I could take
"It would be
easy." Drake's words grew faster
and louder. "We could—"
Chad shushed him and
pointed towards the shadows underneath the fishing bridge.
A lone figure staggered
towards them. It reached out towards
them and groaned.
Chad clenched the handle
bar's rubber grips. "It's seen
"We need to get to
the Stop and Shop before it does."
Chad peddled as hard as he
could, heading in the opposite direction of the approaching corpse. Slow and awkward, rots took a while to cover
any real distance, but that didn't leave them all night to shop. It wouldn't be long before it was pounding on
the store's windows, hungry and relentless.
At the end of the
Treasure Ship's parking lot, they skidded into the Stop and Shop's dive.
Frozen in time, the
rectangular convenience store's broken neon cigarette signs dangled behind
dark, cracked windows. An overturned
trash barrel blocked the front entrance, Drake's solution to prevent
intruders—living and dead—from climbing through the front door's missing
They leaned their bikes
against a white Chevy Malibu rusting at the gas pumps. The first time the brothers raided the store,
they found a skin mag in its glove box—Drake won the issue after a three day
game of Monopoly.
They huddled against the
"What are we going
to do now?" Chad asked.
"I don't know, man."
Not visible from the road
but parked next to the building, a beat up truck waited, motor idling.