Read Life After: Episode 1 Online

Authors: JJ Holden

Tags: #Thriller, #short story, #War

Life After: Episode 1

Life After

 

Episode 1

 

by

JJ Holden

 

Following a civil war that left the United States in
ruins, the remaining few who managed to escape the Imperialistic
Army and the horrors of their death camps must unite and fight to
reclaim their country.

 

Copyright © 2014 by JJ Holden

jjholdenbooks.blogspot.com

 

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment
only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people.
If you would like to share this book with another person, please
purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading
this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your
use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your
own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this
author.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters,
and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or
are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons,
living or dead, organizations, events or locales is entirely
coincidental.

 

* * *

 

A loud boom followed the flash of light and echoed
through the valley. The man sat near the fireplace that contained
only remnants of the winter that was a fading memory. He looked out
the only window and could not see anything but darkness beyond the
glass. The sound of rain hitting the tin roof joined the howls of
wind and the crack of lightning that seemed never-ending.

Too much time passed since he had seen another human
being. Time slowed to a crawl as he spent day after day in
solitude.

The last time he read a newspaper, it was canvassed
by the horrendous events occurring at the time. Floods,
earthquakes, droughts, terrorist attacks, economic depressions,
government crackdowns, concentration camps, total takeover, and
eventually, total annihilation. The last headline he viewed in his
old life read: “Is The End Already Here?”

Sitting alone in his cabin, he knew the answer to
that headline. There was a reason he escaped to the wilderness and
survived off of the land for over two years. Unlike many
unfortunate souls that perished in the collapsing civilization, he
owned a large tract of land with enough trees to cloak his
minuscule structure.

Though small in size, his cabin was somewhat
fortified. Having been an avid follower of current events, and a
dedicated student of history, he planned in advance for a complete
fallout. He hoped that his preparation was similar to an insurance
policy, and not what it ended up becoming: a necessity.

Fighting off scavengers and looters became a thing of
the past, as all those who posed a threat had already perished in
the particularly cruel winter. Now spring was nearing its end and
summer was soon to be ushered in.

He rose from his chair and walked towards the metal
door which separated him from the brutal world. He checked the
locks again, a constant habit born from having many close-calls.
Once the door was checked for the countless time for the day, he
walked towards the center of the cabin and stood on the frayed rug
that furnished his meager dwelling. He stood at the exact spot
where a trap door was located. This combination locked door led to
a bomb shelter, another insurance policy, one which had yet to pay
dividends.

Inside the bomb shelter, he stored as much food and
water that would fit into the small space. The food he kept
consisted mostly of dehydrated meals with expiration days that
spanned decades. The water was mostly rain water, which he bottled
after treating it. He listened to the rain and knew that every drop
that hit his roof was run into several large drums that lay outside
the walls of his compound. Every drop represented moments added
onto his fragile existence.

With wet weather, water was not so much of a problem,
but food was a different story. He had to do everything he could to
prepare for the following winter, which meant gathering whatever
berries and fruits he could find to offset his consumption of the
packaged meals. Canning, once a hobby of his, now determined his
survival. Gathering wood for the stove was a prerequisite for such
an endeavor and also an essential asset for the winter. He also was
skilled with a bow and arrow, though the population of deer had
plummeted, so a fresh kill was something that only existed in his
dreams. He thought of the work ahead once the wet weather had
ceased.

Another boom. This time different from the constant
thunder that plagued the valley. This boom sounded closer than
anything that preceded it and sounded like it was outside the front
door.

He looked at the door and waited. Then a second boom
came. Frozen, he stared at the door. A third boom came and he saw
the door move. Someone was at the door, and they weren’t in any
hurry to leave his doorstep.

He walked to the door and gazed through the peephole.
Nobody was there. Then a fourth boom startled him and sent him
backwards. Perhaps a child stood outside the door. But what if
not?

He unlocked two of the three locks and cracked the
door open, leaving the chain lock in place. A boy stood on the
doorstep, soaking wet with a look of utter fear splashed across his
face.

The boy’s lips parted and the sound of his defeated
voice leaked out. “Help me.”

The man stood and stared at the boy. His brown hair
draped into his eyes from lack of grooming. His face was gray with
the ashes that were the only remnants of his past. The man knew he
must have come from the city. The city that was burned to the
ground.

To let the boy in would mean that the man would have
to sacrifice many of his food supplies, and he knew that opening
his sanctuary to any outsiders could put his life at risk. Yet, the
more he looked at the boy, the more he pitied him. To refuse to
help would ensure the boy’s fate. He would die eventually, most
likely from starvation.

He unlatched the chain lock and opened the door.
Outside, he saw the candle light that poured from his cabin reflect
off of the flood of water that fell from the sky.

“Come in,” the man said.

The boy moved his right leg with a hesitant step.
Then his left foot followed, slowly, like a child learning to walk.
His limbs were trembling from being soaked to the core. Water
dripped from the boy as he walked into the cabin. The man closed
the door and locked it. He turned to look at the boy who surveyed
the cabin.

“We need to dry you off,” the man said.

The boy turned around and the man saw the sorrow on
his face. The man knew the atrocities the boy may have witnessed.
He had witnessed enough himself.

“I will get you something dry to put on,” the man
said. He walked to the other side of the cabin and retrieved a
change of clothing that he knew would be many sizes too large for
the boy, but certainly better than the wet rags that covered
him.

Returning to the boy, he handed him the clothing.
“Here you go.”

The man turned around to give the boy some level of
privacy while he changed. He could hear the boy’s clothing hit the
wooden floor with a wet thud. The sound of the boy finding his way
through the dry clothing took over.

In about a minute, the man heard the boy’s voice from
behind. “Thank you.”

The boy looked like he was being swallowed whole by
the massive fabric of the long-sleeved tee shirt, denim pants, and
stained white socks. The man nodded and smiled. Then he walked
towards his favorite wooden chair near the fireplace. There was
another chair near the wall that he pulled over and positioned near
his chair.

“Come over and have a seat,” the man said.

The boy approached the chair hesitantly and sat
down.

“So tell me,” the man said. “Where are you from?”

The boy stuttered some nonsensical words before he
became coherent. “The city.”

“Does this city have a name?”

“Philadelphia.”

The man looked at the boy with a certain degree of
skepticism. “You’re telling me you walked all the way from there?
That’s nearly three hundred miles south of here.”

“I didn’t walk the whole way,” the boy said. “There
was an army train heading north and I managed to hitch a ride on
that. I was at the rear end of it but then I realized where it was
going.”

The man swallowed hard. “Where?”

“One of the camps. It almost took me along all the
way there, but I managed to jump off when it slowed down. When I
ran from it, I heard screaming. Then I turned around and…”

The man waited in anticipation. Though only a few
seconds passed, he couldn’t wait any longer to hear more of the
boy’s story. “And then what?”

“I saw them.”

“Who?”

“The people in the cattle cars. Their arms were
stretched out through small windows in the cars. It was horrible. I
looked in the direction they were headed and saw only darkness in
the sky, though it was the middle of day.”

“Probably smoke,” the man said.

“Do you think it was another city on fire?”

The man hesitated. “Probably.”

“What happens in those camps?” the boy asked.

The man turned to look at the inactive fireplace. He
thought of all the rumors he had heard before he lost contact with
everyone in the world. He turned back to the boy and shook his
head. “Horrible things. Beyond imagination.”

“Like what?”

The man stood up and slowly walked towards the center
of the room, like he was beginning to pace the floor. Then he
stopped, turned around, and looked at the boy. He saw a sliver of
innocence still left in him, and he didn’t want to be the one to
completely annihilate it.

“Look,” the man said. “There are certain things that
you just shouldn’t know. I wish I didn’t know what I know. I’d
certainly sleep better at night.”

“Okay,” the boy said.

“I think it’s time to get some rest.”

The boy stood up and looked at the man. “Where should
I sleep?”

“I’ll give you some blankets and you can sleep on the
rug. There’s a little bit of padding.”

“Okay. That will be much better than the last few
nights.”

After a few minutes of rounding up some blankets, the
man laid them on the ground. The boy kept his oversized clothing on
as he fell asleep. The man walked around and blew out all of the
candles except for one. With the last remaining candle guiding the
way, he walked to his cot in the corner of the cabin, then blew it
out. On his back, his eyes remained open, though he could not see
anything but darkness. He listened to the howling wind and the rain
that kept pelting the roof. Before long, he was asleep, but the
howling continued in his dreams.

Upon waking, the first thing the man noticed was that
the boy was already up and seated in the chair nearest to the
fireplace.

The boy saw that he had awoken. “Good morning.”

The man sat up and rubbed his eyes. “How did you
sleep?”

“Pretty good.”

“The storm is over,” the man said. “Hard to believe
that the rain lasted that long.”

The boy shook his head. The man knew that he had
suffered greatly from the amount of rain that fell. To find
shelter, especially dry shelter, was difficult in the wilderness. A
cave could be home to many things that most boys would not want to
stumble upon. A bear. Or a newly minted cannibal.

“Are you hungry?” the man asked.

“Very.”

The man thought about the cache of food in his
bunker, but knew that he should save it for emergencies only. Since
the wet weather had concluded, he knew it was a good time to leave
the cabin and forage. Meals could also be caught, but he had not
set traps in quite a while. He walked to the corner of the cabin
where he kept small traps used for trapping small animals. The
traps were unwieldy in his right hand, but he kept his left hand
available to pick up a small basket. He handed the basket to the
boy.

“Carry this,” the man said. “We will gather whatever
berries we can. I’ll set these so hopefully we can catch something
for dinner.”

The boy hung his head. “How long will this take?”

“When was the last time you had anything to eat?”

“I had some berries the other day. Had enough water
from all the rain flooding the creeks, but not much food.”

The man set down the traps and lifted the frayed rug
to expose the trap door. A few turns of the combination wheel was
all it took to unlock the door. He descended the rungs of a metal
ladder into the darkness. Several minutes later, he returned with a
few packages and a couple cans.

He handed the boy a can. “Here you go.”

The boy looked at the can like he was looking at an
ancient artifact.

“That’s cola,” the man said. “It’s a treat these
days.”

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