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Infernis – Chapter Thirty-Eight

April 7, 2013

Chapter Thirty-Eight

They’ll never figure it out. —William Casey allegedly.

My ambition is for informing literate dreamers about a new currency. —Jared Lee Loughner.

Exactly how Brian had come to be here… where the hell was he anyway?… he didn’t have a clue. The last thing he recalled before being here was being plasticuffed and thrown none-too-gently into the back of a truck. Might have been an armored truck. He wasn’t sure if it was grey or green, that had all happened after dark, rather quickly, and none too gently.

Of course they… And just who were they anyway? Homeland Security. He remembered that. Special…something it had said on the ID.

He had been questioned for hours, left to sit alone for hours more, then a shorter follow-up question session. The longer one had included threats of “enhanced interrogation,” though he didn’t recall that they actually used any.

They didn’t need to. After the subway tunnel and the aftermath…well, he was scarcely able to recall much else. The progression from power outage to the cannibals…

Cannibals? Pull your head out of your ass! Call them what they were goddammit.

It’s too ridiculous. They can’t be…

What had followed had been unreal… unbelievable… made no sense at all.

It was all jumbled in his head. The DHS agent shouting at him, the gunfire, the…the…was it some kind of firebomb? His second arrest. The truck accident…

Right, he had been taken from DHS by someone else. Who were they, this second group? There had been an argument. DHS didn’t want to let him go, but these others were throwing their weight around. They had seemed more like corporate paramilitary.

“Well?!?”

The man…what was his name again? He had on a that had letters on it: U-S-M-C. The man had said something…maybe asked something. He expected an answer. Brian didn’t even know the question and couldn’t recall the man’s name he had just given a moment ago.

Central Park, gone. Wall Street, gone. The Donald, gone. Danielle’s, gone. The AEA Building, gone. Jaime and the dogs were gone. Friends, gone. Family, gone.

F*** AEA. After they threw me under the bus…

Everyone…everyone he knew…

But they’re dead. They didn’t deserve that.

F***ing pussy.

All of Manhattan. Staten Island, too, he’d heard on the drive when the two in front had gotten bored and actually spoke to each other. They apparently hadn’t realized that the small sliding metal door was just open a crack.

Burned away to contain the outbreak, they said.

It was too much.

It was therefore while fighting back tears and through clenched teeth he answered the question with the one thing you weren’t supposed to.

“What? What was the question?!? Pleassssse…”

“What y’know, boy? What happened? How’d you wind up in that truck? The wreck?”

The face of the blond DHS agent flashed in his head. He had tried the friendly approach and failed. More like crashed and burned, she actually seemed to be waiting for something to latch onto and hold against him. A whole city…The City was gone and she had been looking for someone to blame. A survivor would do, he supposed.

He had been turned instantly from victim to perp with one off-hand compliment. She tore into him, a calm but assertive voice, but her accusing eyes…

How had he escaped and made his way to Newark? Who was he? What was his background? Political affiliations? Friends. Family. Jaime…

It churned over again…

…gone…

He felt a firm yet not really hostile hand on his arm. The man with the letters on his hat…they meant something…were supposed to mean something…

Goddammit, focus!

“Hey! You in there? Brian! That’s your name, idn’t it?”

“Wait! I know him!”

Brian flinched slightly and looked to his left. An elderly man smiled and stared at him. He held his smoke-trailing cigarette in a feminine fashion.

So this is how country fags live.

Where did that come from?

The older man blew smoke upwards and to the right of his nose. Brian noticed that some of it drifted between his glasses and his right eye but the man didn’t seem to notice.

“That commercial!”

Oh, Christ…

“The one with the kid and the cereal!”

Well that narrows it down, Grandma.

“Sweet…Ohs? Sweet-Os! Yeah. ‘They’re not just for kids.'”

Brian recalled that shoot. The kid, the only other actor in the ad, had been a real trooper. He was scary smart for someone his age and Brian had found him to be the epitome of professionalism. By the thirtieth take or so, the kids mouth had been bleeding from chewing the stuff. He had merely asked for a short break somewhere around take forty-five and then took to spitting the stuff out between takes instead of swallowing it. Brian had been fairly certain he vomited during the break.

But the kid had kept right on smiling without the slightest indication of discomfort or nausea. It had been harder for Brian to ignore it, used to using Meisner techniques to get in touch with what his acting partners were feeling.

Pain and puke. Knew I should have gone to H.B. instead. Well, Nick Cage ate a cockroach once and the footage wound up on the cutting room floor. We suffer for our art.

But that single national ad had put the down payment down on the condo in Washington Heights. With Jaime’s job…

Jaime’s job is gone, too.

“‘Well! You know more than your dad, young man!'”

Brian didn’t know why that popped out of him, much less how.

But a second later he did know. When it’s all too much, you just fall back on what you know. Something deep down, something reflexive, had decided to do that before Brian was even aware of it.

“Yes! That’s it! Oh, my…”

The old man blushed a bit. Brian had seen the same look on tourists when they ran into TV and movie stars in the Park. Blurting out that bit from the commercial that he had said many, many dozens of times had confirmed it for the old fellow.

The man sheepishly offered his left hand to shake. The other still hovered in an area close to his cheek, like Jack Benny except for the burning tobacco, which Brian could now see was actually a thin cigar, a cigarillo.

The studio is gone. So’s the kid. And the condo.

F*** you!

“Brian. Brian Coswell. Could I get a smoke?”

Brian had quit years ago but current circumstances called for anything to give him just another moment to gather his thoughts, catch a breather, try to recall the order of things and put them into words.

The man lit the cigarillo he had placed in Brian’s mouth. Brian took a puff and took a look at the group gathered around him for the first time.

If he had been casting a remake of Carpenter’s The Thing, this would probably do. There was technical and blue collar written all over these guys. There was even one who dressed rather like a lumberjack like Peter Masur’s character. There was some noted individuality as well. If Uncle Sam had also been in a biker gang, there was a dead ringer in the group for him. Red, white and blue, a flag doo rag in place of the top hat, a leather jacket with parts that were black, but otherwise the man was Sam-ish including a white goatee.

“Right. Where to begin.”

He could see some eyes were encouraging, others incredulous–as if he’d already told them the unbelievable truth, and still others, most, simply looked tired.

“I was on the subway, headed uptown. The power went out. We eventually…several hours…gave up on being rescued.”

He took a puff and tried to let it slip out smoothly but it came out staccato for some reason.

“Someone forced the doors open and pretty soon we were all climbing out and into the tunnels. That’s where we first saw the…the…infected people or whatever they were.”

“See? I told ya. Zombies!”

‘Sam’ had said that to one of the tech-looking men and looked to Lumberjack and another man wearing an Army jacket.

“Whatever they were. It was crazy. People were trampling each other to get out and…others were getting attacked. Some started just punching and kicking anything that moved. It wasn’t clear who was who anymore… down there in the dark. Some of us ran.

“Then we came upon some soldiers further down the tunnel. They had set up barriers and lights in the tunnel. Blocked our way out.”

Brian stopped and his face turned white. He still couldn’t come to grips with what happened next.

“They, uh, they started shooting. Us. As the infected got closer, followed us, they shot at us and…only…us.”

A tear slipped down a cheek. He wiped it away quickly and took another drag.

“How did you escape?”

“I found an open access door in the side of the tunnel and ran for it.”

Why had he lied? There had been something…something about what had actually happened that he didn’t quite believe.

Should have been simple enough. Someone else grabbed his arm and jerked him through the door. Someone saved his skin. Why was he afraid to say that?

Because it gets even crazier…

“We understand that New York is… was… That New York is gone.”

“Manhattan and Staten Island. Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx…mostly unaffected.”

“What happened? On the news they said…”

“Firebombed.”

“By our own?”

“Yes. I saw U.K. planes as well. And… Italian, I think.”

The colors were green, white and red. He got a closer look than he had intended. But he wasn’t certain. Couldn’t be Puerto Rico, right? Had to be Italy.

Remember that episode of Seinfeld?

“And a helicopter. Had ‘NATO’ on the side. Lots of drones as well.”

“Where were you?”

“In the river, floating over to New Jersey.”

One of the techie-looking men spoke up now.

“President said it was to contain an outbreak of a disease. Rumors are that they were…you know, like those news reports. Crazed cannibals.”

“You mean f***ing ‘zombies’, Herb.”

‘Sam’ corrected Herb. It was obvious there had been a great deal of debate, maybe outright argument, over just why the borough of Manhattan was a smoldering cinder.

Smug sonuva–

This is getting us nowhere.

“Yeah, but how did he survive?”

They all looked to Brian. He wasn’t even sure who had said it. He had been too wrapped up in his argument with himself.

“Right.”

It was Sam talking now. His gaze said he was having some trouble believing that Brian had been an innocent bystander in what had occurred in New York.

F***ing know-it-all.

“Look! That’s what happened. After that, I was picked up in Jersey by Homeland Security. Questioned for hours. Then some other people… men… showed up. They took me into their custody. Had me in that truck you asked about. I don’t remember what happened. I was in the back, couldn’t see much, had no idea where I was until you guys told me.”

“Yeah. Yeah, sure.”

Sam was not going to buy off on the truth.

You surprised? After what he did?

What are you talking about? Wasn’t him. He wasn’t even there.

Isn’t he just the type, though? Look at him.

Not helping…

Payback. Send a message. New York is gone! People died. Your friends died. Hit back!

“What’s wrong? Cat got your tongue?”

Motherf***er!

Brian looked around. The others appeared to be accepting Sam’s unspoken, implied version of things. Brian was losing. The thought of that and all he’d already been through made his blood boil.

“F***… you…”

“Yeah. What are you gonna do about it, Fed?”

They figured him for a spy, he supposed. This was not going well.

The first punch merely glanced off of Sam’s jaw as the man jerked his head to the side. Brian’s second landed in the man’s gut.

F***er had it coming!

He only paused a second as Sam crumbled to his knees. Then Brian started kicking. He felt the first hands grab his right arm in an attempt to pull him off. Brian jerked it free easily.

He stomped on Sam’s head once, then kicked him in the balls. Then he saw white for a few seconds and then nearly tumbled backwards. He turned slightly, stumbling backwards on his right foot to maintain his balance. He put his right hand to back of his head. When he brought it to his field of vision, he could see what the wetness was.

Blood. He turned and saw lumberjack held a finished wooden stick. There was a design on the handle that Brian didn’t recognize.

A second swing of the stick caught Brian in the ribs as he charged forward sloppily at lumberjack. Then he felt another blow on his left shoulder. He left arm went numb and he tried to step back but tripped over his own feet and fell hard on his back.

As several of the men closed in and started beating and kicking him to death, his thoughts shifted elsewhere.

“…and butterflies are free to fly…”

“…it’s always someone else I see.”

My last thoughts are of Elton John and whatever his name is? Goddam, that’s gay.

Who was that dude anyway?

Brian managed a smile. Then the world went black.

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From → Infernis, Novels

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