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Authors: Anthony Renfro

AWOL: A Character Lost

BOOK: AWOL: A Character Lost
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AWOL: A Character Lost
How far will he go to find his home?
Anthony Renfro
atothewr publications

This is a work of fiction and I hold all the publishing rights.

This book was produced using
PressBooks.com
.

1
Dedication

For all of those who believe in me.

Thanks for being there.

Thanks James for the cover: 
goonwrite.com

Together

The naked man was lying there, lifeless.

Who was this mysterious man?

What story did he belong in?

Last night, after my discovery, I had searched my notes and all of the recent stuff I had worked on. I found just a few pieces of information about him, possible story connections and some minor clues like that, but nothing substantial.

Frustrated and tired, I decided to go to sleep. The creative juices always flow strongest for me in the mornings, so I thought that would be the best time to figure this thing out.

Morning arrived with sunshine and confusion. The good night’s sleep did nothing to help my cause.

The man was still there.

Something had to be done because a corpse in my creative center (if he is indeed a corpse), rotting away, corrupting all my ideas was something this writer didn’t need.

I pulled myself out of bed, stretched, and then went into the kitchen to make coffee. While it brewed, I thought back into the creative part of my mind to see if the man had made any movements whatsoever in the short time since I had been up. He was still, lifeless.

The coffee finished brewing (takes forever in the mornings). I poured myself a cup and made my way down to the office. I took a seat in my soft plush chair, sipped on the coffee, and made a decision.

“Well,” I told myself, “it’s time to wake him up, if he can be woken up.”

Then it happened. The man stirred. He was living after all.

I watched and waited.

The character sat up, shook the cobwebs free, and then stood on wobbly legs, leaning on the wall for support. “Hello?” He asked, looking around, blind in the dark.

A lamp appeared beside him. “At your right foot there is a kerosene lamp. Pick it up and turn it on.” As I write this, the words light up in big bright letters on the wall – neon words of pink and green. The character nearly falls over with the surprising light. When he gathers himself, he looks up at the wall. We can now communicate.

“Who are you?” The character turns on the lamp, and the small round room fills with light. He is standing on the concrete floor of a large silo, with infinite blackness above – stretching to the top of my imagination. “Where am I?” 10 doors surround him; they are black, dark, and ominous, with silver words written on them, reflecting the light.

“My name is Anthony, and I am the author who made you. I don’t know your name for now. I’m hoping you will find it along the way.” I paused. “You’ve stumbled out of your story, and you are back at the spot where I first created you. The problem is, I don’t know what story you came from.”

The character – five eight to five nine in height – read the words on the wall, and his heart sank.

“You stumbled out sometime last night, and I found you when I went in to search my brain for something to write about.”

The character read the words silently.

“I do know that you are a runner. You are educated and smart, and have been around the world at least once. You are also 40 years old.”

I thought of a mirror, and it appeared on the wall. The character moved the lamp to shine the light up and down his body as he looked into the mirror. It was true. The author was right. He was in great physical shape. He also noticed he had dark hair, unkempt, with streaks of gray. The hair hung down to his shoulder blades, and a dark goatee surrounded his mouth.

“Here. Put on some clothes so you won’t be standing there like that. I’m sure you’re cold. Shine your light at the floor. You’ll see the clothes appear there once I create them for you.” I thought about what he should wear. I’m a simple guy myself, so a pair of jeans should work; magically they appeared. The character put them on. I then thought of a shirt, something from a band I like. The shirt appeared, and the character put it on. Rush was written in big letters across the front, with a picture of the band on the back side. Then I thought of shoes. A pair of sneakers and socks appeared in the room. “That should do it.” The character finished dressing. “Comfortable?”

“Very.” He looked down at his shirt. “What’s Rush?”

“A great Canadian rock band.”

“Do I like them?”

“You do, yes. You like a lot of different kinds of music. I know rock and heavy metal are strong influences in your life.”

“I have the clothes and that bit of information. Now what?”

“Since I don’t know what story you came out of, I’m hoping you will be able to find it yourself by looking at these doors. Each one of them represents a possible story you may be a part of.”

The character steps up to one of the doors and shines the light on it. The word he sees written on the door sends chills down his spine.

“Don’t look just yet,” I replied.

“I don’t like the look of number 1.”

“You probably won’t like what’s behind most of the doors. I don’t write dramas or love stories. Now, here’s what I need you to do. Look at the writing on each of the doors. I need to know if they trigger anything inside your head. Can you do that for me?”

“I guess.”

“Good. They don’t have titles, so I’m hoping just a generic word about each genre will help trigger your memory.”

The light starts to move while the character goes around the room, checking each door. He stops when he finishes reading them. “None of them trigger anything in my brain.”

“I was hoping that one of them might, and that it wouldn’t come to this.”

“Come to what?”

“You will have to open each one and step inside to see if you belong.”

“I won’t vanish, or get lost, or even die just by stepping through one, if it’s not my story?” The character asked, obvious concern rushing through him.

“Not sure. I’m just playing hunches right now.”

“Your audience must love you if you’re this lazy a writer. A true author would know where I belong.”

Ouch. That hurt, but it was true. I should have notes lying around, but I’m a “wing it” kind of writer. I go with the flow, and I take few notes, much like I did in school. Maybe that’s why my grades weren’t that great. “That may or may not be true, but the situation stands as it is. This is the only way to fix it. I’m sorry about that.”

“Not as sorry as me.” The character stepped up to door number 1 and reached for the silver handle.

“Wait!” The light words on the wall flashed bright, brighter than they had before, since that statement ended with an exclamation point.

“What do you want? I really want to get home.” The character thinks of the words on the doors and wonders if maybe this room isn’t a safer place.

“I have a few things to tell you before you go.”

“I’m waiting.”

“Here are a few notes I found lying beside my computer.”

“Okay.”

“You have a wife and two kids.”

“What?”

“Since they’re not here, I’m assuming they haven’t slipped out of their story; they are safe and sound back where they belong. However . . .”

“I knew that was coming.”

I continued, ignoring his statement. “. . . they could have slipped out, just like you did, but they didn’t wind up in this room.”

“What do you mean? If I’m here, shouldn’t they be? This is where you created us.”

“True, but since you slipped out, I’m not so sure they couldn’t either. If you can get out, then logic dictates they could as well.”

“Then they should be here, with me, right now.”

“You would think so, but I have never had a character slip out like this before. The rules are all new to me. Maybe all of you slipped out together and somewhere in that void you all went in separate directions. You just happened to wind up here. Maybe it was some part of my subconscious that forced you into this room so all of you wouldn’t be lost. Who knows?”

“Will I know what they look like?”

“You should. When I created my notes, I wrote up all four of your back stories. I assume since you were created to be together you should know each other.”

“Is that all you can remember or tell from your notes? You can’t give me anything other than that?”

“Sorry, that’s it.”

The character stood there, annoyed, after he read that.

“One other thing; since I’m not sure what story you belong in, your skills may not fit the story. Let’s say you’re in the werewolf story, but your skills are better suited for vampire hunting. You may not be able to adapt, and that may cost you your life. Keep that in mind. I spilled coffee on your skill set. Sorry about that. Also, if you remember me or any of this, then don’t say anything. I don’t think the other characters can find their way out, but I don’t want them slipping from their stories if they don’t like where they are. Pretend I don’t exist when you are in each story. Got that?”

“Sure, but what happens if I die in a story I don’t belong in?”

“I don’t know. If you don’t belong there, you probably can’t die there. I would assume you would come right back here, but that is just a guess.”

“You really suck. You know that?”

I ignored him. “Good luck. Now you must go. The clock’s ticking.”

“Thanks, but I meant what I said. You really do suck.” The character turned off the lamp, and put it by his feet. He grabbed the handle to the door marked Zombie and turned it.

The door opened.

The round room filled with light. A rush of cold wind and snowflakes drifted into the room. The character jumped forward. The door closed, and the room fell back into dark silence.

I went back to my coffee and the other things I had to work on for the day. It’s tough being a stay-at-home dad when you’re trying to be a full-time author.

The Winter Dead

Eric surveyed the road ahead and behind him. The world was filled with death. The highway was littered with silent, rusting cars, sitting on rotting tires, waiting on drivers who were never going to drive them again. Ripped apart, torn open and partially eating corpses littered the ground in various forms of decay; and, from the looks of it, the corpses ranged from children to elderly adults. The zombies had done a number on them when they went into their “feeding frenzy”. The bodies that weren’t on the ground or pulled from their cars were still seated, and most of them still strapped into their seat belts, like they were still driving to whatever destination they had been going to before the world fell into death’s harsh embrace.

Eric breathed in deep and felt the cold air settle into his lungs. Bitter winter winds whipped at his face and tore at his clothes, trying to get inside the protective layers. Flakes of snow fell from the sky, nothing more than flurries.

“It is something,” Eric replied, looking down at the white and grey cat in its carrier. He then put his eyes back on the man that just seemed to appear out of nowhere.

Eric stood about six feet tall, with a long beard, and long hair. He had been alone for quite some time, so his appearance would be enough to frighten most people. He wasn’t emaciated or thin, actually quite muscular, but the lack of a good shower was starting to catch up with him, dirt now clung to anything and everything it could attach itself to. He did his best to stay clean, but without hot soapy water there was only so much he could do.

“I guess we should go check it out. It would be nice to have a conversation again. However -” Eric took out his pistol and checked the chambers. Six bullets accounted for, waiting for launch, full, locked and loaded. “- we will have this little guy just in case, just in case that guy gets all bite on us.” He began to walk, carrier in his left hand, gun in his right.

15 minutes later, they were almost up to the spot where the character was sitting with his back against a car. The dead person behind the wheel was still strapped in. The zombie or zombies that had attacked her had torn out a gigantic hole in her neck, eaten her left arm, her left ear, and most of her left leg.

Eric approached the character with cautious steps as he sat the carrier down. The character moved, and Eric stopped. He pointed the gun at the person dressed only in jeans, tee-shirt, and tennis shoes. The song “The Trees” sprung into Eric’s head as he looked at the RUSH shirt flapping in the wind, the fibers barely able to keep in the slightest amount of warmth.

The character was doing his best to stay warm, but even holding himself with his arms crossed over his chest still wasn’t working. The character thought of the author, the writer of this story, and wondered how warm he was right now, probably at home with his wife and kids, sipping coffee, basking in his riches. The character seethed at the thought, and that seething kept him just a notch warmer. If the author was standing here right now, he would strangle him with his bare hands and then crawl inside the warm corpse for safety and shelter. At least that would keep him warm until the author’s body went cold.

Eric moved closer to the character – grip on the gun tight, trigger finger ready in case it wasn’t human. “Hey buddy? You okay?” Gun still pointed down at the character just in case this was a zombie who had learned a new attack technique.

“I’m cold. You wouldn’t have something I could wear?” The character replied, finally noticing Eric, and the gun in his face. His teeth chattered like tapping skeletal fingers as he sat there and hoped this stranger had something warm for him to wear.

Eric put the gun back in its holster when he realized it was human and not zombie. “Take it easy. My name is Eric.” He took the backpack from his back and dropped it onto the ground. He rummaged around inside and produced a dirty and well worn sweatshirt. Eric handed the sweat shirt to the character. “Put this on. It’ll keep you warm.”

The character took the sweatshirt and did as he was requested. He sat there a moment and collected his thoughts, the fibers blocking out the cold, warmth like a slow drip returning to his body.

“Thirsty?” Eric asked, taking a seat beside him.

“Yeah,” the character replied. “Where am I?”

“Hell, to be exact,” Eric replied, giving the character a bottle of water to drink. The character chugged it down washing away the harsh sandy taste at the back of his throat. He was a lot thirstier than he realized.

“Are you talking time and place or what?”

“Whatever, just a point of reference is all I’m looking for?” The character asked, finishing the bottle of water.

Eric let the cat out of its cage and it placed its purring frame on Eric’s lap. He stroked the cat and talked. “I’m not sure what state, been walking for days, somewhere near the Rocky Mountains, probably Colorado. It’s mid to later morning, not sure the time, no need for a watch these days.”

“Are we safe out here?”

“I think we’re okay for now. I haven’t seen any corpses for a while. We should find some shelter soon though. There’s a big storm rolling in.”

“How can you tell?”

“I’ve got a nose for weather.” Eric tapped his nose after he said that, and smiled.

The two sat there a moment in silence. The cat’s purr and that cold bitter wind the only sounds in this silent world. The snow flurries had ended, and now it was starting to snow – small flakes, growing larger quickly. The snow was on attack mode, and it wouldn’t be long before the ground would be covered.

The character turned his face up to the snow and let the coolness land on it. The flakes at first melted and ran down his cheeks. Then they started to congeal and coat. The character shook his head free from the white invaders.

“We should get moving.”

“Where to?”

“Forward,” Eric replied, standing up. The cat leaped off his lap and started pouncing after the snow as it fell.

“Where’s forward?”

Eric leaned down and helped the character up. “I don’t know. I don’t really have a plan. I’ve just been walking and hoping to find some place to call home for a while.”

“No family.”

“Zero,” Eric replied, without saying anymore on the subject.

The character didn’t try to pry and just left it alone. When a man wants to talk, he’ll talk, until then, you have to just give him space.

Eric slung the backpack over his left shoulder and put the gun in his right hand, finger inches from the trigger. He picked up the cat carrier and started to move. The character, as well as the cat, followed after him.

*

Dusk was settling into the world around them, the snow was falling as heavy as it had fallen all day, and little did they know, zombies were starting to move in.

“Eric, can you stop? My feet feel weird,” the character replied, as he leaned against a car. The four occupants inside of this car were partially eaten, and currently frozen.

Eric stopped and put the carrier down. The cat let out a soft meow as it sat there and watched the scene unfold. In the dim light, Eric knelt down and looked at the character’s feet. He had given the character some extra clothes for the walk – a warm hat for his head and ears, gloves, and another sweat shirt – blank this time. They had gotten the body warm, but forgot about the character’s feet. The tennis shoes the character was wearing were soaked through, and it was obvious that the feet needed some immediate warmth. It would be hard to contend with frost bite in a world like this.

“How long has it been?”

“A while.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to slow us down.”

From somewhere out in the growing darkness they heard a moan. It was distant, but it was still a sound they didn’t need to hear. The cat arched his back and let out a screech.

“Shit,” Eric replied, as his eyes looked into the gloom, searching between the heavy snow flakes, zombie instincts on high alert.

“What?” The character asked, as another moan erupted.

Both moans were close, very close, too close for comfort.

“One moan we can handle. Two moans and we have trouble.”

“Zombies?” The character replied with growing concern in his voice.

“Yes,” Eric replied, taking out his gun.

Another moan and it was closer this time.

“We need to get inside.” Eric could see movement in the distance, dark moving shadows shambling forward, pushing slowly through the snow; and they were closing in. Eyes shifted from the zombies to the world at large. No shelter as far as he could see, just a long road full of dead snow covered bodies and cars, neither of which would keep them safe. “I wish I was a vampire. You know one of those Ann Rice ones, the ones who could see for miles and miles in the dark,” Eric replied, as the cat screeched again.

Another moan; and it was much, much closer now.

“They sound like they are right on top of us.”

“Got it!” Eric locked eyes on what they needed. It was dark and square, larger than the cars around it.

“Got what?”

“Come on.”

They picked up their feet and hurried their way through the thick snow. It was tough going, but fear made their muscles move. The moaning sounds faded into the distance as they moved as quickly as they had moved all day. The character could see something looming, growing closer. It was an oasis of safety, a big hulking dark mass.

What they were moving towards, was a package delivery truck that looked like an armored vehicle from a Road Warrior movie, parked long ways across the fast and slow lanes. It looked like it had been barreling through the cars before it came to a sudden and sliding halt. The front had a big spike sticking out of it with at least 10 dead zombies hanging from it. Bullet holes to the head of each one of them had stopped their moaning and taste for flesh. Zombies, as we all know, won’t stop until you stop them. The doors on either side of the cab had a gigantic spike welded to them with more zombies hanging around, dead, dark hole in the center of their foreheads. There was nothing on the sides of the truck, beyond the doors. It was smooth and flat like it was the day it rolled off the factory line, but it was dinged and severely scratched, covered in blood, as if this truck had been through a war zone.

They reached the truck and stopped.

Eric motioned to the character to stay put, handing the cat carrier to him. Eric cocked the gun and approached the truck. He tried the cab doors first, but they were both locked. A loud moan erupted from the dark, but this time it wasn’t behind them. This moan came from somewhere in front of them. It, like the moans behind them, was a little too close for comfort.

The character watched as Eric made his way down the side of the truck, stopping just before he reached the back. Like a cop in an old TV show, he leaned against the wall of the truck, raised the gun, took in a breath, and then stepped forward, dropping the gun to a shooting position as he did. There was no one there, human or zombie.

Eric tried the double doors, and he found them not only locked, but welded together. The moans erupted in the back ground like they enjoyed this latest fiasco.

Eric went back to the driver’s side door. He gripped the barrel of the gun and slammed the handle down into the window. It smashed on impact.

Eric grabbed a shoulder of one of the dead zombies hanging from the spike on the door, and hoisted himself up to the window. He hung there a moment with one hand, cleaning out the glass with the other. When he was sure it was clean, he dropped back down to the ground. He motioned to the character that it was safe to come over.

“Everything okay,” The character asked, as he stopped in front of Eric.

“I don’t hear anyone inside so I’m going to climb in and hoist you in after.”

“You mean, get up close to those things on the spike.”

Another moan, followed by more, they were really close now.

“Do you want to stay out here?”

The character looked back into the dark. Night had decided to finally cast its veil upon the world, and it was pitch black for miles. He wasn’t sure how the zombies could see them or if they needed to see them, but he was sure of this – he couldn’t see anything. He could only hear those moans; and, now that the zombies were closer, he could also hear their shuffling feet, as they pushed through the snow.

The character turned back to Eric, who was waiting for a response. “What are you waiting on man, go for it,” the character replied, anxious to be inside.

Eric said nothing as he grabbed the shoulder of a dead zombie on the spike and hoisted himself up to the window. This particular zombie had died with his mouth open and his eyes wide. The character could see the whites of those eyes as they stared off into nothingness. The character also noticed that the mouth was pointing in the direction of Eric’s now dangling legs. Would this be worth mentioning to him, or should he just let it go? He wasn’t sure about that; but, by the time he had made his decision, Eric was already inside.

“Hand me the carrier.”

“What about me?”

The cat screeched, and nearby something metal banged. This sound came from a car that couldn’t have been more than three or four cars away.

“You’re next,” Eric replied, leaning out of the truck.

The character grabbed hold of the zombie Eric had used to climb up with –
those eyes staring at him –
and hoisted himself up enough to get the carrier into Eric’s hands. Eric grabbed it and disappeared inside. He didn’t return for a moment or two.

The character scanned the dark as he heard a side mirror snap from a car that couldn’t have been more than two cars away. Then the moans erupted. A chorus of them, and it sounded like they had formed a circle around this truck. A snapping of fingers pulled the character out of his trance. He looked up, and saw Eric leaning out, holding two hands down to him. The character scrambled up and grabbed Eric’s hands, and then was pulled upward with a relative ease. He fell into the cab (empty – not even a frozen corpse) and landed on the driver’s seat as Eric scrambled to get out of the way. They were inside and safe, just as a zombie appeared beside the truck.

BOOK: AWOL: A Character Lost
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