Authors: David L. Foster
Tags: #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Alternate History, #Post-Apocalyptic, #Alternative History, #Dystopian
by David L. Foster
Copyright © 2016 by David L. Foster
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
An Introduction to This Historical Document
It is a great honor for me, out of all the worthy and perhaps more esteemed and well-known candidates, to have been chosen to develop this volume chronicling the lives of some of the most important folk-heroes of twenty-first century human history.
As Editor, I must first clarify what I have
done. I have not changed one word of the accounts you are about to read. Every word after this introduction, up to and including chapter breaks and section breaks, is in exactly the original form written by Coyote and, to a lesser extent, the Mule. These accounts were handed down to acquaintances posthumously, and their authenticity is without dispute. This is how the authors chose to chronicle their experiences in their own words, with their own grammatical styles, quirks, and occasional typos or misspellings.
But if the writing isn’t changed, what is left for an editor to do? My job has been twofold. The first and simplest part of my job has been to annotate, inserting the occasional footnote on the subtext of the account or to document pieces that can be independently verified in the historical record.
The second and more complicated task has been deciding where to insert the diary entries of the Mule within the longer narrative text written by Coyote. Most often, I have tried to keep the diary entries in chronological order with the main body of the story, but there are times when an entry has been moved forward or back to a place where I felt it would give greater context. These decisions are mine, and I assume both credit and blame.
The mixing of the two accounts has been the crux of my work. The practice of biographical parallelism
has, of late, become all the rage among certain literary circles, with pairs of political figures, co-authors, writers and directors, and even husbands and wives publishing their own biographies in which the accounts of two separate individuals are combined into one telling.
Some say the practice has become overused, thereby losing meaning. And I must admit that many recent volumes using this technique have, as biographies and autobiographies tend to do, reduced the art to abject pandering or the complete revision of history to suit the convenience of the author.
But the depth of perspective that biographical parallelism gives a reader is without parallel (my apologies for the pun), and it is well known that the authors of this volume spoke with plain honesty, either not caring how others would judge their actions or not intending for others to ever read their accounts. There is no revisionist history here—only the honest telling of one of modern humanity’s greatest tales, straight from the pens of those who lived it.
Therefore, I repeat what an honor it is to have a hand in the publishing of this volume.
And so, to the story.
-David L. Foster
And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder. One of the four beasts saying, 'Come and see.' and I saw, and behold a white horse.
The best place to begin her story is under a bush—wet, cold and shivering. The years that came before this day are a dream of a different world, too far removed from today’s reality to be truly felt. Her memories from this day forward are real and visceral. They are her true life. Her true life began after the Fall, when everything else came apart.
Growing up, she had been fascinated by books and movies set in the aftermath of a nuclear war, during the apocalypse, or after disease had wiped out all but the lucky few. Others thought her morbid, at best, but she enjoyed the narrow, precise focus of these stories: simply, how to survive. She had imagined how she would fare in such a setting, and thought she would do well. She was mostly right, but not for the reasons she thought would matter.
She was smart, and when she tried she could be at the top of her class in her boarding school. She was athletic, too—tall and slender, but with wide, muscular shoulders. She often disdained the girls’ sports at school, preferring to join the boys in their more violent games. These attributes would be of use, of course, if disaster struck. But most important in her end-of-days fantasies was her ability to stay centered—to avoid panic when all hell broke loose. She had often imagined herself being smart and efficient while the rest of humanity went to pieces around her.
In her daydreams of post-apocalyptic life she would use her intelligence to make all the right decisions. She would be ruthless in defending herself. She would walk the middle road, between those who went off the deep end and those who never left the kiddie pool. She would survive—even thrive.
Those were her fantasies. Reading them now, years later typed on the screen, she sees how arrogant they seem—childish, even.
As things turned out, she was both right and completely wrong. She had assessed herself well and she eventually did use her talents. But when the Fall came things happened in ways that neither she nor anyone else was ready for.
And now she was under that bush. It was dark, it was raining, and she was, as she mentioned before, wet, cold and shivering. None of this had been a part of her daydreams.
So far, surviving the Fall had mostly been about running, hiding, and being lucky. Right then she was focusing on the hiding part. Hiding from what? She did not know. She couldn’t see clearly enough through the rain and the darkness to make out details, but she could see enough to feel that hiding was warranted.
She was hunkered down at the edge of a wetland area, between a local park and a school, in a suburb east of Portland. Out ahead, strewn across the school’s soccer fields, was what could only be described as wreckage. It was the remains of what must have been a local National Guard contingent, though she couldn’t fathom what they had been doing here at the school. How military minds choose where to make their stand has always been beyond her, both then and now.
It was obvious the stand had not been successful. She’d seen this before in the past few weeks, though usually on a smaller scale. It looked something like the scenes she’d seen in years past on newscasts: a town in the American Southeast torn to shreds by tornadoes. But this scene had more smoke and fire in it.
It was difficult to make out details in the darkness, but she could see Humvees, trucks, those Bradley fighting vehicles she had seen so many shots of during the Gulf wars, and at least three tanks. The field had been churned to mud by the tires and treads of the vehicles, and in that mud were the broken remains of tents, equipment, weapons and, yes, men. Lots of men. Everything was torn, broken, and burnt—even the men.
The men and the equipment were scattered all across the muddy field, facing in every direction. She couldn’t sense any plan or purpose in how the vehicles or the men were arranged. She had to assume that whatever plan they had intended to follow either had not had time to come together or had gone out the window when the battle began.
She could tell the battle was recent, too. Not all the men were dead. She heard wounded men crying out, and in the orange bloom cast by the occasional burning vehicle, she saw slow movement from some of the dark silhouettes in the field. One soldier, she was too far away to see which, was crying openly. It was a pitiful, lost sound—the sound of a boy missing his mama.
She didn’t go to him though—didn’t try to help. It was one of many lessons she had learned in the past few weeks. Don’t go to help the wounded. They were bait. It was how people got caught.
Her problem wasn’t how to help. She had never been bothered much by altruistic feelings. Her problem was how to get past. Her destination, the place she had been trying to reach for the past two weeks, was just a half mile away. But this carnage was in her path, and it was convincing evidence that this was not a safe place to be.
As she lay still, considering her options and hoping to remain inconspicuous under the bush, something growled off to her left.
It was a low, rumbling growl—quiet and almost continuous. Not the sort of thing you ever want to hear, but especially unnerving on a dark and rainy night when you know that something, God knows what, has just massacred a whole lot of well-armed folks a stone’s throw from your hiding place.
She froze, trying to be even more still. The growling continued. Was it moving closer? She could not tell, but she thought the sound was moving, ever so slowly. It was not moving left or right, so if it was moving it was moving in a direct line towards her.
She realized that she had been holding her breath and had to make a conscious choice to let it out, slowly, hoping that even that tiny movement wouldn’t set off whatever prowled the darkness.
Nothing changed. She lay, she breathed, and she listened to the growling. Maybe it wasn’t coming closer. But it wasn’t moving away either. It was staying in exactly the same place. Turning her eyes, but not her head, she could only bring one eye to bear on the origin of the noise. She saw nothing through the rain and the darkness. A few paces away from her, all the bushes and reeds began to blend into impenetrable, twisting shadows that her eyes could make no sense of. It was part of why she had picked this approach, using the tangled brush for her own camouflage, but now that same natural camouflage was working against her.
She felt like she waited forever, which means it was probably a minute or two. She listened, stared, and hoped that the growling thing wouldn’t suddenly come tearing out of the darkness to do to her what had been done to the soldiers in the field. She began to discern a rhythm to the growling: a soft susurration, coming and going, allowing the sound to build and fade, build and fade. Taken out of context, it might remind her of the surf on a distant shore. But context is everything. There was no relaxation, no reassurance, in this sound.
Soon she began to worry not so much about the growling, but about what else might be out there. If whatever was watching her didn’t decide to tear her apart, who was to say that it wouldn’t attract something else that would? Besides, this had been going on too long for her to hope the growling wasn’t directed at her. She needed to move.
She had been crouched on her knees and elbows under the bush, unwilling to lay fully down on her belly and allow the wet grass to soak her from below. Slowly, slowly, she put her hands down and pushed, coming up onto her palms and the balls of her feet, but keeping her profile as low to the ground as possible. She paused, but heard no change in the low rumbles coming from her left.
She turned her body to the left, leaving her hands and feet where they were, but bending at knees and hips, shoulders and elbows, slowly swiveling to face what stalked her. Still, she could see nothing, and still the growling did not change.
Gently, she extended her left leg to the side, and then her left arm. After a pause, she shifted her whole body, taking what amounted to a large, sideways crouch-step to the left. The growling increased as she moved, rising to a snarl and then descending to a level lower than the snarl, but higher than what it had been.
She froze, spraddled out, half-way through her sideways maneuver. Though she had known it already, this was proof that the thing was tracking her and, even worse, didn’t like it that she was moving.
Again, she waited what seemed like a hugely long time. The growling continued. Again, she tried moving. She slowly continued her move to the left, bringing her body the rest of the way over to her outstretched arm and leg, then bringing in her right arm, then leg, to complete the movement. All was done as slowly, as carefully, and as quietly as she could.
As she did this, the growling increased in volume a little, but nothing like the vicious snarl that her first movements had brought. This encouraged her. She slowly rocked back onto her heels, then came up in a very low crouch. Standing on two feet, however frightened she was, felt better. It was not a reasonable feeling, she knew. But even though she was still preparing herself to be torn to pieces, she felt better on her feet.
She paused for a moment, listening to her invisible companion, then took a slow, sliding step, again to her left. To her left lay the wetland and some hope of escape. It was better than heading out into the carnage of the soccer fields, at least. The growling continued, unabated. In response, she continued to move—slowly, carefully. The growls would rise at each fresh movement from her, and then subside again, never quite disappearing. Her best guess was that the sound came from a cluster of bushes some thirty feet away, but she still couldn’t see into the darkness far enough to make out what was producing the sound.
Then, as she took maybe her fourth sideways step, a shadow moved, close to the ground, not ten feet in front of her. As the source of the growling turned, its motion giving it definition, she saw eyes flash in the light of the fires from the field. She felt her heart shudder to a stop as the thing materialized virtually under her feet. What had been the shadowy ground between her and the nighttime horror was now the horror itself, moving to face her again.
She sucked her breath in involuntarily, her body preparing its last, desperate fight-or-flight response, and the noise brought the loudest complaint yet from whatever was in front of her. She saw the eyes dart forward and a part of the darkness flowed with them. The growling became a fierce snarl, and almost a roar as the darkness moved at her again, led by the flashing eyes. This time she could see flashing teeth as well, as the snarling roar reached a crescendo.
Now crouching, preparing to fight, she faced her foe as it revealed itself. Bright flashing teeth were followed by a snarling muzzle, ears laid back on the top of the thing’s head, and a dark, four-legged body. She knew what this was. It was a dog.
The feeling of relief was huge, for even though she still had to worry that the dog would kill her, and she knew it could, at least she knew what this was. She knew for a fact there were worse things out here. No dog had destroyed that National Guard contingent.
The dog had stopped again, crouched, all glowing eyes, and the occasional flash of teeth. It was still too dark to make out details, but she could tell that it was fair sized dog, though not nearly as big as the growling had made it sound. Also, it must have been a dark colored dog, if not actually black, to disappear so completely in the shadows.
She crouched, considering how to deal with this threat. She figured if she ran the dog was bound to come after her, and there was no way she was going to make her escape since it was now only about four feet away. The dog obviously had its predator instincts operating in full force, and wasn’t feeling at all friendly toward her. If it had seen anything close to what she had seen in the past few weeks, she could understand.
She decided to take a new tack. She slowly crouched lower, regarding the dog. The growling subsided a bit from its previous level, but there was still no friendliness there. She figured any dog in America had to be used to people though, and maybe she could get out of this without one of them having to kill or maim the other.
Slowly, she reached out her right hand, while her left hand drifted casually to her waist. The dog remained still and so did she, giving it a minute to ponder this new development. After what seemed like enough time, she slowly slid one foot out, leaning into it, and taking a careful step toward the dog. Her right hand remained stretched out toward the dog, palm up. Her left hand was now at her belt, closed around the hilt of a combat knife she had come across a few days ago—her only weapon.
The dog stayed still, crouched low, still growling. One more step and the dog would have to choose between biting her fingers off and letting her touch it.
Her hand tightened on the hilt of her knife as she slowly drew it from the sheath at her waist. Whatever happened now, she was ready. She took one more step.
Closer to the dog now, she could make out more details. The dog was crouched low to the ground, front legs spread apart and hind legs underneath it, ready to fight. Its eyes were locked on her form, but they were wide open showing the whites at the edges, looking more frightened than angry. The animal looked half-crazed.
The dog’s growling ascended again, growing in volume as her fingers got closer to its nose. Finally, when her hand was no more than two inches from the teeth that continued to flicker in and out of view as the dog’s muzzle twitched and quivered, the growling ceased for a moment as it brought its nose forward to give her fingers a quick sniff.