The Land of the Dead: Book Four of the Oz Chronicles

BOOK: The Land of the Dead: Book Four of the Oz Chronicles
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Copyright © 2010 R.W Ridley

All Rights Reserved

ISBN10: 0-9792067-3-1

ISBN13: 978-0-9792067-3-3
E-Book ISBN: 978-1-61789-718-4

Library of Congress Control Number: Pending

To order additonal copies, please contact the distributor.

Middleburry House Publishing

[email protected]

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.

Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Printed in the United States of America.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

First Edition

The Land of the Dead

Book Four of the Oz Chronicles

Books for Young Adults by R.W. Ridley

 

Oz Chronicles Titles
            
   Book One - The Takers
   Book Two - Délon City
   Book Three - The Pure
  Book Four - The Land of the Dead
Non-Oz Titles
        Lost Days

For Mia. Thanks for being my one true love.

ONE

 

I died when I was eleven. It was a family vacation on Oak Island, North Carolina, extended family, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, even a foreign exchange student from France. My cousin Anthony and I swam out past a sandbar scaring the crap out of each other by yelling shark every five minutes. We screamed and laughed and drifted along the shoreline. That’s when it hit us. A current, I think they call it a riptide, sucked us off our feet and started carrying us farther out from shore. We both panicked. I kicked and sputtered across the surface of the water, swimming against the current. My breathing was quick and shallow. I grunted and pounded my arms on the choppy surface of the ocean. I looked to my left where Anthony had been and all I saw was the top of his head as he went under. I opened my mouth to call his name but I sucked in a mouthful of salt water, causing me to hack and cough as if my lungs were trying to burst out of my body. Anthony resurfaced. In between gasps, he managed to yell for help. I tried to do the same but only swallowed more water. My arms felt like lead weights. I felt myself sinking. I attempted to fight harder, but I didn’t have the strength. I tilted my head back, keeping my nose out of the water, and tried to breathe through my mouth. The water flooded my lungs. I couldn’t even gasp. A searing pain, as if my breast bone was about to crack open, was the last thing I remember before everything went dark.

I was dead.

I don’t know how long it was before they revived me. I was lying on my side on the beach. The foreign exchange student had her finger in my mouth shouting, “Ee is breeding! Ee is alive!”

It felt like I was spewing a couple of gallons of water. My chest still felt like it was going to split open.

I heard mom’s voice. “Oz! Oh my God, Oz!” Her knees popped as she knelt down beside me. She gently placed her hand on top of my head. “Sweet baby.”

“Where’s Anthony?” I heard someone ask. I think it was my Aunt Sadie, Anthony’s mother.

I didn’t hear anyone answer her.

“Where’s Anthony?” she repeated, a little more shrill than before.

“They’re looking.” The voice belonged to my cousin Johnny. His too-deep voice gave him away. He was the oldest and vastly most bored of the Griffin kids, and he usually talked with a dull cadence, but now he sounded defensive and scared.

“Who’s looking… for what?” Aunt Sadie asked breathlessly.

An answer came after a long pause.

“Anthony,” Johnny said. “He’s in the water.”

He said it without saying it. Anthony had gone under. He’d drowned. He was dead like me, but unlike me, they wouldn’t be able revive him. It would be hours before they even found him.

Until the world ended, that was pretty much my worst day.

***

 

I am responsible for the end of the world. Well, me and every other jerk like me who tortured the Storytellers. Only we didn’t know they were Storytellers then. They were… different than us, slow, dumb, retarded. We didn’t think they deserved to be treated like human beings so we treated them like something less than human. But we were the ones being less than human. We ridiculed them and shamed them until all they saw was a world with monsters. They wrote stories about those monsters. Drew pictures. Created comic books. Eventually the monsters crawled out of the comic books and drawings and destroyed the world.

It doesn’t seem real. How could it be? Monsters, Storytellers… It can’t be, can it? Even though I live it every day, it’s hard for me to believe it. Some doctor… a psychiatrist I think, taught the Storytellers to think things to life. He called it Hyper Mental Imaging. That’s how all this happened. Some shrink, Dr. Bashir, caused all this. He is responsible…

No. I am responsible for the end of the world.

***

 

I sat on a rusted metal folding chair under the shabby awning of an abandoned BP convenience store. My muscles ached. My feet throbbed. My hands were cramped from my constant nervous habit of clenching them. All of this was just background noise in my head. I was only faintly aware of it. My focus was on my parents.

I missed them. I had not seen them in… I had no idea how much time had passed since I last saw them. It was in Atlanta… Délon City. In the Georgia Dome… No, wait. I couldn’t count that time. They weren’t them. Not exactly. They were… in transition. My father more so than my mother, but neither of them was human… more Délon than human.

The last time I really saw them, when they were human and the sky was blue and there were no purple freaks or Takers or… pick your hellish monster. The last time was in Tullahoma. I was sick in bed with mono. I was so hot I was cold. I remember their worried faces. My mother stroked my forehead and cried. My dad rubbed his stubbly chin with his callused hand. This meant he was scared. My mother had told me that once when I was younger, six maybe. He had just gotten the news that his mother had passed away. He hung up the phone and stared at the wall, rubbing his chin.

“He’s scared,” my mother said. She sat me in her lap and allowed me to watch my father from afar. For some reason it was important for me to see him at that moment. It was new to me. I had never seen him like that before. It concerned me, and yet fascinated me. “It’s okay, Oz. Scared is good. Scared means we’re confused. And we find confused right before we get to where we need to be. Do you know where that is, Oz? Where we need to be?”

I shook my head.

“Understanding,” she said. “We all need to understand. So you let your Pop be scared. He’s just trying to understand.”

It meant nothing to me at the time, but sitting in an unsteady chair on the cracked pavement of the BP station, with black continents of clouds creeping overhead, and watching a Twix candy wrapper dance in a whirling stale wind, I knew exactly what she’d meant. Only I wasn’t sure there was ever a time I was actually going to understand what was happening to me, to my friends, to my world. I felt perpetually confused. There couldn’t possibly be any good in that.

I groaned as I repositioned myself in the chair. I did not think it possible to feel so entirely sore. I lifted my aching arm to rub my stiff neck and caught a glimpse of a girl I barely recognized. She was staring at me from one of the defunct gas pumps. It was Lou, but it wasn’t. I was not used to seeing her like this… she wasn’t a little kid anymore. She was a full-fledged teenager. The wind blew her hair across her face. And suddenly I was struck by the notion that she was… pretty.

She brushed the hair from her face. “You can’t do that again, you know,” she said.

I didn’t answer right away. I was in the middle of trying to decide if I liked her being pretty.

“Hey,” she said. “You hear me?”

“Yeah, I heard,” I said breaking eye contact with her. “Don’t know what you’re talking about though.”

“Leave,” she said stepping off the pump island and strolling closer. “You were gone too long. Things nearly went all to pot. I didn’t like it much… that is to say, we didn’t like it much.”

“I wasn’t that thrilled about it myself.”

“Lost Valerie,” she said. I heard her voice break on the last syllable.

“I know. It wasn’t your fault.”

She took a deep breath and squeaked out, “Kinda was.” Her eyes welled up.

“We lost plenty on my watch,” I said. “Soldiers die in wars.”

“She was just a kid.” She dropped her chin to her chest and shook her head back and forth slowly. “You can’t leave again,” she said, almost begging now.

I stood and approached her. “I promise, Lou. I’m never leaving you… all again.”

She sniffed and nodded. “We missed you.”

“Yeah,” I said. I fought the urge to reach out and pat her shoulder.

“Ain’t much in there,” Wes said, exiting the building. He cradled a load of mix-and-match snacks against his protruding belly. “Pretzels, peanuts, cheese and crackers, pork rinds… couple of Twinkies. One of them is mine,” he said.

Gordy appeared from behind him favoring his wounded shoulder. Lou had dressed it, but it would need changing soon. “That’s a surprise,” Gordy said. “You like Twinkies?”

“Boy,” Wes said, “you been gone all this time and you’re going to start in on me?”

“I’m just saying that’s all.”

He took the cheese and crackers and held it up. “Y’all mind if I have this?”

Lou and I shook our heads.

He tore the wrapper with his teeth and hurriedly devoured the snack.

Ajax lumbered over to us from the corner of the store, followed by Kimball. It was good to see my best gorilla and my best dog again. I had forgotten how much I missed them. I took the remaining Twinkie and tossed it to Ajax. He grinned and nodded his massive head in excitement.

Kimball whined. I called him over and tore open a bag of pork rinds. I gave him one of the fried fatty treats. He crunched it tentatively at first and then quickly decided that he loved the taste of it. I dumped the rest of the rinds on the pavement. He pounced on them with reckless abandon.

I turned to Lou, holding the peanuts in one hand and the pretzels in the other. She snatched the pretzels from me.

“One thing’s for sure,” Wes said. “This ain’t going to be nearly enough to keep up our strength. I feel weak as a kitten.”

Gordy laughed. “Lord, Wes, if you don’t want me to make fun of you, you gotta stop saying things like that.”

Wes looked at me. “Can we send him back?”

I smiled and shook my head back and forth. “Like it or not, we need him.”

“Gee thanks,” Gordy said.

“Got any ideas where we’re headed?” Wes asked.

I popped some peanuts into my mouth. “Playing it by ear.”

“What about Tyrone and April?” Lou asked staring at a pretzel.

I searched for the perfect answer. The truth is I didn’t have much hope they were alive. They got separated from the rest of us and were in the middle of a pack of Myrmidons. I didn’t think it mattered much that I had sent Ariabod and another gorilla to look for them. They wouldn’t find them. In fact, the gorillas were probably dead, too. “Can’t worry about them.” It wasn’t perfect, but it was honest.

“What do you mean?” Wes asked.

“I mean they’re in good hands with Ariabod,” I lied. “He’s a great warrior. They’ll find us no matter where we go.” Ajax confirmed my statement with a nod and grin.

A strong wind whipped through the small parking area. Dust and debris swept across the asphalt. I looked down as an old brochure slammed into my leg. I kicked, trying to work it free so it could go on its merry way, but it wouldn’t come loose. I bent down and grabbed it with the intention of tossing it aside. Instead, four letters caught my attention: Bilt. I looked closer at the trifold brochure. Biltmore House. I must have said it out loud because Lou asked me what I’d said.

I cleared my throat. “Biltmore House, in Ashville. My mom always wanted to go there. Dad promised her we’d go.”

Wes grabbed the brochure from me. “Biltmore, huh? Yeah, I heard of the place. Mansion. Castle, really. Built by the Vanderbilts I think.”

Lou approached, fixated on the photo of the Biltmore House. “It’s beautiful. How far is it from here?”

Wes thought about the question. He surveyed the road in front of the convenience store. “Two days’ walk, maybe less.”

“Let’s go,” Lou said.

“What?” I said, sounding a little indigent. “We don’t have time to sightsee.”

“Really?” she said. “And why not? You said yourself you don’t know where we’re going.”

“Well yeah, but…”

“We need some time to figure it out,” she said. “We might as well figure it out in a pretty place.”

“We have to find the Land of the Dead,” I said.

She snickered. “It’s going to find us. You know that better than anyone.”

She was right. I shrugged my shoulders, and she smiled. It was all the happy she could muster. Visiting a genuine American castle was small consolation when things like castles and America didn’t matter anymore.

I thought about my parents again and realized that it wasn’t just them who were dead. The entire world was dead. Maybe we didn’t have to find the Land of the Dead. Maybe we were already in it.

The sky began to rumble and roar. Flashes of lightning burst over our heads.

“We should sit this out in the store,” Wes said.

No one argued. I was the last one to step inside the convenience store. As soon as I did, a torrent of rain fell and beat the metal building mercilessly.

“Bad,” Gordy said.

“Ain’t much good about anything for a while now,” Wes replied.

I turned to him. There was something in his tone… he was done. Defeated. I didn’t like the sound of it… I hated it. “You’re alive,” I said suppressing a visible display of anger.

He huffed as if it were the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard.

“What?” I asked stepping toward him.

“Ain’t enough, that’s all.”

“What is enough?”

He looked up at the ceiling and absorbed the unnaturally heavy sound of the rain. “A sunny day.” He looked at me. “You know? A real day. A yellow sun. A blue sky. Puffy white clouds.” Without warning, he kicked a rack of pine-scented air fresheners. “While you’re at it, I’d like to see my sister, and her good-for-nothing husband, and Pepper…” He looked at Lou. “And Valerie.”

BOOK: The Land of the Dead: Book Four of the Oz Chronicles
11.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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