Authors: Edward Crae
Copyright © 2015 Edward Crae
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
All brand names mentioned within are the registered trademarks of their respective copyright holders. No infringement, endorsement, or detraction is intended.
This is a work of fiction, and any resemblances to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Place names are used respectfully and solely for the purposes of reference points for the story.
No animals were harmed in the making of this story.
Every horror and sci-fi fan, no matter what their favorite premise, invariably expresses interest in the inevitable prospect of the End Times. It has been a favorite of readers everywhere since the days when the two genres were often rolled into one neat little package. Though the underlying cause of the apocalypse has been as varied as the combined genres themselves, one thing has always stood as a common theme: the hero.
Whether the apocalypse involves zombies, nuclear war, killer robots, or some deadly plague, our hero is always a… well, hero. He or she (or both) is strong, focused, ninja-like, and perfect. He was one of those people who was prepared; somehow knowing that the end was near and was 100% ready for it—possibly even secretly wishing for it.
Our hero goes on to save many lives, finds a cure for the zombie virus, kills the bad guys, and gets the girl (or the guy) in the end. Everyone expects him to win, and the end result is usually a carbon copy of every other hero in existence.
But what if the protagonist was not a superman? What if he was an average Joe—even less than an average Joe? What if the story centered on an undesirable, drunken, pill-popping loser with no life ambition, no future prospects, and no real reason to live? Would he fight just as hard? Would he be just as willing to die to save his friends?
Would it work?
Let’s find out…
“The third angel sounded, and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters. The name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter.”
That’s what the alcoholic shakes are called.
It happens when an alcoholic hasn’t had a drink in a while, and the body really, really wants one. It’s painful, frightening, and hard to resist.
Dan felt them often; especially in the last few days. He hadn’t had a drink since Friday night. It was now Monday, and the pain was incredible. He trembled heavily, staring longingly at the half-pint of cheap vodka that sat on the window sill before him. It was the kind that you could buy at a local convenience store for two bucks and some change.
High quality stuff.
For the past ten years, Dan had pretty much destroyed himself with his drinking; not only physically, but socially as well. He found himself with very few friends nowadays, having chased all of the good ones away. He was now left with acquaintances that were no more than drinking buddies. No real friends; only fellow drunks.
That’s no way to live.
Now, as he sat in the tattered, vinyl-covered chair in front of his window, he heard the call of the
; the alcoholic monkey on his back. Its voice became stronger by the minute, and the shakes increased to the point where he felt the need to clench his fists and grit his teeth.
The demon would win again.
He briefly stared beyond the enticing, clear bottle at the forest that surrounded his house. It was quiet, secluded, and still. He did enjoy the view, but sometimes the silence and solitude would feed his need for release. And that was when he would call on his buddies.
But not today.
Dan stood, stretching his arms and leaning his head back to stare at the ceiling. He took a few deep breaths, trying to alleviate his anxiety. As his head slowly began to clear, the sound of the TV became audible. He turned to glance at it, catching what appeared to be the middle of an important newscast.
“…passing through the tail of the comet throughout the day today. Scientists at NASA assure us that the comet will safely pass us by and be hurled out of the Solar System by the outer planets. More on this story as the facts are revealed. Now for sports…”
Dan grunted as the camera switched to the sportscaster. He went to the coffee table to grab the remote; plopping down on the couch to enjoy a little televised distraction. He surfed, rapidly flipping through the channels to find something interesting. After a minute or so, he noticed a common theme; newscasts. Even the local networks, which usually ran sitcom reruns this time of day, were displaying urgent news stories. He sighed, stopping on a newscast to see what was going on.
“…comet, known as Wormwood to many evangelicals, didn’t quite live up to its namesake. There is no danger of impact, as it only came within two hundred thousand miles of Earth. Though small amounts of debris have lit up the sky in various places around the globe, no significant pieces have been spotted. For now, we are safe. And now, Darrel Higgins with the weather. Darrel.”
Dan switched off the TV, tossing the remote on the couch beside him. He held his hands in front of his face, noting that the shaking was still present. His chest was hurting; another sign of withdrawal. He sighed again. Maybe a few sips wouldn’t hurt, he reasoned, looking back at the half-pint that was still beckoning from the window sill. The sunlight was hitting the tiny bottle, splitting up into its base colors and casting a little rainbow on the floor. He smiled, thinking how ironic it was that such a beast could create something so beautiful.
Surely, it was a sign.
He jumped up, going to the window and snatching up the half-pint. He looked through it, shaking it gently before his eyes.
Come on, Dan,
the bottle said.
Crack me open. You know you wanna. Who gives a fuck?
Click click click
, the cap sounded. It was satisfying; the little ticks of plastic breaking as he turned the cap felt almost as good as the vodka would. He unscrewed it, squeezing it in hand as he held the bottle up to his nose to take in the sterile rubbing alcohol aroma. That’s what it smelled like.
The good stuff.
He filled his mouth with the liquid, swishing it around like mouthwash before swallowing it. It felt warm and comforting going down; like liquid Jesus. It was a feeling he had missed over the last few days; one that spread over him quickly and comfortingly. He exhaled like a child would after drinking a glass of cold water, and smacked his lips in the same fashion.
That was good.
It didn’t take long for the shakes to dissipate. He stood for a moment, savoring the smoothness of his movements; the steadiness of his hands. He took another swig, swallowing it hungrily. Then, he downed the rest, feeling the slight gagging feeling as the vodka washed down his eager throat. He held the bottle up, looking through it to the wall behind as he growled the gagging away.
“Shit,” he said, grinning. “Dead soldier.”
He tossed the bottle aside, patting his pockets to find his keys. It was twenty minutes to town; fifteen if he drove faster. Maybe a little longer if he took the backwoods roads. Indiana was full of them; especially in the south. Bloomington wasn’t too far away, but the cops were dicks. No cops on the back roads.
He shook his head as he realized he was thinking. “Bad, Dan,” he said. “No thinking. Time for drinking. Fuck it.”
He turned to head toward the door, looking around for some reason he couldn’t fathom. Maybe to tell his non-existent wife that he would be right back? Who knew? Who cared?
The liquor store was waiting.
He stepped out, hopping down the porch to the garage. The lawn needed mowing, he noticed. Maybe Steve would mow it for a few bucks. He opened the side garage door, glancing over to Steve’s house to see if he was mowing (as he usually was… constantly.) Nothing. That was unusual. His only visible neighbor was always out riding the lawn mower around on his two acres on
Gravel and Giant Pothole Drive.
He realized the garage stunk when he walked in. There was garbage everywhere, as usual.
“Need to go to the recycling center,” he said.
The car smelled funny, too, but that would be the bags of stale fries and maybe a rotten cheeseburger or two. Or maybe he left a bag of cat shit in the trunk. He didn’t have a cat.
“Focus, Dan,” he said.
He pressed the button on the garage remote and started the car. He sat for a moment, waiting for the door to sluggishly drag itself open, then pulled out. It was a shitty, bumpy drive to SR-37 down the gravel road, but it would be worth it. In just under an hour, he would be sitting on his couch again with a bottle, the remote, and a smile.
Life was good.
No, it sucked. That’s why he drank. Again.
As he crept down the road, with the lovely and comforting drone of
playing on CD, he caught sight of himself in the rear-view mirror. He looked like absolute ass. His long, dirty blond hair was greasy and matted; his beard was coming in; his eyes were baggy and saggy. Oh, what a draggy.
He smiled. His teeth were a bit brown.
“Damn,” he said. “Oh well. Not looking to get laid. Just drunk and happy.”
He turned onto the highway with a squeal of his tires, and throttled into full speed. The car was shitty; just a little Toyota Hamster Wheel LE. Nothing special, but it got him where he needed to go. He loved driving, actually, and it got good gas mileage. So, as far as functionality, who gave a shit?
As he sped down the road, he noticed the odd mist that hung in the air on either side of the blacktop. It was usually pretty damp in this area, and the mist was no surprise, but there something strange about it; the color perhaps. It wasn’t the typical mist; not white, but having a very slight orange tint to it. Even the sky was strange-colored. It almost looked green. Only slightly green, but enough to be noticeable.
“What the shit?” he muttered, cranking up the tunes.
Pat O’Brien’s lightning fast guitar riffs supercharged his mood, and he began bobbing his head in rhythm, his mouth twisted into the aggressive “guitar face” expression. He tapped his thumb on the steering wheel, eyeing the unusual amount of cars that were parked on the side of the road. There were usually one or two stranded motorists along the highway in any given stretch, but he counted at least eight on this particular day.
“Well, fuck me…” he said.
Did everyone forget to gas up today?
As the exit came into view, he pulled off, heading into town via Walnut Street. He turned down his music for some reason; a habit he could never figure out. Maybe he could see better without the pounding death metal blasting his ears. That made sense, right?
Or maybe not. Who cares?
As he neared his usual liquor store, he was disappointed that the parking lot was empty and the lights were off inside.
“Damn it!” he said.
What the hell? It was only five o’clock. Not even.
He drove on, hoping the store further down was open.
Route 46 was deserted. There were no cars at all going east or west, yet here he was at a stop light, stopping for cross traffic that wasn’t there. Only the stumbling form of some oddly-dressed homeless person—or college student—was present. He watched the guy cross the street, gripping his gut as if he were getting ready to hurl. Another person crossed in the opposite direction. She was somewhat normal looking with thick birth control glasses and a pleated, red skirt, and black sweater that was way too small for her giant tits.
Dan chuckled as he watched her bounce across the street. She eyed the staggering man with a look of disgust, probably just remembering the times she was in the same shape after a night of “wine tasting” on the square. Yeah, that’s what they called it.
Finally, the light turned green, and he pulled out. A cop shot right past him heading the same direction, his lights blazing and his engine gunned. He had apparently not even slowed down for the intersection; just assuming it would change by the time he got there. There were no sirens, though, which was odd. That usually meant the cop was trying to “legally” run a red light.
“Nice example, asshole,” he muttered.
There were only a few people out and about even this far into town. Thankfully, the liquor store here was open, and he pulled in to pay it a visit. He reached into his pocket, pulling out a twenty. It was all the cash he had, but he opened his wallet to make sure. Dry as a bone. This was a dilemma.
He reached into his jacket to retrieve his bottle of
Two left. He needed more, but had no refills left. Not that he needed them for pain, but still…
Bottle of vodka and a pizza, or call his buddy in town for more pills. Five bucks apiece. He could get four and just stay dry today; he probably should have done that anyway. He would rather have a nice narcotic buzz with a vodka chaser, but he was supposed to be quitting the booze anyway.
Pills or booze? Pills or booze?
He pulled out his cell phone, scrolling to Jerry’s phone number, and pressed the send key. After a few rings, Jerry answered.
What’s up, Dan?
“Hey buddy, what’s happenin’?”
Not much, you need somethin’?
Yeah, you gonna be home?”
I’ll be he—
Jerry broke into a gagging fit, ending it with a groan.
I dunno, man. Feelin’ kinda queasy. I’ll be here though. What ya got?
“Twenty. What do you got?”
Well, I’m all out of percies. Wife’s got some vikes, though.
Mmmmm, I’ll go two-fifty.
Two fifty. Eight for twenty.
“Sounds good, man. I’ll be by in a minute.”
Okay. Hey, can you pick me up some rolling papers? I’ll get ya back.
“Yeah, sure. The usual?”
Yep. Thanks, man.
“No problem, bro. Later.”
He hit the end key, pulling his keys out of the ignition, and stepping out. The store was mostly empty, except for an older Indian guy behind the counter who glared at a college kid who appeared to be taking too long to decide what method of hepatic tissue fermentation he was going to try this evening. Dan chuckled as he saw the Indian man’s face.
“Hey, boss,” the man said as he walked up to the counter.
“Hey,” Dan said. “Can I get a pack of Joker wides?”
The guy turned and grabbed a pack of the world-renowned rice paper, slapping it on the counter with a guttural “Two twenty nine.”
Dan handed him the twenty, and waited for his change. The man was still staring at the young guy, who was swaying from side to side as he stared blankly at the selection of imported beers. Dan took his change and stuffed it into his pocket, eyeing the kid and looking back at the Indian guy, who was shaking his head in frustration.
“Hey, buddy,” he said. “Shit or get off the pot.”
It was funny hearing a foreigner use that phrase, especially with his thick accent.