READ THE FIRST CHAPTER OF THE 6TH HORSEMAN!
6 Months Before the Extinction Event
I slip into a navy coverall while avoiding the filthy, graffiti-engraved bathroom stall walls. The coverall fights back because it’s one size too small and I refuse to remove my shoes. After wriggling around it seems to fit.
A stitched logo embellishes the left chest and a clipped-on ID badge declares my name: Alex, of Air Conditioning Specialists of New York. I toss my t-shirt and jeans into the garbage and walk out of the bar bathroom. My vision is acute, and my heart pounds rhythmically as adrenaline snakes its way through my body at record speeds.
The bar is a local dive and packed even though it’s early afternoon. There’s a game on the TVs that command the crowd’s attention.
I sit at the bar and look at my watch. I’m on time but my handler, code name Zilla, is not. The pager in my breast pocket is supposed to vibrate at a quarter to one and it’s five after.
A cute bartender nods at me. Her bright red hair is braided and held together by a metal clip with sharp talon-looking protrusions. Her eyeliner is thick, and her lipstick dark red. I can’t stop looking at her. She becomes a bonfire on a beach at night that is so bright it transforms the surrounding crowds into meaningless shadows.
“Need something, or you just here to browse?” Her voice is forceful but oddly soothing.
“IPA, thanks. Anything local.”
She pours a pint from the tap and sets it on a napkin. “This is our brew, J-walk IPA. Let me know if you like it.”
I gulp without tasting and smile at her. “It’s good.” Someone scores and the crowd bursts into cheers. After the chorus calms, she leans to me and says, “It’s got orange, grapefruit and a hint of lime. It’s my favorite.”
I adjust my coveralls again then look at my watch.
“You starting a new job today, Alex?” She notices how uncomfortable I am, a bad sign. I look guilty as hell. Mistake number one.
I force a nervous chuckle and lightly touch my ID badge. “Ah, no. Just a new coverall. “Doesn’t quite fit though. Temp job. My day job is event organizer for Red Stars.” I snap my mouth shut and look away. Damn it, I’m Alex not Ian. I’m supposed to be in spy mode, and I’m blabbing to some girl at a bar! Mistake number two. Maybe I should just walk away and go home.
“Oh my god! I subscribe to them. Read their RSS every day!” Her eyes grow big and bright, and her cheeks flush.
A familiar voice speaks in my head. It’s my mother’s. “Girls are a distraction. Family is a distraction. You’re a political architect. Your noble action is selflessness. Your sacrifice will be remembered for all of history.”
My mother had said that to me on my seventeenth birthday; the day she died. I know it’s cliché, but my mother made me in her own image. My motivations, my ability to act and the reason I joined Zilla started with her. She was an interesting woman; the only real reason I won three prestigious writing awards. I just wrote the truth about her.
When I was ten years old I was standing in the shallow waves of the Florida Gulf, letting the water push me around. My mother was behind me on the white sand, stretching in some odd-looking yoga position. My dad was nowhere to be seen, but I knew he was working on making another million dollars.
A volleyball struck my mother’s head, snapping her out of her meditation. I’d told her she was too close to the game, but she’d insisted on sitting there. She leapt to her feet, grabbed the volleyball and booted it as far into the ocean as she could. It got ugly. A young woman pushed my mother, threw sand in her face and punched her with a closed fist. I ran to my mother and put myself between the two to keep them from fighting, but I was pushed away.
My mother landed a few punches of her own. She grabbed the girl’s hair and screamed like a raptor with rabies. A crowd surrounded us. There was a lot of yelling and cussing.
Some guy kept pulling me out of the way as he was obviously enjoying himself. Another woman pushed my mother who was outnumbered and bleeding. I bit the guy on his arm, freeing myself. My mother finally noticed me. We stepped away from the cacophony. The faces that glared at us were twisted and reddened.
As we scuttled away, she ranted about how there were too many people on Earth. She told me, through tears, that this beach used to be completely empty and the most perfect place on Earth. As a girl she’d swim over vibrant coral, fish, and life in the sea. Now the coral was gone and the rocks were barren, dead, and black.
Later that afternoon, my mother sat on the hotel couch after her shower. “You see, Ian, I can’t feel Mother Earth anymore. She’s dying. She used to be there for me. All I see around me is corruption, greed and starvation.” I could never get a word in when she was ranting, so I just listened. “Mother Earth is fighting for her life. She’s warming like she has a fever. Her forests are stripped. Her water is polluted. Trash and shit are everywhere. And nobody cares! Nobody gives a FUCK! Oh, they say they do, but only those of us who speak to Mother Earth are really feeling her pain. People care more about their freedom than they do their survival. How twisted is that?”
After mumbling to herself a while longer she sat up, grabbed my shoulders, and pulled me close. “Don’t get me wrong.” She held me tight. “You can’t do anything about it. You’re too young and too inexperienced. There’s nothing you can do. I just want you to listen to me and accept this as the way of the world. No one can change this. This is the way it is and you have to get used to it.” Her eyes were wide and red. “I forbid you to fight back. You can’t change anyone. Or punish anyone for their vile behavior,” she hissed.
I shook my head. “I can do something.”
“There are those who need to take matters into their own hands, but I don’t think you are one of them.”
I had suddenly felt confused and disoriented. She had never said those things before. I could do whatever I set my mind to. That’s what she’d always told me.
“There’s nothing we can do. We must sit on our hands and be beaten. Oh, Ian! We will watch our world die!” She’d gotten out of breath so she let herself fall back into the cushions.
After she popped a pill and passed out on the couch I went back to the beach. I saw the beach as my mother saw it. Wave runners zipped off (of the) shore. Their engines, muted by the waves, were still audible. They seemed to be following the dolphins around disrupting their feeding. So the dolphins would go hungry tonight because some idiot wanted to see one up close. There were para-gliders tethered to speed boats zipping back and forth, and kites were everywhere. Every twenty feet there was someone selling crap to the tourists. It was a sideshow, not a beach.
I’d been looking for the girl who punched my mother when some muscular dude walked past me. He finished off his beer and tossed it into the surf. I started to feel that anger my mother felt. I wanted to scream and cuss at that guy. I picked up the beer can and walked it to the trash can. I started to notice all the trash on the beach. A bag of chips over by the reeds, sea birds fighting over a half-eaten sandwich, another beer can sitting two inches from the trash can.
I had a thought that would follow me into adulthood; Most people are simplistic animals that need to be caged. People are the most dangerous of them all.
My mother had given me two hands. She not only wanted me to use my hands to change the world, she begged me use them. She challenged me through my natural rebelliousness. It was reverse psychology, masterfully played.
I remember deciding right then and there to do something about the bullshit in the world. I sped down the beach looking for the muscular dude. I wanted revenge. The sun was setting and people were going home. I picked up the pace hoping he had not left. I found him sitting on a wooden, hotel beach lounger, with four muscular guys. They were all laughing and drinking beer. I watched the group a while. They were acting stupid. Every time a girl walked by they’d whistle and yell. Even though they looked strong, I wasn’t scared. I had kid immunity.
After a bit, they ran into the surf leaving their beer cans by the loungers. I casually walked by their stuff and snatched up two cans. The hotel behind me had three levels of parking before the floors turned into hotel rooms. Perfect. I hid behind a car and peed into the beers. I’d never done anything like this before. I could barely contain myself. I replaced the beer cans and took two more cans.
Half an hour of waiting paid off. The muscular dudes got out of the surf and ran to their beers. Their buzz must have worn thin, so they they guzzled their piss beer. Then came the spitting, the coughing. They cussed and threw the cans. One dude vomited in the sand. One guy saw me. His eyes locked on mine and like a missile he came for me.
“Fuckin’ kid! I’m gonna kick your ass!”
I ran and I ran fast. He didn’t last more than a block before he broke chase.
I ran all the way to the hotel, smiling wide, showing my teeth. Pride made me lighter than air. Justice had been done. I burst into the room and flipped the security bar over the latch.
I told my mother what I’d done. She scolded me softly then took me out for ice cream.
After that day things changed for me. My mother made me take dictation everyday and eventually made me write her speeches and press releases. She said I was the most gifted writer the world had seen in a hundred years. I earned A+ grades and forced my teachers to write college recommendations as early as freshmen year.
Seven years passed in the blink of an eye. My mother was elected Senator of New York, and looked to be poised to run for the White House.
The day she died she called for me. Her voice seemed panicky so I ran. When I opened the door she was behind it.
“What’s wrong?” I asked as she closed the door after me.
She went to the bed and sat. “You are going to hear things about me tomorrow or the next day. They are lies. The news will break that I transferred classified satellite defense documents to the Chinese government.”
She shook her head. “They are lies. They have manufactured the evidence.”
I wasn’t a baby anymore so I knew the game, or thought I did. “So fight them in court. We’ll prove your innocence. You’re being targeted because you’re outwardly Socialist and a Green Party member.”
Her eyes fluttered. She seemed pale. “I will lose. The powers are too strong. I have to pass the torch to you now.”
“Wait a second –”
She shushed me with her hand. “Take the torch and run with it. We’re close to changing things. So close. Don’t distract yourself with anything. Not girls, drugs or greed. The system has cracks throughout. Use them to smash the walls to bits.” Her eyes rolled around and she lay back suddenly.
“What’s wrong with you?”
My mother took my hand. “I love you. I’ll be watching you. Make me proud. Don’t feel sorry for me. This is okay. I will not go to jail. Not ever.”
I started to freak out. “What is going on? I’m going to call the ambulance! You look terrible.” Her grip tightened on my arm.
My mother pulled me to her chest and hugged me, hard. I started crying and pulled away. She listed her favorite memories in a soft voice. I ran to the door, but she’d had a deadbolt installed and it was locked.
“Where’s the key? Mother!”
She ignored me and kept talking. Her voice softened even more until it was like a breeze. I tried the phone but it was dead. I tried to open the window, but it was nailed shut. I saw the hammer under the bed and grabbed it. The nails were finishing nails, and I couldn’t get the claw under the head to pull them out.
As I smashed the window with the hammer and opened the hole large enough for my body my mother whispered, “I love you. Take my torch. I love you. Take my torch.” Over and over she said this. I pried the screen off of the window frame and hopped out. I turned to look at her while standing on the fire escape. Her jaw slackened and her head rolled to the side. Her eyes were blank and thoughtless. She was dead.
After a lot of tears, which my father did not share, I took her torch. Though the press threw her under the buss for weeks, it was surprisingly gentle because of her suicide. She’d left a twenty-page document lamenting her innocence, and her loyal community believed every word.
That began my career of mischief and malcontent. My life took a tumble through chaos and organized anarchy. I longed for a better world and I wanted to destroy this one in order to find it. That’s when I met Zilla.
The girl at the bar has been talking for the last ten minutes, and I haven’t heard a word. My nods and smiles are enough so she keeps chatting even while serving beers and making drinks for impatient patrons.
My pager buzzes, startling me. “I’m sorry,” I say, cutting her off. “I’d love to continue our chat, but I’ve got to go.”
Unfazed, she puts down a fresh napkin and writes her name and number on it. “Call me?”
I smile and touch her finger as she hands me the number. “Yeah.” As I walk out of the bar I take one look at her number then wad it up and toss it in the garbage. I’ve got some history to make now. No distractions. My real work has just begun.
I walk down the street quickly. After a block I walk to a van parked in a special permitted spot on the curb. It’s got the same logo that I now wear on my chest. A woman in a tight dark blue skirt and white collared top comes at me. She’s got bright red lipstick and rich brown hair. Her green eyes target and hold me. I notice a scar on her cheek that extends to her jaw. At the moment of passing she stumbles and grabs on to my arm. She quickly slides the van keys into my hand.
“Excuse me,” she blurts as she regains her footing and walks away.
Everything is going according to plan. This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done and if I don’t do this right I’ll go to jail. I open the passenger door and grab the bag on the seat.
My instructions are clear. I head to the tall glass-faced skyscraper trying to look as confident as I can. Keep your head up, back straight but casual. You’re just another guy doing his job. I pass the lobby counter and swipe my card at a reader next to a door adjacent to the elevators. The card reader’s light goes green, and I step inside the small room.
I am greeted by a man in black fatigues with an M-16, a snub nose machine gun, strapped to his shoulder. “You’re not Redmond. Where’s your ID? Put your tools down and get your hands up.”
I do what I’m asked. There are no windows, adornments or seats. There is a back door, plain white with more security locks. It flies open and another guard comes through looking like his skin is about to burst into flames. He walks right up to me and snatches the ID card I’d used to gain access to the room. After a moment he looks up. “I’m sorry about the inconvenience, Mr. Hadley. We had a bomb threat in the building this morning and are running hot around here.” He moves to the back door quickly. “Stay put, we just need to run additional security checks. It’s protocol, that’s all.” He leaves.
Oh shit, I think.
Fools’ Apocalypse Signed Book
Manipulated to kill, sick with lies, the corpses moved against the Fools. It quickly became apparent that the undead were more than rotting bodies. They’re puppets for something dark and desperate and otherworldly. They were Zilla’s children.
Zilla used extreme socialist ideology to motivate his holy army to destroy humanity. Pitting passion against reason was so effective. His soldiers had no idea what they were doing. How could they be so naive? They didn’t want the end to come, they didn’t want to have to fight their neighbors, themselves or the storm of guilt that pummeled them.
Those that survive are spared the virus, but not death. In order to live they’ll fight, bleed, and steal. Slick with blood and ash, every step becomes harder than the last.
Fear the undead that are not dead.
Publication date: AUGUST 2016