Beyond the Badlands by Brian J. Jarrett by Brian J. Jarrett - Read Online

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Summary

With St. Louis compromised, Ed and his sons find themselves once again searching for the next safe haven. Kansas City, Missouri beckons; an outpost in a dangerous and vicious wilderness.

When a freak accident separates Ed from his family, he’ll be forced to fight harder than ever to be reunited with them once again.

But the threats are different now. The carriers are changing. They’re getting smarter.

And the worst threat of all awaits where Ed least expects it.

Inside the walls of their new safe haven.

Published: Elegy Publishing, LLC on
ISBN: 9781386706151
List price: $3.99
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Acknowledgements

BEYOND THE BADLANDS

a novel

Brian J. Jarrett

Copyright © 2013 Brian J. Jarrett

Elegy Publishing, LLC

St. Louis, MO

Original cover image by Krischam, Dreamstime.com

All rights reserved by the author. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted by any means without the written consent of the author.

This book is a work of fiction. Any names, people, locales, or events are purely a product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to any person (either living or dead), to any event, or to any locale is coincidental or used fictitiously.

Copy editing and proofreading by Sandi Powell.

Additional proofreading by Allyson Robben Dowell.

2013.BTB.1.3

This one’s for you, Dad.

Want more? Subscribe to Brian’s mailing list and receive a free ebook, just for signing up!

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Chapter One

Outside the fence, in the no man’s land surrounding the city by the river, a predator stalked. Many knew it as the carrier, while in other circles it had become known as the deadwalker. No matter what survivors called it, it inspired fear the world over.

This predator stalking the grounds outside the city carried a virus that decimated his brain and ravaged his body, taking away everything that had once made him human. Now this shell of a man operated on animalistic instinct as he picked his way across the rubble in search of his next kill.

Visions of a child and a woman sporadically appeared in his damaged mind, though he had no idea he’d once been a father and a husband. These visions didn’t inspire love; they only fed the fire of his rage. He didn’t recognize the people in the visions any more than he recognized his own reflection in a plate glass window. The compulsion to kill overrode everything.

His blessing, if one could call it that, was that he could perceive virtually none of this sense of loss. Instead, he burned with anger and fury, plagued by hunger and insanity.

The carrier dragged himself along, maneuvering around a large object he didn’t recognize as a car. Once around the car, a tall, chain-link fence appeared. He didn’t care about the fence; the figure he saw behind the fence caught his eye.

In an instant, rage overtook what little was left of his mind. Overcome with fury, his limbs moved as if controlled by a sadistic puppet master floating high in the sky. Screaming, he summoned the strength to propel himself toward the source of the movement, dragging his paralyzed left leg along.

The carrier crossed the distance as quickly as his wasted body would allow, his eyes focused on the figure behind the fence.

He did not recognize the creature as a human.

To the carrier, it was prey.

Covering the space between himself and his victim, the carrier slammed into the fence. He felt no pain, only a mild tingling sensation as the wire gouged and sliced his sunburned flesh. He shrieked in wild frustration as the coarse, wire fence shredded his fingertips.

On the other side of the fence the man opened his mouth and spoke, but the carrier heard only meaningless sounds. He clawed more violently at the fence, biting the metal with rotting teeth in a futile attempt to satisfy the burning desire to kill.

The man behind the fence lifted a rifle and fired a single shot, knocking the carrier to the ground. Unable to stand, the carrier touched the wound. His hand came away red, but he could make no connection between the blood on his hands and his own impending death.

As the carrier lay bleeding on the ground, his vision blurred. Closing his eyes, he exhaled for the last time. His heart beat one last rhythm before becoming still.

Destroyed in both mind and body, the carrier’s remaining brain cells began dying by the thousands, until his body was nothing more than a cooling mass of organic material.

* * *

Doug McReady stood by the fence surrounding the former city of St. Louis, his ears still ringing from the shot fired through the mesh of the fence. The carrier had attacked, no surprise there. Normally he tried to ignore the bastards, but he knew all too well that its screaming would only bring more of them to the fence. And the last thing in the world he wanted to see right then was more deadwalkers.

He could still feel the effects of the hangover on his body from his binge the night before. Goddamn fucking tequila. Normally Doug didn’t drink, but on the anniversary of his wife’s death he made an exception. Doug never had liked tequila, but it was better than that homemade shit going around the town.

The carrier struggled to get up again after taking the shot to the gut. Poor bastards. They never gave up. He watched the thing until it stopped moving, blood soaking its tattered clothes and pooling on the concrete around it.

Doug noticed a wedding band still clinging to the carrier’s bony finger. He wondered who the man might have been before the virus. He thought of his own wife, who in the end had been just like the poor bastard lying on the ground in front of him. Michelle, so tough and resilient for the first couple of years after the outbreak. They’d thought her immune, at least at first. Turned out she’d just been lucky.

A year ago that luck had run out.

Often he wondered why he carried on with so much lost. Maybe it came down to simple human nature. Deep inside he still held out hope that the work they did in St. Louis might bring humanity back from the brink of extinction. A cause worth fighting for. Something Michelle also had believed.

So he got up every morning and instead of shooting himself in the head, he strapped on his rifle and manned the fences, on the lookout for anything that might compromise the city’s delicate borders.

Tonight, however, he would fail in that mission. As he walked away from the carrier’s lifeless body, he didn’t notice the bomb placed near one of the fence’s support poles some twenty feet away. A bomb designed to take out the load-bearing pipe and allow an entry point for as many carriers as could make it through.

The following morning he’d be dead and the safe haven that had been St. Louis would be forever changed.

Chapter Two

Brothers, what we are about to embark upon today is nothing short of the good Lord’s work here on Earth, Joshua said to his group of nine soldiers congregated in the basement of an old Catholic church.

Joshua’s birth name, his secular name, had been Clarence Fish, but no one had called him that for nearly four years now. Not since the beginning of the outbreak and definitely not since God had spoken to Clarence and told him about His plans for mankind.

Of all the people alive in the world before the outbreak, God had chosen Clarence Fish to represent His holiness on Earth. Clarence Fish, an unemployed factory worker with an unhealthy addiction to gin and pornography. Clarence Fish, twice-divorced deadbeat dad with a rocky past and a shady future. Before the outbreak, before the words of his Heavenly Father drifted down from above and landed softly upon Clarence’s consciousness, he’d been just another lost soul in a roiling sea of sin.

But then everything changed.

Joshua became the chosen one.

He wondered how many others could claim such a wonderful and incredible blessing. There wasn’t a day that went by that Joshua didn’t weep with unparalleled joy.

But this bliss came with a heavy burden. Now, after all this time, all this preparation, all this waiting, the day of reckoning had finally come. Now it was time for Joshua and his army of martyrs to unleash God’s fury upon the city of St. Louis.

Joshua gazed upon his army. Nine men — nine martyrs — stood shoulder to shoulder, facing him with focused expressions. Men who had willingly accepted their true calling and the mortal fate which came with it. In mere hours they would all be dead, their bodies destroyed. Their spirits however, would ascend. Joshua and his men would be seeing each other again very soon, sitting beside the Heavenly Father Himself.

Though they met in an abandoned Catholic church, Joshua wasn’t Catholic. Denominations meant nothing to him; they were merely the result of childish human squabbles. Reformations, derivatives, cults or any other split in Christianity only served to distract Man from the truths that God offered freely. Rather than face these truths wide-eyed and open-armed, religious leaders had for centuries buried themselves and their churches in layer upon layer of political distraction.

Joshua, on the other hand, worshiped the simple and singular God of Abraham, without the hindrance and obfuscation of man-made dogma.

It was God from whom he took his orders.

From the pulpit, Joshua gazed upon his most faithful on the happiest day of his life. He cleared his throat, stifling the emotions that threatened to overtake him. He had to remain strong until the end. He was a leader of men, after all.

Nearly four years ago, the good Lord unleashed upon this Earth a plague like none that had ever been seen before, he began, his voice gradually finding its steadiness. The wicked have paid with their bodies and their minds. Those who had lost their faith have now lost their humanity. They are but decrepit and pitiful creatures, existing as animals in the bodies of God’s children.

Amen, a voice called out from the room. More joined in until the room sang out like a choir.

Joshua allowed them to finish before continuing. The Bible speaks of this plague that the good Lord has beset upon the Earth. He opened his Bible, flipping to a tattered and dog-eared page. With his finger he scanned the verses until he found the passage he needed.

"Zechariah 14:12 tells us: ’This is the plague with which the Lord will strike all the nations that fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths.’"

Another chorus of ‘amen’ resounded from the room. Brothers, Joshua continued, we are the chosen ones. We are immune to the plague. There are others like us, here in this city, others who also bear this Godly mark of immunity.

He closed his Bible and lifted a finger, his voice rising. But some living inside this fence are not immune. They do not share our mark of divinity. These sad and damned creatures bear no resistance to God’s holy plague. They are sinners in our midst, protected and comforted by those who erected these fences. Rather than allowing them their rightful, Godly fate, our worldly leaders have chosen to protect the unworthy.

Joshua paused. All eyes upon him, held in rapt attention. He continued, his voice lower. As you all know, I have pleaded with these military men to comply with God’s plans. But these arrogant men, like Pharaoh before them, have chosen to ignore God’s message.

Joshua placed his Bible on a small table beside him. He clasped his hands in a symbol of prayer, lowering his voice and looking into the eyes of his martyrs. These men have left us no choice, brothers. They have angered God and they will feel His holy wrath. We are but instruments of His will, carrying out what He has intended for the sinners here on Earth. He paused, taking a deep breath. We are the chosen ones.

Amen! the men shouted. Praise Him!

Joshua smiled. The day of reckoning is here, my brothers. Our work is nearly complete.

Hallelujah! they cried. Praise His holy name!

Joshua slammed his fist on the pulpit as the men erupted into a frenzy. Onward we march, brothers, and upon our last breath let the Lord’s holy name resonate!

Joshua turned and exited the room, the enthusiastic sound of the faithful voicing their commitment behind him. He would allow them time for fellowship before their duty to the Lord took them all on their separate ways to Heaven.

Standing in what had once served as the church’s children’s nursery, Joshua gazed out the window toward the darkened land beyond the boundary of the fence. Out there the wicked lurked, bearing their sin upon their very flesh for all the world to see.

In only hours, the Lord’s judgment would be known to all those within the confines of the city’s fence. Not only to the men who ran St. Louis, but the men from Kansas City who’d given Joshua the bombs by which to damage the fence as well.

So arrogant they all were in their pride. The men from Kansas City thought their bombs would be only a distraction, providing them an opportunity to seize the city. But they weren’t the only men who could provide bombs.

And Joshua didn’t mean to merely damage the fence.

He meant to take the entire thing down.

Chapter Three

Zach, hand that box to your brother, Ed Brady said to his oldest son as he pointed toward a slightly crushed cardboard box. It sat on a flatcar, held together by yellowing packing tape.

Sure thing, Dad, Zach replied. What’s in it?

Creamed corn, Ed said. And lots of it. Guess nobody would touch the stuff before the outbreak.

Zach smiled as he passed the box off to his younger brother, Jeremy. Ed watched the exchange, viscerally aware that he’d almost lost his oldest son to the virus. Only after Zach was bitten did they learn of his immunity.

Ed stood up straight, his back stiff from overuse. Being nearly forty years old made lifting boxes more difficult, but it beat the hell out of struggling for survival and living off scraps on the other side of the fence. He and both of his sons had done that for three years before arriving at the gates of a fenced-in St. Louis, Missouri.

Ed’s younger son handed the box to Trish.

She gave him a grin. Thanks, little man.

The boy smiled in return. Three years into the pandemic, Ed and his boys had stumbled upon Trish in an abandoned department store, lying sick with fever among the desiccated corpses. They nursed her back to health and she became their traveling companion. Though eighteen years his junior, Ed and Trish fell in love. They lived together now, along with the boys, within the confines of St. Louis.

A group of former military personnel and armed civilians, collectively known as The Guard, founded and now ran the city. But St. Louis didn’t exist as a lone oasis in the proverbial desert of the Badlands; an outpost existed in Kansas City, Missouri, as well. There the residence hall of the former state university served a new purpose as The Guard’s second base of operations.

Is this train a steamie or a diesel? Jeremy asked.

Even after all these years, Jeremy still used Thomas the Tank Engine lingo. In so many ways he was still just a child. Steam powered, Ed said. It burns coal. The diesel doesn’t hold up so well after it sits for awhile, but the coal stays good. And a little bit of coal goes a long way.

What’s on the train? Zach asked.

Tools, food, some clothes, stuff like that.

Ed took inventory of his family from the train platform. Zach, growing taller each day. Jeremy, so smart and savvy. And Trish, young and beautiful, strong-willed and wise well beyond her own youth.

After nearly a year inside the city walls, he allowed himself to imagine a world much like the old world, before the virus. A world where he and so many others lived like kings and took everything for granted.

This time around, there would be nothing taken for granted.

Zach stood on the flatcar, box in hand. Dad, you okay?

Ed realized he was staring. He smiled and winked at the boys. Jeremy returned the wink, closing both eyes, unable to favor one over the other. Maybe when he grows up, Ed thought, finally able to entertain the notion of his children reaching adulthood.

He felt good. They had survived the virus and they had survived the Badlands. They’d made it to their fabled city by the river. For the first time in a very long time, Ed felt hope.

Then, in an instant, everything changed.

Chapter Four

Gabriel walked through the former city of St. Louis carrying two tools: a set of large wire cutters and an air horn. With these he intended to carry out his divine work and finally bask in the full glory of God’s approval.

He had simple instructions from Joshua: cut the fence and then draw the infected inside.

Fred Dennis, his name before meeting Joshua, would have been nervous knowing the task ahead. A mission from God, however, allowed no such cowardice. Giddy, he anticipated the end of his suffering on Earth and the beginning of his everlasting existence in paradise. Soon he’d be at the foot of God’s throne, standing there alongside Joshua and his brothers.

No more pain. No more suffering. No more addiction. No more regret.

Gabriel whistled a hymn to himself to keep his mind focused and to mitigate his joyous agitation. Instead of his normal white robe, he wore street clothes so as to not draw attention to himself. The large wire cutters jutted out from the back of his jeans, the handles tucked under his shirt. The air horn rode in his front pocket.

He walked quickly, struggling not to sprint. He had time. His brothers wouldn’t detonate the bombs for another hour. At a reasonable pace he’d arrive within a half-hour at the secluded area chosen by his leader. Once on location he’d have more than enough time to complete his work before sounding the air horn.

Then the carriers would come, spreading God’s holy pestilence upon the sinners.

Despite the chill in the air, small beads of perspiration collected on Gabriel’s forehead as he walked. He wiped them away with the back of his hand. The few people he passed on the streets didn’t notice him. Divine protection in action. He was doing the Lord’s work, after all.

Arriving at the location, he slipped undetected through an alleyway running between two small duplex apartment buildings. He quickly found himself behind the buildings, the fence no more than a dozen feet away. Two dumpsters sat near it, creating a pocket between them where he would carry out his work undetected.

The perfect location, he thought. Joshua has considered everything. It’s no wonder God chose him as His vessel.

He prayed, muttering the words Joshua had taught him over the past year. Joshua had done more for Gabriel than any drug counselor or rehabilitation clinic had. His nerves calmed with the presence of the Lord at work upon him. Contentment washed over him as the words rolled from his tongue.

With his prayers spoken and his resolve stronger than ever, he walked to the fence and began to cut. The minutes passed slowly as he snipped away the chain link connections, leaving a wide hole in its place.

His task now complete, Gabriel backed away from the opening and stared. They would come when they heard the horn. They always followed sound.

And when they did he would give himself to them. A sacrifice to prove his devotion.

An explosion roared in the distance, causing him to jump. A plume of black smoke traveled upward, mushrooming out as it dispersed into the air. He smiled. His brothers at work. He couldn’t wait to see them again in the presence of God.

Screams rose from beyond the fence. The infected grew restless. Poor, damned souls.

Gabriel held the air horn up high, issuing several loud bursts. He waited. Moments later they came into view. Limping, crawling, moaning, the smell overwhelming.

Gabriel sounded the horn again, waving his arms and jumping up and down to get their attention. They spotted him quickly, dashing toward him as fast as they could. So many, more than he could count. He felt a brief panic, the way he used to feel between fixes. But now he had God to reassure him.

Moments later the infected arrived at the fence, crowding the opening as they fought for entry. Closing his eyes, he dropped the air horn to the ground and raised both hands high as he uttered a final prayer.

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Then the carriers overwhelmed him.

* * *

Jeremiah walked quickly across the street, his sights fixed upon the large tanker truck parked near the edge of the city. The explosive vest wore heavy on his shoulders, but he could manage. Just knowing he’d be seeing his Maker so soon made the burden that much easier to bear.

Full of old gasoline, the abandoned tanker would cause a massive explosion, attracting carriers for miles. With any luck, Jeremiah would get that tanker to explode.

No, not luck. There was no such thing as luck, only God’s will.

And God willing, the tanker would explode.

Jeremiah approached the tanker carefully, searching the area for any of the gun-toting military types running the city now. The area was clear. He walked quickly to the tanker, inspecting the valves along its side. A quick search revealed the tool he needed to open them. God’s grace shone brightly on this day.

Minutes later he had the caps off of the tanker valves. Gasoline spilled, striking the ground and creating a puddle around the tanker. Fumes poisoned the air, burning his nose and his eyes, but he ignored it