Redemption In the Badlands by Brian J. Jarrett - Read Online
Redemption In the Badlands
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Summary

Pastor Dan Owens wants to believe there’s still good left in an evil world. When he meets Lilly, he’s certain that helping this woman in need is the right thing to do.

In fact, it’s his mission in life.

But when a murderous gang kidnaps Lilly, Dan’s oath to protect her will send him down a path that no man of God should ever have to travel.

To save her, Dan will have to do things the hard way.

Old Testament style.

Published: Elegy Publishing, LLC on
ISBN: 9781386698524
List price: $2.99
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Redemption In the Badlands - Brian J. Jarrett

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Redemption In the Badlands

a novella

Brian J. Jarrett

Copyright © 2017 Brian J. Jarrett

Elegy Publishing, LLC

St. Louis, MO

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.

2017.RITB.1.1

For Jim Carcia. Thanks for the inspiration.

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Chapter One

Dan Owens cruised the ruined streets of his town, searching for victims of the plague, infected or not. He didn’t need many supplies these days; the old public school building he’d adopted as his home had been well-stocked by others before him. He sometimes wondered who they were and what might have befallen them. Why they’d abandoned their home, leaving behind their weapons and supplies, he supposed he’d never know. He had a hunch, however, that whatever happened to them wasn’t good.

Sometimes it was hard to remember that there was still good in the world.

But he had found the place, and it could only be a gift from God. Dan Owens, Pastor Dan as he called himself these days, maintained an unconventional relationship with his God. In the days before the virus, no mainstream church would have ever formally ordained him. But now with most of the world’s population dead—killed either by the virus or the zombie-like monsters the contagion created—it didn’t matter what the establishment said.

There was no establishment anymore.

It had been a couple of months since he’d last seen anybody outside of the infected. They had a lot of names; deadwalkers, carriers, deadheads. Dan mostly just referred to them as carriers. Poor unfortunate souls who had no natural resistance to the mysterious virus that had swept the world several years back, decimating humanity.

The pair he’d met had been a young man, probably in his twenties, traveling with an older man in his forties, around the same age as Dan. The older man, Ed, had been separated from his family and the younger man, Jasper, was helping to reunite them. They were good guys, and after a pleasant evening of conversation over a bottle of Jack, Dan sent them on their way with some supplies and well-wishes.

He wondered whether or not Ed ever found his family.

Dan had saved the two men from a mob of hungry carriers. When he brought them back to his place, Ed and Jasper had been surprised by what they’d seen. It was odd, even by Dan’s standards, but callings from God didn’t always make sense. They didn’t have to. Sometimes the reasons were simply beyond human comprehension. Dan’s particular calling happened to be rounding up the infected and quarantining them inside the old football arena built on the school grounds of his current home. There he kept them behind a sturdy fence while the steep walls surrounding the arena’s playing field proved too difficult for the carriers to scale.

Over the last year, he’d collected an impressive number of infected souls. A frightening number. Ed and Jasper had been surprised that he simply didn’t put them down, but it wasn’t Dan’s role to play executioner. That was up to God to decide when their time had come. So he penned them up in the arena, keeping the streets a little safer for what few survivors remained. He tossed the carriers venison whenever he could, along with any squirrels or rats he happened to catch. The rat population shrunk along with the human population, but more deer were running around now than he had bullets for.

He’d watched the infected, noting their behavior patterns. Sometimes he thought he watched them a little too much. Over time, it became apparent that they were changing. Not all of them, but a fraction of the carriers seemed to be getting smarter while their counterparts slowly withered away. The more intelligent of the group began working together in packs, searching for a way out of Dan’s prison and eating the weak to stay alive. He had to admit that it worried him a little, but he always checked the perimeter and the gate, ensuring that his keep remained secure in their permanent quarantine.

But then, a week ago, he noticed something strange.

At first, he didn’t know what he was seeing. He thought that maybe one of the poor bastards had expired and was quietly rotting away in a corner. God knew it wouldn’t help the stench. But after a few more days, Dan noticed a couple more of the odd-looking sacks lying around. His interest piqued, Dan got in his reinforced truck, strapped a deer carcass to the back and drove inside the mass of the walking dead.

In other words, a regular feeding run.

As he carved out his path through the infected, he pulled up beside the gray sacks he’d seen from afar.

This time he got a better look.

But he left with more questions than answers.

That night, as he blew out the last candle before bed, a frightening thought occurred to him.

The carriers were indeed changing. Transforming the same way a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. The mass of spongy tissue he’d seen was a cocoon. Dan couldn’t be sure of it, but his gut told him he was right.

His gut also told him that whatever emerged from that cocoon wouldn’t be anything like a butterfly.

Chapter Two

Two days after seeing the cocoons in the carrier pit, Dan found the woman inside of a rundown Safeway. She was lying amidst the leaves and other debris blown in through broken windows, clinging to life. At first, he thought she was dead. He was sure she was dead. Her pale skin shined like alabaster against the dirty backdrop of the floor as she lay beside an aisle that had once shelved ketchup, mustard, and other condiments (all of which had been looted ages ago). The woman’s shallow breath created only the slightest rising and falling of her chest. It took a few moments of watching her for Dan to notice it.

He approached her slowly, pistol in hand. A few steps in and he thought better of it.

He searched the remaining aisles for anyone else hiding in the store without the best intentions. Dan Owens was a trusting soul, but he wasn’t a fool. The woman could easily be the bait in a trap that would not end well for him.

But when the store turned up empty, and the woman remained lying where he’d found her, Dan figured she needed some help. He approached her again, the .38 clutched in his hand, nudging her with his foot.

She didn’t respond.

He nudged her again.

Still no response.

He knelt beside the woman, placing a hand on her forehead. She was burning up. Probably an infection. If the infection was of the bacterial variety, then he might be able to help. Amongst the food and weaponry his previous tenants had left behind, they also had collected a small pharmacy. Dan didn’t know what half of the pills did, but he knew there were some antibiotics mingled in there somewhere.

He gently shook the woman. Her head lolled to one side like a corpse, but her breathing remained steady. Shallow, but steady.

Hello? Dan said. His voice seemed to boom in the deathly quiet store. Awkward as his phrasing was, he realized these were the first words he’d spoken to another human being in months. Talking to the carriers didn’t count. You okay?

No response.

Dan pried open an eyelid. Her pupils were small, her stare fixed. It occurred to him that she might be beyond help.

Never hurts to try, he thought.

Dan slid the .38 into his back pocket, gave the store another scan, and then hefted the sick woman upon his shoulder. She was frighteningly light, the weight of a middle school child. He wondered when was the last time she’d eaten or even had a drink of water.

Stepping carefully around the debris lining the supermarket’s dirty floor, Dan exited the building. Getting her in the truck proved no easy feat, but after some struggle he had her propped up inside, her head resting on the side glass. Not necessarily comfortable, but in her state, he doubted she would mind.

He slid into the driver’s seat and closed his eyes, saying the little prayer he always repeated before turning the key. The engine sprang to life on the first try, like it always did. Grinning, he cast a quick glance to the Big Guy in the Sky before placing the transmission into drive.

He eased out of the Safeway’s parking lot, headed back to his home.

He would have cleaned the place up a little if he’d known he would be having company over.

Chapter Three

The woman slept most of the first day.

Dan found the antibiotics within the collection he’d inherited from his unknown predecessors. He was able to wake the woman long enough for her to swallow two of the pills along with some much-needed water. He could tell she was dehydrated from the way her skin lacked the ability to snap back after a light pinch between his fingers. After getting her meds, she went back to sleep again.

For a good portion of the day, Dan read, catching up on some new books he’d collected from various houses during one of his runs. It was dangerous going into empty houses; sometimes the carriers took refuge inside the abandoned structures. Sometimes people did, and those people didn’t always have the best intentions. But after reading at least a hundred books (probably two hundred if he