Chapter 1: Red Cast Sky
Jack Criley’s trembling hand smeared blood across his face as he rubbed his pulsing head. The other hand, steady and calm, squeezed the grip of the .45 as he stumbled out of the house in a plume of black smoke. The trembling hand groped his shirt pocket and clinched a busted cigar. It didn’t feel like his hand, but nothing felt right. The body reacted and worked as if it were being controlled by the subconscious.
He was detached, drifting away and watching someone else below. The world was a void, absent of sound except for a constant ringing and the haunting memories. It was a self-centered place that he referred to as ‘going internal’ and he was lost in it.
The shaking hand thrust the cigar into his unresponsive mouth.
Need it to calm down. His conscious returned.
The cigar dropped from parted lips once the hand had searched his pockets and discovered his lighter missing. Fingers, damp with blood, grasped the glass neck of a pint of whiskey stashed in his cargo pocket. His thumb spun the lid off, sending it to clatter along the walkway. The warm liquid fueled his eyes with scorching tears as he drained all that was left in the bottle.
You got to do something. The thought was overwhelmed by others. Then her voice echoed in his mind.
“Daddy… love you.” His daughter’s whisper wrenched his heart.
He shattered the glass on the walkway in one swift and violent motion as his feet shuffled into the grass. His conscious mind raced through the decisions that had led to this point.
Why? That was the main question. Was there another way? Why couldn’t you figure out another way? The damning question always led back to ‘why’.
“You’re not like us,” his wife had said. “We’re different.” The whiskey was beginning to boil in his stomach.
“There had to be another way, you stupid bastard.” he whispered. The world spun and his feet fought to keep him from toppling over. His mouth was dry and the empty hand brushed his lips before he realized the bottle was gone.
Creatures raged towards him from the quiet homes. Dozens crashed out of windows and doorways, but he didn’t care. “Fuck um, Fuck me too.” he said through clenched jaws. His steady finger caressed the trigger. It itched to kill something.
His eyes winced tightly, rolling tears down his cheeks, as he revisited the mistakes he had made like a song, stuck on repeat. It replayed each step up to this point, trying to find another way, but the end was still the same. He had murdered his wife and little girl.
Fury threatened to blind him as he stalked out to meet the creatures. His mind pushed deeper into memory, looking for answers.
Exhausted and filthy, he searched the ruined vehicles that were abandoned on the highway. He had once been a member of United States military, but that seemed like a lifetime ago.
Originally, there had been three remaining to survive the dismal fate of humanity. Left alone in a harsh and altered world, they fled from the ghoulish entities that had evolved from the human population. They hunted aimlessly for any semblance of survivors, but their time together didn’t last. In a remote area of Colorado, Jack’s last two friends died.
His blue eyes gazed out from a weather worn face. The eyes of a once care free, mischievous soul were now framed by dark circles. In the past he maintained an average build, if not a little heavy. He had obsessed over new ways to build mass and fight the spare fat thickening his mid-section. Now tight knotted, lean muscle encased his body. He was tone, yet near the point of starvation from the search for food. His dark hair had grown out and was disorderly. He didn’t worry about it. Haircuts and shaving didn’t matter anymore. He was clad in loose clothing that he had found in an old shopping mall. They shielded him from the battering sun as he labored on the scorching blacktop.
Slung to his back was a .308 rifle and in his leg holster hung a .45 pistol. Dangling from his belt was an old military Ka-bar knife, now deemed his lucky blade. The knife and plenty of ammo for both guns were always on hand. The need for powerful weapons had come up before on his travels across the country.
Weapons and vehicles were the key to survival. Operational transportation was hard to come by. Vehicles that could take him along any path he needed to cross were favored. Once, he had fled on a dirt bike from a pack of starving beast. Dozens of miles blurred pass before they gave up the chase. Vehicles like that were dangerous, but it had its purpose.
Fuel was even more elusive. Upon finding a safe gas station he made sure to fill his vehicle along with several spare containers. Operating the pump was a different matter altogether. Sometimes he gave up in frustration, only to discover that siphoning a car’s gas tank was easier. His mouth had grown use to the taste of gasoline. Slowly those methods brought him from San Diego, California to this city, Jacksonville, Florida.
His intent was to find his wife and daughter. Their shining faces ignited unfathomable desires within his soul. To see them once more drove him onward. The memory of his wife’s tight embrace, which had stayed with him like a heavy weight wrapped around his shoulders weeks after he last left her, kept him alive. His little girl’s smile and wondrous bright eyes made him grin along with her. Their absence left a void devouring him. Searching for them was madness, but he pushed on. He knew in the deep chasm of his heart they were likely dead. Got only one hope left in this world. After that, nothings left.
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