First off, if you've read all of Hollow World, I owe you a great thanks. This story has been a long time in the telling, and I do not see the end in sight just yet as I begin the re-write. There is no time table, this may be my NANOWRIMO project, as I see this as more of a re-write than a second draft. As always, I value your feedback and thanks again for reading!
The first explosion could not have been better timed if he had set it himself. James Calhoun leapt at the bars of his cell, shank in hand, and plunged the sharpened toothbrush into the neck of a distracted guard. Leaving the makeshift weapon in his victim’s neck, he slid the guard to the ground and took the ring of keys from the fallen man’s belt, but a second explosion ripped through the prison, blowing a large hole in the back of the cell he had called his home for nearly twenty years. “That works too,” he said with a sneer and dropped the keys. Sweeping his long black hair back behind his ears, he reached through the bars again and relieved the guard of his pistol and, as an afterthought, grabbed the dead mans taser as well and shoved it in the top of his sock. He crossed the cell to the gaping hole and surveyed the damage.
Below him, what remained of a prison bus crackled and popped, more than a score bodies in orange jump suits lying in pieces or at odd angles around it. Carefully picking his way down the rubble, James made it to the ground in time for a chain of explosions to tear apart the outer wall, the parking lot beyond it a charred mess of twisted car parts and burning tires. His bellow of “is anyone with me?” was greeted with a few timid responses at first, people poking their heads out from behind the piles of rock. Firing the gun into the air, he shouted again, “I said, is anyone with me?”
The dozen men that responded barely made it ten feet before a guard in full riot gear shouted at them to stop, jabbing his riot gun at them. With a guttural growl, James gave the order and his first followers swarmed over the guard, his screams stopping as abruptly as they had started. Armed with a suit of riot gear and a gun full of rubber bullets, the group flowed through the hole with a cheer, only to be interrupted as a red convertible mustang exploded, pieces of the bumper slicing a hole in the man next to James. Staring at his own intestines as they slipped to the ground, the man screamed, only to be joined by the woman trapped inside her now burning car, as the flaming fabric of the vehicles top fell about her. James pushed the dying man over and gave the screaming woman one last glance and stopped in his tracks. ‘Go, I have plans for you. I have set you free,’ was written on the windshield in her blood, and as they locked eyes, the charred woman began to cackle madly, the laugh, and something else, searing into his brain.
“Let’s go,” James said as he heard the shouts coming from within the walls of his former home.
“Stop or we’ll shoot!” Someone shouted behind them, but they did not stop, instead they ran for the tree line. James thought the line was absurd, out of a 1950’s movie or something, but they opened fire.
An eruption of pain jarred James, sending him sprawling, but he got up and continued, two, three of the men with him fell to more bullets from the guards but James continued tuning, and was relieved when the bullets stopped flying and he found the cover of the nearby trees.
James had faltered and someone was dragging him deeper into the woods. He tried to focus on his savior but could not, someone was telling him to sleep, that the pain would go away if he just closed his eyes. He could not resist the notion and the last thing he saw as he drifted off was the smoking remains of the Bridgeport Correctional Center.
Wake up! He opened his eyes, looking for who owned the voice, but he was alone, leaning against a bale of hay. The rotten wooden frame of a barn surrounded him, doors hanging askew, the missing boards in the hay loft reminding him of the bars in his old cell. Trying to stand sent pain coursing through his left arm, causing him to grunt. His arm was wrapped in blood stained orange fabric, his sleeve if he had to make a guess, but, despite the pain, he still could move the arm, and more importantly, use the hand. Struggling, he made it to his feet and lurched toward the the doors, stumbling over something in the near darkness. He dropped to all fours, catching himself with his bad arm, biting his tongue instead of making a sound. He tasted blood, and something inside him enjoyed the coppery flavor. He stood again, and managed to push the barn door open, looking back at what he had tripped over.
The man’s name had been Wes, at least he thought it had, the face was nothing more than mangled flesh, a large tree limb lying beside the corpse, covered in blood. As James turned his back on the body, he caught sight of the guards pistol in the waistband of its pants. Grabbing the gun, James stepped out into the crisp afternoon air and took a deep breath, the cloying stench of death stuck in his nostrils. Hanging from a tree across a small mud clearing, a piece of decaying rope wrapped around his neck, was another man in an orange jump suit, a large crow sitting upon his shoulder, pecking at the still staring eyes.
He thought back to the escape, trying to remember how many people had made it out with him.
Don’t worry about them. They will not trouble you any more, I saw to that.
He shook his head. Seven. There had been seven, including him. He walked toward the hanging corpse, the motion causing the bird to take flight, sending the man swinging. James was about to untie the knot holding the man in place when he heard a moan coming from behind the barn. Rounding the corner, another prisoner, leaning against the outside of the barn, stared at him, eyes wide.
“No, no!” The man grimaced as he pushed himself back against the barn, the rotten wood bowing behind him. “Stay away!”
James looked the man over, a piece of splintered wood sticking out of his abdomen.
"Where are the others?"
"Are you crazy? You killed them back there." The man's voice came in ragged gasps after the exertion.
Kill him, or I will.
"What's your name?"
"What, you shove a board through me and now it's time for small talk? Son of a bitch," the man spat, blood and saliva landing on James' chest.
Before he could stop himself, James had pulled the piece of wood from the man's stomach with a growl and had snapped it in two across the side of his head. Two more loud thuds echoed back to him from the surrounding trees before he came back to his senses, the broken weapon falling from his hands.
Good, now head east.
James had had no plans beyond getting out of the jail, and east seemed as good a direction as any. Tucking the pistol into the waist of his own pants, he let the door to the barn slam shut and spent a minute getting his bearings. Heading away from the afternoon sun, it was not long before he found a small stream, cows on the other side eying him warily. He took a moment to wash his face and quench his thirst before wading out into the ankle deep water. It never got higher than his knees and soon he was across, the cows nervously moving away. Ignoring them, James marched on.
After an hour of wandering through fields, he saw smoke in the distance, and thinking of an opportunity to find a change of clothes, he headed toward it. Instead, he found a crater in the middle of the highway, the remains of a fuel tanker scattered across the road. What was left of the cab was on its side in a ditch nearly a hundred feet from the trailer. James approached it cautiously, but the stench of burnt trucker was too much for him.
I will provide, head east.
East he went, and it was not long before, with the sun sinking toward the horizon behind him, that the red heart of a Loves truck stop loomed, smoking, before him. It was not until he rounded a bend that he realized that it was the building smoking, the parking lot around it full of destroyed cars and trucks, the gas pumps nonexistent, a hole where the gas tank had been threatening to swallow the burning store. Finally, a road sign indicated that he walked along highway 380 and that Decatur was only a few miles away, so he trekked on, the sky growing ever darker above him.
James looked around, saw the overweight blonde standing before the tinted glass of a small bar-b-cue joint, sauce smeared across her lips. Shaking his head he kept walking, the smoke from the nearby town rising before him, black against the black sky.
“Wait mister,” she came running, more like trotting, James thought, after her. He continued to ignore her, hoping the orange jump suit would click in her head.
If you stop, I will kill her.
“I said wait,” She grabbed his left arm, the pain from his wound causing him to sharply inhale.
Tugging his arm free he continued walking but he had only made it three steps.
“Hey man, you’re hurt, you need to get that looked at,” she grabbed his left arm again, trying to look
closer at the blood soaked bandage.
He followed the momentum of her pull, grabbing the pistol from his waist band as he spun, slamming it into the side of her head with a sickening crunch. She crumpled to the ground and a shot from the pistol finished the job. With a start, James shook his head, looking at the gun in his hand and the woman on the ground before him. With a smirk that was not entirely his, he wiped sauce from the handle of the pistol on to the woman’s shirt and tucked it back into his pants then shifted his attention back to Decatur.
As he got closer to the city, the highway became littered with more destroyed vehicles, and more holes in the ground that used to be gas stations. Homes off the highway burned, the cars in their driveways nothing more than twisted scrap metal hulks. James smiled at the destruction wrought around him and continued past what remained of the Highway 287 interchange, the overpasses nothing more than a pile of concrete and rebar. On he walked as the stars twinkled over head.
The street was labeled Trinity and James did just as he was bade, and then, when prompted, entered the Municipal Airport. A woman behind a counter tried to stop him, but she fell to a single shot from the pistol. Her sobbing prompted him to pull the trigger, but the unsettling click of the empty chamber brought the voice back out.
Ignore her. Inside, you; we; I; will find more weapons.
He did just that and within, a locker, the key hanging on a hook beside it. Opening the locker revealed two more pistols, holsters and all, as well as a kevlar vest and two extra clip for the guns. Discarding the empty gun, James outfitted himself with his finds, wincing as he slid his arm into the vest. A snack machine in the next room succumbed to the butt of a pistol. Shoving an entire Snickers bar into his mouth and grabbing three more, as well as some peanut butter crackers, James went in search of a bottle of water and found one, downing it and refilling it from a cooler before leaving the Airport.
James, its time for my soldiers to return.
The thought echoed in his head as the woman from the airport fell into step behind him, a blank stare upon her face.