Free Excerpt: Chapter 2 of HOOD

Free Excerpt: Chapter 2 of HOOD

For those looking for Chapter 1, check out this hotness

Though you don’t have to read it to enjoy CH2. You might just not totally know what’s going on 😀

There’s not much better than a Friday with summer coming just around the bend. COME ON SUMMER DAMMIT.

-Evan

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Chapter 2 – One Man Gone

Hood slammed the door of the truck. The bright sun blared down on an old house that remained largely intact. He’d seen this exact sight before: an unhinged red front door and pile of rotten wood shingles that lay in a heap next to the walkway. They’d already been to this house, months ago.

He scanned the area, looking over each shoulder. The narrow lake shimmering in the sunlight nearby looked much more sylvan now than in the nighttime.

“Whiskey?”

“Mmm-hmm?” He replied, the crunch of his footsteps on gravel unceasing as he strode towards the old farmhouse. It still held the air of the majestic country home it must’ve been some years ago.

“Why are we looking in the same place again?” Hood’s tone did nothing to hide his annoyance.

“Just keep an eye on the truck,” Whiskey said, entering the house with his police-issue shotgun half-raised.

Hood breathed in deeply, leaning his head back and letting out a grumbling sigh. He looked out over the still lake, a few lost pine cones bobbing about like ships at sea. He turned around, observing the vast overgrowth of grass and weeds on what must have once been fields. The old barn, covered in flaky brown paint, was listing so heavily to one side it looked as if Hood yelled at it, it would collapse.

In the distance, over the top of the treeline, he could see the rise of the Shenandoah Mountains. At least, he was pretty sure that’s what it was.

He hoisted his rifle onto his shoulder, letting it rest there lazily. At least it was a gorgeous day, even if they were in yet another ghost town.

He wondered what his old home in D.C. looked like. The parts of the city that still stood had been on the brink of chaos when Hood and Taylor left two years ago. They’d waited for days hoping their parents would show up, but fled when the survivors grew desperate. Radiation sickness had decimated many of the people who had survived the blast.

How different would Hood’s life be if his entire family had been together during the fall. They probably never would have met Whiskey and become a part of Clearwater. He hadn’t seen Ian in over a year even before the fall. Their brotherhood had become a long distance text conversation and occasional Skype call. Ian had been busy starting his family and Hood couldn’t figure out what the hell he was doing with his life. They both had treated separation like a temporary nuisance, the distance in the modern world seeming so small. God, I miss you bro. What I wouldn’t do just to get to sit down and talk with you again about nothing.

It was hard transition going from global, instantaneous communication to a life where your survival depended on being cut off from the world. A bird of prey was floating slowly on the strong winds high up in the blue sky. Nothing to see here, buddy.

Wearing a blank expression, Whiskey walked out the front door of the house, heading straight for the truck.

“So I’m gonna go out on a limb and say… it’s still an empty house,” Hood quipped.

“Come on, I want to check in town a ways,” Whiskey said, hopping inside and starting the engine with a deep rumble. Hood shook his head and climbed into the passenger side. I should have brought a god damned book or something. What I wouldn’t do for a PSP or a 3DS, with even just a few games and infinite battery life.

Hood’s brain rattled off into the land of the ridiculous, spurred on by boredom. “You ever wonder how long pubes would grow if no one ever shaved? Maybe you could make like a groin-beard, or make braids or something nice.” Hood  cast an absurd look Whiskey’s way.

Whiskey looked incredulous.

“Man, not even a smile?” Hood turned his head, chuckling, and stared with tired eyes out the windshield. The weather-worn, one-lane, two-way road lay baking in the sun. It looked barely wide enough to accommodate two different directions of traffic. Ian would’ve thought that was hilarious. Or maybe not. At least he would’ve fired back with something.

“It’s like you’re drunk when you’re sober,” Whiskey grumbled.

Hood shrugged. “You never thought about shit like that?”

“No.”

They both stared ahead again at the sun-baked road. Whiskey scratched his bearded jawline.

“How did the hobbit ruin the boxing match?”

Whiskey glanced over at him, annoyed.

“What, you not into Tolkien?”

“Not particularly.”

Hood shook his head, looking out the passenger side at the overgrown fields passing by.

“I bet you used to give out bags of pennies for Halloween.”

A slight grin crept over Whiskey’s face. Victory. “Tootsie rolls. I like Tootsie rolls.”

“You’re a man of boundless curiosity, you know that? The body of a thirty-something, but the spirit of an eighty year old losing at bingo.”

Whiskey laughed quietly to himself. “You know what Sue Morris said to me on my last patrol before we left town? ‘Be careful to keep the lord with you. It’s the devil’s curiosity to find a way into our hearts.’”

Hood scoffed. “Her husband doesn’t do much to ward off the devil. All he does on guard duty is sit in a chair, farting in his sleep.”

Whiskey propped his arm on the door and rested his chin in his hand, gnawing at the first knuckle of his pointer finger. He knew they needed more people to defend the town in case they ever were attacked outright.

Hood furrowed his brow. The roadside was empty save for overgrowth and a gas station that looked as though it had been stripped down long before the nukes had changed their world.

“My old partner, Alan,” Whiskey said. “He retired four years ago. That farmhouse was his grandfather’s, and he told me he wanted to move there.” He finally addressed the latent question in the air.

“Well, considering we’ve been here before, and this time we have a truckload of invaluable food and gasoline, I’d consider this visit a waste of time,” Hood said, looking through the back window into the loaded bed of the truck.

“We could use his help. We’ve got too many guys who won’t be worth a damn if wasters find our town with blood on their minds.”

“You can just say the dude is your friend and you want to find him,” Hood shifted in his seat, moving back to sit up straighter, giving himself more leg room.

Whiskey rubbed his chin. “Yeah, I suppose there’s that too,” he murmured after some hesitation.

The one-stoplight town was the kind you might not be able to find on a map unless you knew where it was. The only buildings of note in the intersection were a long-cleaned-out old grocery, a faded white house—once a local diner—with peeling  paint, and an old wooden church. The road curved past the church and over a river with a low, flat wooden bridge across it. Whiskey turned off the truck and Hood hopped out of the passenger side, his shoes grinding dirt into the pavement.

If there had once been  people living in this town, they certainly weren’t here anymore.

“Look there,” Whiskey said quietly, pointing to a watery, muddy trail that lead from the rushing river to the church doors.

No animal did that. Hood’s pulse quickened.

The two of them hustled over to it, guns in hand. Clearly someone had dragged himself  out of the river. Puddles still remained, and wet footprints. Hood’s eyes met Whiskey’s. He didn’t need to say anything.

They moved swiftly and quietly along the wet tracks to the church. The outside smelled of a musty, aged wood that stirred up vague memories of his grandfather’s garage. Was it cedar? Whiskey gave him a glance, then grabbed the cast-iron door-handle.

Hood held up the rifle to sight.

Whiskey pulled the door open and the hinges groaned.

Beams of sunlight lit up the empty pews, and leaves covered  the floor. Many of the windows had been shattered. The muddy trail led down the center aisle and then to the left of the altar, where it became lost to sight. Blood trailed along the faded white stone floor.

He motioned to Whiskey: forward and to the left. The two of them entered, their footsteps echoing throughout the room despite their best efforts, followed by a gust of wind that sent  leaves and dust swirling in front of the altar.

“You win. I can’t run no more.” A man’s voice echoed through the church. A pistol clattered to the ground, sliding to a halt in the empty space in front of the altar.

“Jammed. Ain’t that my luck,” the hoarse voice said with heavy resignation.

Hood and Whiskey turned the corner, guns raised. A wiry dark-skinned man sat on the floor,  his head resting against the prayer pedestal with its rows of candles. He was drenched, his jeans and long-sleeved shirt dark and heavy with water.

After a second, Hood lowered his rifle.

“We’re not here looking for you,” Hood said.

The man stared at him, squinting.“Are you gonna kill me?” He asked.

“No,” Hood said immediately.

Whiskey cast him a disapproving glance.“Provided you don’t do anythin’ stupid,” he  added, shotgun still raised.

The man raised his hands weakly. “Who are you? I thought for sure you were the Kaiser’s men,” The guy broke into a wry smile, avoiding Whiskey’s question. “You boys look like angels to me.”

“Don’t go getting all excited,” Whiskey grunted at the man. “We ain’t nobody’s saviors.”

The man shook his head slowly, eyes closed but still smiling. “I disagree.”

“You were running from the Kaiser?” Hood asked.

“His militants, at least. I was one of their prisoners,” the man said at length, still breathing slowly.

“No you weren’t,” Whiskey said, sizing the man up.

“Sharp, this guy. No, I wasn’t. But I felt like it by the end. I joined ’em early. They were part of this whole separatist group, all military and doomsday survivalists at first. The Kaiser was just some wanderer. He showed up soon after the fall, covered in blood like it was no big deal. The leader at the time, an angry fella named Gary took exception to the Kaiser’s attitude and he tried to kill him. I swear the Kaiser slit ol’ Gary’s throat before he even got close. Never seen someone move like that. He declared that he didn’t want to fight, said he just wanted a place to be. He felt genuine, and many folks didn’t like Gary—he was a wild, power hungry man. Soon enough everyone came to like the Kaiser and wanted him to lead. After he took over, we started raiding, and slaving, and everything got out of control. He had some grand plan but it all seemed sideways to me. My crew tried to fight back, tried to stop the whole thing. They been hunting us down ever since. I’m the last one left.” The man didn’t bother to hide his exhaustion.

“What were you doin’ in here? Praying?” Whiskey scoffed, still holding up his shotgun.

The man shook his head. “Nah. Tabernacle usually has wine in it. Somebody beat me to it though,” He pointed at an ornate gilded container, lying empty on the floor.

“Do you know where survivors from D.C. might have gone?” Hood asked the man.

“Hell if I know. West, maybe.”

“You know of a man called Alan Dale?” Whiskey lowered the shotgun to focus on the man’s face, though he still held the weapon at a hip-fire position.

“Why, he done you some wrong? Is that why you boys are out here?” The man looked back and forth from Hood to Whiskey, reading their expressions.

“Just answer the question.”

“No, I don’t know of him. But I tend to remember the ladies a bit easier. . .” He  seemed content to leer off into some fantasy.

Hood reached into his pack and pulled out a half-drunk bottle of water and a sleeve of crackers. He tossed them onto the man’s lap. He looked up at Hood in shock for a moment, then drank greedily and started shoving crackers in his mouth.

Whiskey grimaced and rubbed his forehead.

Hood walked over to the jammed pistol on the floor and picked it up. He removed the magazine and tried to rack the slide. A casing was lodged in the ejection port. Hood handed the gun to Whiskey, who knocked the casing free with the heel of his hand and then successfully racked the slide. The dented round clicked as it fell onto the stone floor.

“How much have you seen out there?” Hood asked the man.

He wiped his mouth of cracker crumbs. “You boys haven’t had much contact with the outside world, huh?”

“Not much. We try to keep it that way,” Hood said.

The man chuckled. “Smart thinkin’. It’s all gone. I seen a man’s arm fall clean off from the radiation, but the biological shit that tore through the cities was the real nightmare. If you was lucky it killed you, and didn’t turn you into an animal while you was still alive.”

Hood and Whiskey exchanged a glance.  Whiskey’s face seemed to express some doubt. Maybe he didn’t want to believe it was true. But it lined up with what Hood had read in the dead man’s journal.

“You two got any alcohol?”

“No,” Whiskey snapped.

“It’s for my leg. I need to clean it.”

Hood looked at Whiskey, nodding towards the man. Whiskey breathed deeply in annoyance, reached into his cargo jacket and produced a flask, handing it to the man.

He poured it onto a sizable gouge in his thigh, then took a swig, grimacing. He handed it back, then tore off his sleeve and tied it around the wound, baring his teeth as he worked.

Whiskey nodded at the man’s pistol in his hand. “Keep the dirt out of the magazine, and keep the barrel clean next time.”

The man looked up at Whiskey inquisitively. “You sure you ain’t angels?”

“No. I’m keeping it. Consider it payment.” Whiskey put away the pistol. “For your life.”

“I’m dead without it,” The man said simply.

“Or you can die right now,” Whiskey replied, holding the man’s gaze. The man clearly deliberated saying something, but decided against it.

“Thanks for the food,” The man said eventually as he stood up, favoring his wounded right leg.

“Where are you gonna go?” Hood asked. The cool gust of wind through the broken window felt relaxing and unsettling all at once.

“West. Someplace in Colorado. I’ve heard rumors it’s better out there.”

“Colorado, huh.” Whiskey looked ready to see the man gone.

“Col-o-ra-do,” he repeated, limping past them down the aisle.

Hood looked around the desolate church, ransacked of everything but prayer books and Bibles in the pews. Whiskey followed the man closely behind, shotgun still raised. The man pushed his way out the front door. Whiskey followed him. Hood turned and walked out, his footsteps echoing lightly.

The sun still shone strong. Their truck sat still and undisturbed. The man whistled at it.

“Damn, you boys don’t mess around. Where’d you get all that cargo?”

Whiskey glowered at him.

“Never mind. Shit. You sure you don’t need someone to help you with all that?”

“I thought you’ve got Colorado,” Whiskey replied, scrutinizing the man from under his  intimidating eyebrows. They could damn near scowl on their own.

“Right, well, yeah. Right.”

“You gonna limp all the way there?” Whiskey didn’t hide his doubt well.

“No, I’ll catch a ride. I’ll get some beater up and running,” The man said. “Was a mechanic, once upon a time.”

“Good luck,” Hood said plainly.

“Name’s Donte. I’m thinking I won’t see you two again. You sure I can’t get that shooter back?” The man asked Whiskey directly.

He shook his head slowly in response.

“All right.” The man turned, his gaze lingering on the two of them before hobbling over the small bridge heading west. Hood and Whiskey watched him as he walked out of sight.

“Something’s not right about him.” Whiskey turned back to the truck, putting the man’s pistol in the center of the seats.

“Why do you say that?” Hood walked around to the passenger side, putting the rifle down against the seat and climbing in.

“I just have that feeling,” Whiskey said. The truck started with a whine and a rumble.

“It’s because he’s black. You’re racist.”

“Don’t be an ass.”

“It’s okay to admit it. Lots of people are racist,” Hood quipped, unable to hide his grin.

“It’s because of his story about the Kaiser,” Whiskey snapped. “Why am I even answerin’ this crap?”

“So are you like, self-loathing, since you’re part Hispanic?”

“I’m going to fuckin’ kill you.” Whiskey grunted at him.

Hood laughed, leaning his head  against the back window.“Take everything more seriously, please. It’s fantastic.”

There was a momentary lull in the cabin. The suspension squeaked as the truck bobbed back and forth.

“We should’ve killed him.” Whiskey’s face remained stoic as he stared out the windshield, one hand on the steering wheel. Hood turned to look out the passenger-side window, the sunlit  overgrown trees speeding by. He rubbed his bristly chin with his thumb and forefinger. He was glad they’d let the guy live, but he hated the fact that Whiskey was probably right.

Hood was ready to be home. The place he called home now, anyway.

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