The second book in the Affliction Z series is nearly complete. It has been an interesting journey for me, and Sean, and his family, and Turk, and our newest addition, Addison.
As with the first book, the story did not travel as far as I thought it would. This is a good thing, though, because I’m not glossing over what these people are going through in what is a very close up slice of a massive and apocalyptic worldwide event.
This also means that we are maybe looking at a five part series instead of four. Have to see how the third book goes.
Anyhoo, as the title promises, what follows is an excerpt from Book 2. When we last saw Sean, he had gone to his daughter’s school to retrieve her after news broke that the virus had been unleashed.
The following scene picks up there. Enjoy!
Oh, and please note, this is unedited!
Sean reached down to ensure that his pistol was secure under his seat. Emma seemed to be shaken, and he feared that if she saw his handgun, she’d grow more distraught. He knew that she was aware he had the M9, a relic from his days as an Air Force PJ. And his hunting rifles were in plain view, albeit locked up. But if she saw it now, she might realize how grave of a situation they faced.
“What’s going on, Dad?” she asked a second time.
He did not respond. Cars formed an intricate puzzle all around them. He had to find a way out since someone had blocked off his escape route.
“Dad? People were saying there’s a nuclear attack happening.”
Sean shook his head.
“David said he heard that an EMP had been detonated over Chicago. Do you know what that means?”
He did, but he decided against telling her.
“He told me that means everything will stop working. Planes, cars, even electricity.”
“Only some cars,” he said. “Older cars, ones without fancy electronic controlled engines will work fine.”
“So that’s what it is then? An EMP?”
Sean ignored the question. He saw an opening wide enough for his truck, and he took it. A white mini-van back into his rear passenger fender, causing the vehicle to jerk to the right. He managed to narrowly avoid hitting a woman carrying a baby.
“And I heard someone say the Canadians are invading.”
Sean turned to his daughter, laughing at the absurdity of her statement. “Canadians? Canada? Are you hearing yourself, Emma?”
She shrugged. “I just want to know what’s going on.”
“You heard me when we got in the car, right?”
His mouth opened to repeat the phrase, the apocalypse, but he stopped himself. Perhaps she had blocked what he’d said for a reason. If so, he didn’t want to upset her any further. They had a twenty minute drive ahead of them if the traffic remained light. Judging by the insane scene at the school, the chances of that were small.
The roads were thick with cars and trucks and SUVs. Sean figured that I-64 was packed, resulting in a surge of drivers exiting and taking the highway instead. Every couple of minutes he honked the horn or slammed his open hand against the steering wheel.
“Calm down,” Emma said, following it up with something her mother always said to Sean. “You’ll give yourself a stroke.”
He leaned his head back and filled his lungs with exhaust-filled air. Gesturing toward his cell phone, he said, “Give your mom a call. See if you can get through.”
Emma reached into the center console and retrieved the phone. She swiped through a few screens, and then lifted the phone to her ear. A moment later, she shook her head.
“What?” Sean asked.
“It’s busy,” she said.
“Let me see.” He held out his hand and waited for her to hand him the phone. After she did, he brought it up to the side of his head. A fast busy signal greeted him. “Circuits are overloaded.”
“The switching equipment that routes the calls, it must be down or overloaded.”
“Or destroyed by an EMP?” More than a little panic hinted in her voice.
“No, Emma, not an EMP. I’ll explain more once we get home. Okay?”
She exhaled heavily, and said, “Why not now?”
A car jerked in front of their truck. Sean laid on the horn and extended the middle finger of his right hand. “That’s why, Em. Assholes like that out on the road.” Immediately he regretted his outburst. The stress of wondering whether or not Kathy had received his message and acted on it started to combine with the feeling of dread rising within him. The event was coming, no doubt about it. He’d resigned himself to that already. What concerned him most was the fact that it was just after noon, and already the roads were packed. Driving to Charleston, South Carolina to meet Turk might not be a possibility.
After forty minutes, Sean turned into his driveway, driving the length of at no more than ten miles per hour. The truck dipped and bounced in the usual spots. The driveway changed yearly, depending on how rough the winter and summer were. The past nine months had been wetter than usual, resulting in plenty of new potholes that he hadn’t gotten around to filling.
He scanned the front of the house. In his haste, he’d left the front door open. It swung forward and back in the breeze. The wind carried the scent of freshly cut grass into the cab of the truck. He turned his head left and glanced down at his yard. The lawn service had been over while he was out. Were they oblivious to what was occurring in the world today?
The tall golden grass in the pasture to the right of his house swayed side-to-side, like gentle waves on a lake reflecting the sunlight. They hid a secret that only three people knew about. Sean’s bunker, twelve hundred square feet of space, laid under part of the field.
He stopped the truck in front of the garage door, reached up and pressed the casing that housed the door opener. He didn’t drive inside, though. Instead, he shifted the vehicle out of gear and engaged the emergency brake. Neither Sean or Emma moved for close to two minutes. The phone buzzed in his hand.
“Go on inside,” he told Emma.
She nodded, opened her door and stepped down. Once she was far enough away, he reached under his seat and retrieved his pistol, answering the phone at the same time.
“How secure is that bunker of yours, Ryder?” Turk asked.
“It’s good. Thirty feet underground and stocked for months. Two hidden, separated points for ingress and egress. Camera system installed so I can monitor outside. Completely solar.”
“All right, good,” Turk said. “You’re gonna need it.”
Sean opened the door and slid out of the truck, letting his good foot hit the ground first. “Why’s that?”
“I’ve got a network across the east coast, and the reports I’m getting back from them ain’t good. Every major highway and interstate is packed. People are panicking, and it’s only going to get worse once they realize that this shit is already here.”
“Yeah, it is.”
Sean walked into the garage, past Emma, and up to the door that led to the kitchen. He placed his ear against the door and listened for a minute.
“You there?” Turk asked.
“Yeah, I’m here. Give me a second.” He stuck the phone in his pocket and opened the door a crack. It led into a hall that connected to the kitchen. With his sidearm drawn and held out in front of him, he entered the house. He walked the length of the hallway slowly and cautiously. The house remained silent aside from the cracks and pops he’d grown accustom to. He cleared the downstairs, then upstairs.
“Sorry about that, Turk. The front door was open and I was worried someone had gotten inside the house.”
“What about Kathy?”
“What about her?”
“I left her a message and told her to head to Charleston.”
Turk remained silent for a beat. “That’s still on then. I got enough guys here for a small team. We’ll head out there tonight. I may or may not have a few others coming in by air anyway. Just let me know otherwise.”
“All right. One more thing. You got a pen around?”
Sean looked around and spotted a pen and pad on the computer desk. “Yeah.”
“Okay, look. Phone service is getting real spotty. By tonight, it might be gone completely. Definitely in a couple days. People aren’t going to man the systems much longer. I’m assuming you’ve got some kind of satellite hookup for your internet in that bunker. Is that correct?”
“Perfect. Here, jot this information down.” Turk proceeded to provide Sean with connection information to a private server he had in his basement. “Theoretically we should be able to stay in touch that way. For a while, at least.”
The two men wasted no more time, and ended the call. Sean instructed Emma to pack a bag with five changes of warm clothes, and five changes of cool clothes. While the bunker was climate controlled, they’d have to leave sooner or later. And October and November in Virginia, and North and South Carolina were anything but predictable. He did the same for himself. He also grabbed his running prosthetic, as well as his backup. It wasn’t as good as his primary, but should something happen, he’d be dead without it.
He headed back downstairs. The microwave beeped, and as he entered the kitchen, he could smell sourdough bread. Emma pulled the roll down and took a bite.
“I’m hungry,” she said.
He nodded and walked past her and into the living room. He unlocked his gun cabinet and removed the three rifles it held. He also scooped all the ammunition into his bag. He wasn’t taking them because he needed them. There were plenty of firearms in the bunker. Sean was thinking ahead. Someone or a group of people could be out scavenging and raid the house.
Emma waited for him by the door to the garage. He nodded, and she opened it and stepped through. As Sean passed her, he hit the button on the wall with his elbow. The garage door lowered on its tracks, eventually blocking out the sunlight. Sean knew that might be the last time they ever saw it with their own eyes.
“What are we doing?” Emma asked.
He set his things down on the floor and walked over to his workbench. He reached down and flipped all the latches that held the wheels in a locked position. “Help me move this.”
Together, he and Emma pushed the workbench away from the wall. A half door with a latch for a knob stood in front of them. He then traced his hand along the wall next to the door until he located the crease. He lifted the small rectangular panel, revealing a keypad. He entered the combination, something he had changed bi-annually since installing the system. There was an audible click as the door unlocked. He pushed it open, placed his hand on Emma’s shoulder and ushered her through. Then Sean went into the dark hallway, turning around. He reached back into the garage and closed and sealed the panel on the wall. Next, he pulled the workbench back toward the wall. Finally, he shut the door.
It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the dull red glow of the emergency lights that lined the passage. He instructed Emma to stay close behind him as he led her through the spiraling hall.
“Careful here,” he said. In front of them was a fifteen foot drop off. “I’m going to go first. When I’m at the bottom, I want you to toss your bag to me. After that, I’m going to climb up half-way, and at that time I want you to start down. Okay?”
“You okay with that ladder?”
“I’ve been on the roof,” she said. “I can handle this.”
Sean descended into the darkened passage. When he reached the bottom, he dropped his things and said, “Toss your bag.” It was hard to make it out, but he managed to catch it before it hit him in the face. He placed it on top of his belongings, then ascended the ladder until he was half-way to the top.
Emma turned and kicked one leg over the edge. When she was a few feet away, Sean began climbing down again. Once Emma had safely reached the ground, he pulled out a flashlight and searched the wall for another panel. This one allowed him to seal off the tunnel above. The move was risky. If his power system failed, there would be no way to lower it again. The only reason he engaged the door was because of the second tunnel that led to the barn, two hundred yards to the north.
Sean switched off the flashlight. He picked up his bag and the rifles. “Grab your bag and follow me, Em.”
“Why’d you turn off your light?” she asked.
“’Cause I’m paranoid.”
She said nothing. He waited until she had her bag, then he began walking. The red lights barely provided enough illumination to see ten feet ahead. In Sean’s mind, this provided him with the upper hand should someone be waiting for him. Any other logical person would probably disagree as their movements inside the tunnel were sure to alert anyone hiding inside. Not that anyone would be in there.
A few minutes later, they reached the entrance to the bunker. Sean opened the hidden panel and engaged the security system. There were three things he had to do to open the door. First was a simple pin number, followed by a twenty-digit alpha-numeric pass phrase. Lastly, the system performed a retinal scan. Risky should he lose an eye. And for that reason, the system was capable of scanning and matching his left eye as well. Once inside, the process for entering and exiting was simpler. All he had to do was pull on the handle.
The door opened. Stale, disinfected air met them. It smelled like lemon scented disinfectant. The main room took up about half of the total space. It had a flat-panel TV against one wall and a couch against the other. An angled computer desk took up one corner of the room, on the same side as the couch and near the door. On one side of the TV was a refrigerator and small cooktop and microwave. On the other was what looked like a wardrobe. Inside of it was medical supplies and firearms. There were three doors at the far end. Two led to bedrooms, and the third to a shared bathroom equipped with a shower, toilet and sink. In the middle of the room, covered by a rug, was a hatch. Below the bunker was a store room, with enough provisions to last the two of them several months.
Sean had equipped the room with a cell phone antenna extender. He pulled out his cell and saw that he had a message. Please let it be Kathy, he thought. He accessed his voice mail and listened to the message. It wasn’t his wife. Instead, the message had been left by Barbara, his wife’s best friend. She sounded frantic and scared. In her message she said that she was on her way over to Sean’s house. He double checked the time of her call, realizing it had been fifteen minutes earlier. Based on the traffic he observed, she’d be there in ten minutes or so.
The decision he had to make turned his stomach. Adding a possible fourth person to the bunker would alter everything. The food stores would dwindle that much faster. Power consumption might be greater. He’d also have one more person he’d be responsible for. Sean sat down at the computer and brought up the security system. At that moment, Barbara’s Toyota pulled up to the house. She got out, opened the back door and leaned in. A couple seconds later she emerged with a suitcase and headed toward the front door.
“Shit, shit, shit,” Sean said. He wanted to ignore the message. But now that would impossible.
“Is that Barb?” Emma asked.
He knew there was no way he could let Barbara leave now. “Emma, I want you to go into that room there.” He pointed to the door on the right. “You stay there until I get back. Okay?”
She kept her brave face on and said, “Okay.”
Sean waited until his daughter had closed the door to her room. Then, he left the bunker armed with his M9 and a heavy duty flashlight. He retraced his steps through the passage to the garage. At the final door, he took his time, listening for any movement in the garage. There appeared to be none. He quickly and quietly slipped through the garage into the hallway that led to the kitchen. There, he found Barbara and her dog Marley waiting. She was a couple years younger than Sean. When Barbara and Kathy stood next to each other, they looked like sisters. Sean had always found her attractive. He also found her to be annoying at times. She had vacationed with Sean and his family one time. By the end of the trip, he avoided her.
She jumped when she noticed him standing behind her.
“Sorry,” he said. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”
Dried tear tracks lined her cheeks. “I’m sorry. I had nowhere to go, Sean.”
He holstered his M9 and reached for her, pulling her into an embrace. After she’d calmed, he said, “I don’t have any dog food.” He reached down and patted the dog, a pit bull mix.
She looked over her shoulder. “I’ve got two bags there. That should last him like four months.”
Sean nodded. “Okay, he can stay.” He didn’t mind the dog. In fact, he figured Marley might be helpful to have around as a last defense alarm system. They had the ability to pick up on things that people and technology couldn’t.
“Is Emma in the bunker?”
Sean’s jaw clenched as anger took hold.
“Kathy told me once.”
“Who’ve you told?”
“No one,” she said. “I promise.”
“Not even Billy?”
Billy was her ex-husband. He’d split four years ago. They’d never had kids, and aside from Billy, Barbara had no other family.
“She told me after he left, and you know I haven’t talked to him since.”
“Got everything you need out of your car?”
“Okay. Go to the garage.” He went to the front door and locked it. Then he did the same with the door off the kitchen that led to the back. He met Barbara in the garage and proceeded to lead her through the same procedure he and Emma had been through an hour earlier. Sean carried Marley over his shoulder as he descended the ladder to the second corridor.
After he secured the passage, she asked, “Where’s Kathy now?”
“In the air, I hope.”
“Is she coming home?”
“I told her to go to Charleston.”
“I’ve got an old friend there who has a setup like this, only bigger. After things blow over, we’re going to head there as well.”
“After what blows over?”
Sean stopped and switched on his light. He shone it on Barbara. The shadows highlighted her curves and he swore she looked exactly like Kathy at that moment.
“Sean? What’s going on?”
“Let’s wait and see. If things go the way I think they are going to, I’ll fill you in.”
Inside the bunker, Sean called out for Emma. The girl emerged from her room and ran to Barbara. They wrapped their arms around one another. He grabbed Barbara’s suitcase and took it to his room.
“You’ll stay in here,” he said.
“Where will you sleep?” she asked.
“On the couch.”
“Dad, why don’t you take my room? I can bunk with Barb.”
Over the years, Sean had updated Emma’s room to suit her tastes. Princess posters gave way to horses and puppies. Eventually those were replaced by popular boy bands. Only recently had he removed her One Direction poster and put up those of a few of her favorite bands. Groups like Coldplay and Death Cab for Cutie. The room was suited for her, and to her. He wouldn’t even fit on the bed comfortably.
“No,” he said. “You stay in your room. Barbara can have mine. Once your Mom gets here, she’ll bunk with Barb.”
They began to protest, but he held up his hand and instructed them to leave him alone for a while. He fell onto the couch and turned on the TV. Marley climbed up and laid down next to him. He scanned through the channels while scratching the dog’s head.
He settled on a news report and turned up the volume. Over the course of the next five minutes he discovered that things weren’t as bad as he feared.
They were worse.