The Undead Ruins
A decade after the apocalypse started, Cyrus V. Sinclair, a mercenary for the leader of three survivor settlements, is part of a world repeating its mistakes. With most of the undead turned to dust and raiders giving up, everyone thinks they’re safe behind city walls.
But after a town is brutally massacred, it seems no one is safe. Well-hidden, numbering in the thousands, and controlled by a new merciless leader, the crazies are stronger than ever before. When a familiar symbol keeps appearing amidst the chaos, Cyrus realizes an old enemy is back.
Despite the turmoil, Cyrus finally sees things clearly. He has one goal: destroy the Brotherhood or die trying.
April 25th, 2015–the release date for The Undead Ruins–seems very far away. In the meantime, I wanted to give everyone a glimpse of the first chapter of TUR and talk a bit about context. If you’re not interested in this, feel free to skip down to Chapter 1!
Shortly after The Undead Haze, Cyrus and Blaze went on a crazy-killing-rampage just like they planned. They cleansed the post-apocalyptic Pacific Northwest of as many of them as they could find. But their momentum couldn’t last forever. Resources dwindled along with their strength. After months of barely surviving, desperate and hungry, they accepted help from a survivor’s colony. Eventually the colony leader gave them an ultimatum: stay and help or leave. With intent on extorting supplies from the colony and jumping ship once they had enough, Cyrus and Blaze agreed. But as the years passed and habits formed, the new world engulfed them. This first chapter is a look into what their new life is like.
So this is what it feels like to know every person in the room hates you.
132 people—soon to be 131—crowded the main hall of the settlement. They were a single entity, breathing and hating me in sync, wishing I was the one who had to die instead of…
Katie? Cassie? I didn’t even know the girl’s name. Then again, I didn’t care. I stood on the center stage, trusty Glock in hand, waiting to execute the sixteen year old girl who defied the town’s rules. They’d set up old tarps around her to catch the blood.
Months from now, some poor soul would find a stray drop and think of Candy. Or Katlyn, or whoever she was.
It was better to forget her humanity.
Jon Dynan’s town chose to opt into the execution plan Valtown offered newly developing settlements two years ago. No exceptions. If you didn’t like it, you didn’t move there. Once you were in, you had to abide by the rules forever. Yet the settlers acted like it was some unwanted force taking her away.
Dynan himself stood beside me delivering an obligatory pre-execution speech. He gently reminded the town that the girl hid her mother’s death for two weeks, resulting in the demise of her brother and father. It could’ve cost everyone their lives if the Zs escaped. In the small confines of the settlement, all it would take was one zombie. There was no room for people who didn’t follow the rules. If a neighbor hadn’t smelled the rotting corpses and reported them, who knows what would’ve happened.
Scratch that. I knew what would’ve happened, because I’d seen it before.
Valtown offered the execution plan after an incident in Surville three years ago. Someone turned into a zombie, someone didn’t report it, and half the town was wiped out. It was devastating to everyone in Valtown. Surville was second in food production next to Brickston. The plan was incentive to be a good, tattletale citizen. Be a functioning member of society or the big baddies will come and put a bullet through your head.
At first it was an exaggerated warning that no one thought the town leaders would follow up on. Then some people broke the rules, and Blaze and I came to execute.
I’d been to this settlement, too useless to even have an official name, four times before. They whispered ‘savage’ and ‘murderer’ when I walked by. Seven years after the apocalypse and people were still looking for new sources to blame. Zombies weren’t good enough any more. They were piles of papery skin and bones, millions of them turned to dust, only some capable of moving. Now it was me, or Arbuckle, or Blaze that became the enemy.
“Carrie was a good girl, as we all know. One who would always lend a helping hand to anyone who asked.” With a smile, Jon Dynan looked at each of his townspeople. Just the right amount of sorrow, hope, and insight. “It is unfortunate we have to lose such a bright person.”
I bet he was a politician in his previous life.
Carrie was stoic. She slumped in the chair, her breathing shallow. The resignation coming off her scared me. Children of the apocalypse were strange.
Really, he could have said anything about the girl because he wasn’t the one doing the dirty work. I doubted a single fucking person was listening to him. It’s me they were looking at. Cyrus V. Sinclair—mercenary, and now child killer.
“How did it go?” Blaze didn’t stop sharpening her combat axe to look at me when she asked.
“It went great. The whole town cheered when I squeezed the trigger, thanked me as I left, and asked me to kiss their babies on the way out. Like they do every time.”
She made a noise between acknowledgment and an indifferent grunt. “If someone hadn’t reported it—”
“I know,” I said.
“No one in that town even remembers how to use a gun, or any weapon for that matter. They would be massacred in a heartbeat.” Blaze ignored me and rested the axe against her leg. “They’re the beginning of how things used to be. Before. It’s funny how their settlement is so well fortified, but they’re also the least essential to the survival of the rest of the towns. Surville and Brickston are agriculture. Valtown is the big hub, controls everything, and houses all the firepower. What the fuck does Dynan’s settlement do? Plant flowers and have barbeques to raise morale?” She shook her head and resumed sharpening.
I agreed with her completely. She knew that. But bitching about how society was becoming a bunch of lazy reliant idiots again was one of our common, and favorite, conversations.
“That’s what happens when they don’t have to protect themselves,” I said. “Valtown never should’ve started doling out protection. That was the beginning of the end. As soon as these towns could exist without a purpose, it was over.”
Blaze’s eyes bored into mine. After all these years, I still couldn’t read her when she didn’t want me to. “It gets easier to kill the young ones.”
Ah. A topic shift. Hadn’t seen that one coming.
“I hope so. At the rate we come here, I’ll be tossing babies over the wall next month.”
I hadn’t killed someone alive who was as young as Carrie before. It was beyond me how, after a decade since the first dead resurrected. Blaze always did it, should need arise. I wondered if she liked it or if she was saving me from the job.
I hoped for the latter, worried it was the former.
She sheathed the axe and pulled a hand rolled cigarette from its shiny tin case. Lighting up was her way of signaling the end of a conversation. “We’re headed back then?”
“No. Arbuckle radioed while we were at Dynan’s. Someone thinks they saw a hoarder in a house on the way back. We’re checking it out before returning. Give a report.”
“Great. None of those have panned out in months.” Blaze took a drag and blew it between her teeth.
I rolled down my window. It was one of those days I wished we could’ve ridden motorcycles, but Valtown made us take medical supplies and food to Dynan. Our bikes were too small to carry the crates. The cold wind rushing around me was what I needed to shake the fog of what I’d just done.
After two tries, the truck sputtered to life. We drove in silence to the main gate. It took thirty minutes before they let us out. A rare smattering of zombies had gathered and were being dispatched with melee weapons while we waited. Eventually they moved us through the primary and secondary entries and we were on our way.
The forests blurred by as we sped back to our next destination. The landscape shifted from dense trees to open fields of overgrown grass. We were in the flood lands.
“Arbuckle is training more people to do what we do. Doesn’t need us as much these days,” I said, breaking the silence. “If he doesn’t have anything else for us, and I don’t think he will, we could leave.”
I could feel sadness emanating off her, coming at me in waves. I knew what she thought. I regretted mentioning anything to do with the future, so I tried saving myself. “We could do whatever we wanted.”
“Maybe. Or maybe you were going to say ‘let’s gather supplies and leave next year’ like you always do?”
I steered around a shambling zombie in the middle of the road. It was an old rotter, his skin stretched so tight across his bones it looked like he’d crumble any second. The right tire caught in a bad pothole, sending us lurching forward before we evened out. I watched in the mirror as he made a futile attempt to follow the truck.
Blaze took a deep breath, exhaling smoke at her reflection in the window. “Things aren’t like they used to be, Cyrus. Fuck, it’s like we’re having a midlife crisis. Unhappy with our jobs but what else are we going to do?”
She was right. We weren’t necessarily captive to Arbuckle. We could leave whenever we wanted. But sometimes it felt easier to be a part of the developing society he’d made than to go back to suffering like before. It wasn’t like the first year of the apocalypse, where we always had food and ammo. Back then you could hotwire almost any car and know the gas was still good.
“We could leave the state and try killing crazies somewhere else. We’ve got so many supplies in the nest egg, bet we could survive off that alone for at least a year,” I said.
“Or we could start looking for Beau again.”
We both knew this was always on her mind, the thought of him forever lurking. It was in the dull lifelessness of her eyes, the flatness of her voice. Above all else, Blaze was rational. Her fervor in searching for him was admirable, but even the strongest people were worn down with time. She’d never said she’d given up, not directly. Yet she didn’t search buildings quite like she used to. Before killing them, she used to interrogate the crazies for any useful information.
Not any more. Getting no closer to finding him took its toll on her. She hadn’t brought it up in weeks. I was surprised she did now.
“Yeah, we could. If you wanted to.” I spotted the hoarder house in the distance. “Hey, there’s the place. We’ll talk about this later, okay?”
She nodded and put her game face on. She pulled deeply on her cigarette twice to finish it, then crushed it in the ashtray.
I never told Blaze I believed Beau was as good as dead. I never righted the lie I told her to stop her from leaving me. As long as I had leverage, she wouldn’t go. But the longer I lived with it, the harder it was to tell her. It was impossible now.
People always say, if you love something set it free. I found that keeping it captive worked just as well.
But not a day went by that I didn’t regret it.
Please note: this excerpt may not reflect the final product that will be published through Permuted Press in 2015. It is subject to change.