1. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Winners MarmaladeQueen & Leah Short Story Contest 100: Pre-written Character - Danny

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Gannon, Sep 12, 2011.

    MarmaladeQueen - The Scottish Incident

    He had to go in and find out for himself.

    It had been eating Danny up all these years of his growing up, listening to rumours and theories and Government propaganda. He tried reasoning with himself but couldn’t get it out of his system. Now, as a father himself, watching his children run and play and laugh, he felt the loss all the more. His wife, Karen, pleaded with him to drop it. But it gnawed away at him endlessly, the not knowing.

    “It’s OK for you,” he’d say to Karen. “None of your family was affected.”

    “I know Danny. But you have your own family now. There are the kids to think about. I wish to God you’d let it drop.”

    But he just couldn’t.

    It was a hell of a journey to contemplate. The whole area was a supposedly a no-go zone for 20 miles around Edinburgh. If he got caught anywhere inside it, he’d be shot on sight. It was patrolled, people said, by soldiers dressed head-to-toe in gas-tight suits. They lived in special camps and did three months on, three months off. After each stint of duty, they’d be quarantined for five days to make sure they weren’t testing positive. But that might all just be hearsay. And even if it was patrolled, it was a huge area. It would take a very large number of soldiers to be in any way effective. Danny reckoned if he kept well away from roads and villages, if he approached it by way of open country, he stood a chance of making it through.

    The Government repeatedly put out propaganda to say that everyone was safe provided that they kept out of the no-go zone. They referred to what had happened simply as “The Scottish Incident.”. Despite the Government reassurances, every so often there’d be a cluster of rumours about people dying of anthrax, or smallpox, or some new and nameless deadly virus, and the Government would always step in and swiftly deny it. But people weren’t convinced and the rumours kept coming. It didn’t help confidence that they’d stopped burials and open-coffin funerals. By law, you had to be cremated within 24 hours of dying, and you couldn’t even collect the ashes. It was just a precaution, the Government said. Everyone was safe.

    Some people said all the bodies had just been left there in Edinburgh where they died. Others said they’d been tipped into mass graves by the army, with quicklime to dissolve the bones. Yet others said that there had been survivors, and that the army had gone in and killed them all, rather than let them out. Some people said it was anthrax and it would stay active for hundreds of years. Others said it had been smallpox and that it would be safe to go back there now. There were innumerable conspiracy theories about why the Government was keeping people out. No-one Danny knew had ever met any soldiers who’d been there. The whole thing might be a story made up to scare people. But then why would the Government want to keep people out?

    “Whatever the truth is, the Government is keeping it from us,” Danny said to Karen. “I don’t know what, and I don’t know why, but there’s some sort of cover-up. And I want to know what they’re covering up”.

    The only thing Danny did know for sure that that on 14th August 2033 Edinburgh had stopped living. That is, no-one who lived there, or who’d been visiting there at the time, or who’d been there just for the day on business, had ever been heard from again. And from that date, the whole city had been sealed off. It was as if it had never been there. Maps and guidebooks had mysteriously disappeared. The sale of both new and second-hand maps had been stopped immediately, by law, but over the years even the black market in second-hand copies had dried up.

    Danny, alone of his immediate family, had survived. He had been away on holiday with his grandparents. His mother, his father and his baby sister Fionna had all been at home in Edinburgh. And his aunt and uncle and cousins. Gone. No funeral. No memorial service. No news about what had happened to them. Just gone. Danny was just five years old.

    Danny’s day job, when he grew up, had been as an accountant in a Government office. He wasn’t anywhere near to any seats of real power, and never was privy to any secrets, but he felt, in choosing his career, that if he were working for the Government then he was that little bit better able to understand its machinations. In his spare time, covertly, he collected any information he could get about Edinburgh and the Scottish Incident. Maps. Guide books. Photographs. First hand accounts of life there before The Incident from the few people were willing to talk. But most were too scared. People who’d known Edinburgh well before the Scottish Incident were prone to disappear, or to have fatal car crashes, or to slip and fall off tall buildings if they talked too much. Danny listened to all the rumours and tried to work out which ones might have a grain of truth about them.

    Then one day he turned up to work and his voice was no longer recognised by the security system. He assumed it was a malfunction and reported it, only to find that he no longer existed. It wasn’t just that he no longer had a job. Danny McCracken no longer existed. There was no record of him ever having been born, or lived, or married, or died. When Karen, prompted by Danny, applied for copies of the children’s birth certificates, they came back with only Karen’s name on them as parent. They were in her maiden name, as if Danny had never been there, never married her, never fathered these children.

    Things got tough for him and Karen after that.

    “We’ll manage,” said Karen, her voice gritty. She worked longer and longer hours to make up for the loss of Danny’s salary, and he took over more and more of the household chores. Even so, they struggled to make ends meet.

    At first, Danny used to take the children to school and back, but after a few incidents where he’d only just jumped out of the way in time to avoid being run over, they decided it would be better if Danny stayed indoors. He became, in effect, one of the disappeared. He was lucky, he realised, that Karen loved him enough to stick by him. Since he no longer existed, she could just turf him out without redress. He remembered, in the days when he still went out, shadowy figures in rags, scrabbling around dustbins in the dark. The dispossessed. No-one talked about the dispossessed, but they all knew they existed. There were rumours that from time to time the Government would round them up and gas them.

    “At least no-one will notice you’ve gone, if you insist on going there,” Karen pointed out. They had to try to see what positives there were, or they’d go crazy.

    There came a point when he’d planned as much as he could plan.

    “It’s time to go, Karen” he said.

    She tried reasoning with him. She pleaded with him not to go. She said he’d never make it there and back. She’d never see him alive again. The children would never see their father again.

    “I have to do this,” he’d said, holding her in his arms and stoking her hair. “Especially now that I don’t exist. I can’t keep living this twilight life. I have to know.”

    “I won’t tell the children until you’ve gone,” she said, tears streaking down her face.

    “Leave it as long as possible, and don’t tell them where I’ve gone,” he cautioned her. “The less they know, the safer for them and you.”

    He planned to travel light and sleep rough. He didn’t need his maps - he’d spent so many hours pouring over them that he’d committed them to memory long since – but he took a revolver that he’d managed to buy a few years earlier. He had very little ammunition for it, but he reckoned he’d probably only get one or two chances to use it, if that.

    Even getting to the start of the no-go zone was tricky. Large tracts of Scotland had become depopulated since The Incident. Glasgow was still a thriving city, but the east coast has suffered badly. He took the train as far up as they now went - Berwick, on the border. After that he made his way north on foot, across deserted farmland and avoiding, so far as possible, any villages. There might still be a few people living in them and his presence would provoke comment. Finding deserted barns to sleep in was easy enough, and being summer it was warm. He drank from streams but food was more of a problem. He soon used up the food he’d taken with him and after that he grazed off ripe brambles and elderberries and ears of corn that had self-seeded itself in the abandoned fields. One day he happened across an old orchard and feasted on the ripe pears and apples. There were plenty of rabbits everywhere and he wished he had the skill to trap and cook them.

    He got as far as the outskirts of Edinburgh before he realised that someone was following him.

    He must have crossed the 20 mile boundary without realising it. There was no fence, and no signs.

    Vegetation had taken over everywhere. Dandelions grew through the cracked and pitted tarmac of the roads. Houses were hidden behind swathes of ivy and front garden shrubs had grown almost into trees. Many of the roofs had holes where tiles had blown off, and in a couple of cases there seemed to be trees actually growing inside the abandoned buildings. What every dwelling had in common was that the front doors were missing, as if they had been wrenched off their hinges. In some cases, Danny could see where they had been tossed into the front garden or the road. Everywhere there were vehicles, abandoned and rusty, their tyres long since perished. Some had their windscreens smashed in. But so far he’d seen no sign of any people, dead or alive.

    Other than the person following him.

    Whoever was tracking him was doing so very skilfully. Danny got his revolver out and held it, very visibly, in his hand. Some of the time he managed to convince himself that there was no-one really there, but then there would be a slight sound, a footfall that just faintly echoed his own, and stopped just a split second after he stopped.

    He was scared. He’d been scared since the moment he’d left home, but not scared like this. He felt his heart pounding and he was breathing in short gasps. His heart was crashing in his ears – thump, thump – against the stillness all around him. His hand gripping the revolver was sweaty. His mouth was parched but he daren’t stop to take a sip from his water bottle.

    There was still no clue as to what had happened to Edinburgh, but the front doors ripped off their hinges suggested it had been violent. And he knew already it had been sudden.

    As he crept forward through the abandoned streets, passing through what would once have been densely populated suburbs, he started to get the uncanny feeling that not only was he being followed, but he was being watched. From within the carcasses of the houses and shops to either side of him, he would catch just a faint noise, a slight rustling perhaps, and turn sharply, gun raised, to try to catch its source. The day was completely still. There was not the slightest breeze to ruffle the overgrown vegetation.

    There was no shelter. Nowhere to hide, since he didn’t know who or what he was hiding from. The derelict buildings looked as dangerous as the open road, so he just kept walking, getting nearer and nearer to the part of Edinburgh where his family had lived. He now felt really crowded by the sense of people or things watching him. The sun was starting to dip down against the skyline and Danny thought of his children back at home playing in the garden, of Karen in the kitchen. It made his stomach gnaw with hunger to think about it the smell of Karen’s cooking. He imagined her calling the children in for their dinner, and their eager faces, running in.

    Then there was a click, and a brief sharp pain in his head.

    ------------------------

    George waved at Alan as he came into the bar.

    “Shift finished?” he asked.

    Alan nodded. “Decontamination took longer than usual though. They said there was a problem with the filtration system, but I never know what to believe.”

    The bar tender pulled Alan a pint and set it down in front of him. Alan was one of the drinkers. Some people managed to occupy themselves fairly well between in between working and sleeping. There were plenty of books and films supplied, a fully equipped gym for those that liked to work out, and any number of electronic games. But others, like Alan, mostly drank.

    “Did you get anyone today?” George asked.

    “Just one. Guy on his own,” Alan replied.

    “Silly buggers. It doesn’t matter what the Government says to deter them, they still keep on coming.”

    Alan nodded his agreement and they sat there in silence for a while, enjoying the deep cool of their lagers. The bar was pretty much deserted, but they both knew it would liven up later.

    “Do you ever think of trying to get back?” asked Alan after a while.

    “Not these days. I used to be really angry when I first came here. When I first found how the way they’d conned us. Three years in the Special Army and then we’d be set up for life. What a joke,” replied George, with a sort of mock laugh.

    “But what’s going to happen when we get old?” Alan went on. “They surely can’t be meaning to keep us here until we die. Some of the guys are almost retirement age. Adam Wilson for example. He’s been here pretty much since the start.”

    “I don’t think it does any of us any good to be thinking of questions like that,” said George. “We are stuck here and I guess this is where we are going to die. There are worse lives. At least we know we’re something worthwhile. Keeping people safe and all that.”

    “I guess so. But don’t you think it’s strange how they’ve never actually told us what we’re protecting people from?” Alan asked.

    George could see Alan’s agitation. The way he was kicking one foot against the bar. The way he was drinking in short gulps. The white of his knuckles as he held his glass. The guys that joined up reacted in all sorts of different ways when they found out what they’d let themselves in for, but most settled down eventually. Alan had been up here for long enough, George thought, to have come to terms with his fate.

    “You know George – it just eats me up,” Alan went on. “Not knowing how my family are doing, not knowing what they were told about what happened to me. Knowing that they are alive out there and I’ll never see them again. My kids must be grown up by now. I know it’s crazy, but sometimes I wonder if I could make it back there alive.”

    “Run away?” George looked alarmed. “You’re one lunatic of a guy to even talk like that.” He looked around, worried that someone might have overheard.

    He’d have to keep his distance from Alan in future, George decided. One couldn’t be too careful. Not up here.
     
  2. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Leah - Danny

    Danny was a bit of a ladies man. He was also, he admitted readily, a bit of an asshole.

    Swinging his lean, long legs off the bed, he sighed. His curly red hair was still tousled from the wild night and his head felt like it had been kicked in by an entire group of footballers. What had he been thinking?

    As usual, he swore to himself, stumbling into the en-suite bathroom, that was just it. He hadn’t been thinking. Going to that bar had seemed like a good idea at the time. So had picking up that girl, he groaned. Oh god, the girl, what had he done?

    He stood, head against the wall, trying to keep his balance while emptying his bladder. The putrid smell of his urine made him gag, good lord, how much did I drink last night, he thought and fought to steady his weaving body.

    This was not a good. Not good at all.

    Since the sickness had taken the majority of the world’s population, Danny had been living under the radar in the outskirts of Edinburgh, keeping his nose clean and staying out of harm’s way. With one drunken night that got out of control, Danny knew that that had changed – forever.

    The sickness had its first reported case when he was 5 years old and his life up until this point had been watching those around him, both known and unknown perish. The sickness had gripped the earth and had slowly and methodically eliminated over eighty percent of the population. Starting slow with an increase in flu-like deaths, it had progressively gotten worse as scientists and doctors were baffled. There had been no warning, and no method to the madness. Why had it been slow to infect then picked up speed as the years went on? Why had some been spared while other families wiped out completely? His mother had been taken when he was fifteen, his father at twenty and both sisters by the time he reached twenty three. Now, at 30, Danny stood the sole survivor of his family.

    The dying slowed about four years ago, from what Danny could track. Time and dates had long since lost much meaning.

    Living had been primal once the shock of the mass devastation had passed. The afterthoughts, as he liked to call the remaining people of earth (because surely whatever killed millions, no billions of humans had an afterthought and decided to keep some alive, to see how they would handle living in this new hell), had survived by sleeping in empty houses, avoiding the corpses, raiding fridges, cupboards and stores of their non perishable food items. Hoarding medicine from the chemist, batteries and outdoor gear from the shops, had become part of daily “life”. The fear and the tension in the air had become unbearable.

    Along the way, he had met others like him, other afterthoughts who were struggling to stay alive and start some sort of life over. Many of them were decent folk, clinging desperately to hope. He had also met some very dark and dangerous people, had found himself in a few serious situations and had vowed to keep to himself, live off the land and stay out of trouble.

    His former life had been a decent one, until a few years ago. Fortunate to have been born into money, he wanted for very little. While the sickness had begun creeping into society, the majority of people, young people especially, continued on with day to day life, living with the thought they were untouchable. He had been the “it” boy around town. Girls wanted to be with him, guys wanted to be like him, his parents had adored him, his sisters had thought he was cool, even for a little brother, his employer thought him brilliant and promoted him leaps and bounds above more tenured employees – he truly had the world wrapped around his little finger. Tall, thin build, muscular and strong with shoulder length flaming curly red hair, blazing hazel eyes, Danny was a stunning creature. The Viking blood that ran through his ancestors blood was prominent in the rugged features and confident nature, bordering on cocky.

    Knowing you were wanted, by everyone around was a very powerful feeling indeed. He was invincible.

    By the time the sickness had picked up speed when he was 25, Danny had bedded more women than most men would in a lifetime. Most of their names and faces a blur to him. At the time, he was simply interested in scoring and being the king of his land. He made no excuses for the way he treated people. His ego took up the air of most rooms he entered.

    That life seemed a million years ago, Danny mused, lighting a cigarette, enjoying the silence of the porch that wrapped around the house he now lived in. His home. He had relocated to this farm 3 years ago, and had begun living off the land. He had a lot to learn and was proud of how far he had come. Everything he consumed came from the land. He didn’t have much, a few chickens, a large vegetable garden, an apple and pear tree, and one cow kept him well stocked. He was just learning how to bail and reduce hay into wheat. He could not wait to figure out how to make his own bread. His mouth, as hung-over as he was, still managed to salivate at the thought.

    He was tenacious and refused to give in to the panic that had swept over the land. He was a fighter.

    Looking out over his garden, the last drag of his cigarette in his hand, he did however begin to panic. The new world was full of people trying to rebuild, but more prevalent were those who sought to control, through violence and fear. These afterthoughts he named the Forgotten. Surely the evil sickness forgot to take these individuals, for they brought nothing but fear, intimidation and violence to the new world, making it increasingly difficult to survive without owing them. They controlled the majority of the warehouses that held bedding, non perishable food items, matches, camping equipment and bottled water. They controlled all the alcohol that had been left behind in bars and restaurants. They controlled the petrol stations. They were everywhere. You didn’t steal from the Forgotten. That was a death sentence. You begged and pleaded and bartered with the Forgotten. Whatever they asked for was what they got. There really was no choice.

    And like gangs in the old world, you didn’t mess with their women.

    Which was precisely what Danny had done last night.

    He sighed, head in hands, trying to quell the panic growing inside him. He had been so careful up until now. But on a trip into the small village he had spotted the pub that the Forgotten had opened and decided that a drink would be a good idea. He’d go in, have a drink quietly, pay whatever they asked and leave. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had any alcohol.

    Looking back, the alcohol had poured through his veins, warming his soul and he decided to have one more. And then another. Before long, he had used up all his bartering supplies and saw the world through hazy eyes. He had felt euphoric. There was no sickness, there was nothing wrong. His world was his oyster again. He was his old self. Egotistical, powerful, cocky. And then there was the girl.

    He could only imagine what the girl, Christ, what was her name again, was telling the Forgotten. Would she be honest and say that she had come on to him when he was drunk and he had been weak and given in to the carnal pleasures? Or would she cry fowl and infuriate them all so there would be a bounty on his head?

    Heading back into the house, he decided that regardless of what she told them, his dealings with the Forgotten in the past told him that they would come after him, in some fashion. He walked into the kitchen and began to pack as much as he could carry. He would beat them to the proverbial punch, he thought. That was his only hope. Taking a months worth of vegetables and fruit, some eggs and the first attempt at wheat he had bagged, he headed out. He hoped this offer of fresh food would be enough. His hands shook as he placed the knapsack on his back.

    A floorboard creaked in the old farm house and Danny jumped. Jesus man, he swore to himself, it’s only been four hours since the girl left his side. There’s no one waiting to jump him. He had time.

    In the barn, he pulled the tarp back to reveal a classic motorcycle, in pristine condition. He had been saving this beauty for a special occasion, hoping that there would again be one in his life. Today seemed like as good as any. And if the Forgotten wanted it, in exchange for his life, well, so be it. He ran his hand over the silvery chrome body and frowned. She sure was a beauty.

    Straddling the bike, peace offering on his back, Danny made his way to the Forgotten’s lair.

    **

    As the dust settled out the laneway behind the bike, Mike and Larry stepped out from behind the bushes, watching Danny drive away. They knew exactly where he was going, what he was attempting to do. Idiot. You simply did not mess with a Forgotten’s girl. End of.

    Scouring the house, they loaded up everything of value that would fit in their pick up truck that was on the way to get them. Blankets, water, food, clothing, soap and the chickens – everything was up for grabs. Standing by the pile they had made on the laneway, Larry grabbed the flasks he had been carrying in his knapsack and headed to the front door. Pouring the contents around the door frame, then on the porch and on around the barn, he smirked.

    The pick up truck was now loaded and Larry walked back to join his brothers. Pulling away, he lit a cigarette and threw the match out the window, watching with delight as the house and the barn began to burn. They drove away laughing.

    **

    Danny opened his eyes and promptly shut them again. The sight of front seat of the abandoned car reminded him all too quickly how far he had fallen. In the six months since his home had been torched and he had received a beating that left him clinging to life, waking up every day was a curse, not a blessing.

    Moving from house to house, trying to stay alive, and out of the sight of the Forgotten had not been easy. He had since found it easier to hide out in abandoned cars and lorries on the motorway. The one thing he had over the Forgotten was intelligence. He knew their moves, they were very predictable and they had long since given up torching and stealing cars. Homes were more vulnerable since they knew people would gravitate there to hide. He used the houses sparingly. Sometimes to clean up when he found a bar of soap or the odd box of crackers to munch on, but the remainder of his life was now reduced to survival and hiding.

    The Forgotten thought Danny was dead, and that was just how he liked it.

    Now that his injuries were all but healed and he could walk without much of a limp, he bided his time. One of the cars he had happened upon had once belonged to a scientist from CamCorp, the largest research and development company from the old world. They had been entrusted to find a cure for the sickness and had been the main contact between the medical and the political world. He found building passes, personal and classified documents and spare keys to offices belonging to CamCorp’s headquarters in the heart of Edinburgh.

    Waiting for something to happen was no longer an option, Danny needed to make a move. The city was a dangerous place, full of violent characters, corpses and possible disease, but Danny knew it was most likely also plentiful in supplies left behind when people began to flee, as well as potential answers and medicine at the facility.

    Crawling out from the car where he slept, Danny straightened his tattered clothes, grabbed his duffle bag containing the resources needed and began his long journey into the city. With a rifle over his shoulder, a little something he picked up from a very clever hiding space in one of the homes he ransacked, he loaded it, holding it outwards, prepared to shoot anyone who stood in his way.

    Six days later, Danny arrived, tired but not beaten. The city at first glance was deserted. He had encountered a few Forgotten along the way and had taken his revenge in taking their lives. Their deaths would surely be a message back to the leaders. Someone out there did not respect their claim of control over the rest of them. Once he got to the facility he knew they would come in search of who was doing this, Danny had made sure to leave enough clues as to his whereabouts. They would come looking.

    And when they did, he would be ready.

    A facility like CamCorp would have been heavily guarded, and Danny guessed that one of those keys were to the security offices, which would have more than enough artillery to finish the Forgotten once and for all.

    The facility was not hard to find, even with the passage of time, Danny remembered the layout of the great city and his weary body managed to find enough energy to smile, a small one, but it was still good to see the old girl again. She had been beaten but her greatness still stood, challenging those around to take another shot at her. It’s ok, old girl, I’m a friend and I’m here to restore your glory, one step at a time.

    Walking into the facility, Danny made quick work to locate the security office, obtain the firearms he required, knowing the Forgotten were not far behind him, then on to the private offices where he found personal stashes of food. Tearing through the boxes of crackers and cookies and juice boxes, he felt bloated and full, but it was a good feeling. The food caused energy to flow through his veins, he closed his eyes and relished the feeling.

    Opening his eyes, a document on the desk caught his attention. He looked up and from the mahogany and gold, he guessed this was the president’s office. He pulled the papers out of their folder and read through them. Test cases, test results, numbers, symbols, it appeared to be documentation of the spread of the sickness. This document showed the increase in speed of the sickness, and how it could be carried by some who would never become ill and how it attacked others who died slowly after contact.

    Most carriers would never know they had infected those around him, the letter from the head research scientist stated, they would expose others and walk away. Those infected would slowly begin to experience symptoms, anywhere from a day to months later, no connection to the carrier. They had discovered a carrier in the United States who had been tested then jailed in a maximum security facility, where they more than likely remained, having infected and killed all the staff and others around him. In Scotland, they had discovered a carrier early on but had decided against jailing them. CamCorp neglected to inform anyone of their discovery. They thought early on that they had a cure already in the works, and saw any dead or ill as potential revenue.

    Danny couldn’t believe what he was reading. They had purposefully let this person roam through the city, infecting family, friends and strangers, killing them slowly. They estimated that the sickness would never fully stop while the carriers were out there. The virus mutated and began the cycle over again.

    They had not banked on the fact that the illness would gain speed and they would perish before they could update the vaccine. The virus caught up and killed them all.
    The anger boiled up in him. Even now, if he met the carrier, he could still be infected and everything he worked for, gone in a flash.

    The crashing of the front entrance windows startled Danny and he dropped the papers. They were here. They had come for him. Prepping his weapons, he moved stealthily out the office and made his way. He would finish what he came here to do.

    He headed to the front and began to fight. The documents remained where they had fallen on the floor of the president’s office.

    The last line of the document read : Name of carrier, Danny.
     

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