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A Turnpike Worth Dying For

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Old 12-21-2012, 12:01 PM
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There are agonies, and then there are agonies.

Road homes with caves where walls once stood canít shelter him for much longer. Canít burn under the chilling death-winds, canít stand on the side of the spider-cracked road and remain intact; useless pieces of trash. Nothing to do but move on.

Itís been this way for hours, days. With a tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth with thirst, his ears have forgotten the subtle clicks and shifts of conversation. Civilizationís being hammering out of him by the storm above and the fire within.

Heís walked this road for a week and two days. Heíll walk it Ďround again, a thousand times over if he has to. Thereís no stopping the desire. Desire is now a half-remembered luxury in this sham of a world.

The rags of his coat arrest his mechanical pace for a moment, chills the gristle beneath, the iron within too brittle to bend. Dead elms creak in the silence, the time it takes him to drop, catch his breath, wheeze. Running highs have erased far more than old memories of highways in the times before these End Times. They've erased everything but the pavement, the bones, and the winter crushing the road.

A sign creaks. The topís gone. Probably a shield for a barbarian with skins across his back and flesh between his teeth. Branches dance across the weeds and the cracks in the road, erasing the testaments scrawled out with hungry fingers upon the tar-infused grit by the roadside.

Heís been out of the burning city long enough to know not to look into those ditches, to read those messages. Theyíll anchor his guilt like so many things have on this cracked facade of a former superhighway.

Shoes scuff flaking yellow paint as the pass sharpens into view.

Earthworks unbroken and deep as wartime trenches drop away to either side. The eerie hillside, the mound of a thousand rumours and gut feelings is to his back now, blotting any sunlight from cracking through the fragmented passing storm and reaching him.

Concrete sweeps to his left, eight hundred meters or more of banked clockwise road filled with artifacts. Too many winters had passed to make the wreckage of yesteryear a testament to the dustpan of tomorrow. They were things of power from an age half-remembered by distant recollections of youth.

The beaten path disappears behind and around him. The smell, too; there were more than just faint etchings lying in those open roadside ditches. Crows had followed him from the city, but theyíd stayed where meat replenished itself at an alarming rate. In a sense, they were flesh farmers.

The green sedan halfway down could have been the spawn of thirst-fever; a hunger dream ripped from his childhood. Rounded doors, rust, intact windows and lines of rust round the mud-flaps; a weathered version of the car his father used to drive. Before a mob in the throes of starvation had torn him and his car apart while heíd watched.

Still, his torn feet scraped past the shell of horrors. A sunburned hand clawed at his belt, tugged eighteen inches of dull polished wood and the faded red blade of a firemanís axe. The storm was breaking above, but the cathedral shadows waiting at the turnpikeís bottom loomed, gothic shadows only deepening with every step. The city and the haunting mound of dead forests and rocky glades are far behind him. Death still lurked.

Debris lined the roadside. His feet picked out a quiet path without thought. No way to tell if the debris were markers, laid to rest by renders seeking a meal.

Boot soles scraped the tunnelís bottom. The dust of ages and of events years old trickled down his neck, caked his hair, and sent terrors into every corner of the room.

He didnít flinch. Death and drudgery existed in cooking, cleaning, sweeping, rutting, even dreaming. Survivors quickly learned that their earned title is an oxymoron, for their deaths become a utility for the group to use, like any tool or scrap of meat off the bone. There was nothing in the corners that could terrify him. All that walked or crawled the city streets, too.

Buttresses of steel latticed themselves in xís above him, over the muddy gorge and the rapids to his left. The riverís teeth were filed to points by the current, still flecked with white paint and old stains.

No matter the dead leaves at his feet, the dust on the roof, or the tunnelís end. Such a bridge was a comfort to him in a way that splintered crosses or loverís touches had never been. Walking this way, along a disturbed and turbulent landscape hadnít been an ordeal; it had been a urge.

For a whole day along that lonely highway, heíd had the mad fear that the hillside with its history and its curse might have dragged him down here.

Such places have power.

Heíd known that even before the disasters and the hunger. How else could they thrive when all else in sight is coming apart and sinking back into the earth and dust and memory?

He stops halfway through. Rolls his shoulders, stares down the wooded stream leading deeper into the countryside and slips into the comfort of old memory.

There had been fishermen along the river once, spread out along the bank where heíd stood; older men, the brash youth and silent slim men from the near towns and the far. Stereos had clashed with the roar of the stream, a roar he would only ever hear again when a sewer system collapsed in on itself during a citywide blaze. The result flooded the remains of a subway line.

Flies nipped his face.

His parents and sister had always let themselves unwind from the road on a park bench under an aged maple tree by the bridgeís far end, where the turnpike met the west road and continued onward. Heíd long since forgotten the exact towns it had passed.

Sweat creases his collar. He relents, thrusting himself into the now and hefting his axe.

Those days had been his to waste.

If anyone had known in those days of the end to come, theyíd kept it well hidden. Nobody, not even his parents had let slip a thing, had told him to stop running along the gravel inclines and into the adventure of the gully.

It never occurs to him they didnít know of the devastation to come. Who couldn't?

Rocks banged at tunnelís end, where the incline rose out of view to the on ramp.

Animals. Men with twisted knives ground from sign edges and pipes. Beasts, addicts who pleaded necessity for the travelers they snatched and killed, and feasted upon.

He should have smelled their campfires, the reek of their hides. But memory had become vice itself, and he hadnít escaped. He didnít blame himself. ItĎs a warm glow that spread over his face and heavy arms when he wondered that his musings might be his last.

Theyíd been happy.

The first was using a corner of the chipped concrete walls as cover. Gaunt arms heaved a section of black pipe over a greasy face twisted in permanent scowl. All opponents were simple impressions in combatís rush. This he knew from living in the mean, mean city.

The lunge causes him to tense, step into the lunge and snap his handle into starved guts. Shocked fingers let the pipe clatter to the dirt. He took a moment, brought the axe up and snapped the savageís back like a year-old sapling. The effort of killing produces a grunt from his parched lips, but no more. Itís a familiarity.

No time to wonder.

Graffiti and rotting signs blur as he runs.

Dead weight smashes his shoulder. Another savage. The sharpened stake of an old signpost is through his collarbone and out the other side, though thereís no pain. Not yet.

Momentum carries his bowed shoulder into a gut, up. An overhead swing bites into a collarbone. Lobs off a limb. His knee snaps into a feral face. He keeps running.

Heís through the tunnel and up into the gloom of the day. Howls chase him up the incline. Drumming and screaming carry on the winds for miles here.

The thought dies in an explosion from below. A carís window splinters. Sulphur chokes his already choking throat.

Thereís nowhere to make a proper stand on the turnpike that carried him to the cottage, and beauty, and the hum and crash of the oceanís waves.

The bridge will have to do.

Running from this place would be blasphemy. His lungs and his heart would give out before Highway 25 to the city could be read. There was a grill and a stew-pot waiting in either direction.

No point in running back to the city, even if heís strong enough. If a bundle of blankets and a coat of grit across a burned-out basement floor could be called home, heís more than happy to remain a vagrant.

Thereís fear now. A fear of rending he hasnít felt since last monthís raid. Or was it last years? Danger is constant as the night is long, and as hunger grips the gut.

He looks up as his boots tap the bridgeís walkway, the guardrail with broken supports every three paces.

No way to tear free of this place.

Instinctively, his gaze rises to that hilltop. Holds in place for a moment. In this age of burned steel and grubby faces, a glade, a rock, an underground stream and a peaceful fragment of remembrance is natureís art. Humans canít be trusted with it any longer.

Men simply bred, rutted, swore, fought, died. Only the seasons before, the memory of home and the city nights with their bright lights and comforts kept his every day one thread removed from Hell.

Then it drops to the bridge beneath his feet. A thirty-second ritual drive every summer, thirty minutes if someone needed a bathroom break, but thatís more than enough to die on it and across it.

The axe rises in his trembling grip as the barks of renders more hound than man lope to meet him.

Five savages lean into a sprint. A long jump would save him the pain.

It would bring the cold dark silence ever closer. Heís too human to resent pain in his final moments.

But he will break a taboo.

He leans over, peers into the drainage ditch of the roadway. There are no bones, but there are names. Names scratched with axes and knives, most outlined in blood and the final moments of a human being.

There would be a legacy.

There was, in fact, a reason behind this journey. Thereís only mud and grue and hunger in these later times, his later years spent as a troglodyte amidst the cities of Old. Heís made this pilgrimage in the hopes of adding more than a placeholder to his memory before his death.

Even if the placeholders are obliterated in a moment.

He nods, accepts. Adds his mark, steps back and exhales as the mob howls a kill-knell and makes contact.

The axe rises, swings into a shoulder, through a torso. The stakes and sticks they carry are piercing his shoulders, scratching his face, but thereís a roar and a spirit and defiance to his death. Two of them fly to pieces under his hefty blows, two more for the limitless tally of men claimed by the End Times.

The wanderer, far from a leaky basement, finds himself at home.

Finds himself vanished in the whistling ring of a pipe swinging.

***

One of my "Overlap Fiction" pieces. I gave it a critical eye only today, and figured that it wasn't the sort of piece I could sell to a magazine. Not much luck in that department at the moment.

The prose's a bit odd; this was probably the forth or fifth piece I've ever finished in a notebook before typing it out. It's set in the "Pit Stop 169" universe. I though a post-apoc piece would be appropriate for the supposed 'End of the World.'

As always, tell me what you think.

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  #2  
Old 12-23-2012, 06:24 PM
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Red,
And they say commuting these days is Hell...
As usual, your character's introspective analysis is in-depth and furtive. As I read this I got to wondering how any man could live that long with such constant intensity in his day to day ruminations.

I fancy myself a deep thinker but I think that I too would welcome the end if I was mentally tormented with such frequency.
Hmmm, now that I think about it...

BTW:
Thanks for providing the mental note regarding that sign blade shield reference, I'm going to have to use that idea in my next PoAp venture.

Intense and engaging as always, I look forward to your next.
Abdula
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  #3  
Old 12-25-2012, 09:31 AM
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Thanks so much AbdulaOblongata! Welcome as always! Happy holidays.

As for the sign post thing-y- I stole that from a GURPS (General Universal Role-Pllaying System- yes, I'm a massive geek) book, which talked about improvised armour. Feel free to steal it!

I'm afraid I haven't been on the Fiction section as much as I'd like to be- will have to change this after Boxing Day's through.

Thanks for all this!

-Red
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Old 12-25-2012, 11:10 PM
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Red,
It's always a pleasure seeing your name on the roster, I'll be keeping my eyes open.
Gotta love them GURP-as!

I wanted to ask you, do you keep a fiction blog? If so, can you shoot me a PM with a link? I'd like to check it out.

As far as Boxing Day...
"Keep your guard up!"

Corny, I know...
Abdula
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Old 12-26-2012, 11:44 AM
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I do have one, but it hasn't been updated in a while. To be honest, I tend to do most of my blogging in general on a Journal Widget on my deviantArt account. I suppose I should change that, but I HATE HATE HATE WordPress. Can't figure out how to make menus work.

I'll be sure to poke around your blog as well, if you don't mind.

Anyhow, here's the WordPress Blog: http://dodgingthebeatdotcom1.wordpre...egory/fiction/

Here's my deviantArt account page: http://dodgingthebeat.deviantart.com/

Tell me what you think.
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Old 12-26-2012, 03:21 PM
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There are agonies, and then there are agonies.

There are agonies and there are, then, agonies.

The whole thing was like that. Fix it and then I will tell you what I, maidahl, thinks of your talent and goldmine of an idea you have threaded in this puzzle of an utter eysore. I hate this font.

godaminit i want to read this. I wil not. trust me
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Old 12-26-2012, 06:40 PM
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If you don't like the prose, fair enough. It's disjointed. It's jerky and jagged and has its moments of, shall we say, grammatical detachment?

I know. I wrote it that way. It's intentional.

Is it an eyesore? Probably, yes. That's the point. Is a burned-out highway beautiful? Would it be worthwhile to capture a broken highway in prose that was all neat and tidy with the paint still wet?

Hell, no. Prose is not just words, or grammar or even sentence structure that describe something. The very style of prose itself must speak to what you are describing.

Is a dirty underpass ugly? Absolutely. Is being wet, hungry, scared, tired and cold jarring? Yes. Hence why I did what I did.

Thanks nonetheless for reading and critiquing. I'm sorry if I offend- I figure that being critiqued deserves some explanation on the part of the writer as to why a piece was written the way it was.
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Old 12-30-2012, 04:51 AM
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There would be a legacy.


^Chilling.
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Old 12-30-2012, 05:56 AM
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Default Sarah

Sarah Ė (1016)

My heart races and such fear as Iíve never known before snakes through my stomach. Alone, in this small room, one window overlooking flower-filled meadows, I sit and wait. I know they will come soon, across the sike, dry now from the summerís sun. I sit knowing my body is weak and my soul in much need of God's grace.

My name is Sarah; I am but seventeen, daughter to Thomas Windborne, respected elder of the village. My father sits below. His wizened face wears his sorrow heavy like the yoke I have placed upon him. Like me, he waits for their knock, like me, he is afraid for my soul; for I have grievously sinned and when they come . . . it will be my end.

My thoughts are only of Samuel, his dark eyes, his sweet smile that seduced me. His body, strong and firm that took me in a passion that matched my own -- that short, sweet time when my heart sang, and I was ablaze with love. We sinned and now must pay the price, for in truth; did I not drown in carnal pleasure?

I revisit my yesterdays, my walk to the village, seeing Megan by the well. Her thin, frail body fights for breath as she lifts the heavy water jug. I hurry over to her, take the jug, and we walk together to her cottage. The sun is hot, the sky a perfect blue, bereft of clouds. Sweat gathers; crystal beads that tremble on Megan's brow, on her upper lip. Small gasps, harsh in the afternoon's silent beauty issue from her parched lips.

We reach the cottage, find shade, and she sits, fighting breathlessness. I do not hear Samuel approach. I have seen him many times, but never so close. With downcast eyes, I murmur my greeting; my heartbeat quickens like that of a frightened bird. He thanks me, takes Megan's hand. His dark eyes match the sky; his hair curls close to his neck. I can smell him; the bitter sweetness overpowers me. My imaginings bring heat to my cheeks, and I rush my farewell. He is in my mind. He haunts my dreams - dreams that turn into reality.

That reality, so short a time our coming together; so short the month when we strayed beyond passion. When we did succumb to a madness that grew with each passing day - now, all so unreal to me, as I sit and watch the evening breeze play with the meadow flowers and the last rays of sun, mellow on grey-stone walls.

* * *

Only days ago, as if in a dream, did I stand in the Meeting Hall before the magistrates; the room crowded, for many came to see me scorned. My accuser stands too. He faces me, his eyes aflame as he speaks. He curses my name, spittle falling from his lips, his voice harsh with an anger I have not known before.

`Wanton . . . witch . . . she did seduce me with soft caresses and luring eyes.'

Fear sits in his eyes. It is in his pointing hand, in his voice that rises to the rafters. Fear drives him. He is afraid I will speak and all will be lost to him -- his position, his reputation, his very life.

At his words, my back holds straight, although my limbs are as water. I stare hard into his eyes. He falters; he knows he lies. Samuel, my love, my life, was it not you that followed me into the barn and with sweet words and soft sighs did turn my young maid's head. Was it not you that pulled me close and lifted my skirts to bring such ecstasy my soul is forever damned? You, you alone did speak of Megan, your voice a slow, persistent tune that filled my ears - `I would be rid of her; it is you I desire above all others.' Pale, fair Megan, her lungs did fade with each passing day, a faithful wife, wife that loved you.

But, it was I that slipped out at darkness, made my way across the fields, now filled with flowers bittersweet. I, Sarah, whose thoughts turned black; when with the runes in her hand and her laughter a cackle that dimmed my ears, the old crone raised her hand and spat the words . . . your love belongs to another . . . he cannot, will not be yours.

So the next day I waited, and Megan came, her breathing slow as she walked towards the barn. Her wooden basket lined with soft moss she quickly filled, white eggs against living green. She bent to collect one more. The rock, hard as granite in the hand I raised above my head, came down to strike with force. She fell, limbs askew, her blood spreading across fair silken strands. Warm on my hands was her blood; warm as it splattered my pallid face; crimson as the poppies in the meadows below.

The clump of heavy boots upon the stair rouses me. Fear claws deep. The door bursts open and I stumble as rough hands tie my own. My father's voice wavers as he calls my name Ė `Sarah.' But I am lost to him forever, dammed to hell.


* * *


Samuel does not see me as I walk hands tied behind my back? My hair hangs loose; my feet are bare. I am the Sarah he loved, and betrayed. Within the hour, I will be no more. Without courage he could not share my fate. Even as I stood before him, my eyes locked to his, fear filled him, and lies spewed from his lips. I gave no defence, although his Megan lies cold, a death that was near, but temptation held him. He could not wait.

I have heard the woods welcomed him. Old oaks filtered the evening sun; pungent bronze leaves
piled across rich brown earth and the rope hung high - harsh against his neck? Did his mind hold my face as he took - one-step forward?
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Old 12-30-2012, 06:44 AM
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The piece goes on a bit too long for me, Painted Red and I lost my way.

There was also too much anonimity with the character only being 'him' or 'he'. It mad it hard, near impossible in fact, to connect with him. And if a reader can't connect with a character they don't care what becomes of them and the journey of the story becomes pointless.

Not sure what you could do with this at this point, but to cut it down and give it a little more meaning, put it into a different context. Although I have to admit post-apocolyptic stuff isn't really my thing, so I'm probably not the best person to advise.

However, all said and done I did enjoy the writing and structurally didn't encounter any issues.
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  #11  
Old 12-30-2012, 11:39 AM
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Thank you RedLorry! I'll admit, the feedback I've been getting suggests that I could have fleshed the character out a little more. While I wanted to make the prose itself reflect how he sees the world, I think I'll have to rethink that next time.

Cheers and Happy (forthcoming) New Year!
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Old 12-30-2012, 11:53 AM
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I like the story. Very dark but that's the way I like it. We go into the mind of the main character, see what he is thinking. Yes, it's choppy, like my writing style but it works. It has pace, which is good.
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Old 12-30-2012, 11:59 AM
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Thanks!
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