A History Lesson
It’s cold, brutally cold. December in the Windy City has a history of being this way. Has? Had? It is technically still Chicago but not really. The voices on the radio used to say things like “Batten down the hatches! It’s only going to get worse.” All you might get out of a radio now is static or the outdated safe zone locations. If only the talking heads would’ve known how bad it was going to be they wouldn’t have wasted so much time bitching about the weather. Bitterly cold winters or blazing hot summers are the least of our concerns these days.
As a society, pop culture overwhelmed us with horror movies, comic books, and video games about zombies and the Apocalypse. So much so that when it actually happened we had no idea what do. Or how to cope.
I’d like to say it happened overnight but that’s not right. In the early stages of the “Descent” nobody knew what the hell was happening. As a society, pop culture overwhelmed us with horror movies, comic books, and video games about zombies and the Apocalypse. So much so that when it actually happened we had no idea what do. Or how to cope.
A year later the origin of the sickness remains a mystery. Patient zero? Unidentified. All we know is the world got sick. No shit. You would think there would be more information, that we would know…something, but we don’t. One day people started getting sick. By the time it was being reported it was past an epidemic. By the time we truly acknowledged what was happening we were fucked.
Cases piled up so quickly the CDC and the National Guard simply weren’t able to contain it, leading to more patients than caretakers. This in turn led to a rapid growth of fear and the first breach in quarantine. After that, the collapse of society as we knew it began.
Those who left en masse in the beginning were called “Dreamers”. They couldn’t handle the societal fracture and chose to commit suicide. They were cowards. It is said there were over a million Dreamers.
The infected are called “Freaks”. What were they? Zombies? Seriously? Their official title, given to them by Doctor William Carr of the Center for Disease Control, is BH-2014.
Biological Hazard-2014 is the epidemic that ruined the world.
They aren’t zombies. Zombies are mindless brain eaters. At least that’s what the movies said. Freaks are more like half-breeds. They look like us. They dress like us. And for brief periods of time they can act like normal human beings. They aren’t.
Rule of Survival post-Descent: BE WARY OF STRANGERS. When you cross paths with someone new, keep your distance and be alert for the first ten minutes or so. You better have a weapon handy too. The Freaks are very adept at initially presenting as human but they eventually give in to the rage. Manage ten minutes and you should be in the clear. This isn’t gospel but it has worked for me.
When a Freak loses control and submits to the rage it’s called a ‘break’. You can interpret that in the literal or the physical sense. The blood vessels in their eyes and saliva glands burst and they essentially cry, drool, and sweat blood. A Freak in the midst of a full break is covered in blood. They are filled with violence and will tear your fucking arm off and eat it in front of you.
I’ve lived in Chicago all my life. Before the Descent there wasn’t a square foot of this city I didn’t know. As a finder, it was my business to know. But the city has collapsed around us. Ruin and anguish are the colors of choice. Fires blaze as the Freaks dance happily in the destructive glow. It’s like starting all over again with a cruel and unforgiving twist.
One more thing, the most important detail, actually. My sister Emily is missing. We’ve had no communication since before the Descent. Some people would like me to believe she was a Dreamer. Not Emily. She had too much heart to commit suicide. Emily lived a life in service to others. She would’ve wanted to help in any way she could.
For over two years I’ve searched for her. There hasn’t been a stone unturned, a door not kicked in, or a lead that hasn’t been followed. We’ve tracked her to a building on the South Side of town, an area called Bridgeport. The building is now a crude hangout for society’s leftovers. It’s called The 88.
Sitting in my 1978 Jeep Comanche, I take in the empty streets. You just don’t see people around anymore. The good guys are hiding and the Freaks live in the shadows. I can see the evidence of the frigid temperature creep out of my mouth into the cab. The engine is off because I don’t want the Freaks to see a running car.
Chicago at night used to be the stuff of legends! Lights were bright all over town. People were out and about in any area you chose…Lincoln Park, Hubbard Street, Wicker Park, or Logan Square. Friends were laughing, lovers were kissing, music was playing. Good music. Whatever your taste or appetite it was there. No other city had the goods on Chi-Town. There was so much life and vitality. Now all that exists is fear, distrust, and survival.
In many ways this Jeep is my home. There are times when even though the world has turned to shit I can be comforted by the simplest things. Despite the tragedy that led to its acquisition, this Jeep makes me happy. Recounting this memory provides a brief distraction before I attend to the business at hand.
We were en route to Oak Park after Cooper and I had reunited a mother and her son in Waukegan. The husband had been contaminated and the family had been separated for their own safety. Once the Freak had been put down and no others surfaced, the only chance the remaining family had was to start over within the walls of a safe zone.
It didn’t take long before we ran into trouble on Interstate 94. I spotted a crowd close to a plume of smoke about a mile up the road. We pulled up at a safe distance, told our passengers to sit tight and got out. Smoke billowing out of the backseat of a crashed out Jetta prevented us from getting a clear view of the scene. We should have walked away.
There were six people standing or kneeling in a semicircle around a woman who appeared to be injured and crying out for aid.
“Everything all right?” I asked the group. My arms were raised shoulder height and my hands were empty. A Glock resting in the waistband of my pants just off the hip in case of quick need.
“Our friend here is hurt and none of us know how to help her,” a man said.
“We’re not doctors but if all of you would kindly step back we’ll take a look,” said Cooper.
The group obliged and Cooper rushed in like always, without taking precautions. He felt he could spot a Freak by sight. He believed they had ‘tells’. He looked for shifty eyes, nervous energy, and them rubbing their arms.
I told him a hundred times that was bullshit. Unless you roll up on a Freak that’s in the middle of a full on break, it’s damn near impossible to tell. He never had the patience to wait for five minutes much less investigate for ten.
The woman was lying on the road with blood soaked bandages covering an apparent wound to her leg. She was surrounded by stalled cars.
“Hey Coop,” I said and reached for his arm. “I don’t like this. Let’s check the cars.”
“You check the cars. This lady needs our help.”
At this point I had drawn my gun, pointed it toward the ground and reached for the door of an old PT Cruiser. Over my shoulder I hear Cooper say “OK, let’s have a look.”
Then Cooper shouted, “It’s a fucking bite! Back to the car! Go! Go! Go!”
The woman screamed, “The Black Hand serves!” and grabbed Cooper with both hands while the other six rushed toward us. Cooper ripped free and shot the Freak in the forehead, scrambling backwards.
Three more Freaks sprung from the surrounding cars and sprinted toward us. We put four down right away and continued to fall back. Our passengers lept from the car and started running.
“No! Back in the car!” I shouted.
Cooper yelled, “I got ’em! Get the car!”
I swung the door of the Lincoln open, jumped in, and started it. A Freak grabbed me by the arm, trying to pull me through the window. I shot him in the face. I floored the accelerator and started to turn the car around just in time to see Cooper put down another Freak before he was overrun by two more. Coop’s gun was wrestled from him and he was shot in the chest. Another got the mother and son.
“Dammit!” I screamed.
I was racing toward them when the Freak unloaded the remaining bullets at the car. Steam shot from under the hood. I jumped from the Lincoln just in time to take the Freak out as I ran toward the closest grouping of cars.
I saw the old Jeep and headed for it. The keys were in it! It fired to life and I sped in the direction of a clear path near the burning Jetta. The remaining Freaks were still screaming in a bloodthirsty rage in the rear view mirror.
Shaking off the memory, I fish the crumpled piece of paper out of my overcoat and look it over a final time. “The 88,” I mutter. Point confirmed. Strange name for a bar.
The flickering, neon pink sign says “open” with lifeless whispers. A survey of the general vicinity shows three cars in the parking lot, practically nonexistent exterior lighting, and a general feeling of despair.
Two blocks over, a fire is in its infancy in a deserted building. I listen for a few seconds but there are of course no fire engines responding. That was then; this is now. The smoke creeps up and across the sky but causes me no immediate concern. Although it does make me wonder about Freaks in the vicinity.
When I was 21 I joined the Marine Corps and fought in the Iraq War. I took part in the first Battle of Fallujah. Fighting in Iraq actually prepared me for post-apocalyptic survival. We trained day and night for scenarios just like this. How to tactically approach a building with an unknown element inside, that operation feels like a hundred years ago. No doubt a day op would’ve been preferable but time is not on my side. If there’s a chance Emily is here it has to be tonight.
Pollock led me here and Pollock wouldn’t fuck me. Follow the points. Always follow the points. The points led you to Pollock, Pollock led you here.
Pollock has been a close friend and confidant since well before the Descent. We met when we were residents of the Forrester Home for Boys. When I first got to “the Forrest” I was 10 years old. My parents had been killed in a head-on collision and there was no one to take me in. I was young, naïve, and scared shitless. One afternoon Pollock helped me out of a three-on-one skirmish and we became fast friends. I left Forrester, but my friendship with Pollock only strengthened with time.
When Emily went missing I searched for her extensively with no success. It didn’t take long to realize I needed Pollock. Pollock is an information agent. He has always had a talent for forming relationships and that didn’t change when the world broke. He’s the kind of person you want to tell something to. He was the most connected man in Chicago. If you needed information regarding anything, Pollock would have it.
After the Descent, Pollock’s skill set took a hit. There was no longer money to be made in information trafficking. Pollock was never a “bad” person, but when it comes to information, money comes more from bad people than good. With a little help from yours-truly we fine-tuned his network in a manner that enabled us to help people separated by the collapse, find their loved ones. Joining him in this venture hooked me up with Cooper and we had a good thing going for a very short time.
Before I step out of the Jeep, I flip up the sun visor, open the door, and then I’m in the street. It’s eerily silent but for the wind passing briskly through my overcoat as I button up. The fire is adding a backdrop to my night’s activities as the scent of smoke wafts in and the flames continue to climb.
I pull the Glock from the holster under my left arm. I chamber a round, then reach across and take another Glock off the passenger seat. I repeat the previous action and then slide the gun around my waistband to the small of my back. After flipping up my collar, bracing for the wind, I dig my hands into my pockets.
Standing in the dark, I take a second to clear my head. This is too important for careless mistakes. Tonight I will make the connection that has eluded me for over two years. Taking measured steps and keeping my head on a swivel, I cross the street. I can’t afford to let random Freaks get in my way tonight.
The 88 is the current name of this shit hole building that has housed countless establishments, going back 80 years. For one reason or another the current one never worked out and the next one always swore it would. Not that records still matter but the building is now owned by a company called Black Hand LLC.
When Pollock mentioned Black Hand LLC, I took notice. That name meant something to me. Was it something to do with my adoptive father? I have no relationship anymore with the Prescott Family beside my connection to Emily. While I wanted to desperately be accepted by them it didn’t take long to understand a mistake had been made.
After the death of my natural parents I was angry and depressed. I lashed out. By the time the Prescotts adopted me there wasn’t anything that could be done to rein me in. When I was 18, despite protests from Emily, I left home.
There were no emotional goodbyes from the elder Prescotts. They had washed their hands of me. I bounced around for three years before joining the Marines. All the while Emily was there for me. Emily was the lighthouse to my ship at sea. If it weren’t for Emily I would forget the Prescotts ever existed.
The more Pollock dug in to The 88 the less there was to find. We discussed this at length. I had heard that name before. I was sure of it. The Black Hand was like an annoying gnat that followed me around. I’d swat at it but to no avail. Nobody could ever give us the rundown on it. According to the general public, Black Hand LLC did not exist prior to the purchase of this building.
The most interesting aspect to this search was the reaction to my inquiries. Fear. There was no information to be had, from anyone. But there was fear. It meant that this Black Hand LLC was real. If Emily was tied up in this organization, I had to get to the bottom of it.
I pull open the solid oak entry door and I’m overwhelmed with the stench of cigarettes, shit, and puke. I also catch the faint metallic smell of blood. The six people lingering on the stools look to be dead at first glance. There is an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. I wouldn’t have thought humans could be like this if I didn’t see it; if these are Freaks I’m totally fucked. I stand at the entrance trying to sell that I’m looking for someone. I obviously don’t belong.
The jukebox is droning the chorus to “Paint it Black” as I step uneasily across the room toward the bar. Drab local décor consisting of pennants for the Bears, Cubs, Whitesox, and Blackhawks hang meaninglessly on the walls. It’s a cold reminder of how things like professional sports used to be important and how they are now trivial. Dim lighting and a few other outdated signs and banners complete the décor. Off to the right side of the bar there’s a large metal sliding door that must lead to a back room but no other entrances or exits.
I’m dressed in jeans, a button down shirt with a tie, and a knee length overcoat. The six patrons within had never seen a tie. The bartender notices me immediately and his body language tenses. A couple of years ago his tension would’ve meant he thought I was a cop.
“You don’t belong here mister. Turn around and fuck off.”
“I don’t want any trouble. My name is Prescott.”
I hand him my card. Despite a massive societal collapse a simple thing like a business card still has merit. Addresses? Not so important. Contact information like a cell phone though is worth its weight in gold.
“I give a fuck why?” He shrugs and throws my card in the trash without looking at it.
This guy’s an asshole.
He wears a stained mechanic’s shirt and his jeans were last washed in 1986. Upon his shirt is a formerly white oval and the name “Rick” is stitched in cursive. I’ve never met Rick but over the years I’ve met many like him.
“I need some information Rick. I’m looking for someone. A woman, blonde hair, 35 years old,” I said, starting off friendly. The way he looks at me is setting off warnings. He is doing this hand clenching thing that is making me nervous.
I have to tread carefully. If Rick is a Freak then the rest of them are too. I’m a good shot, but with this many targets, no one’s that good. I feel a bead of sweat slide from my neck and make its way slowly down my back.
“I don’t make it my business to know shit about anyone’s business,” snarls Rick.
I reach into my inside coat pocket and peel off two twenties and put them on the bar. Rick looks at them, and then back up at me.
“Money! That’s rich man! Get the fuck outta here!”
I’ve got to keep my anger in check. I shake my head a few times, crush my eyes closed and take a breath. Looking again at the miserable son of a bitch in front of me I proceed.
“The woman I’m looking for, where is she?” I say in a voice I barely recognize.
His asshole vibe vanishes and his posture becomes perfect. I blink a few times and focus on Rick as he practically stares through me. All six of the barflies shift, as if awakening, and look at me.
“Now Mr. Prescott… What makes you think I would tell you? I can’t rightly say he wants you to know,” says Rick mockingly.
“What? Who is He?”
“Like I would te…” I grab his shirt, jerk him over the counter and push him hard to the floor. His head connects with a sharp crack and his eyes roll back for a second before returning. My first inclination is to beat a fucking hole in this guy’s face, but that won’t help me find her. I need Information. I can feel it; I’m close.
“Where. Is. She!!?” I say in a guttural whisper, the spittle falling from my mouth onto the man’s steely face.
Before he can answer I feel a number of fists and boots connecting with multiple parts of my body. I take the beating, it goes with the territory. This was not supposed to go down like this.
My name is Prescott. With two T’s. Don’t fuck that up. I don’t do many things well, in fact, I do most things poorly. There is one thing I do exceptionally well, though. I find things. Whatever it is you lost for whatever reason, I will find it.
That used to work well for me, before the Descent. Now mostly what I do is connect people who’ve been separated by the collapse. Before, yeah I made good money but none of that matters now. While there are still factions of society left in the safe zones, I can’t turn my back on those who need me. Like I said, I’ve been doing this a long time. What else would I do?
I used to get asked all the time, “How did you end up in the finding business?” It can be an odd question to ask. It started when I was twelve when I lost my pocket knife. It was one of the first possessions I could truly call mine. It was included in a box of things that belonged to my parents before they died. I was angry, as angry as any kid would be after losing such a sentimental possession. It was like I had lost a piece of myself.
I spent two weeks looking for it. I questioned the Prescotts, all of them. My sister Emily claimed I was an “idiot” and could find my own knife. My adoptive mother did her best to placate me but her valuable time could not be used looking for my “toy” as she called it.
My adoptive father was a different story. He sat me down in his study and we talked about it. Trust me, I get it. In all of those stories you read growing up, it always seems like the protagonist has some well to do father who dispenses wisdom from his study. Well, this was no different. He did. The first thing he told me was he wasn’t going to help me look for it. He would, however assist me in finding it.
“’Possessions’ rule the world. It’s elementary. What you possess is truly the sum of your person.” He explained. “The ‘possessions’ on which you place the greatest value dictate to the rest of us what matters most to you. Right now at a very young and naïve age you have chosen to place great value on an insignificant pocket knife.”
“It’s not just a pocket knife. If I can use your word Mr. Prescott, that knife is my first possession,” I said with passion.
“Time makes no difference. If something is lost for a day or 100 years,” he coached, “link the points together from beginning to end and there will be a ‘connection’. There, at the connection, you will have found what you are looking for.”
“Very well then, let me provide you with some tools to find it,” Mr. Prescott offered.
We talked about points. My father told me that in between the time a possession is lost until the time it is found there are ‘points’. He explained that, “Time makes no difference. If something is lost for a day or 100 years,” he coached, “link the points together from beginning to end and there will be a ‘connection’. There, at the connection, you will have found what you are looking for.”
“How do you know you’re beginning at the right point?”
He laughed heartily. “Any point where you begin that leads to a connection is the right one.”
He rose from his brown leather chair, put his right arm lightly on my back, and with his left he gestured toward the door as he questioned me, “For something that you seemed to cherish, how did you manage to take so little care of it that you lost it?” I’ve never forgotten that. One sentence can be a man’s legacy. Twenty-two words that over twenty years later would still cut deep into my heart, stealing a part of my spirit and soul like a thief in the night.
The pursuit of my pocket knife moved me to neighbors, friends, classmates, and teachers. Rather quickly connecting point after point. I never stopped looking.
The information I had gathered led me to Billy Summers. He had stolen the knife from my backpack when I had set it down to go through the lunch line. I had spoken with the shy kid nobody else talks to, and he had suspected Billy of several cafeteria thefts. He suggested I speak to R.D. the janitor because, “He sees everything.” I followed up with R.D. and he indeed had seen Summers take my knife.
I spied Billy Summers with it at recess that same day. What a satisfying feeling. I had found the knife. But I needed to get it back. This is how it happened:
Me: Hey jerk-face! Give me back my knife.
Billy: Screw off!”
I punched him in the face. That was my first “connection.”
Slowly the room appears out of the darkness. My entire body is a resounding beacon of pain. My head… Fuck… it’s pounding. I hear talking but the words are more like echoes. The first thing I notice is that my hands are uncomfortably tied behind my back to a cool metal chair. Both of my hands have gone numb while I was out, and I struggle to regain any feeling.
What else is going on here? The group that put the beat down on me is gathered around a table playing poker and taking no notice of me. I’m brimming with rage at what happened earlier. How could I have let this happen? Think Prescott, what are you missing? What are the points?
I close my eyes, lower my head, and play it all back. Point 1: Practically empty parking lot, the fire, nobody at the door, and not a single person noticed when I walked in. Each point by itself doesn’t say much but together…they knew. They were waiting for me. How could I be so careless?
“Hey! Pardon the interruption,” I growl. “I’m sure it’s a real meeting of the minds over there, but can I get a drink of water?”
Rick turns and shows me a glare, revealing his eyes are completely red. He takes a rag from his pocket and wipes a bloody tear as it escapes his eye. Oh shit, I’m so fucked! Wait a second. This guy is a Freak and he broke. How can he be acting so…calm?
There are five Freaks sitting at that table playing poker. All the players are covered in blood. I have never seen anything like this before. All of my knowledge and experience since the Descent says once a Freak breaks they are mindless psychopaths. I have to laugh at the complete disaster this has turned into, at how little I apparently knew as going in.
In spite of the immediate danger, there are a couple of important questions that creep into my head. Is there an evolutionary aspect to BH-2014? Somebody surely would have seen this before and we would know, right? Or is there someone with the talent and ability to train these creatures?
Rick stands and makes his way towards the bar. He fills a glass with water and saunters over toward me, a smug look on his face. He walks up and throws the water in my face, while letting out a cackle similar to Cesar Romero’s Joker from the classic Batman show.
“You’re really in the shit now Mr. Prescott!” he declares, putting an emphasis on the T with complete disdain.
“What makes you say that? I’ve been in worse spots than this,” I say, not believing a word of it myself.
“Because I say so motherfucker!” he spits. “He told me you’d come. He wasn’t quite sure when, but he knew you would. What did he say? Sounded so stupid…oh yeah. He said you would follow the points.”
His words are a gunshot to the gut. “What did you say!?”
“You heard me asshole, ” he says. He steps forward and belts me across the jaw with a right hook. My head snaps back and I taste fresh blood from the cut inside my mouth.
“That all you got friend?” I toss out to his back as he walks away.
“If you’re trying to tell me something maybe you should speak up.”
“Is that right?” he croaks. Turns to me again.
I still find his swagger misplaced, even as he turns back to me, until he rocks me with a vicious head butt to the forehead just over my right eye. It’s a massive jolt, and it hurts, but it sends him back several steps as well.
“GLORY TO THE 88” he screams. “AND SERENITY TO THE BLACK HAND WHICH LIVES TO SERVE!”
“The 88? Did you say Black Hand? “What the fuck is going on?” I demand.
His face is a mask of total hatred. His emotion? Sure. Anybody can hate. I have plenty of hate. But hatred is a fierce concept. With hatred you don’t just HATE somebody. No, you have to strip away all the layers of humanity to get to the base of hatred. You have to know that person. There needs to be a reason.
Blood is flowing into my eye and down my face as Rick cuts the rope securing me to the chair and I pitch forward to the ground. I’m fading out. Lying in a fetal position and in blood soaked pain I make the decision that will either save my life or end it.
I gingerly shift from my side to a praying position. The right side of my face is bloodied and my sight is clouded from swelling while I suffer excruciating pain. I force my left leg out, reach my right hand back for the chair, and pull myself up.
Hoping the chair will stabilize me, instead it falls over from my weight and sends me flailing toward the wall. I wish it had been the wall. Instead it is a large metal garage door that makes a resounding crash when I topple into it. Rick turns quickly to see what the commotion is and notices I’ve made it to my feet. This seems to piss him off.
He turns to his half-breed pals gathered at the poker table now glaring at me and begins to stoke the fire. These Freaks are frothing for a kill. I don’t know what or who “trained” the fuckers but they’re primed for destruction
“This asshole still needs a little more religion,” says Rick. “Any preachers in the room?”
A Freak stands slowly as his chair slides backwards and falls over. He’s about 6’5”, at least 300 pounds. He crushes his knuckles together in a chorus of pops and makes his way toward me. I don’t want to think about the damage this monster could do to me. Fighting a Freak one on one is doable but not good. This man is equal to three. His biceps are bulging, flexing in preparation for the “religion” he intends to baptize me with.
Hands regaining sensation, I push off the cool metallic door and take a stance. This menacing motherfucker needs to understand I intend to fight. I shrug off my overcoat and wrestle the bloodstained tie from around my neck. I may be about to take a beating but believe this, he’s going to hurt too. I came here for Emily and I’m not leaving without her. Not alive anyhow.
“AND THE 88 SHALL VISIT UPON THE EARTH!” Rick begins to preach at the top of his lungs. “AND THE WORTHY WILL BE TRANSFORMED INTO THE BLACK HAND WHO ARE THEIR SERVANTS AND SOLDIERS!” He’s damn near gone crazy with delight. I don’t have words for what I’m seeing. I wish Pollock was here and had my back.
The remaining members of the posse float over to the space we inhabit and form a circle. They have all transformed into bloodthirsty jackals that mean to see death. I feel like I’m standing in the last moments of my life.
“Let’s get it on,” I say as I throw the hardest punch I can manage toward the giant. He catches the punch in his fist, engulfing my hand, and twists upward until it feels like my arm will break at the elbow. At the same time he violently launches a knee square into my gut, expelling all the air from my body.
The blow knocks me to the ground, and I give myself over to the agony as the giant kneels down and clubs me in the back. Just then, Rick is back in the mix, kicking and punching me in a berserk attack style from the side. I’m able to protect my face and body well enough to roll to my back and thrust a two-legged kick toward his chest. It does no damage but separates us enough that I can get to my feet and stagger backwards.
I stare at Rick, continuing my attempt to discover an ounce of recognition for the hatred he holds. Finally I ask, arms extended in an exasperated display. “What gives, man? Who the fuck am I to you? I don’t get it.”
“You never have, Prescott.”
“What does that mean?” I manage to say.
“They didn’t want you. You weren’t receptive. They loathed you!” he barks out.
“Who didn’t want…” I lock eyes with him. My mouth is agape, blood trickling from my lip.
“WE HAVE A WINNER!!!”
“You’re, you’re talking about the Prescotts.” Emotion grips my throat as I stutter the name.
“Yes, I’m talking about the Prescotts. That name means honor and glory to The 88!”
I rush him in a blind rage and take him to the ground. In a primal state, I beat Rick into submission.
“You don’t know anything about the Prescotts!!” I scream. I don’t know where this is going.
Lost in the background while I am committing a violent attack on Rick the large metal door slides open with an egregious wail. Two men step into the room. They are both impeccably dressed and wear a look of thorough disgust on their faces.
One is younger and clearly a subordinate, albeit a respected one. The other appears to be approaching sixty and most assuredly carries with him great power and influence.
The Freaks cower from the older man. His presence has sent them scurrying to the darkened corners like rats and terrified whispers gain volume over the hostilities taking place in the center of the room. Even the big guy who almost killed me is cowed.
“That will be all son,” the voice booms.
That voice. I haven’t heard it in two decades, but I know it as well as I know my own. It is the voice of the man who plucked me from obscurity at the age of 12 and turned me into the man I am today. It is the voice of my father.
“Yes sir, Mr. Prescott,” says Rick.
“What are you two doing here?” I can’t hide the shock and confusion on my face.
If there are two people I would’ve never thought I’d see stand side by side it’s Pollock and Mr. Prescott.
“What the fuck is going on? Who is he?” I ask, gesturing towards Rick.
He shakes his head in disappointment. “Language, young man. You were always a bit of a savage. We…I did what I could for you but you never really were a good fit.”
“A good fit? I loved you!!”
“Yes, well I can’t say we felt the same Mr., uh?”
“Prescott! My name is Prescott!” At this Pollock laughs.
“If you insist. I suppose it’s high time you heard this. You were selected from a rather small group of candidates from the Forester Home for Boys. We are always scouting for young men to join our ranks as apprentices. That is how we came to find “Pollock”. Pollock, as you call him, was already in my care and in place at the Forest, before your arrival. He surveyed the lot, determined you were the pick of the litter and informed me. Everything he told you then about himself and in regards to your search has been a carefully crafted lie. Bringing you into our home was to be a glorious day for the Black Hand. Alas, it was a catastrophic failure.”
“…What?” It is literally all I can muster. My entire world is collapsing to its foundation.
“I am, or should I say, we are, part of a large but private group of individuals.” He extends his arms out wide in an encompassing manner that includes himself, Pollock, me, and Rick.
I have never felt more alone in my entire life. The range of emotions that are crashing down on me range from hurt to confusion to rage. Trying to process what he is telling me, this man who I consider my father, is damn near impossible in my current physical and emotional state.
“You see…boy, we have people everywhere. We are The Black Hand. We are the human servants of the 88. It is time you learned what you walked away from. Demons exist, boy! They have for a very long time. The stories I told you when you were younger were not stories at all, but truths, legends of our history. But you wouldn’t listen. Our family, the Prescott Family is a conduit to this collection of demons. We are, for lack of a better term, The First Family.”
“In order to serve The 88 in a more fitting manner, the Demon known as Chaos came to our plane and gave my family a small sample of his essence. I was able to take his essence and deliver it to several Black Hand agents in pivotal positions within our construct,” he continued.
What in God’s name are you talking about?” I asked, “Demons?”
“Look around boy! See what we created and maybe the big picture will develop for you.”
I’m trying to focus. To process all he dropped on me in the last few minutes. Looking around the room again I see the Freaks, and then I continue to scan in search of whatever he wants me to see. I don’t get it. All I see are… are… the Freaks!!!!
“No!! Father please don’t tell me you had a hand in this! The Freaks? They broke the world!”
“YES boy! They did! BH-2014!! It practically had our name on it! Because what Chaos wants Chaos will always get! So sayeth the Black Hand!”
“The Collapse! The Descent!! It was you!?”
“No, boy, it was us! You have played your part all along. How is it that you think you came to be on our radar? It was Chaos.” My Father’s eyes begin to glow an unbelievable red. But it isn’t blood; it’s more like light. His voice drops to a deep bass and he speaks again.
“It was me, boy, that chose you. Your mother and father were eliminated so that you would end up in the cradle of the Black Hand. It was what I wished, so it was. You have performed excellently for us since we assumed control of this world. “Safe Zones”, as you call them do not exist. It is merely the will of The 88 that your world believe it is so. Every person you have delivered to a safe zone since Chaos has come to reign has been converted to a Black Hand soldier.”
“NO! That can’t be,” I scream in horror. But I can see it on his face. The truth.
“But it is,” says Chaos through my father. “Many of our very best Black Hand agents have no idea they are puppets to the Master. Prescott, you must stop this fight. Your world is lost. There is but a brief time left before the pure humans are converted. You are defeated. The 88 demons have claimed our prize. Truth. Beauty. Human nature. Free will! All is lost but for a few. Mark my words. They will fall.”
My father’s eyes returned to their natural color and his voice reverted to his own. Chaos had left and returned to whatever plane he existed on. I can’t believe I said that.
“Father, where is Emily?” I ask.
“First things first. From this day forward you will never call me that again. The mere thought of it sickens my stomach,” he says.
“What do you mean? I’m your son,” I say, eyes locked on the man.
“It’s very simple really. You are not my son nor were you ever. You are a disgrace. My son stands at my side. As for Emily,” he says matter of factly, “your relationship with her effectively ended any connection I would ever have with you.”
Emily Prescott, my sister, disappeared before the Collapse and has been missing for the last two years. I first noticed her missing when she was absent from our weekly breakfast meet up. The timing isn’t exact but Emily’s disappearance and the announcement to the public concerning BH-2014 were within a week of each other. After repeated attempts to connect with her failed, I went straight to Pollock. He went to work on it right away. I knew I could trust him. If I couldn’t find her, which was difficult to conceive, Pollock would. Of course, after the infected broke, quarantine everything went sideways.
Chaos let loose on the world but we couldn’t worry about that. The creatures were spreading the disease faster than anyone could think of a way to stop it. All we could focus on in the early months was how to survive in Chicago. Forget the world. Forget the United States of America. Forget the next town over. Survival in our own back yard was the first point.
In the beginning the most common ways we communicated were gone before we knew it. There was no internet and cell phone towers crashed to the ground. Society was literally collapsing before our eyes. People had no concept of how to continue, and many didn’t even want to.
There hasn’t been a day over the last couple of years that I haven’t been chasing the points in search of Emily. Since I began, people close to me have speculated about her death. Early on Cooper told me she could have been a Dreamer. One of the million or so people who checked out instead of sticking around to see what happened. Others told me the Freaks could have gotten her. I couldn’t confirm any of these theories, so I refused to accept them. When family is at stake you never give up until you know.
My relationship with Emily had a very inauspicious beginning. What fifteen year old girl, who’s used to the life of an only child suddenly wants to share the limelight with a twelve year old stranger? Moreover, this decision had been made without the benefit of her inclusion. Nothing was asked of her or even insinuated to her that this was about happen. The Prescotts are a wealthy family, and Emily was not about to share her key to the vault.
Over time however, we began to build an understanding. A begrudging trust arrived through heated discussions about who belonged there and who didn’t. After those details were ironed out and I was accepted, we graduated to many late night question and answer sessions about each other’s lives leading up to my arrival at Prescott Manor. Emily had questions about my time in the Forest where I had had nothing. I of course had questions for the girl who had everything.
“Not everything,” she would say.
Emily wanted love. The Prescotts had money; that was never in doubt. What they didn’t seem to have was time for their daughter. It seemed they were always in business meetings. When Emily would ask about these meetings her father would always tell her, “It’s none of your concern right now dear. When you’re older we’ll discuss it.”
While Emily was blindsided by my arrival she was secretly thrilled. Finally! Someone to talk to. Someone to laugh with. Cry with. A potential advocate and possible protector. It didn’t matter that I was younger because Emily had no male presence in her life. She alleged that her friends liked her for her status and any boy that liked her never bothered to know her. My relationship with Emily was a process.
The next three years were shared in commiseration as my relationship with my parents continued to degrade. When I turned 18 I’d had enough. While money, power, and status were what drove them, they meant nothing to me. I chose to believe it was the influence of my natural family. My mother and father steering me away from the cold, heartless influences likes those of the Prescotts. Emily begged me to stay. She needed me. She said I was the only person she trusted. To turn my back on her would be a betrayal of the highest magnitude.
I did leave, though. For several years our relationship was fractured. When I returned from Iraq we reunited. The time I spent over there changed my life. I learned to fight. I learned to survive. I learned to kill. With a gun, a knife, and with my hands I could take life. I was also able, through rigorous training, to hone my skills at tracking. When I was on the hunt there was no escaping me.
The most significant thing I learned in the year I served was that there is no bond stronger than family. Family can mean The Marine Corps, your unit, your friends, your sister a thousand miles away. I resolved once my tour was up to get home and be the presence in Emily’s life she needed me to be.
We reconciled in a very short time. Emily couldn’t ever stay mad at me long. It was then that we decided on regular breakfast meetings. Over these meetings we decided that we were all the family we needed. She used to sing that old song by Bill Withers:
“Uh, Em, you know that song’s about a couple right?” And we would laugh.
I never thought the day would come that I wouldn’t be there for her.
“Where is she?” I say through gritted teeth.
“That has always been your problem boy,” Mr. Prescott says. “You have never had the instinct to look around you and understand the bigger picture.”
“What are you saying?
“She made you weak.”
“Made me weak? I’m sorry sir, I still don’t understand.”
“The Black Hand was your destiny, boy. You were to replace me when the time was right. But the more time you spent with her the more distracted you became. You wouldn’t commit to your lessons. You became…soft.”
“The Black Hand! Death, destruction, madness? That was my destiny? ” I screamed.
“The Black Hand exists to serve The 88! Chaos chose you!! My son! It was the happiest day of my life. All the work I had done in service to The 88 had been rewarded. You were to be my greatest achievement. But no, you failed to see the points right in front of you. You missed the connection and never registered it as being within your grasp. You failed so completely you were never told of The Black Hand. You were never told of our family’s legacy!“
“Where is she?”
He laughs, bitter. “Emily made sure that you would never be anything more than a common citizen. There is no greater disappointment in the eyes of The Black Hand then to be without the influence of Chaos. As your relationship grew stronger you were more unwilling to listen. Emily’s influence on your social development was something I never anticipated. She kept introducing you to subjects outside the spectrum of your development within our objective.”
“To punish me for my greatest failure, and especially to torture you, Chaos chose to take her for his own needs. Of course, it really wasn’t a punishment to me. I hardly cared. Emily was good for appearances. Family and all. My life belongs solely to facilitating the agenda of The 88 through the all powerful Chaos.”
“It was you he was really hurting. He knew you’d want to find her. Chaos also thought he could re-purpose you to assist The Black Hand in its search for foot soldiers.” As he explained this, he made his way across the room and stood directly in front of me.
“Please. Tell me where she is. I’ve looked for her for since the Collapse. Emily is lost,” I said. “I can’t find her. I admit this to you.”
“For something that you seemed to cherish, how did you manage to take so little care of it that you lost it?”
His words slam into me and it feels like my heart has been ripped from my chest.
“I need to know,” I stammer.
“She’s dead, boy,” he says, dripping with spite. “The term for her status would be Patient Zero: Deceased. Now please go back to whatever miserable hole you came from and stay out of our lives forever.”
I never anticipated that this would be the end game. Dropping to my knees, I feel her loss with every fiber of my being. I look at him with incredulity.
“You killed your own daughter for this Black Hand? What the fuck is wrong with you?”
“I did it because there is nothing greater than pleasing our master. Chaos is the one truth and destruction is his eternal message. The Descent, as you foolish people call it, is his Masterpiece!! Everyone within The Black Hand understands the significance. Nothing comes before our servitude. In keeping with the previously stated principles I feel there is no other recourse than to terminate you immediately. Pollock will you do the honors?”
“With pleasure,” he says.
Renewed by rage I rise to my feet and turn to face Pollock as he rushes towards me with a lunging jab. I sidestep his jab, slip behind him, and bring my arm around his neck in a tight choke. He knows he’s in trouble but there’s little he can do about it.
“What the fuck man?” I rasp into his ear. “I loved you like a brother!”
“You don’t fucking get it. You’re still making this about you and your bullshit. You don’t mean shit to me. Glory to The Black Hand and the coming of The 88!”
My adrenaline says he’s simply outmatched. I tighten the hold on my former friend and with tears in my eyes I give his head a violent jerk, feeling the snap of his neck, and drop him to the floor.
“Fuck you, whatever your name was.”
Rick, who had understood his place and backed away when Pollock rushed me, now stood with his mouth agape at Pollock’s dead body.
“You’ll pay for that with your life, Prescott!”
He screams and charges me with a large knife he’s grabbed from the table that had been amidst the poker chips and guns. He swings it at me, misses wildly and falls to the floor. Getting up, he roars with rage. He has now engaged in a full on break.
First his eyes completely cloud over in the classic blood red. As he glares at me, blood begins to seep from the pores over his face, arms and back. This is one of the most frightening things I have ever seen.
“You’re a fucking dead man, Prescott!”
He rushes me with the knife held high. As the bloody half-breed creature brings the knife down towards my chest I meet his thrust half way with both my hands. The violence of his motion is more than my strength can handle and the blade continues toward my chest. I’m barely able to deflect it to the right side as the blade plunges through my shirt and about an inch into my chest.
Simultaneously I bring my foot up with all the strength I have left and kick him in the balls. Fuck fair play. As he reacts to his new found pain I drop a calculated bone breaking shot with my elbow to his knife holding wrist. He screams again and drops the knife. The knife falls handle down into my left hand and in a fluid movement I thrust it straight up under his chin through his mouth and into his skull. He falls to the ground in a heaping pile of death.
The room is in shock. I have just killed two ranking soldiers in The Black Hand in a matter of minutes. The remaining Freaks in the room emerge from the shadows. I’m ten or more feet from the table, where among other guns I see my Glocks. I kneel down and, using my boot as leverage, pull the knife from Rick’s face.
“All right everybody! Listen up. You do not have to die tonight! I just took out a couple of your guys, OK. That was personal. Family business. There is no need to add your name to the count. Walk away. I’m telling you guys, walk away.”
After a brief pause one of the Freaks shoots his hands into the air and heads for the closed metal door. He pulls it open vigorously and the door rolls to the right, whining until it reaches the end of its track.
“Yes!” I say to myself.
“OK. That’s one guy that wants to live. Anyone else?” I ask.
A voice emerges from the shadows, along with a face. “It’s actually you that’s gonna die tonight, Prescott. Kill him!”
I break towards the table as fast as I can. Throwing the knife I put down the Freak closest to me with a blade to the forehead. Continuing my sprint towards the table I slide headfirst across it in a dive, taking all of its contents with me over the side. Thankfully the table falls the way I need so I have a thin layer of cover, and guns.
I can hear and feel the small table begin taking heavy fire. I have to move or die. I reach up and fire several rounds in every direction and quickly get a look at the battlefield. My Glocks were fully loaded when I came in here tonight, and I’ve only fired a few rounds. I pick up another couple of guns, check the clips, and put them in my waistband.
Taking only a second I rise up from behind the table and begin firing at everything I can see moving. A Freak goes down, but most of the others run for cover as I race for the open metal door. Bullets fly past me as the wall, tables, chairs, and lights get shot to hell.
Barely making it through the door, I head for the bar. This is where I’ll make my stand. One against three. Where I’ve been, what I’ve done, that’s a fair fight. At a dead sprint I dive over the bar and crash into the wall of glasses behind me before hitting the ground.
The end of this begins with my father. No matter how long it takes. And when I do find him I will take his most prized possession. For Emily I will take his life.
Taking a quick inventory, it appears I’ve been grazed by a shot to the arm and I have a deep cut above my knee from the glass. I still have all four of my guns and I am still of sound mind and body. Without a thought, I reach up and put both of the Glocks on the bar. I don’t think I’m going to be reloading when this thing starts so I want to kick it off with two fully loaded weapons.
Looking around, I pick up an unbroken glass out of a pile of shards. I put the glass under the tap of the Argus Ironhorse Lager and pull. No shit. If I’m going to die, I want the taste of the finest beer I’ve ever had on my tongue. I’m not being funny. I’m trying not to become hysterical. This has all been little much for me.
I down the half glass, stand up and throw it in the direction of the Freaks. They’ve already started to come out from their cover and shoot at me. The flying glass and its subsequent shattering distracts them.
In the seconds that the glass is in the air and before it shatters I’ve already drawn my guns and have begun firing. I kill two Freaks immediately with head shots. In turn I am shot again in the same arm and receive copious cuts as the mirror shatters behind me. I keep shooting until the last creature is dead.
I’d like to say I stand in silence for a moment but lights, mirrors, glasses, and shells continued to crash and clink to the floor. I drop the hot weapons to the bar and take a deep breath, using the smoking weapons as a poor man’s smelling salts to bring myself back around.
My father is nowhere to be seen. I semi-limp hastily out the front door and into the freezing night. The cold hits me in every one of the individual injuries from the last several hours. Turning 360 degrees I don’t see him anywhere. Panic and anger attempt to make their way towards my heart but I won’t let them. Not this time. Not ever again.
I walk back inside and retrieve my overcoat and tie. I slip on the coat and gingerly tie the tie around the cut on my leg. In the aftermath of all this violence, every bone in my body hurts. I flip up the collar, wincing in pain and button the coat to the top. I don’t care what the old man says.
I make the rules now. I have a new destiny and it starts with The Black Hand. Then I’ll talk to Chaos. I will not rest until all points are checked and the final connection is made. The end of this begins with my father. No matter how long it takes. And when I do find him I will take his most prized possession. For Emily I will take his life.
I push the heavy oak door open and walk once again out into the bitter cold. I plunge both hands deep into the pockets of my overcoat and I swear as the first tears begin freezing to my face. I hustle to the Comanche, pull the door open, and climb in. I wipe the tears from my cheeks and breathe in deeply through my nose. I take a moment to try and collect my thoughts about everything that went down inside The 88. Fuck THEM. Maybe tomorrow. I reach up and pull down the sun visor. There in the plastic sleeve is a picture of me and Emily.
I’ve looked at this picture thousands of times over the last two plus years. In the picture, we’re standing next to each other with wide happy smiles. No idea what’s coming. Every time I looked at it I told her I would not fail her, I would find her. That we would be the family we were meant to be.
Just the two of us.
I did fail her though. I will have to live with that. Holding the picture in my bloodstained hand I close my eyes, and let the emotion overtake me.