“Scorched” – Camp NaNoWriMo
*The first two chapters of my Camp NaNoWriMo novel “Scorched” starts below this short blog post. If you are already familiar with the premise of NaNoWriMo, then you may want to just skip straight to it.*
In November of each year there is a digital event that happens around the world. The event is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short. The goal for that month is to write 50,000 words in a single month. This breaks down into about 1,667 words every single day. It is a lot of dedication, and I have never done it.
The people who run the event have branched out to also include April (Camp NaNoWriMo). It has the same basic formula. Write 1,667 a day or more, and hit at or above 50,000 words in April and you ‘win’. I am attempting to win this year, and so far have met target each day.
Below you will find the complete first two chapters of my Camp NaNoWriMo novel project. Keep in mind that these are all very rough draft versions. I will clean them all up in the re-write and editing phases. The whole point of the event, though, is to write fast and get a story out and completed–even if it sucks at first. So, keeping this in mind, I hope you enjoy the rough beginnings about a not-so-distant future were the sh** has hit the fan.
It had been nearly two years since John Shepherd had sealed the front door of the tin can he now lived in. He knew that because his wife never let him skip a tally on the paper near his cot. They hadn’t seen the sun since the day the metal bolts screamed shut, and that was a blessing as far as they could tell, but his watch had faithfully counted down the days. Twenty-two months. It sounded like an incredible amount of time when he thought about it. It felt far longer.
John sat up in his sweaty cot and pressed a button on his watch. It confirmed what the windowless cell could not. It was morning. Another day had passed. He stood and walked over to the far wall. They were both still sleeping, but that was typical. John hadn’t slept a full night since the event happened. How his wife and daughter could sleep so long and seemingly comfortable in this place was beyond him. He would let them sleep in, though. What did they have to wake up to? There was no job for Sarah to hustle off to. There was no daycare to drop Hope off at. There was no need to disturb their comfort and usher them back from their dreams to a living nightmare.
Using the faint glow of a flashlight on its last days of life, he walked over and slashed another tally through a row of four. Tomorrow would start a new grouping of five. He walked toward the end of the cylinder and leaned over a small table containing a radio, a receiver, and some papers. He clicked the flashlight off partly to save battery and partly to not accidentally disturb the sleeping, then leaned in close to the speaker. He twisted the knob slightly and heard the low pop sound indicating the device had managed to start up again. He twisted through the stations slowly, straining to hear beyond the whispering static for a human voice. One pass up and then back down through all of the AM frequencies. Nothing. Another pass up and down through FM. Nothing.
He wasn’t surprised. By this point, he wasn’t even disappointed. The radio had stopped picking up anything from the outside world barely into their third month. At first it was tragic, and they scanned the frequencies near constantly for weeks. Now it was just a ritual. He knew it didn’t matter anymore. He mainly did it for her.
A squeeze on the shoulder let him know that Sarah was up.
“Anything on the radio?”
“Nah. Still nothing.”
“Ah …” After all these days she still had hope. There was disappointment in her voice.
“Yeah … I mean, you know. Like usual.”
“I miss our bed. I miss laying with you.”
“Honey, please. I know. It does no good talking about any of it. It’s gone. We have what we have.”
“But what if it’s not? What if—” He felt guilty for zoning her out, but he couldn’t stand paying her notions of the outside any heed. They were dangerous. She had been talking more and more of how she questioned if the outside was really all that bad. “I mean, what if this old radio is just broken? You know? And we’re buried down here for no reason. I’d be so pissed. Well, happy at the same time … but you know what I mean. John? John are you even listening to me?”
He rubbed his forehead with thumb and fingertips. She was wrong, he knew, but every time she spoke of the outside it made him question himself as well. Before the radio cut out, how long had the news stations said it’d be before it was safe out again? Six months? A year? He couldn’t remember. Surely if it was safe again there would be contact. Some radio station would be broadcasting. He twisted the radio knob again and it popped to life. He ritualistically scanned frequencies again. The static told him that Sarah was wrong.
“Mumma?” Hope was awake. He hated it when she had to wake up. Not because he didn’t want to be with her or see her face—a face that seemed so full of life despite the situation—but because he didn’t want her to have to spend a single, real second in this hole. When she slept, she could be anywhere.
Sarah turned on the flashlight and went over to the cot, then sat by her only child and hugged her with one arm. “Did we wake you up?” She shook her head in confirmation. “The radio?” Another shake. “It’s okay, it’s off for now. You can go back to sleep.”
John had been trying to ignore the hunger pangs twisting at his gut, but her words made them roar again. Another good reason for sleeping. “Alright, let’s see what’s on the menu today.” He stood and walked to the opposite corner of the radio. He grabbed the pull-string for the little generator and pulled hard. The motor turned but didn’t take. Everything in this place seemed to feel as if it had been there more than two years. The generator had been new when they closed the doors—never used but for a test run. He pulled again; this time it took. The motor came to life and flooded the place with noise. He flipped a switch and a warm light irradiated the cylinder.
He walked over to a slide off-shoot to the main tube and moved some cans around looking for his daughter’s favorite—peaches.
“Where’s the damn peaches? I could have sworn we had a can left.”
“Gone? You ate them? Damn it Sarah. You know we have to stick to the paper. You’re the one that figured it all out. We can’t just—”
“She was hungry,” she interrupted.
“She’s always hungry! We’re always hungry! If we don’t stick to the plan we’ll all starve to death. Do you understand that?”
Hope started to cry, burrowing her head into her mother’s side. “You don’t talk like that to me. And not in front of her. She woke up saying her belly hurt. She needed to eat. And yeah, I gave her the peaches. I’ll just go without.”
He felt bad for losing it, but the cans were dwindling. The shelter had only been stocked with eighteen months of supplies. More than he thought he would ever need for anything. Certainly enough for his friends to think he was some strange hoarder. When month fourteen had come and there was still no radio contact, he had made a decision. They both had. They would stay put until the two year mark. They would ration the rest of the food. Sarah had done the math. It would last. It had to.
“No … no. I will. I’m sorry.” He walked over to the two people he loved more than life itself, then knelt beside their cot. “Hey there. Hope? We’re out of peaches buddy, but there’s one with mixed fruit still. You remember? That has peaches too. You want that?” She pulled her head out of the tear-stained cloth and nodded, then smiled. “I thought you might.” John walked back over to the shelves and found the container of mixed fruit. He grabbed an old metal can opener and began twisting. Before long his daughter was bouncing up and down, eating peaches and avoiding the pears. He admired her. In this place, this dark and miserable cell buried under the Earth, she could still be happy.
Sarah had walked back over to the table with the radio and was staring at it though it wasn’t on. He walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.
“Expecting a call?” He attempted at a joke.
“Hoping.” The words made them both look back at their daughter again. “Do you remember when we brought her home?”
“How could I not.”
“I think about it everyday. After spending what … two months with her in the hospital? God … I thought we’d never make it out. But we did. We got out from that place, and we took her home. I remember you carrying her car seat up our blue steps and through the door.”
“I remember. She had that little hat on. It was spring and cold as hell out.”
“Yep. I was more worried you’d fall down in the snow with her than I think I’d ever been worried at the hospital. Okay, maybe not, but—”
“Snow? It was barely a dusting of it.” He laughed. It felt good. He couldn’t remember the last time he had really laughed. Months … at least. He put on a happy face sometimes for his daughter, but it was never more than a mask. All happiness was a facade down here. There was always the veil of the shelter squeezing every attempt at joy back into its dark confines.
“The house. I miss our house, John. I can’t keep doing this. I … I’ll—”
“Sarah stop, please. I counted the paper when I put the tally on today. We have a couple more months then I will try to go out and see if it is okay. Just wait.”
“That’s what you said at a year. Then at Hope’s last birthday. God John. She can’t spend her life down here. We have to leave.”
John looked over at the remains of what was once a modest food supply. None of them could spend their lives down there, at least … not for much longer. He wasn’t even sure if they had enough rations to last until the twenty-fourth month ended—with or without the peaches.
A familiar but unexpected pop brought John’s attention back to his wife and the table. She had leaned forward and turned the knob.
“Honey …” He shook his head and sighed. “I’ve already been through it twice today. There’s nothing. Not on any station. AM or FM.”
She ignored him as she finished her scan of the FM stations.
“See? Just turn it off. It’s one thing to hope, but you’ll drive yourself crazy again.” He stopped talking. He hadn’t meant to say it. They hadn’t spoke about it in almost seven months. He let go of her and stepped up beside her, leaning down and looking at her face. If she had heard what he said, she didn’t seem to have been bothered by it. There was no look of sadness or hate on her face, only determination. “Come on, turn it off. You need to eat something too.” She was halfway through the AM stations now. “I’m going to skip breakfast. You two need to eat more than me; I’ll be okay. And no, I’m not saying that ‘cause of the peaches.”
Again she seemed to ignore him, her full concentration on the dial as if trying to will a voice to come through the speaker. Nothing but static came.
John grabbed her arm and tried to pull her away, but she jerked it away and gave him an angry look though she said nothing. She turned slowly, and suddenly there was a change in the static for a second before it was gone.
“Did you hear that?” she asked, turning her concentrated gaze toward John’s eyes. He had heard it too, though he wasn’t sure what it was.
“Go back …”
She slowly turned the dial back down, then up again, struggling to find the exact frequency with the needle that had displayed the anomaly. Finally it came to rest on 1024.
“This is … … … I am at the … … … Can anyone … me. If … … … come to the … I repeat. Come …”
The lights and radio clicked off, the sound of the generator was replaced with a child’s scream. John raced to the machine and pulled the cord. Nothing. He propped his foot on a metal rung and pulled again, and again. Nothing. He pulled until his arms burned and his body raced through stored calories that he couldn’t spare until finally the machine sprang to life again. Without word or acknowledgment the couple rushed to the radio again and turned it back on. John rolled the knob straight to AM 1024 and strained to hear anything. Static.
Sarah pushed his hand out of the way and tried twisting the knob slowly back and fourth. Still nothing. They both looked at each other with very different expressions. Hope and relief filled Sarah’s eyes and painted a widening smile across her face. John was confused. Worried.
Whether for better or worse, he knew someone else had survived and they were out there beyond the safety of his door. There would be no stopping her from having them leave the safety of the shelter now.
Edgar Wolfe approached the house under a blanket of stars. It was awe inspiring how the sky looked at night once the light of man had been taken out of the equation—almost frightening. He hopped up three unfamiliar steps and grabbed the handle of a large, red door and twisted it.
Locked—they always are.
He stepped back and took a deep, slow breath, filling his nostrils with a hundred different scents, each one distinct and intense. He kicked hard beside the handle and the door exploded inward with no hesitation.
So easy. Why even have locks?
The inside was pitch black, the house’s roof shielding it from the far off lights of the night sky, but Edgar Wolfe could still see everything clearly. He was a predator, he knew. Something beyond human; above all the other worthlessness that polluted his planet. His senses were heightened. The darkness was his playground and he welcomed it, though the same blackout had made his prey far more elusive than it had ever been in the thirty years before.
He walked passed a living area and into an open kitchen and dining room. He sniffed the air again and smiled at the smell of rot. The food in the fridge had long since gone bad, and the open cabinets told him there were no cans to feast from. He would not find nourishment here, but the smell was powerful. He could appreciate that.
As if returning to his own home, he strode towards the stairs to the second floor. They were right where he knew they would be. He climbed them slowly, enjoying the feeling of the hair standing on the back of his neck as he approached the unknown. Everything in the house was still in place. No intruders had come here yet, aside from the Wolfe.
Attached to the staircase were images of a family. Every photo showed the trio smiling or laughing, but Edgar Wolfe knew that photos were frozen lies. People took them with the intension of looking back on happy memories, regardless how agonizing it was to have a young child sit still during the Christmas picture. The husband, wife, and daughter he saw as he ascended were real enough, but he had doubts their lives were like the ones in those frames.
At the top of the stairs he entered the first door in the hall, and a new scent filled his nostrils. This room was still flawless as well. A deep crib sat against the wall, a mobile dangling a lion, sheep, and elephant hung over it, long since silent and still. He approached the window and pushed the sun-bleached curtains aside and stared out into the night. Below in the grass of a modest backyard was the sign of what he had been hoping for. This house had a shelter. He had been in a dozen or more since the events first occurred, and each one had an entrance way just like that. There was a divot in the ground towards the back of the lot, and in its center was what looked like the imprint of a large hatch. He would go there soon, but for now he wanted to savor the anticipation.
Edgar left the smell of baby powder behind as he passed by a bathroom. He let himself inside and turned the faucet on—nothing. He hadn’t expected there to be water, but he always tried. He removed the back of the toilet seat and dipped his hand to the bottom. There was little left, but it would do. He cupped his hand repeatedly as he pulled the tepid water to his lips. He could taste the staleness of it and the mold, but it was wet.
He left the bathroom and entered what he knew had to be the master bedroom. A large flat screen TV hung mounted on the wall opposite the bed. Someone must have paid a lot of money for that. And now it was useless. Less than useless. Edgar smiled at the idea. He had always felt that reliance on technology for pleasure was a stop sign for evolution.
We weren’t meant for that.
He approached the king-size bed and trailed his hand over the soft ends of the quilts. In that moment he could picture the couple from the happy pictures by the stairs. Behind the closed doors of their bedroom, those facades vanished. Images of fights and arguments, tears and anger flooded his mind. People were always different behind the barriers of their homes. He knew that first hand.
He left the upstairs and made his way to the back door through the laundry room; just where he knew it would be. He turned the lock and deadbolt on the white, windowed door and pulled it inward. The cool, dry air rushed in and surrounded him in an intense pull, sending stray locks of hair flapping in front of his face. Approaching a small shed on the opposite wall from the shelter, he passed by a grill and swing set. More useless things from a life that never mattered. Inside the building he found what he needed—a simple crowbar.
He approached the divot and knelt to the ground. Using his hands he pushed the gathered dirt and dust that shrouded the entrance. The grit felt good between his fingers and under his nails, and the disturbed dirt flooded him with a new smell. This was going to be a good one. He could feel it.
As he had done before, Edgar pushed the tip of the crowbar into the gap between door and frame. He pulled the bar and felt sweat bead onto his forehead. He pulled again, then switched sides and began to push downward instead. The sweat began to run now, and all of the liquid he had scraped from the toilet was lost. The bounty would be worth it. His eyes began to burn from the moisture rolling down his brow, and soon the taste of salt teased his tongue. He savored this new rush as he pushed again. The hinge screamed as it popped loose. The second came off easier than the first, and the last two both gave up their fights and unlatched with ease.
Edgar Wolfe laughed and wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. It was funny how whoever had sold and installed this shelter had undoubtedly preached its reliability and how impenetrable it was from the outside, but here he was prying safety away with iron.
Nigh impenetrable! Get our shelter and protect yourself from whatever may be outside!
It was all a load of shit, but that was what most people preached, Edgar knew, be it on an infomercial or in a chapel. Some CEO and president had filled their pockets with the money of the scared, and what good had it done them? What would they spend their millions on now?
If any of the fat bastards are even still alive.
He walked down a short flight of stairs into the cool earth and came to the second door. The last barrier that kept the wolves from the sheep. He stopped for a moment and imagined what was inside. There would be food, no doubt, and water too. He would consume them both gladly, but there was a possibility that something even more enticing waited behind the doors—something that Edgar Wolfe needed more than canned fruit and warm water.
Sliding the thin point of the crowbar under the base of the door, he jumped onto the opposite side with all his weight. A metal pin popped up from a lock shaft below. A loud humming assaulted his ears, and the brightness of two ceiling lights burned his eyes as the large door swung inward on its frame—two things he had definitely not expected. As he shielded some of the light with his hand and tried to blink into focus, new scents once again rushed to his brain, one of which he knew all too well—death.
In all the rip-off shelters in the grounds of the suburbs he had broken into so far, this was a first. He had encountered some unused, lying buried in pristine condition, dormantly waiting for a host. Hell, he had spent two weeks in one like that just a few months back until his itch returned and he needed to look for new prey. His favorite though were the ones with people still inside. Most had been like that. The sheer terror on their faces when he entered was intoxicating. No matter who they were, they were always so in-explicitly unprepared.
Most of them had had groups of people—families or friends—but for some reason he now thought of the second he had ever gained entry too. It was only a few weeks after the first event, back when the riots and looting were still happening—back before the second blast. He had opened the cell the same as he had now, only the pry-bar had been a shovel instead.It was only his second, but when the door had swung inward Edgar had truly felt it would be his last. The man inside was waiting and prepared. Or at least he thought he was. He stood facing the door with a sawed off shotgun in his hands, but he never fired. He was frozen, just like a deer in the gaze of a spotlight. He knew he should defend himself or run from this predator, but he was paralyzed.
Edgar knew that every fiber of the man’s being was telling him to shoot, but he couldn’t. There is some moral switch in the minds and hearts of most men not to take a life. Some evolutionary tick still embedded in the DNA from when our kind still needed to cherish every life in order to procreate and populate. It was a weakness that Edgar had never had. He slit the man’s throat where he stood, ate the last half of a can of already opened beans, and left with a new weapon.
There were people in this new shelter too, and like the one so many months ago, they were harmless.
What used to be a man and woman lay crumpled and decaying against the back corner of the shaft. The softest parts of their bodies were gone along with several of their limbs. Against the left wall and hanging from the exhaust pipe of the humming generator was another corpse too tattered and blackened to identify the gender. Both feet were missing, and the ends of a dirty pair of jeans were ripped and fluttering from the outside breeze.
What the hell happened here.
It was the first time something had beaten him to his work. There was a part of him that was pissed, but another that admired the intenseness of what had to have happened there. He tried to imagine the story. One of the trio died. They were still too scared to go outside, so they put the corpse in the back corner and tried to keep it out of sight, but it was always there, reminding them, haunting them. It sat and silently told them of the inevitable. Then another went, not as quickly or unexpectedly as the first. Left alone in a prison, trapped between the unknown outside and the remnants of death beside them, the last member decided to end it. That had to be it, but …
All adults and one extra. Where’s the kid?
Edgar Wolfe looked around the oversized metal coffin searching for the remnants of a fourth, smaller person. He walked toward the pile of death in the back corner and glanced over to the small corridor where food would have been stored. There was a pile of bones there, and another corpse, but not what he had expected. He knelt beside the mess and pushed against the matted fur with his hand. A chunk of dark black hair ripped from the remains of a canine, and the scent of dog shit suddenly became apparent throughout the hole.
The dumb fucks brought a dog in here with them.
The story that had filled his mind previously began to edit itself with an even darker addendum. After the three adults and kid had died, the dog was still alive. It had probably refused to do more than whimper and sleep at first, but eventually hunger becomes too intense for anything to ignore, and it began to feed on things it once loved — Edgar Wolfe knew this hunger all too well.
I will be writing the rough draft of chapter three tonight. I hope everyone enjoyed, and, as always, thanks for reading!