This week I'm posting unfinished stories I've written. This piece is from my freshly written, unfinished Zombie Novel. Here is the first installment of Chapter One: "Feeding Time."
The gravel road—if it could even be called a road—was easily missed. It was a side road off another side road, a back-back road tucked deeply into the rolling hills and sleepy anonymity of the Santa Ynez wine country. It didn’t have a street sign or lights. Orton knew this was intentional. He wasn’t supposed to find this road. Nobody was—unless they knew exactly where this road led and the unspeakable secret it was hiding.
Orton glanced in his rearview mirror before making a quick turn onto the side road. It was almost nightfall and the roads were quiet. The surrounding hills, turning a deep shade of bruised green in the twilight, were full of shadows. It had taken him all afternoon to make sense of the hand-scrawled map he’d been following. A faint surge of foreboding ran up his spine. Maybe he should come back in the morning. As if on cue, the gasoline warning light on his car’s dashboard came on.
But he didn’t want to be seen from the road. So, he slammed the gas pedal and sped up the hill, toward a dense forest of eucalyptus trees. He would simply get a lay of the land, he told himself. He’d come too far today just to turn away. And besides, he had no way of knowing whether he was being followed. Perhaps the men were already on his trail. Evangeline had given him the map secretly—but he knew all too well the manipulative coercions of The Sola Society. If he didn’t get back soon, Evangeline’s safety would be in jeopardy.
The road bumped along through the trees for about a mile before opening up to a narrow lane at that edged the top of a hill. Orton killed the car lights and cruised to a stop. He was sitting at the cusp of a hill that overlooked a wide meadow dotted with what looked to be single-story barracks. But something wasn’t quite right.
Pulling a pair of binoculars from his backpack, he zoomed in for a closer look. These were no ordinary barracks: these had steel doors and heavily barred windows. A double barbed wire fence enclosed the barracks and just outside the fence, a two-story brick home with a specially built guard tower stood watch. In a sudden jolt of fear, Orton realized that his car would be easily visible to anyone looking up at the hill. Slamming the car into reverse, he backed down into the eucalyptus forest and pulled the car off the road. After parking behind some shrubs, he grabbed his backpack and decided to approach the compound on foot.
The forest was quickly darkening and being careful to stay well within the shadows of the trees, Orton made his way up the hill. He waited at the edge of the forest until it was fully dark. And then, hunched over, he scuttled up to the narrow lane that overlooked the meadow. Flattening himself to the ground, he pulled out his binoculars and scanned the compound. All was still. But not quiet.
Strange, guttural cries were wafting up from the barracks. Orton fished in his backpack for his camera and manually adjusted the setting to night-vision. The sounds were growing louder, demanding. Someone—or something—started pounding on the barrack doors. Suddenly, the front door of the brick home flew open and a shaft of light spilled out across the lawn. Orton watched as four men emerged, each carrying a rifle. The men seemed to be joking among themselves, slapping each other on the back as they headed for the barbed wire enclosure.
Orton glanced at the map Evangeline had drawn for him. On the side, she’d written: 8pm: feeding. According to his wristwatch, it was 8:17. Feeding time was late. Orton looked back at the guards who were busily prepping what appeared to be troughs of feed. But from his vantage point, Orton couldn’t tell what exactly the feed was. He decided to move even closer. After all, if he were going to gather actual pictorial evidence, he needed to be within range of his camera’s telefoto lens.
Orton army-crawled down the side of hill, making sure to keep just outside of the lit area. He was about half way down the hill when he saw the guards hauling round plastic bins toward the feeding troughs. Orton peered through his camera’s telefoto lens. Two guards hefted the round bins while the other two used shovels to empty the contents. Orton sucked in his breath. The bins were full of squiggly, pink and gray chunks. Brains.
Tomorrow, part 2 of Chapter One!