Character Sheets

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I’ve created a world inhabited by fewer than one hundred people. As it’s progressed, I’ve created character sheets for over half of them. Someone of them will die early in the story, but they’re still connected to the people who survive. These are people who all lived in a County with a small population with a town inside of it that had an even smaller population. From afar, and untouched, mostly, they watched the larger cities fall, watched as sickness and destruction, and monsters, devoured the heavily populated areas on Earth, and finally, like a river that floods finally reaching far flung areas, the small town was all but overwhelmed.

 

For course, I cannot have one hundred main characters, and three of the first one hundred are kill in the first day, but the story weaves a different feel for what’s happening depending on who is in the scene. Thomas Coker and his wife, Brenda, have never lived anywhere else except this small town, and they’ve never known any other people but the people here. They are alone in their direct families, having lost all siblings, children, and most of their close cousins. Yet there are people they’ve know, quite literally, all their lives. When maps are being drawn as to where there might still be un-looted stores of good and places that contain vital pieces of equipment, Thomas knows where to look and he knows three ways to get there and four ways to get back again.

 

Then you have Annie, the young, heavily tattooed, and very liberal pink haired woman from Colorado who became stranded in South Georgia and never made it out. She knows no one, has no idea what happened to her own people and realizes she never will, despises the heat and humidity of the South, and hates the men of the South who view her as some sort of oddity with her face piercings and strange accent. While everyone else in the camp see this place as perhaps a new Eden, Annie see it as nothing less than a prison, and wants nothing more than to leave. But to be on the road alone is certain death, she knows that, too.

 

You have men who are secretly gay, you have women who have cheated on their husbands with men who are in the camp, you have people who have swindled others in the county and they must live and work side by side with these people. You have Robert Peters who worked as a meter reader for thirty years and retired two years before the end came. More than anyone else, Robert is vocal about having been cheated out of something promised, and he represents attachment to the old world that no longer exists in any form. There are those inside the camp who have accumulated great wealth, and there are those inside the camp who have always been dirt poor. There are those who will take to farming and the hard work required to survive and there are those who will simply find a way to die quietly.

 

The cloud hanging over everyone’s head is the lack of children. Of the ninety-seven people in the camp when the story begins, only three are younger than ten years old. Two of those are under five. There is one “real” kid, Jamie Marks, whose parents took turns guarding him until they were killed. He spent five years inside his house never going outside for one moment. At nine years old, Jamie is a lost soul. He has no family, and even though he is adopted by kind people, there is no childhood for him to have now. The camp as seen through the eyes of a little boy who might be the last child alive on earth will be interesting writing.

 

The story begins in September, of 2020. By hard work and some good luck, by Spring the camp has been secured, and the ground must be readied for planting. There is a hot house with vegetables being grown, but there is corn, soybeans, and other large yield crops to grow. The food inside the camp might, if stretched, last for another year, but that would require the people inside to further reduce their calories, and the two meals a day regime is beginning to wear on everyone’s nerves and bodies. They want this harvest to work, they need it to work, and their focus is in making it work, harvesting their crops, and storing food, and making life better for everyone.

 

So suddenly, in a time of plenty, a security camera catches the image of someone trying to sabotage one of the walk-in freezers, that is powered by solar panels. It’s Jamie. Very few people knew there were security cameras, and the question now is, how many are there and where are they? And the question of what to do with a nine year old that came close to ruining many months worth of food? Who decides his fate? What punishment fits the crime?

 

In a camp where food was very scarce, the mood was different and punishment was always a question of how much food to take away from those who committed what offenses they had the energy to commit. Yet now, in a time of plenty, or reasonably so, what is the guiding light of justice if everyone now believes they have beaten starvation?

 

And, the more pragmatic members of the group say, what it this year and next year is not? How many bad years would kill us? How much sabotage would it take to be an extinction level event? Nearly all mothers have lost children, nearly all fathers have lost children, yet here is the last child committing an offense that might be considered worthy of the death penalty if he were an adult. What to do? Who is to do it?

 

Ninety-six people gather in an auditorium to consider the possibilities. What do you think they should include and what would you not consider?

 

Take Care,

Mike

2006

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There was a time that if the power went out and you didn’t have a telephone, that was it; you had no idea what had happened or why, or if something was going to be done about it. I lived years without a phone, and of course, there were no cell phones when I was in the military. Pay phones were all there were for people like me, and I had gotten used to it. I resolved never to get a cell phone when they started becoming popular and affordable. I finally went down in 2006, the same year I started needing glasses to read. I can’t do without glasses now, or a cell phone.

 

I woke up tonight in total darkness and watched the lightning playing across the sky outside. It’s clearing up, finally, and the moon is no longer full, but the dreary weather that’s hung around all day is finally leaving, at least for a few hours. This is Summer in South Georgia, and it will rain in the afternoon and still be ungodly hot at night.

 

Air conditioning is something else I lived without for decades but I’m not sure I could now. I remember it being hot, damn hot, in Valdosta when I lived there, and about the time it was cool enough to get some sleep it was time to wake up. I miss having the sort of immunity from the heat I once had, but old age and air conditioning will take its toll. I cannot imagine the generation of human beings right now if the AC stopped working. They would all die, I think. But once upon a time people who had wells had to look at those people with electric wells the same way. I was a generation away from hauling water in a bucket from a hole in the ground. I think about that on occasion and wonder how anyone survived it, but everyone, or nearly everyone, did.

 

It’s hard to imagine that it’s been twelve years since 2006, but it has been. In that twelve years I’ve become older and slower and my cell phones are now intricate enough to launch rockets into space and bring them back again, but mostly I use it to send text messages to people I’ll see in less than an hour, and to check the weather at work. It’s also a damn good camera. I take a lot of photos of sunsets and of dogs. If I had to say what use of cell phone really is, photos of sunsets and sunrises would have to be the thing I use it most for, and in the end, that really is a pretty good use for the machine.

 

I went and had my eyes checked and I got reading glasses in 2006 because I was running out of excuses at work for taking so much time trying to read things. It wasn’t bad, but it was getting to the point people were asking me if I wanted to borrow their glasses. I remember talking to a man who said he couldn’t read the dates on coins anymore and I found that incredibly strange. Even with my glasses it’s hard to read some of the dates on some coins, and I can remember when it was easy. The man who spoke with me in 2006 about his eyes being gone and mine going died several years ago. He had quit smoking but the damage was done. I quit in 2005, January of 2005, a full year before 2006 rolled around, so I think I’m safe now, or at least I would like to think I am. I get my lungs scanned once a year, on my annual check up, and so far so good.

 

The moon comes out and the dog are restive. They have no idea why I’m up at this hour, when it is very clear I should be sleeping on the bed, so they can too. I have turned the AC off and opened the windows to hear frogs and night noises, and I wonder if there are people who have never heard these things at night, late, when human noises all but ceases? What noises did someone hear when they went to the well late at night, what sounds did they hear that are now forever lost to us? What was it like to stand in front of the well and look down into it, and see starts, perhaps, in the reflection of the sky in the water?

 

I can pull up an app on my cell phone and it will tell me the names of all the stars in the sky, tell me which stars are what planets, and what constellations are wheeling around overheard, even in broad daylight. Yet the person at the well had only memory of words spoken about stars, and might have looked up at a sky unpolluted by security lights and car lights and town lights, this person might have smiled at the sight of the Big Dipper.

 

My cell phone doesn’t have a dipper. I doubt anyone I know still does. Long before plastic bottles became our trash of choice, people used and reused dippers at wells, and no one ever died from it. Or mostly, everyone survived it anyway.

 

There’s no way for most people to go back to digging wells and sleeping with the windows open, and even I shy away from the idea of having to drink water from a hole in the ground. It’s 2018, so many years have passed since they filled in the well at my grandmother’s house, and the outhouse fell into disuse. Now I can drink water from my glass bottle while writing on a computer, and remember 2006, which was interesting for reasons I cannot bring myself to write about quite yet and don’t think I ever will. But in the end, that year has passed, this one will too, and one day, perhaps someone will wonder how we primitive people got by on so little.

 

Take Care,

Mike

Rage in the Rain, on the Road, and Windshield Wipers

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It’s a strange life to lead when getting off work just after midnight is getting off early. The rain started right after work did and a light rain doesn’t kill things off, but a light rain that doesn’t stop, and gets harder, does. The bottom fell out of the sky right after it was called off, as if to punctuate the demise of the day. By the time I pointed the truck westward the rain was down to a heavy drizzle but the damage had been done.

 

Mile Marker 8 exists just west of I-75, and I try to ramp my speed up to fifty-five by the time I get to it. True enough, the speed limit is forty-five, but it is late, and there’s very little traffic. Up ahead of me, there’s a white serial killer van in the inside lane, directly ahead of me, and to his right is a car. The serial killer van and the car aren’t side by side but they’re damn close, and I see now I’m going to have to slow down until one of them decides to turn, slow down, go faster, or stop to kidnap some schoolchildren while offering free candy.

 

As far as I know, the white serial killer van is an urban myth with no real serial killers actually using the vehicle and if one or two did, remember that Bundy used a VW Bug to kidnap women. I had a friend with one, many years ago, and I never really saw them as creepy until the internet started calling them out. I wonder what else the internet has done for us, other than that?

 

Suddenly, as I’m getting closer, the white serial killer van speeds up, and passes the car, a little too closely, and the car responds by changing lanes, and moving in front of me. It’s like they traded places, but the car was forced to slow down, so when it changed lanes, it cut me off, and I had to slow down. The white serial killer van makes a right turn, seeking some lost soul to prey upon, and is gone.

 

Somehow, what just happened was my fault in some way. The car, which is in front of me, slows down dramatically, and I change lanes. The car speeds up and changes lanes, and the driver flicks a cigarette out of the window straight up into the air.

 

Really? This is supposed to, in some way, enrage me?

 

So another car appears behind us, and as it passes me, I fall in behind it, and the Enraged Car speeds up, as to not let me escape his wrath. As he gets beside me, I speed up to about sixty, then drop down to fifty very quickly, and he has to brake to keep from overshooting me to the point his point hasn’t been made yet. He slows down and I speed up. A big rig truck shows up behind me and I speed up, knowing the car of rage cannot fall in behind me because of the truck.

 

Really? Is any of this truly necessary?

 

We get to Mile Marker 4. Yes, all of this has occurred in the last four miles. If you really want to know how weird things can get, there were four people burned to death in an accident about ten years ago. They were pulling out of Exit 18 and by the time they had nearly reached Exit 16 two miles away, four people were dead. They cut someone off and that person eventually rammed them. At three in the morning. There were a half dozen cars within a mile of that event, maybe.

 

 

But now he’s lost track of me and I drop down in speed and get over into the slow lane again. A few minutes later he passes me, slows down, so I do too, but there’s more traffic on the road behind him and he’s losing interest. He speeds up and I watch him slowly gain ground. Soon, another car passes me, and another, so by the time we get to the County Line, he’s too far ahead of me for me to tell who is who up there.

 

The rain begins again, harder, and I have to turn on the wipers. There’s a certain ethereal quality when it comes to windshield wipers. They appear from nowhere, disappear instantly, and the water on the windshield is gone, but then it returns, and the wipers come back, and so it goes, for miles and miles and miles. No one can really say how many times they’ve watched this, and to a point it’s just background scenery, like the lines on the road, or the rain itself. We don’t really see wipers, until they go to hell on us, leave streaks, squeak, or break. And most streaks occur right in front of the driver’s field of vision.

 

The mile markers reverse at the line. I went from eight to zero, and now go from seventeen to twelve. At twelve I’ll be in Quitman, and eleven is on the west side, and I’ll head South. In Quitman, there’s a line of traffic caused by the train catching people, I just missed it, and lo! The car of extreme anger is trapped at a traffic light two cars ahead of me as I pull up.

I wonder if he sees me back there and there’s some trigger that’s pulled and he wants to play tag in traffic some more? I mean was it really that big of a deal? Does it mean so much to people that this person did that or someone in some car did something that caused that much anger?

 

I make a left turn as the car of rage heads due west. Somewhere, his version of the story is different, but I made an effort to disengage. I don’t do road rage in any form. I keep the hell away from human beings when I can, and I can. One day, he’s going to pull up beside someone can catch a bullet for his troubles, but those are not my troubles. The rain ceases and I turn off the wipers.

 

Take Care,

Mike