29 September 2010

Chapter I, part 2

Mike got out of his car and paced, trying to come up with an excuse to not light a cigarette, or scream, or both. Smokes had gone to over $8 a pack earlier in the year, finally making them unobtanium for all but the most dedicated smoker, but he still bought a pack every week or so. He'd figured the $40 per month saved wasn't worth the stress of quitting all out. That, and being forced to quit by politicians just didn't sit right with him. There was a deal that he made with himself in regards to smoking awhile back that centered around smoking only for the pleasure of it, and not as a vice. Times like this made that deal awfully hard to keep, and he lit up anyway.

The hollow sensation in his gut had turned into a whole body enveloping red-hot rage, which is why he had pulled off in the first place. His anger had plagued him his whole life, but he'd at least learned to manage it over the years. The combination of the cool air, the rush from the nicotine, and focusing on the reality of his current situation steadily calmed him after a bit.

The reality was that he should have just waited out the freeway closure, rather than getting impatient and driving around the long way. There had been news stories on the increase in traffic enforcement in this particular county a few years back, but the practice was rising pretty much everywhere. The state had abstained from the practice so far, with the exception of commercial vehicles. But individual counties and municipalities that were cash strapped saw increased enforcement as a revenue source, and the state had gone along by raising fine limits. Even the DMV was helping by streamlining the revocation and suspension processes. If you didn't pay within time, usually 10 days, your license was gone instantly. Most of the courts cranked up court costs, and some required prepayment if you decided to fight the ticket. Ironically, the court costs were about what the ticket was, so it really wasn't worth it. The official spin on all of this was "safety", of course. With plowing and maintenance cutbacks, they had to show something besides full coffers. It was almost funny, Mike thought. It wasn't all that long ago that the roads were crowded with people running 10, 15 over, bumper to bumper. Now, with the crackdowns combined with $6 plus for a gallon of gas, what few people were out here were all going 10 under. How could it not be safer?

After about 10 minutes of pacing, and convincing himself it was just his turn on the wheel of fate, Mike got back in his old Honda, and headed back out on the 70. As he passed the scales at Downieville, he made note of the backup that actually forced a significant slowdown, and a lane change. The State Patrol had taken over commercial enforcement a few years back, in an attempt at consolidation of state agencies. That hadn't gone over well with the trucking companies, or their drivers. It was estimated that the shakedown cost an average of $300 per trip across the 70. Fuel stations, trucking companies and repair shops across the state had closed left and right in the last few years as more transporters routed there freight through other states. That included the fuel stop off the 50 in his hometown, where Darcy had worked as an auditor. That had been over a year ago.

27 September 2010

Chapter I, part 1

Central Colorado
"I'll need to see a copy of your license, registration, and proof of insurance."
The deputy was young, probably barely old enough to buy his end of shift beer. He had been aggressive to make the traffic stop, especially for 6 over the posted 65 mph limit, but now he seemed a bit nervous. Maybe he's feeling ashamed for shaking people down for infractions that wouldn't have raised an eyebrow a few years back, Mike thought to himself. The requested paperwork was already in his hand, retrieved while the deputy was still running his plates prior to making contact. He handed them through the window, then fished his license from his wallet. The deputy made no small talk during the exchange, and his right hand never left the top edge of the kidney plate sewn into his vest.
"Please keep your hands on the steering wheel while I'm looking this over." He stared at Mike for a few long seconds before backing to his right and continuing backwards just outside the fogline to his patrol truck.
Mike complied with the request, tapping on the wheel with his thumbs to the almost inaudible country coming from the speakers. The warmed rock sensation in his gut hadn't dissipated, and mild tension headache he'd had was cranking up in intensity. I should have seen this coming, he thought.
He'd been in Lakewood for the past three days, working on a side job to supplement his on again, off again income. Being forced to drive out of his way to get home due to a wreck that had closed the 25 was just another gutshot in a series of blows that had made the trip an all out money loser. Of course, the inevitable ticket that was coming was going to set him another week behind. He thought about how he was going to tell Darcy yet more bad news, and he felt his stomach sink.
They had been married for four years now, and the past three years had been a steady series of setbacks that should have driven them apart for sanity's sake. Still, they held on, but Mike had caught himself exploring the "hows" and "whys" more frequently. Sowing the seeds of distrust, and slowly driving himself insane was all he could ever accomplish by going down that road, and he knew it.
A flicker in the beam of the spotlight illuminating his over-the-hill Honda brought him back to his current issues. The deputy decided to change things up, and appeared at the passenger side window, rapping on the glass with an old-school Maglight. Mike reached across the car, and wound down the window, glancing up at the deputy.
"Here's your stuff back, Mr. Heath. I have to write you on the speed, but I'll just give you a warning on the marker light", explained the deputy. The kid went on to cover how and where to pay, and that the court costs to fight the ticket would double the amount if the judge didn't see things the way Mike did. It took a fair amount of self control to not light the kid up with a rant, but after another awkward moment, Deputy Jr. headed back to his truck. Mike thought it was odd that he didn't wait for him to proceed - he just killed the lights and reversed back to exit of the corner to await the next victim.
Mike carefully accelerated back into traffic, as light as it was, and then got off at the next exit. He pulled onto the shoulder of the adjacent frontage road, doused the lights, and shut off the engine. The little 4 cylinder ticked as it cooled in the thin mountain air, as he attempted to cool the rage building inside of him. $340 for 6 over? That was almost the same amount he had made for working the past three days, having gone 200 miles from home to do so. Unfortunately, it was that or nothing. His little town had dried up, in every possible way imaginable. But so had the rest of the state, even the country at that. Nothing was like it was even a few years back.

08 September 2010

Prologue - Part 2

As this forthcoming work of fiction is being written in the latter half of 2010, most people will always remember this as a time of economic hardship. Some have called it the the "2nd" Great Depression, while others just refer to this as another recession - another bump in the road... With the "official" unemployment rate hovering around 10%, I'm sure that there are more than a few people out there who might feel that their hardship is not just "the way it is". As far as comparing our present situation to that of 80+ years ago in America, I suggest looking at two key factors. Population and domestic production - which will be well referenced in the story that follows.

As a connoisseur of the apocalyptic fiction genre, I find that key characters often are portrayed as stereotypes. The ex-special forces vet. The small town mayor. The single mom of a special needs child. The heartbroken widower. To be fair, these characters are key to the stories they come from, and in some cases are easier to write around. The people in this book are set to portray people that we all know, or ourselves in some cases. The storyline is set in the not-too-distant future, as our societies' descent back into reality transpires, as it is in the here and now "real world". For those of you who look for the transgression into the fantasy realm, you will be disappointed. I believe the realty of our "real world" situation is fantastic enough, thank you.

As for the "last, but not least" section of my prologue, I must touch on the surging number of "survivalists", and the sometimes disoriented logic, (or lack thereof), that has created an unending marketplace that sometimes preys on the well-intentioned. There should be a line drawn between the upstart "survivalist" and the "prepper". While it makes perfect sense to be prepared for the worst possible scenario, draining your life savings into a "retreat" thousands of miles from where you actually live does not. Having a well stocked emergency bag in your trunk, having a plan to disassociate yourself from social disorder, even stocking up on non-perishable food and essential supplies are all things I advocate. Face it - we really do live in uncertain times. But owning 10 assault rifles, spending 20% of your take home in ammo and turning the yearly family vacation into a "training mission" is taking things a bit far. If you think you are going to shoot your way out of urban chaos in some metropolitan area and come out unscathed, you need to turn off the TV and hide the remote. Buying a timeshare in the survival camp in the mountains is like playing the lottery - do you really think "The End" is going to come during you two-week-per-year allotment? I'd probably reallocate the $5000, but I guess you could get lucky... The $100 you blew on the keychain radiation detector from China could have been better spent taking your kids to a ballgame, or your wife out to dinner - you won't get that time back, ever. In "The End", information is your greatest weapon. Knowing what is to come before it comes is the critical factor. Keep up with the news, both national and local, and vary your sources. Remember, everyone has an agenda. Actually talking to people still goes a long way as well. That neighbor that you always wave to, but never talk to, might have insight into layoffs, or perhaps a county commission meeting that you weren't even aware of, or even a sale on dented canned food. Any of these things, however small, could alter your outcome in "The End"....

Please enjoy my writing, and good luck to us all......

Prologue - Part 1

For years now, I have been enthralled with "end of times" fiction - I think it began with the original publishing of "The Stand", when it was first out. Of course there were many versions of the theme prior to that, and so many since that the niche has become mainstream. I personally read hundreds of stories per year that fall in this category, from books to blogs, short stories to anthologies. Few are perfect for me, as I am a realist - you could call me a pessimist, and not be far off. Of course, what began as an escape in my youth has matured, just has the envisioning of "The Apocalypse" has gone from fantasy to perhaps possible, in the least.
I'll apologize in advance, and admit that my vision of "The End" is already under way, if only in its infancy. Our society as a whole - as a world - is divided. Some see it as a political division - the left and the right. Liberal and conservative. Democrat and Republican. Others see the division as socioeconomic - the invariable rich and poor. The "haves" and the "have nots". And still others divide us along ideological lines - usually with religion.
But in "The End", it really comes down to "Good vs. Bad" or perhaps, "Good vs. Evil". And, as always, the perception of good and bad/evil all depends on where you stand, sometimes literally.
Of course, only a very few would associate themselves with the "bad" element. Even if clearly defined as "bad", most people would view their actions as good or indifferent. If you question my reasoning, I'll offer a few vantage points...
We'll start with the lowest of the low - a rapist. Most rapists believe they are entitled to what they took, and if not, they see themselves as the "punisher". The entitlement theory leads to indifference, as the "punisher" theory leads to the rapist to believe he/she is "good" and the victim is "bad". Now, I'm sure there is an element of known rapists that know they are bad, and just don't care, but from what I know, the majority seem to have a justification for their actions. Remember that word..... justification.....
How about a despot ruler - say the late Saddam Hussein? Can you imagine that he put his people through the horrors they were subject to, and he accepted that he was "bad"? Or do you believe that the "Butcher" was just an out of control madman? The fact is that Hussein was a revolutionary prior to his succession to power - you might not agree with his morals in the later years, but he was on the "right" side in the beginning, or so he thought. Once in power, he had to maintain that power. If that meant exterminating the Kurds, so be it. Of course the Kurds were/are revolutionaries in their own "right".
I guess I can't leave the current administration out of the equation... I'll never forget the posters that came out around the primaries - Obama with his head bowed, as if in submission, with a backdrop of (ironically) primary colors and the word "Hope". But even if you were a volunteer staffer for McCain/Palin, can you really say BHO is "bad"? Or does he have the best interest of the nation in mind, and the means to an end are what they are? Bush43 asked us to give up some freedom for our collective security, and Obama is asking us to relinquish the same for some of the same reasons. And health care, not to mention other causes... 
Of course, removing your shoes prior to boarding an a commercial aircraft is a far cry from the Feds going door to door, confiscating guns and knives, as some suspect is inevitable. But even if/when that happens, does that make the perpetrator "bad"? Its being done for your safety, right? Maybe some people really do believe that if we shred the Constitution that we won't be capable of harming each other anymore....