Zeke-Chapter 2

He followed the curve of Alexander Road, sticking to the base of the hills that sloped away on either side. It would only take a second to get to cover and he was fairly certain he would hear anyone coming long before they saw him. The stillness of the morning was almost eerie, where before he’d never really noticed it. Before the bridge fell, when Sausalito had actually been a town instead of ruins, there had been lots of people. Even after the town fell out of use, the last family, other than Zeke’s own, had vanished only a year ago. Now, as he made the trek to Sausalito, he didn’t see a soul.

It took longer than usual to get there, but he was being more careful than he usually would have been. Being shot at had a way of awakening the survival instincts. He was fairly certain that it was afternoon by the time he reached the first few houses. Most homes hadn’t been used since the war and now there were only a few walls here and there to say that building had ever stood. Trees had grown up in the middle of everything, thin little trees that could barely be called more than tall twigs.

He ignored these and made his way further into the tangle of roads. Where Alexander curved gently into 2nd Street, he finally found homes that were whole, if a little dilapidated. There were few windows left and paint was stripping up the sides of most, but they had been lived in only two decades ago. This was the Sausalito that his Da remembered. This was the Sausalito where Zeke’s family would be.

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He looked for hours, searching quickly through the few blocks around Main Street that still stood intact. Once, two hours into his search, he heard muffled talking, a little laughter off in the distance. He’d rushed towards it, certain that the hearty sound of laughter must be his da and Alice sharing a joke. Only a single thread of doubt caused him to slow down. He whistled, pulling the air in through his lips so it sounded high pitched, chirpy. Like a bird. He waited and heard no reply . He felt like he was going to be sick. That was the signal his family used. And if there wasn't a reply then it wasn't his family around that corner. Still, he couldn't just leave. He flattened himself against the corner of a building and peered out into the street, his face pressed right up against the dusty siding.

There were two men sitting on a stoop across the street. They were dressed in little more than rags, their hair clumped with dirt and grease. One of them was waving his hands, telling some loud story. His voice echoed terribly through the hills, enough that it was strangely garbled in Zeke’s ears. Zeke immediately realized how stupid he’d been, thinking this boor could have been his beloved da. The other was studiously nursing a clear bottle of some liquid which was likely not water, all the while nodding along with his neighbor’s animated storytelling. The talker was waving a pistol in his hand, some boxy dark thing that might have been a .45. The drinker had a shotgun laid out on the shelf of his lap.

Without saying a word, Zeke pulled back from the corner and went the other direction. Da would know far better than to cross the likes of them.

He knew his family wouldn’t be around those pillagers, but he didn’t find any trace of them in the rest of Sausalito, either. By the time the sky was tinged orange and the shadows were growing long, he was thoroughly discouraged. He wondered how it could have happened. Had the men that killed his family spotted Zeke on his way up the hill towards the remains of the Golden Gate? If so, why hadn’t they followed him? Perhaps they’d seen him and thought to ransack his home while he was away… Or maybe they’d seen it before then and had been waiting for their chance. But pillagers weren’t exactly the patient type.

He couldn’t get past the question. Was it his fault?

The prospect of the loss of his family grew before him, not just the abstract idea that he would never see them again. It was the reality that he would be on his own now. He would no longer have their help, the pool of their communal resources. He’d never felt this sense of isolation, before.

He left Sausalito, returning south the way he’d come. He’d tried thinking what he would do if his family was really gone, but he simply couldn’t get past the idea that they were still alive. He didn’t know that they were gone, and the idea that he might wander off into the wastelands of Northern California while ma and da were still alive, somewhere in the hills west of Sausalito…well, it gnawed at him.

And so he found himself back at the cave. The fire had burned itself out, leaving patches of the valley black. The air was tinged with the smell of fire, but Zeke only smelled that same fleshy smell that had driven him to empty his stomach. It caught in his throat, a lump he couldn’t swallow. He wanted to leave, to run as he had before. But he’d come for a reason, and he couldn’t flee until he had his answer.

Zeke approached the cavern slowly, hating the way the burnt brush crunched beneath his feet, reduced to ash by his passage. The cave was clearly visible now behind the skeletal spread of tree limbs which had once hidden their home. A fan of black soot spread up the wall of the cliff. The cave itself looked dark and menacing, the gaping maw of a feral beast. He steeled himself before going inside.

As he scanned the inside of the cave, his eyes started to water. He told himself that it was the smoke. Everything was black, every wall, every crevice, all of it scorched and covered with the worst sort of filth. There were the remains of books everywhere, cracked and burned on the outside. Zeke picked up one of the books, feeling its craggy, rough surface. He opened it and found that the heart of it was safe, most of the words still legible, though the outside was utterly gone and the whole shape of it was warped. The color shifted from black to brown before it finally shifted to unburnt but yellowed pages. He dropped it, sickened by the darkness that now smudged his hands.

He looked over the rest of their belongings, cataloging what was left and what had been taken. There was an old pot, which had been dinged and slightly rusty from the day they found it. It was now half-buried, almost crushed. There were huge chunks of glass from what had once been empty bottles. The family had used them to store the rainwater they gathered. When Zeke had left this morning, there’d been five full bottles and five empty. He could only imagine that the others had taken all the water. All the food, too. There had been a few stacks of canned goods along the left side of the room. None of that was here now. The guns were gone, too. A rifle that had been his da’s and a 9mm pistol that had belonged to Alice. The .243 Winchester rounds for the rifle must have been taken. There were no casings at all, no evidence of shots fired.

Finally, he made himself look at the other side of the room. There were two charred corpses there, perched against the right wall of the cavern. They were sitting in a nest of springs—what had once been a mattress they had pulled from the Sausalito rubble. Zeke choked back a sob, staring at the open mouths and black, sightless eyes. They were almost entirely black, covered from head to toe with unending darkness, except for a few patches which were red and blistered.

He tried to pull himself together, telling himself that there were only two bodies. Somewhere, there had to be one of his kin, alive. But he couldn’t keep the wet, angry tears from coming, couldn’t look away from the way the two bodies were sitting together, huddled with their hands still clasped.

The thought entered his head that he should bury them, that propriety demanded it of him. But he couldn’t make himself do it. He would later tell himself that it was the danger of it. He couldn’t very well dig right here, and digging a grave in the valley outside would only leave him open and vulnerable to the predatory others.

But it wasn’t really the danger that stopped him. It was the book. He kept thinking of the book-soot on his hands, the dirty feel of it rubbing onto his fingers, caking into the creases of his hands like clay. If he were to drag the bodies out to a gravesite, that same sooty dirt would be all over him, covering him. Dirt that would be the smoke mixed with the charred flesh of his family. The thought of the untouched center of the book came to his mind unbidden. He could see in his mind’s eye the flesh sloughing right off, revealing a dark red core.

He almost fled from the horror of this thought, the image of it too grotesque to be fully pondered. He’d gotten what he came for, anyways: an answer. Two of the family had perished and a third—he thought Alice, from the size of the two still inside the cave—had somehow escaped. Or she was taken, a voice whispered in his mind.

He wanted to leave, but there was just one thing that he couldn’t leave undone. He went to the back of the cave, a corner near where they’d made their nightly fires, and pulled at a rock near the floor of the cave. It was somewhat buried, but came away easily enough. Behind it was a small crevice, filled with a tall bottle of water and some dried noodles in plastic wraps. The plastic had faded to almost a grey; the noodles were only meant for an emergency supply of food. He took them, along with the water, and packed them into the messenger bag. Looking into his bag, he realized that this was it, the sum of his possessions.

As he left the cave, he breathed in the air—still laced with fire-smell, but a thousand times better than it had been within—and he began taking steady steps. He didn’t know where he was going and he didn’t know where he could find his sister. All he knew was that there would only be one way to go from here. Without the Golden Gate, his only two options were to stay in the area around Sausalito, or go north.

By the time he stopped for the night, he’d reached the Rodeo Avenue exit of Highway 101, marked by a roadsign with more than a few bulletholes. He rested on the side of the road, beneath a telephone pole which rested at a strange, slanted angle, its wires hanging down like the leafs of a weeping willow. It was the first time he could remember sleeping beneath the expanse of stars.

To continue to Chapter 3, click here.


  1. Cool story. It reads fast. Can't what for more.

  2. Very good start to this story. Interested to read more.

  3. okay, you seem to have my attention