Zeke-Chapter 3

The night’s sleep was not restful for Zeke. He was pulled from sleep frequently by errant sounds. Once it was the howl of a coyote, high pitched and almost squealing. Later, there was the sound of rustling bushes. Zeke came awake with a gasp, his hand reaching into his bag and grabbing hold of the revolver. He thought he could see dim shapes moving, shadows crawling in the moonlight. Finally, after watching the unmoving hills around the highway for five long minutes, he told himself it had only been the wind.

When he finally fell asleep again, he dreamt of the shadows, moving around him. In them were his parents, specters as black as a starless night. They circled him, dancing a terrible, gleeful jig as their flesh fell away in bits. They were calling to him, beckoning with outstretched arms. They tried to speak, but their tongues were bloated and pink, swollen to fill the whole cavity of their mouths. He thought he heard the garbled words… “Join us. You’ll like being dead.” He wanted to run but he was trapped against the ground, unable to move no matter how he struggled. Then ma reached out a hand and placed it on his shoulder and Zeke could hear the way it cracked and crunched against his flesh—

He screamed into the night air, shooting up to a sitting position. He was sweating, gasping for breath, his heart pounding in his throat. All around, he could hear his own terror, the scream echoing in the stillness of the night.

He got to his feet as quick as he could. He couldn’t very well stay here, not in a place where he’d let loose a scream fit to wake the dead. And after such a dream, he doubted he could have slept anyways. He started walking, feeling the strap of his messenger bag dig into his shoulder, his eyes feeling strained. But if he ever felt too tired to go on, he only needed to think of the dream—the dread hand closing around his shoulder in some horrible parody of comfort—and he was alert once more.

*          *          *

As he set out that morning, he began thinking about Alice. As he thought about his little sister, he was certain that she’d been taken. It was frightening to think of Alice in their hands. He remembered a conversation from when he was a child, when the people of Sausalito had started to leave and the scavengers started to close in on the dying community. Alice was only a month old at the time and they’d lived in a little house on Richardson Street, right there in town. Zeke had loved that house. It had even had a bay window, whole and unbroken on its front.

One night, Zeke heard his parents talking down in the living room, sitting together in the bay window, lit dimly by moonlight. Zeke should have been asleep but there was a strangeness to ma’s face the kept him from returning to his room. Instead, he perched in the stairwell, where he could just barely see the two of them as they talked. Ma was crying, Zeke suddenly realized. He saw da take her hand in his.

“What if we can’t get rid of the scavengers?” ma asked in a choked voice.

“We will. We won’t let them destroy our town,” da replied, patting her hand.

“You can’t say that. And they’ve started stealing women. Girls. They took that Sally girl down the street, the one that was barely even ten. They carried her off and more than likely sold her for a slave.” She burst into fresh tears.

“I know,” said da, with sadness creeping into his voice. “But all we can do is protect our kin. They won’t get Alice. I’ll swear that before God and every scavenger in the world if I have to. They won’t have her.”

Protect our kin.

And now they had Alice and ma and da were dead and gone. But Zeke wouldn’t let that stand. He would find her and kill the men who had her. He would protect his kin.

*          *          *

Zeke came within arm’s reach of the Bay twice during that first day of travel. The first was just after Bridgeway joined Highway 101. It was the last exit for Sausalito, in a lot of ways it was his last chance to go back, to return to the life he had lived before. But there could be no going back, not really. The best he could hope for here was to scrape by in solitude or else prove himself vicious enough to join the scavengers. But it would never be as it was before.

Here the highway ran right next to the bay. The air was tinged with a nasty odor, like dead fish and salt. He could hear the soothing sounds of the lap as bay met shore, but the moon was high tonight and its reflection rode upon the waves like a glowing skull. He shivered in the chill, and then moved to the far side of the highway.

The sky was brightening in the east when he next encountered water. He saw it ahead and his blood ran cold. It was a bridge. It was flat, skimming a little above the water, and it was only a quarter or a half a mile. No more, but he stared at it for a time. He’d never crossed a bridge before and the thought of it made his bowels feel watery. He would be standing right above the San Francisco Bay.

He thought about going around; he was fairly certain the side road circled around and he would be able to avoid the whole thing. But something told him that he needed to do this. He needed to conquer this small bridge. If he couldn’t go forward for fear of a little water, then he might as well wait for the scavengers to find him and kill him. He would have to pass through worse in his travels, he was sure.

He made himself take the first trembling steps onto the bridge. It didn’t shift beneath his weight, as he had feared. Instead, it was quite firm beneath his feet. He took a deep breath and began walking. He stuck to the center divider, where he almost couldn’t see the water.

A little ways into the bridge, he found a spot where two spans of road had separated. He could see rebar which spanned the gap, rust-red even in the baleful moonlight, and then the rippling surface of the water further down. The gap was only six inches wide, but both sides of the road had begun to crumble, leaving a gap of a little over a foot. He thought he could just step over it, but another an image crept into his mind’s eye behind this thought. He would take his step forward, almost leaping across, and the other side would simply give way beneath his feet. He would slide through the widening gap, his fingers scraping across the bridges surface. Just before the end, he would grab one of the those rebar posts which would break loose, sending him right into the bay along with a shower of concrete.

He shook his head, thinking that Alice was on the other side. He wouldn’t be held back by some little break in the road. With Alice firmly in mind, he leapt forward. He cleared the gap with ease, almost falling forward with the force of his jump. But he made it.

With the gap conquered, he pressed forward with a little more confidence. He started wandering over the surface of the bridge, though he never got within ten feet of the bridge’s sides. There were cars scattered on the roadway, abandoned long ago. They’d rusted terribly, most of their once smooth metal mottled and eaten away. Most of the tires were flat and most windows gone—Zeke was fairly certain that was the fault of the scavengers and not of nature.

He walked up to a stranded pickup, which sat lopsided on three flat wheels. The fourth tire was only half filled with air. He looked into its window at the bench seat, the unmoving steering wheel, the windshield laced with cracks. There was some strange movement on the floorboard, some mass that twitched and writhed. He peered into the window, just a little closer, then pulled back when he realized what it was. It was a pile of rats, scrambling and scrounging over one another, a mass of them. He could hear their tiny squeaks, see the reflection of light in their eyes.

After that, he tried to stay away from the cars as well.

The sun rose as he reached the other side, a bleary eye peering at him from across the bay. He stopped on the north side of the bridge and ate one of the packages of dried noodles, which crunched and scraped within his mouth. It was unpleasant, but he could feel the gnawing pain in his stomach, the reminder that he needed to eat. He wasn’t satisfied by any measure, but he didn’t think he could bear to force down more of the rock-hard noodles.

He wanted to stop and see what he could find to eat, but the thought of his sister kept him from going in search of food. He pressed on all day, keeping his goal firmly in mind. Early in the day, he heard the sound of people talking. He had to run to the side of the road and take refuge beneath a scrabbly stand of bushes, where he watched them pass. It was two men and a woman, all of them better dressed than the scavengers from yesterday, but one of the men had a shotgun in hand and the casual nature of his grip made Zeke stay clear.

In the late afternoon, he reached another bridge north of some place called Corte Madre. Here, there were really four bridges that broke off of the same highway, each of them twisting a different direction as they crossed the river. He looked at it with a sense of morbid fascination. What use could they have had for so many bridges? Or so many roads, for that matter.  He chose the one that was the furthest east, since the waterway widened as it moved west. He crossed it with some ease, thinking he was becoming quite the expert on bridges. He even forced himself all the way to the edge, to look over the side.

It was only on the other side that he realized he’d left the highway. His bridge had landed him at a cross street called Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, which ran right under the concrete struts of the highway. Ahead, the road continued up and rejoined the highway leading north.

He had only a bare understanding of the region, but he knew with every passing mile, he was getting closer to where the bomb had hit during the war. He didn’t think that the scavengers that had his sister would have gone north, not when that would mean going right towards the worst of the radiation. And they would need to find someone who wanted to buy Alice as a slave. That would mean east, into the places that had once been crowded with people: Berkeley and Oakland, Sacramento and maybe even New Frisco.

A sign pointed east here with the legend “Richmond Bridge.”  He nodded to himself. A bridge to the east would have to take him to the bigger cities. And that’s where the scavengers must be taking Alice.

He turned east and began trekking toward the bridge. With the sun at his back, he followed the boulevard as it became smaller and smaller, running a curving path right along the edge of the bay. When the sun had completely vanished and Zeke still hadn’t reached the Richmond Bridge, he began looking for a good place to rest. Really, he wanted a place that wasn’t so close to the water.

After a short while, he found a place he thought would work. It was just an access road that led to an area crisscrossed with fences. Right outside of the fence was a bus standing on four flats. The windshield was cracked, but the rest of the windows were fine—they had a wire mesh over them that had held the glass in place. He made his way through the open door and then checked for animals, thinking of the pickup with its nest of rats. Satisfied, Zeke made himself comfortable, forced down another rock-hard package of noodles, and took his rest.

He had no idea that he was sleeping right outside of the remains of San Quentin State Prison.

To continue to Chapter 4, click here.


  1. A pile of rats. That's gross. Nice work.

  2. I am enjoying your story. Looking forward to the next chapter. I hope he finds Alice.

  3. not gross but engrossing