The Remaining: Fractured is book four in this bestselling self-published series by D. J. Molles, now released through Orbit. When a devastating and vicious plague turns most of the population into frenzied killers, a lone soldier is on a mission to rebuild his ruined world.
A SOLDIER'S MISSION IN A WORLD GONE TO HELL: SURVIVE, RESCUE, REBUILD
A Capacity for Violence
Angela closes the bedroom door. Her hands are shaking and the knob rattles noisily. She stands there in the hallway and stares at the door, at the flimsy fiberboard construction of it. And she knows that it won’t do her any good. It won’t keep him inside if he gets loose.
It is just after eight at night and the hallway is dim. Just the barest hint of the setting sun, turning everything into blues and grays. The air is still hot and humid inside her house and it smells like sickness and the rank of her own sweat. The power has been out, and she has not showered in more than a week.
From behind the closed bedroom door comes a mongrel sound. Like a dog fighting for a scrap of meat. She steps away from the door, one hand clutching her stomach, the other pulling her frazzled blond hair out of her face. She wants to feel pity for him, but there is only dread as thick as clotted blood. She cannot stop shaking.
“Is Daddy okay?”
Angela turns. Finds Abby standing there, an image of herself thirty years ago. The girl is dressed in her jeans, sneakers, and a bright pink top, everything colorful and bejeweled with rhinestones. Twinkling in the darkness of the hall.
Angela tries to answer but chokes on her words. She rubs her sweat-slick forehead and swallows hard. “Daddy’s not feeling well right now.”
“But is he gonna be okay?”
“Is he sick like the other people?”
Inside the bedroom, he begins to thrash. The sound of the wooden bedframe rattling. He moans now, mournfully, painfully, but it soon fades to a sound of rage. A gnawing sound. Chewing. Trying to chew through the leather belts she’s used to strap him to the bed.
Angela turns away from the door and takes her daughter by the shoulders. “Come on, honey. Stay with Mommy.”
She goes to the bathroom where the last of their water lingers at the bottom of a bathtub. There are a few empty jugs piled in the corner between the clogged toilet and the bathtub wall. The bathroom smells like a sewer—they’d stupidly used it for a day after the pipes stopped producing water. She’s concerned about the water being in the same room as all those germs, but what choice does she have? They need to go somewhere, and they need water to get there.
Wherever “there” might be.
Maybe a FEMA camp will still be open for them. Maybe some National Guard troops will come by soon and pick them up, take them to safety. Whatever might happen, they can’t stay here in this house. Not with Tom going crazy in the next room.
I could kill him.
And she had thought about it already. Thought about it for a long, long time. Sitting there next to his bed as he sweat profusely and muttered nonsense and soiled the sheets. She had thought about it as she held the printouts of his last e-mail to Trisha, whoever the fuck that was, before he took the flight out to Cincinnati for a “business trip.” The papers had grown damp and limp in her hands, a confrontation that would never be made, and she just kept staring at this man who was a stranger to her in more ways than one.
Thinking about just doing it.
Getting it over with.
Before he tried to hurt her.
Before he tried to hurt Abby.
But she couldn’t go through with it. Or wouldn’t, though it amounted to the same thing. So she had tied him to the bed with leather belts from his closet. And she wasn’t going to untie him when they left. And that was as cruel as she was able to be. To leave him there to die, wallowing in his own filth.
She left the printouts on the nightstand, as though Tom might come to his senses one day and read them. Now, she doesn’t know what to feel, not toward Tom or the situation or the whole goddamned world. All she knows is that she is Abby’s mother. And Abby is still alive. Abby still needs her.
Angela’s knees crack as she crouches down next to the tub. There are tears in her eyes now, though she is not sure when she started crying. She makes no effort to hide them from Abby, just grabs a jug, uncaps it, and dips it into the tub of water.
“Help Mommy fill a water jug,” she says quietly.
Abby’s blue eyes well up. “Why can’t I see Daddy?”
“Because Daddy is sick, and I don’t want you to catch it.”
“But you were in there and you didn’t get sick.”
Angela feels her stomach tighten like she might vomit. Between the smell of the bathroom and the emotional vertigo, she feels nauseous. “Mommy’s okay. I’m a big girl and I don’t get sick very easily.”
Please God, don’t let me get sick.
The slopping sound of water filling the jug. She pulls it up from the tub, dripping and cool. She twists the cap on and reaches for another water jug. But then stops.
The house is quiet. Tom isn’t growling or thrashing in the bed.
Angela stands, takes a firm hold of Abby’s arm, and moves toward the bathroom door. She leaves the other jug where it is. She steps out into the hallway, Abby’s arm in one hand, the filled jug of water in the other. The bedroom door is still closed. She turns her back to it but then realizes she has forgotten something.
Something she needs.
She turns back down the hallway and stands there. The thing that she needs is at the end of the hallway, leaning against the corner nearest to the bedroom door, seeming to mock her as she considers the distance between her and it as though it is a chasm. It is Tom’s softball bat. The only decent weapon in the house, and she’d been lugging it around with her everywhere she went. But in the tumult of distractions, she’d left it there.
She stands frozen in the hall, for a moment unwilling to go to the door.
But the door remains closed. Everything beyond it is quiet.
“Abby,” she says quietly, “stay right here and don’t make any noise.”
Abby doesn’t respond. She just stands there staring at her feet with her lower lip stuck out, nostrils flaring rapidly.
Angela steps lightly to the end of the hallway and takes hold of the slim, rubberized grip of the bat. It is an aluminum one, but it still has some heft to it. From inside the bedroom there is nothing but silence. Not even the sound of his labored breathing. The center of her gut aches to look in at him, to see him, maybe even touch him one last time. And then as rapidly as the feeling appeared it is replaced with the cold, bitter truth.
He got himself sick on a trip to fuck some whore in Cincinnati.
Almost didn’t make it back before they canceled all the flights.
Almost left his family to die…
Almost? He did. He’s leaving us right now, and it’s just Abby and me.
Just Abby and me.
She turns, takes a step.
A floorboard underneath the carpet creaks.
It is like she has stepped on a landmine. From behind the door comes the most wretched, horrifying sound she has ever heard. Some high-pitched screech of rage and hunger, and the explosive cracking of heavy wooden boards as they give way. The rhythmic slamming of furniture being lifted completely off the ground and crashing back down on its feet. And she thinks that there is no way Tom can do these things because he just isn’t strong enough.
She flies down the hall, seeing nothing at all but Abby at the end with her blue eyes open so wide that they seem to encompass her entire face.
In the bedroom there is catastrophe. Glass breaking. Wood breaking. Walls breaking. Things are being thrown, shattering, cracking, booming against whatever surface they collide with. And under it all is the sound of his screams coming through clenched teeth. The kind of scream that makes the belly ache and scrapes the throat raw. The kind of scream that only comes from a madman.
She seizes Abby by the arm, hauls her along with her. They move past the laundry room, past the basement stairwell, into the kitchen. Everything is dark in the waning daylight, dreamlike and smudged together. Black around the edges. Her heart beats itself to death against the cage of her ribs. From deeper in the house, the sound of the bedroom door opening and slamming against the opposite wall. Footsteps pounding down the hall.
She bolts around the kitchen counter, ripping open the back door, and then flies out into the yard, into the overgrown grass. Outside is only slightly brighter than the darkness inside the house. The gray-green earth below, the pink-splashed sky above. She keeps going straight ahead, legs pumping, dragging Abby along with her as they move through the knee-high grass.
Pale shapes at the edge of the gray woods.
She cannot go that way. She spins just in time to see Tom lurching out of the house, still in nothing but his soiled boxers. He stumbles into the yard, strings of drool hanging from his mouth, linking to glistening patches across his chest and down to chunks of vomit that still cling to his abdomen. His dark hair is pressed in random directions by sweat and heat. His eyes are unfocused, wild, and feverish. His right arm hangs awkwardly, the wrist crumpled into a claw and bleeding where the leather belt had bitten into his skin as he repeatedly yanked against it, eventually breaking his own bones to get free.
“You bitch!” he screams at her.
For a moment it freezes her. Is it him talking or delirium? Is he angry with her for leaving him tied to the bed, or has he just gone insane?
“Tom.” Angela winds up the bat, ready to swing. “Go back to bed!”
“You bitch! You bitch! You bitch!”
Abby sobs hysterically.
Tom lurches for them. For Abby.
Angela steps into his path and swings the bat in a hard right arc. It cracks him across the temple and Angela is already moving again, this time back toward the house. Her mind is almost blank but for the imperative of flight and survival. There is no conscious thought. No decisions. Only escape.
She heads toward the big orange ladder, still leaning against the side of the house from Tom’s attempt at cleaning the gutters. She latches on to it and shoves Abby up, yelling at her: “Go! Climb, Abby! Climb!”
The little girl’s panic causes her arms to be unwieldy and she fumbles up the ladder, losing her grip several times. Angela realizes she is still holding the water jug and the softball bat; and for no other reason than the bat is in her strong hand and she needs it to support her child, she drops it and keeps the jug.
They hurtle over the top of the ladder and onto the roof. Angela spins, her jeans scraping on the rough grit of the shingles, and she kicks the ladder off. Below them, in the backyard, three of the shapes from the woods are still racing toward them—a man and two women. They dodge the falling ladder and crowd underneath the roof, jumping and screeching and clawing at the siding.
Angela stares down at them, holding her daughter to her chest while the little girl wails, soaking her mother’s shirt. Angela is wide-eyed and feels nothing but the hammering of her own heart, and she wonders if she’ll ever be able to gather all the shattered pieces of herself back together.
It seems so out of control that if it weren’t for the girl in her arms, she wouldn’t care at all. How can you care about something so completely incomprehensible? How can you make sense of it? How can you quantify it to a point where feeling one way or the other will do you any damn bit of good?
Below them, Tom begins to stir, hitches himself up.
The thing that was once Tom.
Was once her husband.
She scoots herself and Abby away from the ledge, up to the crown of the roof where they can’t see the backyard anymore. Where Abby can’t see her father go insane beneath them.
Abby cries, “What’s gonna happen to us?”
Angela’s voice is distant, emotionless, shell-shocked. “Somebody will come for us, honey. Somebody has to come for us…”
* * *
Angela opened her eyes and found herself in darkness.
The air was cold and musty with the smell of greasy engine components. She tried to fight off panic and had trouble breathing for a moment. Like she was drowning in a tub of dirty engine oil. She could picture where she was, even though she couldn’t see. The rusted box of a shipping container, filled with abandoned mechanical components. A place to put things to keep them out of the way until they might be useful again.
She could hear people moving about outside, so it must’ve been daytime, but no light reached her in the trailer where Jerry had thrown her away. She caught her breath and calmed herself, the memories fading like storm clouds that have passed on, rumbling in the distance as they leave a path of beaten fields behind them. She listened to the pulse of her heart and eventually it was steady.
She sat for a long time in one position, then another. Her mind only wandered so far. It ran a circular groove around the same questions, like a dog on a short chain: Where was Abby? Where was Sam? Where was Lee? And was he even still alive? What was happening outside of these four rusted walls?
How long had she been locked away?
Days, she thought, but she couldn’t be sure.
It was difficult to gauge the time. She slept when she wasn’t tired, remained wide-awake when bone-aching weariness tried to blanket her. She’d been given water and food once, but it had been a while ago. Now she felt starved and her mouth was dry as sawdust.
How long were they going to keep her there?
How long were they going to keep her from seeing her daughter?
She jolted at the sound of the chains being drawn back from the doors of the shipping container. She rose unsteadily to her feet. Felt faint for a moment, felt her scalp tingle with lightheadedness. Outside the doors she could hear murmured voices. She strained to pick out what they said, but it was like the darkness dampened her ears as well as her eyes.
The doors clanked loudly. Harsh light erupted through the shadows. She squinted against it, felt her pupils constrict painfully. A gust of wind came in with it, seeming to give the light substance, and it chilled her instantly. She shrugged her shoulders, wrapped her arms around herself.
A silhouette stood in the center of the opening. She could not see the details of it, but she knew who it was. She could see the casual coolness of his body language, the long jacket hanging down to mid-thigh. The shotgun slung from his shoulder. A sawed-off contraption of his own creation.
She took a step back, feeling exposed. Her palms were moist and clammy. Every time she thought of him, every time she thought of that damn gun, she just pictured it bursting Bus’s chest open. She saw her hands sinking into the gore. The stickiness in the webbing of her fingers. The way it clotted under her fingernails. Bus looking up at her and saying, “Take it. You have to…”
She swallowed. Took a breath. “Where’s my daughter?”
Jerry stepped into the trailer, regarding her blankly. His hair was combed nicely, as it seemed to always be, no matter the situation. The only thing that told her that Jerry had been under any stress at all over the course of the past few days was the pale stubble along his jaw. Usually he kept himself shaven.
She waited for him to speak. His eyes meandered unpleasantly over her. The silence became long and deliberate. Just another weapon that Jerry wielded to chip away at her.
He crossed his arms. “You’re a bit of a conundrum, Angela.”
She considered that for a moment, not sure how to take it. Pretty sure it wasn’t a compliment.
He took another step closer. “Reminds me of that old saying about women: Can’t live with ’em; can’t kill ’em.”
Angela wanted to hold his gaze, but she was tired and her eyes drifted off to the right, to the open doors, hoping to see someone she knew, someone who would help her, but there was only the expanse of dirt and gravel that made up the backside of the Camp Ryder building, where people rarely went. The “backyard,” they called it.
“Let’s just be honest, shall we?” he said flatly.
She clenched her jaw. Didn’t respond.
“It would be easier for me if you were dead.” He spoke thoughtfully. “And yet I didn’t kill you. I had an opportunity to kill you, but I didn’t. Which, in retrospect, was a poor decision on my part. However, now everybody knows that you’re in this trailer being held captive. And there are quite a few people in Camp Ryder who still view you in a positive light. So, if I were to kill you right now then I think people would… dislike that. So now I find myself in a dilemma, Angela. A conundrum.”
He ran a palm gently along the side of his hair. “If I keep you locked up, people will start to wonder why. Sure, there are only maybe a half dozen or so who think of you as a friend. But they’ll talk. And then others will talk. And before I know it, everyone’s beating down my door and telling me to set you free. So obviously I can’t keep you locked up here indefinitely, despite how much I’d like that. On the other hand, if I let you out to see your children, then what reassurance do I have that you’ll play nice?”
Angela grasped at the one hope that seemed tangible. “Please, Jerry. Just let me be with my daughter. I won’t cause problems.”
“Ah.” Jerry smiled without pleasure. “You say that now, but when some time has passed and you’re getting comfortable again, you’ll talk. You’ll have…unkind things to say about me. You’ll be the little bad apple that spoils the whole bunch.”
Angela shook her head firmly. “I won’t, Jerry. I won’t. Just let me be with Abby.”
Jerry’s eyes glimmered with a strange light. He reached out to her, speaking as he did. “I’m going to let you be with Abby. I’m going to do that for you, Angela…”
His hand touched her shoulder, glided up toward her neck.
Without thinking, Angela jerked her body away and swatted at his hand.
Jerry lurched in close, so that she had no room to run, and he reached the other arm around her shoulder and pulled her down. She wasn’t sure what he was doing, but then she felt his fist slam into her stomach. Just once. But surprisingly hard.
She doubled over, wheezing, and then collapsed onto her side.
She tried to catch her breath, tried to force air into her lungs, but it just kept leaking back out of her mouth with a weird groaning noise. It shocked her, but then the pain started to grow. Dull at first, and then sharp. Made her stomach feel hollow and achy.
She finally caught a breath and coughed. She watched a gob of saliva fly out of her own mouth and hit the metal floor, still trailing a glistening strand back to her lips.
Jerry sank down to his knees over her, put his hand on her neck, squeezing hard enough to let her know that she should be very still, but not so hard that it pinched her airway. Then he leaned down close to her face so that his lips brushed her ear and his hot breath moistened it.
“You see, Angela, I would never hurt you. Not like that. Because I’m just not that kind of person. But I know men who are. And if I were to allow you this kindness, if I were to let you stay in Camp Ryder and live peacefully with your child, and if you were then to repay my kindness with disrespect…well, then those men who do things for me might find you, Angela. Maybe in the middle of the night when you’re snug in your bed, cradling your daughter. They might find you there, and they might do terrible things, Angela. Things that don’t heal with time. Things that fuck you up in the head. Things that might fuck Abby up in the head, because she’ll see it happen. She’ll see every bit of it. Do I make myself abundantly clear?”
Her face pressed against the floor, staring at the trail of her own spit across it, she nodded slowly under the pressure of his hand on her neck. “Yes, I understand.”
Then Jerry stood up and brushed off the knees of his pants. He regarded her with disdain, then turned and left her lying there, apparently with nothing further to say. Behind him, the doors to the trailer remained open, and another freezing gust of wind whipped through as though it might sweep her out of the enclosure like a pile of dead leaves.
Angela coughed again and sat up, rubbing her neck. She shook all over. But there was something else to it besides plain old fear. There was a tension that spread itself across her frame. Like there was a winch in the core of her body and it was connected by steel cables to all of her limbs, and someone had just tightened it a few notches. The kind of tension that eventually breaks, and breaks violently.
She picked herself up off the floor, the throbbing in her gut making it difficult to stand up straight. She bent over, hands on her knees for a moment, staring at the ground, trying to make the pain subside. Finally she forced herself upright and stepped to the edge of the trailer.
She stood there, looking right and then left.
No people to see her leave.
She could run right now. Escape Camp Ryder.
But where else would she go?
She wrapped her arms around herself, feeling suddenly and incredibly alone. Abandoned. Without hope. Like she was caught behind enemy lines. What was there for her now? To quietly go about her life like everything was normal? Ignore Bus’s murder? Ignore Jerry’s threats?
She touched her stomach again, found it tender like a bruise.
A reminder that Jerry was not all frills and politics, as he often seemed.
He was capable of violence as well.
But so am I, she thought, remembering the feel of the bat as it struck her own husband’s skull and toppled him. Because Abby stood right behind her. She remembered the smell of gun smoke in a dark upstairs hallway in some little abandoned house with Lee battling for his life, and she remembered how the shotgun bucked in her grip, remembered watching that lead payload as it ripped flesh and bone from human beings. And she never stopped because Abby stood right behind her.
I am violent if the right buttons are pushed. She looked up into the gray-clad sky and her mouth tightened into something harder than what it had been before. She brought her gaze back down to the dirty world she lived in, and she stepped out of the shadow of the trailer and went to find her daughter.