BAG MEN VOLUME 1 FREE GIVEAWAY PART 5

Continuing directly from part 4 (here). Also, if you’d like a copy of the whole story for your preferred eReader device (Kindle, Nook, etc.) or a PDF version, just email me at jrtraas@gmail.com.

Episode 2

 

J.R. Traas

 

Christopher Troy Myers

New Sacramento, R&D Quad, Health & Wellness Building

January 21st, 2070

 

“My new partner reminds me of my mother. I killed my mother.

“Goddamn, that sounded terrible. Hey, don’t get me wrong. You know the story. I didn’t want to do it. I had to. You know how it is.

“Sometimes I think I killed my little niece and nephew, too, on the darker nights.

“I don’t drink anymore. Haven’t touched a bottle in thirty years. Maybe that’s the problem, or part of it. I’ve been having the dreams again, lately. Always the same idea and the same old house, though sometimes the wallpaper is a different color, or the couch is on the other side of the room. The dreams make me relive it, over and over. Decades of burying it, and it’s bubbling up to the surface now. Maybe I’m just an old man. Maybe what I’m living through now is what Robert Frost meant by, ‘The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.’”

Troy sat on the Spartan, gray felt chair in Dr. Jones’ neat, white office. After letting his eyes wander over the various books, Troy took a sip of water from the tall, clear glass set on the coffee table that separated doctor from patient.

Dr. Jones looked up from her pad at him. She smiled softly, reassuring him that she was patiently waiting for him to continue.

Troy switched gears, then. He had to lay the groundwork before getting to the grit.

“My mom was a nice lady, from what I remember. Never drank, never spoke in anger. Ass in seat every Sunday in the pews. We were — she was Southern Baptist. Used to say ‘The Lord provides.’ Whether she was consoling Auntie J. when her husband died, or whupping my ass, that was her favorite thing to say.

“Well, the Lord provided her with the flu. And, this being around 2027, 2028, in Georgia, we slipped through the cracks of the national health care service. We had a house, so we were ‘too rich’ to be broke, but too broke to buy things like socks and heat. Sometimes. Not all the time. Anyway, we were way too proud to ask anyone for anything. Even though it got awful cold in that rickety house of ours. I think the walls must’ve been duct-taped together. So, what with my mom down with the flu and all, I thought: heat and socks. Need to keep her neck warm and her feet warm. Didn’t need any doctor to tell little ten-year-old me that much.

“I stole a lot of socks from the store. I must have looked like one fat, lumpy kid, huffing it out of that Malmart.

“When mom didn’t get better, I finally started asking for help. I asked everybody. Friends at school. Teachers. The principal, even though I didn’t trust that bitch. That was a long time ago, though. I barely even remember any of it. Mark — that’s my older brother — was off at College out of state. Hadn’t seen him in a couple years. My dad died when I was a kid. Mom didn’t ever say how.

“Nah, I can’t even remember most of the details. What I do remember is that no one helped my ass out. I also remember that my mom was dying. When the flu drug out for a month, two months, what was I supposed to do? I was just a kid. Around that time, Cartoon Network got shitty before disappearing altogether. The only thing on TV was news.

“News about people dying of the flu.

“Then I got real scared, so scared I could feel it from my throat to my tiny, ten-year-old nuts. Not too long after, maybe even the same day, the blonde on TV — I remember it clearly being a blonde white lady, but who knows?, could be wrong — she was saying to stay inside. There was just a hell of a lot of sirens out. Blue and red against the ceiling of my bedroom. I had a Phantom Menace poster on my ceiling.”

Phantom Menace?” Dr. Jones asked.

“Right.” A faint grin slipped over Troy’s features. “I keep forgetting I’m old enough to be your dad. Man, the world lost a lot, didn’t it? No more Star Wars. No more simple stories about good and evil, where good always wins. I liked that shit as a kid.”

Star Wars? I think I read about that once. Or another patient mentioned it in passing.” Dr. Jones rubbed her chin. “A film series?”

“Yeah, Doc. They were movies. Maybe they were shit, but nostalgia paints everything rosy, doesn’t it?”

Dr. Jones nodded. Her voice soft as a cat snoring, she said, “You said you were having nightmares.”

“I’m getting to that. In the dream, it’s always red and blue lights, like I’m at some kinda of fucked up rave. But — and here’s the kicker — it ain’t my mom whose head I’m bashing in with a ten dollar hammer. It’s my partner’s.”

Dr. Jones flipped a few pages back on her yellow papered notepad. “Corporal Meadowlark.”

“That’d be her, yeah.” Troy’s hands rest on his knees. He balled them into fists. “Look, I’m not the violent type.”

Dr. Jones held up her hand. “Please, Troy. There’s no need for rationales, here. I’ve told you before that you should think of my office as a safe space.”

He snickered, rubbing his eyes. “Ain’t no such thing.”

She smiled kindly. “Pardon the expression. What I mean is, we’ve all had to do things we aren’t proud of. Especially those of — forgive me for saying so — your generation.”

“Thanks for making me feel old twice in as many minutes, Doc. I guess I am turning fifty-three next month. Damn.”

“Well, we can’t have you retiring on us just yet,” Dr. Jones told him over her tortoise-shell glasses. “Back to the dream, and the memory that you believe it was inspired by.”

I took a minute to collect my thoughts. “Yeah. Okay, yeah. So, there was the flashing lights, red and blue. I must’ve fallen asleep sometime before three in the morning. I know because I set an alarm for then to check up on mom.”

“It wasn’t two o’clock, or four? Three, exactly?”

“I’m sure. Or, maybe it just got stuck in my head that way. Okay, point taken, Doc. Anyway, it was late.”

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to annoy you. Just trying to gauge how much you remember exactly, or think you do.”

“I know. For the records. This is all being recorded. I know the drill.” Troy crossed his arms and then his legs. He uncrossed them. “So. Yeah, right. Checking in on my mom. Bringing her tea, or juice, or something. The room was too quiet, was the first thing I noticed. She should’ve been making noises. She hadn’t been breathing well for weeks. Rattling in the throat.”

“Then what happened?”

“Got real quiet. It’s hard to describe. Can’t really get just how fucking scary it is to suddenly hear almost nothing at all.”

“Was your mother dead by this point? Was this when she,” Dr. Jones tapped the head of her pen against her pad, “came back?”

“Yeah.” Troy’s head sagged, his chin brushing his chest. “She fell out of bed, suddenly. I thought she’d got better, stupid little kid that I was. But I knew within seconds that there wasn’t nothing left of my mom in that thing.” He gulped down the remainder of the water in the glass. “It came after me, not looking at me, but through me. You know? And it wasn’t making any sound. In the movies and TV shows, they were always gasping and wheezing. But what’s dead and don’t breathe ain’t gotta — ain’t even able to make a sound.” He closed his eyes. “She was so strong for someone who’d been in bed for months. I hid in the closet, she ripped open the door. I locked her in the bathroom, she practically punched through the wall to get at me. And she didn’t care how bloodied she got chasing me. She was unstoppable. The only thing that saved me was that I was a bit of a runt for my age. Else she’d probably’ve caught me and snapped my neck.” His shrugged then and his tone was blasé. “All that happened in about a minute or two. Then, when she followed me into the kitchen, I killed her. Not a peep from her, even then.”

“You killed her with the hammer?”

“Cracked her head like a chestnut. But I was just a kid. Took more than a couple hits.”

“How did you know to go for the head?”

“I didn’t. She — I mean it — slipped on the floor tiles. Her head was within reach. I figured it was it or me, so I did what I had to do.” Troy let slip a croaking laugh. “I was lucky, really. All those ‘gangstas’ you heard about in the next few weeks, riding around in their cars, doing drive-bys. They were too dumb to get that you couldn’t kill a Drunk unless you blew their heads off.” His voice trailed off.

Dr. Jones said, “How did that make you feel?”

He looked up at her. He blinked. “About those thugs? Couldn’t care less. I was looking out for Number One by then.”

“I meant your mother. How did you feel when you did it?”

Troy cocked his head. “I didn’t feel nothing, at first, except anger. I was pissed that she’d abandoned me.” He paused. “Huh, that’s funny.”

“What’s that?”

“I guess I didn’t know that mom wasn’t mom anymore. Not at the time. I can’t remember for sure if I knew she’d died and, uh, reanimated. I was just angry. She came after me. I panicked.”

“You did the only thing you could do.”

Troy stared at her. “Does that make me a murderer, Doc, if I wasn’t sure if she was still her or not, and I killed her anyway?”

Dr. Jones set down her pad and steepled her fingers. The perfect cliché of the caring therapist. “Troy, let’s be clear. You couldn’t have done anything differently, or you very likely wouldn’t be here at this point. We wouldn’t be having this conversation. You wouldn’t be an invaluable member of the community that is the Republic of Sacramento.” She picked up her pen and paper again. “And, personally, I think morality has probably taken a strong turn for the pragmatic. Considering the times we live in. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Troy nodded. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“Now: the dream.”

“Oh, boy.” Troy swallowed. “Could I have some more water, maybe?”

Dr. Jones indicated the shiny, metallic thermos beside him. “Help yourself.”

He poured himself a full glass and took a swig. “Cotton mouth, all of a sudden.”

“Troy.” True to character, she shot him an amused look over the rim of her glasses. “Now you’re stalling.”

“You caught me. Okay. Umm. So, the red and blue lights, just like they were when the cops and ambulances were flying by our house that night, all those years ago. I’m standing over my mom. She’s in bed. Her head is turned away from me.” He tried to hide the fact that his hands were shaking by folding them in his lap. “I’m holding the hammer over my head. Then, her head turns and she’s not my mom at all. She’s my partner. Dara is about the same age as mom would’ve been back then.”

“What do you do, in the dream?”

“I, uh, I bash her skull in with the hammer.”

The warmth fled Dr. Jones’s face as she made a note. “How old are you? I mean, how old is the dream-you? Are you a grown man?”

“No, no. I’m ten years old again.”

“And the figure that alternates between your mother and Corporal Meadowlark, what does she do?”

“She looks up at me, just before I hit her.”

“There’s no struggle? She doesn’t come at you, like the body of your mother did after it reanimated?”

Troy shook his head. Dr. Jones scribbled another note.

“What does it mean, Doc?”

Dr. Jones looked at him like a horse breeder might look at a potential purchase. Quickly, her face assumed that warm, easy smile she’d fostered. “In the end, it’s just a dream, Troy. It’s only important for what it symbolizes. If you’re asking me if I think you want to murder your new partner, the answer is, of course, ‘no, I don’t.’ I don’t believe you’d be violent with her, or with me, or with anyone of your fellow citizens.” She uncrossed her legs. Her eyes wandered to the clock above Troy’s head. “Looks like we’re just about out of time.”

Taking that as his cue, Troy got to his feet. He reached out to shake Dr. Jones’ hand.

As he opened her office door, she said, “This was a good session. I think we really made a breakthrough today. Look at how open and honest you were with me, where before you were shut up like a clam. When you first came to me, I’m not afraid to admit, I didn’t ever think we’d break so much new ground so fast.”

“Maybe I was looking for someone to talk to. You’ve been good, Doc. My last appointed psych — well, let’s just say that I’m sure he had his hands full with me.”

She reached up to pat his shoulder. “You’re making progress. That’s all that matters. Everything is an adjustment.” Retreating behind her desk, she added, “Speaking of, I hear you’re headed out tomorrow.”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“Where to?”

“Out past Free Flagstaff. Can’t say beyond that.”

“I understand. State secrets, et cetera. But that’s a long way.” She shook her head sympathetically. “And, talk about adjustments: not only do you have a new partner, but you’ve been assigned a new overseeing Agent, too. The bigwigs must trust you like no other.”

Troy shrugged. “I’ve been doing this a long time.”

Without another word, Dr. Jones tapped her pencil-sized recorder. For the first time since they’d started meeting last year, her veneer of calculated professionalism fell away and her face was clear of any mask. She told him, “Listen, Troy, I know Agent Morris. Though maybe not that well. I doubt anyone does. Anyway, he isn’t a bad man. But you don’t want to get on his bad side.”

Perplexed, he could only say, “Thanks, Doc.”

She turned the recorder back on.

“See you next week.” She assumed her practiced smile again. “Be safe out there.”

“You too.” Troy closed the door.

In the hallway, he accosted the water fountain, drinking deep. He got so thirsty when he was nervous. That might have had something to do with the days when he was younger, as he was making his way across the country. He’d nearly died of exposure, dehydration, and starvation. To say nothing of the roving gangs of psychos and the hordes of Drunks he met along the way. That’s why he drank like a camel drank, he liked to think. To prepare for dryer days.

And he sure as hell felt nervous then, as he pushed open the glass double doors of the Health & Wellness building and squinted into the bright sun of a Sacramento morning.

See, what he hadn’t told Doc Jones was what he thought the dream meant: he suspected his new partner of being a Sleeper.

***

So, there’s your taste of Episode 2! More to come next week.

Thanks for reading!

Comments are always welcome and, hey, you ever want to chat, shoot me a mail at: jrtraas@gmail.com🙂

And, if you just can’t wait to dig into more, or you really, really wanna support us indie artists (thank you!), Volumes 1-7 of Bag Men are available on Amazon Kindle:

There’s also artwork and other good stuff related to the series (and other works of mine) on DeviantArt. And the first 3 volumes of the series can be purchased there at 50% off the Amazon list price!🙂

BAG MEN VOLUME 1 FREE GIVEAWAY PART 5

BAG MEN FREE GIVEAWAY PART 4

Continuing directly from part 3 (here). Also, if you’d like a copy of the whole story for your preferred eReader device (Kindle, Nook, etc.) or a PDF version, just email me at jrtraas@gmail.com.

Jeffrey Eckman
Radio Complex, New Sacramento
December 24th, 2069

 

Jeff had been suffering frequent migraines for weeks. Frequent? No, constant. The dull throb was always there—some days it burned brighter and, bringing on a constellation of other symptoms from joint-ache to sensitivity to light, it left him feeling weak and crippled. But even at times when he felt comparatively normal, the pain was still there in the background, like a long-burning, low-grade fever was eating him up inside. He hadn’t told anyone. During the time he was too weak to go to work, he told his supervisors that he had the flu. That’s probably what it was, anyway. Im not lying, he thought to himself on those days, hanging up the phone after calling in sick. He wasn’t withholding the truth—he told them he had the flu, and he probably really did. And the most severe flare up of symptoms had passed in a couple days, anyway. So he went back to work.

“How are you doing, Shippy?” Alan used Jeff’s old nickname. Neither of them could remember where or why the moniker had started. “I heard you had the flu. That sucks. My wife and I had it this time last year. I remember those long nights where we basically took turns sleeping on the bathroom floor.”

Jeff tried to smile. Sometimes he wanted to tell someone he didn’t feel right. Occasionally, he wanted to mention that he had skipped the vet. But every time he thought about saying those words aloud, he experienced a deep, visceral revulsion—automatic physical refusal to follow the impulse, like he would experience if he tried to jump from a high ledge. He didn’t say anything to Alan besides, “I feel a lot better now. It ran its course. Just had to let it run its course.”

“Well, glad you’re back with us in the land of the living,” Alan joked. Shippy forced another smile, and glanced at a pair of scissors with a bright blue plastic handle on a table, just out of reach from his seat at the radio dials. Alan is breathing, he thought. If I just grabbed those scissors and stabbed, he would stop breathing. Its weird how simple it is. This hit him like a divine revelation. An exhilarating, heady expansion of his view of the world and his place in it. And the revelation revolted him beyond words. His right hand shot up to shade his eyes and rub his temples.

“Something the matter?” Alan asked, seeing Jeff gritting his teeth.

“Nothing,” Jeff replied. “Just a headache.”

“You sure you’re feeling well enough to be at work?” Alan asked. “If you get me sick, I’ll be pissed.”

“I’m just dehydrated,” Jeff said, shrugging. “Too much caffeine.” He picked up the bottle of water that had replaced his usual coffee cup and took a long draw from it.

What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck. The headache was flaring up worse than ever, from background throb into a splitting pain through his entire skull. He felt as if he couldn’t take his hand away from his eyes, or the light would cut through his brain and kill him. And the one droning thought kept running on and on—I could just stab Alan and he would stop living. Thats so weird. Thats amazing.

The thought was still revolting, but he couldn’t make it go away. Like a very hungry man in front of a pie, who can’t keep himself from thinking about eating it. He couldn’t keep himself from being drawn to it.

“I’m only half here. I don’t know where the other half is.” Alan stared hard at Jeff, surprised by the sudden dull pain in his voice. He had taken his hand away from his eyes, and Alan saw that they were incredibly bloodshot.

“Holy hell,” Alan said. “Forget a day off, you look like you need a doctor.”

“I just need to give in,” Shippy said. “If I give in, the headache will stop. That’s all it is. It’s tension. I’ve been trying so hard…”

“You’re scaring me a little, buddy,” Alan joked, but there was some truth in it. Jeff didn’t look or sound right. He rose shakily from his chair and turned his back on Alan.

“Do you need me to call an ambulance—” Alan started to ask, but Shippy whirled around towards him and plunged a pair of scissors into his chest. He didn’t scream anything articulate as he stood there, looking down at the light blue plastic handles sticking out under his shirt collar. Just a long, confused wail. He saw a cheerful rivulet of blood running through the fabric. He fell backwards and was quiet.

Jeff didn’t think about how strange it was anymore, how easily a man could be killed. He was beyond that thought. A shudder of relief ran through his body, as his headache dissipated and he could finally breathe easily again.

 

He had only been half there, and didn’t know where the other half was. But now the second half had joined the first. He was somewhere else, but he was whole.

 

 

Steve Bradford

Residential District, Old Sacramento.

December 25th, 2069

 

“He was definitely killed between six PM and midnight,” Keith McCarthy, a Sacramento Police Department investigator, told Steve. They stood across the room from a corpse, macerating in a pool of blood. The body hadn’t been removed yet because a SAC BPH technician in full Hazmat coveralls was still in the process of testing the blood for indicators of VHV exposure. The two men watching kept their distance from the corpse until it was cleared.

“He clocked in at six, and his relief showed up at midnight to sign him out and take the next shift,” Keith continued. “So obviously he died in that timeframe. The question is, did the radio man on duty with him do this, or did someone else come in and surprise them both.”

Steve looked at the body, identified as Alan Cunningham, married, without children, lying across the brown linoleum floor of the office below the radio tower. A pair of scissors had been driven through his heart.

“And there’s no evidence of a struggle,” Steve observed, “so you’re thinking it’s more likely that his coworker suddenly turned on him? A third person jumping two men might get the first one unawares, but I would expect to see a huge mess, if the attacker also managed to kill or abduct the other guy.”

Keith nodded. “Exactly. It’s entirely possible that his coworker Jeff Eckman was out of the room at the time and that’s why we’re not seeing traces of a second confrontation here, but I have officers checking the surrounding area for any signs of struggle elsewhere. I think we’ll have that possibility ruled out soon. The initial impression I got here is that one man suddenly turned on the other and killed him in cold blood. Obviously, it’s possible that this was just run of the mill murder. But possibly it was something else. That’s why I called you guys.”

Steve wrinkled his brow. “Yes,” he said. “It looks like VHV. We could have a Sleeper unconfined in this area.”

Keith had the kind of face that looked angry when serious. He gave further details, frowning as if he strongly disapproved of it all. “Eckman clocked in right along with Cunningham. So he killed Cunningham any time after six, during their shift. The next team showed up for their shift and found the body around midnight. The killer has had at minimum an hour head-start getting away, but possibly up to eight hours, depending on when exactly this happened.”

The BPH tech stood up across the room, and signaled to Steve that the test was positive—protein formations in the blood indicated exposure to VHV. They were definitely dealing with an infected man who had turned, killing his coworker. And now he had been loose in the heart of the Technology Park for possibly several hours. At least its late, Steve thought to himself, looking at his watch. 1:20 AM. Well past curfew, so for hours there hasnt been anyone in the streets for him to potentially expose.

“Fucking Christmas Day,” Steve said to Keith, “and this guy is taken from his wife. And he was exposed to VHV—so she can’t even see his body. It has to be incinerated, and the ashes kept by the government for controlled disposal.”

“She can’t have the ashes?” Keith asked. Like most people outside the medical community and BPH, he didn’t have extremely detailed knowledge of the virus.

“No, she can’t,” Steve said, shaking his head. “She can’t be exposed to them. If she buried him, deadly material could leach through the soil or into groundwater. And if she decided to scatter them, it would be an airborne bioweapon.”

Keith was obviously confused, so Steve explained. “Exposure to VHV causes various proteins in the body to be mis-folded in specific ways. That’s what we test for during vetting—mis-folded proteins indicating exposure. Decades ago, disruption of protein synthesis was part of how the virus wasted and killed the host. In its modern form, the effect on proteins is a vestigial feature of the infection—it’s less severe than it was, but still detectable. Eventually it leads to problems in the host body. Tumors and kidney shut-down. It puts an expiration-date on Sleepers, but by then the virus has already been passed on. Being exposed to the mis-folded proteins themselves is dangerous. They propagate mis-folded protein states in healthy organisms, like a prion disease, and they aren’t always neutralized by incineration—even at temperatures upwards of 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. This man’s ashes could kill his wife and others. We can’t even give her the closure of burying him.”
 

Lilian Morgenstern
Side Streets, New Sacramento
December 25th, 2069

 

The Bureau of Public Health quickly mobilized in force. Motor vehicles weren’t a common sight in the streets of Sacramento, but within an hour of the discovery of VHV in the radio-office the Technology Park was patrolled by a dozen BPH trucks, searchlights sweeping over doorways and probing into alleys. It was hours after curfew—the streets were deserted. The lights turned up nothing living, apart from occasional raccoons and opossums.

Lilly pulled her cellphone from her pocket—out of habit, she checked the bars to see if she had signal before placing her call. She did, of course—on the outskirts of the Tech Park, she was very near a tower, and could count on coverage. Cellphones were a luxury for government officials only. There were far too few operational cell towers currently in service to accommodate a higher volume of calls being made and received. Cells were only for official use, facilitating rapid contact between operatives around Sacramento. The general public was limited to landlines and two-way radios for contact with other parts of the city.

Navigating to her contacts and touching a name, she placed a call from the passenger seat of the truck in which she patrolled with Agent Cora Reynolds.

“Hi. boss,” Steve Bradford said, answering his phone.

“Are you at Jeff Eckman’s home?” Lilly asked.

“I am,” Steve said. “There’s no sign that he’s been here in the past few hours.”

“I didn’t think you would find him there. But possibly the viral instinct to maintain normalcy will kick in, and he’ll go where he always goes. What does it look like there?” Lilly asked.

“Pretty standard modular residence,” Steve replied. “Small. Sparse. He lives alone and doesn’t seem to care about decor. Smart lighting, smart AC—smart everything. It’s fitting for someone who works in the tech field.”

“Stay there and wait,” Lilly ordered. “Turn off the lights and stay out of view. It’s unlikely that he’ll wander into your sights, but we need to cover all possible contingencies. I’ll send reinforcements to wait there with you, as many I as can spare from the active search.”

“‘One is as ten thousand to me, if he be the best,’” Steve quoted.

Lilly ended the call and looked at Cora, behind the wheel. “Your family lives near here,” she observed.

Cora nodded. “They’re safe,” she said. They rolled down the street slowly, Lilly going back to directing the searchlight mounted on the door outside her window. “I called them right away and told them to lock the doors and windows, and not go outside for anything. Not even to walk the dog around the yard.”

Lilly smiled. “They’ll be fine,” she said.

“I know,” Cora said. “Thanks, boss. But let’s find this thing quickly and not play the odds.”

They drove along in silence, eyes peeled for any hint of movement in the darkness between buildings on one side of the road, or in the brambly fields on the opposite side.

 

 

Jeffrey Eckman
Technology Park, New Sacramento
December 25th, 2069

 

Shippy crept along through the darkness, worried and sick to his stomach. His soul shivered in fear like a thin dog in the cold, raging in vain at the terrible thing called life. There must be a corner somewhere where you could creep, curl up soft and be warm—but he had never found it. The big boys at school always stole his lunch and rubbed his nose in the dirt, and when he grew up it was just the same. There was something under his face—something that said, “Come bully me. I won’t bite.” He couldn’t see it himself, but it must be there. He was always going places and thinking, “This time, they won’t find out.” But they always did find out, after a while. They always saw that he was weak.

In his mind he had built up a super-Shippy, who ordered people around, loved glittering girls, threw out his chest and died for a bloody flag, and then revived to be thanked by gilt generals. A schoolboy Shippy, bullying the other boys and eating their lunches. It was his totem. He envisioned that Shippy now—reckless, powerful; unchained from the weakness that had always haunted him like a specter and looked back from every mirror and every window he passed. The vision consumed him and he raised his head, walking proudly down the dark alleyway towards home.

He remembered stabbing someone. There was blood all over his hands. His old weakness told him from somewhere in the back of his mind that he should run away. But something new inside him, something strong and unflinching, was telling him to act normal, to do what he always did. Not to let anyone know he had changed. That he had become like iron. Hide it. Hide it. Theyll never expect it. They bullied you for so long. Its all different now, but their surprise will be half the fun. He took the steps towards his front door two at a time, bounding up them like a dancer. He opened the door to his home—and a figure slipped around the corner and bashed him in the head with the butt of a rifle.

He fell backwards, and the old Shippy would have curled up and waited until his bully got tired of kicking. But not anymore. He barely felt the pain of the blow, and reveled in his lack of timidness. He sprang up from the ground instantly and threw one hand at the figure’s neck, gripping her throat below her gas-mask, feeling the soft flesh cave in under his fingertips. The figure thrashed and tried to aim her rifle, but Shippy grabbed the barrel with his other hand and ripped it from her grasp, hurling it across the room to clatter on the floor. He was so strong. He had never been so strong. He heard her screaming behind her gas-mask. It was muffled and wheezy.

A voice in the dark said, “Lights on, full,” and emerged quickly out of the blazing white that dazzled Shippy and made him step back. The man who had spoken placed the barrel of a rifle against Shippy’s forehead. Shippy was wiling then to be friends and call it all a joke. But the man fired once, and it was over.

 

 

Steve Bradford

Residential District, Old Sacramento.

December 26th, 2069

 

Steve had dispatched the Sleeper quickly and easily as it came into the modular home, avoiding the need for the other three agents inside the room to engage. The agent who had been nearest the door suffered minor injuries and was quarantined for seven days, in case of exposure to infected blood. But she had been well protected by her BPH uniform and additional biohazard gear. Steve was sure she would be fine and released after the week was up. They had bagged the body rapidly and loaded in into a waiting Bureau truck. It was incinerated within the hour. The public vetting had been carried out on Christmas day and took five hours. Jeff Eckman had apparently not led very social life, because no one else in the area had been exposed to the virus.

And now it was time for Steve to do a very different kind of duty. One not in his official capacity to perform.

“Are you ready?” Abbie asked, standing beside him on the doorstep of a small, yellow house.

“Born ready,” Steve said. But he felt far more somber than he let on. He reached out and knocked smartly on the white painted door. It was quite a while before they heard any sound inside, a shuffling of feet and fiddling with the knob. A woman opened the door—her face a Greek tragedy mask. She was pale and drawn, her eyes puffy and red from weeping. Steve took a deep breath.

“Good morning, Mrs. Cunningham,” he said. “My name is Steve Bradford. I’m with the Sacramento Bureau of Public Health.” He saw a look of terror come into the grieving woman’s eyes, as if he had come to drop more horrible news on her.

“And this is Abigail Bonaventura,” Steve went on, hurrying to state their business and set the woman at ease. “She isn’t with the Bureau. We’re not here on official business.” Someone else walked up to the doorway beside the woman—a family member or friend, who had come to support her during her grieving.

“What are you here for?” the second woman asked. She was on edge. They were both bracing for whatever was coming. Steve held forward a dark mahogany box.

“These are your husband’s ashes, ma’am,” he said. “I just wanted to return them to you.” Mrs. Cunningham’s eyes widened, and she reached for the box with trembling hands…

“Why did you do it?” Abbie asked, as the two of them walked down the sidewalk away from the house, several minutes later. They had left Mrs. Cunningham in the arms of the other woman, sobbing in a mix of sadness and relief. Relief to at least have some sense of closure in regaining her lost husband’s remains for proper burial; to not lose him suddenly and without all trace, like he’d slipped away into the ether.

Alan Cunningham’s remains were a biohazard. They could have killed his wife. So Steve hadn’t given them to her. The ashes in the box were wood ash. Steve and Abbie had spent Christmas night sitting beside a small bonfire in his yard, burning an old wooden chair and several tree branches, drinking, talking quietly.

“Why?” Steve echoed, chewing on the question. “Because that woman deserves to stay human. When things like this happen, it can turn us hollow. It’s our rituals that make us human again. Now she can bury her dead.”

Abbie stared at Steve.

“I solved the riddle,” she said.

“What riddle?” Steve asked.

“How you can be such a cynical asshole, and so amazingly kind at the same time,” Abbie explained. Steve laughed out loud. He hadn’t know what she was about to say, but he certainly hadn’t expected that.

“You don’t front,” Abbie went on. “You’re cynical about the world, and you don’t try to cover that up, flashing disingenuous smiles to everybody. But you’re fiercely committed to the people you care about. You’d do anything for them. You’re cynical, but you’re whole-heartedly kind when you decide to be. That’s the answer.”

She stopped walking and hugged Steve. “Let’s go drink,” she said, stepping back and looking him in the face.

“Yes,” Steve answered. “That.”

***

Well, that wraps up Episode 1! Stay tuned for the segments of Episode 2 (written by Yours Truly).

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more!

Comments are always welcome and, hey, you ever want to chat, shoot me a mail at: jrtraas@gmail.com🙂

And, if you just can’t wait to dig into more, or you really, really wanna support us indie artists (thank you!), Volumes 1-7 of Bag Men are available on Amazon Kindle:

There’s also artwork and other good stuff related to the series (and other works of mine) on DeviantArt. And the first 3 volumes of the series can be purchased there at 50% off the Amazon list price! 🙂

BAG MEN FREE GIVEAWAY PART 4

Bag Men free Giveaway Part 3

Continuing directly from part 2 (here). Also, if you’d like a copy of the whole story for your preferred eReader device (Kindle, Nook, etc.) or a PDF version, just email me atjrtraas@gmail.com.

 

Jeffrey Eckman
Technology Park, New Sacramento
December 10th, 2069

Jeff sat at an open window in his apartment, looking out over the streets and buildings. Technology Park was the beating heart of innovation in the city-state. New Sacramento had sprung up around it, radiating outwards over the previous thirty years. Unlike old Sac—the section of the city with a high density of original structures recouped and refurbished from before the outbreak of the original plague—New Sac was a modern-looking showcase of the technologies and innovations in engineering that had led a resurgence of civilization after the apocalypse. A resurgence, at least, for the little enclave of several thousand who lived in the city. Outside, humanity was feral. Jeff, like the vast majority of people born in Sacramento, had never traveled outside the city-state. But in his job as radio operator, searching for communications from beyond their borders, he had been exposed to those who roamed the wilderness and wastelands. They ran a wide gamut. There were the descendants of survivalists who had weathered the first outbreak of plague battened down in cabins or homesteads, eating canned rations, hunting wild game and living with little more than a K-bar knife and a waterproof pack of matches. Now, the grandchildren of those original survivors lived in the same way, many of them unaware that there were still other humans in the world. It was for people like them that the government of Sacramento continuously broadcast their message, in the off chance some of them still had working ham radios from the old days. It was the responsibility of the new government to call the disavouched, hardbitten packs of outcasts back to civilization, and to warn them that the plague they thought was gone was still threatening them in secret.

Jeff hadn’t been there personally to see it, but several years before, the Radio Communications Department had made contact with a religious group that survived “the end-times” by gathering together and hiding in an abandoned federal emergency bunker in Colorado. They had lived underground for seven years when the Sacramento broadcast reached them. But when they replied, establishing contact, it was already too late. VHV had already entered the community—they had found a stranger wandering the mountains outside their compound. He had carried infection into the community. The cult put two and two together when they heard the revelation in the Sacramento broadcast about the evolved virus. It explained the rash of grisly murders that had been tearing the compound apart for months. There was some talk in the Sac government at the time about staging rescue efforts, but it never came to anything. Everyone knew there would be no one alive to save by the time help got there.

Still other people in the outside world were totally wild, like animals. In the decades after the collapse of society, they had reverted back to some atavistic form of tribal existence. The wild people lived, reproduced and died in a shorter timeframe than civilized people, and all the advancements of the human race since the Stone Age had been stripped away from them in a few rapid generations.

But for those in Sacramento, at least, technology created possibilities in their world, to extend their human agency, and extend their potential beyond biological imperatives. Almost every surface Jeff could see from his window was a multi-tasking solar array. The street below him was constructed from interlocking hexagonal panels of solar roadway, with lanes marked by lines of white or yellow LEDs under the surface of the shatter-proof hardened glass. The windows of the office-block across from him were, he knew, fully translucent photovoltaic cells, harvesting energy to be channeled into the grid for use in utility, agriculture and manufacturing. His apartment, like the other modular living spaces in his complex, was small, efficient, and exhaustively engineered. A large percentage of the objects and materials around him were products of 3D printing. The coffee cup in his hand, the paneled construction of his walls. The bikes and occasional cars passing underneath his window. All were 3D printed with computer aided designs for maximum efficiency in the use of energy and resources.

Jeff’s dark, ratlike eyes scanned the people passing by in the street, lingering on each face for half a second, no particular thoughts being sparked. I think Im depressed, he realized. Thats what this is. Its like Im only half here, and I dont know where the other half is. It was such a dull, insidious feeling that he hadn’t even identified it working in his mind before that moment.

He touched his cup to his forehead and sighed as the coolness of the iced coffee seeped into his skin. He felt feverish—but quickly decided he had only been in the sun too long. He was just moving to rise from his chair and leave the open window when a loud sound echoed in the distance, making him freeze and look back towards the city outside.

It was some kind of horn or siren, amplified over a PA system. Not a sustained wail, just a quick blast that quickly decayed. A tone signaling an announcement.

Attention, a male voice began over the PA system. A vector of VHV has been identified in the Residential District. An emergency vetting of local residents will begin immediately to assess the extent of public exposure and prevent possible outbreak. The voice wasn’t overwhelmingly loud from Jeff’s vantage point—if it came from the Residential District, he considered, it was about five miles away. Close up, it must have been deafening.

Please proceed in an orderly fashion to the nearest emergency medical station. They are being set up throughout the district. Bureau of Public Health officials are patrolling. Please comply with their requests, and let them help you get to the closest medical station if you have any difficulties.

Jeff shut the window. The voice continued to speak, but it was muffled enough that he could no longer follow the announcement. Shit. Shit. He shook his head, and tried to think of anyone he knew in the Residential District who would be affected by the emergency. He remembered his friends Tom and Jen. They lived there. Jesus, I hope they dont have too hard a time with all the chaos. I know these emergency vetting cluster-fucks are a huge pain to deal with. I saw Tom, what, like six weeks ago? He was complaining about headaches. Jesus. Thisll give him a headache. Poor guy.

Jeff shivered uncontrollably. “I don’t think it’s a fever,” he mumbled to himself, feeling his own forehead. “I might be dehydrated. Too much damn caffeine.” He walked to his kitchen sink and dumped the contents of his cup. I need a week off, he thought.

Outside, the PA droned in the distance.

 

 

Steve Bradford

Residential District, Old Sacramento.

December 10th, 2069

 

Steve sat up in bed when he heard the alarm klaxon. Abbie looked at him from the other side of the bed, surprised and confused by the sudden blaring sound. Steve knew his cellphone was about to ring.

“That can’t be good,” Abbie said. The official-sounding voice began to speak, announcing the discovery of a VHV vector in the district. Her eyes widened. “Oh my god,” she breathed. Jumping out of bed, she gathered up her clothes and started to dress.

Steve’s cellphone rang, right on cue.

“Don’t worry,” Steve said to Abbie, pausing to reassure her before answering the call.

“Identifying a vector doesn’t necessarily mean a wider outbreak. The fact that they found the carrier probably means it won’t go any further.”

Abbie nodded to him, slipping her sweater over her head and shooting him a pained smile. “I’m not panicking,” she said. “But I want to go check on my family.”

“Of course,” Steve said. His phone was still ringing—it said Sgt. Lillian Morgenstern above the accept and decline buttons. “I’ll see you later,” he called to Abbie, pressing “accept” before the call went to voicemail.

“I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” Lilly’s voice said as he raised the phone to his ear.

“Not at all,” Steve said.

“Are you at home? You probably heard the announcement already, so you know the situation. The vectors were a married couple named Thomas and Jennifer Carlyle. The man is deceased. The woman is contained, awaiting disposal. I hate to call you in on your time off, but the vetting is getting underway and it’s all hands on deck.”

“I understand,” Steve said, reaching with his left hand to grab his pants off the bed post.    “I’m on my way…”

 

 

Lilian Morgenstern
Residential District, Old Sacramento
December 11th, 2069

 

The vetting began at 4:45 PM, and wasn’t concluded until 12:26 AM the following day, when census records showed that all 2,574 citizens in the Residential District had been accounted for. In the end, 47 citizens had been separated for state quarantine as a precaution against possible VHV exposure. Two uncooperative citizens had been restrained by BPH agents for blood-testing, and it was determined they were virus carriers. They had already turned—they were bagged for incineration. All told, the reach of the virus during this outbreak had not been severe, and by the end of the vetting the danger had been contained.

 

At 12:45 AM, BPH physicians and workers were packing the tables, canopies and instruments from the emergency medical stations into the backs of ambulances to be taken away; armed agents were still patrolling the streets, but not in response to any imminent threat. Lilly, walking down the main street, starting to realize how tired and hungry she was in the aftermath of the long, busy day, watched the blue-coated teams of BPH personnel as they worked to break down the vetting stations. They talked amongst themselves, working as quickly as possible to get everything done and go home to sleep. Lilly felt for them. I don’t want to be here anymore, she thought, cracking a tiny smile at her own whininess.

Somewhere down the dark road, she heard loud, slurred voices and shuffling feet. Dashing around the side of a building to get line-of-sight towards the source of the disturbance, she saw a group of about eight men and women clustered together in the street, walking slowly and drunkenly. Their voices echoed against the sides of buildings as they shouted and groaned.

Fuck! What is this? Sweat was beading on Lilly’s forehead reactively as her parasympathetic nervous system kicked her into survival mode; she reached for her radio to order reinforcements, then suddenly realized what she was seeing. Theyre drunk, she thought with relief. She sighed deeply and lowered her AR rifle.

She was looking at a group of young adults—primarily male, but with a few women mixed in. They were starting to laugh raucously, and a few of them had started singing The Undead Body, a satirical song, popular among tacky, insensitive assholes who couldn’t understand the world around them. It was set to the tune of Civil War-era John Browns Body.

My eyes have seen the horror of the coming of the horde, four young men sang in an awful, off-key attempt at a Barbershop Quartet harmony. Theyre trampling down the garden where Aunt Ethyl plants her gourds; Theyre eating Grandpa Calvin as he runs for his old sword! The horror marches on! The girls in the group shrieked with piercing laughter; two of the singers trailed off into drunken whooping and cackling, as the other two increased their volume and belted out the chorus together. Gory, gory what a helluva way to die! Gory, gory what a helluva way to die! Gory, gory what a helluva way to diethe nightmare marches on!

“Well, it seems they’ve imbibed,” a dry voice said beside Lilly. She looked over to see Steve Bradford holding his rifle in relaxed arms, standing at her side in the street ahead of the shambling column. The kids were fairly far off and weren’t aware of the two agents yet. But their shouting and laughter was getting closer.

“I don’t blame them, after going through all that,” Lilly said. “I could use a drink myself.”

Steve chuckled. “I’ll buy you one,” he said. “You earned it with the workday you just put in.”

“We all earned a drink,” Lilly said. “But the workday isn’t done. It’s past curfew. These kids really need to get off the street.”

“Makes sense that whoever wrote that song borrowed a tune from another era of mass casualties,” Steve mused. Lilly took a moment to realize he was talking about the melody of John Browns Body.

“Yeah, it’s really poetic,” she said sarcastically. “Let’s get these ass-hats indoors to sleep it off.”

***

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more!

Comments are always welcome and, hey, you ever want to chat, shoot me a mail at: jrtraas@gmail.com🙂

And, if you just can’t wait to dig into more, or you really, really wanna support us indie artists (thank you!), Volumes 1-7 of Bag Men are available on Amazon Kindle:

There’s also artwork and other good stuff related to the series (and other works of mine) on DeviantArt.

Bag Men free Giveaway Part 3

BAG MEN Vol. 1 Giveaway Part 2

Continuing directly from part 1 (here). Also, if you’d like a copy of the whole story for your preferred eReader device (Kindle, Nook, etc.) or a PDF version, just email me at jrtraas@gmail.com.

Steve Bradford

Residential District, Old Sacramento.

December 10th, 2069

Steve walked across the white carpeted floor of his living room, handed a mug to his guest and sat down, casually sliding his arm along the sofa back to encircle her. The Californian winter wasn’t cold by any standard outside the West Coast, but the two of them used the mildly raw chilliness of the air outdoors as an excuse to sit more cozily together. Bright sun streamed through the banks of windows behind them, falling on rows of bookshelves against the opposite wall.

“I’ve never seen so many books in anyone’s house,” Steve’s guest said. Owning printed volumes was increasingly unusual in a world that valued above all the conservation of limited resources. The woman seated beside Steve automatically associated text with digital media—the idea of experiencing text tactilely, through feeling paper against her fingers, and olfactorily, through the scent of leather binding, was exotic.

An incomplete collection of The Great Books. Red leather-bound Harvard classics. Benét, Freud, Balzac. New editions of books like these were no longer produced. The volumes in Steve’s collection predated the end of the old world.

“Yes, everything about me is interesting,” Steve said, grinning. “Including how I read literature. I’d rather have the actual print editions of books, if I can find them. It’s like holding a physical piece of our intellectual heritage.”

Steve’s guest Abigail looked at him for a moment. “You’re way, way too educated,” she joked. He was a hard man to form a comprehensive idea about. He was charming and likable, and often the things he said would have come off as contrived and pretentious, except he always seemed genuine. He said things like “intellectual heritage” without putting on an air. He was thoughtful, generous and supportive, but he was also a cynical, arrogant asshole. Not alternately, either—he was somehow all of that at the same time. All his contradictions made him a difficult riddle to solve.

“I feel safe,” Abbie said, shifting a little closer to Steve, “holed up here with a Bag Man.” She smiled impishly. She was teasing him. She knew he didn’t care for the slang “bag men,” a common term for Sacramento Bureau of Public Health agents. Steve laughed.

“Trust me, you don’t want to bring the conversation around to my work,” he said. Truth be told, he was the one who didn’t want to talk about his work. But neither did he want to alter the mood in the room by shutting the subject down too directly. Abbie wasn’t so easily dissuaded.

“I actually kind of do,” she said, putting her mug down on the glass end-table after taking taking a sip of the piping tea. She turned back to Steve. “I don’t really know anything about VHV, which is awful of me. I should know more. Especially about the modern form.” She looked at him expectantly. It was his turn to speak.

“You have a definite morbid streak,” he said, furrowing his brow, but smiling. “I also play the violin. Do you want to talk about that instead? I’m kind of great at it.”

“Indulge me,” Abbie said. “Isn’t it your professional opinion that people should know more about the virus?” She was teasing, but it was true. “Treat me like a layman, as if I don’t know anything. Like, if the virus is still around, why aren’t there zombies anymore?”

Steve sighed. “Well, there are. But they don’t look or act like they used to. The change is actually pretty simple.” He gave in and started to speak plainly about the subject, as if he were lecturing on VHV to a group of students. “The virus isn’t anything like other viruses. It has physical architecture and physiologic capabilities that normal viruses don’t have. For one thing, it can produce energy like a bacteria. When a living organism is infected, the virus forms bacteria-like colonies inside the host’s cells, and produces its own energy through the breakdown of host tissues. These colonies communicate using a physical network of chemical signals. No one really understands how they manage to do something so complex, but the communicating colonies create a sort of brain. The viral ‘brain’ uses the energy it produces to stimulate nerve tissue and trigger neural action potentials. It can commandeer a body that way. Think of it like this: if you hooked an amputated limb up to an electrode in a lab and shocked it, it would move. Same thing here. You get zombies when the virus uses electric impulses to stimulate dead muscles into moving.” Abbie was listening rapt and wide-eyed. Well, I guess this works, Steve thought. It isnt quite like watching a horror movie together on a date, but its close enough.

“So that’s what a zombie was,” Steve went on. “A dead body, reanimated by the virus to spread infection. They would bite and scratch to infect, not to eat. They didn’t need to eat. The bodies were dead, and the virus itself used tissue decomposition for energy. So they killed following a reproductive drive to spread the virus into new hosts.”

“That is so horrible,” Abbie said, a chilled shiver running through her. Steve moved a little closer, shifting his arm off the back of the couch onto her shoulders.

“So that’s what the infected were like, but now they are different. The virus has evolved over all these years. Before, it attacked the entire body, killing it and reanimating it for its own use. But we got too good at recognizing infection and dealing with the undead. Now, in order to succeed at propagating itself, the virus has to avoid detection. It no longer kills the whole body. It only attacks the brain in a very targeted way. It takes over like a parasite—the body meanwhile looks totally normal, and the infected are such good mimics that they also act totally normal. They blend in with the crowd, so that nobody knows they’re there. They can spread the virus without being recognized and destroyed.”

Abbie shook her head in disbelief. “I knew that part, obviously. I mean, I knew that was what VHV is like now, but I didn’t know all those details about how it actually works. But now I’m confused. You said the virus evolved to be more successful. If the Sleepers” Abbie used the popular slang for the infected, “just went about their business, pretending to be normal all the time, they could keep spreading the virus secretly for years. Wouldn’t that be the most successful way? Why do they turn violent? Why do they start killing—isn’t drawing attention like that the last thing they want?” Steve maintained his usual debonair demeanor and didn’t let on how uncomfortable he was becoming, continuing to talk about this. He wanted to change the topic. But he knew Abbie was curious and focused enough that she wouldn’t move on to anything else until he had answered her questions.

Steve said, “Do you want to have kids?”

“No,” Abbie said, tilting her head, obviously wondering where this was going.

“Okay. Do you want to have sex?”

Abbie laughed. “Is that a come on?” She asked.

“It’s an analogy,” Steve said, grinning. “Sex, of course, evolved as our biological means of reproduction. It is ingrained in the tiniest parts of our morphology, in the nucleic acid that forms the genome itself. Call it a burden of our history, if you want. A molecular fossil or a behavioral relic. But the fact is, you personally not wanting to have kids does fuck all to change your sex-drive, because sex-drive isn’t attached to personality or reason. It’s older than those cognitive developments and can supersede them. It’s the same with the Sleepers. We’ve already been over how killing, for the zombies, had nothing to do with feeding. It was a reproductive impulse to spread the infection. It was analogous to the sex-drive in a normal biological entity. So as Sleepers deteriorate further and further under the modern virus, they start to succumb to that drive that is a vestige of the evolutionary background of VHV. We’re not talking about self-aware, reasoning beings, here. We’re talking about viral pseudo-brains that are barely above reptile. They can’t resist an urge like that when it starts to surface.”

Abbie shook her head again, processing everything Steve had told her. He was silent for a while, waiting for her to speak. “Well, that covers it,” she said. “Thanks for explaining this—I know you didn’t particularly want to.”

Steve moved his hand from her shoulder up to touch her hair. “So, a couple minutes ago you thought I was coming onto you. But you didn’t say if that was unwelcome or not.”

Lilian Morgenstern
Residential District, Old Sacramento
December 10th, 2069

 

Lilian held her AR rifle close to her body out of habit, finger off of the trigger, arms relaxed. She was pulled gently to one side as the truck made a quick left turn. Looking up, she stared at the pale young man in body-armor seated across from her over the opposite wheel-well, buckled in by crisscrossing straps.

“Big day, huh?” Lilly said to the young man. She smiled at him. His anxious frown didn’t dissipate. She asked, “Your name is Bryan, right?”

Bryan nodded. “Big day, ma’am,” he confirmed. He looked ready to cry or puke (or both.) We havent even seen anything yet, she thought. He isnt cut out for this work. The Bureaus attrition rate has been climbing steadily for the past decade. Statistically, this guy will probably resign in less than a year.

“Hey, look at me,” Lilly said as the young man closed his eyes and tucked his chin down against his chest. His gaze shot back up, and when his eyes met hers she was reminded of a deer that had once frozen in the beams of her headlights. It was a cliché, but it was accurate.
“We all have a first day,” she told him gently. “You need to get out of your head. Anyway, this could be—and probably is—a false alarm.” Bryan nodded and managed to smile. There were two other men in the truck besides Lilly and her neighbor, strapped into their seats. They talked casually to each other, not paying any attention to the nervous new recruit.

Lilly didn’t say anything else. The man would be able to handle it or he wouldn’t. She couldn’t prime him to stay with the Bureau if it wasn’t in his constitution—nor would she want to. She wondered privately if the rising attrition rate was proportional to the rising survivability in the task-force. The SAC BPH was starting to get the hang of the job, so more of them lived long enough to realize they had to quit before they lost their sanity.

Lillian and her team had been scrambled after a report came through the Diagnostics  Department that two residents in the downtown area had failed to appear for vetting two months in a row. They were a married couple with no history of delinquency. Occasional failure to appear for VHV screening wasn’t all that rare in the general population, but because this couple had previously been highly responsible showing up for scheduled vetting, their sudden delinquency raised red flags when Diagnostic techs noticed it in the computerized records. Hence, the Bag Men were dispatched to check on the couple—Thomas and Jennifer Carlyle. Census records showed they also had a six year old daughter, much too young to legally require regular vetting.

They have a child, Lilly thought. They have very good reason to be responsible about getting screened. So where have they been? She felt the truck come to a stop. She unbuckled herself in one motion, and her team did the same, including the new recruit. He moved efficiently to his feet by rote, remembering his drilling—but Lilly could still plainly see mental turmoil in his eyes. Lilly opened the back doors of the armored truck and hopped out onto the asphalt—getting her first look at the little single-story house they were investigating. The sun was high in the sky, and the shades were all drawn over the windows. That wasn’t so strange in itself—but Lilly could easily imagine how that fact would play on the new guy’s anxiety.

She led the way towards the door. Only one team member walked with her—the other three, including the female agent who had been driving, hung back in the street. They were ready to move if Lilly signaled them, but unless she determined they were needed, there was no cause to look like a raiding party storming the house. Lilly climbed the front steps, crossed the porch and gave the door a loud knock. There was no answer, and she knocked again.

“Break it down,” she said to the agent beside her, but before he could comply, the door opened. A woman stood in front of them, wearing a light sundress. She looked perplexed at the sight of two armed, armored soldiers on her doorstep, but she said nothing.

“Sorry to bother you, ma’am,” Lilly said immediately. “Are you Mrs. Jennifer Carlyle?”

“Yes,” she said, scrunching her brow. Monosyllabic, Lillian thought. She was already evaluating the woman in front of her. There was no single, definite sign that would tell her if this individual was a VHV carrier or not. She would need to collect all possible data from her observations to either reach certainty that she was clean, or certainty that she had turned.

“My name is Lillian Morgenstern,” she said. “I’m with the BPH, and we are here to check up on you and your husband.” Lilly smiled. She made it seem like a courtesy visit.

“We’re fine,” Mrs. Carlyle said somewhat sharply. There was a lot of animosity towards the Bureau in general. It was something agents had to learn to deal with—no one wanted to see what would happen to the world if they stopped doing their job, but still no one forgave them for doing it. So Mrs. Carlyle’s obvious discomfort and terseness, seeing two agents from the Bureau appear on her doorstep, wasn’t unexpected.

“Our records show that both of you have missed the vet, two months in a row,” Lilly said, trying to sound apologetic for noticing. “Is there a reason for that?” Even as she spoke, Lilly was scanning the woman up and down. She examined her clothes. She examined her posture and movements. She sniffed the air subtly, trying to get a sense of the state of her personal hygiene. Her clothes were clean. Her movements seemed normal. But she had a slight sour body odor, as if she hadn’t been bathing regularly. Her hair looked greasy, corroborating that assumption. She had a barely perceptible disfluency in her speech—that could be telling, since advanced VHV infection implied brain-damage. But with no reference, it was impossible to say the disfluency wasn’t a normal part of the woman’s speech patterns. Lilly needed to get her talking more. If she could rope her into speaking longer sentences she might display more significant aphasia.

VHV stood for Vox Humana Virus—the evocative name of the modern plague indicating that the infected kept their human voices. They could keep talking to you like normal, so you might never know anything was wrong. But just because they had human voices, it didn’t mean they were perfect mimics when it came to using them. Abnormalities in vocal cadence and inflection were always useful cues for Lilly, sensitive and experienced, to follow. If she pressed, she could often railroad mimics into displaying a deeper inability to express or understand speech.

“Is your husband around today for us to talk to?” Lilly asked. “It’s protocol. Just need to see him, confirm he’s all right.” Lilly kept smiling calmly. The agent beside her said nothing. Quietly chewing gum, his face was impassive behind dark sunglasses.

“He’s not home,” Mrs. Carlyle said.

Lilly goaded her to keep talking. “Where is he right now? We could go check on him wherever he is, and save you the trouble of having us visit again.” The woman in the sundress thought laboriously about how to answer. The hairs on Lilly’s neck were starting to stand—her instincts kicking in.

“He’s at work,” Mrs. Carlyle pronounced carefully, a barely perceptible slurring in her words. “He won’t be home until later. You can’t go see him at work because he’s busy.”

Because hes busy? Lilly thought. Thats weak.

Lillian nodded to the silent agent beside her. He moved quickly, drawing a high-voltage stun-gun from a holster at his side, but the Sleeper moved faster. With inhuman speed and strength, she slapped the agent across the side of his head and hooked her fingers behind his outer ear—ripping the appendage clean off in the same movement. The man screamed and fell sideways, hitting the porch and sliding down the front steps.

Lilly reacted almost instantly, training her AR rifle on the woman’s central body-mass and shooting three times in a neat triangle pattern, aiming for both lungs and the aorta. Mrs. Carlyle flopped backwards from the doorway, rolling bloodily across the entryway tiles. The other three Bag Men rushed up from the street, moving to lock Carlyle down before the the virus rebooted her. Lilly had killed the body, but it would only be a beat or two before the viral ‘brain’ recovered from the shock and got her right back on her feet. The female agent who had driven the truck hunkered down beside the man who had lost his ear, while the other two men dashed into the house, whipping out plastic flex-tie restraints and binding Carlyle’s wrists and ankles. She started to thrash only moments after they were secured: she undulated hellishly on the floor like a huge maggot, slathering blood over the light grey tiles from the gaping exit-wounds in her upper back.

The female agent appeared in the doorway, carrying a body-bag she had just retrieved from the truck.

“We’ve got this, Cora,” Lilly said, taking the body-bag. “Stay with Adrian.” She nodded to the groaning man, lying at the bottom of the stairs clutching the side of his head. Blood oozed   between his fingers. “Call the EMTs,” Lilly instructed quickly. She reached into her vest pocket. “And give him this.” She handed Cora a fentanyl lollipop, opioid painkiller, for the wounded agent to suck on. She turned to the thrashing thing on the floor. Laying out the body bag, she unzipped the front and instructed the two men to heave Carlyle in.

“Avoid the blood,” she said. Bag Man uniforms included calf-high rubber muck boots, rubber gloves and elastic sleeve closures to mitigate exposure to bio-hazards, but it still paid to be cautious. The two men forced the wriggling mass into the body-bag while Lilly watched over them, providing cover in case of attack from the other rooms. When they had the Sleeper inside, Lilly zipped the bag closed. Under the nylon fabric was a liner of 3D printed ballistic-strength plastic mesh, engineered to be stronger than steel chain-mail. Once the bag was closed, Carlyle wasn’t getting out. They left her struggling helplessly on the tiles, waiting to be collected for incineration.

“We need to clear the rest of the building,” Lillian told her team. “The husband and the little girl are probably still here.” She had been peering into the dark house beyond the entryway as she spoke. She turned back and looked at her two agents. One, experienced and ready to proceed. The other, the nervous young man she had talked with in the truck. Bryan had performed the task of shoving the bloody, thrashing body of Mrs. Carlyle into the bag on auto-pilot, his face frozen in agony and horror. Now he was trembling, looking like he couldn’t take another step forward into the dark.

“Hey,” Lilly said, moving towards him and gesturing for him to look at her face. “Maybe you’re having second thoughts about your career path,” she began. “That’s fine. I don’t care if you quit tomorrow, if you feel like you’re not the right man for this job. But the fact is, youre the man who’s here right now, so we need you to do the job you’re trained for.”

Bryan nodded abruptly. She could count on him for at least the next five minutes as they cautiously cleared the other rooms in the little house.

Moving methodically through the building, they cleared one room after the other. Proceeding in formation, they maintained overlapping lines-of-sight and crossfire, keeping each other safe from ambush out of dark corners or the spaces behind doors as they opened them and stepped into each room. The living-room was dark and empty, requiring them to switch on the flashlights mounted on their rifles. The bathroom was empty. Lilly opened the next door and stared into the darkness of what seemed to be a small, carpeted office. There was a desk with a lamp and desktop computer, a tall cabinet and an inflatable exercise ball. Sweeping the beam of her flashlight across the cramped space, she saw a mangled dead body and a grisly pool of dried gore saturating the carpet.

“There’s the husband,” Lilly said quietly. “His wife must have killed him.” The body looked swollen and slightly purple. “He’s been dead for about a week. The fact that he’s not undead yet means that the viral colonies in his body are still maturing. He could reanimate literally any second, so we need to hurry up and bag him.” Lilly backed out of the room. “But first, we need to find the little girl…”

But she didn’t have any hope left for a good ending.

They found her in the bedroom. A faint smell drew them there. They couldn’t find any trace of a body at first apart from the odor, but soon they homed in on a large antique hope chest at the end of the bed. They broke the lock and opened it. A wave of pungent reek knocked them back like a strong wind. Inside the deep chest were the decomposing remains of a little girl in a sleeping gown. Bryan spun around and vomited in the hallway outside. Lilly hung her head and said nothing for a few moments.

“What…the hell is this…” Bryan managed to gasp finally, wiping his mouth and choking back tears.

“This doesn’t make sense for a Sleeper,” Lilly said. “They aren’t sentimental. They wouldn’t do anything special like this with a body. No, the woman did this when she was still human.”

Bryan stepped back into the room, careful not to look into the hope chest again.

“What the fuck are you saying?” he demanded, looking at her accusingly—as if it was partly her fault that something so atrocious was possible in the world, simply because she understood it.

“This had to have been her last human act,” Lilly went on. “She knew she was infected. She was already in the process of turning. Her brain wasn’t working right, anymore. She couldn’t think straight. But she knew she had to save her daughter from what was going to happen next. She locked her in the hope chest to suffocate. It was the only way she could see to save her. Of course there were a million other options. But she couldn’t think anymore.”

Bryan strode out of the room. “I’m not doing this,” he called as he hurried away. That was his whole letter of resignation.

The odds said he would resign in less than a year, Lilly thought. She closed the lid of the hope chest, not looking into it again.

An old quote she had heard once, that had been carved somewhere long ago in the pit of human suffering, came back into her mind. If there is a God, he will have to beg my forgiveness.

She turned away. I dont know who said that, but they spoke for all of us.

***

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more!

Comments are always welcome and, hey, you ever want to chat, shoot me a mail at: jrtraas@gmail.com🙂

And, if you just can’t wait to dig into more, or you really, really wanna support us indie artists (thank you!), Volumes 1-7 of Bag Men are available on Amazon Kindle:

There’s also artwork and other good stuff related to the series (and other works of mine) on DeviantArt.

BAG MEN Vol. 1 Giveaway Part 2

Bag Men: Volume 1 Giveaway Part 1

Ladies and Gents, Geese of all Feathers, Silas and I have decided to make available at last the first volume of Bag Men. In its entirety. For free! We’re doing this in anticipation of the next installment hitting the digital shelves this Halloween (October 31st!). That’s right: Bag Men: Siege is coming. Batten the hatches and steel yourselves, or batten yourselves and steel your hatches, whichever you prefer.

Anyway… I’ll be posting the passages for Volume 1 here, in bits and pieces, over the next few to a couple weeks. Expect a new passage each Tuesday around noon every week until the whole damn thing is in front of your eyes, ready to be feasted upon.

Also, if you’d like a copy of the whole volume for your preferred eReader device (Kindle, Nook, etc.) or a PDF version, just email me at jrtraas@gmail.com.

Without further blather from me, please enjoy Bag Men: Volume 1 (Episodes 1 and 2) — the one that started it all.

bag-men-vol-1-final-cover

Episode 1

Silas Jackson

 

Humanswhat simple creatures we are, but were so inscrutable. So chaotic. So organized. There is nothing in the world more complex than our biological substrate. We only understand a fraction of the chemical reactions that go into maintaining life, consciousness, memory and personality. But on the flip-side its simple enough to figure out our psychological motivations. Food. Sex. Shelter. Our wants and needs are so predictable that anyone with a little insight can predict the movements and actions of groups, forecast the behavior of whole populations. But take one individual out of that crowd, and no one on earth can tell what they will do at any moment. Chaotic and organized. The crowd is predictable: the individual spits in the fucking eye of anyone who tries to guess what he or she will do next. Its a contradiction and it doesnt make sense, but thats how it is.

Humans are incredible. But some of the people closest to youyour grandfather, your sister, your wife, anyonemight not be human. Not anymore. We thought the plague ended years ago. We havent seen the infected in our settlements, and we havent crossed any in the wilderness. So we thought we had reason to hope. We thought the horror was over, and we could begin to rebuild. But Im telling you now that it isnt over. The plague isnt over. It has just changed. It has adapted. We got too good at fighting the Shamblers. The mindless hordes of the undead that overran our cities, killed our families, murdered us through a whole generation. We got too good at fighting them. We were too much smarter than them. When their numbers started to thin out after all these years, and when those of us who were left learned too many strategies to deal with them, they werent dangerous anymore. Thats why the virus adapted. It could no longer propagate itself the old wayso only the most successful strains continued to pass on into the human population. The strains that were more deceptive. The strains that left victims looking more normal, acting more lucid. The virus adapted to deceive usto keep us unaware that it was spreading through our loved ones and our neighbors. You need to understand what Im telling you. It was goddamn natural selection. The virus evolved to be more successful as conditions changed. And what we have now is something different than what we had before. Our enemy isnt a mass army anymore, mindlessly breaking over our cities in waves. Now our enemies are sleepers among uspeople who look and act like you or me, but who are every bit as driven to kill as the zombies in the old days were.

You cant pick out the infected when you see them. You cant hear it in their voices. They look like anyone else in the crowd. They act like anyone else. And when they get you alone, they will murder you. They will pass on the infectionbecause that is the only thing that drives them, and all their acting and charades are just to make them more effective as propagators of the virus. They dont have personalities, they just act like they do. They dont have memories, they just act like they do. In a world where were all ready to shoot the infected on sight, the infected have adapted to look normal. Too many people dont believe this. They dont understand that not believing it makes them incredibly vulnerable. The sleepers need nothing more than for you to doubt they exist. If you knew your daughter was infected, but she was standing in front of you acting normal, would you put her down? Would you believe she had really turned? The virus is continuing to spread because, no, you fucking wouldnt. And you would go on not believing it right until she murdered you without a twinge of remorse, because your daughter is already dead, and the thing in front of you is a heartless mimic.

There was a tone that signaled the end of the pre-recorded message, and it began again from the beginning. Just like it had over and over for nearly a decade, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The signal swept off from the weather-beaten radio tower, cascading over brambly terrain, pinging through abandoned mountain ravines and radiating off into the vacant sky. The message, starting at the beginning, told of a settlement of several thousand souls who had recouped the ruins of Sacramento, California, and begun the work of rebuilding a small, self-contained civilization for themselves. It gave the coordinates of the city. It called for anyone who could hear the message, scattered people eking out existence in the wilderness, alone or in family clans, who didn’t know there was still something left of civilization.

Then the message continued on into the second half, where the voice gravely told any poor, huddled listeners that the plague wasn’t gone. The horror that had burned the world of their parents and grandparents was still alive under the ashes they rebuilt their lives on. The horror had a new form for a new age. The lost waifs were facing more dangers than they knew in the wilds—the best chance they had at survival was seeking out the city-state of Sacramento, slipping into the fold of the bourgeoning new society.

 

In the dilapidated office below the radio-tower, the two operators sat in silence monitoring the equipment, making sure the broadcast went uninterruptedly and listening intently for any reply from the outside. There hadn’t been any reply for a long time. Crisp sunlight slanted in the clean window, falling across peeling paint the color of eggshells.

“The vet was awful last week,” one of the radio technicians said. “Line out the door. Understaffed. I should know by now not to put it off until the last of the month. Everyone puts it off to the last minute, so there’s a fucking crowd there every time.”

Jeffrey, the other technician, nodded in commiseration as his coworker spoke. He knew how alternately boring, stressful and dehumanizing vetting could be. That was why he had skipped it last month. He looked away sheepishly, because the topic was making him profoundly nervous. Part of Jeff wanted to mention off-handedly to the other man that he had skipped vetting, but part of him was afraid what Alan might think. There was one demographic that invariably skipped vetting, and that was a demographic he didn’t want his friend to assume he had fallen in with.

Vetting was a precaution against the spread of infection inside the city. Some people would always be exposed. That was a fact of life. Vetting was meant to quickly identify those who had been exposed and quarantine them before they could become vectors and spread the virus. At the end of quarantine, if the exposure hadn’t become full-blown infection, they were released. If the virus turned them, they were dealt with by the Sacramento Bureau of Public Health—a euphemistic title for an agency of government-sanctioned hit-men, somewhere between police and euthanasia doctors.

Jeff kept his eyes downcast over the radio dials, avoiding Alan’s gaze. He kept thinking about friends who had gone through the awful, humiliating process of state quarantine. And he thought about those couple friends who had been diagnosed as vectors over the years. He didn’t know the exact details of how they were dealt with, but he never saw them again. It was a horrible system—but it was a system in place to prevent something even worse.

Jeff wasn’t old enough to remember the world during the first outbreak of the plague—back when the virus was in a cruder form that left the infected like shambling mannequins, slopping off putrid flesh, thronging after their victims and killing with nothing but teeth and fingernails. He wasn’t old enough to remember—but his father had told him stories. The sixty-something man had been in his late teens when the plague first came to his home in Kansas. The “drunks,” as they were called, came suddenly, dragging their feet, tottering like they had been hit over the head too many times.

A group of seven or eight had broken into the barn where Jeff’s father tried to hide with three other boys. Jeff’s father had only survived because his best friend was overweight and couldn’t run as fast. Jeff shuddered and forced himself to stop thinking about the stories. He couldn’t even imagine having to make a decision like that. He was grateful to live in a different time, after the worst of the plague was over. Vetting is part of what keeps all that from happening again, he thought. Why did I skip? Its like jury duty. You dont like it, but its your fucking civic responsibility. So why did you skip it? He shook his head to clear his mind, grabbing his cup of coffee and taking a deep sip of the cold, bitter brew. You feel fine, is why you skipped. You skipped because being dehumanized and stressed out, letting a bunch of doctors take blood to check for abnormal protein formations is a waste of time if you already know youre not infected.

Alan wasn’t talking anymore, and Jeff was grateful for that. The two sat in silence for a while longer, watching the dials, listening for communications from outside the city limits that neither of them expected anymore.

***

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more!

Comments are always welcome and, hey, you ever want to chat, shoot me a mail at: jrtraas@gmail.com 🙂

And, if you just can’t wait to dig into more, or you really, really wanna support us indie artists (thank you!), Volumes 1-7 of Bag Men are available on Amazon Kindle:

Bag Men: Volume 1 Giveaway Part 1

Bag Men: Hydra – available now

Hepatitis B virus isolated on a black background

… and it’s FREE for the next several hours today (September 9th)!

Will humanity come back with a bang, or fade forever?

Faced with extinction, we tore ourselves apart, limb by limb, better than even the hordes of the undead could…
In this seventh volume of the Bag Men series, several chilling facets of the end (and what happened after) are revealed at last. Spanning a period of forty years, the vignettes and harrowing tales contained herein include: the ill-fated discovery made by a Himalayan hunter and his companion eagle; the incubating madness gripping a group of CDC researchers as they face the realities of their final mission; the greed of a charlatan, profiteer of the apocalypse; and the last stand of a brave battalion of soldiers against the terrors of the oncoming horde. Flashing forward several decades, the story of a daughter of the infamously violent Vegas Vees gives readers their first real glimpse of what it means to be a “Wild-Child,” to run free, remade in the wasteland’s image. The journey of this young woman, former slave, current assassin, contrast greatly with the structured nature of “civilized” life; she doesn’t remember a time before this one and, like many, she doesn’t care to bring the Old World back.

The civilization-ending Pan Virus forever destroyed the balance of power.

Into the vacuum stepped several competing factions, each vying for supremacy. The most successful, thus far, has been the Republic of Sacramento, chartered in 2035. The small population has survived due mostly to the iron-clad laws enacted and enforced by the Bureau of Public Health, whose Agents are colloquially called “Bag Men” — men and women who are trained experts in the disciplines of medicine, psychology, combat, and many others, who can identify and properly dispose of the infected. The viral threat, however, has evolved over the decades…

These undead can blend with the crowd; you won’t know what hit you until it buries its teeth in your throat

The Bag Men represent the thin, bloody line between life and death; if they decide it’s your time, their word is as sure as Death’s own scythe. Some call them saviors; others see them as instruments of oppression, pain, and misery. The difference lies in which side of Sacramento’s wall you call home.

This time, however, it isn’t a story about the Bag Men

Rather, it’s a story about what happened around the Bureau of Public Health and the Republic as a whole. It’s a story about the others, those came before Sacramento, and of those who now live in its wide-reaching shadow.
This is the story of the world Sacramento dominates, an account of the forgotten, of the misfits, of the betrayed and the damned. Their voices scream through the rift of time, demanding to be heard, at long last. They can be silent no longer.
Retribution is coming; the warring factions of a fractured humanity must decide, again and again, will this year be the species’ last? Is there hope for a better future, salvaged from the wreckage of the twenty-first century? Or are we doomed to dwindle and fade, like an echo, all memories of our former greatness growing ever more faint until, at last, there remains no trace of it – or us – at all.

Rest assured, though, the BPH will be back, with a vengeance!

As Trisha Adams discovers to her horror, the Bureau is under new management. Ruthlessness, it seems, is destined to become law in every corner of the survivors’ world.

Bag Men Volume 7 contains six distinct stories (episodes 14-18) and dips into the murky waters of different, previously unexplored time periods in the universe, from the apocalypse of 2027 to the recent war of 2066.

Volumes 1-6 of the series are also available on Kindle:

 

And there’s also The Sisterdale Six: A Bag Men Story (available for free right here and on wattpad.com).

Love you all –

 

Bag Men: Hydra – available now

GUEST POST: Top 4 Craziest Things Millennials Say, Presented by NoiseFeed

Millennials-1

If you came of age before the era of selfies, social media, and participation trophies, you had your own slang words and your own fads. And all the new jargon and concepts buzzing around from Millennials—the new in-jokes, references, styles and social politics—might have you feeling a little lost at sea, getting a firsthand look at what older people used to call the “generation-gap,” when they shook their heads at you—playing your Nintendo Entertainment System in your Bo Jackson Cross Trainers. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. No need to waste a whole workday reading up on Snooki and Twitter. Here’s a crash-course in everything you need to know to follow along when Millennials open their mouths.
#1: Oh, God! Kill me! Dont let me change!
iStock_000035679560_1024x680
It would be hard to figure out this popular phrase without understanding the context. When a lethal virus, known in the media as Hydra, swept across the nation in 2027, thousands and thousands of Millennials were killed or bitten by the droves of walking dead that spread uncontrollably, breaking through frantic CDC and military resistance. When the connection was made between being bitten by a zombie and becoming a zombie yourself, it became all the rage for Millennials who were bitten to beg their friends to end their lives, before they had to endure the agony of transforming into a shambling tower of putrid flesh, wandering the earth like the damned and murdering everyone they used to love. So, if a Millennial says this phrase to you, try not to roll your eyes. Remember that times have changed. When you hear this, you can either run from the infected and let nature take its course, or, if you’re feeling generous, you can grab the nearest gun and shoot the Millennial in the center of the forehead to end their suffering and reduce the chances that his or her corpse will reanimate.

#2: My legs really, really hurt

bigstock-Two-women-shopping-86702957-e1448283880368

If you’ve ever witnessed the lifecycle of a meme’s popularity on the internet, you know that each meme that catches on changes steadily as it’s reused again and again. In just the same way, this fad among Millennials of aching, burning legs changed over time, as it caught on with more and more people. It started after the disbandment of the federal government and the complete collapse of civilized society. The wandering groups of survivors were having a hard time feeding themselves properly, even with the canned goods they scrounged and the escaped, emaciated cattle they hunted across the ruins. It wasn’t long before people started feeling the effects of nutritional deficiencies, and burning pain in extremities came into style. As time went on, the leg pain turned into soft, bleeding gums, then Millennials started dropping teeth. By the time jaundice came into fashion, the affected people started succumbing to their scurvy and the “My Legs Hurt” meme died out.

#3: Aaarrrrgghhh!

millennials-600x250

With all major population centers in shambles, it wasn’t long before the reek of dead bodies and the many forgotten pets roaming the streets started drawing large predators out of the wilderness, into cities and towns. Blood-curdling screams quickly started trending among surviving Millennials as they were killed by bears and wolves. The roving hordes of the undead were more a background nuisance at this point, not nearly as effective as intelligent natural predators, but still more than willing to pick up the slack and kill and infect Millennials who were distracted, careless, or already wounded. Not since Pokemon GO had any new fad kept Millennials on their feet so much, running and dodging and keeping a sharp lookout in every direction.

#4: Bag Men

PERS-MILLENS-061016-adobe

After the main swarm of undead victims of the Hydra virus passed, like an overpopulation of locusts decimating the land and then dwindling away, some of the survivors thought the plague had ended. But others started to notice there was still something wrong with some people. In a tiny republic that formed out of the ruins of Sacramento, the last real bastion of civilization to survive the apocalypse, they realized that the Hydra virus had evolved into something new. The undead no longer looked like zombies. Now, they could blend in with ordinary humans, mimic living people almost perfectly, and they would only make a kill when they got a human alone. An agency was formed to keep the Republic of Sacramento safe from the threat of the evolved virus and the new species of zombies—when the descendants of the Millennials say “Bag Men,” they mean the highly trained, brilliant, deadly, feared, reviled, essential-to-the-survival-of-mankind agents of the Sacramento Bureau of Public Health.

 

Understanding these common phrases should help you navigate your next conversation with a Millennial pretty easily. Just remember: if the person you’re talking to seems a little off, they might be an undead mimic. Avoid touching or exchanging fluids with the suspected vector. Contact your nearest BPH Field Office immediately to make a report. You should only live once!

 

Silas Jackson, NoiseFeed Ltd., is, among other things, a freelance writer, entrepreneur, yoga studio co-owner, instructor in fitness, lifting, martial arts, and yoga, groan-worthy meme generator, and industrial class sarcasm-production cyborg operating at exponentially increasing capacity. His works have been featured in various publications, both in print and online. Co-creator of the Bag Men series, several of Silas’ other projects can be found here.

Photos courtesy of digiday.com, knowledge-leader.colliers.com, cuinsight.com, socialenterprisebuzz.com, and investors.com, respectively.

GUEST POST: Top 4 Craziest Things Millennials Say, Presented by NoiseFeed