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.

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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

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

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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!
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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

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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!

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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

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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

Julian’s Gone Mercenary

I know the game, how it works. If you run a business, or a blog, or maintain any kind of presence online, you’re constantly being harassed for “fresh, new content.” That’s the tagline of this decade. To which I say:

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Pictured: me, annoyed by that tired, old refrain.

See, I’ve done the Twitter and Facebook thing for some time, now. I’ve employed strategies designed to drag people to my original content. My posts are scatter-shot. They work to an extent. I seem to be expanding my personal audience every day, a couple souls at a time. But I don’t find that mechanical process as fulfilling as just writing. And I’ve seen, firsthand, that other people are just better at churning out 140-character posts about junk and stuff than I am. Which is fine.

Bless you on your journey to find someone to manage your Facebooks, your Twitters, Tumblrs, Instagrams, Pinterests, and any other of the dozens of services I’ve left out. I have got my hands full, uh, handling my own steadily expanding list of soc med chores.

I find new gray hairs every few weeks.

 

So What’s the Point of This Post?

I’m not here to pitch my social media management skills, such as they are. I’m learning; I’m getting better. Whatever, it’s a hobby, trying to get a grip on the collective human psyche in order to decide on what silly meme to post. Nah, what I really want to do today is ask you a question: who’s going to tell your story?

We all have one, I know that much for a fact. Having met far too many people to hold any doubt on the subject, I submit that everyone has their own “content” (if you want to call it that), and everyone wants to put it out there for some sort of audience. I’m not even necessarily talking about publicly publishing it on a blog, or Amazon Kindle, or what have you. Maybe you aren’t in it for the money. Maybe your story is something to be shared with friends or family. Maybe you just want to hold it in your hands, your own, personal, eternal keepsake.

 

That’s Where Bilander Comes In

Bilander is a tight, little organization I founded to provide all manner of writing-related services, including:

  • Proofreading
  • Content editing
  • Copy editing
  • Professional critiques
  • Ghostwriting
  • Co-authoring
  • Commissioned pieces (from full-length novels to micro fiction)
  • And more

You may have a book, novella, or short story already written, in which case I could provide as in-depth an analysis as you’d like on anything from style, characterization, lyrical quality, symbolism, and so on, or all of the above. Or, if you’re just looking for a keen-eyed, sharp-sighted proofreader, I’m more than happy to be of service.

 

What’s in it for You?

You’re probably asking yourself, “Who is this guy? What even are his credentials?” Well, in the interest of total honesty: I’m not famous, I’m not a business insider, and I don’t have a million books published through Penguin or Random House. Hell, I don’t even have a literary agent on speed-dial. Perhaps, one day, some or all of those items will apply to me. But here’s what I do have, right now, for you:

  • An English Degree (meaning, I can read and write well; very few people can, and you know it)
  • The personal tutelage of some of the best authors, professors, and poets in the country
  • A wild and insane upbringing in Western Europe, East Asia, and the United States
  • I speak, read, and write in three languages; I have a global point of view, erasing potential biases based on culture, ethnicity, religion, skin-color, etc.
  • A nearly suicidal, do-or-die work ethic — I will grind myself to a fine powder, if that’s what it takes to get your project done
  • A slew of published works, in various extravagant genres, ranging from literary fiction to post-apocalyptic action thriller
  • Excellent writing skills, and the samples to prove it

And I’m sure I could expand that list, but I don’t feel it necessary. The real value I provide comes from the fact that I’m not famous. Think about it, I’m the perfect mercenary to ghostwrite your book. No one will ever know. Complete confidentiality assured, because:

  1. I’ll never tell.
  2. No one will ever ask!

In addition, the services provided by Bilander are very reasonably priced, and we’re open to negotiation. You give me credit, or royalties, or another form of extra compensation based on our written agreement, then we may just get crackin’ at a discounted rate. Contact me, and we let’s discuss plans.

 

Who Should be Interested?

Why hire some publishing industry attache, who’s got his or head in the clouds? People deep in that traditional business, I have no problem with them, of course. They just probably aren’t my prospective clients. Oftentimes, agents and publishers and big-shots don’t have any time left for us mere mortals. Paradoxically, with them, you have to be in already before you can get in. Guess what, though? I’m a mere mortal. I don’t have a literary stick up my patoot. I don’t have any truck with that in-crowd hoopla.

The people who hire me are looking for someone to bring out their own voices for their own projects. I have no agenda, no ulterior motives, no biases. I write what you want, how you want it.

I make it work. Plain, simple. Bang. Done.

 

What’s in it for Me?

Aside from being able to pay my bills and, thus, continue writing my own projects without, you know, going the H.P. Lovecraft route (i.e. a long, slow death due to self neglect)…? Well, I get to help you tell your story. And that has more value, in my mind, than most of the other bullshit I’ve had to do in my life.

My great mentor taught me the value of leading “a life of the mind.” That’s where my heart lies. Writing allows me to lead that very particular kind of life. I’m good at this business, too, you know; I know how to spin a yarn, weave some words.

Some of us don’t have the ability, desire, or time to follow that path, and that’s one of the things that makes the human race a lot of fun: even though we’re all generalists in the big picture, each of us is a specialist in one area or another. My specialty is writing and storytelling. What’s yours? What drives you, and how may I help you talk about it?

Previous Experience

Editing-wise, I’ve helped hundreds of individuals better tell their stories, whether fiction or non-fiction, memoir or sci-fi. I’ve delivered successful, ghostwritten works in the following styles and genres, to name a few:

  • Business and Marketing
  • Self-help
  • Biography / Memoir
  • Scholarly Articles
  • Genre Fiction (Sci-Fi, Urban/High Fantasy, Alternate Reality/History, Historical Fiction, Post-Apocalypse, etc.)
  • Surrealism

Beyond these, I have experience writing website copy, blogs, and any short, pithy bit of fluff that you might want to add that extra pinch of spice to a social media post. I’ve been commissioned to write poetry, essays, micro fiction pieces, and more.

If your project doesn’t fall within the above-mentioned categories, it doesn’t mean that I won’t touch it. Not at all! I might just never have been approached with anything even remotely similar. Send me a message. Let’s talk about it.

 

Getting in Touch

Regardless of whether or not you’ve been convinced to give us a try, or you just want to chew the fat with me, I can be reached at jrtraas@gmail.com

I’m a charming enough fella, as fellas go.

And stick around for future posts that will discuss in greater detail the nature of the various services launched by Bilander.

To my Geese I say: Honk On.

Julian’s Gone Mercenary