RIP Jake Bernadino
“What do you think of Fowler?” Governor Mary Yardley asked Father Hoffman.
The two were taking a casual stroll through the town’s vegetable gardens on a late summer afternoon.
“It’s a good place,” he said in approval. “The people seem quite happy. The Lord has certainly provided them with a safe haven against the evils of the world beyond the wooden walls of this town.”
“Amen, Father,” Governor Yardley said.
Father Hoffman looked at Governor Yardley.
As far as he could figure, they were about the same age. Her skin was the color of dark chocolate.
Her deep wrinkles seemed to carve a map of her life on her still agile and mobile facial features.
When she spoke, she spoke slowly. Not because she couldn’t speak faster. Rather, whenever she spoke she chose her words carefully.
And her voice.
Father Hoffman had been expecting the croak of old age but her voice was more like that of an abbess he once knew, strong and distinctly upper class.
She was well-loved and respected by the hundred or so folks in Fowler. In a former life, Governor Yardley was an elementary school principal.
She definitely ran Fowler like a well-managed school, Father Hoffman thought.
Before he and the other survivors arrived in Fowler nearly two months ago, life had been a series of day-to-day survival in a world God saw fit to cleanse.
Now, he and the others felt safe for the first time in years.
Father Hoffman was even given the charge of being the town’s Spiritual Leader. In return for helping tend to the spiritual needs of the townsfolk, he was given a monthly stipend in the way of ration notes.
Created from clay in the shape of small coins with the value of each coin inscribed on both sides, Ration Notes came in denominations of 1, 5, 10, and 20. The creation and distribution of Ration Notes was highly regulated by all members of the Unified Towns.
Barely a year old, the Unified Towns were the main political body in the Rotter Lands, determined to build what they call a New America.
Each Governor in the thirteen towns that made up the Unified Towns was also a member of The Council.
The Council determined laws and punishment, which must be implemented by all member settlements.
The Council was the final authority over all member settlements. The oversight process didn’t appeal to everyone, however, and many settlements in the Rotter Lands refused to recognize the Unified Towns as an authority.
This had led to friction, and rumors persisted of covert operations to weaken outside settlements enough that joining the Unified Towns became the only choice.
Others claimed The Council had made arrangements with various raider groups to harass and attack specific settlements.
Despite the rumors and conflict, those within the Unified Towns led a better quality of life compared to other settlements.
All in all, Father Hoffman was quite happy to play a part in the spiritual growth of Fowler.
The politics of governing didn’t concern him.
Let them all believe they’re in charge, he quietly thought to himself. For it is written in Proverbs: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand”.
Father Hoffman knew that God wasn’t done with the world yet.
On the other side of town, Jake was also enjoying a leisurely stroll with Storm.
Storm Wright and her son, Richard, were among the survivors he ran across outside of Charlie’s auto repair shop.
In the time since both of them arrived in Fowler, they had gotten pretty close. Her son, Richard, didn’t seem to mind either, which made it all that much better.
Yes, living in Fowler was alright with Jake.
Although he didn’t like working, Governor Yardley insisted that everyone did their part to help.
Naturally, Jake tried to take on the easiest job he could. He did manual jobs around town.
But mostly, he tried avoiding any kind of work.
However, in return for helping in the fields, Jake was able to keep some of the marijuana plants being grown for medicinal purposes.
Governor Yardley didn’t approve of recreational drugs.
So he convinced them that he needed the plants to ease the pain left from an old wound.
All around him, the hustle and bustle of the settlement brought an assortment of sounds. The laughter of children, the clanging of the blacksmith, the whinny of the horses.
It was a rough life in the Rotter Lands, but the town of Fowler had done well for itself.
Though not one of the larger settlements out there, the people had always pulled together, and relations with New Dodge to the north had also given the town a solid trade partner.
Suddenly, Jake’s thoughts were invaded by the ringing of the alarm bell.
In the distance, a military model helicopter, quite possibly a Huey, was spotted coming towards Fowler from the east.
Just as Jake began to see the speck take greater shape in the distance, a trail of smoke rushed from the ground and a large explosion blossomed at the rear of the chopper.
Black smoke trailed in the air as the helicopter spun toward the ground, disappearing behind a distant treeline.
Governor Yardley stood in front of City Hall.
It had been less than fifteen minutes since the helicopter was seen crashing into the woods outside of town.
“My friends,” Governor Yardley began. “As you are aware, a military helicopter was seen headed towards Fowler. For reasons unknown, it seemed as though it may have been shot down.”
There were murmurings in the crowd.
Parents pressed their children closer to them.
“Although we are not sure if the people in the helicopter are friendly or not,” Governor Yardley went on to say. “we must investigate this incident. For the safety of our town and that of the Unified Towns.”
The crowd voiced their agreement.
The Governor raised a hand towards Father Hoffman. “Father Hoffman has already volunteered to help lead the investigation. Are there those among you willing to join him?”
“What about the ones in our town’s defense force?” Someone in the crowd asked out loud. “Shouldn’t they go?”
“Due to the nature of the situation,” Governor Yardley responded. “I am ordering our defense force, led by Defense Commander Clint Highway, to remain in town to ensure the safety of our citizens.”
More voices of agreement from the crowd.
“I’ll go,” Jake Bernardino said. He stepped out of the crowd and looked towards Storm and Richard.
Storm wiped a tear from her face.
“Excellent,” Governor Yardley said. “You and Father Hoffman should assemble a team to go with you. Take horses. Commander Highway said it would take you about thirty minutes on horseback to reach the crash site.”
Jake and Father Hoffman turned to the crowd and began assembling a team to brave the dangers of the Rotter Lands.
They needed to find out who shot down the military helicopter.
They also needed to know where the helicopter came from.
When they arrived at the crash site, they saw nearly a dozen shamblers in the area.
The helicopter’s impact gouged the earth until it finally came to a stop. It formed a small impact crater, over ten feet deep at the front of the helicopter.
It looked like the soldiers tried to escape the wreckage. But the shamblers got to them before they got far.
The group tied the horses, then made their way closer to the wreckage.
When they got close enough, they got the shamblers’ attention and attacked.
During the attack, one of the survivors heard a faint rustling in the bushes nearby. Hidden beneath the foliage, barely conscious, was a solider from the crash.
His chest was a bloody mess, and his left arm suffered from a compound fracture.
Father Hoffman kneeled next to the man. “Be still my son,” he tried to calm the soldier. “You’ll be al—.”
The wounded soldier suddenly pulled Father Hoffman closer to him.
Blood flowed out of the man’s mouth. “They . . . they took it,” he gasped. “Bastards . . . shot us down . . . and
took it. Left . . . rest for . . . dead.”
“Who?” Father Hoffman asked with urgency. “Who shot your helicopter down? And what did they want?”
“Cylinder for . . . Beacon. For Ollie Resnick. Code . . . liberation day of Helltown. Unified Towns in . . . danger. They’ll . . . conquer them. Headed south. If Beacon falls . . . Unified Towns fall . . . then the other settle . . .” and with those last words, the soldier’s eyes stared forward and his breathing stopped.
Father Hoffman offered a prayer for the man’s soul.
He then put the barrel of his shotgun to the soldier’s head and fired.
He turned Jake who standing nearby. “We need to destroy the rest of the shamblers and find out who did this.”
He then turned to rejoin the others still battling the living dead.
After they had put down the living dead, the survivors searched the wreckage.
But not before everyone found out that Jake had been bitten by a shambler after being surrounded by the living dead.
By the look of his wound, Jake knew that it would have been only a matter of time before he turned into one of the living dead.
While everyone else were busy fighting shamblers, Jake took one of the horses and rode as far away as he could.
“Shouldn’t we go after him?” Isabella asked. She started towards the horses.
“No,” Father Hoffman said with authority. “We saw him get bitten. He knows his fate. He’s in God’s hands now. We need to continue without him.”
The others regretfully had to agree with the priest.
It looked as though the soldiers were traveling light or had left wherever they came from in a hurry, for there were no extra ammunitions in the helicopter.
And by all the empty casings they found scattered throughout the crash site, it looked as though the soldiers had gone through all of their rounds in the firefight.
“Hey,” John Buckley yelled trying to get everyone’s attention. He was pointing at where Kratos stood some distance north of the crash site. “Looks like Kratos found something.”
When they got to Kratos, he was pointing to what appeared to be a trail left by a several fast-moving people headed north.
“Let’s mount up and follow the trail,” Father Hoffman told everyone.
Within minutes the survivors, now on horseback, reached an open field.
Not far, they saw what appeared to be a group of seven undead running as fast as they could. They spotted, on one of the undead, a metallic cylinder strapped to the thing’s waist.
Everyone couldn’t believe what he or she was seeing. The survivors had never heard of any living dead that could run.
They quickly gave chase.
However, luck was not with the survivors.
At one point, they got close enough to attack the undead with the cylinder. But the attack didn’t injure it enough to slay it or slow it down.
Several minutes into the chase, the undead were able to escape by sliding down an embankment and fleeing down a dry creek bed.
“Kratos,” Father Hoffman turned to the young man. “See if you can follow their trail. We’re not giving up that easily.”
Kratos dismounted and made his way down to the creek bed and began looking for signs as to where the fast-moving undead went.
Elsewhere, Jake slowed his horse to a trot.
He had ridden for what seemed like miles.
He was at the top of a small hill. From atop his horse, the view of the valley below was breathtaking.
He stopped the horse.
Jake slowly dismounted and made his way to sit on the ground next to a tree.
He grunted. The pain on his chest where a shambler had taken a chunk of his skin was extremely painful.
He looked at his wound. He knew what was going to happen.
He knew there was no cure.
He began to think of Storm. For once in his life, he had finally found someone he could possibly love.
Amazing how bad life can get just as it was getting better.
He had heard that some people, after being bitten by an undead, can go for days before turning.
Some, he heard, turned in minutes.
It depended on the severity of the bite wound.
How much time did he have?
He couldn’t allow himself to spend the few remaining days, hours, or minutes he probably had left hoping for a miracle that even Father Hoffman couldn’t deliver.
So just like he had learned to do since his parents abandoned him to his own volition so many years ago, Jake took matters into his own hands.
He wasn’t going to let the infection turn him into one of the undead.
If he was going to die, it would be on his own terms.
He took the gun and pointed it at his temple.
[Screen turns black]
[Before the credits roll, we hear the sound of a single gunshot ]
Tom Cook, John Buckley, Ron Rosen, Isabella Blessing