Recluses by Terry Lloyd Vinson

EXTRACT FOR
Recluses

(Terry Lloyd Vinson)


Recluses

 

introvert—(psychology) a person who tends to shrink from social contacts and to become preoccupied with their own thoughts

loner, lone wolf, lone hand—a person who avoids the company or assistance of others

hermit—a person who retires from society and lives in solitude; a recluse; an anchorite

 

 

THE ISLE OF TRANQUILITY, PART I

 

Well, here it is ten minutes ’til noon and she’s still among the missing. Didn’t even bother to cook me up some brunch before traipsing off on one of her infamous island jaunts. Damned if I’ll ever comprehend that woman’s mindset. It’s like she’s always late for an appointment she never had. You’d think three blessed months on this island would’ve altered such behavior. No matter … I’ll do enough relaxing for the both of us. First off I’ll heat up some of those frozen waffles and wash ’em down with a pot of the stoutest Joe I can take. Second, I’ll toss on a pair of swim trunks and kick back by the pool with an icy beverage and the last of Pop’s many bestsellers. Funny, in a tragic sorta way, that it took a global catastrophe for me to get rightly acquainted with the crazy bastard’s life’s work. Whatever, I’m sure Pop is peering straight up from the fiery pits of hell with an expression of fatherly pride at the mere concept. Sadistic jackass … long may you simmer in Satan’s crockpot.

I was thinking of giving the Internet another shot, but why waste precious time and effort on such a hopelessly lost cause? No way it’s been miraculously revived overnight … same with the satellite TV and radio transmitter. Frozen solid as my waffles, no doubt—dead as the swollen ranks of wandering corpses that make up the world population these days. Ah, no big deal anyhow. I never cared much for the Web except for the occasional porn surf. TV sucked sewer fluid and the radio was a wasteland of crappy music and still crappier political babblings.

The fact is, I ain’t at all ashamed to confess to feeling damn relieved at the whole turn of events. I’d been spouting off for years about making a permanent move to Pop’s little island getaway and living the rest of my life on cold beer and processed foods.

Other people’s opinions be damned—what exactly is so wrong about living one’s life in peaceful solitude? I could care less about said opinions—everyone possesses an asshole as well—but why shouldn’t I, as an only child, enjoy the fruits of my father’s labor? The only thing that kept me from making tracks years ago was Jenny and her passion for high-society living. She always felt the need to wear that mask of wealth … to show off whatever new bauble or toy came into her greedy possession. Me, I never gave a rat’s hairy hind leg about putting on airs. Never was my style to flaunt. Don’t get me wrong … I loved the unlimited supply of cash and all the artificial happiness it brought me … but the status thing never meant squat. Besides, one who spends a large majority of his youth doing time in assorted rehabs finds it a bit difficult to feign a high level of class.

Jenny was always the actress while I played the part of bumbling stage hand. No doubt her friends always pondered, and more likely asked her outright, why she stayed with such a societal misfit as yours truly. To that I respond with two simple but extremely forceful words … prenuptial agreement. Though admittedly I have to say there is a bond there, however threadbare. Twelve and a half years is a chunk of time, after all, especially amongst the blue-blood crowd. As far as Jen and me, there is a massive gray area between hate and love, mostly consisting of a thick, crusty layer of reluctant tolerance. The socialite and the boozy, drug-addled recluse—Howard freakin’ Hughes and Madonna … together forever. Who would have ever thunk it? Well, off to nuke some waffles, then to peruse the old man’s vast library of meaningless but obviously lucrative words.

 

Thirty-eight minutes later:

 

Ah, another sun-drenched, carefree day on Slacker Island. What else could a guy ask for? Lounging poolside with a frosty cold beverage and a good book? Guess I should withhold judgment on the “good” part for a later date. Dad’s works were never that well received by critics, but that sure didn’t sway the buying public a single iota. I lost count years ago how many movies were adapted from ’em. Dozens, I’d say, though I never personally watched more than four or five. Never went in for guts ’n’ gore, end-of-the-world scenarios, or futuristic soap operas, so that pretty well eliminated anything made from one of the old man’s writings. Snooty critics aside, I remember reading in his obit where he’d sold something like one hundred and sixty million copies of his books worldwide—enough to afford houses on every freakin’ coast and this modest little sixteen-room abode here, parked smack-dab in the center of the Pacific with no sister island in sight.

Damn, isn’t life ironic, though? Pop would be having a knee-slapping field day with the world’s present-day fix, though he never was big on zombie-plague tales, if I recall. Called ’em all redundant and lifeless, that last part said while flashing a sour smirk he often flashed in lieu of a genuine smile. What a cheery, fun-filled dude my old man was. Money and riches never made ’im happy. Booze only added to the misery. Five or six ex-wives didn’t exactly add joy to the mix. Still, I think if he could picture the weird, wild happenings going on about now, even his ultra-cynical butt might be capable of cracking a grin.

Let’s see now … twelve-forty-four and still no Jenny. Probably packed a freakin’ lunch … anything to put additional time and space between us. Not exactly sure what I did to irk her off this time. Rarely am. Sometimes my very existence seems to be enough. Probably something to do with falling off the wagon for the umpteenth time, though I’d have to lay some of that particular blame on the old man. For one thing, I definitely inherited my love for the hard stuff from his boozy old soul. For another, it ain’t my fault he left behind enough gin, vodka, and tonic on Slacker Isle to inebriate half the free world, or at least those still remaining upright with a working pulse.

Ah, well, they say time heals all wounds, and damned if time isn’t the one commodity least likely to expire in these more-than-trying times.

On to the reading before all the melted ice transforms my gin and tonic into a slushy.

Chapter one, then, of Raymond J. Striker’s best-selling collection titled LONERS … wow … now isn’t that conveniently fitting?


 

BOOK 1 - THE BUNKER

 

Prologue

Prologue: Killian’s Lair

 

Killian fears the girl isn’t going to make it. Worse yet, he feels her imminent passing a certainty. It seems merely a matter of time. He is no doctor, far from it, but in terms of potentially fatal symptoms, she possesses so very many. Shallow breathing, a rapid pulse, and a skin tone that grows paler by the moment. Gently patting her chilled forehead with a damp rag, he experiences a sudden rush of shame in the helplessness of the situation. Though he’d pawed through the contents of the first aid kit numerous times, there seems to be nothing available to offset the gradual shutdown taking place within the girl’s motionless frame.

Despite the cruelty of such thinking, he can’t help but ponder if she’d been better off expiring out there with all the rest. At least then the end might’ve been somewhat merciful and without the undue suffering of the slow, agonizing demise that surely waited.

Moments earlier he’d finally managed (spilling a half bottle of peroxide in the process) to slow the bleeding from the deep gash at the underside of her throat by first applying the necessary pressure and then securing the area with a heavy gauze wrap. Ditto the open wound behind her left knee and the bloodied knot at the back of her skull. Having laid her on the living room couch, the whole of which swallowed her like a shallow pit of quicksand, Killian then steps back to survey the unholy mess he’s made of the tiny living room area. No matter, he realizes with a lengthy, resounding sigh that holds just a tint of desperation.

It isn’t as if there isn’t ample time to tidy up. Collapsing onto a nearby bean bag, he watches the girl’s narrow midsection rise and fall inconsistently and wonders how long she has and if she will ever again regain consciousness. Killian closes his eyes in search of a moment’s peace just as the bunker’s filtration system hums to life.

Contradictory as it is, he can’t help but both praise and curse his late uncle within the same fevered thought.

It has been just short of an hour since he’d carried the young girl inside and secured the shelter’s outer doors, and he has yet to take proper inventory of their strange new surroundings. Outside the thick stone walls, the grounds continue to grumble and groan like a caged beast and Killian believes the earth could soon open up and swallow them whole, though at the present he is far too fatigued to dwell upon such probable catastrophe.

As it is, the memory of the girl’s rescue is of the hazily blurred variety. He is finding it extremely difficult to believe many of his own actions in the past three hours, much less the reckless heroics that had seen him horse-carry the girl inside what he’d previously deemed to be his very own exclusive safe haven.

Running blood-smeared fingers through his already sweat-coated coif, Killian leans forward with both elbows propped atop his knees and reviews the replay as fragmented segments began to take shape in clearer, sharper clarity.

 


 

Chapter 1

Day One Flashback: Upheaval

 

Toppling over into the gravel drive just as the ground to her left swells and expands like an overinflated balloon, the lithe figure rolls gracefully beneath a nearby SUV, though such actions are more by accident than purposely seeking cover. Just as the Jeep is tilted to a tipping point by the cracking, heaving surface, the girl dives forward and gains clearance, miraculously suffering only a mild bump on her forehead in the process. The back of her head is already matted in crimson, as is her upper chest as a fresh neck wound gushes forth its freely flowing contents.

Weaving toward the house on her hands and knees, she watches the two-story brick structure implode a section at a time. The tiled roof peels itself free as if assaulted by monsoon winds. The front porch supports bend and snap like toothpicks beneath a sledgehammer’s merciless blow. A foot-long crack forms in the red brick near the entrance, as if pulled apart from the inside by some monstrously oversized rib-spreader. A picture window explodes just as the front door entrance sails off its hinges, showering the gravel drive in a whirling mix of glass shards and oak splinters that slap the girl’s exposed flesh like a dozen separate wasp stings. She falls back onto the vibrating earth with her hands blocking her eyes, her shoulder-length brown locks coated in debris. Curling into a fetal position as the ground rocks and trembles beneath her, the girl repeatedly screams out the names of those she fears have already fallen victim to similar scenes of horrific destruction. As the surface beneath her continues to buck and rumble, she peers between splayed fingers and can feel tiny specs of submerged glass that blur her vision to a watery haze.

“Dear ... God, what ... is ... this?” she mumbles between sobs, managing to rise to one knee as the structure before her crumbles into itself like a Styrofoam cup crushed within a solid steel vise. Attempting to stand while wiping both eyes with bare forearms that seep crimson from dozens of open wounds, the girl is oblivious to the thousand- plus-pound SUV that is being rolled toward her like a jagged bowling ball, shoved forward by dirt, clay, and rock swells that better resemble murderous ocean waves at the center of a building squall. Shoved forward onto bloodied knees as the ground rises beneath her, she is equally unaware of the man sprinting wildly toward her from the opposite direction. The girl manages only a choked whimper as the man first grabs and then tosses her over his left shoulder, the tiny patch of ground she’d previously occupied battered into oblivion less than a full second later by a serrated man-made boulder constructed of twisted metal and fiberglass.

Wha— ... w-who? W-who y-you?” the girl babbles, though more from shocked bewilderment than true protest as the breath is slowly beaten from her lungs by the man’s upper shoulder. The man, nearly twice the size of the squirming parcel atop his back, does not respond as he lumbers forward with his eyes to the ground, lest either of his booted feet sink into the constantly shifting earth. A small duffel bag bounces atop the opposite shoulder, its connecting strap cutting a deep crease into the loose flesh of his ample midsection. Behind them, what remains of the SUV vanishes into the ever- widening sinkhole where the center of the homestead previously stood.

Overhead, the skies are a psychedelic mix of coal black, dark blue and luminous orange, swirling in both clockwise and counterclockwise fury from various directions, as if pregnant with funnel clouds on the verge of impending birth.

Huffing and groaning like a strained locomotive, the man lumbers up a steep upgrade leading into a thicket of overgrown shrubbery that pulsates with each subsequent earth tremor like some giant oceanic life form. With surprising grace that belies his considerable bulk, the man dodges and darts between the scattered weed clumps and saplings within to emerge into a vast clearing. With the girl having gone limp in his grip, he briefly glances upward into the swirling mass of maroon-shaded clouds overhead just as the first tennis-ball-sized clumps of hail plop into the ankle-high grass at his feet. It is just as he begins to descend a gravel-coated downgrade that the pelting subsides a bit, and he is able to keep from toppling forward by using the girl’s bulk as a counterweight. The icy spears transform into a torrential rain as he slows at the base of a pear-shaped hillside practically engulfed in kudzu growth. The wind at his back is monsoon-strong, deafening. He feels he has but a precious few moments before he and the girl are scooped up like so much bagged trash and slung skyward.

Laying the girl face down as gently as circumstances allow, he sidesteps the shattered trunk of an ancient oak and reaches forward into the undergrowth with fingers outstretched like a blind man groping for hidden wares.

The man becomes acutely aware of a shrieking cry, a siren’s wail that somehow pierces the howling winds. Glancing at the girl, it is obvious she is beyond such dramatics.

It isn’t until he is able to rip away several layers of loosely tied vine and secure the squared outer edges of the trapdoor that Killian realizes the screams are his own. It has been nearly a calendar year since his uncle revealed the location of the bunker’s well-camouflaged entrance, and he can’t help but fear just what he’ll find behind the stout wooden planks, or better yet ... what he won’t find, such as suitable shelter from the hell-storm presently assaulting them from above and below. He’d loved the man no end, and there was no doubting either the man’s intelligence or work ethic, nor that he’d possessed the wealth to complete such a project, but he also knew oh-so-well of Uncle Raymond’s ultra-eccentric reputation. With that final thought at the forefront, Killian half-expects to pull the door ajar and find nothing more extravagant than a shovel-dug hole in the side of the hill with perhaps a jug or water, a carton of Winston Lights (his uncle’s favorite smoke), and a few rolls of toilet paper serving as “survival” gear. Even worse, a flimsy lean-to constructed of cardboard or bamboo walls. What he finds instead is yet another blockade, this particular one of the solid steel variety and void of any type of knob or handle.

Twisting about, he leaps through the first entrance and lifts the girl to his chest, her blood-drenched hair entombing the whole of her face with the aid of the hard rain that only seems to have intensified until he can no longer visualize anything beyond a four-to-five-foot range. Hauling her inside the minuscule opening, he leans her against the inside of the wooden door and turns his attention back to the barricade at hand.

Jutting from the ground to his right is a silver metal pole, where a numerical keypad sits atop a flat marble surface about the size of a tea saucer. Crazily, Killian first assumes this to be a calculator, but then recalls the bizarre e-mail he’d received from Uncle Raymond several weeks earlier. The message had revealed a numerical code that Killian had instantly recognized as his father’s birthday: three, twenty-seven, fifty-six.

Instinct motivates him to step over and quickly punch in the same five-digit number onto the pad’s large hard plastic keys.

The thick metal door swings open with a mild sucking sound as if pressurized from within, and Killian laughs aloud. Wholly without his aid, the door reseals with the same whooshing sound and brings to mind the inner hatches on a submarine. The interior air smells metallic somehow, like wet coins.

Carrying the girl into a stony, narrow, dimly lit tunnel that favors a concrete sewer pipe, he takes barely a half dozen steps before facing the identical twin of the steely entrance at their backs. A sharp, resounding cracking noise causes Killian to fall roughly to one knee, though he does manage to maintain a firm grip on the girl. He believes the plank entrance to be little more than scattered kindling at this point, and tries not to contemplate his own fate (and the girl’s) if the keypad combination had been wrong or even punched in incorrectly.

As was the first, the second door is provided with an identical keypad, to which Killian provides the exact same code, albeit punched out with a wet, badly shaking forefinger. The door slides smoothly ajar, though a bit slower than the first and with an even more resounding hiss of decompression. He lugs the girl inside with what little energy reserve remains intact, the scent of her blood loss piercing the otherwise antiseptic odor within. Killian’s eyes dart about spastically as he takes rapid inventory of their new world. The lighting within isn’t overly bright but is sufficient without being murky. The squared stone walls are painted light green, the rock ceiling smooth but unpainted. The floors are slickly tiled. Killian can only imagine the time and expense Uncle Raymond sacrificed on such a project, only to miss its inaugural unveiling.

It won’t be until he discovers a fairly well-stocked first aid kit and completes treatment on the girl’s wounds that a suitable tour is taken of all that encompasses his late uncle’s bunker. An odd feeling of soul detachment will soon follow; a state of surreal bewilderment Killian will learn to not only accept, but actually savor as the once- essential element of time gradually becomes a non-factor.