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Excerpt for Apocalypse Theater Podcast Transcripts — Episode Nine: The Magic Kingdom by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Apocalypse Theater Podcast


Transcripts


Episode Nine


The Magic Kingdom


By Benjamin Allen


Smashwords Edition



First American Edition


ISBN: 9780463136119


Copyright © 2019 Benjamin Allen, © 2019 EK Publishing Media. All Rights Reserved.


EK Publishing Media.com


This eBook is licensed for the personal enjoyment of interested readers. This eBook may not be re-sold for profit, but may be loaned at the purchaser’s discretion. This eBook may be reproduced, copied, and distributed for non-commercial purposes provided the eBook remains in its complete original form and all due credit goes to the original author, Benjamin Allen. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


This short story is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales, are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.



Table of Contents


One


Two


Three


Four


Five


Six


Seven


Eight


Nine


Ten


Eleven


One


Nadia


Forty-five minutes came and went in the grimy Amtrak subway booth. They sat on the leather barstools next to a bar that had once lay across from an old arcade preceding the mouth of the subway tunnel that traveled deep into the unknown. It wasn’t until the streets topside began to fill with morlachs carrying bags of loot that the four girls realized no one was coming for them.

Nadia wiped her nose as she got up from the barstool. She suppressed her tears and forced her military wall to go into effect. Through keeping emotions in check and staying on course for the mission, she would lead them to victory. The only problem was that her definition of victory was quickly becoming sand in her fingers. Victory for what? Ochre, her home, had fallen. Her father and mother were probably dead or worse. She didn’t know what had happened in the last hour but everything had become royally screwed.

“Dad’s instructions were to follow the train-tracks out of Ochre and then to follow the East Coast to New York.” Nadia said to the others.

“But….” Virginia tried to say something. There was nothing to say. There was no protesting. If they stayed here for much longer they would be found. Most people didn’t think about the subway as an escape option, but it would definitely be on the radar of an intelligent individual.

Thereza withdrew a zipper pouch from her bag and unzipped it to withdraw a small hand-rolled cigarette. She put it in her mouth and lit it with a silver lighter someone with the initials T. B. had given to her.

“You bitch!” Nadia broke form and yelled at her.

“What?” Thereza glared at her as she exhaled a cloud of gray smoke. “The freakin’ world is gone, our freakin’ parents are gone, and we’re about to go down into a dark-ass hole in the ground. You guys can go screw yourselves!”

“Mind if I have one of those?” Virginia asked in a shaky voice.

“Not enough to go around, sorry.” Thereza pulled on the cigarette and then handed it off to Virginia. She sucked on the end of the already half-depleted cigarette and took a huge drag. Virginia was obviously no stranger to the act of smoking as she lowered the smoldering remains of the cigarette in her fingers to prop her hand on one knee.

“Let’s get to the truck and get going before someone smells you assholes.” Nadia said and held her breath as she walked through the stench of tobacco smoke. With her AR-15 at the ready, she quietly climbed to the top of the steps where Dr. Grosse’s truck was parked.

Getting into the truck, she started the engine and drove to the subway ramp. Pulling the truck onto the tracks, she revved the engine through the bounce of the rails. With so few vehicles in regular use, the sound of a truck engine could be heard from blocks away. Driving down the tracks, she parked next to the lounge where Virginia, Thereza, and Kayla were hurrying to gather their things.

Kayla and Virginia climbed into the truck bed as Thereza got into the front seat with Nadia. Nadia pinched the remaining tip of Thereza’s cigarette to quench the combustion. “What makes you think I want you next to me?”

“Looks like we’re stuck with each other.” Thereza thumbed over her shoulder as a group of morlach looters jogged onto the tracks far behind them, drawn to the sound of their truck.

Nadia gunned the engine and flicked on the headlights as they rumbled down the tracks. They bounced over the rails and descended deeper into the cool of the earth. Even though much of Florida was now underwater or reclaimed by nature, they didn’t drive through any standing water or run into any rubble. That meant much of the subway system had survived the blasts of The Big Day. There were a few cars where people had tried to drive their vehicles through the tunnels before inevitably dying of radiation or lack of food. Nadia was able to navigate around them with ease.

“When nuclear bombs go off,” Thereza said in a dull monotone from the passenger seat next to Nadia, “they emit a powerful EMP blast. In the beginning of nuclear testing, they found that it was a byproduct of the explosion. They started engineering it into the bombs later.”

“Yeah, they took down the power grid for the entire eastern seaboard first,” said Nadia, “which meant all the planes, trains, and subways systems were grounded.”

They continued driving along the rails for another ten minutes until the headlights of the truck landed on a large object blocking the tracks ahead. It appeared to be one of the old sky blue subway bullet cars. Next to the subway car was a small makeshift campfire and three people who looked ex-military seated around the fire. Next to them was a fourth overweight former marine who was clearly a huffer as he was waving his hands and praising the air like he was in church.

Nadia considered taking the offensive, but all four of the men looked too high on inhalants they had mixed together from medicine cabinets and chemicals from under the old kitchen sinks that survived in the Junk to be of any kind of threat. One of the seated men looked stressed and worried about something as he mopped his forehead and began rocking back and forth.

The four girls climbed out of the truck, taking James’s bag and the ammunition bag with them. Nadia, with the AR-15 slung over one shoulder, approached the four huffers. The dancing one didn’t break stride as he continued praising the heavens silently. Nadia realized from the headphones in his ears tied to an old MP3 player clipped onto his collar, that he was listening to music as he danced. She tugged the earphones from his ears.

“Hey, whatdya do that for?” He demanded angrily. The man had large purple lips and a sagging expression that matched his sagging stomach. He wore a leather beret on his head and wore a pair of brown slacks he had found in a mall somewhere. His brown button-up shirt was buttoned incorrectly, making his shirt look awkward on his chest.

“You look like the only person here with enough energy to give me a straight answer.” Nadia glanced at the other three who didn’t look coherent enough to stand up, let alone answer questions.

“Of a simple thing he cannot understand.” The large man said. “Name’s Benny the Brain, or at least I used to be.”

“I’m Nadia, this is Thereza. That’s Kayla, and she’s Virginia. We’re just passing through. Is there any way to move this thing since it’s blocking the tunnel?”

“We can drive it if you want.” Benny said.

Nadia cocked a brow at him. “Really?”

“Yeah, just gotta remember the password to the terminal. You might say say he found a key for every door.”

“What?” She asked.

Benny beckoned for her to follow. One of the marines got up quickly, but Nadia balled her fists and rounded on him. He gave an intimidated cry and held his hands up to defend himself. “That’s just Gruff the Crime Dog, man. He ain’t gonna bother you.” said Benny.

“No sudden movements, assholes.” Nadia glared at the three men behind them.

“I just,” stammered the man Benny had called Gruff the Crime Dog, “we need our stash, man, and I—I, oh man!” He scratched his arms, his teeth chattering as he sucked air nervously. He wore only his gray T-shirt and the digital blue camo pants he had been given in the military.

“Aw Gruff, bro,” Benny said. “More’s comin’ brother. More’s comin’. Don’t you worry about that, my brother.”

“What were you going to show me?” Nadia asked.

“Oh yeah, it keeps changin’ fast and it don’t last for long.” Benny answered as he walked past Nadia to the booth on the opposite side of the subway bullet car that was sealed and locked. He flicked a switch on the wall to show a narrow room full of computer terminals that powered on. ‘Stand By, Connecting…’ flashed on each of the screens in the office with the glass windows.

“Woah, you can actually power this thing up?” Nadia asked as she stepped into the office.

“I’ve done it before.” Benny said. “I just can’t remember the daggum password.”

Nadia leaned over the computer keyboard as she looked at the computer screen. “It just says, ‘stand by, connecting’.” She looked over at him.

“Yeah, hang on.” Benny said with his tongue hanging out of his fat lips. He pointed at the keyboard. “Press that bottom key to the left of your hand. No, not that one, the other one. The other, other one. That one, yeah. After I cut the power, press that button, and I’ll turn it back on.”

Nadia did as she was instructed. Benny flicked the power back on. ‘Manual Override Activated’ flashed upon the screen. ‘Please Insert Password….

“I see.” Nadia sighed.

“I’ve cracked it before.” Benny said. “I was high as a kite, but I got it. I got to see all kinds of cool maps and stuff the computer has stored in there. Lots of goodies if you can figure it out.”

“And you don’t remember the password at all?” Nadia asked.

“Be a po’ man if he never saw an eagle fly.” Benny shook his head.



Two


Thereza


“So apparently, unless we can get Benny the Brain here high as a bird,” said Nadia after she returned from the office terminals, “we’re up shit creek without a paddle.”

“I know how we can get high,” said Gruff.

“I was being facetious.” Nadia said. “No one’s getting high on my watch, and for God’s sake, Thereza put out that cigarette!”

Thereza flared her eyebrows and tugged her hands from the pockets of Tyler’s big jacket before stubbing out the cigarette on the wall behind her. She put the remains in her zipper pouch and pocketed it.

“Kayla.” Nadia called from next to the subway bullet car. “You were always a better locksmith than me. Any way to jimmy this door open? Maybe we can shift the thing into neutral and push it out of the way somehow.”

“Hold on, let me get those magic locksmith tools I keep stored in my ass.” Kayla crossed her arms.

“I’m sick of the attitude from both of you!” Nadia looked between Thereza and Kayla. “Now, in case you bitches didn’t notice, a bunch of those assholes topside saw us come down here. What are morlachs known to do? Say it with me now: morlachs attract more morlachs! Are we on the same page? Good. Kayla, at least come look at the door real quick.” Kayla uncrossed her arms and stepped forward to examine the subway door.

Thereza nudged Gruff before whispering in his ear. “Where’s this stash? I think if I have to spend another ten minutes with her I might lose my mind.”

“I—I can show you on a map.” Gruff said.

Thereza looked over at Nadia before withdrawing an old mobile smartphone she had fixed, and powered it on. Its previous owner had installed a maps app on the device that depicted a 3D landscape of the pre-bombed United States. Thereza had spent months admiring the world through the app, looking at all the winding roads and passages across the north American continent, getting lost in the mountains and feeling the insignificance of how small she was in comparison to the rest of the world.

She zoomed in on the mouth of the Amtrak Subway Station. “That’s where we are, technically.” She said.

“Well, do you have a freaking air-wedge?” Nadia demanded of Kayla behind them.

Gruff’s eyes were saucers as he looked at the strange backlit device in her hands. The guy had been huffing for so long, everything looked like magic. He zoomed out on the device and tapped on a house just a few blocks from the Amtrak Station. Thereza starred the location before stashing the phone in her pocket.

“That’s Crawdad’s old place. He was a gear-head, liked to fix old motorbikes and build stuff out of lawn mower parts. Good guy, disappeared a few months back. Morlachs man.”

“You’re sure the stuff is in there?” Thereza asked. “How do we know someone else didn’t steal it?”

“It’s behind the bookcase in the garage, and the garage is locked. Morlachs are too stupid to get inside. Key’s in the planter by the front door to the house.”

“What are you two whispering about over there?” Nadia asked.

“Jesus Christ, can you stop breathing down our necks, Mom?” Thereza immediately regretted the remark. Nadia looked stung as she tried to come up with a response. She eventually closed her mouth and turned her back on Thereza and Gruff. “Be back in a few minutes.” Thereza clapped Gruff on the shoulder, which almost knocked him down.

Thereza crept over to the truck and climbed into the driver’s seat without closing the driver’s door. Biting her bottom lip, she turned the ignition to the truck, starting the engine that roared throughout the subway around them. Nadia turned around, outrage and fury filling every part of her face within the truck’s headlights as Thereza gunned the truck into reverse while pulling the door closed. She rumbled up the driveway with one hand on the passenger seat as she craned her neck to look behind her. Occasionally, she rammed a corner into the brick wall side of the subway channel.

Eventually, Nadia stopped chasing in order to catch her breath, but Thereza wasn’t looking forward. She backed over three different scrawny morlachs that thought they might get the jump on the girls as she passed by a line of cars on the other side of the track. The truck hiccupped over them without issue as she ascended through the subway channel. Without looking, Thereza drew the pouch from her bag and tugged the cigarette she had started earlier from its placement before sticking the clean end between her lips.

As Thereza backed into the evening twilight that had fallen across the land and came to a halt on the tracks topside, she lit the cigarette to life and breathed a plume of smoke through her nostrils. She put the truck in drive and pulled up the ramp and onto the road outside the Amtrak subway station. Thereza withdrew her smartphone and plugged in the navigation to the address. There was no GPS so she had to manually position the starting point at the subway station to her selected starred address.

Following the map’s instructions, Thereza growled through the streets of Ochre. A few morlachs tried to stand in her path. When they realized that was a quick trip to being flattened even they jumped out of the way. It was odd to see morlachs roaming Ochre when it had been a safe zone for so long. No one was a stranger to morlach attacks, but their city had never been overrun like this before. Houses all over town were blazing as Thereza crept past in the truck.

Her heart beat loudly in her chest as she turned onto the vacant street that had not yet been looted by the morlachs. She killed the engine a few houses down, stashed the roach of the cigarette on the dashboard, and hurried across the lawn only to see a group of cackling marines exiting one of the houses across the street. She was able to drop behind the skeletal remains of an large bush in the yard as they strolled down the road away from her. She watched them walk past the truck. One of them—the biggest jack-wagon Thereza had ever seen—stopped by the back left of the truck, looked left and right, and then rammed his hunting knife straight into the tire. The truck slowly deflated at a crooked angle as Thereza dropped her face into the grass.

Once the marines were out of sight, she got to her feet and jogged across the lawn toward the house Gruff had starred on the map. She found the key under the planter just as Gruff had mentioned and was able to get into the house and close the door behind her. She took a second to stand in the darkness to conclude that no one else was inside. She turned on her phone light while keeping her hand over the face to prevent anyone from seeing it outside.

The garage door was just to the left of the threshold opposite to the kitchen. It had a double-sided keyed deadbolt. Most doors don’t have that, which made this door particularly odd. Thereza put the key in the key face and unlatched the deadbolt. She pushed the door open to reveal a small garage that was chock-full of plastic dirt bike parts. In the middle of the garage was a parked custom made dirt bike with a nearly empty bottle of lawn mower gasoline sitting next to it.

Voices echoed from outside as the house across the street went up in flames. The light of it filled the living room and kitchen across from the garage. People howled as they ran through the streets beyond the window in the living room. She needed to hurry and get out of here.

Thereza entered the garage and found the large, heavy bookcase. Piled on the shelves haphazardly were hundreds of old books and magazines someone had collected post nuclear destruction. She pulled the shelves back and saw a linen bag full of huffers and huffer paraphernalia. These were medical inhalants from a hospital the boys had looted long ago. There were hundreds of inhalant canisters with unbroken seals filling the bottom of the bag.

“Idiots.” Thereza sacked up the junk and stuffed it into her bag before she turned to look at the dirt bike. At first, she was confused about where the gas would go before she saw the big plastic tank in front of the seat. The tank was already half full, but Thereza emptied the last of the gas can into the tank before sealing it.

They had learned how to ride motorcycles as kids when their father fixed them up. Thereza had to find the switch allowing the gas to flow, turn the choke, and then it should be ready to roll. She unlocked the garage door and lifted it to see the large empty and rusty old pool in the backyard. She climbed onto the dirt bike with her bag in her lap before dropping the clutch and turning the handle. The dirt bike whined to life pathetically, popping and backfiring as she rolled it into motion.

She drove down the driveway and entered the streets, slipping between a pack of confused morlachs as she stopped next to her now defeated truck. Grabbing the roach of her cigarette from earlier off the dashboard, Thereza took a moment to light it in the corner of her mouth as the morlachs jogged into motion behind her. Twisting the handle, she popped and whined forward on the dirt bike. She turned onto the street nearby as she made for the Amtrak subway station.



Three


Kayla


Kayla had tried to open the subway door on Nadia’s orders with a piece of steel rebar. It hadn’t worked, and she was pretty sure she tripped the emergency lockout system in the process. That meant they would have to open the door via the computer after giving the subway bullet car power. There was no other way inside.

“Dammit.” Nadia balled her fists. “I’m gonna kill that bitch! So help me God, Kayla, you’d better have opened that door!”

“I tripped the ELS.” Kayla held up the piece of steel rebar that Nadia snatched from her as she walked past.

“I’m so sick,” began Nadia as she climbed on top of the nose of the bullet train car, straddling the front of the train to get access to the window, “of one step forward and two steps back!” She brought the rebar down on the window several times, but she didn’t even scrape the glass.

“It’s industrial and bulletproof, so… yeah.” Kayla sighed from down below as Nadia lowered the helmet of the combat suit she was wearing to the front of the train. She lifted her head and turned to look at Kayla.

Everyone looked around, hearing the whine of some despicable machine echoing in the distance. Benny the Brain had plugged his earphones back in and was dancing across the subway platforms like he was on stage at a huge concert with thousands of people cheering him on. Nadia slipped off the front of the train and grabbed the AR-15 from the side of the subway bullet car. She popped her shoulder and neck as she approached the mouth of the tunnel to greet whoever was driving that God awful sound toward them.

Kayla watched her thumb the safety off and then drop to one knee with the butt of the rifle braced under her arm. Kayla had always admired her older sister for being so confident and cool in a crisis—at least, for the most part. But Kayla herself was never so confident in her actions as Nadia seemed to be naturally. Virginia Reeves emerged from the terminal booth where she’d been asleep to see what the racket was.

A minute later, Thereza—galloping down the rails of the track on the cheapest thrown-together POS dirt bike the three of them had ever seen—screeched to a halt before the group of them. She killed the engine and climbed off the bike before turning the gas switch.

“I hate to say it,” said Kayla, “but you got ripped off on your trade. That truck was light years better than this pile of crap.”

“Tell me how you could disappear for forty minutes and come back with this stupid thing!” Nadia put the safety back on and lowered the rifle to a box next to her.

“I don’t care, but you’re welcome, Benny.” Thereza said as she dismounted the dirt bike.

Benny didn’t hear her as he danced in the subway booth terminal with his back to them to some techno-trap music. He was waving his big hips and rocking his shoulders up and down as he swished back and forth smoothly. Thereza withdrew an inhaler and a cartridge to give to Benny before Nadia stopped her.

“What do you think you’re doing? You can’t give that to him.”

“He said he can get us on that train with this. Who are we to stop him?” Thereza asked.

“Who are we to enable him?” Nadia said. “If you think giving him that inhaler is the solution to our problems then you’re the one that’s delusional.”

“I slept with Chris Walters when you got drunk and passed out on your birthday two months ago.” Thereza said.

The silence that filled that underground subway couldn’t compare to the shade of red hot rage on Nadia’s face as Thereza pushed past her toward Benny. Nadia’s eyes moved to the AR-15 on the box within reach.

“Woah, woah, woah!” Kayla got up and ran to put herself between Nadia and Thereza as literal murder filled Nadia’s eyes. A snarl began to form on Nadia’s lips as she shoved Kayla back and walked to the other side of the subway platform. She crossed her arms and glared into the fire next to the near-comatose huffers sitting around the fire.

“Aww babe, you the best!” Benny threw his arms around Thereza.

One of the huffers pointed at Nadia and clapped before clutching his stomach with a permanent smile on his face.

She was about to tell the guy to screw off when he and his friend were suddenly lit up with machine gun bullets. Nadia dove for the rifle on the box as Gruff and Virginia hurried into the terminal booth with Benny and Thereza. “IN HERE!” Benny yelled.

“Come on!” Kayla yelled as she grabbed Nadia’s arm. Nadia grabbed Kayla’s hand and turned with the AR-15 in hand to fire at their assailant. There was a huge robot on a caterpillar track aiming two mechanized machine gun turrets at them.

DESTROY! DESTROY! TARGET ACQUIRED! DESTROY!” It yelled in a mechanical voice.

Nadia pulled the trigger, but the safety was on so nothing happened. She raised her hand and managed to deflect a spray of machine gun fire as the rifle fell onto her chest. The combat suit had saved her life once again as Kayla dragged her up the steps where she was able to regain her footing and scramble into the terminal booth with the others. Virginia Reeves slid the booth door closed and latched it as bullets peppered the door outside.

DESTROY, DESTROY, DESTROY!” The robot voice yelled over and over again as it waited on the other side of the door.

Between Kayla and Thereza, Benny the Brain put the inhaler to his lips, pressed the button on the back of the device, and took a single deep breath.



Four


Benny


Benny was aware that someone was shaking him aggressively, but he’d slipped into a daze. “I’ve seen fire rain from the sky.” He drawled.

“I told you not to give him that junk!” Nadia yelled out of Benny’s perception. She had a cute body in that combat suit, Benny had to admit, but she sure did talk a lot. It was killing his buzz.

“Softer than a lullaby.” Benny said.

“Come on, let me try to figure this stupid thing out.” Nadia said.

“Shut up, Nadia!” Kayla yelled. “He’s trying to say something.”

DESTROY! DESTROY! DESTROY!” A voice yelled over everyone.

“Oh, seriously? Now you’re giving into this too? Come on, hit that stupid switch for me.” Nadia ordered.

Benny opened his eyes and lifted both hands triumphantly. “COLORADO!”

Nadia dropped her face into her hand as she waited for the computers to start up. “Okay, trying Colorado.” She said sardonically. “And that’s a big fat negative. I’ll try with all caps… no dice. First letter caps: sorry, grandpa. I think your card’s been revoked.”

Benny’s fists unrolled and he pointed directly at Nadia. “Capital J, capital D, all lowercase, all together: rocky mountain high.”

“JDrockymountainhigh.” Nadia stared at the screen and lifted her hands. “What the hell?” The computer continued into the subway bullet train’s manual override mainframe.

“Wow,” Thereza said over Nadia’s shoulder. “It can take us straight to Manhattan. Go USTS 2300.”

“Activating.” Nadia looked beyond the robot that was still yelling at them over and over to see the subway door open. “Okay. I can start the countdown for one minute. Any plans for how to get past the homicidal robot standing between us and the subway car?”

“Not-it.” Thereza yelled.

“Oh man, oh man,” Gruff was rubbing his face and scratching his arms like crazy. “I don’t want to die man. Not today. I don’t want to die at all, but I really don’t want to die today!”

“Guys,” Nadia stood tall and pressed the button to activate the train. “I got this.”

Train Activated.” A woman’s voice spoke through the subway platform over the intercom outside. “Train departing for New York City in one minute.

“You didn’t bother running this plan by us?” Kayla asked.

Nadia shrugged. “I’m the most well-protected so… I assume I’ll run at the robot while you guys get on the train. I should be able to get on after you.”

“That’s maybe the worst plan I’ve ever heard.” Thereza said matter-of-factly.

Thirty-seconds to departure.

“What a bold statement coming from a total slut like—you know what,” Nadia turned to face Thereza. “Sleeping with Chris didn’t make you a slut, it made you the queen of the assholes. Here’s your crown, bitch. Good luck!” Nadia readied the AR-15 and pulled herself out of the chair to the door to the terminal booth.

“What the hell do you think you’re doin’?” Benny grabbed Nadia’s arm and shoved her with superhuman strength away from the door that she had been guarding, sending her flailing into a pile of boxes on the other side of the booth. He slid the booth door open along its rusty track and stepped out before the rest of them could do anything.

“GO!” Virginia yelled.

TARGET ACQUIRED!” The S&D Bot issued, but Benny launched himself at the robot as its fired on Virginia. She had already climbed onto the bullet train at the platform as Benny danced with the S&D Bot while it filled his insides with bullets. Gruff followed, Virginia and Kayla hurrying after them with her father’s bag over one shoulder and Nadia’s ammunition bag in her other hand. Thereza jumped onto the train as Nadia climbed on behind her with a horrified expression on her face. The subway door closed and the train sped away from the platform as Benny slumped off the robot that was still issuing commands into the empty darkness as Benny’s world faded to black.



Five


Gruff


“Holy crap, man!” Gruff yelled as they rode the train through the darkness toward New York City. “Did you guys see Benny get lit up?” His eyes were wide, but this time they looked normal.

“Yeah,” said Kayla. “We all saw.”

“We got the stash right?” Gruff looked around for Thereza, but she had already gone to a different train car. “I guess that’s a yes?”

He scratched the constant itchies on his arms as he tried to go after her. Someone grabbed him by his shirt and wheeled him around. He saw that it was Nadia. She fixed him with her violent green-blue eyes as he looked back at her in terror. She scared the living daylights out of him.

“I think you’ve had all the inhalants you need for this lifetime, bro.” Nadia said and pushed him into one of the seats nearby. “Why don’t you stay here so I can keep an eye on you in case you turn out to be untrustworthy.”

“Lay off, Nadia.” Kayla said as she sat in the seats across from them to put her feet up. “Ah, finally. We can relax and travel in style.”

“I know I could use a full night’s sleep.” Virginia said as she curled in the seat behind Kayla.

Gruff was itching to get up and leave, but Nadia threw a blanket at him. “I’m watching you, and I sleep with one eye open!”

He lifted the blanket that was draped over his scrawny arms and sat with his bony spine poking into the metal wall of the subway car. What had he gotten himself into?



Six


Virginia


When Virginia woke up at least four hours later, the train had stopped. Someone was snoring loudly in regular five second intervals. There was also a strange beep that issued every thirty seconds. She stretched, feeling her back pop from the uncomfortable positioning on the plastic seats. Sitting up, she looked down the car to see Kayla with her face plastered against the window, and Nadia’s armored legs draped over the aisle. It wasn’t Kayla doing the snoring, which made Virginia smile. And then she realized that Gruff was missing.

Getting up, Virginia slid into the aisle and got to her feet, stretching with full freedom. She sighed and walked toward the other train car. She slid open the door and stepped into the next car that was devoid of all passengers. There were two more cars, but they were empty as well. Both Thereza and Gruff were MIA. That wasn’t a good sign at all.

As she made her way back to the main subway car, she assumed the two had gone out for a smoke. Maybe Gruff talked her into giving him some of his stash since Nadia was crashed out and couldn’t bust their balls. Just as expected, the train door was standing open behind Nadia’s motionless form.

“Nadia.” Virginia shook Nadia’s leg.

“Ah, mmm.” Nadia turned her cheek and flared her still sleeping eyes as her snoring ceased.

“Hey, Nadia!” Virginia said loudly, inspiring Nadia to sit up in her seat.

“Wha—What’s up.” She took a deep breath and wiped the sleep sand out of her eyes.

“I hate to bug you, but the train door is wide open and Thereza and Gruff are gone.” Virginia said. That woke Nadia up to 100%. She swore as she got up and picked up and set the rifle on the seat. She grabbed two magazines from the ammunition bag and locked them on a magnetized strip on each hip.

Kayla suddenly woke up at the commotion from Nadia. “What’s going on?”

“Our dumb donut of a sister left with a desperate drug addict that we only met yesterday.” She withdrew a Beretta 92FS that had belonged to Dr. Grosse, loaded a magazine into the bottom and shoved it into the sidearm holster of the suit. Nadia rested the rifle on her shoulder as she zipped up the ammunition bag with one hand and then laced it over her shoulder.

“And your first instinct is to arm yourself to the teeth and go chasing after her?” Kayla laughed. “She probably went to smoke a cigarette and the guy went with her.”

“That was my thought.” Virginia added groggily.

“Let’s go find out.” Nadia said. “Grab dad’s pack. We’re moving.”

“Can I stay here?” Virginia asked.

“No.” Nadia descended the steps and crunched over the gravel as her head moved past the window alongside the subway car outside. Virginia and Kayla gathered the last of their things and disembarked the train to follow Nadia up the steps to the topside subway terminal.

Warm morning Florida sunlight greeted them as they ascended to the empty subway ticket terminal. Faded Mickey Mouse and Disney logos were everywhere. A tattered poster of “WELCOME TO DISNEY’S THE MAGIC KINGDOM!” was half torn from the overhead in front of them. They made their way down the covered sidewalk toward a massive circular disc with Cinderella’s Castle etched into the emblem.

“Good, we didn’t even get out of Florida.” Nadia said sarcastically as she surveyed the image on the ground. “Dammit, Thereza. Where are you?” Behind them, the whole of the dilapidated Magic Kingdom Disney Theme Park was glowing in the morning sunlight against the clear blue sky.

Kayla made a disgusted sound and stepped back. Nadia and Virginia turned to see dozens of black snakes slithering over the warm sidewalk between empty ticket booths that once saw thousands of visitors a day. Nadia ignored the snakes and started toward the entrance to the park.

“We’re not really going in there, are we?” Kayla asked.

“Do you see your idiot sister anywhere?” Nadia said without turning around. “There’s no way she didn’t go to that stupid castle.”

Virginia didn’t know very much about the Wilkinsons, but she knew Thereza was obsessed with cartoons and would frequently doodle anime caricatures in her notepad while the teacher spoke in class. Other than having known Kayla throughout the years, and knowing that no one would ever score higher on their marksman trials than Nadia, those were the stereotypical details that came to mind at everyone’s first thought of the sisters. It did seem logical that, out of the three of them, Thereza would be the most likely to get lost in a post nuclear apocalypse Disney World.

Nadia walked between the empty booths, stepping between the snakes that seemed as interested in them as they were of the snakes. There was a large planter with the outline of Mickey Mouse’s face and a mural design that was supposed to be colored with specific flowers, but it had been quite a long time since flowers bloomed around Disney World. An old western style building with a clock on the top tower marked the entrance to the park. The words in faded and tarnished paint over the building read, ‘The Magic Kingdom’.

The three of them walked under the rusty aluminum overhead as they passed the Main Street Station that had been looted to the building scraps long ago. It looked as though a giant makeshift track had been built over the station. Pillars of cars had been stacked to create the track’s support beams. The course of it rounded the edge of the park to their left, and traveled to the speedway near the Astro Orbiter and Space Mountain themes on their right. The three girls made their way through snake-riddled streets, past a vacant flag pole that towered over the roads as they made their way toward Cinderella’s Castle far in the distance beyond the avenues of gift shops and restaurants in the old west style architecture.

Nadia paused next to a bronze park bench where a man with glasses—presumably Walt Disney in his youth—was seated next to a statue of an early depiction of Minnie Mouse. Nadia looked out through the different empty streets as wind blew the occasional piece of trash or paper across the corridor. The snakes writhed and wriggled through the roads in lines. They didn’t seem to have any destination other than getting from one murky green body of water to the next.

“I don’t like this.” Nadia heaved a frustrated sigh.

“Should I start yelling?” Kayla asked.

“Not yet.” Nadia said and continued down the road toward the castle at the far end of the street.

Virginia followed, opting to follow the wooden walkway under the transom rounding the buildings on the left to keep the sun from further baking a sunburn into her neck. The wooden panels creaked underfoot, catching Nadia’s attention. She ignored Virginia and pressed onward.

Movement caught Virginia’s eye from inside one of the gift shops—a figure in the shadows. She stopped in the doorway to an old ice cream cafe and peered over the grimy black and white 80’s style floor. The ice cream display case was empty as Virginia looked through it into the dark back kitchen behind the cafe floor. She looked up to see a dirty Mickey Mouse suit slouched against the wall. She crunched over broken glass from the window as she approached the permanently smiling suit.

Grinning, Virginia touched the soft texture of the uniform. Terror iced to her core as a white cartoonish hand flew to her mouth as the suit embraced and held her tightly to its chest.


Seven


Kayla


Cinderella’s Castle was just a block away and towering over the avenue ahead intimidatingly. It’s construction had fallen into disrepair as blue panels on the tower turrets had blown off in the storms following the nuclear blasts. Kayla glanced over to make sure Virginia was still behind them. She stopped when she realized she wasn’t. Nadia turned at Kayla’s attention.

“What the—” Nadia scoffed. “She was behind us like two minutes ago!”

The two searched up and down the block and didn’t find her anywhere. “Guess we’re not cool enough for the party.” Kayla said.

“Guess not.” Nadia said, frustrated.

“HEY EVERYBODY!” Kayla yelled. “WHERE’D YOU GO?” Her voice echoed for a second through the park, but no one answered.

“Why do we even care?” Nadia asked.

“We can’t just leave them.” Kayla said.

“I guess joining them is the only option. Go on, wander off on your own and then maybe one of us can figure out what’s going on.” Nadia said.

“I swear,” said Kayla, “this whole trip you’ve been at nothing but eleven on the bitch scale.”

Nadia ignored her. “I guarantee this has something to do with Thereza’s unrelenting curiosity.”

The two continued down the avenue and entered the plaza preceding the castle where Walt Disney was holding Mickey Mouse’s hand and raising a wave as if to show how iconic their collective influence would inevitably be on the entire world. That was the idea anyway. Now, as he surveyed a figurative sea of children with the mouse’s palm in hand, an empty and forgotten field is all that his gesture fell upon.

“Do you see it?” Kayla asked, pointing to the walkway leading up to the castle beyond the statue of Mickey and Walt Disney.

Nadia moved her head and squinted. She closed her eyes and heaved a heavy sigh at the sight of Thereza’s lavender corduroy cap crumpled on its side on the ramp. “Sometimes I hate being right.” Nadia thumbed the safety off and kept her rifle at the ready. “ALL RIGHT DICKWADS! WE’RE COMING OUT AND WE WANT OUR FRIENDS!” She roared.

Literally seconds later, Nadia scooted back into Kayla as hundreds of different character suits began emerging from every shadowy corner of the plaza. They slowly converged on the circular area as Nadia raised the rifle.

“DON’T!” Kayla put a hand on the rifle. “One of them might be Thereza or Virginia.”

“What?” Nadia snapped at her.

“We don’t know! What if someone dressed them up in a suit or something?” Kayla shrugged.

“You watch too many movies on the archives, Kayla.” Nadia trained her sights on the different Goofys, Donald Ducks, and Minnie Mouses as they climbed over the hedges and jogged from the gift shops toward their position. Nadia rotated around to find a good target, but there were too many. Even with both magazines and the loaded Beretta, there was no way she’d be able to clear out all of them with confidence.

Welcome to the Kingdom of Tomorrow!” Someone yelled through a loudspeaker as the suits continued encircling Kayla and Nadia. The sound of a powerful internal combustion engine cut through the former quiet like a chainsaw as a Mickey suit from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice rode on the hood of the craziest looking thrumming diesel truck engine. The suits cleared a space as the truck with exhaust tubes jutting from all over the engine rolled through the plaza toward them.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice Mickey hopped off the truck to stand before Nadia and Kayla with the loudspeaker in hand. “You two look like you could use some FUN! Turn those frowns upside down because the show’s about to begin!

Nadia looked ready to explode. “What the actual f—”

An airhorn cut over the gyrating diesel engine and interrupted Nadia. “Ah, ah, ah! Not in front of the kiddies!” The leader Mickey wagged a finger at Nadia as several armed suits surrounded and took the AR-15 rifle away from her. They made off with the two magazines as well. Nadia and Kayla stood back-to-back, completely disarmed.

“Nice knowing you.” Kayla said. The suits immediately tied their hands with rope and pushed them into motion toward the western walkways of the park.

“If you see Thereza in the afterlife,” said Nadia, “tell her to consider her ass haunted!”



Eight


Thereza


Thereza usually had a hard time sleeping at night. She could easily sleep every hour that the sun remained suspended in the sky overhead, but at night her mind played on repeat and kept her wired constantly. Regardless, she tried to get some rest as she nestled between the seats of the farthest car to the back. She had tried to crack a window so she could smoke, but it was impossible as the windows were only there for scenic purposes.

Crossing her arms and reclining into the seats of the subway car, Thereza sat in thought as she waited for the quench of rest to take hold. She had begun to drift when the subway train suddenly slowed. It glided soundlessly to a halt. Thereza saw a familiar set of circular shadows and sat up. She turned and saw the eerie, grinning expression of a Mickey Mouse face in the dimness beyond the window. Its face was lit by the floor lights surrounding the subway car.

It took Thereza a moment to realize that the suit wasn’t inhabited by anyone. It was just hanging from a post. She got to her feet with her bag on her hip and passed between the subway cars to the front. It had only been an hour, but Nadia, Virginia, and Kayla were all completely passed out. Gruff’s head turned as she slid past him.

“H-H-H—” He huffed, but Thereza held a finger to her lips for silence before beckoning him to follow.

She quietly stepped over Nadia’s legs and resisted the urge to use her diary pen to draw a penis on her forehead. They had known one another for long enough to know that Nadia was the heaviest sleeper of the three sisters and couldn’t notice the feeling of a pen most of the time. She had inherited their father’s sleep apnea and had snored like a beast since she was eleven years old. The need for a cigarette inspired her to abandon the childish idea.

Thereza helped Gruff over Nadia as two parked by the door to the subway car. She pressed the Open Door button and bit her lip as the door gave a gentle ‘sss’ before sliding out and open. Nadia’s aggressive continuing snores assured them that their commotion had gone unnoticed.

Thereza and Gruff exited the train and walked toward the darkened terminal booth that looked identical to the one in Ochre. Thereza plugged a cigarette into the corner of her mouth before lighting the end with Tyler’s lighter as she tried the door to the booth. It was locked. The relief of the tobacco hit her lungs and caused her shoulders to relax. She pressed her face to the grime-covered window next to the door and peered inside.

On the computer terminal opposite to the door, the words flashed on the screen “Power Error: Please Restart”. A beeping noise filled the subway corridor every thirty seconds as Thereza looked up and down the gaping darkness in either direction around the subway train cars. Gruff continued to scratch his arms next to her. She motioned at him with her chin to follow as she fished in her bag for another inhaler and cartridge like the one she had given Benny.

Thereza hated it when her sisters saw her cry, which is why she had immediately isolated herself from the others after Benny had sacrificed himself for them. He was so loveable and fun in the short time she had known him, it was hard to believe he was dead now. He had given himself for their survival without any reason at all whatsoever, and to protect Nadia of all people. It was so selfless: Thereza couldn’t fathom how a person could accept such a hand from the fates so readily.

She loaded the inhaler as they climbed the steps to the early morning twilight surrounding the subway platform. When the two reached the top of the steps, she gave it to Gruff. “This is for today. No more until the day after tomorrow. Got that?”

Gruff blinked rapidly, scratching his arms as he bit his chapped lower lip to shreds. When Thereza held out the inhaler to him, he took it without question. He swallowed hard and put the inhaler to his lips. Thereza watched him impartially as he pressed the button on the inhaler and took a deep breath from the device. His eyes rolled into the back of his head as he held it for as long as he could. Clouds of heat steam billowed from his nose and mouth as he breathed out the chemical.

“Thanks.” He took a deep breath of fresh air and lowered his arms to his sides as he stared ahead in a daze. Other than his wildly dilated eyes, his composure was almost normal.

“Wanna go crash Cinderella’s Castle?” Thereza drawled.

“Okay.” Gruff said eagerly.

The two walked through the placid Magic Kingdom Theme Park. The snakes had not yet begun to emerge as the sun was still climbing to the east. They walked until they stood before Cinderella’s Castle with its many towers and steeple points piercing the sky. Gruff wore a permanent grin as Thereza smiled. They were about to climb the ramp and explore the eerie portrait halls of the castle, when three people in old style Mickey Mouse costumes jumped out from the mouth of the castle with their arms spread.

“Am I high, or is this really happening?” Gruff asked.

“Pretty sure it’s really happening.” Thereza concurred.

A costume of Mickey from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice emerged from the castle, his permanent Mickey Mouse grin fixed upon them and no one in particular. He was draped in his blue stars and moons cloak with his arms spread like the others. Somehow the motion of suits moving at them with their arms out was far more terrifying than if they’d just walked up normally. It didn’t cushion the shock to see dirt, grime, and blood staining most of the suits that were suddenly all around them.

“Everyone always has to see the castle.” The Mickey said in a gruff man’s voice. “Especially all the pretty girls who’re kids at heart; princesses until the day you die!” The man in the suit laughed without moving or lowering his arms.

Thereza took off her lavender hat and felt the cool breeze in her hair. As someone in a Donald Duck suit tied her hands behind her back, her hat tumbled to the edge of the ramp. Gruff’s hands were tied and the two were led back down the ramp and toward the western part of the park. They were marched past the Haunted Mansion across from Tom Sawyer Island. The murky green waters surrounding the island and meandering through the park were swimming with black snakes. Thereza’s stomach churned at the sight of thousands of wriggling crawlies flooding from the brush and over the concrete walkways as the sun’s rays began to warm the land.

“Oh man, oh man, oh man, what’s going to happen to us, what’s going to happen to us?” Gruff’s hands opened and closed in front of Thereza as they followed their captors through the park.

The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad peaked over the treetops as they approached the rocky orange cliffs of the setting that looked the least affected by the blasts that rocked the rest of the world. They walked under the wooden display markers and climbed makeshift ramps that had definitely not been built by the park’s original owners leading up to the railroads that were cut into the mountainside. Thereza saw the makeshift speedway track that had been thrown together traveling behind the mountain and around the edge of the theme park as they were lead to the highest point overlooking the murky green Rivers of America below.

The people in the different Disney suits began crowding the walkways below and on the other side of the river. As they got together they began clapping in their soft cartoon hands and cheering. The man in the sorcerer Mickey costume waved and blew air kisses at them as they were parked on the mountain ledge.

The sorcerer Mickey produced a loudspeaker megaphone and began speaking. “Good morning everyone! Isn’t it a good day to be alive in the greatest place on Earth?” The costumed patrons cheered in unison down below.

“This does not bode well.” Thereza shook her head as she saw the scaly black hump of something enormous dip and disturb the surface of the waters below as it traveled through the green waters surrounding them.

Are we ready to begin?” A roar of disapproval flooded through the crowd of suits. “Is that a no?” He asked with his hand to his large black ear as one of the sailor Donald Duck suits jogged up the path. He ran all the way up to the sorcerer Mickey Mouse suit nearby.

“More people just showed up at the subway.” The guy in the suit whispered.

The guy in the Mickey Mouse suit put a big white gloved hand to his mouth and lowered the loudspeaker to his side. “Back to positions everyone!” He whispered loudly as the crowd dispersed into the different nooks and crannies of the park. “Not a peep, you two.” He growled at Thereza and Gruff.



Nine


Gruff


The only silver lining to this nightmarish experience was that he was able to enjoy being high while it was happening. It was a tugging in the chest. Life was pulling him along and he was sitting in the backseat as events unfolded through glass windows far ahead of him. The relaxation in his chest mixed with the warmth of the morning sun on his face, making him yawn sleepily. Gruff felt like he could sleep for the next week and it would be fine, or hell: he could die now and it would be fine. Why not? Now’s as good a time as any right?

“I don’t wanna die. I don’t wanna die. I don’t wanna die.” He realized. He had so much to do and see, so many good highs left to fulfill. Being a huffer was only half of his life’s goal. He knew at some point he planned to make a full 180º and get clean, get off the inhalants, and maybe marry a pretty girl who could accept him for who he was. He liked Thereza. She seemed cool. Maybe they could get married one day and live happily ever after.

Unfortunately, as they stood on the ledge of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad overlooking the defeated ruins of the Disney World Magic Kingdom Theme Park, he realized that all of those dreams were very unlikely to come to fruition at this point. He understood this, and yet his high kept him chugging along. His mind ran like a freight train, putting words together for no reason at all. Chuck. Truckiluck. Bowcraft. Wormwood. Crocodile patties. Patties. Now that was a funny word: patties.

“Hey Thereza.” Gruff smiled. She glanced at him hopelessly. “Patties.” He enunciated the word clearly. She swallowed hard and licked her lips as she reexamined their situation once more. “Hey Thereza.”

“What?” She said, reflecting that sharp tone that her older sister used in every sentence.

“If we live through this… want to get married?” Gruff asked.

“I’m not saying no.” Thereza answered.

“Is that a yes?” He smiled foolishly.

“I’m not saying no.” She reaffirmed. “Get us out of here and I’ll think about it.”

“Pipe down, you two!” The man in the sorcerer Mickey suit whispered. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He descended the ramp that was covered with orange sand before disappearing behind the stalk remains of the palm trees that used to shade the park.

Ten minutes later, Virginia Reeves was led by a Mickey and a Goofy suit through the red painted concrete paths to the makeshift ramps leading to the cliff ledge. Gruff heard the unmistakable sound of a diesel engine before Nadia and Kayla were brought up to meet them.

“Cool, you found us.” Thereza said as Nadia and Kayla were parked next to Virginia.

“Get bent.” Nadia growled. “This is all your fault, you know? You and that stupid junkie huffer!”

“Hey man, that’s only partly true.” Gruff whined. “This is only one half of my—”

“Shut up, I don’t care!” said Nadia.

The sorcerer Mickey Mouse costume stood on the ledge and spread his arm as he spoke through the megaphone. “OH-KAY! If we’re finished with all interruptions, we can begin the ceremony. Is everybody ready?” He called. All the suits on Tom Sawyer Island and flooding the pathways below jumped up and down and cheered.

“Okay, enough!” Nadia stepped forward.

Oh, look at that, we have a willing volunteer it seems!

“No, we’re done playing this game. Now, you’ll play mine if you don’t want to get kicked off the ledge!”

Oh you silly, silly, silly girl. Shall we begin?” The sorcerer Mickey asked.

Nadia looked at the crowds of costumes cheering throughout the park surrounding them. They were all caught up in some kind of spell that this was okay, whatever they planned to do.

The sorcerer Mickey Mouse suit clicked his tongue. “You know, you look way too stringy, and I don’t know—too chewy for our sacrifice today. Bolivar needs someone who’ll go down smoothly.” The sorcerer Mickey Mouse pushed Nadia aside and poked and prodded Thereza before moving on to Kayla. He pinched Kayla’s stringy arm and clicked his tongue while shaking his head. He didn’t even bother looking at Gruff due to him being more bone and skin than muscle. “Ah, a perfect candidate.

Everyone turned and looked at Virginia Reeves as the sorcerer Mickey took her by the wrist to the cliff ledge. “What’s happening?” Virginia asked. He positioned her directly on the cliff ledge with the toes of her boots hanging off the orange stone.

“Don’t do this.” Nadia warned.

It’s already been set in motion. It’s already done!” The sorcerer Mickey Mouse said. “I declare this day’s sacrifice found and executed!” He was about to push her off when Gruff stepped forward.

“You forgot one thing!” He said. He had been sitting in the backseat for all this time, enjoying the high and being cool. But sometimes a person needs to stand up even if he doesn’t know how. Everyone went quiet, waiting for Gruff to finish his statement. “The rules clearly state that a sacrifice is absolute UNLESS!” He waited for shock value as all eyes were fixed upon Gruff.

He didn’t know what else to say. He didn’t even understand why he had said anything. “Somebody else is willing to challenge… the scary Mickey Mouse… to a car race!” He threw up his hands.

What?” The sorcerer Mickey Mouse asked.


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