Brutal Bargain – Sample

Chapter One


How many days has it been? 

Since I’ve had something other than canned food.

Since I’ve last seen sunshine. 

Since I’ve last heard another person’s voice. 

The marks I’ve scratched into the wall say it’s been sixty-eight days, but I’m pretty sure I’m off by a few, if not a week.

You’d think that after hiding in a janitorial closet for so long, I’d be eager to re-enter the world. That would be wrong. 

I’m terrified. So much so that the thought of starving to death in this ten-by-ten closet seems like a mercy compared to what’s waiting for me outside.

It started months ago. Reports on the radio that seemed more fiction than fact. Some said aliens had finally made the trip to Earth, others said governments from around the world were working on a project that would change the trajectory of mankind forever. 

The cherry on top of the crazy sundae was when our government broadcasted a message saying any reports of the dead rising were completely fabricated, and anyone reporting such lies would be apprehended for causing widespread chaos.

Yeah, that’s right—I said the dead rising. 

At the time, it sounded laughable. We thought the people in charge were just having fun because of how crazy people were acting. The few that actually took the reports seriously were ridiculed.

When supply chains broke down, the government blamed it on global warming, the energy crisis, Russia, China, too many vacant jobs. It turned neighbor against neighbor, because we were so desperate to blame something tangible. 

Debates were held on the radio. People arguing about voting rights, government obligation, laziness, and every other thing you could possibly disagree on. They were addicting to listen to, not for the theories themselves, but because those on-air weren’t civil. They yelled, screamed, and demanded they get their way—or else! They were prone towards angry outbursts that left us hankering for more.

Then, all radio programming ceased and was replaced by government broadcasts. At first, they said we were going through a recession, then a pandemic. They told lie after lie, and people believed them because it gave them comfort to know that there was someone fixing the problems. We’ll get through this, they said, as long as we listen to those in charge. 

It’s laughable now, because the government was basically saying, “Listen to us. Do exactly as we say.” But that’s not the funny part. The funny part is that we obeyed.

They told us to go on with our lives while being mindful of our resources. Eat less, work more, careful what you throw away because that shirt with the hole in the neckline just became more valuable. 

Nightly curfews came, followed by shelter-in-place orders. We couldn’t leave our apartment unless it was absolutely necessary. Essential workers were given special passes to be out, but everyone else, including children, were to stay at home. School was taught over the radio, but no one was learning. I know this because I’d sneak out to hang with my friends. 

We sat up on rooftops wondering if it was the end of the world. It felt like it was, though nothing really bad had happened. 

We thought we were so mature, sneaking up with bottles of booze and cigarettes. My friend lost her virginity to a bet. I considered giving mine to a boy named Sam. All throughout high school, I’d pined for him from afar, but he was always too cool for me. It was like fate had thrown us together. 

But in the end, we never got around to fucking, because life starting moving fast after that. 

To reinforce their orders, the government sent men into the city to stand on street corners with guns. They called them the Civil Police. They didn’t look like the military. Their suits were black, giving them the moniker black suits, and they had shields that covered their faces.

They were brutal, answering to no one. 

People with CB radios began to whisper about reports from other cities. I say whisper because they had to be discreet. If anyone found out they were talking with people outside the city, they’d get taken away by the black suits.

That should have clued people in to their bad intentions, but we were so desperate to believe there was hope, we praised the them and condemned anyone who spoke out against the government. 

My own family praised the black suits…

Then one day, we woke up. Not in the metaphorical sense where we suddenly realized the injustices of the world. We woke up to the screams of our neighbors. 

Overnight, the city had descended into chaos. People were frantic, running through the streets covered in blood. We stared from our window, horrified by what we were witnessing.

And if you thought things couldn’t get any worse than that, you’d be wrong, because then our building caught fire.

My mother, father, and I made it out of the building alive, but there was carnage in the streets. Death and destruction everywhere.

My parents didn’t make it.

I ran through alleys as sirens blared and cars crashed, chased by savage beasts that once called themselves human. I was pretty sure I was in the worst nightmare ever until I saw him—Sam—mauling a woman. All at once, I woke the fuck up and realized that if I didn’t get to safety, I’d die. 

It’s a miracle I managed to stay alive. There were so many times I almost gave up. Sometimes, as I stare at the markings on the wall, I wish I had. 

The only reason I survived was due to luck. I was cornered in an alley, but a door was unlocked. I rushed inside, up several flights of stairs, eventually finding a closet stocked with supplies.

The room was high, at the center of the building, so it wouldn’t attract the attention of anyone outside looking in. Was it ideal? No. But it became my shelter in the storm.

I don’t know where I’d be right now if I hadn’t found it. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person in the city left alive. Heck, I could be the only person left on the entire planet. 

All in all, the room I’m in isn’t so bad. There’s a sink giving me access to clean water, and a drain on the floor that I use to clean my waste. Because no natural light filters inside, I use the only flashlight sparingly, because there are no batteries for when it will eventually die. 

It’s far from what I’d consider home, but it’s kept me safe, and it’d continue to if there was still food. 

That ran out days ago.

I pull out the radio I’d turned off the day after I’d entered my ten-by-ten and switch it to ‘ON’

My heart races in my chest, because I don’t know what, if anything, is out there. But if I want to survive, I have no choice. 

I clear my voice, press the TALK button, and speak. 

Remi: If anyone is out there, my name is Remi, and I’ve been hiding out since shit hit the fan. I’m running low on food, but I have medical supplies. Rubbing alcohol, iodine, bandages, and some pills. I’m not sure what they do.  I…I’m tired of being alone, and I’m willing to work to earn my keep. P-please tell me I’m not the only person in this godforsaken city left alive.

I release the button as tears stream down my face. I should have tried to reach out earlier, before I got so desperate, but I was afraid. I didn’t know what or who was out there. It’s very possible that the only people left alive are just as monstrous as the dead, but at this point, I don’t have many options.

I wait for several minutes, worried that no one heard my broadcast, but just as I muster the courage to talk again, static sounds through the receiver, followed by a rumbly voice. 

Unknown: Remi, this is Gage, and I’d like to negotiate.