Kitch McCall is a nineteen-year-old Tourette’s suffer who hasn’t seen much of the outside world. When the pandemic devastated the US, he’s thrust onto the streets of Charleston, SC to fend for himself. Armed with nothing more than his wits, Kitch battles not only the infected but the surviving town psychopath, Junior Watson who is convinced he’s a Viking.
After rescuing Caitlin Kennedy and her sixteen-year-old sister, Marie, from the crazed Junior Watson, who thinks he’s creating a Viking empire, Kitch uses the river to head back home, but it’s not a safe place.
Watson knows where he lives. The trio retreat to the safety of a local tourist castle. Caitlin declares her love for Kitch, and they become a couple. Junior Watson is hell-bent on revenge for Kitch killing Pi Fong during the escape, and he dispatches a unique assassin to kill Kitch and the girls. The assassin is a notorious serial killer escaped from the state’s mental institution, one Simon O’Keefe.
Surviving clusters of humanity battled not only the infected but each other for shelter, food, clean water, and a haven to call home. When you’re nineteen in a dog-eat-dog environment, life and death are reduced to simple terms—kill or be consumed!
Spear in hand, Kitch conducted a cautious two-hour search, exploring every nook and cranny of the medieval castle for hidden infected. To Kitch’s delight, they discovered a forge in the rear courtyard. Hidden behind its ancient facade was a fully equipped workshop. There were historical weapons and implements of war and peace that were recreated for public entertainment. Objects and tools from ancient history set about the walls were unfamiliar to the gawping techno-savvy twenty-fourth-century teenagers. Given time, Kitch remained confident he could fathom their uses.
Butted to the workshop stood a costume manufacturing room replete with mannequins, two ‘bot operated industrial sewing machines, and rolls of materials. Lights powered up on entry. A quick examination proved the machines possessed manual overrides. Back inside, the well-lit commercial kitchen was automated and set for catering to hundreds of visitors. When the world was whole, many of whom remained late into the night enjoying re-enactments of historical battles, exciting plays, and dramas acted out by real people, not holograms.
On timber stages, constructed to depict a myriad of holographic backgrounds, melodic operas were performed on balmy Johns Island nights. Guests were entertained during riotous feasts by comedic service staff, hence the gigantic refrigerators. The castle’s western wing contained numerous cells the size of an average bedroom into which was arranged life-size wax dummies fitted out in period costumes depicting life in a particular century. An internal courtyard offered rest areas, a deserted medieval market, and empty animal pens. At information source points, three-dimensional historical holographic figures explained life, battles, and ancient intrigues when a gaze focused on an object in any display.
When they arrived at a replica dungeon, ghastly representations of tortured figures cast in wax were set in a variety of pain-inflicting machines confronted the teenagers. Something evil and dark tickled the back of Kitch’s mind when re-enacted holographic tortures appeared, awash with screams, spurting blood, and sickening, bone-crunching snaps. Without warning, he barked, “Display off.” He spun so swiftly on his heel, and the two girls had to run to keep up with him.
Back in the cavernous dining hall, Kitch was trembling. The torture holograms had disturbed his mind. Taking a seat opposite, Caitlin inquired with a concerned gaze, “You’d best spit it out. None of us can afford any secrets, Kitch.”
Looking meaningfully at his new partner, Kitch commenced. “You think I’m naive. In many ways, that’s true. Dad did his best, and I miss him for it.” Dropping his head, he suppressed a deep, heartfelt sob while he swiped a lonely tear from his eye with his index finger. He continued on in a tremulous voice, “I’m not so naive that I don’t understand human nature. I was the butt of more unpleasant practical jokes than you can ever imagine.”
“Kitch, what are you trying to say?” Caitlin asked. “You’re scaring me.”
“Sorry, when we were standing in that dungeon, a sickening thought flashed across my mind like a cheap Vid-Show. If Junior were here, he would be testing that equipment out on someone within minutes.”
As he spoke, the girl’s faces altered to a greenish pallor. Taking Caitlin’s hands, Kitch continued, “I know it’s only early days, but we must prepare for the worst. Junior or one of his patrols could easily discover this place. It might be a tourist attraction, but it is a castle. Its use will be apparent sooner or later to anyone seeking a safe haven. How many of those kids under Junior’s control visited this place with their parents like we did? We can’t afford to be discovered. We’ve not got the numbers to fight him. Then there’s the infected and other survivors to consider. We must proceed cautiously. I discovered the construction site because, even over the stink of death, I smelled meat cooking.”
Both girls nodded earnestly.
“There’s something else. The children and my promise to release them, one I intend to keep,” Kitch added, maintaining a steady look. “We need a plan to get those kids back here without Junior’s killers following us.”
“How do you intend to do that?” Caitlin demanded tersely.
“We’ve stumbled on paradise. There’s food for a year or more, heat for winter, cooling for summer, and shelter from tropical storms. We’ve got medicines in a structure virtually indestructible and entirely self-sufficient. Reality is, we have to prepare for other survivors to explore this castle. How we make up our minds whether they are friend or foe, as the twelfth-century hologram said, is subjective and something we must all agree on.”
The two girls looked aghast. Caitlin spoke first, “Agreed! We’ve been through too much to surrender to Junior. I’ll throw myself off the battlements before I let that sick bastard get his fat paws on me again.”
“Me, too,” Marie chimed in with a fierce determination written across her face.
Massaging her brow, Caitlin said testily, “None of us were prepared for this, Kitch. After the destruction left by the war, who could imagine wiping humans from the planet was so easy?” Caitlin added with an iron-hard finality that had Kitch frowning, “If anyone tries to get in here, I say we kill them.”
Fierce determination and terror flickering in Caitlin’s eyes were a gut-wrenching reflection of the torture and perversions she experienced at Junior’s deviant hands. “Kill them? Are you sure?” he asked dubiously. “That’s kind of extreme, isn’t it?”