It has two completed parts: House of Adair and Acts of God. There is a third part half-done and languishing in a file called The Key to the Kingdom.
House of Adair ~ Chapter One
From the west walked a dark-haired man, lean and worn from travel. Dressed in faded army pants and carrying a backpack and canvas shell bag—a shoulder bag the kind in which duck hunters carry shotgun shells—he was also armed with a hoary-looking and rust-stained war club, an antique carbine with wooden furniture, and a big, curved knife. His hair fell past his collar—he wore it long in the fashion of his trade in the time before the outbreak. His twelve-week beard was new to him, and he scratched it.
He touched his sternum through his shirt and felt the key which hung from a sturdy cord around his neck. He gazed across a broad river valley from the western rim. In the distance, across the river and an expanse of dead, festering city, a small mountain rose from the plain. He didn’t need to set a bearing. He knew the way and the path would not likely be direct. His lips moved as if speaking, but he voiced no words.
The man adjusted his gear and straightened his back. He set to walking down the steep Millville Pike, into the shadow of the valley, humming a bluegrass tune, “I’ll Never See My Home Again.”
He had been traveling east toward the sunrise. He had walked from Clarksville to Nashville to Manchester with a stream of music in his ears—not from any electronic device but from his extensive mental songbank. You don’t play in bar bands without at least being able to fake your way through a number.
His eyes saw his path. He watched for the threat that had been constant since he stepped out of the woods at the end of a long solo camping trip, since he stepped into the end of the world, this cinematic plague of horror. He saw the path; he watched for the dangers. But his mind’s eyes saw another place: his birthright (he believed). It was the homing beacon that drew him east across the plateau. It was the reason he had not remained in the haven of the commune in the Sequatchie Valley. He saw the place in his mind, and he savored the details.
It is a large hill—or a small mountain—separated from its parent limestone ridgeline by a creek that runs north and then west across ancient terraces to the river that flows down the great valley, prehistoric floodplains now blanketed with a quilt of subdivisions, food joints, office parks, old mills, newer factories, and ubiquitous warehouses, floodplains now threaded with boulevards and highways, freeways and offramps, stitched together with wires, wires and more wires on poles, poles and more poles.
The large hill—or small mountain—is forested on its steep slopes with fine oaks and hickories, tulip poplars, sweet gums, and dogwoods. It is more or less flat on top, and on its pinnacle sits a little township, with its own grocery, post office, diner, firehouse, and water tower. The slopes are steep-shouldered and bouldered. A paved serpentine road leads up the east side from the creekbottom to the hilltop, and it is the only ingress or egress for vehicles.
The road crests the hill. To the right is the post office, to the left the firehouse, next to that the grocery, and the diner across the street. Lining the street beyond on both sides were homes of various sizes and shapes—Arts & Craft bungalows, Tudors, California Spanish Revival, the odd Victorian gingerbread and even a few modest cottages, and a single split-level brick ranch. Their back yards walk up to the bluffs to overlook the river valley to the north and south. At one time, the nighttime view from the patios and decks was of a carpet of glittering diamond streetlights and houselights, with neon rubies, sapphires, and citrines.
On the west end of the street, facing east with a view of the length of the avenue, is a large, rambling Art Deco mansion built of limestone block and roofed with an unusual green glazed ceramic tile. Within the rambling structure are enclosed courtyards and rooftop verandas. It is topped with a cupola with a commanding view. Descending the western bluff from an iron gate in a back garden wall is a hewn stone stair, nearly hidden by English ivy, Virginia creeper, and poison ivy, leading down to a spring near the bottom that trickled over a bluff and feeds a stream leading to the creek.
The township has no school, for the children—when there were children—attended the private academy; there was no church, for the faithful—when there were faithful—attended the big moneyed church downtown, a downtown whose glass and steel edifices are yet visible from this hilltop during the daylight hours.
If I were to stand now (he thought), well after sunset, on the upper veranda of the mansion—once the home of a textile baron—under the green tile eaves facing west toward the river at night, I would see no neon jewels. I would see no glowing skyscrapers or white steeples. I would see only black velvet, perhaps mist rising from the pearlescent river, and the silhouette of the plateau marking the western boundary of the river valley.
I would hear no horns or sirens, no susurration of cars on the highways sounding like water flowing over rocks. I would hear, perhaps, the sound of the waterfall at the plunge pool down at the creek. I would hear tree frogs, crickets, and katydids; owls of the barred and screech variety, and whippoorwills; the tittering of bats; and the mewling of cats. Oh, the cats!
These things his mind saw, but his eyes saw a battered-looking figure with mottled flesh and lips encrusted with blackened blood stagger from a privet hedge along the curve in the road he walked. The thing hissed and lurched toward the tall, lean man. James Adair—of the Adairsboro Adairs, prodigal son, session musician, barfly, raconteur, trust-fund bum—pulled a faded blue bandana up over his nose, swung his club, and stove the ghoul’s head right in. The revenant fell in a heap on the pavement, cold flesh on warm asphalt.