If you’ve never read Afterlife before, click here to go to the first chapter.
Afterlife is a sci fi/western action serial published every other week. Join us in a post-apocalyptic journey through a future where life has become little more than a struggle for survival. However, where there’s life, there’s always hope.
Read the previous chapter here:
Abby and her companions attend Pastor Kenyon’s church service.
Paul Jacobs enters the Messier Mine in search of the Jupiter Diamond.
Warrick Baines kills the Bargainer and Jim Brantley joins him.
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Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 5
Mark Gonzalez and his wife Jane decided to take their lunches back to their room. They didn’t want to field any more questions from the people of Carpenter City regarding why they left the church service early. “We need to get ready to leave soon,” was the answer Jane kept repeating even though they had no idea when Paul was going to get back with the diamond or when John would have the truck fixed. The people seemed confused, and some even seemed offended, but they didn’t seem to want to pry any further. Mark thought that was prying enough, though. He was starting to get a little angry and he was glad he and his wife got their food from the cafeteria and left when they did, because he was about to tell someone off otherwise. It was really none of their business. He was sitting on his bed while Jane sat at the metal desk. He looked at the plate of spaghetti and took another bite. It was bland, but filling. “So, it looks like John and Juanita are back together,” Jane said as she ate. “Did you notice they were late together?”
Mark grunted. “I noticed. Let’s not talk about anything else that’s gonna piss me off right now, okay?” His accent was more pronounced when he was angry.
“All right,” Jane said. “I don’t understand why it gets under your skin, though. I mean we’re married and we make it work, right?”
“Exactly,” Mark said. “We’re married. They’re together, and they break up, and they’re together, and they break up. They’re like a couple of yoyos. Up and down, up and down.” He took another bite of the bland spaghetti and he sipped the water from the cup which had been sitting on the nightstand. “And I’m getting tired of Abby and that old man Nat Bigum ordering me around. They aren’t even military. What right do they have giving me orders?”
“Well, Abby is paying us,” Jane said.
“I’m the highest ranking military man, though,” Mark said, his fierce brown eyes boring into her. “I should be treated as such. I should at least be treated with some respect.”
“I’m sure they respect you.” Jane chewed another bite of spaghetti.
“I mean we’ve been guarding Alex long enough. Now we have to deal with all these other civilians, too? I fight wars. I don’t babysit people.”
“We’re bodyguards,” Jane said, “not babysitters. There’s a big difference.”
“Not as big as one might think,” Mark muttered as he drank some more water.
Jane chuckled. She smiled at Mark as she took another bite and Mark took a deep breath and smiled back. Jane was a muscular but pretty woman in her early thirties. Mark had always thought she was beautiful, with her short blonde hair and her stunning blue eyes. Her smile had calmed him down from blowing up out of control on many occasions. Of course, when she was the target of his anger, it sometimes made things worse. “Sometimes I do feel like we’re chaperones on a field trip or something,” Jane said
“What do you mean?” Mark asked as he finished up his spaghetti.
“I don’t know,” Jane said. “We get to share a room and the others don’t. It’s like we’re parents or something, making sure all the kids don’t get into trouble.”
Mark smiled at her. “Is that all parents do?”
She laughed. “No, that’s not all parents do.” She pushed her empty plate away, stood, and slowly started walking towards Mark with a seductive smile on her face.
“What else do parents do?” Mark asked, grinning at her knowingly.
She sat down next to him on the bed and Mark put his arm around her, looking into her eyes and smiling. “Well,” Jane said, “the kids had to get there somehow, right?”
“Get where?” Mark asked.
She shook her head. “Into the world, silly.” He nodded with a smile and leaned in and kissed her. The two of them fell back onto the bed.
Sera was off somewhere training and Abby had the room to herself. She was looking down at the open Bible on her lap, the one Pastor Earl had given her. The passages she was reading were from the First Book of Corinthians, chapters thirteen and fourteen. “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” She read the words aloud and let them resonate in her head. She also read passages about keeping order in church, and how no one should speak in tongues without an interpreter. Abby wasn’t sure exactly what speaking in tongues was or why it was done, but she knew the people at the church she’d been to earlier in the morning had perverted whatever purpose there was for it. It seemed people were trying to make a big show, rather than do anything with true spiritual merit. That service had broken down into complete chaos, and she needed to leave, along with the rest of her companions. She really wished Pastor Earl was still alive and with her. He’d be able to make sense of all of this. She couldn’t think of anyone she’d rather talk to.
There was a knock on the door and Abby closed the Bible and placed it on the nightstand. “Who is it?”
“Alex Harris,” Alex’s kind voice said from the other side of the door.
“Come in,” Abby said, quickly putting her white cowboy hat on to cover her bald spot.
The door opened and Alex stood in the doorway. He was in his fifties, with long, brown hair tied behind his back in a ponytail and a long, thick beard. Both his hair and his beard were streaked with gray and he was wearing jeans and an orange, yellow, and red tie-dye tee-shirt. Alex was gazing at Abby with wise brown eyes which showed a hint of uneasiness. “Let’s walk out to a quiet spot where we can talk.”
“What’s wrong?” Abby asked.
“Nothing’s wrong, but I don’t want any other ears to hear this but yours,” Alex said. Abby nodded and followed him as they walked out into the hall, down the steps to the first floor, and out towards the front door of the hotel. They said the required hellos to the smiling woman behind the counter and rushed through the front door of the hotel and around the corner into an alley cluttered with trash cans. There didn’t seem to be anyone else nearby. Alex looked around for a minute just to make sure. Then, he smiled at Abby through his thick beard. “This seems good,” he said in a hushed voice.
Abby nodded. “So what’s up?”
“I got a message from Barney Chambers, one of the members of the Free Society Federation,” Alex said. “We plan on holding a meeting next week. Were you contacted?”
Abby shrugged. “Not that I know of. I haven’t checked my message box in a while.” She remembered Doctor Elias Long saying he’d send her a message.
“We need to know where the next set of diamonds are,” Alex said, “since that will be our next destination, so we can know where to meet. Do you have Einstein with you?”
“I’m here,” Einstein’s voice said from Abby’s wrist, “but I can’t give out that information at this time.”
Alex frowned. “Well, can you give us a nearby town at least so we can know where to set the meeting?”
Abby shook her head, looking at Alex gravely with her piercing eyes. “I have reason to believe there was a spy in my father’s inner circle. There’s a good chance whoever it was is in that council that’s going to be meeting.”
“I know,” Alex said. “That’s how Rennock intercepted the diamonds headed for Dune Post a couple of years ago, and that’s why he had Warrick Baines kill your family. Whoever this spy is was directly responsible for that.” He frowned. “I’m sorry for bringing that up, Abby.”
Abby wanted the spy dead. If she found out who it was, she was going to kill them herself. She glared at Alex. Could it be him? Could he be trying to cover his tracks? He’d better hope not. “So we’re just going to let the spy meet with us and talk about sensitive information in front of them?”
“We can’t stop meeting,” Alex said. “We still need to lead the resistance. The Lead Council of the Free Society Federation makes all of the most important decisions regarding the resistance.”
“But if it’s been corrupted,” Abby said, “how can we trust that any of those decisions are what’s best for the resistance? We need to find the spy and expose them.”
Alex nodded. “I know. I’m working on it. Maybe you can help me. But if we don’t meet, we won’t be able to do that. We won’t have anything to go on.”
Abby continued staring at Alex with her piercing eyes, deep in thought. What would be the best way to handle this situation? What would be the best way for her to figure out who the spy was? She nodded. “All right. Einstein, give us a town that’s at least somewhat on the way to the next destination, but don’t make it obvious where the diamonds are.”
“The council can meet in North Point,” Einstein said. “Barring unforeseen occurrences, which seem to happen often I should point out, we should have no trouble reaching North Point in a week’s time in order to hold the meeting.”
“So North Point then?” Alex asked.
Abby nodded. “Let your people know and I’ll talk to mine.”
“All right,” Alex said. “Make sure you check your messages over the next few days. Any word yet on when John’s going to have the hover truck fixed?”
“I don’t know,” Abby said. “I was thinking of checking in on him. You can join me if you want, I guess.”
“Sure,” Alex said.
The two of them walked through the alley to the front of the hotel, turning left and walking beneath the red sign in the front of the building to their left. As usual, there weren’t many people out on the sandy streets of Carpenter City. The town seemed to be nearly deserted, which Abby found unsettling. She and Alex turned the next corner, where they found John with the front and rear panels of the hover truck open, revealing pipes, wires, hoses, and long metal rods of some sort. Towards the rear part of the hover truck were what appeared to be large metal nozzles and casings. John was wearing khakis and a white tank top which was covered with oil stains and his dark skin was shining with sweat. He wiped the sweat off his face with his forearm as Abby and Alex approached. “It’s worse than I thought,” he said, holding a large ratchet.
Abby stopped walking and nodded. “What’s wrong?”
“Well,” John began, “it’s not just the wires that need to be replaced. There’s some foreign substance in the fuel tank that I need to flush out. Also, one of the timing sensors is missing. I’m still going over it to make sure there’s nothing else I missed.” He looked at Abby gravely through his glasses. “Someone definitely tampered with it. This didn’t just happen.”
“Those crazy fanatics,” Alex muttered. “I suspected as much.”
“How long until we can leave?” Abby asked.
“I’m hoping later tonight,” John said. “There’s a lot of stuff I still need to check. Maybe tomorrow morning. I’m pretty sure I have all the spare parts I need. I don’t know, though. It all depends on if there’s anything else they did.”
“We don’t know for sure it was them,” Abby said. “We have other enemies, remember. Still, the sooner we get out of this town, the better.”
Alex was frowning through his beard. “Of course it was them. These people are so in love with their imaginary god, they’d probably do anything if they thought he wanted them to do it. Believe me. I’ve dealt with people like them before.”
“Imaginary god?” Abby asked, glaring at him.
“Sorry,” Alex said. “Did that offend you?”
“I’m a Christian,” Abby said. “Not all Christians are like these people.”
Alex’s jaw dropped. “Oh. I’m sorry, Abby. I would have never thought, you being Henry’s daughter and all.”
“What do you mean?” Abby asked. “My dad was Catholic. My whole family was Catholic. Sure, we kept it secret, but it didn’t change the fact that we were.”
“Really?” Alex asked. “I’m sorry. That surprises me. I mean, Henry was always such a rational man.”
“Lots of rational people believe in a god,” Abby said. She noted Alex’s smirk, though he was trying to hide it. “I’d appreciate it if you’d keep your thoughts to yourself regarding religion from now on. I’ve already got Nat to deal with.”
“I’m sorry,” Alex said. “It’s just surprising to me. That’s all. Anyway, regardless, these people are fanatics. Fanatics are capable of anything. I think we can be fairly certain they did this. I mean, how would anyone else know we were here?”
Abby frowned. “I don’t know.” She noticed a woman walking towards her, Alex, and John. John turned and continued working on the hover truck.
“Hello,” the woman said with a kind smile.
Abby almost rolled her eyes but she took a deep breath and stopped herself. The last thing she wanted to deal with was another crazy Carpenter City person. The woman was wearing a long, white dress with long sleeves like most of the other women in the town wore. “Hi,” Abby said. “I’m sorry. We’re busy right now.”
“I need to talk to you,” the woman whispered. Her face became grave. “It’s extremely important. You’re all in danger.” She looked around nervously with tired blue eyes.
Abby nodded and she, Alex, and the woman walked behind the hover truck so they were shielded from the street. The woman was young but not as young as Abby, with long, brown hair and a pale face. Her eyes were surrounded by red, like she’d been crying. “What’s going on?” Abby asked.
“I see your friend is working on your truck,” the woman said. “It won’t start, right?” Abby nodded. “They always start with that,” the woman continued. “Then if you fix it, they’ll find some other way to keep you here. At gunpoint if necessary. They think it’s their divine duty to see that all people are saved. What that really means is enslaved.”
“Enslaved?” Alex asked.
The woman nodded. “These people aren’t normal Christians. Don’t let their kindness fool you. Oral Kenyon is leading a cult here. I didn’t realize it until it was too late. I need to leave, though. Please take me with you. If you get out, of course.”
Abby did remember Pastor Earl talking to her about a cult or something. If only he were there to shed more light on things. “We’ll get out,” she said. “We’ve dealt with worse than these people.”
The woman shook her head. “I don’t know. They’re pretty bad. There are no hospitals or doctors here. They only believe in faith healing. And my son’s dying.” Tears started dripping down her pale cheeks. “He’s dying and Kenyon says it’s because I don’t have enough faith. I’ve lived on the outside before I came here. I know there are hospitals out there where they could probably fix my son’s problems. I’ve seen it happen over and over. People get sick and they die. They die because there are no doctors here to take care of them.” She was sobbing. “Please don’t let it happen to my son. He’s only eight.”
Abby put her arm around her. “I wish I could help. We’re going on a dangerous journey, though.”
“Not as dangerous as staying here,” the woman said, wiping the tears from her face. “He’ll definitely die if we stay here.”
Alex glanced at Abby. “We can take her, Abby. We need to. Everyone should be allowed to receive proper medical treatment. That’s one of the truths we stand by. What kind of people would we be if we left her child?”
Abby nodded and smiled at the woman. “You can come.”
“Oh, thank you!” the woman said, throwing her arms around Abby and hugging her. “Thank you so much.” She eventually backed away a few steps and smiled at Alex. “Thank you.”
“It’s no problem,” Alex said.
“Tell me more about Pastor Kenyon,” Abby said. “Tell me more about the people here.”
The woman nodded. “Well they force everyone who comes here to convert and become a part of ‘the family’ as they call it. They think everyone is damned, unless they follow Pastor Kenyon and pledge their lives to him. Even other Christians. It doesn’t matter. If you don’t live here, you’re damned. And everyone here loves him. I think I’m the only one who doesn’t. If anyone else feels like I do, they’re too scared to say or do anything. They’ll get hanged.”
“Hanged?” Alex asked.
“For blasphemy,” the woman said. “They’d hang me if they knew I was telling you all of this. Men, women, children. It doesn’t matter. He has them all so brainwashed or frightened, they think it’s for the good of the world. They think it’s what god wants.” She grimaced. “And there Pastor Kenyon lives in his mansion. Watching the money roll in. He’s the only one here who has anything. He makes everyone else give up everything they own for the lord. If they don’t do it willingly, he forces them to give things up.” She shook her head. “This place is so evil. I just wish I’d seen it sooner.” She took a deep breath. “I was young. I thought I was in love. I was willing to do anything my husband asked me to. Now I see this place for what it is, though.”
“Where’s your husband?” Alex asked.
“He doesn’t know I’m here,” the woman said. She looked from Alex to Abby with fear in her eyes. “Please don’t say anything. He’d kill me.”
“We won’t say anything,” Alex said.
Abby nodded. “Well, we’ll get you out of here. Bring your son here tonight. We’ll say after dinner, around seven. I’m in this hotel. Room 3707. My name is Ruth and this is Alex.” Abby didn’t trust the woman enough to give her real name.
The woman smiled and glanced from Abby to Alex again. “Thank you so much. I’m Grace and my son is James. We’ll be here. I really hope this works.”
Abby smiled. “It will.” The woman turned and walked away. “Wait,” Abby said. The woman turned to face her. “Do you know what happened to Gerald Messier?”
The woman frowned and walked closer again, looking around to make sure no one was watching or listening. “He died of a disease of some sort. Pastor Kenyon said his lack of faith killed him, but it was the fact that we don’t have doctors. That’s always how it happens. I’m starting to think Pastor Kenyon might have had his people poison him, though.”
“Why?” Abby asked.
“Early on, he was one of the few people who challenged Pastor Kenyon. Everyone who challenged him ended up dying one way or another. They’d be shunned and ridiculed and then if that didn’t work, they died.” She frowned. “Gerald Messier was a powerful man and the people backed him. If Pastor Kenyon had executed him, there might have been a revolt. He had to hide it. I’m sure he did it though. He had to have been behind it.”
Abby nodded. “Well go get yourself and your son ready. Remember. Room 3707. Seven o’clock.” The woman nodded and walked away down the road.
Abby and Alex glanced at one another. “Well, we need to warn everyone else,” Alex said. Abby nodded and the two of them made their way towards the front door of the hotel. As Abby walked past John, she wondered if Pete would have been able to fix the truck any faster if he were still alive. She wished he was there, just like Pastor Earl. And Horseman. Abby frowned. She still hadn’t come to terms with their deaths, especially Horseman’s. She started thinking about Sherry, and Michelle, who was taking care of the little dog now that Pete was dead. Shelly had barely left her room. She came out for the church service, but that was about it. Abby let out a deep breath as she followed Alex into the hotel. She wondered where Nat, Big Ed, and Paul were. She thought they’d be back from getting the diamond by now. Even if the truck was working, they still couldn’t leave until Nat, Big Ed, and Paul returned. Abby really hoped nothing had happened to them. How many more people had to be hurt or killed trying to help her?
Paul Jacobs continued sprinting through the darkness. He could hear the bear growling behind him, along with the other animal sounds as they echoed through the mine. He noticed a section ahead where the passage narrowed, so he sprinted full speed towards it, realizing there was no way the cave bear would fit through it. Paul had no idea about the other animals, though. He sprinted through the narrower passage and after a few seconds, he realized the animal sounds were further behind him. There were other strange sounds, though, the clicking of some metallic mechanism. “Remember Lot’s wife,” Paul muttered as he continued running through the passage. He was starting to tire out, but he knew he couldn’t slow down yet. He heard the hiss of a laser blast behind him and an explosion as the blast hit the stone wall. There were several more hisses. Paul noticed a line of holes in the wall ahead. In the opposite wall, there were damaged sections where the rock had been blasted through. There were also several more skeletons in tattered rags. Paul tripped over one as he ran and its bones clattered across the ground. The hiss of a laser blast sounded behind Paul as he tumbled forward. He heard clicking sounds all around him.
He was able to leap to his feet and continue running clumsily after his somersault as lasers continued hissing behind him. They were very close. He felt one brush the back of his shirt as he began running harder. He’d somehow managed to hold on to his flashlight, which he continued shining ahead the best he could. He eventually regained his balance and continued running until he found himself in a large chamber cluttered with rocks and stones. The clicking sounds were gone, so Paul stopped running and hunched over, breathing deeply to regain his breath. He really hoped this was it for the Lot’s wife part of the mine. If anything happened now, there was very little he’d be able to do about it, as exhausted as he was. He looked at the paper, which was now crumpled in his hand, and shined the flashlight on it. “Only through death will you find life.” He saw the passage continued ahead of him, leading once again into darkness. Paul continued breathing heavily until he regained some energy. Soon his breathing was back to normal. He looked at the passage ahead of him. He didn’t see anything of note. Just walls of packed stone and a dusty floor. “Only through death will you find life.” The passage did look sort of like the inside of a tomb. Paul grinned at the thought and started walking slowly forward.
Paul was very cautious as he walked through the passage. Eventually, the skeletons started showing up again, littering the floor and reminding him that this trap would be just as potentially deadly as the others. He just hoped the message wasn’t literal regarding death. What else could death mean? “Only through death will you find life.” Suddenly spikes shot down from the ceiling, which was about ten feet above him. The razor sharp spikes were about a foot long. Paul hoped they didn’t drop any further as he looked up at them a few feet above his head. They’d be sure to impale him. “Only through death…” There were some more clicking sounds. Paul knew the next trap was about to spring. He thought hard. Dead people don’t stand. They lie on the ground. There was another click and the ceiling of spikes swiftly dropped towards him. Paul dove forward onto the ground, keeping as low as he could get. He sneezed from the dust as the ceiling dropped swiftly until the blades were inches from his back. He turned his head to see how close they were and pointed the flashlight ahead of him as he lay on his belly. There was only about a foot and a half between the spikes and the floor. He’d have to crawl on his belly, being very careful not to scrape against the spikes inches above him. Hopefully they didn’t drop any lower. Things felt extremely claustrophobic as Paul slowly made his way through the passage, inching himself forward in an army crawl. After some time, he could see an opening ahead. It must have been another chamber of some sort.
When Paul finally emerged from beneath the ceiling of spikes, he slowly stood and let out a deep breath. He was in a twenty foot square room with a floor cluttered with various objects. There were coins scattering the floor, along with golden nuggets, metal blocks, small wooden statues, and other trinkets. There were also some more skeletons in tattered rags. Paul noticed what looked like a bucket on a pedestal in the center of the room. He cautiously walked towards it and looked inside to see that it was empty. Just then, the ceiling of spikes in the passage he’d just come through dropped the rest of the way until the spikes were resting on the floor. Paul frowned. “No way out.” He’d die of suffocation, hunger, or thirst if he couldn’t figure out this last clue. He looked at the paper with the flashlight. “The prize will be yours for chump change.” What could it mean? There were coins scattered around the dusty floor, but what did he need to do? Put them in the bucket? If so, how many? The coins seemed too obvious. Paul didn’t want to know what would happen if he put the wrong item or items in the bucket. The skeletons suggested that this wasn’t a game without consequences for the loser.
Paul looked around at the various objects in the room. At least he had some time to rest while he figured out this last clue. He didn’t have to run or jump or anything. He looked at a wooden statue of a dog that was on the ground near his foot. “Chump change,” he muttered. Maybe he needed to look for a figurine of someone who looked poor. Or maybe someone who looked foolish or stupid. There was a cranking sound and he looked up to see that the ceiling was slowly lowering. Razor sharp spikes which were about three feet long came down from thin slits between stones. “Great,” Paul muttered. So he couldn’t take his time after all. He looked at gold nuggets and coins. “Chump,” he said to himself. Paul had to duck now so none of the spikes brushed his head. He remembered reading in one of the many books he’d read through the years that the original definition of chump was a chunk or lump of wood. He noticed a small block of wood not far from him. He quickly searched for anything else that may have fit the definition, but didn’t see anything, so ducking even lower to avoid the spikes as they lowered, he picked up the small block of wood. “Here goes nothing,” he said as he reached up and dropped it in the bucket.
The ceiling continued dropping and Paul frowned. Then, it stopped. It started moving slowly back up and the spikes began retracting. Paul was still trapped, though. He waited a few seconds when a hidden door opened on the pedestal beneath the bucket. Paul could see a wooden box inside, so he walked over and cautiously looked over the box. There didn’t seem to be anything else inside the pedestal, so Paul reached in and carefully pulled out the box. Inside was a huge diamond, about seven inches in diameter. It had a pinkish or purplish glow to it as its many facets reflected Paul’s flashlight. It was as brilliant and beautiful as it was huge. It had to be the Jupiter Diamond. Paul also noticed it was heavy as he began to place it in the bag he’d brought with him. He noticed a piece of folded paper in the box, so he took it out and read the note that had been scrawled on it. “Congratulations on finding the diamond. Hopefully you aren’t affiliated with Herman Rennock or any of those crazies in Carpenter City. Sorry for the inconvenience, but they’re the reason I’ve gone to such great lengths. I couldn’t allow this treasure to fall into the wrong hands. Whoever you are, though, I’d suggest leaving as quickly as you can.” Paul watched as a section of the wall ahead of him slid away, revealing a new passage. The spikes came down from the ceiling once again and the ceiling started lowering, so Paul put the diamond in his bag and rushed through the passage opening quickly, shining the light ahead of him into the darkness as he ran.
Continue on to the next chapter:
Afterlife, Volume 2, Chapter 6
Paul tries to escape the Messier Mine.
Bobby attempts to comfort Michelle.
Devin Hellier has a chat with Eileen Traymont, the new leader of the enforcers in Numurka.
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