APOCALYPSE AMERICA! By Michael McCarty & Mark McLaughlin
Sample chapter! “City of Two-Thousand Sins”
Here you will find a sample chapter from APOCALYPSE AMERICA! – the new post-apocalyptic/science-fiction novel by Michael McCarty & Mark McLaughlin. The book is available in both paperback and Kindle formats (FREE on Kindle Unlimited).
(The above pages will eventually be united.)
CITY OF TWO-THOUSAND SINS
Las Vegas, Nevada
The city had no name. But then, names weren’t a priority anymore.
One forsaken settlement was pretty much the same as the next: no food, no water, no power, nothing. After the depletion of all fossil fuel resources, the collapse of the world economy and the nuclear war with Mexico, America was in ruins. Swarms of locusts and flesh-eating dust mites ravaged the Midwest and West Coast. Also, the global warming process had accelerated, baking the once-prosperous land into a barren dust bowl.
(Apocalypse America! authors Michael McCarty & Mark McLaughlin at a book signing)
At one time, the city had been a place of opulence and excitement. Traces of its former glory could be seen everywhere. Marble walls and fountains. Crystal chandeliers. The ruins of gaming tables, stages and bars. At one time, people had enjoyed this city.
Those days of fun and games were long gone.
– – –
Jeb was the official sin-counter.
He was a tall, dark-bearded man with rugged features, surprisingly gentle eyes, and numbers tattooed all over his body. His face featured a ‘24′ on one cheek, a ‘7′ on the other, and a ‘365′ centered on his forehead. He had a ‘111′ on each palm and a ‘222′ on the sole of each foot.
His task was to count the sins of those who lived in the nameless city. He recorded them all in his Book of Sins, which rested on a podium in the Great Hall. This Hall, the spiritual center of their community, was the enormous lobby of their casino-hotel-church.
Each Sunday, he would number and chronicle the sins.
“Sin one-thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-seven: Noah slept well past noon and did not do his morning chores,” Jeb read. He smiled as he handed Noah a red token.
The gathering crowd mumbled their approval.
“Sin one-thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-eight: Jonah ate bread without giving thanks,” Jeb read.
“That isn’t a sin,” Cain complained. He was a young adult now, and only vaguely remembered the death of Kaila and Farma. “It was not a meal. One does not need to give thanks every time one eats some small morsel.”
“I’m too hungry to care,” Jonah rasped between dry, cracked lips.
– – –
The sunny days roasted the flesh and the windswept nights chilled it to the bone.
Years ago, after the power had gone out for the last time, a man named Herod had removed all the Bibles from the hotel rooms and burned them in trash cans inside a supermarket. He had appointed himself leader, and he’d thought this action would serve his people well. After all, people were more important than books.
The blaze kept everyone there warm all night. The previous night they had used menus and playing cards. Those hadn’t burned well because of their heavy lamination. They gave off sickening fumes and many people became ill. But the Bibles had burned splendidly. They kept everyone nice and warm.
Eventually the people turned against Herod. He hadn’t done anything wrong…. But still, they needed to vent their frustration with the world somehow, and his helpfulness – his patient optimism in the face of maddening despair – had become an annoyance.
A group assigned to the task tied him down outside of the tallest building in the city. Then they went up to the top and starting dropping things down on him out of a penthouse window. There was no special significance in this particular form of torture: it just seemed like the thing to do at the time. In the end, Herod was reduced to a pile of human slush embedded with a medley of broken everyday objects – everything from wine glasses to typewriters.
– – –
“You know the rules, Cain,” Jeb said. “If we all don’t agree that a particular act is a sin, then it has to be put to a vote.”
“Please, don’t,” begged Sarah, an emaciated woman with bleeding gums and many sores on her skin. “Let’s not waste time. I’m famished! The last thing I put in my mouth was a cockroach I’d caught. I gave thanks before I ate it, but I still threw up a minute later. I’m so hungry, I’ll die if I don’t get some food soon.”
“I don’t make the rules,” Jeb said. “I just count the sins. And I shall always do so, until the day we are all too weak to even move. It is my task. I answer to a higher power.” So saying, he looked up, as did everyone else in the Great Hall.
– – –
In the early days after the chaos started, the people in the town went more than a little crazy. The death of Herod set the pace for even more bizarre acts of cruelty, prejudice, and – more often than not – perverse righteousness.
Angry crowds strung up sinners from telephone wires, or burned them alive to appease ancient demons. They crucified the lawyers of the nameless city. Of course, back then it still had a name.
The city had been filled with lewd women with painted lips. Pious men would chain each limb of a woman to a different car, and then the vehicles would each drive toward a different point of the compass. They thought that perhaps this would give direction to their future. But that future was lost in a haze of heat and toxic fumes.
– – –
“We have to take a vote on it,” Jeb said. “All who think it was a sin for Jonah to eat without giving thanks must now say ‘Aye.’”
A loud, hungry round of ayes echoed through the hall. Jeb did not bother to ask to hear nays.
A young boy in the crowd gasped and fell to the floor. Sarah rushed to his side and cradled his head in her lap. “My son is weak from hunger,” she cried. “If we do not have some food soon, he will starve to death.”
Desperate for something – anything – with which to nourish her child, the woman picked a few large scabs off of her arm and pushed these into her son’s mouth. The boy gave thanks before he began to chew.
– – –
Years passed, and many people took to living in cars. There was no gasoline left, but they still loved and took pride in their vehicles.
All the cars in town were rolled toward the casino-hotel-churches. People weren’t allowed to live in these holy realms – they were a place for the purging of iniquities. Of course, that was before they realized the true value of sin.
The cars made nice little homes. To keep the cars cool during the day and warm at night, they buried them in the sand. They took out the engines to make more room. Families huddled in their cars, in the cozy darkness. It became traditional to fasten the baby’s cradle in place on the dashboard, so the wee one could reach up and play with the fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror. From this choice location within the car, the baby could also be entertained by watching the insects and vermin that crawled on the other side of the front windshield.
– – –
“It is agreed. Jonah did sin by not giving thanks for his morsel. That leaves the count at one-thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-eight,” Jeb handed Jonah a green token. “Is there any other sin I should record?”
The group was quiet. One could not make up a sin. For that, they would cut out one’s tongue, and fill the offending mouth with hot coals. There were words about that in those old Bibles – “a tongue for a tongue”? Something like that.
“I had indecent thoughts about Jezebel,” Matthew said. “I thought how delightful it would be to pleasure her for long hours, well into the night.”
“Yes, that is a sin,” Jeb said, writing it down quickly and handing Matthew a gold token. “That is sin one-thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-nine. Any more?”
– – –
Back when power was plentiful and vehicles were used for transportation, people paid good money to sin.
They watched half-naked women prance upon brightly lit stages. People use to gamble night and day. They danced, they gorged, they fought, they swore. There were even whorehouses on the outskirts of town. The brothels did not operate in secret – they were acknowledged businesses.
The country went up in smoke because they did not watch their sins.
During the crazy times, the people were less efficient when it came to dealing with sin. At times, they even wasted precious foodstuffs. Some sinners would be covered in honey and buried up to their necks in sand. They would let armies of red ants eat them alive. Thus would the ants gnaw away the sins of the world. Those tiny, industrious insects were the first sin-eaters.
But not the last.
When the Bibles were burned, one page – from the Book of Mark – had been caught by the wind and blown free. And this page told them a tale of wisdom. It told them all about Legion, a demon who was in fact a collective of evil spirits. Eventually they learned how to apply this wisdom to their lives, so that they might survive.
– – –
Jeb ignored the hungry growls of the crowd. “If no more sins are recorded, we must wait until the next Sunday when we meet.”
“But we can’t wait any longer,” Sarah said. “I must eat, and so must my boy! Please let us finish this.”
“I only follow the rules,” Jeb said. “My task is to count the sins. And since there are no more to count, I must conclude—”
“I pleasured myself,” blurted Barnabas, a thin, middle-aged man with missing teeth. “Just a few minutes before the meeting.”
The room was quiet.
“Thank you,” Jeb said. “That is indeed a sin.” He handed Barnabas a silver token. “We now officially have two-thousand.”
Robed acolytes came forth out of the shadows, pushing slender golden posts mounted on wheeled bases. They arranged these in a pattern throughout the Great Hall. Then they connected the posts with purple velvet robes, creating a long maze that looped around the sacred crap table.
“Everyone who has sinned, line up in the order of the number on your token. Everyone else, please step aside,” Jeb said.
After everyone had lined up, the acolytes came forth with buckets filled with ashes. They used the ash to write everyone’s numbers on their foreheads. Then they collected the tokens and piled them up on the crap table.
Jeb closed his eyes, thrust his hand into the pile, and grabbed a token.
The people in the velvet-roped line-up stared at Jeb with fearful eyes. And yet they also began to wipe drool from their eager mouths.
Jeb looked at the token he had selected. “Number one-hundred and thirty-eight.” He looked in the Book of Sins. “Here it is. ‘Adam drank alcohol until he became ill.’ Yes, he will do. Adam, step forward.”
Adam was a short, bald man who was sweating heavily.
“Please wait here,” Jeb said.
Jeb’s boss made him nervous. This privileged individual was the only person allowed to live in the casino-hotel-church. He lived alone in a high suite – nobody was allowed to go up except Jeb, after the count.
Jeb climbed the stairs, up and up and up.
The crowd waited.
Eventually Jeb’s boss followed his minion back to the hall.
The people, as always, gasped when they saw the boss. His was an appearance to which one could never become accustomed. His skin was as orange as the sun, and his slit-pupil eyes were bright green. His lips were bright red and his hair was long and black. He wore no clothes but carried a burlap sack.
He looked strange, yet in their sun-baked desert world, he did not seem out of place. In fact, he resembled a desert snake.
He was Legion, and he was many.
The people of the city without a name had given much discussion to Legion, for his page was all they had left of the Bible. Their thoughts had drawn him to them. When he’d arrived, he had struck a new bargain with them. A whole new system of vice management.
“Two-thousand sins….” the demon hissed, with a voice like a whispering congregation of evil. “A feast of sin for me. And now, a feast for you.”
Legion stared at Adam intently. The bald man began to swell, and he hunched over until he had to drop to all fours. Bristles popped out of his pink flesh, which grew thick and leathery. His neck bulged out, his eyes sank inward and his nose lengthened into a quivering snout.
The people of the nameless city brought out ropes and soon, they had the fat hog hanging by its hind legs from a beam above one of the stages. Legion pulled two objects from his sack. He stuck an apple in the pig’s mouth, and then handed a butcher knife to Sarah and allowed her to slit the beast’s throat.
“Again you have saved us,” she said.
The green-eyed sin-eater smiled and looked out over the Great Hall, at the sun-scorched, hunger-maddened masses. So many to share so little…. Some would not eat at all. In the end, most would only get a scrap of meat – enough to keep them alive and desperate in this Hell of their own making.
“Yes,” he said. “You are lucky to have me.”