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Man of the Frost: Estero Bay
This is a complimentary story to the Man of the Frost original.
These stories, as they appear, can be read in any order, as they are not a series, as much as a collection of tales about the 'Man.'
For a bit of a primer and to get a feel for who the hero of the story is – Murphy – please read the original (linked above).
As always, thanks for your input and advice – and I beg your pardon regarding the typos. I will endeavor to clean them up as I find them.
P.S. Please excuse the horror...
It has been 11 years since the Deep Freeze and we are still alive.
We probably shouldn't be, Murphy thought.
Today – this morning – Murphy was alone, wrapped tightly, like a Eskimo. In fact, almost exactly like an Inuit. Sealskin footwear, a parka made from caribou and other animal skins he could not identify.
Murphy found the parka and the skins on a mummified man in a small boat, trapped in the ice, the previous year. The man's freeze burns were so bad, he appeared to be a blackened monster perched on his boat. How many years the frozen corpse had pointed his gnarled hand at the west, Murphy had no clue. He spent the better part of a day thawing the body enough to slip off the coat and fur-lined pants.
Who the person was or why he was frozen in a ice-flow off the coast of Florida was a mystery. The small boat seemed forever perched on the frozen ridge, a statue honoring the Deep Freeze. And sending a message?
Murphy scanned the frozen bay wondering if it was a good idea to cross here. He could use the icebergs for cover or he could go around the easy way. He dismissed the easy way.
The causeway was still visible above the ice, but completely shrouded. The constant ice fogs also gave everything a ghostly appearance.
Murphy pulled off his homemade snow-goggles. No difference. Still hard to see, he thought. Could be a good place to hole up. He donned his goggles.
The 'easy way' would be a death trap, he reasoned. That's where I'd wait, if I wanted to hunt people. On the causeway. Snatch them as the try to cross.
You could walk across Estero Bay now anyway. Just harder. Only on the blue ice, he was thinking. Keep away from that fluffy ice. Hide between the big bergs and head in from the gulf-side. From the Gulf of Mexico way.
If anyone was still there, they would expect a visitor from inland, not the frozen gulf.
Problem was, the gulf-side wasn't as safe. Wasn't always as thick with ice. At times it would break apart.
Murphy had lost a good horse that way. The ice buckled right under his feet and he scrambled over his horse, lifted himself out of the ice hole. His mare gave him the shocked eye, as her head went under. He was sorry for her.
He had to be careful of the cracks and pressure ridges and not fall in and rip himself to shreds or break a leg.
But that was the only good way in. And a man didn't weigh as much as a horse.
“Let's get to it then,” he muttered. “Family needs the grub,” he said softly.
Wish I had some tobacco, he was thinking then. A cup of coffee would be nice too. "You're stalling, let's go," he said. The icy air didn't offer a reply.
He started out over the frozen bay. Come at them out of the sunrise. If they were there, hopefully they'd have trouble seeing him in the morning shadows.
Word had it that an old building out at Lover's Key State Park had a stash of food. Some Preppers had meetings out there for a while. They called themselves the SHTF Club.
Murphy only remembered the club because of its name and because of the frozen man. The frozen Inuit-looking man had pointed in this direction, but that had probably just been a fluke.
The SHTF Club had a newsletter. Actually an email, Murphy reminded himself. They sold all kinds of stuff, but it was not always authentic. Beef jerky from China and pocket knives made in Vietnam was a dead giveaway.
Murphy received their emails for a time, but became bored when the economy soared, as America began to recover form the Second Great Depression.
That was back in the 20's. The New Roaring Twenties, they called them.
The SHTF Club started to lose members then.
There were a few hardcore members, however. One was named Jeremy. A bit of a nut. Studied economics at the University of Florida, according to his online bio. But that wasn't the best part. Not by a long shot.
It turned out that Jeremy had a survival plan. His idea, according to a pamphlet that he had posted online, was to stash food around the coast of Florida. That way, when the economy blew up, he could get in his sailboat and stay offshore and out of sight.
Jeremy would then hit his stashes one by one, at night, since he'd hidden them in remote locations.
Judging by Jeremy's poorly written “Survival: Post Eco-lapse,” pamphlet, he probably considered Lover's Key to be fairly remote. He also worked for the park.
He had to have a stash there, Murphy thought. Trouble is, who else knew about the club. After a decade, things should be calm now. Maybe all of Jeremy's online videos never really attracted much attention.
Murphy was hopeful.
By mid-morning, Murphy, using his tennis-racket snowshoes, had managed to cross the ice undetected. He was thinking how smart he was for choosing to come around, from the gulf-side, but then realized that heading north or south, to go overland, might take too long.
A direct route would be best, he decided.
Murphy felt for his knife and bow. Made sure the arrows were not frozen in their sheath, then took a bead on what appeared to be an old cell phone tower. It was one of the few things still visible through ice fogs and snow.
He came at the tower in a zigzag, in case anyone was following or up ahead waiting. There were plenty of places to hide. Maybe they would move or break cover for a better look, if he keep them guessing.
But then he saw smoke, which was unusual. Most of the wood – the trees – were buried under ice. So he wondered what they were using for fuel. Murphy took cover behind a chunk of ice the size of house and listened.
He waited longer, but as the minutes ticked by and he began to freeze, he decided that time was of the essence. The cold always seemed to dictate that.
Still no sounds, but there was a smell. A scent coming from just over the next ridge, in the direction of the cell phone tower.
Murphy couldn't place the odor at first.
It was sweet and sickly.
Then it hit him. Someone was cooking meat. And by that smell, the wrong kind of meat.
Murphy had come across this numerous times. Small groups of people who had had enough of starvation and made the leap. The leap into human meat.
These groups seemed to function for a while. Usually at some crossroads, where the pickings were good. Maybe hidden in a warehouse district, where people knew massive amounts of food had been stored before the Deep Freeze. Even at railroad yards, in train-cars full of boxes – all usually emptied long ago. A trap set for wanderers, just like him.
The worst were the Cruise Ships stuck forever in the ice. Stations of promised paradise, often with running water and power, but they were not always the best choices.
For obvious reasons, the cannibals gravitated to those. They attracted wanderers like flies. Murphy knew why. The promise of food and shelter. Only, the wanderers were the food.
Lines of people could be seen -- years ago -- marching to the giant ships. Then never seen again.
The long term prospects of cannibalism seemed bleak, however. At some point, whether some were too sick to hunt or the 'game' became scarce, the 'tribes' used the tried and true technique of self-sacrifice. They literally devoured themselves.
The smoke drifted his way again. Murphy moved closer. Keeping low and using cover as best he could, he chanced a peek over a ridge. Just a pop of the head.
Oh Christ, he thought. Stupid idea. Should have ignored this spot.
Jesus forgive them.
Murphy waited. Listened. It didn't seem like he'd been noticed.
He carved out a spot to spy on them and watched, at once horrified and fascinated. It seemed that he had run into a 'tribe' of cannibals all right, but not the normal kind.
In front of him, low in the ice, like a leviathan from the deep, was a submarine. From the looks of it, a Chinese submarine, judging by it markings.
But this one had an odd shape. More like a rocket laying on its side, than the torpedo-shaped giants Murphy had seen in harbors, before the Deep Freeze. Something he'd read about once. A supersonic submarine?
Had the Chinese actually built them?
The tower he'd seen had not been a cell phone tower at all. It was just part of the submarine. What was more, somehow he'd missed Lover's Key State Park altogether.
He was still in the bay. Estero Bay.
The rocket submarine had a deck as well. A long narrow one, reminding him of an oversized flat iron.
And that wasn't the worst of it. On the deck they – those seaman – were having a barbecue.
Whole bodies, turning on spits. Large tubs of what could only be oil, sizzling.
One seaman, using blow torch, was cutting. Throwing chunks of meat into the tubs.
To make matters worse, the food was fresh. It was live.
Small crowds of people were huddled on the deck. Shivering. Tied off to the deck rails, in a rough line. Fresh meat.
Presently, three burly looking seaman pulled a young girl from the group. She screamed as they passed her to the butcher with the torch. Then she screamed repeatedly, until she was quiet.
Murphy shuffled back. Tried to get his bearings. Nausea was building, along with his anger. But what could he do against so many? Such a hell, he thought.
By God, why did we deserve all of this, Murphy asked.
He scanned side to side, looking for anything unusual. Man-made. Maybe rooftop or a sign. He finally saw it.
A set of docks, complete with frozen pleasure craft, laying on their sides, nearly all covered in ice several feet thick.
Then he saw something else.
She was hiding under the bow of a sailboat, belly on the ice, with her hood pulled back. A shock of black hair draped over her white parka. A parka with insignia of some kind. Murphy was too far to make it out, but it appeared to be a military design.
What was abundantly clear was that the women did not want to be found by the others. What was even more concerning, was that she was working on something.
A case was opened before her. It had a familiar shape. Murphy had seen one before. In the Army.
She was twisting wires together. A line led from the case she was working on, over the snow and in the direction of the submarine.
“You're kidding me,” Murphy said out loud.
At once, the explosions began. White searing lights, followed an instant later, by the peal of rolling thunder.
Murphy shifted his attention back to the deck of the submarine.
Men were scattering, jumping behind turrets, bringing guns to bare, swiveling them in all directions, opening hatches, then sealing them.
One seaman spun through the air doing cartwheels. Like a doll tossed into the heavens, until he disintegrated in another, even brighter fireball.
A giant bubble rose to surface near the submarine.
The submarine itself started to move – through the ice – dislodging the massive sheets of it. Then it began to submerge. But something was odd. The angle seemed wrong. It was sliding backwards, with its pointed nose sharply upward.
A few of people tied to the deck rails started to scream. They had been left to drown. Some seemed resigned to their fate, standing firm, until the waves crashed over them.
More explosions then. They seemed to be coming from the submarine itself.
Hatches opened. Men scrambled out. A gunfight was underway.
Madness, Murphy thought.
Finally, the submarine tilted to one side. Smoke billowed from open hatches.
A last explosion cracked the submarine. It was deafening roar, sending geysers of sea foam hundreds of feet into the sky.
At the same moment, beside the submarine, the ice cracked and slowly, the steel beast, its back broken, twisted into its shallow grave, captives and all.
Mesmerized, Murphy had forgotten the women.
He looked back at the frozen docks. She was still there, but now she was standing.
It was her, Murphy realized. She had done this. She had killed her own countrymen. She had judged them and erased the abominations from this earth.
Murphy wanted to meet her. He was about to stand – to yell “Hallelujah!” But something in her hand stopped him cold. A gun.
And faster than she had a right to, she lifted the gun -- and fired.
She dropped to the snow, dead.
The walk home was tortuous. The cold had deepened and Murphy's heart felt weak, a vacuum of emotions. Confused and jumbled.
When he tapped on the third story window of the house they were currently using on Bonita Beach, his wife was there. She opened the window.
“How did it go?” Christine asked.
“Not a thing. All empty.”
“I thought I saw smoke,” she said.
“It was a ice storm, thunder.” He looked at the window, then back at the snow and ice engulfing this mansion.
“We need to move again. This one's almost covered. It'll collapse soon.”
© 2016 jgshorebird