Clown World: Book One, Chapter One…unedited…

Two weeks went by without a word from the studio or the production team. Ted and I stayed in touch, and on the following Monday we met up outside of the set. Joe was slumped in a chair just outside the gate. Blood dribbled from his mouth; his eyes vacant.
“DUDE! JOE KICKED THE BUCKET,” Ted yelled at the top of his lungs. We both stopped short of Joe, and backed up from the gate.
“Oh, crap.”
“It’s biological isn’t it?”
“I don’t know, but we need to get out of here.”
“Yeah, dude. We ain’t ready for this.”
“Call 911, Ted. Tell them there some sort of hazardous material loose over here. Do not call it biological. We’ll let them figure it out.”
“Got it.”
Ted and I had both served in heavy combat units. Heavy in the sense that we were deployed frequently and saw combat action. Our last deployment had ended our thirst for war, and we packed up our few belongings and headed to sun-filled Hollywood, California. We came here and worked for studios as stunt men, but this was way out of our league. Sirens blared in the distance.
“Let’s go to the parking lot,” Ted said. “I’d feel better away from this crap.”
“Yeah. We can wait for the cops out there.”
On the way to the parking lot, we bumped into B.D. and Emily. They both looked at us like we were crazy, when we explained what we saw at the gate.
“Come on, babe. These rednecks don’t know nothing,” B.D. said over his shoulder as he walked toward the gate. “Joe’s right there,” he bellowed, pointing his bony finger in the direction of the deceased security guard.
Emily didn’t seem to share B.D.’s enthusiasm, but she trailed behind him. She had closed the gap to inches, when B.D. whirled around, his dark face a sickly pale.
“They weren’t lying, babe. Joe’s dead. Oh, God. I’m gonna be sick.”
Emily didn’t have time to get out of the way, as B.D. fell to his knees and vomited. It went all over Emily. She screamed, covered her mouth and tried to keep her lunch down. It didn’t work. She spewed her lunch all over B.D. Ted fell over onto his truck bed laughing. Even I laughed, but I tried to keep it down. These Hollywood-types didn’t like to be made fun of. Several moments passed before Emily and B.D. recovered from their experience. Once they cleaned up, they came back to where we stood.
“Neither of you breathe a word about this, or I’m gonna sue you into oblivion,” B.D. growled at us. Emily didn’t say anything. Unlike the movies, this was a serious situation, and fear shined in her eyes. I handed her a couple of shop towels, and she took them gratefully. B.D. looked at me, and raised his eyebrows. I opened my car door and motioned for Emily to have a seat. She gave me a small smile and wiped down her face and lips.
“Are you gonna give me some of those, bro?”
“Some what,” I answered. B.D. fumed and pointed at the roll of blue towels. “Those! I puked too.”
“No. I’m not giving you any. They’re five bucks at Auto Zone.”
He probably would have punched me if a black and white patrol car hadn’t pulled up into the parking lot. Two officers got out and walked toward us. I would describe them, but at this point in history, it was considered bad form to describe people by their race, gender, looks, etc. So, I’ll just say the driver came over and asked us what had happened.
“What’s going on here?”
“There’s a dead security guard over there,” Ted said, waving at the gate. “I called it in.”
“When did this happen?”
“I don’t know, you’ll have to ask my bro here,” Ted snapped motioning at me. “He was here first.”
“I’m the stunt man for this picture,” I explained, “I haven’t worked in a couple weeks because people were sick. They haven’t called in two weeks, so I came over to check it out.”
“Joe, that’s the name of the guard, he was laid back in a chair, dead. Ted showed up a few minutes later. That’s all I know.”
“So, you don’t know what killed him?”
“Have you gone into the set?”
“Um, no. Why would I do that?”
“Neither of you went behind the gate? What about those two?”
“No. As far as I know, no one has gone behind the gate. Emily is the lead actress of the film, the doofus is her boyfriend, B.D.”
“Okay. You all stay here until we get back.”
“Where are you going?”
“Sir,” the officer said to Ted, “we’re going back there to see what happened. We have to know what’s going on here.”
Ted shrugged and said, “whatever, man. It ain’t no sweat off my rump. Do you, but maybe you should get a hazmat suit before you go back there.”
“It’ll be fine,” the driver’s partner said. “We’re professionals.”
All four of us watched as the two officers approached the gate, and then disappeared behind it. Ted leaned over and said, “how many times do you think we’ve heard those famous last words?”
“What? That bit about ‘don’t worry, we’re professionals?’ Far too many times to recall.”
“Yeah. That’s what I was thinking. This has got to be the work of a virus. Did you notice Joe’s eyes? They weren’t moist.”
“I noticed.”
“Whatever it is, it dehydrated the body.”
“Yeah, Ted. I saw it.”
And that my friends, is how the world came to end. In months, the virus had spread all across America. Corporations collapsed, so did the government. The so-called lunatic fringe on the right, or pro-2nd Amendment types, took over towns and set up their own local governments. Bandits took over inner cities and set up their own ‘kingdoms.’ Those who preferred to not swear fealty to either of those performed hit-and-run raids on the weak. The groups who claimed to stand for the ‘oppressed’ and perpetually ‘victimized’ set up communes far away from everyone else. Mom-and-Pop restaurants went out of business, gas stations emptied, and in the midst of breakdown of the entire system, people still couldn’t get along.
Somewhere in the midst of the chaos, word got out about a ‘safe haven’ in the Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, Colorado. Ted and I decided we’d head that way.

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