As the sun started its route over the horizon to scorch the earth with its hot tendrils three horses galloped side by side down an abandoned road toward what was once called Downtown Los Angeles. Each horse had a rider and each rider had a burning desire to flee the danger they had narrowly escaped just minutes earlier. Their party of seven had been taken by surprise. As they had passed a line of markets along the road they were suddenly engulfed in a chaos of explosions and gunfire. All around them were loud bangs and snaps and before any of them could react two of them lay dead on the ground. Most of the horses had bucked their riders off to run away from the danger and as shots were being wildly flung all around only three were able to escape.
A few miles down the road the three men slowed their pace to a canter and allowed themselves to breathe. One of the men turned his head to look back and asked, "What the fuck was that shit?"
"A fucking trap is what it was!" Another rider exclaimed as he wiped his brow. "Those motherfuckers must've been waiting for some poor saps to come down that exact spot so they could butt fuck'em! Fuck that shit!"
"Yeah. Fuck," the third cowboy said softly in agreement with the others.
"You held onto your horse and controlled him well, Blake." The first man, who was the eldest, complimented the young cowboy whose head was bent in exhaustion.
"Yeah. Good fucking job kid." The middle cowboy said unimpressed with either of them.
"Should we go back?" Blake asked the two sheepishly.
"Fuck that shit!" The middle cowboy said confidently. "I'm not going back. You can go back and get yourself killed. I don't give a fuck!"
Blake looked to the eldest one for guidance. "Joe?" He asked.
"I don't think it's a good idea to go back that way. Not now." Joe said. "We stick with the plan. We head southwest to the beach. Get out of this fucking heat and take it easy."
"That's right!" The middle one agreed emphatically and began to kick his horse but just a few yards into his triumphant gallop he was violently jerked from his saddle by the neck and thrown to the ground suffocating from the blow.
As Blake of Joe's horses reared back to stop from being taken out by an invisible attacker a gray figure pounced from above them and landed behind Blake sitting as if they had been longtime friends out for a morning ride. Joe let out a booming, "FUCK!" as the gray hooded figure slashed Blake's throat from behind painting the horse's mane in burgundy.
Joe pulled hard left on his reigns but before his horse could get traction the horses back legs were sliced through at the shins causing the horse to collapse on the ground and its rider to fly forward onto the hot pavement. Joe struggled to his feet and turned to see the gray phantom standing in front of him. "You're just a kid," Joe said looking into the face of a young man named Jacob before him smiling.
Jacob was covered in gray camouflage cobbled together from different materials and wielding a long shiny katana. "I know who you are," he said. "You're Joe. The leader of cowboy gangsters who go around raping and murdering."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Joe said as his hand slowly inched its way closer to the gun at his side. His fingers twitched as he contemplated how fast that sword could move.
Jacob stared into Joe's eyes and said, "We've been watching your group and we have been weighing your deeds."
"Who do you think you are?" Joe asked, his hand getting recklessly closer to his pistol.
"The living are either good or evil and you are evil," Jacob said calmly.
Joe went for his gun but before he could reach the handle a shimmering beam of steel slashed through the air severing Joe's head from his body. Jacob knelt down and wiped the dead man's blood off on the dead man's clothing when he heard a raspy cough from behind. He spun around to see the middle cowboy regaining his composure from getting throat checked on Jacob's fishing line and struggling to get control of his pistol. Jacob rushed toward the man and in a few strides was upon him plunging his sword into his chest. He slid the sword back out and with wide eyes and a gurgle, the third cowboy fell.
Jacob sheathed his sword and began checking the dead for valuables. He took the saddle bag off of the only horse dumb enough to stick around and filled it with guns, ammunition, food, and water. Jacob took a moment to notice the beauty of the horse that stood before him. It was young and lean with dark auburn hair that was broken up randomly by large stark white splotches. It looked fast.
Satisfied with the day's events Jacob reattached the saddlebag to the horse and lifted himself onto its back. He'd never ridden a horse before but as soon as he took the reigns it all felt right. He kicked the horse and his new ride started galloping back toward the ambush.
A few minutes down the rode Jacob could see a figure walking his direction. He slowed to get a better look. Up ahead he could see a tall, slender body holding a long rifle. When he saw the red shoes of his friend Miah he smiled and coaxed the horse to a gallop. A few yards from the figure he yelled out, "Look what I got!"
The young woman slung her rifle over her back dramatically and as Jacob circled her she clapped slowly. "Well done, Haus. You're a regular root-tootin cowboy you are!" She said with a huge dimpled smile.
"Yes I am," he said and put his hand out. He looked at Miah and asked, "Wanna ride?"
Miah took his hand and they both rode toward the center of the city. Los Angeles was a decaying desert but the city's massive expanse was mostly void of walkers. Herds of walkers in the millions had gathered years ago and traveled away from the inner city leaving a desolate but relatively walker-free land with only a few small settlements of the living. Jacob had met Miah while traveling to one of the settlements and while at first, they couldn't stand each other they soon found that it was only because they were both so alike.
About a year ago Jacob had strolled into a settlement based around the old Staple's Center to get some supplies and check out the locals when he saw Miah in the street arguing with a local blacksmith. He walked over to watch the show but when Miah noticed him getting closer she swung at him. He caught her arm and pushed her aside but she swung again, this time hitting him square in the jaw. Jacob tackled her and they wrestled for a moment until Jacob finally pinned Miah forcing her to tap out. Jacob got up and extended his hand to her but she just spat at him, stood up, brushed her pants off and walked off in a huff.
Over the next couple of days, they exchanged hateful glances when seeing each other around the settlement but then one night they both ended up in a tavern and got to talking. Miah explained that she was pissed at the blacksmith because he owed her some bullets and hadn't delivered. Jacob told Miah that he was gearing up to take down a group of "pirates" that had been attacking small settlements. They quickly found that they both shared a love for enacting justice and from then on the two had patrolled Southern California seeking out those that would prey on the innocent.
"Should we go toward Little Tokyo or The Staple's Center?" Jacob asked as they rode the majestic horse down the hard concrete road.
"Let's go back to the Staple's Center. It's been so long." Miah said enthusiastically.
"Remember when we met and you punched me in the face?" Jacob asked while jabbing his elbow backward into her side.
"I do," Miah said, fending off his jabs and returning with her own jabs. "I remember your black eye."
"And I remember pinning your ass to the ground," Jacob retorted.
"I let you win," Miah said and kissed the back of his neck.
"I'm sure you did."
After about an hour of riding the two stopped and took a break around the back an old convenience store. They fed the horse some grain they had and gave it some water. Then they sat on some trash cans and fed themselves. After a dozen or so minutes of needed rest, the two decided to see if the convenience store had any supplies.
"Just a few cans of who knows what," Jacob called to Miah holding out a can with an unintelligible green label.
"Yeah. I found bottles of water over here so that's something."
Just then they heard the horse make a loud whinny and they both crouched down looking toward the open back door. Then they heard a voice say, "it's a real fucking horse!"
Jacob looked at Miah and gestured toward the front door. She nodded and the two slowly crept out the front door. They heard a loud shot ring out from behind the store and the horse whinnied again. Jacob silently pulled his sword out from its sheath and Miah took a silenced pistol out as they shimmied down the side of the building. When they got closer to the rear they heard more voices.
"It's my horse, I saw it first!"
"You don't even know how to ride the damn thing! You fucking moron."
"Fuck you! Yes, I do!"
"Fuck me? Fuck you! You think Sam will let you keep the horse? He'll take it the second we show up."
"I'll ask him to keep it."
"Just let me ride it back and then you can ask him to keep it. I know how to ride a horse."
"You'll just leave me here!"
"Ok. We'll take turns until we get to the Staple's Center and Sam will decide."
Jacob looked at Miah knowingly and they both rushed around the corner to find two men standing in the alleyway. "Hands up!" Miah shouted as she pointed her pistol at the one farthest away and closest to the horse. Jacob slowly walked up to the first man and held his blade up to his neck.
"Don't move asshole," Jacob said. "Answer my questions and no one has to die."
"Fuck you," said the one without a sword to his neck.
Jacob pressed the sword into the first man's neck who quickly shrieked, "Shut the fuck up, George!"
Jacob laughed and asked, "What are you doing at the Staple's Center Settlement?"
"Nothing, nothing. Just stopping for supplies." The first man answered.
"Bullshit!" Jacob yelled. "Who is Sam?"
"Nothing, nobody," the first man spit out.
"Their fucking liars!" Miah said and added, "Let's just shoot them. They fucked with Tulip."
"Tulip?" Jacob pondered the meaning and then realized. "Yeah. They tried to steal Tulip!"
Perplexed at these two horse lovers the men started to break.
"We didn't know she belonged to anyone. I swear it." The first one whimpered.
"Who is Sam!" Jacob yelled.
"He's our boss," George piped up.
"Shut the fuck up! You idiot!" The first one said to his companion.
"What does your boss do?" Jacob asked and then lowered his sword from the first man's neck.
"He just leads a small group of us. We are heading toward better land out west." The first man answered.
"Yeah, we're heading toward Beverly Hills and then heading up the coast," George said cheerfully.
"Shut the fuck up!" The first man yelled.
"Bullshit!" Jacob shouted. Then he looked over at Miah and walked swiftly up to George. Miah switched her aim toward the first man.
Jacob held his sword up against the second man's neck until it started to break the skin, a small amount of blood spilling out. He leaned forward and asked softly, "You're going to tell me the truth George or I am going to chop off your dick and feed you to the walkers. Who's Sam and what do you do for him?"
Sobbing George answered, "Sam's our boss. I am just a scavenger. We just go out and find gear and stuff and bring it back to Sam." He began to piss himself.
"What else?" Jacob said calmly.
"Sometimes he makes us burn down settlements!" George said falling to the ground crying.
"Fuck!" the first man exclaimed and then went for Miah's rifle just a foot away but he wasn't fast enough. Smoke cleared from Miah's pistol as the man lay lifeless on the pavement. She walked up to the man and put another shot into the back of his head.
"What should we do with the dumb one?" She asked Jacob.
"I kind of feel bad. I mean is he evil, or just dumb and easily manipulated?"
"How can someone so dumb live out here for so long?"
"Maybe by doing whatever someone else says to protect you?"
"Either way, what do you think?" Miah asked.
"I think we don't have enough to condemn this man. But he should be punished."
"Hmm," Miah said dramatically rubbing her chin.
"Yes. Hmm." Jacob said mirroring her actions.
"Take his hand?"
"No that is too much. I think we should banish him."
"That works for me."
Jacob leaned down and said to the man sitting in his own piss, "Today we show mercy for such a wretched creature as yourself and choose only to banish you. From this day you will denounce your old life and gang and will devote yourself to good. You will travel away from the city and never harm another innocent person. If we see you again and you're still a dumb asshole we will not be so kind."
Jacob and Miah gathered their gear and headed toward the Staple's Center settlement on the newly named Tulip. In about an hour they were nearly there and decided to scout the area surrounding the settlement before barging in looking for a fight. Adjacent to the main entrance of the Staple's Center there was a tall building that Miah knew how to gain roof access to.
Behind the building, two walkers stood motionless until they noticed the two travelers clomping around the corner. Starving from a lack of living flesh to feast on the walkers were slow and feeble, barely able to lift their arms. Jacob, not wanting to waste the sharpness of his blade, found a nearby metal pole and jammed it into the face of the nearest one. Miah found a chair and buried it into the next one's face and stomach. They left Tulip behind the building and headed to the roof.
With the sun beaming down on them they lay quietly on their bellies and peered at the people roaming around the settlement, Miah with her scope and Jacob with binoculars. After about a half an hour of watching people clean clothes, sharpen spears, and attempting to stay cool by remaining under the decaying roof of the once immaculate Staple's Center Miah nudged Jacob and said, "A convoy is heading this way." She pointed to the right where a combination of huge trucks and super-cars were approaching.
"Looks like trouble."
The convoy rumbled and roared before coming to a stop in front of the entrance where all the villagers had receded into the building. Men began to file out of the vehicles, all with heavy weapons. From the lead vehicle, a man with a black baseball cap and a pistol in his hand came out and walked up to the makeshift fence that was erected to keep walkers out. A moment later a man Miah recognized as the settlement's "governor" (if you could call him that), Henry, came out to greet the man. Miah and Jacob couldn't hear what the two were talking about but could just make out that the man in the cap was yelling and waving his pistol around.
Henry let the leader of the convoy and a group of his men into the fenced in area and then the man pistol-whipped Henry knocking him to his knees. The man in the black cap pointed his pistol at the top of Henry's head and pulled the trigger. A loud bang echoed off the tall buildings surrounding Jacob and Miah as Henry's body slumped to the ground. They watched as the capped man and his men went into the building shouting and firing their weapons terrorizing the residents.
"We have to do something," Miah said looking over at Jacob.
"There are too many of them and we don't have a plan," Jacob said. "But you're right, we need to do something and I need to find out if that is my Sam."
"The one that killed your father?" Miah asked.
"Yes. I need to get close and if it is my Sam then I need to be the one that does it."
"Alright, so what do you propose?"
"Any walkers nearby?" Jacob asked looking around.
"If so they would start walking this way from that gunshot."
"Over there," Jacob said pointing to a small group of about ten walkers coming from the left. "If we can get them to distract the men outside the fence then I can circle around to the back side of the building. If we can set off a firework far right then maybe the walkers will get close enough to distract some of the men."
"As soon as the walkers are on the men I'll start taking them out," Miah added. "Then you flank them and take out as many on the inside as I take the ones out front. There is an entrance in the back that I used to use to get out after curfew next to a handicap bathroom. I broke the lock so hopefully, you should be able to use that."
"I'll circle around right, set off the fireworks and then head around back," Jacob summarized the plan and gave Miah a passionate kiss before getting up. He grabbed a backpack and started for the stairs.
Outside of the building, Jacob smirked when he found Tulip was still standing in the alley with a blank look on its face. He left the horse behind and made his way quietly to the alley behind the next building over. When he reached the edge of the building just around the corner from the view of the men watching the street he placed a few firecrackers on the ground and readied them to go off. He peered around the corner and when no one was looking his direction he lit the fuse and rushed across the street to the right flank of the Staple's Center building.
Soon, the loud bang of fireworks started to explode as Jacob was scaling the fence to the rear of the building. The armed men started to shout at each other and some started shooting in the direction of the loud bursts. As their backs were turned Miah could see the group of walkers descending on them and as soon as the first walker grabbed an oblivious gunman chaos ensued. Some men started shrieking commands to take care of the walkers while half the group was searching the building where the fireworks were coming from.
While they were confused Miah let out the first of many rounds. Even with the silencer, her rifle was loud enough for the gunmen to eventually figure out the direction of her shots. She was a deadly aim and had a superior position and was able to take out man after man, leaving them writhing on the ground in pain. She was taking heavy fire and knew that it was only a matter of time before they swarmed her position. She scrambled to her feet and rushed to the roof access door where she attempted to barricade it shut with anything she could. Then she took up a different position on the rooftop and started shooting again.
The backdoor Miah had suggested was unlocked and Jacob was able to slip into a maintenance hallway. Inside the building, he could hear screaming and shooting and knew he had to act quickly if he were to find the man in the black cap. He tried a door at the end of the hall and saw a gunman beating up on an old man. Jacob pulled his sword out and as swiftly as the wind he swung his blade upwards slicing deep into the man's torso and face. Jacob looked around and saw another gunman heading up the stairway to the second floor.
He followed behind and before the man reached the top step the tip of Jacob's blade was sticking out of his chest. As the man fell Jacob was staring at another gunman pointing his gun at him. Just as shots started flying his way he dropped to his stomach and held up the dead man's body for cover and then slowly slid down the stairs. After what felt like forever Jacob heard a click indicating the man's gun was empty. Jacob got up and rushed over the man and before he could load another magazine Jacob's blade was scouring his throat sending blood into the air.
Miah had taken out quite a few men by the time the pounding on the roof door started. She sent a couple of her high powered rounds through the door causing a temporary pause in the pounding. When it started back up she quickly got up and pulled a small machine gun and a grenade out of her backpack. The door started to pry open and when she saw the first arm reaching around it she started firing. As men tried to come through the door she shot them dead in their tracks with a hail of gunfire and when she heard the gun click she pulled the pin from the grenade and threw it at the door. It landed on top of a pile of bodies and exploded chunks of flesh and bone all around the area. She had just enough time to reload when the next group tried to come through the door but she kept firing.
Jacob made his way down the hallway of the second floor with his sword ready to bite. He silently opened a door to a room full of beds and found that two men were terrorizing a group of women. One was watching while the other ripped the clothes off of one of them. As they were distracted Jacob slowly crept up on them. He was able to crouch behind the one watching and placed his sword between the man's legs sharp side up and then as he stood up the man was cut from balls to belly button, his guts spilled onto the ground as he shrieked. The other man turned just in time to see his friend fall and a gray hooded ghost swing a blade at his face.
"Shhhh," Jacob mouthed to the distraught women. He grabbed a rifle from the dead man's hands and headed toward the door to the hallway.
As he stepped out into the hallway a set of men were running his direction and when they noticed him they began to shoot. Jacob fell to his stomach and shot back taking out the men with precise shots as the carpet around him was torn up by incoming bullets. He jumped to his feet and as he passed the dead men he grabbed one of their rifles and started around the corner. One man was standing guard outside of a door and without hesitation, Jacob shot the man in the head. Jacob slowly walked up to the door and when he was about to reach for the doorknob he heard gunshots blasting through the wood. He jumped back against the wall and waited.
After a moment a voice came from behind the door, "Come on in!"
"Why don't you come out, Sam!" Jacob yelled back.
"Who the fuck are you!"
"Ever been to Beverly Hills? Sam!"
"How do you know my name, motherfucker?"
"One of your lackeys told us we could find you here. Said you like to burn down settlements!"
"Not before I take what's mine!" the man said shooting more rounds through the door.
"Come out here and fight me like a man!" Jacob shouted.
A few minutes later Jacob heard rustling and then the door started to open. The man in the black cap came out holding his pistol up to the head of a young woman. Jacob held his rifle up and when the woman's face moved out of the way it revealed the face Jacob recognized as the same man that had killed his father. It was "his" Sam.
"It is you," Jacob said with a wry smile on his face. "Remember me?"
"You're just another dead motherfucker," Sam said. "Now drop it or I shoot this lovely young woman. You wouldn't want that would you?"
"If you shoot her I'll shoot you, idiot. So, why don't you drop your weapon and nobody get's hurt." Jacob said lying to the man.
"Yeah, right!" Sam laughed.
"Remember Beverly Hills? Where you killed a man trying to help you and then burned down my house."
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
"6 Years ago my father and I found you in the street and you killed him. Then you followed me back to my friends and killed them too."
"Oh yeah!" Sam said and chuckled. "That was a long time ago. Fuck! I was a nobody back then. That was the beginning of my career." With that Sam pointed his gun at Jacob and fired, hitting Jacob in the left shoulder. Jacob dropped his rifle as another two shots hit him in the chest causing him to fall to the ground.
Miah was running out of ammunition as there were still men coming for her. She took out her pistol and fired her last rounds at the men coming through the door. Two men made it past her shots and walked up to her. She pointed her gun at the first man and when the only sound came out was a sharp "click" the man laughed. He pointed his pistol at her chest and fired. She fell back from the force of the blast. The man stood over her, turned to his friend and said, "She put up a hell of a fight. Fuckin cunt!" They laughed. When he looked back down he noticed that there was no blood coming from her chest. He leaned down and ripped her shirt open to see a bulletproof vest with a silver metal projectile embedded in it.
As Miah's eyes opened and met his a knife was plunged up into his chin. He fell onto her with a gurgling sound, blood rushing out onto her. She grabbed for his gun and just as the second man shot the dead man on top of her she lifted the pistol and killed the last man on the roof. Miah pushed the large dead corpse off of her body and stood up finally getting a good look at the carnage she unleashed. A half-dozen dead bodies lined the roof near the doorway and a few lay just inside the stairwell. She was covered in blood as she took her long knife to the skulls of each of the dead men ensuring they didn't come back to try again.
Sam shoved the woman aside and started toward Jacob's lifeless body but when he was within reach Jacob kicked his feet out from under him and Sam fell to the ground. Jacob jumped on top of him holding his wrists pinning him to the floor. Enraged and without thinking Jacob began pounding his forehead against Sam's face. With a few swift slams to his face Sam stopped struggling and after a few more slams there was little left of his face that was recognizable. His face was turned into a red, pulpy mess with teeth and bone shattered and hanging loose.
Jacob's face was covered in blood as he stood up panting from the exchange. He pulled his sword out and with a primal scream, he plunged it into Sam's heart. He fell over and laid beside his enemy and began to cry. His sobbing soon turned into hysterical laughter as a crowd of settlers began to surround him staring at the maniac that had just saved them. Jacob noticed them all looking at him and stopped laughing. He stood up and without a word started towards the stairs and headed back to the entrance.
When he made it to the outside he saw the corpses of walkers and soon to be walkers strewn about the street and courtyard. He opened the gate to the fence and looked up at where Miah had been positioned but no one was there and it was eerily quiet. Then he heard the sound of Tulip's clomping hoofs on the pavement. Then he saw Miah leading Tulip by the reigns coming out from behind the building and he was filled with relief. He ran to her and they embraced each other in the blistering heat of the day. As they knelt on the hot pavement holding each other a crowd of grateful settlers formed around them clapping and cheering. When he noticed the attention Jacob looked at Miah and said, "I think they like us."
Miah laughed, burried her head in Jacob's chest and said, "I need a nap."
"The world is ending. Ending just the way we all feared it would. Not from disease, or global warming, but fire falling from the sky."
-The World Carried On
The World Carried On is an epic tale written by Channing Cornwall. In this novel, his most ambitious to date, he intricately weaves a story that is captivating from the first paragraph. Channing breaks the mold with The World Carried On by giving the reader multiple perspectives to unwind the mysteries and adventures that await. With each chapter, we bounce around the primitive post-apocalyptic environment learning about its inhabitants and interconnections. By seeing things from every angle we get a better understanding of the motivations of all the characters showcasing the ambiguous nature of human conflict.
While the main characters are the twins Malin and Marek they are not the main focus. We root for them because they are the most innocent, brave and moral but by contrasting their innocence with the imperfections of the supporting characters we see humanity as it truly is, flawed. As we learn about what drives the conflicts between characters in the world we also get a glimpse into how the world ended up the way it is now, which is a world reborn from the ingenuity of humans but only made necessary by the cruelty of humans.
This story does not have a clear good vs evil motif but instead paints a bipolar dichotomy of human nature as one marred by internal conflict, confusion, and motivated by survival. Throughout the book, each character is fully realized and vividly depicted giving depth and life to everything that happens. By revealing each side of the equation we are not allowed to easily cast aside any individual or group as simply evil but rather we see into the justifications that are generated when one is forced to decide whether to fight, run or submit.
Nothing is wasted in the lines of this book. Channing's writing is both poetic and concise, which is a very difficult balance in such a long novel but there was no time where I wanted to skip a section or felt that it was meandering aimlessly. The story is full of intrigue and mystery as with each new piece of knowledge I learned I was left with more questions. Nearly every chapter left me wanting to know more and excited about what might happen next. The pacing is wonderful and builds subtly toward the climactic ending beautifully. Even while there is so much going on it never feels needlessly complicated or bewildering but instead, Channing guides you ever deeper into the rich world until soon you find yourself drenched in intrigue and adventure.
Channing just gets better with each publication and I am genuinely impressed with The World Carried On. I recommend it to anyone interested in a deep story that is both sophisticated and fun.