Depleted: Day 419, Part 1 (STORY)

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Day 419 is one of the first story series from our new affiliates at World of Depleted, the Gothic post-apocalyptic series that allows you to participate and share in profits off your creations in this amazing and dark world!

Jenna Whitmore bent to her task meticulously, her long blonde hair falling around her neck as she carefully compared her forgery to the original source materials she had. She had to give Fitch credit, his clout in the area allowed him to acquire more elements to make her job more convincing. She probably could’ve done the work by the early afternoon sunlight, but the dust caked windows rendered the daylight strangely watery, so it was a plausible excuse for using the flickering candle and kerosene lantern, which she found comforting. Certainly Fitch could afford the cost of her quirks for what he was able to get for her work.

In the United States, traditional forgery was a dying art before the Fall, with more and more people using complex computer algorythms and high tech holographic techniques to stop counterfeits. However, for people going to less advanced countries, forgery was still a viable and lucrative profession.

She’d been lucky. Her mentor, Gavin, had been one of the best still alive. Raised in a life of crime by his felonious brother, Gavin had been trained to forge documents, bank statements, and even money. He’d gone on to develop a knack for traditional codebreaking, which had given him more value to the organization. However, when his brother eventually went to prison, he was able to break out of the lifestyle to become a journalist. Unfortunately, the young Gavin had issues with traditional management and authority figures in general, so he decided to use his skills with forgery and codebreaking to change the definition of law abiding citizen. Undercover journalism was a profession that usually required a larger organization to foot the bills for research, bribes, and connections. But Gavin had taught her that, if you’re good enough and you can get places no other journalist can, you can more than offset your operating costs with the fees you charged the networks for exclusive breaking news. Gavin wasn’t just “good,” however, he was the best, at least in Jenna’s opinion. Or rather, he had been.
Jenna had met him right after she’d become a journalist at the Tribune, when he had “retired” from his former life and was working as a specialize commentator and consultant there. The life of modeling that she’d gotten involved with after college had suited her desire to enrage her over-protective mother, but it hadn’t been fulfilling. Worse, it had made her razor sharp inspection of people all the more brutal. The shallow models, dimensionless designers, and translucent men who glommed on to models were all the lowest possible echelon of humanity.
Granted, she hadn’t truly learned to hate people until later…

* * * *

She’d determined to do some thing positive in the world, so a graduate degree in journalism had seemed logical to her. Of course, the fact that this enraged her mother nearly as much as her being a model hadn’t hurt matters as far as Jenna was concerned. The problem with being a prodigy, regardless of her condition, is that people—especially her mother–expected her to do something worthy of winning nobel prizes for science, not journalism! Of course, neither career had effected her father.

He couldn’t be bothered…

* * * *
Gavin had been the sort of man who people wanted to be around and, to a girl who’d seen too many groping, pawing older men, he was respectful and kind. As time passed, he’d told her about his life as an undercover journalist. To Jenna’s young ears, it’d sounded as thrilling as being a spy and she’d begged him to teach her what he knew. With her genius IQ and quick hands, she’d picked up much of his teaching rapidly. While he was at first concerned for her safety, especially when he discovered what she struggled with, he eventually had to admit that, if she thought things through enough to hire mercenaries wherever she went, she’d probably be okay…especially if she learned to use (and carry) a firearm herself.

In the more than 200 days that she’d wandered alone after the Fall, before she found Maysbridge, she’d thanked God that she’d learned to use the handgun, since she now didn’t have a source of income to keep mercenaries by her side. Of course, most mercs had killed off one another, become the rapists and bandits that prowled the roads, or, for greater profit, become reapers.

If he’d been a sociopath, her current bodyguard, Andre Flanagan, probably would’ve become a reaper. However, he’d been raised in the world of organized crime, always protecting some higher up, so, even if he hadn’t had any moral grounding, becoming a hired death dealer hadn’t really occurred to him. From the few conversations she’d had with the quiet, blonde man, after the Fall, having lost his employer in the riots, he too had wandered aimlessly. Eventually, like Jenna, he’d made his way to Maysbridge because of Fitch’s reputation. Modern mobster or misunderstood merchant, few were able to convert from backwoods moonshiner to wealthy broker of anything you might need as successfully as Nash Fitch had. The abandonment of two small towns in Central Kentucky in the chaos after the Fall had allowed him to seize them both and rename the place, “Maysbridge.” Between the alcohol he already had for fuel and a successful seizure of a load of solar panels, he quickly made a reputation for being a pre-Fall purveyor of post-Fall needs.

As she passed her razor sharp blade through the candle to heat it up so that it would cut the photo more cleanly, she found herself mesmerized by the flame. As a kid, for obvious reasons, her mother hadn’t permitted her to play with blades, but flames were the seductive sirens that could hurt without cutting. Before long, she’d used her unshoreable hunger for knowledge to learn all about flames and fire, finding little ways to explore an ever blossoming flower of pyromania in her bosom. She’d always been careful with her private explorations, although, secretly, she harbored the desire to burn her house down and her mother along with it. In the Fall, however, when she found her house a burnt wreck, she felt no pleasure. It was all hollow, even more so since she hadn’t been the one to do the deed.

Just another time where men took something from her that should’ve been hers alone…

* * * *
The flames reminded her again of her vision, the reason she now knew she would have to leave the place she was in—the one place that she’d almost felt safe since the world went to Hell. The vision came to life in her mind as she continued her work.

Glimpses of dark cloaked forms like wraiths as they marched over the hills, sweeping through Maysbridge like an army of the damned. Their black uniforms bore a trimarked symbol in white, looking like a bizarre broken cross of some sort. Even as she saw them, she knew who they were. They were the things people told their children about late at night to get them prepared for the atrocities that awaited them. If you somehow made an army of reapers, you couldn’t have a more chilling group that the Neo-Palidins. They’d stored up hatred like a fine wine in their souls and refined their loathing of technology until it’s possession was a killing offense. They’d made a religion of their beliefs and everyone had heard rumors that they were on a crusade to slaughter heretics, but no one ever suspected that they’d come to the backwoods state of Kentucky.

However, if Jenna’s visions were to be believed, they would indeed come here and no one would survive…

* * * *
The fact that the knife was turning black from soot in the flame brought her out of her revery with a curse, as she wiped it clean.

Ash edged cuts would never do…

* * * *
With the dangers present after the Fall, survivors had tried to band together into communities to protect themselves. They used travel and identity papers, combined with rigorous medical tests, to try to keep out dangerous bandits or those carrying disease, and to later officially identify members of a community. Jenna’s skills had permitted a way for people to circumvent these measures. While she tried to tell herself that her papers were used by those who’d legitimately lost theirs, she really had no idea what happened with the papers she forged. She tried not to think about it. The thought that she might be empowering the same sort of rapists she hated, or reavers, or fort breakers was almost too much to be born. When she did find these thoughts unable to be avoided, she tried to justify her work with the notion that she was helping communities to evolve to a more ancient way of keeping track of people. Branding and tats, for example. Those were the tribal ways she’d personally witnessed in the old days in other countries, but she’d already heard rumors that people were exploring this.

As she took more conscious attention to what her hands had been meticulously doing, relying on muscle memory as much as cerebral knowledge, she saw that she had only a few more lines and then she would be ready to dry the document, seal it, and put it in the old padded yellow envelope that was yet another remnant from the time before the Fall.

Before the Fall seemed like a lifetime ago…

* * * *
She’d heard about the attacks when she’d been in Cosovo. Her sat phone had updated her on the attacks and the reactions. She’d never been able to get an exact count of how many attacks had occurred but it seemed to be a small number, scattered around the globe, in a single moment on St. Patrick’s day. The payloads seemed to have been different and the actual death toll didn’t seem horrific, but they opened up a chain of events that would destroy the world. The death of the Pope made millions question faith in anything greater than themselves, for if a god couldn’t protect his greatest leader, what hope did anyone else have? Further, the deaths of numerous European union leaders and the United States president revealed that no one was safe, regardless of political or financial power. The panic was untold, but that wasn’t what unleashed the Fall. Not really.

When it went to hell was when they had brought in the next man in line to be Executive in Chief in the United States. To this day, she didn’t know his name, only that he’d been a behind-the-scenes bureaucrat that had no experience with emergencies. Perhaps, with that understanding, his choices could be forgiven, but it was hard when his reaction had been the spark in a saturated flour mill.

For a moment as she finished the papers, she thought on all she had endured, of the horrifying visage of a man leaving his own child on a garbage heap, because the squalling, starving child was slowing down the older man. What did it say about her that she hadn’t tried to save the child? She’d just walked by and tried to tune it out. She’d had so much happen to her, that she couldn’t even be bothered to stop for a child.

The screaming of the child brought other visions to her mind, of the woods of Virginia, trying to keep warm around a campfire, listening to a baby screaming in the distance, inconsolable. Then there was the sound of a gunshot. After that, there was no more screaming. That night the screams had haunted her dreams as she clutched her gun to her chest and prayed for death.

No matter how horrifying the world had become, it was easier to think about the agony she’d seen in others than it was to recall what had been done to her…and what she’d done in turn.

As she put the documents in the letter, she was reminded of the philosopher, Friedrich Nietsche. Nietsche had believed that modern man was the “Ubermenshe”–“super man.” He had evolved beyond a need for gods or deities and was made more perfect due to his evolution. Hitler had used his beliefs to state that some were more evolved than others and exterminate those he hated.

After World War II, Americans had believed themselves better than the Germans because they would never condone such cruelty. Perhaps they were more evolved. They too had evolved beyond a need for belief. Yet, when you took away that which they took for granted, when you made life hard, they were the most brutal of all. If this was man evolved, Jenna wondered what monsters looked like?

Sliding the now finished documents into the envelope and into her touch up bag, Jenna picked up her Glock and slid it in into her hidden holster. That more bad things hadn’t happened to her after the Fall was a testament to how fast she could get the gun into her hands when she needed it.

Of course, who was to say that the atrocities she’d committed were any better than those that were done to her…

* * * *
She blew out the candle but, as usual, left the lantern burning. After all the darkness she’d survived, having a light on in her residence was important to her, as though it welcomed her back.

She could’ve had electric light if she would’ve lived inside Maysbridge, but that would’ve required her to trust Nash and to trust the people around her. Neither would happen, so, by default, she chose to live in a battered old house that was likely beaten up long before the Fall. And besides, she reasoned, if she was going to have a light on, she’d rather it be a flame, it pretended to be less innocent that electricity.

Fatalistically, there was a secret part of her that hoped it might get knocked over and burn down the entire house.

Maybe while she was asleep inside…


Check out later this week for the next chapter in the Day 419
saga of the Gothic Post-Apocalyptic series, World of Depleted!

Author: JT Hanke

J.T. Hanke is the founder and current editor-in-chief of DarkestGoth Magazine. Founded in 2012, DGM took a break from publishing at the height of the pandemic so that all the staff could work through their own issues, but was able to return in January of 2023.

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