About the Book
Title: Those Who Are Left
Author: Josh Stricklin
Thinking back to when everything changed, Derrick can never pinpoint if it was the pickaxe swinging toward his own face that alerted him or if he knew moments earlier when he saw the weapon hurtle toward the barn cat. Either way, he quickly realized that the man he was facing—a farm employee he knew well—was not only no longer a friend, he wasn’t even human any more.
An apocalyptic tale that surprises you with humor when it’s not terrifying you with horror, Those Who Are Left follows Derrick as he and two strangers venture through the major cities of the South in search of family and safety. But not all the human factions can be trusted, and if the trio can’t figure out what’s driving the different groups they could end up with enemies on all sides.
But even in a chaotic world of murderous screamers and posturing humans, there’s always time to play a few games of bowling before the slaughter begins…right?
I always felt safe there in the barn. Maybe it was the gun cabinet, or the assortment of blunt instruments—shovels, posthole diggers, and my current favorite, the pickaxe—that could be used to make quick work of what Mark would undoubtedly call marauders. He has a way with words. Occasionally we'd get a violent wild animal or a wanderer from town to hold up in the field eating the vegetables. It’s pretty surprising which of the two we have to threaten with the branch cutters more often. Before all this happened I owned a considerably large farm. I inherited the place, but in time it became mine just as it was anyone else’s. I employed a number of people. Their families counted on our work to survive. I say that more for me than anyone else. Now no one counts on what I used to do. They only count on what I do now. This. I assume one of the little bald doctors with the clipboards will come wanting to know what I was up to then, but then I'll have more important things to worry about than my profession. Like this. For all anyone else here knows I was a carpenter, or accountant. Although for all they know, I could have just as easily been a murderer.
The barn was sort of my home away from home. About one hundred yards away. I always went there to unwind. When the barn was rebuilt I had a small office put in one of the far corners. Sound proof, smell proof, windowless, and air-conditioned. A lot happened for me in the barn. When Sarah and I were on the verge of divorce, I used the futon multiple nights out of the week. I lost the tip of my finger fixing a combine not long after things between her and me smoothed over, and right there in the office she cleaned me and sewed me up. After she kissed it all better, we shared the bottle of scotch in the mini-fridge, and she kissed me even better. Hundreds of great moments in my life happened in that barn. Even when the new barn went up in place of the old one, I felt like I had taken all my childhood memories from the first and moved them into the new one. Including when I found out that something had happened. Here in New Orleans we call that instant when we found out something happened the new "how I lost my virginity" story. We call it “the moment.” I've told mine so many times and seen so many of them—the screamers, we call them—that I've stopped thinking of Tony as a person.
I was sitting in the office. The wall unit moaned and groaned, no doubt in pain from the dirty filter destroying its life expectancy. I had done some much paperwork that morning that my fingers smells like pencil shavings. Cleaning up the office didn’t do anything to abate the smell. I don't remember exactly what I was doing at the time—maybe looking for the to an air conditioner repair man in the phonebook—but suddenly I heard a muffled crash on the other side of the wall. I remember standing up, outraged, and ripping the door open. Before I could say anything, I was met with a cacophony of banging metal and wood. I saw Tony, like a wild animal, tossing random tools around the barn. His short, muscular stature jerked back and forth. His sweaty black hair flinging side to side with every yank of his head. He furiously grunted. He was looking for something. Not just looking for something, but tearing his way through my barn to find it.
"Tony, what the hell are you doing, buddy?" I asked the thing wearing Tony's body. He ignored me completely.
There was motion. A feral cat ran from beneath a countertop coming out from one of the nearby walls. Tony snatched a pickaxe, which rested on two hooks from just over his head on the wall. I walked toward him, hands up and trying to stop his rage. He swung the ax at the cat, missing. A hole blew out of the wall at the sharp impact.
"Shit, Tony. Stop! What the hell happened?"
The cat made for the opening at the opposite end of the barn. Tony dove grabbing the cat's hind legs. He squealed with what I now understand was delight. What it sounded like then was a woman screaming in terror. The cat bit and scraped at his dirty, sunburned hands. Tony stood up and slammed the cat into the wall.
"What the fuck, Tony?"
I grabbed a shovel from the wall. He slammed the cat another time. And another. I slammed the shovel into his head. He really saw me then. His eyes were bloodshot and filled with a homicidal rage I've always lumped away in my mind with video game characters. His dark, stubbly face an orgy of fury, surprise, confusion, and fear. He shook as he heaved air. His shoulders rose up and down, up and down.
Tony charged at me, dropping the cat on the ground. Fomp. I jammed the end of the wooden handle into his nose it. Blood popped out like a tiny water balloon busted on his face. He shrieked again.
Tony swung the pickaxe he still held. His movements were clumsy. He lost his balance and tipped over onto one knee. I hit him in the face. His blood coated my fist. He fell back onto the ground.
"Knock it off. Have you lost your goddamn mind?" I screamed at him.
From where he lay on the ground, Tony clumsily swung the ax again. It stuck in my leg about an inch deep. I looked at the pick hanging from my leg, not believing it. I screamed. Then I was on the ground. I remember having time to groan once before I was fighting Tony off. He was screaming and slobbering. He bit my forearm hard enough to draw blood. I called for help between gasping breaths. Tony moved closer and closer. I could smell his dirty breath. He bit at my cheek, barely missing. I could hear his teeth clamping together. He jerked and flailed. His knee connected with my crotch. His fingernails raked my face.
Then there was a loud, hollow bang. And Tony went limp. Blood dripped in my face from the top of his head.
I came out from beneath him. A hand dropped. I looked up. Mark stood looking down. He was bent as low as he could. His six feet, seven-or-so inch frame towered over me. His scared eyes peeked out behind a scraggly beard. They were so dark I thought they were black. For a second it spooked me.
"I think we gotta go, bro. There's more of them."
He helped me to my feet, and we ran out of the barn.
Josh Stricklin is an American author and musician with degrees in English literature and advertising from the University of Southern Mississippi. His first novel, Those Who Are Left, made its debut in 2015. The terrifying follow up, The King of Evil, is available from Silver Leaf Books. He's currently hard at work finishing his first series…or more likely reading comic books and wearing a Seahawks jersey.
Purchase on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Those-Who-Left-Josh-Stricklin-ebook/dp/B00ZG9WJ90/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1485626672&sr=8-1&keywords=those+who+are+left