I hope you're all doing well and that March is treating you well so far. It's been pretty calm up here in Michigan, and we're hoping for a week of 40 degrees each day. Balmy!
Have you seen the new cover for the Empire Press release of Cowboys & Vampires - Venom Valley Book One? Take a gander, isn't it amazing? Book 2 of my Venom Valley Series will be out later this year, also with a brand new title and cover, and then Book 3 will be released. I'm excited that Empire Press has taken these stories to heart, and we hope to introduce Josh, Dex, and Glory to lots of new readers!
Okay, without further ado, meet Grizz, the survivor of an icy holocaust, in the beginning of my yet-to-be-titled short story... Enjoy!
by Hank Edwards
Grizz's feet were already numb. He should have listened, but of course he didn't. He never did.
And now here he was, far outside the perimeter of their small base in the black pitch of night. No fire, no water, not even a second layer of furs. He was an idiot. And all because of a gut feeling he had about the Lowlanders.
But that feeling had been strong, and if it was one thing that had kept Grizz all these years living atop the ice, it was listening to his gut. He'd noticed a pattern to the Lowlanders' scavenging, and thought they might be ready for another foraging run up the hills. Up into the territory staked out by Grizz's people.
Not that he had anyone close enough to call his "people." Of all the men living at their base high up in the hills, Grizz was the only gay man. He had grown up among the other men, grown tough and cold along with them, and secretly fallen in and out of love with most of them. But he had yet to lie with a man. Sometimes he wondered if he would die a virgin, never bedded and never loved.
As his thoughts turned inward and darker, Grizz tromped across the ice, the spikes strapped to the bottoms of his fur-lined boots keeping him from sliding uncontrollably down the slope. The cold of the ice had seeped up through the soles of his boots, into his feet, and now sent chilling fingers up his calves. Places out of the wind and off the ice were few and far between, but if he didn't find somewhere to bunk down for the night sometime soon he would freeze to death.
Just like the rest of the world.
He made himself keep moving, kept his blood flowing, and turned his thoughts from his lack of love to the time not so long ago when this hillside would have been covered in grass and wildflowers. The sun had been warm, the bees and butterflies making the rounds of the flowers. If he remembered correctly, there had been two small streams running through it all, clear and ice cold, filled with the snowmelt from the mountains.
Now, however, it was all buried under thirty feet of solid ice. And all because of the stupidity of a group of reactionary revolutionaries who knew just enough about science to destroy the world. Well, if not destroy, then wrap it in ice so thick it would take generations to melt, and then what would they be left with? Floods, scarce land and resources, and a lack of food.
Very much like the earth of today.
As he trod across the ice, Grizz found himself on a trajectory that would take him past one of the substations used by the revolutionaries in their attempt to right the wrongs of global warming. The results of their experiment had been swift and devastating. The record breaking heat of the summer season had cooled, and at first the country was relieved and celebrated. But the cooling didn't stop. The temperature dropped further, plummeting the entire globe into a freeze that ravaged life across the planet. Millions died, including Grizz's parents, sisters, and brothers, and a majority of the people in his town. The days, weeks, and months after the event were a blur. He remembered the summer weather turning cooler, then cold, and then colder still. When it was just Grizz and his mother left, they had huddled together in the upper room of their small bungalow. His mother had slipped away fast, the cold digging into her and sapping her strength. Grizz had held his mother against him in a futile attempt to keep her warm, keep her alive, but finally, her final breath clouded the air in front of her blue lips, and she was gone. After that, he'd taken up with the few men left in town, gathered what supplies they could and moved higher up into the hills as the clouds gathered and a cold, sleeting rain began to fall.
That had been fifteen years ago, when Grizz had been a sophomore in high school. Now, as ice pellets formed in his beard and the cold stretched eager fingers deeper into his lungs with each intake of breath, Grizz felt less like a thirty year old man and more like a beaten and broken elderly man.
From the corner of his eye, Grizz caught sight of a flicker of movement, and he stopped in his tracks. He squinted into the dim iridescence that burned along the ice flow. Something about the properties of the ice crystals themselves caused this strange glow, or so he'd been told long ago. Whatever the reason, at least they had something to light their paths now that the sun and moon were no longer able to cut through the thick cloud cover.
There it was again. A shadowy form climbing steadily up the ice floe. No one from the Ridgeline Camp would be out this late; well, no one besides Grizz himself. It had to be a Lowlander, and Grizz was determined to keep them down in the valley where they belonged, away from the few items left to scavenge here on the hillside.
With his heart pounding, Grizz crouched low and started toward the figure below.