To complicate matters, there are a group of survivors who became genetic carriers of the germ. They display most of the virus’ symptoms, including blisters on the skin filled with contagion-addled pus, but cannot be killed by it. They are, however, highly contagious to those who don’t have a natural immunity. Because of this, they were driven out of the burgeoning settlements and forced to form primitive societies within the forests they call home. Their very existence is seen as a threat to those who can die from the virus, so each settlement has one person designated as the protector of the populace.
These protectors are called Sweepers and their job is to patrol the wilderness and kill any infected people they find. The meat of the novella centers around a Sweeper named Tanner Kline and a Spewer huntress called Lila. When their paths intersect, events are set into motion which rapidly spiral into a vortex of hatred and violence with the fates of each community hanging in the balance.
The book is different from other post-apocalyptic tales in that there are no good guys or bad guys,; as one reviewer of the first edition aptly noted, “there’s just a bunch of miserable people trying to survive.” Because I didn’t want to write a Good versus Evil story, I tried to maintain a neutral tone while working on the novella. Rather than passing judgment, I wanted readers to draw their own conclusions about these characters and the events they are swept into. Both Lila and Tanner are shown for who they are: they both have traits which are admirable, to be certain; but they are also individually marred by hatred, prejudice, and fear.
The second edition from Random House will be available next month through their sci-fi/horror ebook imprint, Hydra, and my excitement about this has reignited my interest in this particular universe. I’ve spent most of the day working on a short story called War Driving which takes place only a few months after the survivors first fled the cities. The Sweepers in this time period aren’t the trained killers who patrol future forests; they’re teams of armed scavengers who make supply runs into the towns and cities, returning booty from a fallen world to a struggling community who desperately needs it. It’s been fun to actually go into the cities, which was something I never did in Apocalyptic Organ Grinder; it’s also introduced a new group of survivors into this universe: those who chose to stay behind when the majority of those still alive left.
I find this new group interesting, because I know – in the long run – they don’t survive. A century and a half into the future only the Spewers and Settlers remain. The ruins of the Old World are truly barren with nothing to differentiate the scattered, skeletal remains from those who’d fallen to the Gabriel Virus. They are a doomed culture still clinging to life, willing to defend the remaining supplies to the death.
I’m not sure exactly how far War Driving will go. Right now, I’m thinking of it as a short story. But I can easily see it turning into a full-blown prequel to Apocalyptic Organ Grinder. I think the stories would complement each other nicely. So I’ll just have to wait and see exactly where these new characters lead me.