Home » Novel Extract – Containment by B.A. Hippsley

FICTION (July 2018)

Exclusive extract – new novel 

CONTAINMENT

by B.A. Hippsley

Containment is B.A. Hippsley’s debut novel. He describes it as an ‘adventure set in the early days of a zombie apocalypse’.

The South Wales-based writer lives in a village whose Welsh name translates into English as ‘Valley of the witches’. He lectures in media and film and serves as a member of his local community council. He has a master’s in creative writing from the University of Swansea.

THE day started weird and stayed that way.

Sheriff Brad Eastman usually liked the TV on when he was getting ready for work, but this morning things were different. Cable TV was off.  No signal. In fact there was no communication at all. He’d tried his cell phone and the landline. All radio stations were out, even the internet was down. Dressed in his County Police uniform, he glanced around his silent house, pulled his Stetson over his eyes and left for work.

Even at seven in the morning with the slight breeze, he could feel the heat on his bare arms, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. He loved the country. He sucked the clear air into his lungs and stood for a moment, taking in his ranch and skyline. Apart from vapour trails from two jets the sky was a beautiful cloudless blue. As he got into his white patrol car he flicked on the police radio.

“Station house calling Sheriff Eastman, do you read Brad?” It was Clara Benson, the station receptionist. She sounded edgy.

“Sheriff  Eastman here. What’s up Clara?”

“We got us a communications blackout here. The whole town’s out.”

“I thought it was just me. Okay, best call all the deputies in. We got to keep it calm, don’t want to panic anybody. I’ll be there in a while. Eastman out.”

He started the car and drove towards town. It would take about fifteen minutes normally, but today he needed to put his foot on the gas. There could be a thousand and one reasons for this situation, but he didn’t like to guess. He worked with facts. What he was sure of was that he’d find a lot of worried people in Armstrong. He’d spent his entire life there. Built the ranch with his father and then married Helen. Now he lived alone and he’d grown used to it. He saw his family and friends from time to time, but never by his own making. There’d been that first Christmas after Helen had gone. Uncle Joe had insisted he stay over; Uncle Joe and Aunt Em always had all the folks around. Hell, he spent most of his time there as a kid. But it had all been too much, everybody carrying on like before. It just seemed plain wrong enjoying himself. Worse, it felt like betrayal. Since then, Eastman had made sure he’d worked all through the holidays. He was good at being too busy, besides there was always his duty. He’d thrown himself into the law and now he lived the law. There was no room for anything else in his life.

As Eastman drove into Armstrong, groups of townspeople were gathered in small clusters – worried townspeople. He slowed down as Jimmy Emmett walked towards him. Eastman wound down the window.

“Brad what in tarnation’s going on? Nothing’s working around here…”

“I’m as wise as you. Everybody best go about your business as usual. I’ll hold a meeting soon as I got something to say.”

“Well, I got something to say; Armstrong’s cut off from the outside world.”

“Jimmy, I don’t want any of that ‘lights in the sky’ bull. Not after last time. Do you hear me?”

Eastman wound the window up and parked in the station house lot. He looked around the high street. No kids. It was school time, but where were all the kids? In fact there was hardly anybody out. People were keeping their kids home. Then he looked over at Danny Hardman’s hardware shop; it was full of people buying all sorts of things. Panic would bring trouble. Things could go south in the blink of an eye. He’d have to act fast.

***

Things were no better in the station house; people had filled the reception area, all demanding information. Eastman would first have to clear them out to get any work done. The reception area was spartan in the extreme. There were three plastic red chairs on one side of the room and a long low table with a small tropical fish tank on the other side. Clara Benson was sitting behind her desk at the top of the room next to the hall door. Clara had been ‘Miss Armstrong 1998’ and even now she had style, her curly blonde hair never out of place. Despite this, she was not the sort of woman you’d want to cross. Eastman walked to the desk, smiled at her, and then addressed the crowd.

“Listen up. I am none the wiser on this situation than you. But I can’t sort this out with all  this ruckus. So unless you got yourself a bona fide emergency, this facility is off limits to all civilians until further notice.”

The throng begrudgingly began to disperse and gradually the station house returned to normality. Eastman began to make an assessment of the situation. The police computers were offline, not even the landlines were working. The only forms of communication were police radios and some old CBs although; neither could reach Burnsville, the nearest town, over ninety miles away. Jimmy Emmett was right; Armstrong was cut off from the outside world. Eastman would have to send someone to Burnsville and let them know what was going on, but what if it was the same there. The same everywhere? Eastman forced such thoughts out of his mind. He had no time for speculation. Pollute the lake or poison the air – no problemo, but no Cable or cell phones and it’s ‘Call out the Guard!’

A knock on the door disturbed him. Standing there with his practised election smile, Mayor Tony Firth was the last person he wanted to see. Firth was desperate to be re-elected, and thanks to his particular brand of politics now that looked a certainty. The only other candidates were Olly Nixon and Veronica Redman. Firth had dirt on both. Olly liked to spend money; only thing was it belonged to other people. Most folks thought that was the real reason he’d left the bank. Veronica, on the other hand, cared about the community, but she had a secret. A few years back, she’d had an affair with a married woman living in Burnsville. No big deal for city folk, but in Armstrong that sort of thing didn’t go down well. Firth had used his connections to highlight Veronica’s past. Then the posters had started cropping up over town. Malicious personal digs at her, enough to start people thinking. It had the Firth clan all over it.

“Town wants action Brad! Hell, I want action!”

Firth made his way over to Eastman, giving Clara an oily smile on his way. Firth always reminded Eastman of a second-hand car salesman. He was the wrong side of fifty and looked it.

“Mayor, first of all we got to find out what’s going on. We can’t tell the town anything at the moment. And I’m not running about half cocked until I do know.”

“I couldn’t agree more there Brad. We need us a plan.”

“I’ve pulled all my people in, cancelled leave. We need officers on the streets. This blackout is only affecting communications at the moment. The power seems all right for now but… our biggest problem is panic.”

“Yeah, I passed Emmett on the way over here. He was standing on a box telling people to watch the skies. People are banging on Mcreedy’s Gun Shop to open up.”

“If you call a town meeting for this afternoon, that should give me time to find out what’s happening and come up with a plan.”

“Not that it’s a consideration, but it’s the town elections in two weeks. Yours and mine. We both need to show we can lead.”

“It’s the safety of the people we need to think about, Mayor. I’m sending Deputy Koneg over to Burnsville. Then I’m going to see Chris Emery at the High School, see what he thinks.” 

“That sounds good. I’ve got an interview with the Bugle in five minutes. I’ll call a town meeting for midday. See you then.”

Firth made his way towards the door, passing Clara. “Clara, that offer’s still open for my P.A. You’d make a hell of an addition to my team.”

Clara fixed Firth with a cold stare, pinching her chin with her forefinger and thumb. “Tony, remember I got a job. Here.

“Yeah, but I pay more than the county. Listen, take my card. Change your mind, then give me a call.” Firth walked to the door and left the station house just as Eastman’s deputies were walking in.

Clara watched Firth disappear through the door then threw the card in the waste bin. “Can’t you arrest him for being a creep?”

Clara was right. Firth had probably overloaded the whole damn system trying to sell the town on eBay or clear his wife’s credit card. The guy was a piece of work.

Eastman looked at his team: handpicked, and every one as worried as the rest of the town.

“Okay, we need to sort this situation out before anything gets out of hand. I’m going to give you a quick briefing, but I want you all back on patrol in ten minutes. Everybody follow me through to the charge room.”

Clara fixed Firth with a cold stare, pinching her chin with her forefinger and thumb. “Tony, remember I got a job. Here.

“Yeah, but I pay more than the county. Listen, take my card. Change your mind, then give me a call.” Firth walked to the door and left the station house just as Eastman’s deputies were walking in.

Clara watched Firth disappear through the door then threw the card in the waste bin. “Can’t you arrest him for being a creep?”

Clara was right. Firth had probably overloaded the whole damn system trying to sell the town on eBay or clear his wife’s credit card. The guy was a piece of work.

Eastman looked at his team: handpicked, and every one as worried as the rest of the town.

“Okay, we need to sort this situation out before anything gets out of hand. I’m going to give you a quick briefing, but I want you all back on patrol in ten minutes. Everybody follow me through to the charge room.”

“Sheriff, what about Gerard – should I call him?”

“Nope, he’s suspended. I don’t need him hanging about here.”

“You’re the boss.”

“Clara, can you get hold of Vince Langley? I need to know why only the short wave radios work.”

Vince Langley worked for the telephone company and knew every inch of the network. Clara nodded her head. Gerard ‘T’ Benteen was not in Eastman’s good books. Eastman pulled the door shut and Clara was left alone in the room. She looked at the patrol map showing the position of all the police officers. Eddy Joe was the nearest; she’d send him to get hold of Vince. She reached forward and spoke into the police radio on her desk.

“Clara calling Deputy Eddy Joe. Do you read? Over.” 

***

Chris Emery had been just about everyone’s teacher at the high school. He was the sort of man that people asked about getting married before they asked the minister. Eastman was sitting in the old school office and had just finished explaining the situation to his old mentor. Now he needed some answers.

“So there is no official line to all this then Brad?”

“I was hoping you’d come up with something, Sir.”

Emery rubbed the palm of his hand across his grey bearded chin, deep in thought. This was beyond his understanding, but he wanted to help Eastman.

“It may well have something to do with Hurricane Molly. Hurricanes can create all types of atmospheric anomalies. I suppose it’s possible that such things could affect communication. Airwaves, satellites, the internet are all at the mercy of Old Mother Nature. Though, I must confess, I have no positive evidence to support this theory.”

“But that twister’s nowhere near us, how…”

“Bradley, the moon and the sun can have enormous effects on earth and they are much further away. Sorry I can’t be of more help.”

“Well at least I got something that makes sense. Firth will be more interested in the publicity this’ll bring him.”

“Tony Firth was a cheat in school. He’s always been bad and his brother Peter is worse. The Firths are trouble. You watch them! How about the rest of the town?”

“Oh, I’ve heard everything from alien invasion, Al-Qaeda and the Chupacabra, not to mention the Men in Black theories.”

“We’ve come so far and yet, we haven’t really left the cave.”

“I can’t get used to this quiet. No classes then Sir?”

“I had to cancel them, nobody turned up today. Not my problem after next week, I’m calling it a day Brad. Doctor’s orders.”

“Sorry to hear that. People are sure going to miss you.”

“Listen Brad, why don’t you drop over sometime? Beth would be delighted to see you. She still makes the most exquisite pie in the county.”

“Beth? Well thanks again, I’d better leave you to it. I’ll see myself out.”

As Eastman crunched across the gravel to his car, he felt a tinge of sadness; his old tutor looked tired and he’d certainly be missed. But there was also a deeper sadness. Mrs Beth Emery had died ten years back.

“Clara calling Brad, do you read? Over.”

“Eastman here. What is it Clara?”

“Old Ben Burke reported something strange on his CB.”

“CB? How’d he manage that?”

“Jim O’Brien and Vince Langley found that CBs work, so they set them up on the old Emergency Channel 9.” 

“Well that’s something. What happened at Ben’s?”

“His wife saw some vagrants over by the old Air Force base. They gave her a nasty scare. Can you call up?”

“Yeah, on my way. Eastman out.”

***

It was some time later before Eastman arrived at the Burke farm. He was thankful for the extra police suspension as his car bounced about on the dusty farm road. Ben’s farm had seen better days. Nearly all the fences needed replacing and the outbuildings looked fit for demolition. The snaking track finally brought Eastman to the Burkes’ run-down house. The white walls had long since turned grey and the roof had started to sag. As he got out of the car, Ben came out to greet him. It was difficult to imagine that he was almost seventy-five years old; he still had a good head of hair.

“What’s up Ben?”

“Some darn vagrants gave Erin a fright. She’s shook up some.”

Eastman and Ben walked into the sitting room. The room was badly in need of decoration and smelled of dog. Erin was sitting by the empty fireplace; Eastman could tell she’d been crying and was still clearly upset.

“You okay, Mrs Burke? I’m sorry, but I need to ask some questions. Can you tell me what happened?”

“I was walking over by the old base when I done seen them two.”

“The vagrants?”

“Yeah, they looked real strange. I thought they’d been in an accident, so I went over to them. They was making real odd sounds too, like if they was hurt. I never heard folk make sounds like that.”

“Mrs Burke, what kinda accident?”

“They was all messed up Sheriff, I mean them boys looked like they’d just walked out of an auto-wreck.”

 “Do you think they were on drugs?”

“Could be, but I tell you they looked mad as if they wanted to get me. So I ran away. But they kept on following me till I done lost them.”

“Look Sheriff, nobody goes up there ’cept courting couples and folk that ain’t up to no good. That place is less than three miles from us. It’s kinda worrying. I reckon my Erin was lucky.”

“I take the point Ben; I’ll go up and have a nose about. If there’s anybody that shouldn’t be there, I’ll move them off. That’s all I can do. Oh, and Ben, I’d put that cannon away,” said Eastman, pointing to Ben’s pump action shotgun. “We don’t want any accidents.”

“You can’t get the car up there Brad, since that tremor a while back. You gonna need a Jeep.”

“I’ll get the four-by-four and then have a look. I want you to lock up and stay safe. If you get any problems use the CB. Someone will come. I’d best get off. Morning Mrs Burke, Ben.”

Eastman got back into the car and drove towards town. It was clear that Erin had been through an unpleasant experience and had been very lucky. Still, looking odd was hardly a felony, and in any case, that accounted for half the town. He’d need the four-by-four to meet up with Bill Merka, from the Parks Department. There’d been a lot of stolen cars dumped near the Lloyds’ farm recently. Eastman suspected the Clayton brothers, but he had no proof. His list was getting longer.

Containment is available from Amazon and Severed Press in Ebook and paperback formats.

severedpress.com