CHOOSING SIDESFan Fiction set in the world of THE STAND by Stephen King "I don't know what you're talkin' about," said the bearded young man. "I ain't havin' no dreams." "Colorado," prompted the woman. "We're supposed to go to Boulder, I think." The man's look was blank. He showed no signs of understanding. He scratched his beard. "You goin' there?" he asked. She didn't quite know what to say. "I don't know yet - will you go there?" "Nah," he said. "South's the ticket." He leered at her. "You oughtta go with me," he suggested. "Nothin' left here but death." She nodded. After the plague, she had seen quite a few folks around town, but their numbers were dwindling, she thought. They were slipping away; they were mostly going west. Something was happening in Boulder, Colorado. Once in a while she got a hint of something similar in Las Vegas. But the "tone" of those hints wasn't to her liking. "What about Vegas?" she suggested. It was a test. He failed. "Vegas sounds cool," he said, his eyes lighting up. "I bet there's people there, too," he added. That's a bet you'd win, she thought. He was dreaming, she decided, but not about Boulder or the old woman. "You wanna go to Vegas wit' me?" he asked. "I'm leaning toward Boulder," she said. "Come on, babe," he said in a pleading tone. "Why would you go there when you can stick wit' me?" He put his arm around her; she gently slipped away. He sensed the rejection. "What's wrong wit' you?" he asked, angered. She slipped her hand into her handbag, and felt the cool steel of the .38 snubnose revolver there. "Why, nothing's wrong with me. But Vegas isn't my thing," she offered. And the guy who is there is DEFINITELY not my thing, she thought. He took a step toward her and she drifted toward the courthouse. "Hey, you walkin' away from me?" he said, obviously getting angrier. "I have to go," she said. She didn't know how to get out of this gracefully. Two days ago this guy would have backed off immediately. Now, with no law and society's restraints considerably loosened, every guy - actually, every PERSON - was a threat. "No," he ordered. "You don't have to go nowhere but right here wit' me," he said, threatening. He grabbed her arm. She spun around, gun in hand. "Back off," she ordered. He did, hands raised. "Hey. I didn't mean nothin'..." He paused, considering whether to rush her or to go find someone else. He stared at the gun; she faced him down silently. Finally he said, "Ahh, you bitch," and waved his hands at her. "Later," he finished, pointing at her. He turned and walked swiftly away. "Not if I see you first," she said quietly to herself. She waited till he was out of sight then walked in the opposite direction. The courthouse, a fairly large modern building, loomed to her left. She shivered; the structure gave her the chills. Once it had been so busy, the center of her town. Now its vacant interior stared out over her through the mirrored windows. She had worked in there as a court reporter for the last six years, but she had no desire to step through those doors today. In the space of less than two weeks, the world had changed for everyone, but especially for women. Two weeks ago she could cherish her self-sufficiency and independence. Now, might made right. Or, if it didn't make right, might counted. It was a man's world, again. She was determined to retain that which she had worked so hard to achieve; she equated her independence with her very freedom. And all she had to use in retaining that freedom now was her brain. Well, that and a snubnosed .38. She had lost everything else. Her parents both had succumbed to illness and had passed away by the time she had arrived at their home. And her dearest friend had also contracted the deadly flu bug. He had been dead before she reached him. For the first few days it preyed on her mind that she hadn't been there for anyone she cared about. But then the dreams had come, and something deep inside her realized that there was more to this than anyone could understand. But she also realized that the road to Boulder was fraught with danger and to make the trip alone was tantamount to suicide. She wasn't ready to take that chance just yet.
#She crossed the bridge over the river and meandered westward. The pull was to the west, even in her town. Storefronts lined the street; behind them lay the new graveyards, the city's neighborhoods. The silence was eerie. She stopped, listened to the lack of sound. And there it was - the sound of a guitar. At first she thought she was imagining it, perhaps flashing back to the guitar strumming in her dreams. She cocked her head, straining to catch the sound better. It was a guitar, clearer now. It faded in and out, but it was obviously to her right, coming from one of the houses behind those storefronts. She drifted toward it, and the sound's volume increased. She told herself that there was no guarantee of what sort of person was playing the instrument. But in her heart she knew that this was where she was supposed to go. She was being led here. And she trusted whatever instinct it was that guided her. She walked down the lane, following the sound, and finally pinpointed its location. It came from an old but apparently well kept house and she tentatively ascended the steps to the front porch. She listened as the chords from an old Beatles song rang out. It brought back memories. The door was open and she called out, "Hello?" The guitar stopped. A young man, around 20 or perhaps a little older, came to the door. He looked at her for a second, then broke into a smile. "Hi," he said. "Where are you heading?" It would have seemed to be an odd first question in another time. But she understood it perfectly. "Boulder, I guess." His smile widened. "Me, too." He opened the door. "Come on in." She entered, and at once felt at ease. She followed him to a sitting room, and he lifted his guitar again, picking randomly at the strings. It still sounded good.
#Unnoticed, the man she had clashed with at the courthouse watched from across the street. He had surreptitiously followed her this far, and he now carried a rifle. When he saw her follow the kid into the house, he hid himself in the bushes, settling in for a wait. It would be an all night wait. He contented himself imagining what they would be doing in the house, together.
#They grilled some steaks out in the back yard, and it was a wonderful meal. There wouldn't be more of this sort of food for a while. Fresh meat wouldn't keep for too long now. They decided to leave for Boulder the first thing in the morning, and after a lot of talking, getting to know each other, they both retired. He had a room all made up for her. They awoke at dawn. After a quick breakfast, they packed up and prepared to head west. Interstate 80 lay less than a mile away. Motorcycles would allow them to work their way westward around stalls and roadblocks. She followed her new companion out the front door, to where the bikes waited. Looking up at the sky, she felt a chill run through her. Something wasn't right. She reached into her handbag, felt the cool steel. No comfort came from it. A motion from across the street caught her attention. "No!" she cried, focusing on the rifle which was being aimed at her friend. She moved quickly, pushed him with all her force. Something slammed into her. The bearded man across the street cursed under his breath. He hadn't meant to shoot her; he wanted her for himself. He took aim at the boy's prone figure and fired as he began to rise. The figure fell, motionless. He strode across the street, full of himself and his revenge. He looked down at her. She struggled to hang onto her life. She lost the fight. "That'll teach you..." he trailed off. He saw that she wasn't hearing him, prodded her with his foot. Dead.
#The dark man smiled. His will had been done, for the thousandth time since the plague had ended. Two less soldiers now existed to oppose him. He leaned back and had a good laugh. Oh, it was good to be alive, he thought.