Here is the early version of chapter one of The Actuals, the seventh and final installment of the Oz Chronicles. What you’re going to notice right away is that this story isn’t told from Oz’s point of view like the other books. There are a number of reasons for that, but the primary reason is that this book is going to be a standalone book. In other words, you won’t have to have read the others to know what’s going on. I had to have a new character who is unfamiliar with Oz so he could learn about the journey Oz has been on. I also wanted the challenge of trying to make a cannibal likable.
Without any further ado, I give you Sunshine Carter.
We ate a guy named Bill in Laguna Beach.
Wait, was his name Bill? It may have been Bob now that I think about it. That’s so rude. I should at least remember the name of some guy I ate. It’s like polite or whatever. He was a nice guy. Didn’t taste that great. And, no he didn’t taste like chicken. More like lamb. I hate lamb.
Eating people’s kind of a thing now. The world ended a while back. Not sure how long, but there isn’t a lot of food. No restaurants and junk, that’s for sure, and all the cows and pigs and stuff disappeared. No one knows where the hell they went. So people just kind of eat people. That’s how it is on the West coast anyway. I’m not sure what they do on the other side of the country. There’s no TV or computers or anything like that. No phones either. Cars, airplanes, trains, nothing works. I don’t even know if there are any people on the East coast or the rest of the world for that matter. Bob or Bill said he came from Baltimore. We probably should have asked more questions before we ate him, but the truth is we were really hungry.
We are The Actuals. I have no idea what the name is supposed to mean. Rook, this woman in our group, got it from some comic book she carries around. She is nuts for that stupid thing. Goes off by herself and reads it like she was studying for a test or something. She’s a real wacko, that one. I don’t know if she was that way before or not. A lot of people went crazy when everything ended. Mostly because of the way it ended.
I heard my parents talk about something called the Cold War. Not sure what made it cold, but they said folks thought a nuclear bomb would cause the planet to blow up back then. I saw this old preacher on a street corner when I was a little kid talking about Jesus wrecking everything. Got no idea why he’d do something like that. I swear I heard Jesus was a good guy. On the news they went on about super diseases and things like that. They all got it wrong. Way wrong.
It was monsters. I don’t know where they came from, but I’m telling you, as sure as my name is Sunshine Carter, monsters caused the end of the world. And yes, my name really is Sunshine. My mom and dad were these things my grandparents called hippies. The best I can figure is that being hippies means they had a lot of fun and went to concerts most the time. As far as I can tell, the only drawback to being a hippie is that something about it causes you to give your kids silly names. My best friend’s name was Charm and I knew another kid named Raspberry. All of us were boys who got in more than a few fist fights because our parents were hippies who went to concerts and had fun instead of thinking of real names for their kids.
None of that matters much anymore. Not since the monsters came. They got my parents and Charm, too. Not sure about Raspberry, but I wouldn’t bet money that he survived. He was about as delicate as his name would suggest. Poor kid never won a fight. Never walked away from one, but he never even got in a good lick when it came down to it.
The monsters would have gotten me if it wasn’t for Cutter. I wasn’t much older than 8 or 9 when he found me hiding in a dressing room in a department store. Dude is badass. He was some kind of soldier. Like a real serious type. Killed terrorists and assassins and dictators, every kind of bad guy you can think of. The President even had his phone number on speed dial. If POTUS ever needed something taken care of, he called Cutter. That’s the story I heard spread around The Actuals anyway. He doesn’t talk about anything before the monsters. He thinks it’s a waste of time. “FWSD!” is pretty much all Cutter says. Stands for food, water, shelter, and defense. That’s all he wants us to think about. Anything else is useless. Whenever we get together and start gossiping about this and that, one of us is supposed to yell out “FWSD!” It’s meant to get us back on track. It doesn’t work most the time. I feel stupid doing it. Besides I kind of like the gossip. Makes things more normal.
I miss normal.
There’s about twenty of us in The Actuals, and we’ve all got tattoos on our foreheads that identify us as such and what number we are in the group. I’m The Actuals number 17. Numbers 3, 8, and 11 are all dead, so I’m really number 13 in line. I don’t know what I’m in line for, but that’s the way Cutter puts it. He doesn’t call any of us by our names. Just by the numbers on our foreheads, which is fine by me because I never was thrilled with being called Sunshine or even Sunny.
“Seventeen,” he’d bark. “What is your mission, son?”
To which I’m supposed to say, “Whatever the hell you say it is, sir!” I didn’t know that first the time he asked, and he had numbers 6 and 12 hold me down while he pulled one of my front teeth out with a pair of pliers. Sounds rough, but it’s better than being eaten. It was effective, too. I have done whatever the hell Cutter wants me to do since that day.
Most of us are missing one front tooth. Cutter keeps them in an old beer can and rattles them around every now and then just to let us know he’s in charge. The most you’ll ever be rid of is two teeth. After that, you’re lunch, literally. That’s what happened to number 11. He tasted like cheddar cheese.
I don’t like Cutter that much. I’m scared of him, and I’ll do anything he says, but it wouldn’t bother me a bit if he just vanished one day.
You know what? I think that guy’s name in Laguna Beach was Ted. Number 2 started dancing around and chanting “Ted is dead” right after we killed him. He was doing it to be goofy, but rhymes like that can help you remember things.
Yeah, that was it. Ted. Bob or Bill was a guy we ate on La Brea Avenue in Hollywood. I don’t feel bad about not remembering his name because that guy was a total jerk and a half. He tasted like a pepperoni pizza though. That was kind of cool.