As a young man, I would sit around the fire and listen to my elders as they told tales of a man with no fear of the death, of a man that had stood up to the oppression of warlord leaders, and of a man that had changed the course of history.
As time went on these stories, as any tall tale, evolved into impossible feats of bravery and victory, but I loved them all the same. Truthfully, we all did.
Charles Boone's legend was a source of inspiration in a world that had deprived most folks of that luxury. Boone was a man of the people, and through his story, we all found comfort and solidarity.
Once I was older, I began to wonder what the man was like, as opposed to the legend. My sentiment was not shared by most; as everyone loved a good Charles Boone story, and there was an all-too-evident fear that the truth could never live up to the myth.
When I was old enough to venture out of my camp, I sat out to locate sources that could shed light onto the truth of Boone, and what I found greatly surpassed that of any legend.
Before I share these stories with you, I'd like to take an opportunity to say that this book is not for everyone. There are people that still need Boone (the legend) in their lives and in their hearts, without being tainted by Boone (the man). I have not written this to crush or shatter the image of an icon that has provided hope to so many, only to bring the legend into arms reach, and make him corporeal.
Another note that should be mentioned is that in no way are these first hand accounts of Charles Boone guaranteed to be one hundred percent verified. These are stories, told by the people that were closest to Boone through the Dark Years, and nothing more. You will find that some accounts will directly conflict with others, but you will never find stories closer to the truth.
With all of that having been said, if you still chose to read the story of Boone the Man, I think that you will share the feeling that I now have. You and I will share the feeling that there is much more to Charles Boone than stories of a war against the walking dead, the battles against oppressive regimes, or the establishment of a fair and safe world.
Chapter 1: Jason Crosby (Friend of Boone)
I found Jason Crosby through word of mouth, travelling from camp to camp in search of the closest contact to my location. I wasn't sure if Jason had actually known Boone, as many people claim to have fought along side him or met him in one of the prison camps. But, everyone that I spoke with told me, without a doubt, that Jason was the man to talk to.
The reason that Jason truly stood out in my mind was that people would tell me that he doesn't tell war stories.
"I knew Boone once," is all the man would say about the infamous war hero.
This struck me as odd, being that most people that claim to have known Boone would jump at the opportunity to tell war stories, trying to get themselves etched into his legacy for eternity.
Jason was a man of the right age to have known Boone, fifty or so. His eyes were distant in the way that so many of that age were.
He welcomed me into his home, but not without my fair share of convincing. Hearing that I wanted to write a book about Boone, he insisted that he had no interesting stories to tell. I pleaded with him, explaining that I was not looking for an epic, but a biography. This did wonders to pique his curiosity.
"Yeah, I knew Boone. We had been friends in school." Jason told me as he lit a cigarette. He looked down at my tape recorder, obviously weary about having his story told to a broader audience.
"So you knew him before The Rising?"
"Sure did. I met Charles when we were seventeen, and we were best friends from day one. A lot of people will tell you that he had no friends, and he was a man to himself, or that his only friend was his pistol, but those people didn't know Charlie before The Rising. Things were different then.
We didn't have a care in the world. The only things that me and Charlie were ever concerned with was picking up chicks, scoring with chicks, picking up more chicks, and the fact that we never picked up chicks."
I couldn't help but make an audible swallow that was loud enough to be picked up by the voice recorder. Jason's eyes changed from the longing look of better times to the concerned look that was aimed in my direction.
"You know, most people don't want to know about that. It's boring stuff, and it almost sullies the good name of Charlie—I mean Boone."
In retrospect, I realize now that even though I thought I was prepared to hear the less infamous side of Boone, I wasn't.
But I lied and stuck with what I'd set out to do.
"I think most people will, and it may be too late to get the story when they are."
Jason chuckled, a startling sight with his eyes still looking as beaten as any man that had seen the war up-close.
"You're pretty smart for a kid." He said. "So yeah, I was friends with Charlie all the way through college. We were young and dumb, and we had no idea what was waiting for us on the other side of graduation. We talked up big stories about how I was going to be a governor and he was going to be an engineer. Can you believe that? He was going to be a blue collar guy and I was going to be in politics."
He laughs, but there is a regretful sorrow lining it.
"We'd only been out of school for about two years- or maybe it was three, and neither of us had found any job that could help us with our dreams. Charlie came closer than I did, working on an assembly line for a big time car manufacturer. I suppose he had plans on working there for a few years and then applying for a mechanical engineer job. Needless to say, he never got that chance."
"So what was he like in between the years that you graduated and The Rising?"
"He was like any typical twenty-two year old back in those days. He'd married the girl of his dreams and—"
"Wait. So Boone was married before The Rising?"
At this point of the interview, I will honestly tell you that my heart rate was higher than it had ever been. This was the first, new story about Boone that I'd heard in years, true or otherwise.
Jason chuckles again.
"Sure, kid. He'd met her when we were at the university. Her name was Violet, and you will never meet a man that loved a woman more that Charlie loved Violet."
At this point, Jason seemed to be revved up and ready to talk about his old friend. Sitting in his armchair didn't suit him anymore, so he insisted that we take a walk around his property while he told me the lost story of Boone's first love.
Jason's property, although small, was nothing less that efficient. A small creak ran through his back yard, eliminating the need for a back fence. Free range chickens ran in flocks from side to side, and a single goat worked on keeping the grass trimmed in a circle around the tree that he was tied to.
He pulled out another cigarette, offered me one, and then lit both of them with an old-timey zippo lighter that had either cost him a small fortune or was something that he'd picked up years before.
"Charlie met Violet when they were freshmen. The story of love was the same as it is today. He met her, did his best to woo her, eventually succeeded, and then married her. I was his best man at the wedding too."
"So truly were Boone's best friend?" I regretfully asked.
"Son, I said that I was Charlie's best friend, so you can take that as law. You question me about whether I'm telling you the truth about him again, and this interview is over."
He never raised his voice, but his tone was stern enough that I quickly learned my place and a new rule about amateur journalism.
"Yes, I was his best friend and he was mine. I know that you've never heard of me in any of the stories that go around, but that doesn't mean that I wasn't a huge part of Charlie's life. I was there when he met Violet, I was there when he married Violet, and I was there when Violet died."
Afraid to get him angry again, I don't say a word while he takes a few minutes to reflect in silence. The look on his face is one that I've seen on many from his generation. A sorrow that begs the soul to shed a tear, and a body that has none left to give.
After a few moments, he was able to pull himself back in, and speak objectively about Boone.
"I'll tell you something about Charlie that either nobody knows or nobody talks about. If you're going to tell the truth about my friend, this is something that the world should know. Many people will refuse to believe it, some will call me a liar and a blasphemer, some will even want me dead for speaking of Charlie this way, but the truth is the truth.
"Everyone can think that Charlie wanted to be a hero. They can all think that he was just a natural born hero that was made to lead the world to a better way, but that just simply isn't true. Love and loss is what started him down the road that would eventually lead to his infamy, nothing else.
"The thing that you should know about Charlie Boone is that when The Rising started, him and I dodged the draft together and headed to hills."
I stop the tape recorder. You'll have to take my word on what was said next, as it will be etched into my memory forever.
"You can understand that is hard for me to believe."
"You can believe whatever you want, but turn that tape recorder back on. You started this, so I'm going to tell you something that I haven't spoken of in twenty years."
I push the little red button, close my eyes, and do my best to mentally prepare myself for what comes next.
"Me, Charlie, Violet, and my wife; Mary headed to the hills of Arkansas. We had a few friends with us, and we knew a cabin that we could hold up in until everything went back to normal. We were kids, and the legend that you know hadn't been born yet. We were scared, we were dumb, and we did what we thought was best."
"So what changed him? What set him down the path?"
"He watched Violet get eaten alive."