Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sample Chapter from Crash (2nd book in The Crush Saga)



Here's the first chapter of CRASH. This is the 2nd book in the CRUSH saga. CRASH will be out in two weeks. Maybe less! As soon as the editor finishes. She's almost done. : )



CRASH

Book 2 in

The Crush Saga

by

Chrissy Peebles

Copyright © 2013 by Chrissy Peebles
Editor: Autumn J. Conley

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.


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His precious touch could prove deadly… 

When Taylor Sparks moves from New York City to Big Bear Lake, California, her life is forever changed. Her attraction to Jesse, the hot guy with winter-blue eyes, is instant, their chemistry undeniable. But sadly, things aren’t adding up, and she wonders what her crush is hiding.
When her new friend, Fred, tells her his suspicions about Jesse being a paranormal creature, Taylor laughs. But then, when Fred turns up dead, she believes every warning he’s ever told her. 

Taylor is shocked to learn that Big Bear Lake isn’t just a natural paradise of glittering lakes, towering pines, and breathtaking mountains. There’s far more than meets the eye among all that natural splendor, something far deeper going on.  

Will Taylor dive into a paranormal world she knows nothing about to be with the one her heart can’t live without? 
Chapter 1
Jesse invited me to an indie rock band scheduled to play at the park. People spread out blankets and brought their lawn chairs and coolers, filled with plenty of icy beverages since the temperature was boiling at well over 100 degrees. The sun beat down on my skin, and after a while, I was sure I’d somehow been placed into a sauna or a microwave without my knowledge. Still, in spite of the heat wave, I adored listening to live music outdoors.
As the music blared, Jesse stole a glance at me. His denim shorts hugged his beautiful, tight, round butt, and his t-shirt clung to his muscular chest. His black, tribal tattoo peeked out and wound down his arm, something I found to be quite sexy.
We moved up to the front, by the main stage. When the song crescendoed up to its peak, everyone started dancing. I took one last gulp of the drink he’d bought me, then joined in. Sweaty strangers kept bumping into me, some of them clearly intoxicated.  
Jesse had been out of town for a couple days, so I’d had some time to think and rein in my emotions. In that short time, I’d learned some very important things. Even if I didn’t understand Jesse, I knew I couldn’t live without him. I hated that he’d left, and I wasn’t exactly sure why he had, but I thought maybe he needed to give me some space. He had given me some lame excuse about a family emergency, but I didn’t push, knowing he’d already told me far more than he should have.
When he got back and called me, I jumped at the chance to meet him, so now, there we were, in the park, standing close to each other and jamming to the beat. I stared at Jessie’s handsome, chiseled features and determined that he was far too beautiful to be dangerous, but I was wise enough to know that looks could be deceiving. My Jesse, that gorgeous, blue-eyed work of art, was a vampire, and I knew I should run away from him, as fast and far away as possible. That was what any rational person would do, I told myself time and time again. The trouble was, one look at those eyes of his, at that tattoo snaking along the perfect curvature of his delicious muscles, and rationality went right out the window.  
My gaze settled on his lips, and I shot him a seductive look. I just wanted to kiss him. I knew my lips needed to be on his, and it was pure torture to have to wait until the end of the night for one of his amazing kisses. I knew in that moment that I’d never be able to settle for couple of days a apart again. When he caught me staring at him, his eyes searched my face. I smiled as he grinned widely, flashing those pearly whites. I was as smitten by Jesse’s smile as I was by his gaze. There was something building between us, like hot, molten lava sputtering in the bottom of a volcano—and it was leading up to something big, huge, and explosive.
Suddenly, the heat seemed to climb ten more degrees, and I started fanning my face because it was so darn hot.  
“Need something to cool you down?” he asked, almost in a mocking tone.
I nodded. I was dying for a drink from our cooler, and  I was certain the temperature had little to do with it.
Smiling, Jesse led me back to our blanket, where it was less crowded. He slowly brushed the hair out of my eyes, then fixed his gaze on my lips. My heart raced as he wrapped his arms around me, embracing me, then met my lips in a heavenly kiss. Suddenly, I felt an odd sensation. His mouth, which had always been warm before, was suddenly freezing. I wondered if it was a vampire thing because vampires were known to feel cold to the touch. At least that’s what I read and saw in movies. It took me a moment to realize he’d sneaked an ice cube in it, making it the perfect kiss for a perfectly hot day—a kiss I would not soon forget. As the music blared, Jesse’s tongue dived into that passionate kiss. Then, slowly, with his tongue, he passed the ice into my mouth. I felt a sexy chill run down my spine as we passed the cube back and forth, each holding the melting cube in our mouths for only a few seconds. I got lost in the rhythm of this back-and-forth, and I could have sworn time was standing still as I tuned everyone out around me. It was such an erotic, sensual, playful French kiss. I’d never experienced such an exciting kiss in such a public place, and I was so totally wrapped up in the moment that the sun, the music, and the people around us didn’t seem to matter anymore, if they even existed at all. I was kissing the hottest guy at the concert, captured in a movie-perfect moment, a dream, like none I’d experienced before. What was so amazing about it was that it cooled me down but was hot and steamy at the same time. Jesse was not a boring kisser, and that was one outdoor concert I would never, ever forget, and the band had absolutely nothing to do with it.
The ice cube melted, and I smiled. “Who says a kiss is just a kiss, huh?”
His blue eyes blazed directly into mine. “You drive me wild, Taylor. Wanna try that again?” he said, almost breathed, in the sexiest voice I’d ever heard.
I shot him an excited look. “I thought you were never going to ask!”
After our intense icy-hot make-out session, Jesse ran an ice cube down my neck. I squealed; it was so cold, yet it felt so good.
When the concert ended, we packed everything up, and we zigzagged through the crowd, Jesse leading me to my car.
He looped his arms around me. “You’re amazing,” he said. “I’ve had the best time.”
Jesse made me feel like the luckiest girl in the world, and I decided right then and there that he was the only man I’d ever need. I glanced up at him. “I never stopped thinking about you, not once the whole time you were gone.”
“Aw. Thank you, Taylor. I’m sorry about leaving like that, but…well, it’s just that—”
“It’s okay,” I said. “You don’t owe me any explanations. Just because we kissed, it doesn’t mean you have to spill all your deep, dark secrets.” I smiled and touched his face. “Besides, you already told me your biggest one. Just know that I’m here for you. I do have a lot of questions, of course, but I won’t pry.”
“I’ve never met anyone like you,” he said, kissing my forehead.
“Well, I could definitely say the same.”
He chuckled, and I grinned.
“I’ve gotta go,” I said. “If I break curfew, my mom will go spastic.”
“I wish you would’ve let me drive you.”
“I was already over here anyway, running errands for my dad.”
He stroked the sweaty hair from my face and again gazed deeply into my eyes. “Wanna hang out tomorrow?” he asked.
“I’d love to.”
“Kiera’s making spaghetti, if you’d like to have dinner with us.”
“That sounds fantastic. Goodnight, Jesse.”
His hand grasped the back of my head and pulled me close. My heart raced at the thought of being captured in one of his mind-blowing kisses again. His lips brushed against mine, and all the nerves in my body danced in celebration as my blood thumped through my veins.
“Goodnight, Taylor.”
“Goodnight,” I said.
I started the car and pulled out onto the main road. It was difficult, almost impossible, to stop thinking about that kiss. No one had ever kissed me like that, so deeply and passionately that I could have sworn I saw fireworks. “Fireworks?” I said and chuckled at myself with a glance in the rearview mirror. It was so cheesy, but ultimately, it was true.
* * *
I pulled into the driveway ten minutes before curfew. Grabbing my purse, I hurried out of the car and locked the doors. Just as I started to walk up the driveway, I felt the cold steel of a muzzle against my neck. My heart hammered against my ribs.
“One sound, and you’re dead,” a harsh, male voice said.
I froze in panic as somebody slipped a black blindfold over my eyes, then gagged me. A man duct-taped my mouth, while another tied my ankles, legs, and wrists with rope. He hoisted me over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry, and horror ripped through me. Help! I’m being kidnapped! my brain yelled, but I dare not cry out for fear of what they would do to me. I did try to fight back, at least to some degree, but I was tied and gagged and could do little about being manhandled.  
“Put her in the trunk!” a man yelled.
As I fought, I was thrown, neck-first, into the trunk of a car, and my mind began to race. This can’t be happening! I tried to call out for my parents. If only they could hear me. If only I could scream, maybe Max would bark, and Mom or Dad would come to the door. If only…
Tires screeched, and the vehicle took off down the street. The smell of gasoline made me gag. I tried to kick and scream, but it was tight quarters, and I was still all tied up. I cringed at their muffled voices, wondering what they wanted from me.
“I’m tellin’ ya,” one of the guys said, “we oughtta just kill her now.”
My skin crawled at his nonchalance.  
“He’s right,” the other said. “Just do it, right here, right now. We’ve outsmarted her protectors, but for how long? We need to do it swiftly and quickly, before they return.”
“You know the rules,” a low voice hissed. “If we just kill her, they’ll have the legal right to choose another, and we’ll be right back at square one again. We’ve gotta do this by the book.”
“I agree,” a woman said. “We need to stop that winter ceremony from happening.”
“I don’t want to kill her,” another woman said. “She’s just…an innocent victim in all this. It isn’t right.”
“If we don’t kill her, they’ll win,” another said. “They’ll gain the upper hand when she gives them what they need.”
“The Mantiver Clan will stop at nothing to destroy us,” another said tensely. “Killing her will keep them from becoming more powerful than they already are.”
“It will bring them to their knees!” another shouted.
Great, I thought. A case of mistaken identity is the last thing I need. By their talk, I assumed that killing me was some way to get back at their rivals, though I had no idea who those rivals were. The mafia? Some kind of…street gang? I had absolutely no idea, but I desperately wanted to tell them who I really was, to let them know they obviously had me confused me with somebody else. Maybe if I explain that, they’ll let me go. After all, I hadn’t seen their faces, so I wasn’t a threat. Then it dawned on me: Jesse had just revealed his identity to me. Maybe his clan wants to kill me because I know too much. I wanted to scream at them and tell them, to assure them that I’d never reveal Jesse’s identity, that I’d take his deep, dark secret to the grave with me. Jesse meant everything to me, and I would never betray his trust like that; unfortunately, my captors didn’t give me a chance to explain that to them. I wasn’t completely sure if it was vampires that had me. But they had heard me messing with my ropes and that took Immortal hearing. No human could hear that over the sound of the engine, the radio, and voices talking.
We drove down the lonely stretch of road, and I didn’t hear one car pass by. I considered trying to pop the trunk open so I could jump for freedom. I figured the car was going about eighty, but I figured it’d be easier to heal from a broken neck than a bullet to the head. The rope bindings cut into my skin and began to sting and burn. I wiggled my numbing hands, trying to find some relief, when a man yelled back at me.
“Stop it!” he said. “Or else I’ll kill you right here.”
I shivered at his voice, then obeyed his commands. There was no way he could have seen me no way he could have heard me picking at the ropes. I contemplated how they were going to kill me. It had to be a contract hit, but I wondered why there were so many of them there just to take out a defenseless woman. I also wondered how they could be so heartless.
The vehicle stopped, and my stomach dropped when I heard the doors swing open. This is it, I thought. My time has come. When footsteps approached, I held my breath. The trunk popped open, and strong arms lifted me out and set me down on a hard surface, maybe concrete, asphalt, steel. My legs were wobbly, but one of the men steadied me and untied my ankles. Gee. What a gentleman, I sarcastically seethed. The cold night air hit and my hair blew around. I tried to see through the blindfold, but all I could see was darkness.
A man shoved me forward. “Walk!”
I let out a trembling breath and stumbled to the edge of the hard surface, then felt my shoes sink in grass and damp earth. As I carefully walked forward, a towering fern brushed softly across my face. I took tiny steps because my imagination was in overdrive; I couldn’t help picturing all those pirate films I’d seen of people walking off the plank, and I knew there were a lot of cliffs around. The man behind me kept pushing and shoving, making me go faster than my hesitant feet wanted to carry me, forcing me to trip over what I assumed to be a very long log. Twigs snapped and crunched underfoot. An owl hooted, and crickets chirped. The smell of wet moss, damp dirt, and decaying leaves mingled with the scent of pines, wafting up my nostrils; any other time, the aroma would have been beautiful. My heart lurched. I was sure they were leading me to some isolated location for my execution, a place where no one would ever find me, and that thought sent droplets of nervous perspiration rolling down  my face, perhaps mingled with tears.
I refused, however, to go quietly. I couldn’t do much to fight them off, but I wanted to make it harder on them. They’ll have to carry my corpse, because I’m not gonna walk out to the middle of nowhere and shovel my own grave. I’m not doing their dirty work for them! I took a huge step to the left, and then bolted.
Strong arms caught me within seconds, and I flailed and thrashed like a gazelle in a lion’s grasp.
“If we don’t keep movin’, we’re not gonna make it to the designated spot on time,” a man said.
“Maybe I oughtta just snap her like a twig, right here, right now,” said a deep-voiced man.
I screamed through my gag at the thought that the guy wanted to rush my demise.
“No!” another said. “She must be sacrificed at midnight.”
Trembling with fear, I thrashed even harder in the guy’s grasp. I suddenly realized that my abduction had nothing to do with a mafia hit, vampires, or a street gang initiation; rather, I was in the hands of some strange cult. I could barely breath, terrorized by fear.
“How much farther?” a man asked.
“We’re here,” another answered.
At that point, I was gasping for breath at the thought of being sacrificed in some weird ritual. I recalled what Fred had said about witches and realized it wasn’t so farfetched of a theory. My heart had never raced so hard. The man held me tight in his grasp, and I tried to fight, but he was so strong, and I was no match for him. My feet suddenly left the ground as he picked me up and carried me. I turned and twisted in his grasp, to no avail. He gently set me down on a cold slab of concrete and forced me to lie down, and I’d never been so terrified in my entire life.
Fingers gripped my ankles and wrists as the rope was tightened around me, securing me to a cold slab. It didn’t make sense to me that they left my blindfold on and my gag in, since they were clearly going to kill me anyway. For all I knew, maybe they thought it was more humane to kill me that way. Perhaps they want to spare me the misery of watching the dagger pierce my heart. I listened intently as they shuffled around, and then I struggled in my bindings.
“Just compel her to obey,” a woman said.
“We’re not allowed,” a man snapped back.
That was when it hit me like a ton of bricks: It was vampires! At that point, I was absolutely sure I was being killed because I knew Jesse’s secret. I wished he’d never said a word to me. My life had been much safer when I lived in the dark, believing that vampires were only part of some dark fairytale, the stuff of little boys’ and girls’ nightmares and epic Hollywood films.  
“No fancy candles,” a guy said. “No chanting priests in hooded robes or spell books.”
“You sure we’re doing this right?” a woman asked.
“We’ve got the full moon,” another said, “and Jared is doing the difficult part.”
“It has to be done,” Jared said.
“Just be…gentle,” a man pleaded.
Gentle? How can murder possibly be gentle? I wondered. I was sure they meant humanely, but I wasn’t exactly a dog, and I didn’t feel I deserved to be euthanized like some unfortunate, sickly pet at an animal shelter.
“I’ll pierce her heart with the ancient dagger in one single stroke, right at midnight,” Jared said. “She won’t feel a thing.”
Tears began to stream down my face. There was no way to escape from the nightmare, and no one would hear my muffled screams. They offered me no last words and didn’t bother to ask about my request for a last meal. I let out a long sob. My life was going to end on a cold slab of stone. I recalled Jesse’s sister telling me I was marked, so I wondered if they’d specifically chosen me for the ceremony. Why didn’t she warn me though? Why didn’t she try to stop them, tried to help me? She had just left me to my fate, and I didn’t understand why they had chosen me.  
“Don’t give me that look,” a guy said.
“I hate this,” a woman said.
“Do you think I like it?” he responded. “Killing young girls is just…it’s the worst thing I’ve ever been asked to do.”
“We could turn her instead,” one said.
“She’ll be wild and bloodthirsty for a long time,” a woman retorted. “We’ll never be able to control her. She’ll call too much attention to our existence.”
“That’s exactly why Drake says we’re not allowed to turn any more humans.”
“If we turn her without the permission of Drake and the council, we’re as good as dead.”
“Then let’s get permission,” another suggested.
“We’ve already been denied. They’ve authorized us to kill her. If we disobey Drake’s commands, he’ll hunt us down and kill each of us one by one. I don’t want to kill her, but I don’t want to die, and I sure as heck don’t wanna spend the rest of my existence on the run either.”
“If only Drake would’ve killed her at that party,” a woman said. “Then we wouldn’t be stuck with this.”
“He didn’t realize Jesse was going to help her escape.”
“Well, he and Jonathon should’ve acted faster.”
“You were out of town and don’t know the whole story, but the werewolves ganged up on Drake and the others and took ‘em down in a sneak attack. They thought that would stop us, but luckily, Jonathon got past them. He almost had Taylor, but another group of wolves came out of nowhere.”
I pondered their words as best I could, even though my head was spinning. Drake was the guy I had danced with at the party in the cabin in the woods. He was nice at first, but he’d quickly become quite bossy and controlling, and I didn’t like him one bit. I tried to play nice and did some shots with him, but there was something I definitely didn’t like. “If only Drake would’ve killed her at that party played through my head as I tried to put the pieces together. Drake had been stopped by the wolves. Were they really protecting me? Jesse had claimed they were, and Jonathon had gotten through them to kill me. But it wasn’t Julie who was tied down on that cold slab now; it was me! Then it struck me: Jonathon was after me and not Julie, as we’d previously thought. I couldn’t believe we’d been so off base. It had nothing to do with Jonathon being obsessed with Julie. I thought maybe he’d tasted her blood and couldn’t get enough, that he’d come back to finish her off, but in reality, it had nothing to do with her. It was all about me, and I had no idea why.
“It’s one mortal,” a man said. “Who cares? We used to kill them by the boat loads 100 years ago without even giving it a thought.”
I thrashed some more, and my blindfold lifted up a tiny bit, just enough for me to peek through.
“Get ready,” a man said. “We’ve got three minutes.”
“Do it precisely when I tell you to!” another man yelled. “We can’t afford any screw-ups.”
“I got it,” Jared said, “exactly at midnight.”
I peeked through the tiny gap and shuddered. Moonlight glinted on a silver blade of a jeweled dagger that was hovering over top of my chest. I screamed under my gag, my heart thundered, and my life, entirely too short, flashed before my eyes. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Zombie book 6 is out!


I'm so pleased to announce that The Zombie Chronicles - Book 6 - Revelation is live on Amazon! It will be live on other sites soon.  


               
           Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GUTRRVU
When the gang is forced to stay in Fairport because of the rising zombie population, they hold up in a three bedroom apartment with Steven, Rachel, and a new group. Sightings of infected animals, the rising herd, and poor relationships with the local gang puts everyone on edge. As Dean digs deeper into Jackie’s death, he learns the unimaginable, the unthinkable, and the biggest secret ever.



Friday, October 25, 2013

Zombie Chronicles - Book 6 - Sneak Peek




While the editor is finishing up book six, I thought maybe we could take a sneak peek...



The Zombie Chronicles
Book 6 – Revelation
Apocalypse Infection Unleashed Series
by
Chrissy Peebles

Copyright 2013 by Chrissy Peebles
http://www.chrissypeebles.blogspot.com
Cover design by: Cora Graphics
Edited by: Autumn J. Conley, autiej@gmail.com


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.



Chapter 1
We ended up staying for a few weeks at the gated community with some friends a scientist had hooked us up with. They were wonderful people and made sure we were comfortable and well taken care of, but the U-Haul was packed and ready, and it was time for us to go. It would be so hard to leave the city. Jackie wouldn't be coming with us, and that hurt more than anything. I told myself I’d stay strong for her, to honor her memory, but it took everything I had not to break down.
I stood outside by the U-Haul, staring blankly at nothing in particular. Nothing made sense, and I never felt so alone. I’d never felt so angry, so sad, so empty, and the grief ripped through me mercilessly. Jackie had been shot in cold blood, in her zombie state, by the scientists back at the lab. I’d tried everything to save her, but nothing I could do could stop them; my best wasn’t enough. I glanced down at the small photo album in my hands. Jackie had been such an amazing person. Sucking in a deep breath, I tried to maintain my composure. Once again, I felt as if I was trapped in a nightmare I couldn’t escape.
I slung my rifle over my shoulder and made sure my pistol was secured tightly in my holster. I was ready to take on anything that came at us. Deep down, I knew it was anger that was fueling me on. I wanted to rip apart the next zombie I came across. I was hurt, disappointed, and furious. Waves of despair washed over me, and my heart grew numb as currents of raw anger held me underwater—or at least it felt that way.
“Dean!” Claire called from behind me.
She touched my back, and our eyes locked. She looked so sad and lonely. Her eyes were red and puffy from hours and hours of crying, and she was absolutely sick and pale with grief. We’d both been struck with imaginable pain, and we could hardly function. I wondered if Claire would ever be the same girl I’d met back in the woods; I even wondered if I’d ever be the same person. I was so young, yet I felt older than Nick, my older brother. We’d all been dragged through hell and back, and we hadn’t exactly come through it unscathed.  
“Val said they’ll be out in a minute,” Claire said, then motioned to the windshield of the U-Haul. “I had George and his fixer-upper guys repair the windshield. Can’t drive like that, you know.”
“Yeah, I saw it this morning. I already thanked George,” I said, remembering that awful moment when the windshield broke during our escape from the pharmacy in that zombie-riddled town. The thought sent shudders down my spine. “And thank you, Claire, for looking out for our safety.”
“I can’t help it. You guys are my friends, my family, and I’ll always care about you,” she said.
I opened the passenger door for Claire, and she just looked at me. She sniffled and glanced down as a tear dripped off her chin, and my heart went out to her. “I know it’s hard to leave, but—”
“I can’t. I-I’m staying here,” she said in a shaky voice.
I wasn’t expecting that answer, so I asked, “Why?”
She wiped her eyes. “It’s safe here, Dean…and I’m not exactly the zombie-fighter you want me to be.”
“Claire, you can’t just—”
A chilly morning breeze ruffled her red hair. “I’m so sorry, Dean, but this is a great place. Here, we can actually walk around outside and feel safe. I know I was wrong about the glass house, but I’m not wrong now.”
“No one is ever really safe anymore,” I said, “not ever.”
“Fine. I’m safer.”
My gaze narrowed. “What about Nick? Does he even know?”
She nodded. “Yeah. I already told him, as well as Val and Lucas. We shared a very tearful goodbye. You and I both know there’s some crazy chemistry between your brother and me, but the truth is, in any other time and place…well, we really have little in common. We ended things on a good note.”
“Are you sure there’s no way I can change your mind?”
“No. Going back on the road, back out there with those things, is just not something I wanna do anytime soon. I’m still having nightmares about all our little adventures.” She then met my gaze directly. “The scientist told us that Jackie had a proper burial and everything, but I still can’t leave her. I need to be able to grieve, to visit her grave and make sure she has fresh flowers and…” Her shaky voice trailed off and cracked as she struggled for the words.
“I loved her too,” I said.
A tear ran down her face. “I know, Dean. I know how much you loved her.”
I glanced down. “I never told her though. I wish I would have.”
“Don’t worry. She knew.”
For some reason, I couldn’t bear the thought of losing Claire too. “Please come with us.”
Her blue eyes were so red and bloodshot; she’d obviously spent hours crying, and the fatigue of our undead-infested world was wearing on her. “I’ve gotta do what’s best for me. I hope you’ll understand.”
So, just like that, our group had dwindled down to four: my brother and sister, Lucas, and me. Oh well. Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be, I thought, blowing out a long breath. “Then I guess this is goodbye.”
She embraced me tightly. “Good luck, Dean…and thank you for everything. You saved my life and did so much for Jackie. I’ll never forget you.”
“When we get our world back and communication is restored, I’ll be sure to Facebook you.”
Claire playfully slugged me. “Maybe we’ll even be on a talk show together.” She wiped her eyes.
“As long as it’s not Jerry Springer,” I mused as I pulled her into one more hug. “Stay safe. Practice your shooting skills and keep working on those fighting techniques we taught you. You never know when you might find yourself wandering around the forest again.”
“Hopefully never. If I don’t step off of concrete and asphalt for the rest of my life, that’d be perfectly fine with me.”
“Well, like the Boy Scouts used to say, always be prepared. You didn’t think you’d be attacked in the glass house either. When you feel to safe, you very well might not be. Keep your guard up, okay?”
“I promise.”
“Good luck. It’s a cruel world we live in now, but we’ll come out on top, no matter what it throws at us. We’re survivors. And we’ll never quit, we’ll never stop giving up. We just come back stronger and fight harder.”
I knew that after we left, I’d never see Claire again. I felt the same about Kate and Asia. Our only chance of ever bumping into one another again would have to be on Skype or Facebook, if the world could even build back up to that point before it collapsed in on itself. The one thing I did have was a head full of memories, and I would forever cherish the ones of my friends, the people I’d loved, lived with, and lost along the way.
“I know we said our goodbyes in the house, but I just wanted to hug you one last time,” Val said. After she finally released the embrace, she jumped into the passenger seat.
The door slammed, and Nick walked out of the house. He was hard to read, but I could tell by his grim expression that he hated leaving Claire behind. When he walked over to Claire, a tear ran down her face. They stared into each other’s eyes and basked in an awkward silence.
“I’ll let you say goodbye,” I said, opening the door and squeezing in next to Lucas and Val. When I glanced in the rearview mirror, I saw my brother passionately kissing Claire.
“They’re at it again,” Lucas said, rolling his eyes. “I’d tell ‘em to get a room, but the last Super 8 I saw didn’t leave the lights on for ‘em.”
My heart ached far too much for me to laugh at Lucas’s witty remark. I didn’t want to lose Claire because she’d become part of our gang, but I understood her reasons. I truly hoped we’d meet again someday, though I doubted that would happen. She was a fantastic person and friend, as unforgettable as Jackie. The girls had touched my life within the short span of time that I’d had the privilege of knowing them. After everything we’d gone through together, I had hoped for a better ending, but I was beginning to realize why happily-ever-afters were reserved for fairytales.
Nick jumped into the driver seat and started the ignition. He didn’t say a word as he grasped the steering wheel in a white-knuckled grip.
I shot Claire one last look as she waved goodbye, and my stomach dropped as we pulled out of the driveway. 
“Are you okay?” Val asked Nick.  
“This is for the best,” he answered, his face betraying no emotion. “She won’t make it out here anyway. She’s better off here, and those people will take care of her. I’m just glad we were able to find her a safe place to live, where she’ll have what she needs.”
“It sounds like you’re giving away a pet,” Lucas said.
“Lucas!” Val said. “Stop it! Nick’s right. The girl can’t hack it out here. I feel better knowing she’s in a safe place, with people who will protect her.”
“I’m glad she’s happy,” Lucas said, “but I don’t get it, Nick. You were willing to risk everything to save her life back at the nursing home, and now you’re just leaving her here, without ever looking back. Doesn’t make much sense to me, Romeo.”  
“That was different,” he said. “If I had left her at that nursing home, she would’ve died. Here, I know she’s safe and will be taken care of. They even gave her a fancy house, so her life will be close to normal, just like she wants—as normal as someone can get out here.”
The security guards opened the gates, and we turned left onto the main road. Nick pressed on the gas, and we took off with a jerk.
I couldn’t concentrate, and my thoughts were scattered as I stared at the passing scenery while Nick sped down the road. We hadn’t been on the road for more than a few minutes when all hell broke loose. As we turned the bend, there was a car crash, some kind of four-car pileup that blocked the southbound lanes. I hoped Nick could squeeze through the towering trees lining the roads and somehow maneuver around the crash site, but that didn’t seem possible, even for him. Screams echoed and zombies attacked.

Chapter 2
“Drive around the cars!” Lucas yelled.
“With a U-Haul?” Nick retorted. “We can’t!”
“Move over and let me drive then.”
Val gripped Lucas’s shoulder. “Sit down, Lucas. If we get stuck, we’ll be worse off, caught in a zombie ambush.”
A tall man hobbled toward the front of the truck, holding his broken, bleeding nose. He stood directly in front of us on the road. I figured he wanted help, but I gasped when he whipped out a pistol and aimed it directly at our newly repaired windshield. The man panicked as moaning, decomposing bodies started to shamble toward us. “Gimme your truck!” he yelled, his eyes wild, like he was a stark-raving lunatic. “Get out and gimme the keys, or I’ll shoot you dead.”
Sometimes survivors of the apocalypse could be more deadly than the cannibal corpses themselves, but the man had completely underestimated my brother, who didn’t even flinch.
“He’s gonna shoot, Nick!” I yelled.
“Not after we just got this windshield fixed!” Lucas whipped out his rifle and pointed it straight ahead, out the window. He pulled the trigger and shot the skinny man in the shoulder, giving him a much bigger problem to contend with besides a nosebleed.
The man dropped his gun as he fell backward, and two zombies took full advantage and jumped on him like lions on a fallen gazelle.  
“Go, go, go!” Lucas yelled. “Back up! Turn around. We’ll find an alternate route.”
Like something out of some awful horror film, the screams of terrified children echoed through the air, and a cold chill shot down my spine. I saw them, a few cars ahead, huddled together in the back seat of a black vehicle. Apparently, Val heard and saw them too, because she quickly grabbed her door handle.
“Stop!” Nick said.
Lucas snatched her hand, his voice stern. “You’re not going out there.”
She broke from his grasp. “Try and stop me.”
“Nick, let’s go!” Lucas said. “Now! Before your sister gets any more crazy ideas.”
“Those kids need us,” I chimed in. I couldn’t just leave them, and the whole thing was far too reminiscent of the RV in the deserted town.
“He’s right, Lucas. We can’t leave ‘em. They’re just kids,” Nick said.
I was surprised that my brother still had a heart. He played tough, and he had no problem making the tough choices that even I didn’t agree with, but deep down, he shared the same compassion as Val and I had.  
Nick started to honk the horn, obviously trying to draw the zombies toward us so the kids would have a fighting chance.
Three zombies looked up and began to stumble away from the black car, heading in our direction.  
“This is lame!” Val said. “Only a few are coming.”
“Give it a sec’,” Nick calmly said.
“Honk again!” Lucas yelled.
Nick laid on the horn, and a couple more zombies turned to walk toward us, but the rest of the corpses were too focused on the screaming people.
“Screw this!” In a flash, Val jumped out of the truck with her gun drawn and bolted right toward the action.
“Val!” Nick yelled. “What the…?”
“That girl has a mind of her own,” Lucas said, shaking his head, “and if she ain’t careful, one of those things is gonna have it for dinner!”
“Tell me about it,” Nick said, gritting his teeth. He shifted the truck into gear and eased closer to the pileup. “She’s always gotta do things her way, whenever she darn well feels like it.”
I stuffed extra ammo in my pockets, then slung my rifle over my shoulder. After Lucas jumped out, Nick and I followed. I slipped my gun out of my holster and aimed at the horrific scene before me: a zombie raking its long, dead fingernails down a man’s white t-shirt, cutting into his skin, causing blood to leak through the cotton. Val shot the thing in the head, then moved on into the battle with her gun drawn. Everywhere I looked, zombies wandered aimlessly around. The sounds and moans of the undead gave me chills, and the stench of death and rotting flesh made me gag. It was something I’d never get used to, but it wouldn’t deter me either.  
The man who had tried to carjack us was flailing on the ground. His clothes had been torn to shreds, and bite marks lined his arms, legs, and chest. There were so many chunks of flesh missing from his neck and stomach that I couldn’t fathom how he was still alive, screaming in agony. I fired shot after shot into the crowd of zombies who were hovering and drooling over the would-be hijacker, and then Lucas put the poor man out of his misery. There was no way he would survive his wounds anyway, and watching anyone suffer like that was unbearable.
A long scream echoed in the air as a heavyset zombie bit into a woman’s stomach and tore at her flesh, causing blood to gush from her wounds. Another zombie lurched for her face and sank its yellow, decaying teeth into her nose. I shot the zombies, and they crumbled down, lifeless, but the woman was left in absolute agony. I couldn’t bear to shoot her, but another man came up and ended her suffering. The woman’s eyes fluttered shut as she took her last breath.
 Cool, calm, and collected, Val stood atop the roof of the black Dodge, shooting any zombie who came to close to the children inside. The men and women who were already there were giving it all they had, fighting zombies off with bats, crowbars, and anything else they could find. One was even smacking the undead with a hubcap, and another was using her huge, heavy designer leather purse like war hammer, mercilessly pounding the heads of zombies who had tripped and fallen in the scuffle; the buckles ripped into the zombie’s rotten flesh, removing scraps of it every time she swung. The harsh truth was, though, that their makeshift weapons and valiant efforts would not be enough to turn the tide in our favor though. The zombies were multiplying, staggering in from the forest. I glanced over at a man who was swatting zombies with an umbrella and poking them with the pointy end, and a woman was throwing rocks and logs. If we were to thwart the horrible horde and win the battle, we needed firepower. My only option was to hurry back to the U-Haul.  
As I turned to head back to the truck, though, three zombies approached, each in a different stage of decomposition. I aimed at the closest one, the one with a twisted, mangled face. I squeezed off the first shot, and the bullet cut through the air, striking it straight in the head, just as I intended; it crashed to the ground, a heap of rotting flesh. I held my breath, focused, aimed, and let off another shot. More chunks of rotting flesh and gore sprayed everywhere. Finally, I let off my third and final shot. More decayed body parts splattered into the air like fleshy shrapnel, and the zombie slumped into the grass. Then, while shouts and moans echoed in the air like some Halloween choir concert, I ran to the back of the truck, threw open the doors, and grabbed as many guns as I could haul back to the battlefield at once. “Hey!” I yelled to a man with short white hair.
“Yeah?” he said, spinning around.
I threw him a gun.
He threw down his tire iron, caught the gun, and nodded his thanks. As if he was some kind of expert military marksman, he immediately started firing, straight into the undead crowd that was howling for our blood. Nick had loaded all the guns, so they were ready to be fired in an emergency, which we definitely had on our hands.
One by one, I passed weapons to the human soldiers, and that gave us a definite advantage over our rotting and hungry opponents. Gunshots rang out all around me, and the zombies fell like flies.
Suddenly, a loud, shrill cry caught my attention, and I spun around in the direction it had come from. I fired at a zombie that was clamping down on a man’s leg with its powerful jaws.
“Ah! I’m infected!” the man shouted.
I ran over to tell him. “It’s okay,” I started. “We have a serum that can—”
Bang! Before I could get the words out, he had held the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
“No!” I screamed, but it was too late.
Everything was a blur as I let out shot after shot, taking down anything in my path. One particular zombie seemed to have a real taste for me, as it walked straight into the path of my barrel. I fired, and a shower of black gore exploded on the tree behind it and began oozing down the bark like thick maple syrup. More undead ghouls lumbered my way, but I carefully, calmly took aim and fired, dropping four of the monsters to the ground.
I scanned the area around me and saw a man in desperate need of help. Zombies had isolated him, and he was out of ammo and had no other choice but to try to beat them off with the butt of his gun. Just as a zombie lurched for his arm, I fired. It stopped dead in its tracks and fell over sideways. The man I’d helped darted off as more zombies came for me.
As I fired shots into the ghoulish group, I tripped over a partially devoured body. My heart sank, and my stomach churned when I looked down at the poor, gutted man, the one with short white hair, whom I’d given the first gun to. Suddenly, as if some alarm clock had stirred him from a deep sleep, he opened his white eyes and growled. His cold, dead fingers grasped my ankle, and he bit into my boot. I shot him in the head at close range, then finished off the others.
Val patted me on the back. “We got most of ‘em, and the kids are okay.” She smiled as her eyes lit up. “We saved them, Dean! Good thinking, grabbing those guns.”
Dead zombies littered the area. A few cars inhabited by survivors took off without even stopping to ask if we were okay or to thank us for risking our lives to save theirs. I didn’t see the kids, so I assumed they were in some of those cars. A few of the men and women who’d been fighting alongside us came over to thank us, and Nick let them keep the guns and even gave them a little bit of ammunition.
“Let’s go!” Nick finally said, once everything had calmed down and we had a clear path to drive our truck out.
Just as Val and I were heading to the U-Haul, a red pickup swerved around the mangle of twisted cars, heading back to the gated community we’d just come from. The truck stopped, and the driver rolled down the window. The men and women sitting in the back of the truck started shouting and flailing their arms, demanding that the driver keep going. That was when I realized something was terribly wrong. When I rushed over, the driver had a stern warning for me.
“Get in your vehicle! Get back on the road!” he said.
I leaned in. “What’s going on?”
Fear flashed across his face. “More of those things, that’s what! A whole horde is coming, and there’s no way you can fight them off, guns or not.”

Chapter 3
I swallowed hard as the man in the truck told us about the army of zombies heading our way.
“There are hundreds of ‘em!” another man’s voice echoed from the cab. “We gotta get outta here! Drive, would ya? Step on it, man!”
The woman in the passenger seat leaned toward me, her eyes wide. “I’ve never seen so many!”
“You folks best just turn around and go back the way you came,” the driver advised.
“We don’t have time for this!” somebody shouted from the back of the truck. “C’mon!”
“Let’s go!” a woman frantically screamed.
“Well, don’t say we didn’t warn ya,” the driver said, “but we gotta go now.” With that, he pressed on the gas, and the pickup sped off.
My jaw dropped.
“Can you believe those people?” one of the men said, wiping red goop off his face. "I think they're exaggerating." 
“Did you see how scared they all looked?” I asked.
“What’s another crowd of zombies? Heck, I’ll take them on blindfolded,” another man said.  
Nick met his gaze. “Like you did with this group? If memory serves me correctly, we had to help you and give you weapons.”
Lucas and Val approached with a map and laid it out on the hood of the car.
“Maybe we oughtta try a different route,” Val said, pointing.
“Right. Let’s head this way,” Lucas offered, touching one of the alternate routes.
Nick stared at the map. “Hmm. It’ll take us a bit out of the way, but it might help us avoid another fight.”
“I say it’s the safest way,” Val said.
As they quickly discussed what route would work best, I gazed ahead through the pileup of cars. Dozens of blurred shapes emerged. They were a good distance off, but their limp and crooked gait gave them away. My heart raced when I realized the people in the truck weren’t just feeding us a bunch of BS. I’d seen fear on people’s faces, and they were clearly terrified for good reason. “Nick!” I shouted. “Something’s coming, that horde the driver warned us about.”
Nick shot the men a look. “That’s our cue, people! Let’s get outta here.”
The other men and women men scrambled to their respective vehicles in a panic, and we all piled in the U-Haul.
Nick threw it in reverse and turned around. In seconds, he was flooring it, and we sped back the way we’d come. When we came to a stop sign, Nick gripped the steering wheel, as if he was pondering which direction to go.  
“Go!” Lucas said.
Nick froze and shook his head.
“What’s going on?” Lucas asked. “You have a better idea?”
“That little fenced-in community we just left. We’ve gotta warn them. That herd will be there in less than twenty minutes.”
“Is this about Claire?” Lucas asked.
“I promised her she’d be safe!” he retorted.
“Nick’s right. We have to warn them,” Val said. “Those things will tear right through those fences and gates like nothing.”
“Their blockades are all right for keeping out stragglers and small groups,” Nick said, staring ahead, “but that’s a huge throng of zombies. Those people will have no chance. They’ll be ripped to shreds before they know what even hit them.”
“They deserve to be warned,” Val said. “They took us in when nobody else would. My conscience won’t let me just look the other way, not when I know we have the power to save them. If we hurry, we’ll still have time to get the heck outta Dodge.”
Like my brother and sister, I couldn’t just let a community of people die without sounding the alarm to give them a fighting chance. They had taken good care of us while we were there, and they had every right to know that trouble was coming their way. Moreover, I couldn’t imagine Claire facing a horrible fate, being devoured by those zombies, especially after we had promised her that she’d have safety and sanctuary there. That was, after all, why she wanted to stay behind. “Val’s right. We can warn them and get out of there. We’ve got wheels, and all the zombies have are dead, rotting feet and legs.”  
“Fine,” Lucas agreed. “I guess we can’t just stand by and watch those nasties make a buffet out of that town. Let’s go.”  
With a jerk, Nick turned right and sped off.
My heart was beating so fast I could hardly breathe. I knew we get there quicker than the zombie onslaught, but it was still all nerve-racking. Nick slammed the accelerator to the floor, and the engine of the moving truck groaned in protest as he hit eighty miles an hour. The scenery blurred past us, and I fought to stay calm. We couldn’t stay in the community long; we just had to warn the gatekeepers, who would sound an alarm, and then we’d find Claire and haul our butts out of there.  
“We’re here!” Nick said, screeching to a stop at the towering barbed-wire gates.
“Nick?” a guard said. “What’s going on? I thought you were leaving town.”
“We were, but we had to come back to warn you. You’re about to have a whole lotta company—the smelly, dead kind.”
“What? A whole horde?”
“Yup. I saw them myself,” Nick said, “and they’ll be here any minute. You need to warn everyone now!”
The guard swallowed hard, then looked over at the others. “You heard the man! Don’t just stand there. Go check it out and bring me back a full report. I need to verify their claim,” he ordered.
The men grabbed their weapons and scrambled to a nearby Jeep.
“You really shouldn’t waste time,” I chimed in. “We’re telling you the truth, and you need to warn everyone that—”
“Before we incite a panic, we need concrete proof,” the man said, shaking his head.
“What’s wrong with you, mister? Those zombies will be here by the time they get back,” Val shrieked. “You need to warn people now.”
“She’s right, buddy. You don’t have much time,” Lucas shouted, “and every second counts.”
“Sound the alarm,” Nick demanded. “The people can choose to stay or go, but let it be their choice.”
“You gotta give ‘em a fighting chance!” I said. “That’s why we came back here.”
He looked at me, and I could tell by the expression on his face that he finally believed us and was scared to death. He sucked in a deep breath as a droplet of sweat rolled down his face.
“Please,” I begged. “You can’t just let everyone die.”
“But I don’t have orders to—”
“Screw orders and protocol!” Val said. “You’re wasting precious seconds that might very well be the difference between life and death for everyone inside your precious gates. Sound that alarm and sound it now!”
“I’m comin’ in to get Claire,” Nick said, “and nobody’s going to stop me!”