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A deadly virus has decimated the world
leaving swarms of brain-eating zombies in its wake.
Val has lost everything
All ripped to shreds
The zombie hordes are getting worse
And so are the vicious gangs fighting for turf
If Val doesn’t leave Philadelphia
Then death will surely follow.
She brings along Sammy
A troubled teenager with a good heart
And together, they will journey to a safe haven
To a Lake Erie island in Ohio
Where family awaits
With danger and death all around them,
Will they survive the road trip from Hell?
Prequel to the Zombie Chronicles
Apocalypse Infection Unleashed Series
By Chrissy Peebles
Copyright © 2014 by Chrissy Peebles
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.
I sped down the streets as thunder boomed and lightning flashed. The windshield wipers were swishing back and forth a million miles an hour as rain dumped down from the dark sky. When I punched the gas, I felt the tires slip on the slick pavement. The truck shuddered, but I quickly gained control.
“What are you doing? We almost crashed!”
“Not even close,” I argued.
Jack swallowed hard. “Looked pretty close to me.”
“Don’t be such a wuss, Jack.”
“Val,” he barked, “we need to turn around…now!”
“No,” I snapped. “We’ve come too far.”
He muttered something under his breath, then said, “As if you have any say. Have you forgotten that this is my truck?”
“We’re not going back,” I said firmly.
“It’s crazy to be out here in this mess—not to mention that you’re wasting my precious gas.”
“Maybe I would if you’d let me drive.”
“You’re too slow, and every second counts. Time is of the essence, as they say, and you drive like a ninety-year-old woman.”
“Maybe, but at least I don’t have a lead foot! There is something to be said for safety, Val. You drive like…a maniac.”
I shot him a side look, and he about freaked.
“Hey! At least keep your eyes on the freaking road, Val! And, for goodness sake, slow down!”
I whipped around the corner as the tires squealed out in terror all their own. “For all we know, Sammy’s already dead, yet you’re whining about gas and speed limits!” I ignored my petrified passenger and kept the pedal to the floor.
Jack went on and on, ranting about why we should turn around and go home. He was wearing on my nerves, and I was just about to throw him out on his butt when I noticed the roadblock up ahead: Multiple cars had crashed. I eased on the brakes and stopped the old pickup.
“No way we’re getting through there,” he said. “Ya ask me, I think it’s some kind of omen. I told you we should go back!”
“Omen? I think it was enough of an omen when our cozy little civilization crashed and burned and zombie hordes began sweeping across Earth and—”
Jack rolled his eyes and cut me off. “Now who’s whining? Do you always have to be so…melodramatic, Val? But anyway, back to the point at hand. We’re not gettin’ through, and you’re not taking my truck on a demolition derby.”
I blew out a long breath. “Then we try another way.”
His frown turned into an expression of alarm. “No. This is where I draw the line,” he said. “I’m not going into the city…and don’t even ask me why, because you already know.”
Worry flooded through me. “Jack, can’t you see that something’s wrong. Sammy shoulda been at my house hours ago. We have to go!”
He sighed. “She’s probably out buying green hair dye for her next new look.”
I shook my head. “You’re really something, you know that? A girl’s life is at stake, and—”
“Okay, seriously. We’re talking about Sammy here,” he cut in. “She’s a moody teenager with blue hair and—”
“Turquoise,” I corrected.
“Blue, turquoise…who cares? She has freaky hair, pierced lips, and even a pierced nose. You know how flaky she can be. She’s a rebel without a cause.”
“She has a perfectly relevant cause. There are zombies out there, or have you forgotten that? Besides, she’s done so much to help you on supply runs.”
“Maybe, but the girl is lippy and nothing but trouble. She was trouble before the zombie apocalypse, and she’s worse now. Did you forget that she crashed your car only two days ago?”
“Only because she was running from a zombie pack,” I reminded him. “I can just get another car. They’re a dime a dozen these days.”
“Why do you always stick up for that juvenile delinquent?”
I gripped the steering wheel tightly. “You don’t know her like I do. I’ve babysat her since she was five years old. Sammy’s like family.”
“Is it fun to arrest your family?”
“That only happened twice, and she learned her lesson.”
“Then why’d she keep running away from home, living on the streets?”
“Cut her a break, would ya? Sammy’s had a rough life.”
“So what? She’s misunderstood?”
“Something like that,” I said, backing the truck up.
Jack peered ahead and pointed to the lumbering figures walking clumsily around. “It’s worse every time we come out here.”
“I know. Their numbers are increasing every day,” I said.
He gripped my arm. “Val, that’s exactly why I’m not going into the city. It’s way too dangerous. There’re hardly any survivors left. The ones who haven’t been shredded to bits have already flown the coop. You need to face the fact that the heart of
is dead. It’s
time to move on.” Philadelphia
“How can you say that, Jack?” I retorted. “This is our home.”
“Not anymore,” he whispered. “It hasn’t been for a year, since Z Day.”
“So you’re just gonna give up?” I said.
“Give up? Heck, Val, you, me, and Sammy—we’ve already lost our entire family. The zombie population has tripled in the last few months. You know it’s a death sentence to stay here. Plus, like you said, we don’t even know if Sammy is…” Overcome with emotion, he trailed off for a moment, then continued, “They’re gonna take us out one by one, until we’re all dead. We’re their only food source, and humans are getting quite scarce.”
“I’ve gotta get Sammy out of the inner city. She’ll be safe with me.”
“Just because you live on the outskirts of Philly, that doesn’t make it any safer.”
I looked away, knowing he was right. “I know. It’s getting harder and harder to survive out here.”
“A big group of us have been…well, we’re talking about leaving next week. I think you should come with us. You’ll never make it out here alone.”
I looked at him like he’d gone as mad as the mindless undead who were devouring people. “No. I’m not leaving my home.”
“Then you’ll be dead before the end of the year, just like all your loved ones.”
His words pissed me off, and I threw the truck into park, opened the door, got out, and stood there in the rain. “You obviously don’t know me as well as you thought, Jack. I don’t run away from my problems.”
“Val, what the heck are you doing? Get back in here. They’re out there!”
“I know, and if one comes anywhere near me, I’ll shoot its rotting head off!”
“They’ll gang up on you. You won’t have a chance.”
I slung my rifle over my shoulder. “I’m going to go find Sammy—with or without you.”
His eyes widened in fear. “It’s way too dangerous. Let’s give her some more time. If she doesn’t show by tonight, we’ll take a team and go look for her in the morning.”
I shook my head. “Uh-uh. She could be dead by then.”
“She’s been late plenty of times before.”
“It’s her seventeenth birthday. She wouldn’t have missed the little party I planned for her, and she had to know I’d hunt her little butt down for being a no-show. Something’s wrong, and I’m gonna find out what it is.”
“Get in the truck!” was his only reply.
“So…is this goodbye or what, Jack?”
His face hardened. “It very well could be if you take one step into that city.”
“I really could use somebody to watch my back.”
“Val, it’s just…look, you know Suzy is nine months pregnant. I can’t take a foolish risk like that. I’m gonna be a father, and I need to behave like one.”
“I get it. I do. You’d better go though. They’re coming.”
“Val, what’s with you? Do you enjoy flirting with death? Have some kind of death wish?”
I shrugged. “I do what I have to do to survive…and to protect the ones I love.”
“So do I, and that’s exactly why I can’t go.”
I gave him a halfhearted smile to make him realize I understood, and then I walked off. I couldn’t force him to drive me into the city, as he had a lot to lose. But I wouldn’t desert Sammy out there either. My only choice was to go solo. As I walked away around the tangle of cars blocking the main street, I heard Jack screaming, pleading for me to come back, trying to talk me out of going. Still, I wasn’t about to turn back.
Several zombies stumbled around, but I quickly ducked behind an abandoned armored truck. I was dressed perfectly for the occasion, with all the right accessories: a tactical black vest, with a cross-draw holster secured by a side-release buckle for quick access, in case I needed my handgun. I had four pistol magazine pouches and three double-stack pouches that held a lot of ammo. A knife was strapped to my leg, and my trusty rifle was within reach right over my shoulder.
I peeked out from my hiding place and took a deep breath, scanning the area for potential threats. The corpses were heading toward Jack, who was still screaming, but when he saw them, he had no choice but to speed away, peeling out on the pavement. I hated that he wouldn’t go with me, but he had his reasons. The one good thing for me was that his yelling had distracted several of the zombies, allowing me to get by rather easily.
I pointed my gun in front of me and walked briskly, darting my gaze around to keep a close eye on my surroundings. I turned left, walked down the street, then made a right. I was thankful that the rain had let up, but after that mini-monsoon, water was still dripping from my hair.
Four zombies shuffled toward me, and I briefly wished again that Jack had come with me for backup, but I knew I could handle that quarrelsome quartet on my own. I calculated my options. The key was not to be too loud or make too much of a commotion, as I didn’t want to invite more undead guests to the party. I knew gunshots would be like a dinner bell. While the zombies were clumsy and weren’t capable of rational thought, their ears seemed to work just fine. The last thing I wanted to do was send out a dinner invite where I’d be the main course. I quickly debated whether or not to use firepower, and I decided guns were my best option. Even if more did show up, I was on the move, and my legs and brain worked a whole lot better than theirs.
I raised my gun and took careful aim, hoping for precision shots every time. I fired off my first shot, and the bullet lodged deep in the first zombie’s cranium. The thing fell into a huge mud puddle with a splash. Water dripped down my face as I carefully trained my weapon on the next zombie, who was walking with an unsteady gait. Just as I let off that shot, its creepy companion ambushed me from the left. When I turned in that direction, I met its grotesque gaze; it immediately went into a frenzy, lunging at my face in bloodlust and unquenchable hunger. I felt like some kind of zombie-age Terminator with my rifle as I pulled the trigger. The gun packed an enormous blow, embedding pellets all throughout the creature’s deteriorating face from point-blank range.
I took the fourth one down quickly, only to discover that a fifth had joined the throng. My power-charged bullet sliced through the air with a whoosh and landed in the zombie’s left cheek. It moaned as raindrops poured down its slimy black hair and oozing face. Much to my surprise, it kept walking, locked on me like my flesh was some kind of homing beacon. I fired again and shot it straight between the eyes. This time, it fell backward with a hiss. I silently and quickly moved through the streets, hiding behind anything I could use for cover.
About ten zombies blocked my path, but every other exit would take me too far out of the way. I didn’t want to be in that city any longer than I had to. The most efficient strategy would be to take them down, to clear myself a path. So, I knelt down behind a black vehicle and aimed, then fired off a round that sent them straight back to Hell. The second they were down, I leapt up, my heart pounding. I nudged them in the side, just to make sure they were dead before I walked over them. When they didn’t move, I nudged them again. Once I was sure they were permanently out of commission, I stepped over them carefully and headed down the street.
When I spied three more walking freaks, more shots cut through the air. I quickly slung my rifle back over my shoulder, ran down two more streets, turned left and then right. The rain began to pelt me again as I took another left turn at full speed and squatted behind a red car. My breath froze in my throat. Moans, hisses, and growls echoed through the rain as it finally began to let up again, coming from a huge group of thirty or more. Peeking out, I watched them shamble around like they were in a daze. I slowly crept back, not making a sound, ready to look for an alternative route to Sammy’s apartment building.
As soon as I rose to my feet, bony, black fingers gripped my shoulder. My stomach clenched, but I found the strength to spin around and kick it in the chest. As it stumbled back, I quickly aimed my rifle at its chest, but I knew I couldn’t make that much noise with that huge horde lurking around the corner. I kicked it again, much harder this time. It flew back into telephone pole, then slumped down. I rushed over and slammed my boots into its skull. Another one came from behind, and I smashed its head in with the butt of my gun. As soon as it hit the ground in a bloody heap, I took off down the street. I glanced around and sighed in relief; the coast seemed to be clear.
Just as I was about to walk a little farther, I noticed several red dots of light bouncing around. “Laser tag? Great,” I tried to joke, glancing upward at the snipers on the rooftop, survivors who had their laser-sighted weapons trained on me. I was sorely outnumbered and a stranger to them, so I didn’t want to agitate them or end up in a standoff. I waved my arms in the air to let them know that I was human and meant them no harm. “Don’t shoot!” I screamed.
The man with a baseball cap and beard stared at me for a long, hard moment, then waved.
When I saw the group lower their weapons, I shrugged in relief, then ran away as fast as I could. I turned down Cypress Street and made my way, cautiously, to a small apartment building.
The door was propped open with boxes, and Sammy’s neighbor was carrying a large one down the stairs.
“Mrs. Jaleno, have you seen Sammy?” I frantically asked.
“What!? You’ve gotta go!” she said in a panicked voice.
“Why? What’s going on?”
Fear flashed across her face. “That gang! They’ll be back any minute.”
Another neighbor, carrying a blue crate, rushed past me with a terrified look on his face. Others were frantically loading their cars with their belongings in a hurry. I looked around in complete disbelief; everyone was terrified, running for their lives.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“They’re taking over,” she said. “They gave us one hour to get our stuff, and they said if we’re not out by the time they get back, we’re as good as dead. We’re lucky they’re giving us that. Other gangs would’ve killed us right on the spot and stole the clothes off our backs.”
I cocked a brow, not believing what I was hearing. “Are you sure they weren’t just—” I started to ask.
“They already killed four people,” she said.
“Is Sammy okay?” I asked as she hastily walked off.
She didn’t answer.
“Mrs. Jaleno, where’s Sammy?” I asked louder.
When she didn’t answer, panic set in. I ran down the corridor and stopped at Sammy’s apartment. The door was ajar and slightly cracked, which I didn’t take for a good sign. With my gun drawn, I eased inside. Murmurs echoed from the bedroom, and I swallowed hard as a droplet of sweat rolled down my face. Is it a zombie? Was Sammy one of the four who were killed? Oh my gosh! Is she a zombie now? I couldn’t handle losing Sammy. My heart pounded as I took small footsteps toward the closed bedroom door.
Listening intently, I suspected what the outcome might be. If Sammy was a zombie, I would have to shoot her. The thought made me shudder. I had promised to protect her, told her I’d always have her back, and she was all I had. Her family had been murdered a year earlier, and I’d become somewhat of a big sister to her. If she’s dead, that’s it, I thought. I’ll pack up my dogs and go with Jack and the others, leave Philadelphia behind forever. If Sammy was gone, there was nothing left for me there but death and despair.
As my fingers curled around the doorknob, I held my gun steady. I took a deep breath and pushed the door open.
Instantly, someone knocked the gun out of my hands, catching me by surprise. A jarring impact hit me in the gut, knocking the breath out of my lungs.
Pain exploded across my stomach and I could hardly breathe. Trying to catch my breath, I looked up.
Sammy was tied to a chair, with a gag in her mouth, and all she could do was shoot me a terrified look.
“Sammy?” I whispered as I tried to stand up after the harsh kick to the midsection.
The taller man was dressed in black, and his blond, greasy hair was tied back in a ponytail. The other had acne scars, and his hair was short and black, with a matching, scruffy beard. I recognized them right away as gang members, and I was sure I’d arrested the blond before on deadly assault charges.
The blond pointed a gun at me and smiled. “Well, well, well. What do we have here?” He turned to his friend. “I think I recognize that pretty policewoman.”
“Pretty? Ya ask me, she looks more like a drowned rat,” the other man said.
“Hey, Officer,” the blond said, licking his nasty lips, “maybe you oughtta frisk me. I can see you don’t got your nightstick, but I might have one you can borrow.”
Disgusted, I asked between gasps, “What do you want? What is she doing here, tied up like that?”
He looked at me with a cold glare. “What do we want? Well, sweet thing, we want this apartment, and we’ll have it. We already gave everybody their eviction notices.”
“You said you’d give them an hour,” I said.
“Yeah, and we did, but since this one insisted on givin’ me some lip, I figured I’d better hold her till Runo gets back. He’s gonna feed her to one of them slimy freaks to show the rest of the tenants what happens if they defy Runo.”
“You can have the apartment, if that’s what you want,” I said. “Just let us leave, and we’ll never come back.”
The man looked at his buddy and laughed. “Seems she don’t get the gist of what I’m sayin’, huh?”
“Nope,” his friend said, then spat a nasty, black, sticky ooze of tobacco remnant on the floor.
“Well, Smurfette, here’s, gotta pay for her smart mouth,” the blond said. “If ya run your mouth, you die. Them’s the rules, honey,” he said.
The black-haired one looked at me and shook his head. “Can you believe she walked through all them zombies to rescue this mouthy little—”
“Hey!” I said, sickened by their total disregard for me and for Sammy.
Ignoring me, the blond continued, “Apparently, she don’t know the number one rule.”
“I do,” I said. “Always have an exit strategy.”
He laughed, looked me up and down, then licked his lips again. “Nope.”
“Well, please enlighten me. I’m dying to know what I’ve been doing wrong all this time.”
His gaze narrowed. “Rule number one is pretty simple, darlin’. Don’t have one ounce of sympathy.”
“And why not?” I asked. “It’s the only thing that makes us different from those zombies out there.”
He laughed. “Heroes don’t simply survive, Copper—not in real life anyway. That only happens in those Hollywood flicks. You wanna live, you might have to step on some people along the way…and you sure as heck can’t let people go around mouthing off to you,” he said, glaring at Sammy, who just rolled her eyes at him.
The guy with the acne chuckled. “I’m thinkin’ the zombies might like to munch on a little pork. I say we feed the officer to ‘em too.”
“Hmm. I wonder how long she’ll last,” the blond said, scratching his chin.
“Longer than the last one, I’m sure.”
“Sounds like a plan. We’ll charge admission.”
Sizing up my opponent, I looked him in the eyes and showed him no fear.
“Don’t stare at me like that, Miss Piggy. You’re about to die,” the blond said.
I knew his threat wasn’t empty. He knew who I was, and the fact that I carried a badge put me on the opposite side of the law than that gang. They would torture me fiercely, then kill me. All anarchy had broken loose, so the thugs had the upper hand. They could do whatever they wanted—to me or anybody else.
It’s now or never, I thought. With driving speed and power, I delivered a heel-of-the-palm strike to the blond’s chin. His head jerked backward as I painfully slammed his lower teeth into his uppers. When he fell back, his head slammed into an oak dresser, and blood began gushing out of his head.
Horrified, his friend pointed the rifle at me.
In a blur, I grabbed hold of the barrel and quickly pulled it to the side with force. I held it downward, then punched him in the face and kicked his knee until it bent backward in a very unnatural, painful contortion. I placed my other hand under the gun and began twisting it, forcing him to let go of the trigger long enough for me to wrestle the weapon from his hands. I then backed up and pointed the rifle at him. “Untie her…now!” I demanded.
“All right, lady! Just don’t shoot me,” he said.
“Then don’t tempt me or try my patience. Do it!”
He rushed over and untied the ropes and removed the gag.
Sammy stood and rubbed her rope-burned wrists.
The man looked at me, inching ever closer. “I did what you told me to, Officer.”
“Come any closer,” I said, “and you’ll be roasting S’mores in Hell!”
Without saying a word, Sammy grabbed a bronze statue and hit the man over the head, dropping him to the ground like a bag of cement.
The men were hurt, but I was thankful I hadn’t had to resort to murdering them, especially in front of Sammy.
“So…Lucifer’s been shopping or what? Chocolate and marshmallows in Hell?” Sammy asked, smirking.
“Graham crackers too.”
“Right,” she said. She then opened her closet and nervously reached for her Glock, a holster, and a knife.
“Hurry up, Sammy!” I said, nervously looking around.
I walked into the living room and peeked out the door. There were at least a dozen gang members flooding into the lobby, a major flaw in my escape plan. I’d hoped we’d get out before they came back, but we’d had no such luck.
“What’s up, Runo?” someone asked.
“Runo?” Sammy said, walking up behind me. “If their leader’s back, he’ll be looking for Dumb and Dumber any minute,” she said, nodding to the bedroom where the guys lay on the floor.
I softly closed the door and deadlocked it. “You’re right. We definitely can’t go out that way,” I whispered. “There are far too many of them.”
“Can’t you just karate chop ‘em all? I mean, you were doing some killer moves a minute ago, like some kind of ninja superhero.”
“Sammy, it’s about the same as standing on the tracks while a huge freight train barrels straight for us. We can’t possibly take on a freight train, no matter how many martial arts or self-defense tactics we know.”
“Then what do we do?”
“Simple. We get off the tracks.”
“Open up,” a guy said, following an unexpected knock on the door. “It’s Runo.”
Startled, Sammy and I exchanged horrified looks.
“We need a distraction,” I whispered.
“Please don’t hurt me,” Sammy yelled. “Why are you doing this? Get off me!” she said, then let out a few more loud screams for dramatic effect.
“Heh. Sounds like our boys are havin’ a little fun,” Runo said.
Without saying a single word, I motioned Sammy to one of the bedroom windows. I climbed up the dresser and peered out. It looked clear, so I opened the window, then quietly popped out the screen.
“Hurry!” she whispered.
As I climbed out the window, a zombie moan sliced through the air. A corpse in a checkered shirt and ripped jeans climbed out of the overgrown vegetation. The smell of rotting decay hit me full force. Another one, with a green, bald head, came from the other direction.
“C’mon!” I said, then started to help Sammy out through the window.
Suddenly, she looked at me strangely. “Wait! I have to go back,” she said.
“No!” I whispered. “Not a chance!”
The zombie reached out for me, and I let go of Sammy. As soon as I did, she darted back into the apartment. A chill shot down my spine as the gang beat on the door. Using the rifle as a bat, I smashed the zombie’s face, until it dropped to the ground, motionless. A naked corpse with exposed skin and muscle snapped its jaws within an inch of my face. I jumped back and clobbered it, and the thing hit the grass with a loud growl. Next was a zombie in a red sweater. I swung, delivering a forceful blow to its neck.
A face-eater with blood dripping from several parts of its face met my gaze. It was dressed in a blood-soaked, white dress, with one matching heel barely strapped on its foot, and it took uncoordinated steps toward me, letting out a feral snarl. Its buddy’s chest was torn open, its muscles and ribcage on display like some kind of cadaver in a university dissection test. The nasty, bloodthirsty pair charged forward, gnashing their teeth and pawing wildly at me, the main target of their murderous rampage. I rammed my gun through the first one’s left eye socket, instantly dropping it, but the ribcage man just kept coming. I whacked its head, then kicked it. A sickening crunch sliced through the air as I stomped its skull.
“Behind you!” Sammy shouted.