Copyright © 2015 by Chrissy Peebles
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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.
Note: This is in rough draft and has not been edited. Readers kept asking me for a sample or a taste. So here it is. :) Please note that scenes can change, more details can be added, and stuff could be a tiny bit different in the official book.
Until it hissed….
End of sample.
Note: This is in rough draft and has not been edited. Readers kept asking me for a sample or a taste. So here it is. :) Please note that scenes can change, more details can be added, and stuff could be a tiny bit different in the official book.
The land outside was changing, I thought as I looked out the window of the armored Knight SUV. Ohio had always been a pretty gold-and-green state with lots of good farming land with all kinds of green vegetation. Everything was growing out of control. Saplings now crept down from the edges of the road, some even sprouting up from cracks in the road. I could see small farms choked by tall grasses, wild wheat, and out of control weeds. The ghosts of abandoned cars off to the side of the road peeked out from their greenery as we zipped along the interstate.
“Well, it sure looks like home-sweet-home went to crap,” Lucas said from the passenger’s seat.
“You think it’s just here?” Nick gripped the steering wheel tightly. “It’s everywhere, buddy.”
“Welcome to the zombie apocalypse,” he said.
My older brother chuckled as he drove.
I had to agree with Lucas. It did look like Ohio was pretty much deserted and abandoned. The zombie apocalypse had forced people to flee their homes, head for the coasts, or (even stupider) head for the cities in hope of finding government bunkers that didn’t exist.
Ugh. I shuddered. We had seen first-hand what had happened in the cities: close quarters, zombies everywhere, lots of places to hide but nowhere to run.
“Nah, give me the open roads and wide spaces any day,” I murmured.
“Hmm?” A warm weight lifted from my shoulder.
Jackie. I felt a surge of love lift my heart. Jackie–who would have thought that this was real? That I got to be here, with her? After all we’d been through, she was still by my side.
“What did you say, hon?” she said sleepily.
Tenderly, I brushed away a lock of her long, brown hair that fell out of her ponytail.
“Nothing, babe. I was just thinking how I’m glad to be back here in Ohio…. With you,” I added, a little softer.
“That’s so sweet.” Jackie smiled, her hand squeezing mine where she had held it as she slept. I could smell her hair under my chin, and feel the warmth of her pressing against me.
“I wonder what the future holds.”
“Good things,” I said. “And we will never join the zombie horde. I promise you that. If we survived this long, then we’re making it to the very end.”
“I’m shocked at how fast we adapted to all these life and death situations.”
“Well, we rise to the occasion or we die, it’s that simple,” I said.
“We’re pretty adaptable.”
“And that’s why we’re still alive. We’re survivors. The world just suddenly stopped…and we did what needed to be done. Sometimes, we had to make hard decisions.” I thought back to the first man I ever killed in self-defense. I was still haunted by taking another life. But I knew I didn’t take his life intentionally. I did what I did….to live.
I personally know the pain of surviving. It’s a long, painful process. And I fought for every single breath I took. I knew the constant battle to stay alive reinforced emotional numbing and avoidance of painful emotions. I’d been through so much, but I stored it away so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. I didn’t want to deal with it. But would it all come tumbling back one day? Would I be buried underneath all its weight? My spirit remained alive under the worst conditions imaginable. Yet, I was alive. I knew eventually I would have to deal with it. But not right now. Right now, I only dealt with immediate survival.
Ever since doomsday hit, my world has been full of violence, fear, and hostility. Lack of food, water, and trust had led to terrible choices, compromises, and conflict. Sometimes I feel like I have no control over my life. It’s like climbing up a mountain. One wrong misstep, and down you go. But whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
“I don’t want my heart to be hardened,” Jackie said. “Sometimes in this grotesque new world, I feel like I’m soulless. Just going through the motions, pushing hard to survive.”
“If you want to see the sunshine, you have to weather the storm. And I know we’ve been weathering one long heck of a storm. But I promise the sun will eventually come out. We’ve just gotta keep on believing it.”
“You just blew my mind,” she said, stroking my hair out of my eyes.
“Do you want me for my mind or my zombie-killing skills? Or maybe my good looks?”
She laughed. “Oh, it’s the blue eyes for sure.”
“Really? I thought maybe you’d say it was for my big, strong muscles.”
She gazed into my eyes. “I love you. For your beautiful mind, sexy body, and compassionate soul. And you’re my end-of-the-world legendary hero. You rescued me when I was at the lowest point in my life. And you’re the best thing that has ever happened to me.”
She looked so adorable, so beautiful. She flashed me her perfect, white smile. Her hair hung in a long, dark braid. She had high cheekbones and pretty eyes. I kissed her on the lips. “I love you too.”
She stroked my face. “I couldn’t imagine doing this without you.”
“You’re the only thing that gets me through this,” I said. “And I about died when I thought you were dead.”
I knew I had her in my arms, but I’d never forget that deep pain I felt when I thought she had left my life forever.
Her hand brushed across my cheek. “Oh, baby. Don’t even think about that. I’m here, and I promise I’m never leaving you ever again.”
We shared a tender kiss, then cuddled up, and both drifted off to sleep.
“Gas!” Nick shouted, waking me up from my stupor.
"If you're having gas, we can stop," Lucas laughed. "’Cause I can't handle the stench."
"You know that's not the gas I'm talking about."
I had managed to fall asleep, again with Jackie curled up next to my side, and Kate on the other side of her. If we needed gas, then we’d have to stop the convoy and fill up somewhere. And gas was a rare commodity these days. It was always a challenge to find some. But all we had to do was get back to the Sandusky area. Once we were on the island, we wouldn’t gas as often.
“How long do we have?” I asked.
“Uh, about fifteen minutes more, maybe?” Nick said, looking out the window. The wind began to pick up and the sky was starting to get darker. Lucas zipped up his body armor and checked the ammo on his guns. Stopping to get out of your car in zombie country meant you had to be fully prepared if anyone dared took a step outside.
“There was a place, a little way back,” Kate suddenly spoke. “A turnoff on the left. It had a gas sign on it. Didn’t you guys see it?”
Nick looked over to Lucas. The question went unsaid, but we were all thinking it. Can we risk it? What if it’s overrun?
BZZT! The walkie-talkie in Jackie’s lap buzzed. It had to be one of the others in the RV coming up behind us.
“This is Val. Why are you slowing down?” she asked, her voice crackly with static.
Jackie spoke into the radio. “Need to fill-up. Kate says she saw a gas station a little way back.”
“Skip gas stations. You can’t get gas from electric pumps anyway. Those pumps don’t work. I think we all know that. Let’s find an abandoned car or parked truck.”
Jackie looked questioningly at Lucas, who just shrugged, slowing the Knight down to a crawl.
“Tell her we haven’t seen a salvageable car or truck,” Nick said. “And what are the chances we’re going to run into one in the next fifteen minutes? So we’re stopping at the gas station and checking it out. It’s better than nothing. And we can’t run out of gas.”
Jackie related the message.
“Nick hates your car idea,” she said.
Val laughed. “Of course he does.”
“Most gas stations have huge underground tanks,” Nick said. “If we’re careful, we can access it without power.”
The message was related and Val said we didn’t have time for that.
“If we pry up the lids over the main tanks we can either hand pump or use a bucket to bring fuel up. And if she doesn’t like that idea, most farmers have diesel or gasoline stored in large quantities to power their farming equipment.”
“Why don’t we vote on it?” Jackie said.
There was a mumbled agreement from everyone inside the vehicle. We didn’t have much choice.
“They all voted for stopping at the gas station,” Jackie said.
“Okay,” Val said over the walkie-talkie.
We turned our vehicles around and started crunching over the trash-laden interstate back to the turn-off Kate spotted.
I joined in the discussion Jackie, Nick, Lucas, and Kate were having on zombie traps.
“Building deep ditches around your shelter is a must,” Kate said. “Unless you’re on an island. And then you have the water as a barrier.”
Lucas wrapped his arm around her. “Something basic like strong rope can stop lots of zombies.”
“Yeah, we’ll just make a rope wall. I’ll weave that rope in a zigzag pattern. That way we can squeeze between but zombies won’t.”
“I like it,” Jackie said. “It can slow down a zombie and give a survivor a chance to run.”
“Wooden stakes, string, or wire braided across the ground will trip zombies too,” Nick said. “We could easily walk past it with no difficulty.”
Lucas nodded. “Yeah, everyone should have that little number. It would slow the zombies down in case of a breech.”
“Metal poles could be installed deep into the ground to slow zombies to a trickle if there was a breech. And if they all bunch up, they’d topple over.”
We went on to talk about all the creative zombie traps that we could build. The possibilities were endless.
The RV wasn’t as cool as the Knight with all its neat features, but I guess that we should still thank the good people of Fairmont for giving it to us after we’d helped them out over the winter. But she handled like a whale, I thought as I steered her down the ramp to Kate’s turn-off, and started down the smaller access road.
My thoughts drifted to Max. I missed him so much. I knew he would want me to go on. And I would go on for him. But it hurt…bad. I couldn’t even lean on Lucas. He was dating Kate now, and they seemed to be hitting it off. I was glad he was happy. He deserved happiness. Maybe I would get it one day. My heart might still be hurting, but I’d never give up on hope. I had hoped against all odds, my parents and grandmother was still alive. If they were still on the island, I wouldn’t be allowed there. I knew that. It was why I didn’t want to come back home to our parents in the first place. I had a safe place to live in Fairport. Would I have that same opportunity in Sandusky? I didn’t know. I’d never forget how the security team ripped me from my mother’s house and took me into isolation. They took Jenny, Kyle, and Sammy from me.
I took a deep breath as emotion consumed me. They left me in a room to rot and were going to give me a shot to end my life because I had been bitten by a zombie. My life literally flashed before my eyes the second I’d been bitten. Going back to a place where I was given a death sentence was very hard for me. Dean and Nick didn’t understand why I wanted to stay behind in Fairmont. They were so sad and upset when I told them I wasn’t coming. They thought family should stick together no matter what. And I do believe that. But they were taking me to a place where I could be put in isolation all over again. What if the leaders of that island decided to humanely end my life once again? It hurt to think about it. And it scared me to death. Yes, going back there instilled a terror deep in me that I couldn’t even begin to explain.
I could hear Sammy’s screams as they tore her away. I could see Jenny’s tears. And then there was the love of my life: Kyle. He told me he loved me. I knew he meant every word. I shook all those thoughts away. How could I ever get past all this pain?
But I decided that I loved my family. So I conquered my fear of going back so I could be with Dean, Nick, my parents, and my grandmother. I just prayed it all turned out the way I wanted it too.
Asia cut into my thoughts. “Boy, this is a tight squeeze.”
I snapped back into reality.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Sorry. I was deep in thought.”
“Yeah. You looked like you were a million miles away.”
She smiled as she playfully nudged me. “Well, girl, get your head back into the game. Or let me drive.”
“I’m fine, Asia.”
Maybe taking the RV in first wasn’t such a great idea, I started thinking as the road narrowed, and then narrowed more, until the sounds of the overgrown tree branches scraped the top of the RV.
“Need me to do some whacking?” Asia asked, one hand on the door, the other on her machete.
I peered out the window. “Nah, I got this.”
We had a variety of weapons at our feet, from guns and rifles to bats and axes. No matter what situation we ran into, we’d be ready for anything.
“Yeah, it widens out right here,” I said, nodding up ahead to where the road dipped, and then rose up; the trees and overgrown weeds falling away on both sides.
“This would make an excellent place for an ambush,” Asia muttered, and I remembered why exactly I liked her. She thought like a survivor. We all knew we had to be ready for anything.
“Yeah, but pity the poor people who tried to ambush us, huh?” I grinned back, and Asia nodded.
“We kick butt,” she said, keeping her eyes on the woods. “We’re better at it than anybody else.”
“You bet! Now you’re getting your head back into the game.”
No sign of zombies, no sudden lurches from the shadows of the trees, no signature zombie moans. No drifters. No gangs. No cannibals. This place was deserted.
“So far, so good,” Asia said, tapping the dashboard.
I realized that the road was starting to widen and bend, approaching a truck stop and a wide turning circle next to a small gas station.
“You know the drill,” I said. “Let’s get this done as fast as possible, then get back on the road.”
“Gotcha,” Claire responded.
There in the truck stop was a tanker, still emblazoned with the oil companies’ logo, one door open, and the window smashed.
“Ransacked?” Claire asked. “If so, there might not be any gas.”
“Guess we’ll see soon enough,” I said, pulling the RV around in a circle, so that we were facing back out the way we’d come in. The Knight had roared up to the truck stop, spun around in a spray of gravel and parked right next to us. At least, we’d be in the right direction when we had to leave. And we’d be ready if we needed a quick getaway. You always have to run eventually. Run or fight. That was the story of my life. For all of us, actually.
“Okay, let’s get this done,” Claire said. She opened the side door and jumped down onto the dirt. She stuffed her revolver in her waistband then glanced around.
“It’s a ghost town,” I said.
“I like ghost towns,” Claire responded. “The quieter, the better.”
She zipped up her leather jacket, tying back her long, red hair. Then she grabbed her gun and pointed it in front of her. “Asia and I will secure the perimeter. You guys do your thing.”
I unbuckled my seatbelt as Claire and Asia stepped around the front of our vehicle, up to the cab of the tanker, holding their revolvers out in front of them. I jumped out of the vehicle. Gun drawn, I followed them. There was only the sound of our footsteps and the wind in the tree tops. There were big rigs parked all over the place. But all the eighteen-wheelers were devoid of drivers.
I then heard the others. Nick and Lucas went straight into what I always thought of as their ‘military mode’ acting in tandem – with very few spoken words between them. In just a second my brother and Lucas had fanned out on either side of the vehicles, scanning the periphery. They were walking around the entire gas station and secured it. Dean and Jackie acted as lookouts.
Claire glanced up at the rig. “Wow. We’re missing a door.”
I glanced inside. The driver had been decapitated. It was a bloody mess.
“Any zombies?” Kate asked, stepping around in wide strides, swinging her rifle from her shoulders as she checked for any signs of possible danger.
“Nah, just this poor guy,” Claire said.
“Not good,” I said. “If this guy was hijacked or jumped, then there is probably nothing left here. This whole place has been sucked dry by psychopaths or lunatics.”
I sighed. “Okay, let’s see if this place has any gas. If it doesn’t, we’re screwed. And it’ll be a total waste of time. I told you we shouldn’t backtrack.”
Jackie approached. “C’mon. We didn’t have much choice. Do you think we were just going to run into a car full of gas? Dream on.”
“If we’re desperate, we can do what Nick said,” I said. “Get gas from underneath the gas station.”
“Last resort,” Claire said. “Because I don’t want to hang around here any longer than we have too.”
SCKR! the radio crackled. “Everything looks secure,” Nick said. “How about you?”
I picked up the walkie talkie attached to my belt. “We got one dead driver, but no zombies – not yet, anyway. It’s secure here.”
“Good. We’re getting gas. Found a Sedan back here with a full tank.”
“Great. Hurry up and let’s fuel up.”
Jackie looked over at the gas station. “I’m hungry. Wanna look for any snacks?”
“No,” Claire said. “We have no idea what could be hiding in there. We take no unnecessary risks. Especially when we’re this close to the island.”
Jackie playfully nudged her cousin. “I’m kidding. Lighten up, will ya?”
“There. I missed that smile.”
Claire gripped her gun tightly. “Well, you’ll see it a lot more once we’re safe on the island.”
“I agree,” I said.
Jackie looked at me. “Are you glad you came, Val?”
“Yeah. I know I had created a safe place in Fairport, and I loved the people there. But I need to be with my family. And I need to know if my parents and grandma are alive. I’d rather create a safe place with all of your guys and with them too.”
“I loved everyone we met in Fairport,” Asia said. “But I wasn’t leaving you guys. You guys are my family now.”
I threw an arm around her. “And you’re our family too. I’m so glad we met.”
She grinned. “Awww. Me too. And I think we’ll be safer on an island. If that force field breaks around Fairport, they’re screwed like everyone else.”
Jackie pointed. “Did you see that?”
I pointed my gun in her direction. “What?”
“I saw an old man peek out the window,” she said.
Claire glanced over. “Oh, man. I thought this place was deserted. I don’t want to steal some guy’s gas. We’re not thieves.”
I looked at Jackie. “Are you sure it wasn’t a zombie?”
“Maybe we should check it out. I don’t need somebody shooting us in a blaze of glory because we’re trespassing.”
I leapt to the hood of the car and looked around. A zombie with torn and tattered green skin came from behind the semi.
“Straggler!” I said.
It let out a snarl as jaws snapped. It grabbed Claire’s shoulder. In a flash, she broke the zombie’s arm with a tremendous downward jerk. With her free hand, she grabbed the zombie’s head and slammed it off the car until it was dead. I holstered my axe and nodded to her.
“What a fine brawl, girlie,” I said in a Scottish accent.
“Thanks.” She pushed her hair out of her eyes. “I was overdue for a workout anyway.”
I laughed, then looked around some more. I didn’t see any others around us.
I walked across the parking lot of the gas station. I tried the door, but it was locked. I peeked inside through the window. Asia stepped up and moved me aside. With her tool she used to break into cars, she attempted to jimmy the door open, but she couldn’t get any leverage on the lock because of a metal lip.
“Here,” Claire said. “Let me.”
Asia and I stepped aside as Claire took out a pocket knife and began to work it around the edge of the window. In a few minutes, she had the rubber cut loose. I couldn’t believe my eyes when Claire pushed the point of her knife under the window and pried. The window fell out. Kate and Asia grabbed the glass before it could hit the ground and shatter.
I looked at Claire. “You’re not the girl I first met.”
She grinned widely. “Nope. I’ve got skills now.”
I reached my hand in through the now open window and unlocked the door from the inside. The door squealed on its hinges as I opened it.
“Is anyone here?” I asked. “I mean you no harm. I just wanted to know if we could buy some gas from you. We can give you weapons in return.”
Instantly, I froze. For a moment, I thought this place was clear of zombies, but a growl from deep in the back meant that they were indeed here.
I looked at Jackie. “There’s nothing here but zombies. Are you sure you saw somebody?”
“I thought I saw an old man. Maybe it was a zombie. We better just go. No use stirring up a hornet’s nest.”
Three zombies suddenly charged from the back of the store. I moved to the right and Claire to the left. I was amazed by how well we all worked together. We knew what the other was going to do before the other did it. My wrench slammed into the side of a zombie’s head with a crack of bone. She dispatched the other two while Asia and Kate checked to make sure the rest of the store was clear.
Once we were sure the store was clear, we made our way back to where we were. Kate had a big grin on her face when she finally reached us.
“What are you so happy about?” I asked.
“Look.” She swept her arm around.
I looked around and broke out in a smile myself. The shelves around us were stocked with various foods and goods such as batteries, flashlights, lighters, clothes, and more. How this store had remained untouched, I didn’t know. But I was grateful for it. We gathered a few supplies and packed them into the trailer. I knew the guys would be happy for all the snacks we’d found. Where were they anyway? They should be back by now. Just as I was about to go look for them, they radioed me.
The radio crackled. “Company!”
I pressed the button and talked. “How many?”
“Lots! And we’re cut off.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll give you a pathway!” I nodded to the others. “C’mon!”
We sprinted to the back of the gas station where shots rang out.
There was a big group of zombies, but I was confident we had nothing to worry about. We could clear a path for the guys, then hop into our vehicles and leave. I just hoped they were able to bring back some fuel.
I raised my gun as zombies lumbered toward the guys. I targeted their torn and ripped up heads. The first bang echoed in the air as I fired once, twice, three times into the approaching zombies. A few zombies turned in my direction. Two more dead heads with bloody and matted hair stumbled right toward me. As they got closer, I could see the maggots crawling through their skin. My stomach turned. I carefully aimed my gun and fired. Bullets hit their cranium precisely on target. They both dropped to the ground at the same time.
A zombie growled from behind me. I spun around and gazed at its disfigured and grotesque face. Deep bite marks lined its leathered face. I managed to lash out with a foot just in time to kick away its reaching hands. It fell, and I squeezed my trigger. I shot a bullet right into its peeling forehead.
A blonde zombie in only a black thong crawled on the ground. She suddenly reached for my leg. But I jumped back just in the nick of time. Sunlight glittered on the silver jewelry the corpse wore. She had a piercing on her eyebrow, nose, and lip. A mass of stab wounds covered her dragon tattoo sprawled across her back. I pointed my gun at her head and fired. Her eyes fluttered shut.
I suddenly tripped over two dead zombies Kate had just killed. As I went to jump to my feet, a creature in a white lab coat lunged at my face. My gun clattered to the ground. Everything happened so fast. My hands shot out to keep the doctor’s snapping jaws away from me. Its demonic eyes met my gaze. Black liquid poured from its snow-white eyes.
Something grabbed my foot. My heart thundered. I thrashed my legs and kicked. It grabbed my leg once again and I kicked it as hard as I could. A chill shot down my spine. I needed this doctor off me right now before the zombie at my feet took a bite of my leg! I couldn’t see how close the zombie was because Dr. Chick was in my face blocking my line of vision. Did I kick it hard enough? Or was it coming back? Dr. Chick hissed. She was so close I could see the bruised dent on her forehead. It looked like she had her head bashed in with a bat. I reached into her pocket and pulled out a pair of sharp sheers. I stabbed her eyes with every bit of strength I had. I threw the dead doctor off me and fumbled for my gun. Just as the zombie at my feet hissed, I aimed at its blistering face and fired. When it dropped, I sighed in relief. Getting bitten again was my biggest nightmare.
I tried to make my way over to Nick as another zombie stepped in my path. It was tall; its hair unkempt, its beard matted with filth and dry blood. Just as I went to shoot it, dead hands wrapped around my waist. Heart racing, I kicked it back with my foot before it could get a bite in. I fired at the zombie in front of me, then spun around to finish off the one behind me in the black dress, wearing a large, gold crucifix. Her throat had been slashed. Somebody didn’t do the job right. So I did.
More shots echoed loudly in the air.
“Die!” Lucas shouted, followed by a sharp bang from his revolver, and then another, and another.
“Down!” I shouted.
Lucas dropped and rolled a few steps to my right, and I did the same on the left, bouncing up to crouch by the fender of the Sedan.
A zombie with dark hair, matted and dirty, fingers cracked and broken, shaped in crude claws hissed.
BANG! BANG! BANG! I rose into a half crouch, taking aim and firing. One shot hit the first zombie in the chest, spinning it slightly. The second missed it entirely as it had moved, but the third found its target.
Dean raised his rifle to fire over our heads in the opposite direction.
Asia slammed into the thing, her machete hitting the thin guy just above the ear, and lodging in his skull. The zombie had a short blonde crew-cut, its head smeared and blurred with dried mud and blood. With a gurgle, it sank to its knees, just a couple of feet away Claire with her outstretched gun.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Claire muttered sullenly. “I had it covered.”
Asia stepped back from the dying zombie, her chest heaving with the exertion and the force of her blow. “Yeah well, y’know. Maybe next time.”
“Claire, you alright?” I said, kicking the now-dead corpse to one side, and folding Claire into my arms.
“Yeah, of course.”
“Guys…? No time for that!” Lucas said, frowning as he held his M4 assault rifle. I followed his gaze where the sound of growling could be heard…
I was a crouching animal waiting to pounce. I stayed alert and attentive, my senses on full alert. I strained to hear every rustle, every twig snap, every footstep. Gun aimed, I crept forward. I wasn’t scared. I’d fought these things a million times. Killing zombies was my life now. And I enjoyed the kill. Killing them felt good. They’d taken away the woman I was going to marry. Sometimes I felt like the universe was paying me back for all the horrible things I’d done. Taking Darla away just pissed me off. And it felt like revenge each time I crushed a zombie’s skull. I could feel the anger building up the more I thought about it. I was ready to put a single bullet right into the center of a zombie’s forehead.
I heard the signature zombie moans. Yep. That was my cue.
“Ready!” I shouted.
Val followed my lead, her sniper’s rifle in her hands. The first zombie to clear the same side of the store was different from the others. It was on the end of a stick. And that’s when I noticed the oncoming zombies had something silver trailing behind them.
“They’re on chains!” I yelled.
“Looks like someone released them!” Val said.
Shots rang out as we all started firing at the approaching zombies.
Three zombies staggered toward me. I got into firing position and steadied my aim. I fired at the blonde freak right between the eyes. She fell, and the guy in overalls tripped over the woman’s corpse. Shot him before he could even stumble up.
White eyes stared at me as a zombie reached for me. I lifted my gun and let off a well-aimed shot. The third one went right down, but more came. I shot a tall man in a white, dirty uniform right in the torso. The bullet whizzed right through his rotting body and hit the short zombie wearing a red dress right in the head. I finished off the waiter and a guy with long hair and half a face.
I surveyed the situation with my hand on the butt of my gun. I waited, ears strained for even the slightest of sounds. Then I realized that there wasn’t a single sound. The bird that had been singing in the brush just off the road had suddenly gone quiet.
A zombie burst from the bushes. Startled, I jumped back. I could tell by the fresh blood and the limber way it moved that the zombie was fresh. I drew my tactical knife. The black, twelve-inch blade was sharp. I held the knife with the cutting edge up and waited. When the zombie was three steps away, I sprang into motion. My blade cleaved through the air with precision. With my right foot, I crushed the kneecap of the zombie, making it stumble. The blade struck the zombie between the eyes, buried to the haft. I spun and let the weight of the falling body extract my knife.
“One less,” I said as I wiped off my blade.
“More are coming,” Jackie whispered. “We don’t know how many. Let’s not attract more with gunfire. Unless we have too.”
Lucas smiled as Kate stepped forward and drew her knife. Dean pulled his combat hatchet as he walked forward. I had worked with Lucas enough to know that he would be good for the two on the right. That left six more. The hatchet leapt from Dean’s hand like a bullet from a gun. Hours upon hours of practice made the thirty yard throw an easy one. The hatchet buried deep into the forehead of the middle zombie, and it dropped.
I smiled at my brother. Job well done. Lucas rushed forward to engage the zombies to the left and dispatched the massive one with a viscous thrust to the eye socket. I kicked out with my left foot and snapped the knee of the zombie in front of me. It stumbled and fell forward as it tried to take another step on its broken leg. I dropped a knee into the middle of the zombie’s back and slammed my knife home into the back of its skull. I spun to find the last zombie much closer than I would have expected it to be. Too late. I realized that it was much fresher than the others and could move faster. I raised my hands to defend myself from the attack, but a bat collided with the side of the zombie’s head. It went down and stayed down with a dent in the side of its skull. Asia shouldered her bat and offered her hand to Lucas.
Lucas took Asia’s hand with a smile. I had dispatched his two zombies and had sat down on a log. Lucas motioned for Claire to come over and sat down beside me.
“That was fun,” Lucas said. “Even if Asia did take my last kill.”
“What?” Asia looked at him like he was crazy. “I saved your butt.”
“He’s joking. Don’t think nothing of it,” Claire explained. “Lucas’s good at that. He isn’t good at much else, but he does fine at cracking jokes.”
“Sure. Sure. Make fun of the handsome guy.”
“I don’t see anything,” Kate said. “Looks clear.” She suddenly stopped. “Wait. Hear that?”
Faint moans rang across the air.
I started crossing around on the far side of a semi to get a clearer shot of what was going on. Up ahead, this zombie was a big, muscular guy with a balding head, but looked as though he could have been a pro wrestler or something similar once upon a pre-death.
The zombie had a metal collar snapped around its neck, and from that collar there sprouted a long metal stick, easily about three feet long, held by a small, elderly man. The man had a woolen cap pulled down over his forehead. He looked to be over seventy, with ragged clothes, a couple of padded, quilted shirts over each other, and a gun in a holster at his side.
“Hold it!” Lucas was shouting at him. “Hold it right there, old-timer!”
“Whatever you do, don’t tell him to drop his weapon,” I hissed through gritted teeth, as the old guy yanked and pulled on the zombie stick, menacing us with the brute. I had a clear shot of the guy every few seconds. Should I take it?
“What do you want? Just get off my land!” the old man shouted. “Get out of here, you and your lackeys!”
“Ain’t nobody a lackey here, sir,” Val said.
“You’re trespassing!” he said.
“We didn’t know anyone was here. We thought this place was deserted.”
“Well, it isn’t!” The man turned his pet zombie to face my sister. “And I’m going to let this zombie eat your face.”
“He can try,” Val said.
Enough was enough. When the man let go of the stick, I squeezed the trigger.
I made a clean shot. The big, pro-wrestling zombie-on-a-stick fell to the ground, jerking the metal prod out of the man’s grasp, sending him sprawling to the floor beside it.
“You killed him!” the man yelled.
I lowered my gun. “Yeah that was kind of the point!”
“How could you?” the man shouted.
“You were going to let it go,” I said. “And nobody messes with my family. If you cared about your zombie, you should’ve kept it away from us. We don’t play games. The only good zombie is a dead one!”
“Nick!” Val hissed at me, rolling her eyes. “You could have warned us!”
“Why? I wouldn’t have missed.”
“I could’ve handled it.”
“I know you could’ve of. But I’m not risking it. Its nails almost swiped your skin. We’re too close for any accidents. And nobody should know that more than you. You were bitten when you were almost to our parents’ home last year. You were bitten at the last possible moment! I didn’t want a repeat.”
“How chivalrous of you.”
The old guy started rolling on the ground, reaching for his revolver, fumbling for it as he pulled it from his holster.
“Oh no you don’t,” Val said. “Look at us. How many guns do you think we’ve got on you right now? Eight? Nine? You wouldn’t even get a shot off. Come on. Just give it up.”
I saw the fight go out of the old guy’s face. “I won’t work for you, you know. You can tell the Colonel that from me personally!”
The Colonel? I thought.
“What did you say, friend? We’re not with any Colonel,” Claire said as the old guy threw his revolver down.
I rushed over to kick it out of his reach. “We’re heading toward Sandusky. We’ve been in Fairmont over the winter, and now we’re coming home, back to our family.”
The old man lifted up his head and looked at me. “Well, if you got family in Sandusky, then you got family working for the Colonel, let me tell you that.”
Val looked over at me, raised an eyebrow.
“The Colonel? What does he mean?” asked Dean. “Who is this guy? Ex-military? Some local boss?”
“He wishes he was ex-military, He was a freeway cop, or so I heard,” the old man said, looking up defiantly at my little brother, standing over him. “And he’s carved out a nice little bit of land up there for himself on the lake. But he’s mean, mean as a rattlesnake.”
Dean knelt down so that he could look the store-owner in the eye. “You keep pets? Dead-rising-psychos?”
“And I have more too!” he yelled.
Dean flicked a glance over at the recently leashed zombie. “You seem to have uh, a talent for capturing them.”
“You know how hard it’s been? Up here all alone? With raiders, bandits, and gangs and these vermin.” He kicked the body of the dead zombie at his side. “Just about everywhere? I only keep these zombies to protect me.”
At first, I thought he was crazy, like all the other nut jobs we’ve run across. But I could see that he was just trying to survive like the rest of us. He was fighting to stay alive and I admired him for that.
“It’s okay. We’re not here to enslave you or kill you,” I said. “We just need to get some fuel. We’ll even pay you for it. How about some kind of fair trade?”
“Hmph,” the guy clucked his teeth. “Well, you got more manners than others that come through here. You showed me respect. You’re asking, and you’re even offering to pay by trading. Others would just kill me and steal it. I can see you’re good people, and I want to help you. But you did kill lots of my protection… And you took my gun.”
“You’ll get your revolver back when we’re ready to leave,” Asia said. “We can’t take a chance that you’ll shoot us.”
“I saw you siphoning gas and taking stuff from my store. But it’s okay. Just take it and leave,” he said. “But please give me back my lucky gun.”
“Not a problem,” Claire said. “And thank you for your kindness.”
“So who is this Colonel?” Dean asked.
I nodded. “Yeah. Good question. Like I said, we’ve got family on Kelley’s Island.”
“Right by Sandusky,” the man said.
“Yeah. So why don’t you tell us about this Colonel.” I kept an eye on our perimeter. That was the problem with living in the apocalypse, you just never know when a zombie would rear its ugly head.
“This sinister man came here about six months ago,” the store owner said. “Came down from Cincinnati in a cop car wearing a police uniform. He brought along lots of men from his police force. Called himself the Colonel, and started making rounds in his car, clearing out the zombies that were still wandering around out in the open. He recruited the boys from Sandusky to help him, and pretty soon he had his own little patrol going on.”
“And? So? What’s so bad about that?” I muttered to Lucas and Val as I kept a look-out. “I’m sure that I would do the same if I could.”
“Well, he put Sandusky back together. Had a citizen’s council and everything. Everyone thought he was the big cheese – until he started telling people that they had to come in behind the Sandusky walls, or else they wouldn’t be covered by the patrols anymore.”
“Again, pretty sensible,” Lucas reasoned at my side.
“He’s sensible until you don’t agree with him. Then you’re public enemy number one. And that puts you on his hit list. You mysteriously disappear. He wanted me to come and join him. But how could I? This is my place! This here store! This has been my home for years!” the zombie-catcher protested. “If you don’t follow his rules, he’ll make you pay. You have no idea how dangerous he is. He’s a psychopath if you ask me.”
“Maybe we won’t run into him,” Jackie said.
“He’s running the town, so yes, you will. All I’m saying to you is; that I’ve seen his like before. He ain’t no leader – he thinks he’s a guru or a savior or something,” the man spat. “That same dead-eye cold look in him gives me the shivers. I won’t go into Sandusky and have a man like that in charge of me. No way. And if you’re sensible – you won’t either!”
“We have to,” Dean said. “It’s where our family is.”
We talked to the guy some more and thanked him for the gas, then we left.
I was careful as I maneuvered the armored car around two crashed cars. A pickup had t-boned a luxury car in the middle of the road. Glass littered the road and I wondered if the wheels on the trailer behind us would be okay. The armored car had heavy duty wheels, but the trailer didn’t. Cars littered both lanes of the highway, but so far I had been able to get around them. We’ve been lucky so far. Maybe we’ll get lucky some more.
“We need to switch roads,” I said.
“According to the map, we can take a different route,” Dean said. He had the map spread out in front of him. I studied him out of the corner of my eye. I was glad that I was with him. His very presence gave me confidence that we would survive whatever happened. I was glad I picked my family over Fairport. I knew that they meant everything to me. And there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for them. And I knew they felt the exact same way.
“Roadblock up ahead,” Jackie said.
“Crap!” I muttered. “Not another pile up of cars!”
Jackie sighed. “Yeah, tell me about it. This world definitely needs clean-up crews.”
I geared the armored car down another gear as it topped the rise. A group of zombies lumbered in front of us. While I maneuvered around an overturned van, Dean grabbed the walkie talkie and radioed the rest of the group in the trailer. I was amazed at how calm my brother sounded no matter how dire the situation.
“There are nearly a dozen zombies,” he said. “They’re spread out, so if we move fast, we can take them out without them giving us too much of a problem. Then maybe we can move a car out of the road so we can get through.”
The radio crackled. “Got it,” Claire answered. “We’ll be ready.”
I parked and got out to assess the situation more. Dean handed me a large wrench. Of course, I had my gun, but I always liked backup. I had tried other weapons. Machetes, a sword, a bat, even a hammer, but I liked my big monkey wrench the best. It felt right as I hefted its weight in my hand. Dean radioed back once more.
“Remember. No guns. No yelling. We don’t want to risk drawing anymore in. Or we’ll never get through this blockade.”
I made a dash for the zombie closest to me. My wrench whooshed through the air and connected against the zombie’s temple. The skull caved under the impact, and the zombie hit the group in a heap. Lucas stepped past me with a claw hammer in his fist. I’d seen him use it more than once, but it never ceased to shock and amaze me at how deadly and brutal my gentle friend could be. The hammer came down in a whistling arc. It connected with the zombie’s head with a loud thwack.
I dispatched two more zombies. By the time I had finished with the second, the rest of us had finished off the remaining stragglers. Nick called for everyone to gather around him. I trotted over and stood beside my brother.
His eyes widened. “We got a big problem.” He pointed behind us, and I could see a large horde in the distance moving toward us. Luckily, they hadn’t spotted us yet.
“Thank goodness we didn’t use guns,” Claire said. “Or we would’ve been screwed.”
“Yeah,” Asia said. “Ringing the dinner bell wouldn’t have been very good.”
Kate swallowed hard. “Well, we got a little time. They don’t know we’re here…yet. And they’re slow as snails.”
“I can’t believe this,” I muttered staring at the large group of shambling zombies in our direction. “Okay, people, let’s get these cars moved! The clock is ticking.”
Kate started to say something else about trying a different route, but Nick raised his hand. I had seen the same look on my brother’s face before, and it meant he was getting angry that she was challenging his decision. No one said a word. I knew how intimidating my brother could be when he got upset. And I agreed with him. It was better not to venture off some side road Kate had mentioned. We still had a small window of time to get those cars moved and make a pathway. If we got through the tangle of cars, we’d be fine. End of story.
The wind blew in our direction and we all about gagged. The smell of decay, death, and rot overwhelmed everything. I assumed that I would get used to the smells of the zombies and the new world, but right now I just couldn’t picture that happening.
I worked out about how fast the horde moved and estimated that the zombies would reach us in about fifteen minutes. I checked my gun one more time and listened to the sound of the zombies as they moved closer. Together, we pushed a silver Ford out of the main road. We scooted a red Escape over. The guys were able to start two more of the cars by hot-wiring them. They drove them out of our way.
I peered at the cleared pathway. “Yep. That’ll work.”
Dean nodded. “Great! Let’s get outta here!”
“Yeah, those moans are too close for comfort,” Lucas added.
Nick put an arm around Claire. “Great job, babe.”
“Nothing like an adrenaline rush to get you moving.” She smiled as she rushed to the Knight. Guess she was switching vehicles. It was constantly like musical vehicles. I jumped back into the Knight and Dean scrambled into the trailer. He was able to maneuver around the wreckage pretty good. I hit the gas and was so thankful everything had worked out. As the sounds of the horde died away, Asia pulled a blanket up a little tighter to her chin and shifted to a slightly more comfortable position.
I looked at her. “What I wouldn’t give for a soft mattress. That and a pillow.”
“Go ride in the trailer with Dean,” she said. “I can drive the Knight.”
“I’m fine. I’m tough.”
She chuckled. “Only the strongest survive, right?”
“Yeah. It’s do or die.”
“No safety nets in this world. We’re all starting over whether we like it or not.”
“It’s like all mankind has been reset by fate,” I said.
“Yep. The playing field has been leveled. It doesn't matter anymore where you came from or what color you are. The reset button has definitely been activated.”
“It doesn't matter if you flipped burgers or were the CEO of a Fortune 500 company; you are now at the bottom of the food chain.”
“You know what? The zombie apocalypse can really get you down if you think about it.”
“But fate is what you make of it.”
She yawned. “Absolutely.”
“Get some sleep,” I said.
She drifted off to sleep.
“What do you think, Dean?” Jackie asked. “About that old man.”
I could feel her eyes on me as we drove through the Ohio evening. It was dark outside, and only the light of our high beams from the Knight and the RV illuminated the freeway ahead.
I nodded my head back the way we had come, indicating the store-survivor and his crazy ‘pet’ zombies. “We’ve seen worse.” People did terrible things to each other when they thought that they had to, in order to survive. Just what had I done to get that serum and get my family back...?
Jackie sighed. “Do you think that’ll be us one day? Old and crazy, surrounded by zombies?”
I didn’t take my eyes off of the road – but I could tell that her eyes would be shadowed, concerned. She spoke in that husky hush that she used when she was really worried.
But why so worried now? It must be because we were nearing our final destination. With the end of it all in sight, she was starting to worry what might come after. Would we survive, and if so, what would our lives be like? Would we get happily ever after? Or would we be fighting for the rest of our lives? Would the zombies die out? Or would it keep infecting new people? Would the serum work? Would scientists be able to cure everyone? So many thoughts ran through my mind.
“No. We’ve got the serum, remember? Scientists are going to figure it out. It might take some trial and error, but they will get it straightened out.” I tried to sound reassuring, keeping my voice low so that we wouldn’t wake those behind us. Nick and Claire dozed, their arms wrapped around each other. Lucas and Kate had decided to move over to the RV for the night, to try and get some sleep as Val drove on behind me. At least some of us would get some sleep, I thought.
I shot Jackie a side-glance. “We’re never going to end up like that crazy old guy. We’ve got each other. You’ve got me.”
“Are you saying that you’ll stop me from going crazy?” Jackie’s voice brightened, even teasing me a little.
“Stop you? You’re already there. Aren’t you, babe? Because I know I am.” I shot back with a grin, to receive a playful slap on the shoulder.
“I’m not crazy. My reality is just different than yours,” she retorted with a laugh, before settling back into her seat.
It was strange. I kind of pitied the old man in some ways. He had stayed out here, all alone, protecting what he had from who knows what or who, going slightly mad in the process. We were all a bit tougher and stranger now since civilization collapsed. I thought back to the naïve guy that I had once been, so long ago – with my high marks and thoughts about college. The thought almost made me wince. How naïve I must have been back then. How unprepared for what was to come.
The darkness folded itself around us once more, lit only by the headlights of the vehicles. The freeway should shoot straight up to Sandusky, straight along the edge of the highlands on our right, all the way to the lake.
The Knight was out in front, as per usual. I didn’t push her to the speed that she could go, having already passed a couple of burnt out and crashed cars on the road. Things kept slowing us down. More road blocks with cars, telephone poles, or trees. We had to take side roads that Nick absolutely hated. And I understood why. It was dangerous going into overrun towns. We could easily get lost in the dark. So our journey took even longer than expected. Instead, we cruised at a little under fifty, crawling through the night.
“The wind’s picking up,” Jackie said beside me, and I nodded, seeing the saplings and young trees by the side of the road whipping back and forth. In fact, they were beginning to look pretty violent. I could feel the SUV starting to shake a little as strong gusts raced across the freeway at us. If we were doing fifty and they were hitting us that strongly, then how fast were the winds? Sixty? More?
No rain, though, my mind registered. Wind and no rain was either a really good or a really bad sign. It meant that the weather system would either pass by quickly or that it was strong enough to tear apart any cloud banks up there. Either way, it didn’t look great. I swallowed hard as the wind roared outside.
“Get Val on the radio,” I said. “I think we should pull in somewhere and wait it out. If we go into a ditch, we’ll never get this thing out.”
“Not without a tow truck. Maybe we could lay low just until the wind dies down.”
“Yeah. I agree.”
Jackie got the walkie-talkie and started relaying the information back to Val in the RV.
Jackie nodded. “Okay, we got the thumbs-up from them. Asia says we could go to one of the farmhouses nearby. It could be temporary shelter. What do you think?”
“Only if they aren’t already inhabited,” I said, my mind replacing the last word with ‘infected’.
“Yeah,” Jackie turned back to the radio. “Hey, Val, it’s the Knight. Dean’s worried about running into local zombies. Or more crazy people. Is there anywhere sheltered but not populated nearby?”
“Where else is there to go?” Val’s voice crackled. “The Ritz?”
“Just tell her to find somewhere,” I growled. “A layby will do. An old quarry. A dried up creek bed, whatever.”
The weather outside was looking to be getting worse, and one of the worst things about the apocalypse, apart from all of the zombies lurching around, was that there wasn’t radio stations and weather forecasts.
“Ugh,” I tried to peer up through the windshield to see the dark skies above, but to no avail. It must be past ten at night, and the sky was pitch black. There wasn’t a star in the sky. Sometimes, I missed the starry skies. I guess those twinkling lights always gave me a sense of hope and a better future. What was even more frustrating, was the fact that all of those weather satellites were probably still up there, as well as all of the antennas and the radio stations still out there, everywhere recording their data and broadcasting empty static.
But there was no one to listen to them. That was why we couldn’t just pull up a weather app on the phone or tune in the radio to hear where the alerts where. It was because all of the stations and receivers were staffed by zombies now or lying empty.
To think that all of society is just there, sitting there and waiting for us to rebuild… It was one of the main reasons that motivated me so much, I knew. We had a possible cure we needed to get into the right hands. Our world was drowning in disaster. This just might be the miracle everyone was waiting for.
“Val! Look out!” Asia’s terrified gasp, and I blinked, just in time to see a shower of sparks as an electricity pylon hit the freeway ahead of us, pulling thick cables down behind it. Rain started to pour down and beat on the windshield. The wipers could barely keep up.
“Brace!” I screamed, hoping that Lucas and Kate were at least strapped into their bunk, as I swerved the RV, feeling it dip on one side as I dragged on the steering wheel.
Thunk-thud! My question was answered by the sound of two bodies hitting the floor of the RV behind me, followed by swearing.
“Ow!” Kate complained.
“Sweet mother of…” That was Lucas. His army training always made his language a little more colorful than Kate’s.
Skcreeeeee- We skidded across the freeway. Up ahead of us, Dean in the SUV was nimbly swerving to the far side of the road, ahead of the whipping cables. I tried my best to control the RV as I also swerved.
There was a terrible grinding sound, and I felt the RV jerk under my feet. What had we hit? What had hit us? There were blue sparks scattering across the windshield, and then we were clear, dodging twigs and broken branches as they flew across the road. A hundred feet ahead of us, the Knight screeched into a halt. Its headlights turned back to see how we were doing, illuminating the debris that was being thrown across the road. We drove around the power lines, and cables blocked the way.
“Val, we can’t go through this,” Asia said.
“Uh, I know.” I slowed the RV to pull up near the SUV.
“We need to find shelter,” she said again as the walkie-talkie emitted a squeal of static between the two vehicles.
“Screw the walkie-talkies,” Lucas said. “Just roll down your window.”
I looked at Dean parked next to me, then put my window down. Outside the wind was picking up into a roar. Dean rolled down his window also and shouted something, but his words were snatched by the wind.
“I can’t hear you!” I said through exaggerated lips.
I nodded. “Okay.”
I concentrated on the rear lights of the Knight as it crawled its way through the wind. Lucas barked out a few orders and tried to take the wheel, but I pushed him away. I could drive just as well as he could. Kate tried to defuse the situation by ordering him to sit in the back with her. He finally listened, and I was glad to get him off my butt.
Asia stared out the window. “I can only see a couple of old farm buildings. It looks like there’s nothing here but silos and fields. Maybe our best bet is to get into a farmhouse until the wind dies down.”
“We’ll have to take it,” I said through gritted teeth.
Dean kept our convoy at a slow crawl, hovering around forty and no more, enough speed to swerve when a car door appeared out of the darkness from nowhere, banging the side of the RV and taking out one of our headlights.
I swore. Lucas and Kate were already suiting up in their body armor. “What are you two doing?” I called back to them.
“Getting prepared,” Lucas said, not wanting to admit what I felt. That we wouldn’t be able to last much longer on this road with the storm this fierce. We had to find cover quickly.
Trees bent over in the wind and debris flew everywhere. Lightning flashed like a strobe light, and the sounds of high winds and heavy rain made me cringe. This wasn’t good. I could barely see through the windshields, even though they were on full speed. The sky grew darker, and the winds reached furious levels.
Suddenly there was a brilliant flash of lightning and a crack of thunder. A great roar echoed like we were standing next to a roaring waterfall. Everything around us was in violent turmoil. Metal objects few over us. Something banged into the side of the vehicle with a loud thud. Other things flew over us like a big tool box and some yard decorations. I knew we needed to take shelter. Suddenly, a crowbar crashed through the window. Glass flew everywhere. The wind pounded.
“Check it out!” Asia said.
Looking into the rear-view mirror, I could see a dark funnel coming up from behind.
“Crap!” I shouted. “It’s a flipping tornado! We gotta find shelter fast!”
Looking back over my shoulder, I saw freight cars being thrown like toy trains from their tracks. The asphalt began to “peel” and lift up into the air. The tornado was completely leveling buildings, tossing trees and power poles like toothpicks.
“We have a twister behind us!” Jackie announced over the radio. “Looking for shelter.”
My heart raced a million miles a minute. “This is not good! We’ve gotta find a place right now! ”
Dean drove down the off-ramp from the freeway. I felt a sickening lurch in my stomach as the whole RV swerved to one side as it was shaken by gale winds, almost to the crash barrier itself, but we made it down. There was a mighty roar outside, and rain spattered the ground in sleets. The windshield wipers could barely keep up with the huge amounts of rain being dumped on it.
“Where’s Dean going?” Lucas asked, trying to peer past the windshield wipers.
“He’s looking for a safe place to go,” Kate said.
“Or anyplace!” Asia corrected.
Our two vehicles crept through a narrowing road as trees whipped back and forth along one side until we could go no further. There was a snarl of trees across the road, torn up from their roots. I watched as Dean pulled the SUV snug against the upended root ball of one, leaving space for me to do the same with the RV. Our vehicle resisted, skidding on the wet pavement. But I felt the wind lessen when we sat under the makeshift barricade.
A minute later, there was a rapping on the door. Lucas opened it, and Nick jumped in, closing the flimsy door behind him. He had his jacket over his head, but he was still soaked, even from the short jog over here. I cut the engine, feeling the whole vehicle wobble and shake around us.
“We’re blocked!” Nick said.
“What’s the plan?” I asked.
Dean peeked his head in, rain dripping down his face. “We gotta move! We were going to try to ride it out. But we can’t now…” Another shake of the vehicle showed all of us how unwise that would be.
“Screw the vehicles! Let’s find shelter,” Nick said.
We had cargo bags full of weapons, and another bag full of useful tools like short-spades, hand axes, extra bandages and a medical kit, a soldering set, mechanic’s tools. These were already packed and just had to be picked up. We abandoned most of our clothes, food, and fuel. I hoped we had something left in the morning. I put a gun in my holster and slung a rifle over my shoulder. I also grabbed a bat.
Nick opened the door, and a gust of wind hit us. I could see the swirling column to the east as my hair blew around in the wind.
Suddenly, a zombie snapped at me spastically like a rabid dog.
Milky-white eyes glared as death came at me. It wanted a fresh meal of my flesh. Not happening! Loose skin hung from the skeleton as jaws snapped. Its chest had been eaten. I didn’t see one organ, only bony ribs. Baring its sharp teeth, it tried to tear into me with its long, dead fingernails. I jumped back. The zombie lifted its lip in another snarl. It launched another attack, its fingernails swiping at my face. Swinging my bat back, I swung with all my might. I smacked its razor-sharp teeth down its throat. The zombie flew backward and walloped the ground. But it wasn’t done. It kicked and thrashed in the mud as it tried to claw at me. It wanted nothing more than to rip those nasty nails through my skin. I shuddered at the thought.
Before it even had a chance to get up, I delivered another crushing blow to its sunken nostrils, putting it out of its misery forever. Bone, blood, and brain matter splattered. Wincing, I wiped my face with my sleeve.
More zombies came toward us. It seemed like fighting the living dead never ended.
Dean shot me a side glance. “Get Albert Einstein! I got Cher. Nick, you get the Incredible Hulk.”
“The green one is all mine!” Nick spat.
Gripping my bat, I nodded.
The zombie reached out, and I backed up so I could get good momentum for my bat. The thing had frizzy, wild, white hair and leather skin. I stared into its flesh-devouring face as it gazed at me. Another step and it was in perfect proximity. Hurry up! Take one more step. With a hiss, it stepped forward.
Blood gushed. Its head cracked like an egg. Another oncoming zombie approached. It had wrinkled, black skin, and no hair. Its cheek had been bitten off. My breath quickened as it moaned and reached out its dead, black hands. I smashed its skull in one smooth, fluid motion. It crashed into a trembling heap.
The next one had a dislocated jaw, and I could see its ripped tongue and blood-stained teeth. It took a step closer, its brown-gray intestines dragging in the grass as it staggered toward me. It made rattling breaths. The poor thing was pathetic. Just as I was about to send it into next week, the wind grabbed it, and it flew off about ten feet.
A half-dozen whacks later, we’d eliminated them all.
Rain dripped down my face. I pushed the wet hair out of my face. My heart was pounding in my chest. I took a few steps back from the grisly scene. My guard had been down because of the tornado. No matter what’s going on, you can never let your guard down, not even for a second.
I stopped the car to momentarily talk to the others. We decided to look for shelter until the storm was over. As I stepped back inside, I noticed something under the seat. Once inside and moving I fished the object out. It was a half of a pack of cigarettes. I hadn’t had a smoke since I quit two years ago. I tossed the pack up on the dash and shifted into a higher gear. In my mirror, I caught a glimpse of the zombie I had killed and thought what the heck. I snatched the cigarettes off the dashboard.
The first drag set my throat on fire and made me cough, but the second was a little better, and the third was better still. The road ahead was relatively clear of cars and there wasn’t a zombie in sight, just wind and rain. I let my mind wander back to how this nightmare began.
Over a year earlier
Somewhere in the Atlantic
The air was damp and cold as I stood at the bow of the ship and looked out over the ocean. I had always hated sea travel, and this time didn’t make any difference. The fact that we had lost contact with headquarters didn’t make me feel any better, but I knew we were close to New Orleans, and that much closer to home.
Lucas stepped up beside me and rested his hands on the railing. He had a smirk on his face like he always did. I’d take five of him over a hundred regular soldiers, I thought. Lucas waved a hand over the sea and began to speak in a pirate voice.
“The sea. She be calm on this night, but she be a finicky lover. Finicky indeed. One moment she be as calm as can be. The next she be raging and young trying to kill ye.”
“Shut up, Ahab.”
“They still can’t reach headquarters, but Gary thinks that we shouldn’t be more than a few miles from port. He said that it’s hard to tell with all the satellites going crazy.”
“Good. I’ll be glad to get my feet on dry land.”
“Aye. It will be good for ye won’t it, landlubber. I can see that ye are a bit green around the gills with the rocking of the...land ho!”
I turned away from Lucas, and sure enough, I could just make out the outline of New Orleans. It was hard to tell against the night sky, but I thought I saw smoke. It seemed to obscure the stars near the top of the buildings.
Five minutes later, I was sure it was smoke. I could smell it in the air along with a smell that I hoped I was imagining. I hadn’t smelt anything like it since Afghanistan. It was a smell that I knew well, but hated all the same. Death.
At dawn, none of the men on the boat were prepared for what we encountered when we hit land. There wasn’t a soul around. No cars, no delivery trucks, no boats pulling in or out of the harbor, no planes overhead.
It looked like the city had been bombed and people had fled for their life. Were we being attacked?
“Look!” Lucas said, pointing. “I just spotted someone. Over there.”
A man with blood covering his shirt and the lower half of his face stepped from behind a building and charged the boat.
“He’s carrying a human leg!” one of the soldiers shouted.
“Dude!” another shouted.
“What a sicko!” another said.
Ted grabbed a pair of binoculars and looked out. “I see the dead woman missing a leg.”
“He killed some innocent woman?” one of the men said in shock.
“Yep. We’ve got a psychopath on our hands. And I hate to tell you this. But there’s a pile of dead people over there. He’s killed more than one!”
Swallowing hard, I grabbed the binoculars and glanced at the pile of dead bodies. I was mortified. This nut killed at least three other women. I raised my rifle and shouted for the man to halt, but he didn’t seem to acknowledge the words. I flipped off the safety and once more yelled for the man to stop or he would be fired upon.
Hissing, the man kept coming.
The report of the gun was loud in the silent harbor. The bullet struck the man in the chest dead center and should have put him down, but he shrugged the shot off like it was nothing. He continued to walk toward us.
“Is he on drugs?” Lucas asked. He stepped up beside me and shouldered his own rifle. He shot the man through the chest again. This time, the man stumbled slightly, but still didn’t go down. “How the heck is he not going down?”
“I’ll put him down,” I said.
I took careful aim and shot the man between the eyes just as he stepped onto the ramp board to the ship. The bloodied man’s head snapped back from the force of the bullet, and he collapsed on the ramp. Before anyone could check the body, it rolled off the ramp and into the water.
“And that’s how it’s done,” Lucas said.
The men were baffled.
“We need to get to Grey Matter Headquarters and figure out what the heck is going on,” I told the men. “Get your stuff together, only essentials, double time.”
Moments later, the six of us made our way into the burning and abandoned city. The silence was so complete that the sound of the burning buildings could be heard from blocks away.
“Where is everyone?” one of the men asked.
“Now that’s the million dollar question,” Lucas said.
“The city was obviously attacked,” another said.
Another glanced around. “I think everyone was evacuated.”
I listened intently to the crackling fires all around us. Black smoke billowed all around. It was like walking through a ghost town. The New Orleans headquarters of Grey Matter Securities was only a couple of blocks from the harbor. We rounded the final turn that would take us to the office when moans echoed in the air. We came face to face with a horde of at least fifty people. They were covered in blood and looked crazed like the man that had tried to attack them earlier.
“Were they hurt?” Tommy asked. “Maybe a building fell on top of them.”
“They’ll need medical attention,” another said. “We’ll need to radio this in.”
Lucas stared intently. “I think something’s wrong with them.”
They snarled like rabid animals and I saw they were tearing something apart. An animal? No way. And that’s when I noticed they were ripping apart actual humans. My heart clenched. There was nothing we could do. The people were already dead. I just wished we would’ve gotten here a few minutes earlier. Maybe we could have helped them. The men let out a chorus of curses as they realized what was going on. Lifting my gun, I aimed at the freaks. I wanted to shoot every single one of those sociopaths.
“They’re cannibals,” I whispered.
Lucas came up next to me. “We can’t help those people,” he said. “You know that. And there’s not enough of us to take on that crazy group. We need backup. Let’s just ease on out of here and get some help.”
Was there an airborne virus? Were droplets of pathogens expelled into the air? Was this a terrorist attack? Did our government level the city to contain the pathogen? Biological warfare? Was a biological weapon released? Were toxins or infectious agents released? Should we be walking through here without masks?
I put up my hand to halt the men. I motioned for them to back up as slowly and as quietly as we could. Spooking this group of crazed cannibals could be our downfall. We were almost out of sight when one of the men, I never will know which one, kicked a glass bottle and sent it clattering down the street.
The crazed people spun around as a unit. I’d never seen anything like it. Their eyes fixed on me and my team. With snarls and growls that sounded nothing like humans, they charged forward en masse. I screamed for our team to open fire.
The men were trained to shoot at the body, but no matter how many rounds they put into the oncoming people, they wouldn’t go down.
“Head shots!” I shouted. “It took down the first one we encountered!”
Right away, I saw that there was no way we were going to stop the horde of people before they reached us. What the heck was happening? What kind of nightmare was this?
“Down the alley!” I bellowed.
We charged past the trash cans when another group of crazy people came at us. Shots rang out as we fired. So much chaos ensued that everyone went different ways and down other alleys.
A man dressed like a policeman reached for me. He wasn’t in his right mind, just like the other freaks we’d come across. His eyes were white and he wore a blank stare. He snapped his jaws as blood dripped down his face. I took aim and fired off a shot right between his eyes.
“This way!” Lucas said, tugging my arm.
We took off to the left and ran down another alley. More crazy people stumbled toward us with loud moans. We didn’t have a chance down here. These people were everywhere! I looked for a way out and found a way in the form of a fire escape to my left. I fired twice more and took down two of the crazed humans.
“Up the fire escape!” I shouted.
I leapt high into the air. The fire escape was at least ten feet off the ground, but I caught it with the tips of my fingers. I rode it down and landed beside Lucas. Lucas was on his knees firing into the crowd. I looked around for the rest of my men, but I couldn’t find them. I heard screams and my heart thundered. I wondered for one brief moment if I could get us out.
“Johnson!” Lucas yelled, waving his hands. “Over here!”
“They bit me!” he shouted, holding his arm.
Eyes wide, he ran toward us. Aiming carefully, I shot a few crazed people behind him. He stumbled over a pot hole in the road. Taking full advantage, a woman with milky white eyes jumped on him.
“No!” I shouted.
I aimed and shot at her, but ten more people jumped on my friend. They were like sharks in a feeding frenzy. I fired off a round, but there were far too many. Johnson screamed as the people bit deeply into his flesh.
“Shoot me!” he shouted in pure agony.
Lucas aimed and shot Johnson so he wouldn’t feel the teeth ripping through his skin. When the crazy people focused their attention on us again, I grabbed Lucas by the shoulder and forced him up the ladder.
“We have to get them out, Nick!” Lucas yelled and tried to pull away.
“We can’t!” I pulled him onto the platform and yanked the ladder up behind them. “We don’t have a chance down there! And maybe the others got away. We have to go! Now!”
“We can’t leave them!” Lucas yelled.
I looked into his eyes. “We don’t know where they went. They’re smart. I’m sure they’ll find a way out like we did. But going back down there is a death sentence. Do you understand? We don’t even know what we’re up against. So let’s keep moving.”
“What’s happening? What are those things?”
“I don’t know. But they sure didn’t look human.”
Lucas shook his head. “What’s been unleashed down there? They’re some kind of cannibal monsters! And they’re just roaming the city killing anybody they see.”
“I know. We’ve got to take them out. But first, let’s find out what’s going on.”
Lucas was still in a daze. “Whatever those things are…they’re ruling this city now.”
Later, when I found out what was going on, I was in complete and utter disbelief. I didn’t believe in the end of the world. But here it was… I headed straight back to my parents’ house. I flew them and Dean to my grandmother’s island.
I snapped back into reality. The storm was getting worse. There was a farmhouse not too far away. I parked. The door to the RV was wrenched from my hands, flinging itself back against the body of the vehicle, and I felt the wind grab me and almost drag me off of my feet, out of the RV.
“Watch out!” I shouted as I skidded along the floor of the road, my hands grabbing at the branches of the torn-down trees. Behind me there was a grunt as Lucas jumped from the RV, holding onto Kate as he sought to get over to the downed tree beside me.
Sckreeee- A horrible squeal as I saw the RV start to push away from the trees, it was taller than the Knight, the wind could get a stronger grip. I saw Asia’s worried face appear in the doorway as Lucas and Kate joined me, hunkered under the tree.
“Come on!” I gestured, and Asia jumped down. For a moment, in mid-fall I saw her blow sideways a good three feet in the gusts of the wind, before rolling on the ground, crawling and trying to stand up.
That left only Val, who had already run from the RV door, reaching to grab onto Lucas’s outstretched arm, before being pulled into the relative safety. Another squeal, as the RV was pushed back another couple of feet. The sound of rattling and smashing as the wind got inside it.
“No, no, no!” I realized I had been muttering under my breath. If we lost the vehicles, we would be royally screwed big time.
But we had no choice. I pointed to the near side of the road where a white house sat, built of strong wooden panels and corrugated iron. It had already lost its weathervanes and all of the electrical wires to it, but the structure itself looked pretty weak. On the far side of the road, was the red barn. I thought that house was probably more secure.
“This way!” I said, my words disappearing as soon as they were out of my mouth.
Strong hands gripped my shoulders. Lucas on one side, Val on the other. On the other side of Lucas, I saw Asia, then Kate. We were forming a human chain as we pushed across the road, fighting for every step.
Katha-BOOM! We were almost there, almost to the wooden door when a sound like a mountain being torn asunder pulsed through our chests. Even the torn and flattened grass underneath us shook. For a second, the whole night was illuminated by a gigantic flash of lightening. It was so sudden and so clear that it etched itself upon my retinas: a bolt of brilliant white. I could see two buildings on both sides of the road. The skies were low, a churning blanket of ugly gray and dirty clouds. In the distance, a column of black, writhing air headed this way.
“There! The farmhouse!” I shouted, reaching for the hand of the person behind me. I saw Dean, with Jackie and Claire forming another human chain, just a few feet away on the other side of the tree that blocked the road.
I pointed, shouted, but even I couldn’t hear my own voice. Everything was drowned out. Dean had the right idea though; he was pulling himself and the others along the side of the debris toward the house.
It was so dark. That was the strange thing about tornadoes. It wasn’t just the noise and the rain, but it was the darkness as if the air itself was being rent asunder. My clothes felt like they were in danger of being torn from my body, and every time I lifted a foot I moved almost a foot in the direction of the gust.
Fingers squeezed around my arm. I thought it was just one of the others beside me.
End of sample.