Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sneak Peek Eternal Flame

Eternal Flame - Book 6 
Sneak Peek

Eternal Flame

Book 6 of The Ruby Ring Saga
Chrissy Peebles

Copyright © 2014 by Chrissy Peebles
Edited by: Autumn J. Conley
Cover Art: Cora Graphics 

 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. 


(The formatting is a little off with gaps. I have no idea why. Every time I fix it, they come back. LOL.)

Chapter 1

      I was in complete awe, and a tear of utter gratefulness dripped down my face. I couldn’t believe I was holding my baby in my arms. I smiled as my eyes met his little blue ones. The weight of the world seemed to disappear around me as I peered lovingly down at his tiny face, his chubby cheeks, and his sweet, tiny lips. I’d known what he was going to look like from my visions, but nothing could’ve have prepared me for the very first moment I laid eyes on him.                    Overwhelming gratitude and intense happiness flooded my soul, right to my core, and if there had ever been a case of love at first sight, that was it. “I will cherish you forever, my little one,” I whispered as I ran my finger playfully through his soft, black curls.
     “He’s perfect,” Victor said.
     “I couldn’t agree more,” I said with a sniffle, wiping the tear from my cheek.
     Victor was so overcome with emotion, staring at his beloved son as if he was the greatest thing he’d ever seen. I knew he was going to be a great father.
     I smiled, then touched my lover’s cheek. “Would you like to hold Alexander?”
     Smiling, he nodded. He slid his strong hands under the baby’s small head and body and gently picked him up. “I love you so much son,” he said, staring into our child’s blue eyes. “I don’t deserve you though. You’re beautiful in every way, far more like your mother than your father. My child, I have made so many mistakes along the way, but I swear to be a better man for you, from now on, the father you deserve. Your mama says every day is another chance to change our lives, and I’m trying, son. I swear to you that things will be different for your generation, for you and for my grandchildren. I vow to give to you all that my own father failed to give me. You and your mother are the light of my life, and I’ll love you forever.”
     Another tear fell down my face as Victor choked up, his stubbled chin glistening with tears of his own. After another moment of precious father/son bonding, Victor placed little Alexander snugly into my waiting arms.
     “What is that?” he suddenly said, spotting a plane flying toward the island.
     My heart raced. “I don’t know, but I’ll wait here, with the baby, while you check it out,” I said.
     Life had a way of really throwing me for a loop. I never would have expected to give birth to my baby on a strange and mysterious island. I thought I’d be in a hospital room, with Liz and my mom cheering me on through the labor pains, but life had other plans for me and Alexander.
     I glanced down at my precious baby, the product of mine and Victor’s love. I had no idea how he survived being in my womb, with that surge of powerful energy coursing through his developing little body. Certainly, it would have killed any other child. But now he was healthy, a living and breathing miracle, and I knew my son was destined for something special. The fact that he was even there, in my arms, against all odds was all the proof I needed that my son was the child of the spoken prophecy.
     That prophecy declared that Alexander would choose the path of his mother or that of his father. I planned to do everything in my power to make sure Alexander would take after my bloodline. Victor was a changed man, and he had given up everything to be with me, including his great and vast kingdom of Tastia. He now had a clean slate, and we vowed to raise our son in the path of integrity, goodness, morality, honesty, and purity. We both knew how much Ethano wanted our son so he could corrupt him and steer him onto the path of evil, but I swore I would never let that happen.
     Alexander slept in my arms as I gently rocked him. I wasn’t even supposed to be alive to see my beautiful son all swaddled up in Victor’s shirt, but the eternal bloom had saved my life. I was alive to watch his cute, bottom lip quiver in the most adorable way, and it was the most incredible moment of my life, a moment that had almost been stolen from me countless times. I fell more in love with Alexander every second I held him. He had a head full of dark hair and pretty blue eyes like his daddy’s. He was nothing less than perfect, so small and fragile, yet so beautiful, handsome, and alert.
     I was overwhelmed with a sense of love and joy and a burning maternal desire to protect him at all costs. It was such a tense, powerful emotion that it consumed me. In that special moment, when we locked eyes, we bonded in a way I knew could ever be broken, even if it was tested. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that motherhood was a sacred, special club, and I felt blessed to be part of it. I refused to waste that opportunity, and I had every intention of being the best mother I could be.
     “Sarah!” Victor suddenly called, jolting me out of my reverie.
     I glanced up as he broke through a cluster of pink cherry blossoms. He’d been gone for longer than I realized, and I was happy to see him. I was so happy to know we were going home, all three of us, but the look on Victor’s face didn’t mirror my glee. When I saw his lips press into a grim line, I knew something was terribly wrong, and I swallowed hard. “What is it?” I asked, worry spreading across my face. “What’s happening, Victor?”
     He bolted over to me. “We must go!” he said frantically.
     “Why? Was that Jackson’s men, looking for us?” I asked, confused and frightened, pulling Alexander tightly up against me.
     “No.” His gaze narrowed. “It’s the blue-ringed immortals.”
     I gasped. I held my baby close as I contemplated what our best move would be. Should we run? Hide? I wondered nervously, my mind engulfed in panic.            “Wh-what do they want?” I stuttered.
     “Obviously, they are after us, Sarah. As I said, we must go.”
     “Go where and do what? Jump into the ocean and swim with a newborn?”
     “All I know is that we need to get off this island.”
     “Wherever we go, I’m sure they’ll be waiting for us.”
     “You needn’t worry. If they confront us, I will protect you,” he said.
     I looked at my king and wanted to believe him, but I knew it was more than he could handle on his own. The blue-ringed immortals were far more powerful than us, and fighting them would mean breaking White Coyote’s sacred rules.         “You can’t fight them,” I said, shaking my head. “We have to follow the rules of the island.”
     “Why? They certainly will not,” he said.
     “I know they won’t play fair, but that’ll be their downfall. It’ll get them kicked off the island by White Coyote.”
     He said nothing, but the serious look on his face had me worried. I knew he’d die, if need be, fighting to protect us.
     “Look, Victor, I know you were born with the heart of a warrior, but you can’t harm them. If you do, we’ll lose everything we came for. The island will not tolerate their presence here. Just follow their laws and let the island handle things. No violence.”
     He softly touched my face. “You are so wise, my Queen. I know I sometimes fail to give things the proper consideration. We must find White Coyote and seek his protection.”
     I blew out a breath, a sigh of relief. “I feel so guilty for luring the immortals to the island. The chief helped us, and this is how we repay him and his people.”
     He sighed deeply, betraying his own regret. “We had no malicious intent,” he said.
     “I know,” I whispered.
     I held Alexander as close as I could to my body, and we walked briskly through the cherry blossom meadow. We reached the gates and pushed them open with a squeak, and I anxiously looked around in all directions, hoping we wouldn’t be ambushed.
     “Looks like the coast is clear,” I said. “Let’s find White Coyote. He’ll know what to do and how to get rid of them.”
     “The immortals have no idea of what they’re up against. White Coyote’s powers are extraordinary.”
     Alexander began to cry, and I realized he was sensing his mother’s fear and uneasiness. I needed to calm down and think rationally, because panic would do none of us any good. I stared at the orchids growing amidst the huge rocks. The plants were at least fourteen feet long, with purple petals stretching two feet across. I breathed in through my nose slowly, then exhaled slowly.
     “This way,” Victor said, motioning.
As we quickly trekked through a copse of giant, towering ferns and other jungle plants, our senses were on high alert. My baby began to calm down as we walked.
     “We’re being tracked,” Victor said.
     “How do you know?”
     “I’m immortal, my Queen.”
     “But we’re not supposed to use our powers.”
     “I’m not. ‘Tis only my natural senses.”
     I swallowed hard as droplets of sweat rolled down my face. “My energies are still realigning themselves. I can’t get a fix on them, can’t hear their footsteps.          How close are they to—”

Chapter 2

     I had my answer immediately when trees began falling like matchsticks not very far away. Smoke and fire erupted all around us, and I gasped. We seemed to be suddenly enveloped by a warzone, some sort of apocalyptic nightmare, and I didn’t know if we could even get back to White Coyote’s camp before the blue-ringed immortals would reach us. I had never been so terrified in my life, especially because my life was not the only one I now had to protect. “Let’s go!”      I whispered.
     I covered Alexander’s head with my hand, and we crashed through dozens of bushes dotted with red, white, and pink poinsettias. When Victor stopped to get a make on where our enemy was, I frantically glanced around. I didn’t see any enemies; the only living things around seemed to be hummingbirds and butterflies, lazily drinking nectar from colorful, paddle-shaped petals.
     Victor pointed to a stream, hoping if we ran through it, it would conceal our scent from the immortals. We headed upstream in a hurry, then marched our sloshy feet through the jungle overgrowth. I held my newborn close, my heart racing.
     Suddenly, Victor stopped.
     I blinked. “What?”
     “Hide here!” he said. “I will throw them off our trail.”
     “No powers!” I reminded him.
     “Yes, Sarah. I am well aware.” He held his hand out. “Watch your step.”
     I climbed out of the muddy stream and onto a bed of brightly colored flowers, a rainbow of reds, oranges, purples, and blues. The plants speckled the ground, rocks, and even other plants. Had we not been running for our lives, it would have been a beautiful place. I tried to keep my footing on the slick, mossy surface as Victor led me to the mouth of a cave. I peeked inside and saw that it was dark but mostly empty, other than a few orange-spotted salamanders scaling the moist walls. I had never been a fan of creepy-crawlies, but at the moment, they were the least of my worries.
     “Stay here,” he instructed.
     I kissed his lips. “Victor, you stay too. Don’t leave us. We can just wait it out, and White Coyote will—”
     He cupped my cheek. “I’ll be back soon, my love.” Then, just like that, he darted away, through the thick vegetation.
     My heart sank as I watched him go, even though I knew he would do everything in his power to protect his wife and child. Biting my lip hard, I crept deep into the cave. Minutes ticked by. I tried not to panic, and I was certain my      Victor would come back unscathed. I concentrated on the beautiful birdsongs, the chirping of insects, and the croaking of frogs, a natural choir echoing in my ears from every direction.
     Suddenly, Alexander let out a small cry.
     I started to rock him. “Don’t worry. Your daddy will be back any minute.”
     “Your mother tells you no lies, my son,” Victor’s deep voice echoed through the cave.
     “Victor!” I said, my heart skipping a beat as I leapt into his arms, where I felt safe.
     “They are no longer on our trail,” he said proudly.
     “No wonder they call you Victor,” I said, grinning. “You always seem to have a few tricks up your royal sleeves.”
     He smiled back at me, his white teeth glimmering in the darkness of the cave.      “We should wait here. White Coyote will know strangers have intruded, and he will send reinforcements.”
     Alexander started to cry again.
     I rocked him, gently patting his back. “There, there. Everything is going to be okay…isn’t it?” I looked up at Victor, my rock. I needed his comfort and encouragement.
     He softly kissed me, then our son. “I promise I won’t let anything happen to you or Alexander.”
     Tears welled up in my eyes. I had a perfect little family, and I was alive to take care of Alexander, to raise him to be a shining star in all the darkness of the world. Still, I was irked that I’d survived a death sentence only to be pursued by enemies again. The blue-ringed immortals had stormed the island, and I wondered why. Do they need me for more experiments? Why would they come all the way to the island to hunt me down? Why wouldn’t they just wait for us to get back? I knew there had to be more to it, some bigger agenda or motive, and the thought drove me about mad. They were coming for us, one way or another, for whatever reason, and I knew no amount of crying or begging was going to change that.
     I couldn’t bear the thought of immortals ripping our happy family apart. We’d worked so hard to find a way for me to live so we could all be together, and now all of that was threatened. On top of that, a deep guilt tore at me. The immortals were there, invaders on a peaceful paradise, because of me. My stomach clenched at the thought of them hurting White Coyote or any of his clan, and the pain gripping me was far stronger than labor had been.
     “Worrying will not help, my love,” Victor said, noticing the distressed look on my face. “If you do not stop, I fear you’ll bite a hole through those luscious lips of yours.”
     “I can’t help it. What if they found out about the prophecy, and they’re coming to claim Alexander?” I shook my head. “No! I won’t let them steal my little boy away from me.”
     “And neither will I. But if they are here because of Alexander, how do you think they found out about him?” he asked.
     “Who knows? Maybe they tortured Dr. Meyers or Jackson, because he seemed to know a lot. I think Dr. Meyers tells him everything.”
     “She trusts him.”
     “Yeah…maybe a little too much.”
     “No one will lay a hand on my son,” Victor said sternly. .
     “Even if we were allowed to fight, what good would it do? The blue-ringed immortals can drain us of our powers. We’re no match against them.”
     He gripped my shaking hand. “Try to stay calm, my dear.”
     I squeezed his fingers tightly. “I can’t, Victor. We need to get off this island, as far away from those immortals as we can get.”
     He pulled me close, into a comforting embrace.
     “I’m scared,” I admitted. “I’m in a nightmare I can’t wake up from.”
     “All will be well, Sarah,” he said.
     I pondered his words and tried to believe him, but my hands still would not stop shaking. I was running for my life with a sleeping newborn in my arms. It was no longer just the two of us against the world; now, we had a baby who depended on us. I breathed deeply and looked into Victor’s gorgeous eyes.                “What made us think a baby would even fit into our dangerous lives? He’s already in danger because of me. He’s only hours old, and we’re on the run from our enemy. What kind of mother does that make me?”
     He touched my face ever so softly, as if to reassure me everything was going to be okay.
     “My life now revolves around this tiny, helpless bundle of joy, and he needs me,” I continued. “I’m already off to a horrible start.”
     “There have been unavoidable complications, but that does not mean we are poor parents,” Victor said. “The very fact that Alexander is alive is a testament to our love for him and for each other. Now, we will do all we can, everything in our power, to keep this family safe and intact. Any child should be so lucky to have you for a mother, my Queen.”
     “I guess,” I whispered. “I’m so hormonal and crazy right now.”
     “There will be ups and downs, Sarah,” Victor said.
     “I know, but I look down at this beautiful boy, and I wonder if I’m good enough for him.”
     “Good enough? Of course you are…and more.”
     I stared down at my angel’s face. “I knew having a baby would change things, have some impact on my life, but he’s already the center of my universe. The strange thing is that I don’t mind one little tiny bit.”
     “Nor do I. I’ve wanted a child for hundreds of years, but I had to wait for the perfect moment…and the perfect woman to bear him.”
     Alexander wrapped his fingers around one of mine and began to coo, as if basking in the love of his parents right there in that dark cavern.
     “I can’t believe we created this little being,” I said in awe, smiling up at his father.
     Victor softly stroked our baby’s face. “There is something very special about creating a life together.”
     “Yes, and we’ll take care of this little life as a team. We’ll share a bond like never before, love each other in a whole new way.”
     “Definitely, my love. We have transitioned from a couple to a family. The happiness and love Alexander has already brought into my life is beyond measure.”
     “I’m as anxious as any first-time mother would be, I guess. I mean, before, my world revolved around you, work, and trying to stay alive.”
     “You have taken on the role of a lifetime, Sarah, and I am flattered by the opportunity to share this time with you.”
     “You are the sweetest,” I said. “I couldn’t ask for a better husband.”
     “And I could not have asked for a better wife. You’re everything I have dreamt of through so many long, lonely eras. You are all of that and more.”
     I kissed his lips softly, then looked at him with a serious expression.                   “Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if Ethano never would have interfered in our lives.”
     “I imagine we would still be at the castle.”
     “Can you show me?” I asked. “Can you put us in your dream state, or is that too dangerous right now?”
     “I can, but we mustn’t tarry there for long.”
     “Will you still be able to hear them if they come?”
     “From a mile away.”
     I gripped his hand. “I know the drill.” I then closed my eyes and concentrated, ready to let him take control.
     When I opened my eyes, we were sitting in the garden, back at the castle. A cool breeze blew through my hair, and a sweet fragrance from all the colorful blooms drifted all around us. Alexander was nestled in my arms, swaddled in white linens. Victor was dressed majestically, like a real king, and my garb consisted of a red and white silk gown with a sweetheart neckline.
     Victor brushed his lips softly across mine.
     “Gosh. This is beautiful,” I said. “I feel like I belong here.”
     “Do you really?” he asked.
     “Yes. Lately, I’ve been living a life I thought I couldn’t leave behind, but I know now that I can. This is your world, Victor, and you were born to rule this kingdom. It’s what you were meant to do. You have given up so much for me, but something about this place feels right, feels like…home. Our life has changed in wonderful, unexpected ways, and I couldn’t be happier. I think our son would be happy here, maybe safer here. I want Alexander to have a life in this beautiful world. I want to watch him play in this very garden and chase butterflies in the summer. I want this fairytale to be his reality.”
     “Does this mean you wish to go back?” he asked.
     I smiled and stared up into his twinkling eyes, like sapphires illuminating the darkness. “Yes. We need to take back your kingdom and kick Ethano out. We need to make him pay for what he’s put us through. The castle is our home. It’s Alexander’s home and his legacy, and we should raise him there.”
     “Children are very impressionable. Wherever we rear the boy, he will not want to leave the world he grows up in, or he will always suffer from homesickness.”
     “I can live without all the fancy technology, and I’m pretty sure I can still boil water without a microwave. A simple life with you and Alexander is all I want. I know we can all be happy in that kind of life, as long as we have each other.”
     “That is all I have ever wanted,” he said. “I never wanted anything more than a life in the castle, ruling over Tastia, surrounded by the people I love.”
     “I could embrace the simple life. I know that now, and I’m so sorry it took me so long to figure it out.”
     Life in Tastia wouldn’t really be simple, because we would be a king and queen, living in a castle, a life of luxury. We were royalty and would be entitled and given everything such esteemed positions could offer. Still, without a cell phone, my computer, and all the modern-day conveniences I was accustomed to, it seemed like a simple life to me. I wouldn’t be cruising down the highway with the windows down and the stereo blasting anymore; in a wagon or carriage, the best I could expect was trotting along with the occasional pit stop for the horsepower to take a potty break.
     “Having the choice to live my life as I see fit is the greatest freedom I’ll ever have. Thank you for letting me come to this decision myself, Victor, for giving me the time I needed instead of forcing me into it.”
     “You’re a very independent woman, and I will never force you in to anything. I think we both know that, dear. It swells my heart just to hear you say you wish to come back to my world, so we can reign there together, and you and Alexander will have the best that world has to offer. Still, it may not be an easy quest to return to our rightful place.”
     “Don’t you worry about that, Your Highness. We’ll get your kingdom back.      We’re like a train that can’t be stopped.”
     “I love your spirit so, my Queen. Giving up my kingdom was the hardest thing I ever did, but I would do it all over again to make you happy.”
     I stared into his eyes. Tears welled up in mine, and I couldn’t speak. His words touched my heart, and I still could not believe he was mine.
     He cupped my face. “I love you,” he said.
     “I love you too. Together, we’ll make it through the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
     “Speaking of the ugly, I believe it is best to tell you everything. I do not wish there to be secrets lurking between us.”
     “Secrets?” I asked, a bit worried that he was going to confess something to me about some well-endowed handmaiden flashing her petticoats at him or something.
     “You must know about Ethano and how our feud started.”
      I touched his lips, feeling a bit relieved. “I’m happy that you are ready to confide in me, but let’s not ruin this wonderful moment, our Alexander’s birthday, with tales of that jerk. Tell me when we get back.”
     “That I will, Sarah. I want to tell you…everything.”
     It meant so much to me that he was finally ready to open up to me, to answer so many of my questions. I was dying to know the truth, the whole story, but for the moment, I wanted to bask in the joy of our son rather than going over gloomy details from his past.
     A chill shot down my spine when the twig broke, and I wondered if the immortals had found us after all. I squeezed my son even closer to me, ready to protect him at all costs.
     Victor sprang up and motioned for me to be still.
     My chest tightened, and I held my breath.

End of sample.

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Eternal Flame - Book 6 in The Ruby Ring Raga has been released.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Sneak Peek Of Impact (The Zombie Chronicles - book 8)

The Zombie Chronicles
Impact – Book 8


Chapter 1

The next morning, we headed back to the demolished building. Max’s men rode behind us, as backup. Jackie insisted on coming because she knew the layout of the hospital. As much as we hated bringing her along just after getting her back safely, we knew we needed her, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
The scientists were still desperately looking for a cure, a cure we held in our very hands. It wasn’t without flaw, but Charlie had figured out a way to make it work. That was why we needed his notes so badly. Sure, he was a lunatic, a mad scientist if there ever was one, but he was also brilliant, and his research had paid off. It still had to be sorted out, but we were confident that any other competent scientist could make sense of it. Those precious formulas and equations, all those notes, were the key to getting our world back to normal, and we had to do whatever it took to implement them into a real solution.
Jackie smiled as I squeezed her hand. I couldn’t have been happier if I’d have tried. Having her there with me again made me feel alive. I was alive, and so was she. And, even better than that, there really was a miracle cure to the zombie plague.
After feeling hopeless for so long, it was almost hard to wrap my mind around the fact that our world might just have a chance after all. Maybe in a few years, we’ll all lead normal lives again. Sometimes I wondered if I ever should have left the island in the first place, but if I hadn’t, we never would have found the cure. That was what it took for us to have a chance to save the world; all things considered, I would have done it all over again.
I still couldn’t believe I was sitting next to Jackie. It almost seemed like a dream. She didn’t remember much in her zombie state, and I was glad for that. So far, she didn’t seem to be suffering any horrible side effects. We all waited on her hand and foot, and she cried when we told her how hard we’d all hunted for her. Claire was a hot mess and carried a tissue box with her from room to room, crying happy tears that wouldn’t stop. We were all so happy to see Jackie. I held her all night, and it seemed as if nothing had changed between us, as if we’d never really been apart at all. We just picked up from where we had left off. It was such an emotional reunion, and I knew I would never love any other girl more than I loved my Jackie.
“Are you sure you’re up to this?” I asked her.
“We’ve been through worse, Dean.”
“Can you believe we’ve almost licked this thing?” Lucas said.
Nick shot him a side glance. “And you said the only cure was a bullet or axe in the brain.”
“At this point, it still is,” Claire retorted. “Who knows how long it will take the scientists to figure it all out?”
Nick parked near the hospital, and we all hopped out. It was a bit eerie, considering our history in that place: our last battle with Z, the hybrids, and me thinking Charlie had injected me with a deadly disease.
Within minutes, everyone was organized and split into teams that walked off in different directions to secure the perimeter. Team Six came with us, just in case we encountered any zombie run-ins. I didn’t know the team members too well, but I knew Rex, Nancy, and Buddy. Buddy stuck out like a sore thumb because he always complained.
Scanning ahead, I pointed my rifle. I didn’t see any signs of zombies or hybrids. The hospital looked like some sort of ancient ruins, as if a bomb had been dropped on it. Only part of it was still standing, and even that section was on the verge of collapse. Rubble and bricks spilled onto the sidewalk and cracked asphalt of the parking lot. I hated the idea of going back in there, but I bravely stepped over the cement blocks, twisted metal, and rocks. We squeezed through two beams and a pile of debris.
“Wait,” Buddy said. “Max said not to go in.”
“Suit yourself,” Nick responded.
Nancy cleared her throat, then tapped on Nick’s shoulder. “Why can’t you wait?”
“Why? Because Max might not be back for hours, and this building could collapse by then. We need to act now.”
Lucas nodded. “I agree. We’re not twisting anybody’s arm. If you don’t wanna come, then don’t. It’s every man…er, and or every woman…for himself. Our small group is more than willing to go.”
Nancy looked at Buddy and Rex, then the other men. “Should we proceed?”
“Of course we should,” Rex said. “We’ve gotta get those notes before this building collapses.”
They muttered among themselves. Some of the men wanted to leave, but others wished to keep going. I ignored them. As far as I was concerned, if they weren’t willing to risk their lives like we were, they could shut up and go back. 
Jackie pointed her pistol straight ahead and led the way. We all shined our flashlights inside, illuminating the darkness with our beams. Glass crunched beneath my boots with every step I took. I’d just gotten Jackie back, and we were taking her back to the place where she’d been held hostage for so long. I wasn’t sure how she felt about it, but her courage was inspiring to me.
Max wanted us to scout out the area, then meet up with him later. We were obviously complying with his orders, but I couldn’t believe his team decided to follow us in. I helped Jackie over some cracked slabs and broken cinderblock. The ceiling suddenly shifted, showering all of us with white dust and plaster, and we all erupted in a chorus of coughs.
“This is suicide!” one of the men shouted. “This place ain’t safe!”
“Yeah, whose brilliant idea was this anyway? It’s freakin’ crazy to be walkin’ around in here!” another complained.
“You know we’ve gotta find those notes and that research,” Nick scolded. “Then we can save mankind and put an end to zombies forever.” Nick spoke with such conviction and emotion that nobody dared to argue with him.
Breathing shallowly, I continued to climb over the dusty rock mounds.
“Watch out for that stiff,” Nick said, his voice echoing in the crumbling building.
Pointing my flashlight down, I kicked the dead zombie in front of me, just to make sure it was really dead. When there was no movement or reaction, I exhaled in great relief and slowly stepped over the corpse, taking note of the bullet hole in its rotting forehead.
“I don’t like this, not one bit,” Claire said. “It doesn’t feel very good to be back in Charlie’s evil lair. I killed Z here. Not to mention, those hybrids give me the creeps.”
“Tell me about it,” Val whispered, “but Charlie did have a cure, so we need those notes and samples for other scientists.” She stepped over a precarious pile of bricks. “It’s creepy, but I’m not scared. If one of those things so much as bats a decayed eyelash, I’ll feed it a steady diet of bullets.”
“They’re dead,” Kate said. “Max’s men got any stragglers Z’s men missed.”
Claire shot her a side-glance. “I hope you’re right.”
We stepped through the rubble, our flashlights casting eerie shadows on the walls. I dodged the occasional rat as we made our way through the wide main corridor.  
A growl echoed in the air, and Kate shot me a look. She stopped mid-step, eating her own words.
“Was that a…?”
“Great,” she said, turning to Nick. “We need Claire or Val to scope it out with their night vision.”
Claire stepped forward and peered. “Looks like a loner,” she said, her rifle drawn.
“Maybe that’s what it wants you to think,” Lucas said. “Hybrids are sneaky, remember?”
I grabbed Lucas’s bat and headed toward the zombie that was missing half its face. “Batter up!” I said. “It’s time to join your friends on the ground.” I swung so hard that its head was decapitated, knocked right off its shoulders. It flung against a pile of rocks, and the body slumped to the ground in a sickening heap.
When footsteps echoed behind us, I stiffened. I held the bat in a white-knuckled grip and stiffened.
“Calm down, Babe Ruth,” Val said. “It’s just Asia.”
“I can’t believe you guys are doing this,” Asia said. “Max is gonna be furious!”
I sighed. “We really didn’t have any other choice. But how did you know we came in?”
“One of the guys who told me you were in here ran off to go find Max.”
“Good. We can use his help.”
“Let’s keep moving, people,” Nick said.
“This way, guys,” Jackie said.
Shining our flashlights ahead, we started walking.
Claire glanced over her shoulder at Asia. “Why aren’t you with Max?”
“I drove here as fast as I could to tell you that some survivors of Z’s gang are ticked off, bent on revenge,” Asia announced grimly. “Max’s guys took care of most of them, but some escaped. I thought I should warn you that we might have company.”
“Great! We’re already dealing with a crumbling building and zombies,” Buddy said. “Now add pissed-off comrades to the mix.”
Asia looked at him. “Calm down, Buddy.”
Buddy was always complaining, and I hated getting stuck with him.
“You sure revenge is all they’re after?” I asked, staring at Asia hard.
“What else would they want?”
“Charlie’s notes.”
She blinked. “I don’t think they’re that smart. Heck, I doubt they can even read. I’m sure in their Neanderthal minds, they can only comprehend payback, since we offed so many of their friends.”
We turned the bend, and Nick flashed his light beam into the darkness. “We can’t assume anything. Let’s just get what we came for and get the heck outta Dodge.”
We all feared what would happen if the notes fell into the wrong hands. They could be misused, lost, or accidentally destroyed. We were on a quest to save all of humanity, and Nick wasn’t willing to take any chances. We had to make sure the research was put in the hands of the right people, scientists who could help get the cure underway so we could get our world back.
The building started to creak and moan as we continued to walk into the darkness. I didn’t like that one bit. The foundation was barely holding on, and the place was unstable, which meant we could be crushed at any given moment. More creaking, cracking, and popping sounds told me a collapse was imminent. It was going to happen whether we wanted it to or not.
“The building’s talking to us,” Val said. “It’s warning us to leave while we still can.”
I stared straight ahead as dust swirled in the path of my flashlight beam. Her words chilled me to the very bone. I knew we should turn around and leave. That would have been the smart thing to do, but we only had one shot at getting those notes on how to create the formula that had cured Jackie. As risky as it was, we were there for all humanity, and the cause was more important than our own fear.
Kate frantically looked around. “We have to turn back. It’s getting way too dangerous. If this place caves in—”
“We’ll be long gone by then,” Nick said, shaking his head and cutting her off. “We just have to move faster,” he coaxed, more determined than ever to get what we came for.
“Well, I don’t know about you people, but I’m not about to die for some scientist’s stupid scribbling!” one of the men retorted. “There are other scientists in the world, and they can figure it out without me getting my head smashed in.”
“You know where the exit is,” Nick said flatly. “Do whatever you want.” My brother had one mission on his mind, and he wasn’t going to bend for anyone.
“I’m not trying to wuss out. You know that’s not me,” Kate said, “but we have to think of our own safety. It won’t do anyone any good if this hospital becomes our tomb.”
“Just concentrate on what’s important,” Nick said, stepping over concrete and metal.
“I’d put living at the top of that list. How do you think I’ve survived so long?”
“Think of all the people we can help,” I chimed in. “The stuff worked for Jackie. It’s a miracle, a potential cure, Kate, something that may stop the virus in its tracks. Yeah, we’re risking our lives here, but think of how many lives will be changed and saved if we do this.”
The creaking and moaning didn’t subside, and Kate pointed the flashlight upward. “Yeah, if we live to deliver the cure to anybody,” she muttered under her breath so Nick didn’t hear and send her back to safety.
“Nick, if it gets any worse, we stop,” Claire said. “We’ll just hand over what we’ve got, and they can send a team back here in a helicopter, with an excavation team.”
“Can’t put a bulldozer in a helicopter, darlin’. Besides, we can’t let any of the research get buried in here. They need it all so they can start working on the cure ASAP.”  
“Dead end!” Lucas announced, much to our dismay. “The entrance collapsed.”
“So find another way,” Nick said, unnervingly calmly.
Horizontal steel beams, metal, and rocks jutted across our path, and a thick dust of shattered concrete floated in the air. I was just as scared as Kate and the others, and I didn’t want to be crushed to death. A loud creaking filled the air, and a twenty-foot crack burst open right in front of us, gushing out debris, rock, and dry wall. Windows cracked, doors broke, and the building groaned. A chill ran down my spine.
Nick swung his flashlight in the opposite direction, pondered for a minute, then tapped Val. “Look, I might be a bit of a…kamikaze, but we don’t need a buncha martyrs for this mission. Get these people outta here,” he said. “Dean, Lucas, and I got this.”
“What are you? The Knights of the Round Table? No freaking way I’m leaving you,” she said. “And are you forgetting you need Jackie to get you there?”
“I gave him directions earlier, just in case something went wrong,” Jackie said.
Nick stepped toward Val. “I got this, so don’t give me any lip. Just get everyone out of this warzone.”
Val glared at him. “Keep ordering me around like that, little brother, and I’ll throw your scrawny butt over my shoulder and drag you out, you arrogant jerk! If you’re going, so am I, but you’ve got no right to force Dean to go with you. You and Lucas have spent the last couple years going on life-risking missions like a couple Rambos, but Dean’s not used to it.”
“He’s a soldier,” Lucas said. “He’s proved that more than once.”
Nick nodded. “Yeah, our baby bro is all grown up. He’s a man now.”
She threw her hands in the air. “He’s a teenager! Quit treating him like some sort of Marine!”
“Age doesn’t matter in this new world,” he said. “It’s all about survival instinct, and Dean has proven time and time again that he’s got plenty of that. I’m proud to call him my brother, and I’m even prouder to fight alongside him.”
In that very moment, I realized just how much my brother respected me. For the first time, I felt like an adult. He actually chose me, his kid brother, over our hotheaded, well-trained big sister. The building was about to cave in, and he wanted me there with him, like a real, trusted comrade. I’d never felt more proud, and for the first time, I realized I wasn’t just some dumb, na├»ve kid in his eyes. I had finally proven myself to him, and that meant more than anything in the world. I had Nick’s respect, and that wasn’t easy to come by.
“And what does being a man got to do with anything?” Val asked. “I can fight just as well as you two.”
“Of course you can,” Nick said. “Now that you mention it, maybe you’re right. I’d feel better knowing I have you to cover my back anyway.”
“Good. It’s settled. Nobody’s leaving.” The building groaned, and Val sucked in a deep breath. “Let’s not think about the risks here. Focus on the end result.”
“Great attitude,” Lucas said.
“This building’s falling apart more with every single step we take, crumbling under our feet,” Buddy whined. “We all need to get outta here. Max told us to cover you, not to die for you!”
“Do you know what those notes can do for humanity?” Lucas snapped. “There’s a cure out there, man. Jackie is living proof!”
“Look, pal, we all want a cure just as bad as you do. We wouldn’t have come in here at all if we didn’t,” Buddy retorted. “We all wanna see mankind beat this thing, but going on a suicide mission ain’t gonna save nobody. We keep trolling through this rubble, they’ll just have to dig under more bodies to get to the research.”
Nick waved a dismissive hand, then turned and walked in another direction. “I know another way. We passed a corridor a little way back. Anybody who’s coming, get a move-on. The rest of you know the way out.”
Some of the men quickly said their goodbyes and scurried away, but a few stuck with us, including Buddy, who complained more than anyone. I was thankful that they didn’t all desert us, but I secretly wished he’d been one of the ones to run away, because he was getting on everyone’s nerves.
My feet crunched over the debris as we briskly walked, with Jackie in the lead. When we got to the spot, we realized the entrance was blocked by a layer of concrete that had slid down from the floor above.
Jackie glanced around and pointed to another hall just north of us. “Let’s go that way,” she suggested.
Tall beams crisscrossed high above us, with more to the left and right, like the very gates of Hell. It really didn’t faze me much, considering that we’d all been living a hellish existence already, and we were more than ready to fight any demons that came our way. We turned the bend and walked down another long corridor, only to be confronted by yet another dead end, a blockage of metal and debris.
“What now?” Claire asked.
Nick pointed to a breach in the wall. He slipped through the jagged edges and disappeared into the darkness. I followed him and realized we were in the hospital gift shop. Everything was covered in debris, dirt, and pebbles, and there was a horrible teddy bear on the floor, with one of its eyes missing, holding a big heart that said “Get Well.”
Suddenly, a loud noise echoed in the air. I quickly aimed my flashlight in the direction of the noise and saw the double-doors moving back and forth.
I walked over the debris and maneuvered through the store. A pile of concrete on the ground kept the doors from opening all the way, but something desperately wanted in. Suddenly, a long, vertical line of fingers burst through the crack. I gasped as that sickeningly familiar moaning reverberated through the air. Black, dead fingers waved through the gap, from the top of the door to the bottom.
“Oh my gosh!” Claire said. “How can they wiggle their fingers through that high? None of them are that tall.”
“They must be stacked up,” I said. “I don’t even wanna know how many there are.”
“The floor collapsed,” Lucas said. “They fell in! Anybody up for a little zombie Jenga?”
“The men must’ve missed one of the upstairs rooms when they were taking out the stragglers,” Val said. “Charlie was trying to build a whole army, so there were a lot of them.”
Asia looked at us, her eyes wide. “Let’s find a different way!”
“The only way to Charlie’s safe is through those doors,” Jackie said. “The other way is completely blocked off.”
The door began to inch open, slowly and methodically, like a slow-motion scene out of some awful horror movie; only this time, I was actually there instead of sitting in a red velvet seat, safely behind a giant bucket of extra-buttery popcorn. Dread washed over me, but without a second thought, I grabbed Nick’s axe and pried it through the metal handles so they couldn’t get through.
The zombies pounced and heaved their rotting corpses against the door. The door shook violently, the banging and pounding growing worse with every passing second. One of the undead nuisances peeked in through the gap in the door and met my gaze with that familiar cold stare, those unforgettable, nightmarish, evil, milky-white eyes. They only lived to rip the flesh off the living, and I lived to rip their brains out. Even wide awake, our nightmares were all too real.
“Look!” Val shouted.
I gasped as the doors begin to rip off their hinges. I knew if we didn’t run, we’d be fighting a barrage of rotting, starving demons.
Wood splintered, and the moans grew louder.
“Move out!” Nick barked.
“Run!” I shouted.

I glanced over my shoulder as I frantically climbed through the debris. My heart thundered when the doors burst open and zombies scrambled in like football players ripping through a homecoming banner. The only trouble was, they had too many men on the field. 

End of sample...

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Sunday, October 12, 2014