THE RETREAT 6: The Measure of a Man

The column approached Moody now, trundling along a concrete drive that had been ripped asunder by what looking like thirty-millimeter rounds. Shattered vehicles and torn bodies lined the roadway. Suitcases lay splayed open, their contents strewn about. Moody had been a recovery center for civilians. Reynolds’s attack had taken them out as well. Lee happened to fix his eyes on a small figure. A boy, a toddler. Legs blown off, streaks the color of rust staining the concrete. He wore a Blue’s Clues t-shirt and nothing else. A blood-splattered sippy cup lay next to him. The flies had already come and gone, and now the corpse was riddle beneath a virtual carpet of crawling insects. Nature doing what it did, reducing the dead to its constituent parts.

We’re killing ourselves to kill the klowns, he thought, and the sight made his brain feel foggy and distant.

“I’m good, Witch,” he said again, even though Harry Lee was far from it. As the column cruised past the remnants of a burned out Dollar General store, he saw the charred fragments of men and women littering the sidewalk. Police officers? Air Force personnel? Civilians, caught up in the foment of cackling violence? He would never know. And he didn’t want to know. The consistent exposure to the bestiality that lay inside a man or a woman had left him feeling as hollow as a jack o’lantern. Before the shit had started to fly, he was a pumpkin. Now, he was a field grade officer. Hollowed out, but still operational. No one cared about the first degree of the man, but the second? That was what was important. To his troops. To his superiors.

To himself.

Lee despaired. He knew he wouldn’t get through this. Even if someone created a cure, something that could wipe out the bug and remand those infected souls back into the warm arms of civilization, Lee knew he wouldn’t survive it. He’d seen too much. Done too much. The actions he’d taken in Iraq had been so bold and brutal that even Muldoon had taken pause…

…but now they seemed quaint.

As he stared out the Humvee’s pockmarked windshield, he felt a true realization rise up inside him. I’m dead. I’m fucking dead.

Beach’s voice crackled over the SINCGARS radio. The scouts had made it into Moody, and the place was a shithole. But there were no klowns. Bodies, yes. Actual, living klowns? No.

Lee reached for the handset and simply rogered his acknowledgement. There was nothing else to be said. Beach and his team would continue on, and the rest of the column would follow until Lee told them to stop.

There was no other way. This is what they’d fought for…a devastated Air Force base in Georgia.

Fucking fantastic.

THE RETREAT 6: A Li’l Nut Punch

 “Hey, what the fuck?” Murphy shouted from the turret behind his mask. “Are you homos talking about me again? You measuring my third three foot leg? You know my battalion nickname’s Tripod!”

“We ain’t talking shit about you, troop! Get on your fucking weapon and do Army shit! Though I heard tell your thongs are a construct of fucking beauty,” Foster hollered back.

“You putting some dollars in that shit?”

“I’ll put my fucking fist in your nuts if you get the colonel killed while you stand up there jizzing off to memories of your fucking klown stripper girlfriend, asshole!” Foster yelled. “Like you can afford an entire dependapotamous on an E-5’s salary, you fucking gay lap dancer!”

THE RETREAT 6: Convoy Duty

As always…offered unedited, no guarantees this will make it into the final…though at this late date, you could be reasonably assured it’s the real deal content-wise. 🙂

Zhu returned in nine minutes with the maps, complete with phase lines and objectives. Lee looked at them quickly, then shook his head. He pointed at the drop zone designation.

“DZ Nuts, First Sergeant?” he asked.

“I believe it’s a joke, sir. Better to say as ‘deez nuts.’” If Zhu thought it was at all humorous, he had yet to crack a smile.

“Oh man, that’s gotta be Miller’s work,” Murphy said with a smile.

“Hell yeah,” Sienkiewicz threw in.

“You know him, sir,” Murphy continued. “Skinny kid, blonde crew cut, pimples. Total cut up. You have to hear his comedy routine about KFC and Colonel Sanders—”

“Mike, shut the hell up,” Lee snapped. He turned to Zhu. “All right, First Sergeant. Let’s get the movement orders out and get underway.”

Zhu nodded and stepped away from the Humvee. “Sir.”

The battalion would have to backtrack almost forty miles in order to swing around to the north of the preserve. Given that they’d already transited through the area less than two hours ago, Lee had a fair idea of what to expect. In an unexpectedly fortuitous occurrence, a reconnaissance aircraft had just passed a few miles to the east and made its report. This allowed Rock to provide high assurance the battalion’s route was clear. But that would not hold. Ultimately, more klowns were flooding into the area, and Lee was certain a contingent had set out from Fort Stewart in pursuit of the battalion as soon as the klowns had taken the artillery teams and managed to infect them. They would come for the lightfighters. The last remaining unit of the 10th Mountain Division had Courtney Moreau, after all. Because of her, the 1/55th was the big game of the day.

And Moreau was President Marion Grey’s first priority. After infecting the rest of the US population, of course. Grey and her remaining cabinet idolized Moreau, thought to be the only remaining member of the so-called “Four Horsemen”—the virologists and biochemists who had created the bug that drove Americans insane with a terrifying hilarity that stripped away all morals, internal censors, and humanity. Those infected that were left behind were mere caricatures of the people they had once been. Outwardly human, but overwhelmingly evil, compelled to perpetuate only the most monstrous of acts against their fellow man.

Each commander was notified of the planned axis of advance. The battalion would make its way to DZ Nuts and secure their provisions. After that was completed, the unit would press on to whatever was left at Moody. There, Lee presumed he would receive further orders.

He communicated to Rock that the battalion was on the move, and put in a request to speak with General Reynolds. When that was denied—Lee was under no impression he was important enough to request a one on one with the Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—he requested updated elaboration regarding their movement. That was also denied. This infuriated him, but there was nothing he could do. Even though he was now a blessed lieutenant colonel, he still received orders as often as he gave them. When Reynolds and his staff wanted him to brief him on the full plan, they would communicate such at the time of their choosing.

The battalion wended its way through the northernmost section of the Okefenokee, first turning into it along one of the narrow, two lane roads that eventually led to a campsite. The battalion avoided the campsite and turned away from it at its earliest convenience, trundling steadily northward. Even here, the landscape showed signs of savagery. Burned recreational vehicles surrounded by rotting human remains. Entire families had been hacked to pieces here, now food for carrion birds and other opportunistic predators. Tall, spindly pine trees and shorter, thicker palm trees lined the road at irregular intervals. Lee surveyed this from inside his Humvee. Sergeant Linton and Tackaberry had been correct. There wasn’t much cover for vehicles, but dismounted troops could conceal themselves fairly easily out in the swampland. It wouldn’t be comfortable, of course. But the klowns no longer worried about things like bug spray, sunscreen, and the marked lack of air conditioning.

Just outside the preserve, Captain Beach’s advance team reported a large scene of battle. It was secure; whatever had occurred had happened several days ago, and there were no reports of survivors or enemy. Lee acknowledged the report, but tapped Murphy’s leg. He was manning the turret weapon now while Sienkiewicz drove.

“Mike! Stay sharp!” he shouted up to him.

“Sharp enough to cut your fingers if you keep giving me love taps, Colonel,” Murphy replied.

Lee rolled his eyes at the response. “Mask up and head on a swivel,” he told him.

Lee looked around the man’s legs. Foster was semi-conscious in the back, and the colonel examined the belts of ammunition that had been clipped together to feed Murphy’s weapon. They were in as good of shape as a Humvee gun truck could be.

They came across the scene of battle Beach had forewarned. It hadn’t been much of a fight. A convoy of klown forces had been trying to enter the preserve. It was comprised of a mix of civilian and military vehicles, and it had obviously been hit by aviation forces. Judging by the size of some of the craters, substantially heavy ordnance had been deployed, leaving behind a tangled mass of twisted wreckage and decomposing body parts. Murphy made a gagging sound in the turret, and Lee’s own stomach roiled when the stench of decay filtered into the Humvee.

“Whoa, that musta been some shit show.” Foster was suddenly awake now, peering outside the Humvee’s dirty windows. Lee glanced back at him. He seemed unaffected by the stench.

A moment later, Murphy released a loud, cavernous fart. Foster reacted to that instantly, reaching for his MOPP gear. “God damn, Murphy! What the hell did you eat, man?”

Murphy cackled behind his mask as he stood in the cupola, swaying his hips to spread the wealth through the Humvee’s interior.

“Sir, mind if I stab him in the nuts?” Sienkiewicz asked. His face bore a pinched expression, though if it was from the reek of the dead or the apparent voiding of Murphy’s bowels, Lee had no idea.

“Not right now, Witch,” Lee said. “Just drive faster, and hope the smell of the dead flushes out Murphy’s stink.”

Several vehicles bore large, tennis ball-sized holes in them. Lee thought they’d been made by thirty millimeter rounds, perhaps by strafing A-10s. A moment later, he saw vehicles that had clearly been hit by missiles, their backs broken, bodies strewn all about. Apaches, using cannons and Hellfire missiles.

Sienkiewicz jerked his chin toward one charred pickup truck. It had been adorned with what were now corpses tied along its sides. In masking tape along the top of the windshield were the words MURDER MACHINE. “Looks like the Dirty Ds got to do some work here, sir,” he said, referring to the AH-64D model of the Apache.

Lee was impressed. “You can tell by the damage?”

Sienkiewicz took his right hand off the wheel and pointed past Lee. “No, sir. I can tell by that.”

Lee turned and saw more wreckage lying off the road. The twisted remnants of an AH-64, lying amongst the sparse trees. The aircraft’s canopy had been shattered, and even despite the obvious post-crash fire, he could see a multitude of holes in the airframe. This one had gotten danger close while hosing down the convoy, and had paid the price.

As the battalion motored on, bumping across the cratered and cracked road, the absolute destruction of the withering attack became crystal clear. The klown convoy that had attempted to enter the Okefenokee had been literally massive. Miles long, and on more than one occasion spilling out into both lanes, a long line of military drab and polished chrome and blood-splattered gore, the klowns had been moving literally ten thousand troops into position. Some fires still smoldered, casting a gray pall across the landscape. Carrion birds feasted on the deceased. Some still moved, cackling with demented glee as they lay trapped inside metal cocoons, visible only by the flailing of thin limbs. It was amazing to Lee that anyone had survived, at all. Be they klown, full human, or even outer space alien, no one should have been able to withstand the ferocity of the attack, much less the oppressive summer heat. But on a few instances, he witnessed actual signs of life.

No one radioed for permission to assist. Those people were on their own.

Even so, the devastation lasted for miles. Several times the battalion’s column had to go off-road—not only had the destruction been so complete, the entire landscape was shattered. Lee had frankly never seen such a never-ending scene of chaos. The klowns had been trying to surge thousands and thousands into the area, but the US military’s remaining might had pounded the advance into slag. As his Humvee crawled past the mangled vehicles, Lee saw one truck with the stenciled emblazon of US AIR FORCE on the side. He wasn’t familiar with how the Air Force marked its vehicles—the Army’s method was more than enough to fill his head. He craned his neck to try and decipher the numbers and letters. Did it come from Moody? He couldn’t tell.

By the time the battalion left the long line of debris behind, it had stretched for more than five miles. Reynolds’s command had hammered the klown advance fast, hard, and long. He’d never seen an entire brigade size force wiped out before. Lee recognized that Reynolds still had a substantial combatant command at his disposal. That innocents might have been killed in the attacks he’d ordered were top of mind, he understood the necessity. Captive men, women, and children doubtless died in that attack, whenever it had happened. And it had happened over the span of hours. Even the full force of the US military couldn’t mount such casualties in a short term; it wasn’t necessarily their focus. But Reynolds had dialed them in to be merciless, and they had delivered. In spades.

Once they were clear of the spoor of death, Lee leaned back in his Humvee’s armored seat. He contemplated everything he had just witnessed…and discovered it was too much for even his hardened, jaded point of view to take in. Thousands of Americans, wiped out. The world he lived in now didn’t make sense. He turned to the reinforced passenger window and gazed out at the passing greenery, and wondered why he wasn’t weeping. Was he too hard? Too callous? The people he’d taken an oath to defend were rotting in the hot Georgia sunlight behind him..

…and he was happy about it.

Categories: Writing

THE RETREAT 6: God’s Blind Eye

As always, the attached is unedited and may not appear in the final product. Caveat Emptor, blah, blah, blah

For Captain Johnny Beach, Florida didn’t look so hot.

Watching from his hide site seventy meters or so south of where his scout element’s vehicles had set up to cover the roadway approaches, he regarded the large assembly area in the field below. His unit had been sent to reconnoiter the approaches into Florida proper using backcountry roads, and their assigned surveillance area was less than ten miles from the Georgia/Florida border. On the horizon, black smoke curled into the sky from unseen structure fires, and the din of combat rolled on like endless thunder. As he watched, several objects streaked down from above. Bombs, dropped from high altitude. They splashed across the klown’s lines, hammering away at them like the fist of God. Beach wished the attackers luck, that their bomb run was successful. But the reality of it was, the entire landscape before him was one gigantic area of operations. Florida was being defended by the good guys. Georgia, however? It was Klown Central, and Beach was lying on his belly in the middle of it.

They’d identified the field as a potential assembly area, where the battalion—or what was left of it—could consolidate before pushing across the line. Colonel Lee had known it would be a long shot. This deep behind the forward line of troops, the klowns would be everywhere. But the hope had been that continuous, unrelenting contact with their opponents in Florida would have degraded them, rendered them combat ineffective. In a large part, that assessment held true. But the klowns weren’t necessarily stupid, and they used the field as a recovery area. As Beach watched, thousands of infected milled about in the clearing below. Performing vehicle and weapon maintenance. Tending to those who were wounded…or just outright killing them. The waves of raucous laughter, chuckles, giggles, and snickers reached his ears. The klowns were here, and the battalion didn’t have the manpower to get rid of them.

Just the same, Beach spent a few minutes observing them. They were organized, that was for sure. They had no problems repairing, rearming, and refueling vehicles. They did not appear to have a surfeit of aircraft, which was a boon for the 1/55th—the battalion was in a very low state and would be unlikely to be able to repel red air. But the klowns weren’t particularly good at tending to their wounded. As he watched, he saw several injured men and women being crucified to upside down crosses. No matter how grievously wounded they were, the soon-to-be dead hitched and guffawed while a crowd gathered around them, tormenting them with all manner of instruments until they finally passed. Beach also noted the large impact craters that dotted the field. Much larger than what he would expect to have been made by artillery; these were actual bomb drops, a thousand pounds or larger. General Reynolds’s command had struck the field before, probably several times. Just the same, the klowns kept using it. It was insane for them to gather out in the open like this, but the fact they weren’t being carpet bombed into oblivion told Beach that things probably weren’t as rosy in Florida as he’d been led to believe.

Well. The surprises just never stop, do they?

He made a terse report to his sergeant, who had remained behind with the vehicles in an overwatch position. He didn’t wax rhapsodic, he told it just like it was. The planned assembly area was in complete klown control. They needed to find an alternate. Lee wasn’t going to be happy about it, but there was no way the battalion could continue toward Jacksonville. They’d have to shift westward and try their luck that way.

As he surveilled the area one last time, Beach felt a deep depression blossom inside his breast. He was a religious man, from true Mormon stock in Utah. He believed that God was ever the eternal taskmaster, forever hurling test after test to further temper the souls of his adherents. And Beach believed in the Almighty, he most certainly did.

But he was beginning to think that God’s plans did not involve the safe delivery of the First Battalion, 55th Infantry Regiment. After all their toil, all their sacrifice, all the good work the battalion had done in His name…

Beach was afraid God was turning a blind eye.

Categories: Writing

THE RETREAT 6: FORLORN HOPE Release Date Set

May 26, 2021 1 comment

The battalion’s last movement to contact operation will take place on July 4, 2021! Enlist now by clicking the link!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B095WY79P7

 

Categories: Writing

THE RETREAT 6: Flat-Headed Neanderthals

November 23, 2020 2 comments

As always…unedited, no guarantee it will be in the finished product, yadda-yadda-yadda…

“Major Walker? Dude’s a walking poster child for a blue falcon,” Murphy said.

A “blue falcon” was the alternate to “buddy fucker,” the type of soldier who would screw over another troop for personal gain—merit, promotion, easy duty, you name it. While Lee didn’t necessarily disagree with Murphy’s assessment, there was an inherent problem in his voicing it. Lee was in command of what little remained of the 1/87, and Walker was his executive officer. That Murphy would give voice to such an opinion put Lee in waters difficult to navigate.

“Tell you what,” Lee said, as diplomatically as possible, “you keep that shit to yourself and I’ll forget you ever said it.”

Murphy sighed behind the Humvee’s steering wheel. “Yes, sir.”

Lee considered his next course of action carefully. “If I was still a captain, you could say that shit, Mike. But not now.”

“Get it, sir.”

Foster suddenly dropped down from the cupola. “But is he right, Colonel?”

Lee looked back into the rear of the Humvee. “Dude, you got bat ears or something?”

“What, you think I listen to what this happy sock has to say?” Foster jerked his thumb toward Murphy.

“You hang on to my every word, you homo,” Murphy said. “I caught you sniffing my underwear, man!”

“Only because you wear your sister’s panties,” Foster shot back.

Lee rolled his eyes while trying to hold back a chortle. “Okay, guys.”

Foster clapped him on the shoulder. “Colonel, is he wrong? I mean I realize he’s got jug-handled ears…but is he wrong about Walker?”

THE RETREAT 6: Never Fuck With The Old Dogs

September 21, 2020 2 comments

As always…offered without assurance this will appear in the final. Unedited, raw text…so reader, beware.

Tackaberry spun toward Lee like a supercharged cyclone, his movements strong and direct. Lee didn’t have an instant to respond; just like that, the big former lightfighter was on him like an eight hundred pound gorilla. He wasn’t acting like a full bird colonel now; he was acting like a light infantryman, and Lee saw the wild fire in his eyes. He grabbed the front of Lee’s battle rattle and practically yanked him off his feet as if Harry Lee was nothing more than a child as they stood in the cool shadow cast by the UH-1N.

“I flew Hueys in Vietnam, you little snot nosed fuck,” Tackaberry said, his voice a rough growl. Zhu reached out for him, and Tackaberry lashed out with a vicious strike, slamming the flat of his right hand against Zhu’s body armor. The acting sergeant major stumbled backward and fell against the bullet-riddled helicopter, arms pin wheeling. It was almost comical to watch, Lee thought.

He struggled against Tackaberry, but the old man was bigger and surprisingly strong despite his age. He held Lee firmly in place with one hand like an adult would restrain a wayward toddler. Tackaberry pointed at Moreau as she sat on the ground not far away as Rawlings and Campbell surged forward, weapons shouldered. They found themselves facing down three of the Geezer Brigade, old men who were steeped in the recipes of armed conflict and perpetuating disaster.

“Stop!” Lee shouted. “Weapons down! Weapons down!”

“Stand down!” Zhu yelled. “Let’s pull this together!”

“You think that because we’re old men we’re somehow unable to answer the call,” Tackaberry snarled at Lee. “You think that because we’re old men that when things get tough we’ll shit our pants and wonder where the fuck our tapioca pudding is, right?” He snorted. “You wear the rank of lieutenant colonel, but you have no fucking idea what that means. I’m telling you now, diaper rash—it’s all about making the one call you have to make.” Tackaberry released him then, practically throwing Lee away from him like a piece of garbage. Lee stumbled backward, and then Muldoon was there. He caught Lee and steadied him, and Lee felt embarrassment course through his veins.

“You might want to be a little more gentle with the Old Man,” Muldoon said. He added after a long pause, “Old man.”

Tackaberry laughed. “Want to make a run at me, boy?”

Muldoon seemed to think about it, then slowly shook his head. “I don’t want to be brought up on charges of elder abuse.”

“Outstanding. I don’t want to be remembered as a child beater,” Tackaberry shot back.

Muldoon chuckled, though in truth Tackaberry was almost as big as he was.

“Colonel Tackaberry—” Lee began.

“This aircraft is flyable, Lee,” Tackaberry snapped. “Load up this murderous bitch, and we’re on our way. Yeah, a bunch of old men will fly her to the aircraft carrier instead of the Marines. I mean, unless you’ve got a destroyer in your pocket? That’s the only way she’s going to get there.” He glared down at Lee from his formidable height, then motioned to the collection of old men standing around him, weapons tucked in, eyes sharp. “Look around you, simp—almost two hundred years of military service surrounds you whiny little bitches. You think these troops can’t do at least that much for you?”

Now On Audio: LEFT WITH THE DEAD

Left With The Dead, A "Gathering Dead" Novella

Art for Left With The Dead, A “Gathering Dead” Novella. Artwork by Jared Rackler

https://www.amazon.com/Left-Dead-Gathering-Novella/dp/B0892W25QK/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1590805851&sr=1-7

It took a darn long time, at least a month longer than it should. But here it is, cruel world: the audiobook presentation of Left with the Dead, performed by none other than your man Knight. Listen to the sample before you buy! No need to buyer’s remorse, you have all the tools to make the right decision. 🙂

And for those who want a code for ACX direct, here it is:

https://www.audible.com/pd/B0892SSM6N/?source_code=AUDFPWS0223189MWT-BK-ACX0-197784&ref=acx_bty_BK_ACX0_197784_rh_us

Bon apetit.

Now on Audio! THE RETREAT 4: ALAMO

April 21, 2020 4 comments

teaser

The Retreat 4: Alamo has been released, voiced by none other than R.C. Bray. As we speak, his dulcet tones are busily enunciating the craziness that makes up The Retreat 5: Crucible with an anticipated release imminent. And in the background, I continue to peck away at The Retreat 6. But for now though, let yourself be transported to an America where you’ll need can after can of .50 caliber to make the laughing stop…

https://www.audible.com/pd/B0876HXXYS/?source_code=AUDFPWS0223189MWT-BK-ACX0-192046&ref=acx_bty_BK_ACX0_192046_rh_us

 

EARTHFALL 2: THE MISSION CONTINUES now 99¢

March 30, 2020 2 comments

Earthfall 2: The Mission Continues is now on sale for a mere 99¢, folks. So if you haven’t yet signed on with Andrews, Mulligan, Laird, Eklund and the rest for the next foray into the good ol’ US of A after a thermonuclear apocalypse, I’d recommend you get your ticket now! Come on, you’re at home cooped up with nowhere else to go, so why not spend it perfecting your social distancing technique while confined inside a Self-Contained Exploration Vehicle?

Clicky the link for goodness below.

In other news, I’ve tabled Single Tree, the sequel to The Last Town: A Novel of the Zombie Apocalypse in favor of another project which may be near and dear to your hearts: The Retreat 6. I’ve taken over the authorial duties on this one, and it’ll detail the 55th’s final encounter with the Klowns as the battalion (or what’s left of it) makes its way to Florida. Lots of maneuvers in this one, multiple fronts of action, and tons of mud will be moved by pretty much every piece of weaponry in the American arsenal as deployed by every branch of service. And a lot of those servicemembers are giggling while delivering payloads on target.

Some related news: RC Bray is putting the finishing touches on The Retreat 4: Alamo and will then start on The Retreat 5: Crucible. In November, he’ll commence recording the audiobook of These Dead Lands: Desolation, and if things hold up on my side, Scott Wolf and I should be knee deep in the next release of the These Dead Lands cycle, tentatively titled Desperation.

And lastly, my audio version of Left With The Dead should be released on/around April 7th. ACX is backed up after the holidays and, of course, our bestest pal corona virus.

All this aside…I hope and pray everyone out there is hale and hearty, and that you’re all doing what you need to in order to survive these troubling times. I’m here at my son’s house in Connecticut, loving hugging him…and my Mossberg 930. Take care of yourselves, people.