Free on Amazon: THE FARM

Available now on Amazon for absolutely nothing is “The Farm”, a short story about a trio of lightfighters trying to escape the hordes of the dead boiling out of New York City. Set in the same universe as The Gathering Dead, it’s a military-on-zombie actioner in the same vein. Try it, you might like it!

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THESE DEAD LANDS DESOLATION: Derail

August 14, 2019 2 comments

 

The road–or rails–to Colorado Springs are fraught with peril. As Hastings and the rest of the regular Army heads for Fort Bragg, Sergeant First Class Ballantine and his lightfighters are tasked to get their dependents and the rest of the civilians to the fortress city of Colorado Springs.

As always…shit happens.

Also as always…what follows is unedited and may or may not appear in the final version. If interested, click the graphic above to pre-order your copy of These Dead Lands: Desolation today!

It took twenty minutes to offload the trucks, MRAPs, and the tankers. Both of the HEMTs were full of diesel. Bellara instructed Ballantine and his team to take four MRAPs and two five-tons forward to the passenger coaches and assigned one extra soldier for each vehicle, including Robinson. Together, the lightfighters and the Guardsmen would load up as many civilians as possible while Bellara and the remainder of his company oversaw the rest of the unloading operations. With the remnants of Paulick’s unit under his control, the captain had more manpower to throw around, so it wouldn’t take terribly long to free up the remaining vehicles. Ballantine himself drove one of the HEMTs, more out of curiosity than need. He’d never horsed around one of the big tactical trucks before, and while its mass ensured it wouldn’t move quickly, it was reasonably surefooted on the grass strip next to the train tracks. Like most modern Army vehicles, it was dumbed down enough to where anyone with training or just common sense could handle it, complete with an automatic transmission and power-assisted steering. Its Detroit Diesel engine wouldn’t win any stealth awards and the big, eight-wheeled tactical truck lacked air conditioning, but that wasn’t a problem for the moment. A cold front had settled in over the Chicagoland area, bringing with it ambient temperatures in the high sixties.

If not for the fucking zombies and all the wounded, be a nice night to kick back with a beer.

Hartman had the lead MRAP, and the rest of the column formed up on his as he drove to the passenger coaches. There were plenty of dismounted military surrounding them. Whenever the C-RAM ripped a salvo through the night, the individual soldiers’ shadows grew long and tall in the light given off by the weapon’s six-barreled gun. One of the locomotives was fully involved with fire now, emitting a huge greasy plume of smoke that roiled as it climbed into the still air.

“Devil Dog, Crusader One Seven,” he said over his radio. Beside him, Lieutenant Robinson sat cradling her rifle, her face turned toward the distant fires of Chicago and the much closer columns of the dead. Individual corpses were visible now, heading toward the wrecked train. Several had deviated course, drawn toward the C-RAM’s explosive plume. They were inside the gun’s effective range.

“Send it, Crusader.” In the background of Everson’s transmission, Ballantine heard an array of startled voices, cries, and shouted orders. Clearly, the old man had made it back to the passenger coaches.

“We’re rolling up to your pos now. Four MRAPs, two five-tons, two HEMT tankers. I want you to start staging the dependents and get them collocated in the lead MRAP. Help transfer Sergeant Martin. We have enough bodies to drive, but that’s about it. Have the medics start picking out the injured they can save. Good copy on that?”

“Roger all,” Everson replied immediately. “I think I see your vehicles approaching. Drop the ramps on those MRAPs. We’re coming out now.”

The column ground to a halt beside the derailed cars. Ballantine set the parking brake but left the engine running. “How do you want to do this, LT?” he asked. When Robinson didn’t turn away from looking out the window in the HEMT’s passenger door, Ballantine leaned across the wide cab and shook her shoulder. “Hey, Lieutenant! You with me?”

She turned back to him then, and the NVGs hid her eyes from view. Just the same, Ballantine was certain he’d see nothing but mounting terror in them. The dead were coming, and they had to stop.

“With you, Sergeant,” she said, and her voice was strong.

“We have to load up. How do you want us to do this? I’d like to put as many civilians in the MRAPs as possible, and shooters in the five-tons. We can carry some on the tankers, too—none of the reekers are going to be shooting back, and we might need guys cleaning the dead off if they manage to get a hold of us.”

“I’ll ensure some of the troops make sure the dead don’t make it close enough for us to worry about,” Robinson said. “I agree, try and get as many of the civvies in the MRAPs. We’re going to have to lash everything we can carry to the trucks and tankers. Make sure we have enough food and water and everything else we might need. No telling how long we’ll be on the road.”

“Roger that. So you’ll oversee security, then?”

“I’m on it, Sergeant Ballantine.”

“Hooah.”

With that, Ballantine bailed out of the HEMT and slammed the door closed as soon as his boots were on the ground. He made his way toward the passenger coach as the C-RAM hurled more hate toward the horizon, blasting a long, arcing stream of large-caliber rounds through the air. It looked almost like a pulsing laser beam, and the intensity of its illumination was so strong it threatened to overwhelm his goggles.

The rest of the guys dismounted and headed for the coach. Guerra was among them, not allowing his tweaked leg to slow him down for an instant as he hobbled along. Ballantine caught up to him and grabbed his shoulder.

“Guerra, stay out here,” he said, raising his voice over the mounting gunfire. “You’re fucked up, I think you should stay with the vehicles.”

“I’m good,” Guerra replied.

“The fuck you are! Get back to the lead MRAP, make sure no one fucks with it! Get off that leg!”

“It ain’t the leg, it’s the ankle,” Guerra said. “Carl, I’m good. Really.”

“Then prove it by doing what I told you to do, man.” Even over the noise of combat and his earphones, he heard Kenny shrieking away. He saw him a moment later, wrapped around Diana like a cheap coat, screaming his head off. Diana struggled with him as Everson appeared in the coach’s door. The older man supported Martin as he slowly eased his way down the boarding stairs, where one of Bellara’s medics waited for him.

“Martin will drive,” Ballantine told Guerra.

“What? The man’s got a busted leg, for God’s sake!”

“Yeah, his left leg. His right is fine, so he can work the pedals,” Ballantine said. “Just long enough for us to get out of here. That way we can have shooters on their guns.”

“You’re pairing me up with him?”

“Damn straight—call your ride the Gimp Express.”

Guerra shook his head. “Cold, Carl. Cold.”

“Get to it.” Ballantine stepped away from Guerra and hurried toward Kenny and Diana. Diana watched him approach, her expression uncertain. Ballantine understood why. She didn’t have any night vision gear, and to her he probably looked like a Terminator coming to take her down. Clearly, Kenny felt that way. As soon as he became aware of Ballantine’s approach, his cries grew even louder. Ballantine hadn’t thought that was possible.

“Diana, it’s Ballantine,” he told her.

“Nice get up,” Diana responded. “Must remember that look for the next Comic Con show, because it certainly scares the shit out of Kenny.”

“Let’s get you guys loaded up,” Ballantine told her. He pointed to the first MRAP. “Can you see that vehicle over there with the lowered rear ramp? We’re going to put you guys in that one.”

The C-RAM fired again, sending a hail tracers outbound as the bright plume of yellow flame from its muzzles seared the night. The weapon was firing rapidly now, sweeping from side to side. Troops horsed around ammunition magazines, staging them for loading. The C-RAM was a thirsty beast, and it depleted the loaded ammo drum in almost a single pass now. Rifle fire was barking more consistently now, and one of the M249 machineguns mounted in one of the five-ton’s gunnery rings chattered as the Guardsman there sighted on targets. Up range from Ballantine’s position, a GAU-19 howled. He looked in that direction and saw a couple of gun trucks rolling down the derailed train’s length, their .50-caliber weapons lighting up targets inside eight hundred meters.

Kenny screamed again, severely stressed by all the commotion. Diana firmed her grip on him but he almost wrenched her off her feet as he suddenly bolted, attempting to run off into the night. Diana kept a hold of him, but he was so frightened he managed to drag her along for a few feet. For a little guy, Kenny was a powerhouse when adrenaline was factored in.

“Kenny, stop!” she yelled.

“Here, I’ve got him!” Ballantine hitched up his rifle and swept Kenny up into his arms and held him tight. Kenny responded by trying to head butt him, but Ballantine turned away from the attack. While the boy couldn’t seriously hurt him, he could definitely damage his goggles, and Ballantine needed to preserve those. He hugged Kenny tight, wrapping him up in his big arms as he did his best to immobilize him. Kenny fought back, shrieking and thrashing and kicking and biting. The boy was a handful, and Ballantine was seriously glad he had so much ballistic armor to take the punishment.

“Got some jalapeño cheese for you, Kenny!” Ballantine said, yelling over the thundering gun and the increasing rifle fire. “Got some hot cheese for you!”

None of this mattered to Kenny at the moment, and he continued to rage and cry, struggling against Ballantine like a wild animal. Ballantine hurried toward the first MRAP and climbed up its ramp with Diana right behind. He shoved Kenny into one of the taupe-colored seats and pinned him in place.

“Strap him in, then sit on him if you have to,” Ballantine told Diana as she mounted the vehicle behind him. “Come on, hurry it up—we’ve got to get everyone aboard and seal the ramp on this fucker.”

“You do it. I’ve got him.” Diana pulled the little rifle around until it hung behind her then grabbed Kenny’s shoulders and pushed him into the seat. She grunted as he kicked her savagely, still screaming his head off. “Fuck! Do it quick, the little bastard’s going to break my ribs!”

Ballantine grabbed the harness and pulled it around Kenny’s body. Tightening the straps as much as he could, he buckled him in. The system hadn’t been designed to restrain a child, but it would have to do. Kenny continued to thrash and howl, tears pouring down his face. Ballantine put a hand on his head as he reached into one of his cargo pockets and pulled out a package of jalapeño cheese spread and handed it to Diana.

“Here, give this a shot,” he said. As he spoke, the MRAP’s driver door opened. Ballantine turned toward it, instinctively raising his rifle even though a thick metal bulkhead partially obscured the operator’s compartment from the passenger area. He watched as Sergeant Trevor Martin laboriously climbed aboard, assisted by Everson and Guerra. The cavalryman slid behind the MRAP’s steering wheel and set his rifle down between the front seats before he gingerly positioned his injured leg in the foot well. He wore his NVGs and he full facial armor, like the kind the aviators wore. All the gear conspired to make him look like a cyborg warrior from the future.

“Martin, you good?” Ballantine asked.

“As many pills as I popped? I’m fucking flying, man,” Martin replied.

“Seriously? You fucked up?”

Martin half turned in the MRAP’s driver’s seat and shot him a thumbs up. “I’m good, Ballantine. Don’t get a flop sweat around your ball sack, okay?”

“Can you drive this pig in your condition?”

“Trust me.” Martin reached over and pulled the door closed and secured it before setting about buckling himself in. “If I have to, I can fly this thing out of here.”

Movement to the rear caught Ballantine’s attention and he spun, shouldering his rifle. He saw Everson shepherding Kay and kids forward while Guerra stood in the background. As Ballantine watched, Guerra shouldered his rifle and capped off two shots to the north.

Are they that close? Ballantine wondered, and a shard of dread pierced his heart.

“Dad!” Curtis launched himself at Ballantine and grabbed onto him, and Ballantine had to raise his rifle so the kid didn’t blunder into it. It was plenty dark inside the MRAP, with the only illumination coming from the dashboard lights, so chances were good Curtis hadn’t even seen the weapon. Ballantine wasted no time in shoving him into the seat across from Diana.

“Sit there!” he snapped. “Kay, I need you across from Kenny! Diana’s going to need your help!”

“Coming,” Kay said, pushing Josh before her.

“No, come now! Everson, take Josh!” As he spoke, Ballantine stepped forward and knelt on the seat beside Diana, making enough room for Kay to pass by him.

“Got him,” Everson said, and he reached out and grabbed Josh’s left arm and pulled him aside. “Go ahead, Mrs. Ballantine.”

Kay made an angry sound and crept forward, groping in the pitch black. Ballantine saw everything courtesy of his NVGs, and he reached out and grabbed her hand. Without pausing to be dainty, he pulled her forward and forced her into the seat across from Kenny.

“Carl!” she snapped, doubtless upset at the way he manhandled her into position.

“We’re in a fucked up situation, Kay,” he snapped back. “Do as I tell you when I tell you!”

“I’m not one of your soldiers, I’m your wife!”

Guerra cracked off another two rounds. “I tried telling him the same shit once, Kay. Didn’t work for me.”

Kenny continued to scream, rejecting the cheese spread Diana offered him. Ballantine grabbed one of Kay’s hands and guided it toward Kenny.

“Kay, I need you to help Diana with Kenny,” he said. “We can’t close the ramp until we get this vehicle loaded up, so I’ve got to leave.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m not staying here, babe,” he told her. “I’ve got things to do. You guys will be secure. Martin and Guerra and Bill will be traveling with you, and you’ve all got weapons.” As he spoke, Everson shoved Guerra’s sniper rifle into the MRAP. He disappeared from view for a few moments, then returned lugging two heavy rucksacks. He dumped them into the back of the vehicle with a huff as Josh picked his way forward through the darkness.

“Joshie, right there,” Ballantine said. “You’re right across from Diana and next to your brother. Sit down.” He guided his oldest son toward the seat he wanted him in. “We’ll turn on the lights after the tail gate is closed, okay?”

“Won’t they see it?” Josh asked.

“It won’t matter, kid. This vehicle weighs over fifteen tons. They’ll never be able to get in. Trust me.”

“Carl, where are you going to go?” Kay repeated.

“I have to make sure the column is secure, Kay,” he told her. “I can’t stay here.”

“Carl, we’re your family!” Kay’s voice was loud in the narrow confines of the MRAP, even with Kenny’s howling and Guerra’s firing. A louder report made them all wince as Everson let off a single shot.

“See, Guerra? That’s how you do this kind of shit,” Everson said.

“Pretty good, old man—took that runner out nicely.” There was true respect in Guerra’s voice.

“Mr. Everson, we have three empty seats not including yours and space for a couple more people,” Ballantine said, shouting as the C-RAM fired off again. And in the background, there was a mechanical howl. Someone had started one of the excavator mulchers that had been loaded onto the forward flat bed rail cars. That meant the reekers were now danger close, only a hundred or so meters away. As if to confirm this, the rifle fire increased almost exponentially. The rhythmic thump-thump-thump of a Mark 19 grenade launcher added weight to the presumption. In the midst of it all, he heard Lieutenant Robinson shouting orders, orienting the warfighters onto their targets.

“I’ll round up some more souls, Sergeant,” Everson said. “You want civilian, or military?”

“Civilian, please,” Ballantine said. “Military will ride in the five tons. And Everson… only those who’re going to live. If they’re too badly injured—”

“Oorah.” With that, the old man with the long gray hair was gone, fading away into the night.

Ballantine reached out and touched Kay’s face. “All right. Leaving now. Help Diana with Kenny.” Before she could say anything, he pushed himself to his feet. Crouched over inside the MRAP, he put a hand on each of his boys’s shoulders. “Look after your mom for me. I’ll be on the radio, so if you need me, just call. Your mom knows how to do it, and so does Mr. Everson. Listen to him and Sergeant Guerra and Sergeant Martin. Okay?”

“Daddy, don’t go!” Curtis said, and his voice was suddenly small and scared.

“Josh will help take care of you, Curty,” Ballantine said. He put his hand on Josh’s head. “Right?”

“I will,” Josh said, but his voice was small and fearful as well.

“Good boy. Help Diana and your mom with Kenny, all right? He’s helpless. He needs you guys.”

“Okay,” Josh said, and there was little resolve in his voice. Ballantine felt terrible. His boys were scared to death, and they needed him near. But Hastings’s words came back to him, and in that moment they carried tremendous weight.

Get in the fight, God damn you!

“You’ll all be fine,” he told them. “I have to be outside, but I’ll be doing everything I can. You’re all golden.”

“No we’re not,” Diana hissed. “Not until someone gets me that box of diapers!”

These Dead Lands: Desolation drops on October 22, 2019.

GHOSTS Free on Amazon

For those of you who might only have time for a quick little ditty, this one deals with Vietnam and the ghosts of the dead. Check it out!

THESE DEAD LANDS DESOLATION: Filling In The Center

He moved forward into the field, capping off reekers as he advanced. The screamers and runners had already met their fate—now he was just taking down shamblers and walkers. Just the same, it was stressful. Advancing upon an enemy that knew no fear and would never back down took a pair of brass ones, and knowing his family was only a few hundred feet away made that even harder. But he’d disgraced himself when he’d hesitated to jump in and save Kenny. So here in the darkness of night, where no one who wasn’t wearing night vision goggles would notice, Sergeant First Class Carl Ballantine set about making himself whole again.

 

THESE DEAD LANDS: DESOLATION on Pre-Sale

July 27, 2019 1 comment

It’s far enough along now that Wolf and I elected to go ahead and alert the general public. These Dead Lands: Desolation is available for pre-sale and will be officially released on October 22, 2019. After that, the ball keeps rolling with These Dead Lands: Desperation, but more on that one after this guy flies. 🙂  R.C. Bray is on the hook for a 2020 audiobook release as well, so I’m sure some of you will enjoy that!

THESE DEAD LANDS: DESOLATION–FAITH

As the surviving members of the 10th Mountain Division shoots the rails on a gigantic train, Stilley has a conflict. But all he needs is a little faith.

“Not necessary. Get some rest.” Ballantine turned to Stilley. “What I said about your people is the real deal. If they can hold out long enough, we’ll get to them.”

“They dead, Sergeant,” Stilley said, and for once his voice was soft and barely audible.

“You can’t think like that, man.” Tharinger was the one who spoke. “You have to hold onto that shit. It gives you life, dude.”

Stilley looked at him, and his eyes were white against his dark skin. “You want me to lie to myself for a while, right?”

“Want you to have faith, bro,” Tharinger said. “Faith, man. We all need it now.”

THESE DEAD LANDS: DESOLATION: Stilley + Flash-Bang = Dumbness

June 13, 2019 4 comments

In every unit, there’s always one dogface who just doesn’t get it. And his name is usually Stilley. As in, Craig T. Stilley.

 

“Man, that shit’s gonna wake up Kenny,” Hartman said.

“Yeah. World’s gone to hell, and all we have to worry about is a kid getting enough sleep,” Tharinger said from the back.

Guerra turned to look at him, irritated by the comment even though he had kind of been thinking the same thing himself. “You’re all heart, Tha—”

He was cut off by a piece of metal that bounced off his helmet. Stilley, Tharinger, and Guerra all stared at the flash bang grenade in Stilley’s hand, dumbfounded. Somehow, Stilley had pulled the pin and managed to let go of the safety lever at the same time.

Stilley’s eyes were as wide as silver dollars. “Yeah, like I didn’t mean to do that…”

Drop it, you idiot!” Guerra thundered. Stilley dropped it to the floorboard and pulled his knees to his chest. At the same time, Hartman wrenched the wheel to the right and stood on the brakes without being told. Guerra threw open the Humvee’s heavy door with all his strength and managed to get it ajar about halfway before the grenade went off like a thunderclap right behind his seat.