THE RETREAT 6: Missed Deadline

Well, this is monumentally embarrassing. Due to some rather odd circumstances in life, I’ve been stuck at the 80% mark on this book and have not been able to finish it. I did push back the release date and in normal times, would have been able to meet the revised date. Regrettably, that’s not how it’s going to work out this time.

So, at around 8:00PM EST today, the pre-sale for The Retreat 6: Forlorn Hope will be automatically canceled by Amazon.

This is entirely my fault, and has nothing to do with Craig DiLouie. I’m not going to forecast a release date at this time, but here’s hoping it’ll be sooner rather than later.

A thousand apologies, folks.

Categories: Writing

THE RETREAT 6: Those Two Inches

Same as always…no guarantees this makes it into final.

“You guys will be here for four hours,” Muldoon answered finally. “Afterwards, you’ll be relieved—probably by me and someone else.” He pointed down the stairway, where another door—this one a standard fire door as well—stood closed. “The FBI folks will stay with Moreau directly. You don’t have to look at her anymore, at least not until it’s time to pull out.”

“Or we get overrun,” Rawlings said.

Muldoon nodded. “Or until we get overrun. Right, keep up the happy thoughts, babe.”

Rawlings clucked her tongue and tossed her head. Muldoon smiled behind his mask. God, how she hated that…and how he loved it. He looked back at Campbell.

“Campbell, you cool?”

“What the fuck you think, man?”

“What do I think? I think you’re my replacement for Nutter,” Muldoon said. “We need a new mascot, and you’re almost his size.”

“And more than twice the man he was,” Campbell replied. “Don’t be saluting me from your crotch, now. Otherwise I’ll rip that little dingus out by the roots.”

Muldoon grabbed his crotch. “Little? Well, that’s true. It’s only two inches…” He paused for dramatic effect. “…from the floor.”

Campbell rolled her eyes. “Sure thing, Sergeant. I’ll be sure to pass that on to the next sharpie I see.” SHARP was the acronym for the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, and those who implemented its mission were known as sharpies. Like most quality-of-life initiatives undertaken by the military, it was more of a joke than anything else.

“Well, then. I’ll be sure to wear a cup,” Muldoon said.

“Maybe a thimble’s enough for you,” Campbell countered. She grabbed at the apex of her own thighs, aping Muldoon’s vulgar motion. “Try not to get all bruised up while banging around in there.”

Muldoon snickered. Despite the fact she was a wild child, Campbell had it all going on. “Fuck, girl. All bullshit aside, I gotta say, I like your style.”

“Only cuz you got no style, white man. Trust me, I can tell a player when I see one.”

Muldoon pointed at her. “You? You and me, we’re gonna run hot shit in Valhalla, sis. Big Army missed out on you, letting you hang with the Guard.” He held out his left fist. “Bump me.”

Campbell looked at Muldoon as if he was an alien life form, then slowly extended her own left hand. One bump, right hand on her rifle. As it should have been.

“You don’t know shit about me,” she said.

Muldoon leaned in. “But I know enough.”

Campbell drew back a bit, but at the last moment, her fingers wrapped around his thick wrist. She didn’t say anything. Neither did Muldoon, though he felt the emotion rising in his chest. Campbell was a hundred and ten percent shit kicker. Didn’t need the National Action Network to campaign for her. She’d stack ’em tall and high, no matter what.

He reached up and pulled off his hood and mask and let them flop down beside him. He reached out and grabbed her shoulders and held her there, looking at her with his pale Anglo-Saxon eyes. “I get where you come from,” he said. “I get what you’ve been through. Sis, you’re one of us. You ride tall in that saddle, and shit’s going to work out for you. You might not be a lightfigher, but you’re a hundred percent warrior class. Hooah?”

Campbell raised her left hand. “Yeah. Whatever the fuck. You going klown on me?”

Muldoon barked out a laugh and slapped her shoulder as he pulled away and reached for his mask. “You fucking wish, asswipe. I’m the guy who gets to give you orders.” He slipped on his hood and then the full face mask. As he tugged it tight, he looked from Campbell to Rawlings. “You two keep shit tight for the next four hours. And if everything works out…I’ll see you later. If not…” He shrugged. “Get ready to zero anyone who comes down these stairs, you bitches.”

THE RETREAT 6: Fucking Primate

As always, the attached is offered without proofreading and is not guaranteed to be in the final product.

“So who do you want me to sack this time, sir?” Muldoon asked. He was a skeleton of the soldier Lee had known before. He was no longer the tall, broad-shouldered, hay-fed farm boy he’d been in the years past. Now, even Muldoon had been run ragged. A shadow of his former self. The swagger was still there, but Lee could see the NCO was run out. Just like all the lightfighters. They’d fought a world war right here, inside the United States, and that carried a ton of weight.

“Don’t want you to kill anyone today, Sergeant.” Lee’s voice was a hoarse whisper. Too much stress. Too much weight on his shoulders. Too little hope.

Muldoon looked suitably surprised. “Well. No shit.”

Lee tapped the maps on the table before him. “Right here. Reynolds will open up a corridor to Florida. The battalion can make it.”

Muldoon looked at the maps and the associated graphics for a long moment. “Okay. I’ll cover the retreat.”

Lee shook his head. “Fucker, you’re going to lead it. Walker can’t hold this shit together. It’s on you.”

Muldoon turned away from the map. “Yeah, sir…I don’t get it. You want me to lead…?”

“Get the troops out, Muldoon. Get them away from here. At zero two hundred, you need to have everyone ready to move. First Sergeant Zhu and the remaining Bushmasters will fight rear guard. Cover you from behind. We might even have some Hogs or Apaches overhead for punishment as the klowns roll in. They’ll advance, and you squirt out under covering fires. Hooah?”

Muldoon blinked. He looked over at Rawlings and Campbell, but they were too far away to hear Lee’s voice. He shifted his weight on his feet, and his shoulders swayed.

“Don’t get it,” Muldoon said finally.

“What the hell is there not to get, Muldoon? Take the battalion out of here. Cross the forward line of troops, and reconstitute on the other side. Should be a pretty simple order, even for a fucking primate like yourself.”

Muldoon raised his head and looked right into Lee’s eyes. They both had the thousand mile stare now, but they were able to focus on each other in that moment.

“What about you, sir?” Muldoon asked.

Lee smirked. “I have ten Special Forces soldiers here, Muldoon. What about me?”

“You’ll die here, Lee,” Muldoon said.

Lee looked back at the tall NCO for a long moment, then spread his hands. “Onward Christian soldiers,” he replied. “You have orders. Get that shit done. Now.”

THE RETREAT 6: The Art of the Inveigle

Sorry to be the FedEx guy of bad news, but I’ve missed my editorial date. This title will be released in August, so dry yer tears–it was unavoidable for reasons I shan’t bore you with. However, now I can post more excerpts! Unedited, no guarantee they’ll be in the final product, blah blah blah x 100.

The battalion settled into the remains of the base, using mounds of rubble and the skeletons of shattered buildings for concealment. There were reinforced hangars on the airfield. While these had great holes torn through them, they were still standing and could serve as temporary shelters for the vehicles and the command and control element. Lee thought they had been hit by Reynolds’s command, probably as a tactic to deny them from falling into the hands of the klowns. Any aircraft that might have been inside had been effectively destroyed, as had any that were parked on the tarmac outside. The burned remains of several helicopters and C-130 transport planes were virtually nothing more than twisted, melted metal surrounded by pools of black soot and ash.

Observation posts were established. Like most military bases in the US, the airfield had served as an anchor point for a sizeable civilian community. To the south was the town of Bemiss, and at this range it appeared the settlement hadn’t fared much better than Moody. Whatever had happened there had occurred days if not weeks ago. No fires burned, and everything seemed still, as if frozen in time. Lee told Walker to stand up a detail to go through everything that had been picked up at DZ Nuts, and he instructed First Sergeant Zhu and his senior commanders to establish a tight defensive perimeter. Once the battalion was secure, he would report the unit’s status back to Rock and wait for further orders.

As these actions were underway, Lee tracked down Tackaberry and Linton. He found the old men around one of the trucks, where Tackaberry was briefing his team’s surviving members on what they could potentially expect. The tall former lightfighter watched Lee approach, but he didn’t stop his discussion. Lee stood apart from the group as they knelt in the shadow of a two-story pile of rubble and listened to Tackaberry extol the group to protect their vehicles and keep eyes out. They would have to pull security and Tackaberry said he envisioned them as performing relief duties for the battalion if their stay was to become an extended one.

“But at the end of the day, this is what we need to be worried about.” The retired colonel slapped the drab side of the hulking truck beside him. “We lose these vehicles, we’re on foot. And this is not the place for a country stroll, gentlemen.”

The old men snorted and nodded.

“So take your medications. And Deacon, I want you to double up on that Bean-O. I know what happens to you when you go on a high protein diet,” Tackaberry added with a smile.

“You sure about that?” said a portly man in a dirty white shirt and torn golf pants. “I can play reveille with my ass.”

Tackaberry waved his hand in front of his face, as if attempting to clear an offensive odor. “Please…please don’t do that,” he said.

The men chuckled quietly. Even though they hadn’t been in the thick of it for long, they understood laughter was no longer a comforting sound to overhear. But dark humor was always the last thing to die on the battlefield.

Tackaberry finally turned to Lee as the assemblage broke up. “Yes, Colonel?”

Lee pointed to Linton. “Actually need to speak to your senior NCO, sir,” Lee said.

“Linton? Could you come over?”

The older black man adjusted his big rifle as he stepped away from the truck, looking from Tackaberry to Lee. “Sirs?”

“Colonel Lee would like a sidebar,” Tackaberry said.

Linton nodded. “Yes, sir. What can I do for you?” he asked Lee.

Lee indicated the air base. “You said you spent some time here?”

Linton sighed. “It was a bit cleaner back then, sir.”

“I understand. What can you tell us about Moody?”

“Home to two major units, the 23rd Wing and the 93rd Air Ground Operations Wing. A-10s, C-130s, and Black Hawks for rescue. They were UH-1s back in my day, but the mission remains the same.” Linton pointed to one of the blast-rated hangars that Lee’s headquarters company was setting up inside of. “A-10s were over there. Seeing as how you’re moving vehicles into the hangars, I’d say they were evacuated before the attack. And I see some other aircraft were destroyed. I guess they couldn’t get them all out.”

“What other units were here?” Lee asked.

“Several. But I’m thinking you might be interested in the 820th, sir.”

Lee cocked his head. He’d heard of it. “That’s a base defense group, right?”

Linton nodded. “Run out of here, sir. Not just administrative function, but actual squadrons.”

 “Do you know where they were headquartered, Leon?” Tackaberry asked.

Linton snorted and looked around the remains of the base. He pivoted, and pointed north. “Somewhere around there, sir. The 820 has—or had—four buildings. All with their own armory. 40-millimeter, small arms, even munitions for C-RAMs.” He turned back to Lee. “Want to re-equip, Colonel? Back in the day, they had thirty five-tons, about a hundred and thirty Humvees, and between ten and fifteen deuces. Maybe not as durable as your Army gear…but definitely more plush,” the former Air Force master sergeant said. “Probably not much of them left, but if they’re here, they could come in handy.”

He turned and faced the shattered, crater-dotted runways that paralleled the eastern portion of the base. “Munitions storage for aircraft would be right there…but they’ve been hit. Looks like they suffered damage from secondary explosions, too.” Linton pointed out the string of collapsed buildings, right next the C-130 graveyard.

Tackaberry stepped forward and shielded his eyes from the summer sun. “Going to be tough to find anything useful in there, Harry,” he said.

Lee sighed, deflated. “Yeah. I think you may be right about that, Colonel.”

“There is one thing that might still be of some use to you, sir,” Linton said after a moment.

Lee turned to the older black man. “What might that be?”

Linton turned away from the airfield and pointed toward the post’s south side. “On this side of, uh…” He paused suddenly, thinking. “Yeah, on this side of Vanguard Way. The command post. Lower level was a reinforced bunker, going back to the Cold War. Where the command staff could operate in the event things went nuclear. It might still be there, but even if it is, it might not be usable. Now, I personally never went inside, but I know it was there.”

Lee considered that for a moment. “That could be very useful,  Sergeant. Thanks for that. Would you be willing to accompany a detail there to check it out?”

Linton turned to Tackaberry, who nodded. “We can do it for you if you like, Colonel.”

Lee nodded toward the sky. “Might be safer to wait until nightfall,” he said. “There’s not a lot of cover out here, and we don’t have a handle on the security environment yet.”

Tackaberry chuckled dryly. “Son, there is no security out here. We’re right behind klown lines. They’ll circle back this way, and when they do? By now, they’ll have night vision gear too. We weren’t going to keep that advantage all to ourselves, Colonel Lee.”

“Thanks for the pep talk, Colonel Tackaberry.”

Tackaberry shrugged. “Just telling it like it probably is, Lee. But you’re in charge, so you set the pace.” The taller man turned and looked in the direction Linton had indicated the bunker might lie. “But we should recon sooner rather than later, in my mind.”

“Let’s at least wait to start handing out provisions,” Lee said.

Tackaberry nodded. “Roger that.”

Walker’s voice came over Lee’s headset. “Six, this is Five. We’re set up here. Over.”

Lee hit his push to talk button. “Roger, Five. What’s the word on that supply count?”

“Six…it’s almost entirely ammunition. Small arms, some mortars, some AT-4s and mortar rounds. About a hundred gallons of water, a hundred pounds or so of chow, basic medical supplies. Batteries, spares…nothing unusual.”

Lee frowned and considered that for a long moment as Tackaberry and Linton looked at him. They could only hear his side of the conversation.

“Roger all, Five. I’m coming in.” Lee started to turn away, then thought better of it. He looked at Tackaberry and repeated to him what Walker had relayed. Tackaberry listened then cupped his chin thoughtfully.

“Mostly ammunition, huh?”

“That’s what Walker said.”

Tackaberry nodded slowly and exchanged glances with Linton. “Colonel, I understand your reservations about conducting recon in daylight, but you might want to reconsider. If all we got was an ammo resupply, then that means only one of two things.”

Lee adjusted the set of his rifle. “Yeah. It means Reynolds is prepping us to fight our way through the front line.”

“That’s one,” Tackaberry said. “It also might mean he’s going to use us as bait, and wants the battalion to put up a credible fight when the klowns come rushing in.”

Lee snorted, incredulous. “Why the hell would he do that?” he asked. “We have Moreau. Letting the klowns get to us just ensures they’ll take her. Reynolds knows we couldn’t do much more than manhandle a couple of old grandmothers at this point.”

Tackaberry smiled thinly. “You could be right about that, of course.”

Lee felt something begin to unwind in his mind. “Colonel, what’s on your mind?”

“I’m just wondering why Armand Reynolds pulled us back from the line to a clearly contested Air Force base in Georgia,” Tackaberry said. “There are a dozen better rally points in the area. We have good sightlines, of course. That works for us. But it also makes us vulnerable to indirect fires, not to mention a mass attack we’d be hard pressed to deter.”

“I don’t really follow you, sir.”

“I’m with Colonel Lee on this one, sir,” Linton said. “We have the girl. That makes the battalion an asset higher should want to protect.”

Tackaberry smiled again. There wasn’t an ounce of humor in it; the gesture was merely an automatic response. “You gentlemen don’t know Armand Reynolds like I do,” he intoned. “He has no problem making sacrifices. No problem at all. Expect no hesitation from him. If there’s a strategic value to an action, he’ll take it.” He locked eyes with Lee and jerked his chin toward the younger man. “If he tells you to get Moreau ready for transport … that’ll be your signal, Harry. He’ll spirit her away, and then leak our location to the klowns. They’ll mass, probably with Marion Grey riding a limo at the head of the advance. They’ll think they have a chance at getting Moreau…and then Reynolds will take out everybody. Everyone,” he added for emphasis. “And if he gets spooked? Same thing. Even compared to the rest of the Corps, Armand’s never held back when it comes time to pulling the trigger.”

Tackaberry let that sink in for a bit before continuing. “Don’t think Armand Reynolds is going to let things like we’re the good guys and we’re uninfected Americans come into play. None of that matters to him. Not one fucking bit.”

Lee considered that for a long moment. Like most military officers, he knew Reynolds more by reputation than personal interaction. It seemed as if Tackaberry had him outclassed in that department—the retired colonel appeared to have the inside track to how the general operated. And more importantly…what Tackaberry suggested made sense. There was some value in using the battalion as bait. Lee might have made such a call himself, if he were in Reynolds’s boots.

“I’ll let you know what the orders are as soon as I can,” Lee said. “In the meantime, if you want to check out Sergeant Linton’s bunker…you have my blessing. I’ll ask the first sergeant to detail some lightfighters to you. Hooah?”

“Hooah,” Tackaberry said. He cocked his head to one side. “Disappointed, Harry?”

Lee narrowed his eyes. “In what?”

“That Reynolds only sees you as a tool. Even though you took command of an entire battalion and made it all the way down here…to him, you’re just another widget.”

Lee took a second to consider his response. “Truthfully, sir…it wouldn’t be the first time.”

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


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!


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?”