“Left With The Dead” Teaser
NEW YORK CITY
The dead were everywhere.
Gartrell sprinted through the darkened husk of New York City, the flare in his left hand sputtering and spitting as it slowly ran itself down. He felt its heat on his hand even through the heavy glove he wore. He ignored the sensation and ran through the night as fast as he could, weaving around abandoned cars and trucks. He ignored the sidewalk and kept to the street itself. The deserted vehicles served as a type of obstacle course, slowing down the tide of corpses that pursued him.
Just the same, it was only a matter of time until they caught him.
The flare sputtered its last, turning into just a glorified sparkler now. Gartrell flung it away. He juked to his right and slid on his ass across the hood of a taxi cab, firming his grip on the Atchisson AA-12 automatic shotgun that hung from his body by its patrol strap. He didn’t know how many rounds he had left, but it couldn’t be very many. Five? Six? Behind him, past the wall of stenches that pushed through the street after him, he heard the chatter of automatic gunfire. It was the Coast Guard ship’s .50 caliber machinegun, holding back as many of the zeds as possible in order for McDaniels and the others to get to safety. He wished them luck. They would need it.
And so did he.
As he ran past an abandoned UPS truck, a stench reached for him, its fingers curled into claws, its jaws spread wide to reveal a dry maw. But like most stenches it was slow, its movements sluggish and not particularly coordinated. Gartrell saved his ammunition and punched the ghoul in the face instead, knocking it onto its ass as he dashed past. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the rest of the zeds no longer pursued him; instead, they clustered around the smoking remains of the flare he had thrown away.
He slowed just a moment and watched the growing crowd through his night vision goggles. Sure enough, they gathered around the flare, shoving against each other, casting about in the darkness. It took Gartrell a moment to figure out what the story was. The zeds were so stupid they had focused their attention on the flare as he had run through the night, and now their unblinking eyes were glare-blind. They equated the flare with food—him—and they had no idea why he wasn’t where the flare lay.
Boy, these things really are stupid.
And then, as if to prove he wasn’t exactly a mental heavyweight himself, a zombie jumped onto Gartrell from behind. It bit down on his helmet, its teeth skidding across the fabric-covered Kevlar. Gartrell spun and lashed out with his left elbow, and the hard pad he wore there caught the zed right in the face with enough force to break its nose. While the ghoul felt no pain—Gartrell knew the stenches responded to nothing but their incessant hunger—the impact was enough to loosen its grip. Gartrell continued his spin while seizing one of the ghoul’s wrists with his left hand and pulled it free. The zombie fell into the street behind him, and Gartrell fired one round from his AA-12 into its face. The zed’s skull exploded like an overripe watermelon meeting its fate at a Gallagher show.
The shot captured the attention of the pack of zeds huddled around the flare, and with one collective moan, they surged toward him.
Gartrell took off at a run again, heading down East 79th Street as fast as he could, weaving around the derelict cars and other debris that choked the street. The skies still flickered overhead as the artillery bombardment to the north continued unabated. The rangy first sergeant looked in that direction, and wondered if he should make for Army forces there, or try and double back to the boat.
The boat, he told himself.
He ran to the next intersection, moving as quickly as he could. More stenches flooded into the area, and Gartrell finally had to leave the relative cover of the street for the sidewalk. Concealed now only by darkness, he charged up East 79th Street to the intersection with York. He turned right and scurried up York Avenue. He knew the Coast Guard cutter Escanaba would likely sail north until it cleared Roosevelt Island before it would turn to the right and head back for the Atlantic Ocean. If he could get to East 86th or East 87th streets, he might be able to hail it before it reversed its course.
He ran and ran, his lungs burning, his legs and feet aching. He avoided contact with the stenches wherever he could, and refrained from firing on them unless he was danger close and there was no other way. Smoke tinted the air as well; there were some fires burning somewhere nearby, but he couldn’t see them. Clinging to the shadows, he darted from block to block, and employed stealth and night vision as his primary weapons.
But all the streets east of York Avenue were chock full of the dead. They’d been attracted by the cutter’s weapons fire, and they now massed along the banks of the East River. It would be practically impossible to return to the riverfront undetected. Getting to the Escanaba was pretty much out the window.
Gartrell swore under his breath and conducted a quick perimeter check. A wave of zeds shambled up the street and sidewalk behind him, moving in his direction. They probably couldn’t see him, he decided, but they knew he was nearby. And in the dim recesses of whatever passed for their tiny little minds, they knew that time and numbers were on their side. More stenches swarmed down York Avenue from the north. Their numbers were much smaller than those to the south, but Gartrell still didn’t like the odds. They shambled down the wide avenue like a filthy tide.
Gartrell tried to pull open the doors of a shop, and then the door of an apartment building, but both were locked. He had gone as far as he could. He couldn’t fight his way through to the north, south, or east—he didn’t have enough ammunition. He just as quickly discarded the notion of killing himself—things weren’t that dire yet, but he put a coda on that thought, since it might eventually become an option he would have to consider. Only one thing was clear to him right now: He did not want to be eaten by the gathering dead, and that meant he had to get the hell out of Dodge, pronto.
He turned up 86th Street and headed toward Second Avenue. As he crossed the intersection of York Avenue, a zombie appeared right in front of him. It turned toward him and its eyes widened when it saw him in the darkness. There was no opportunity to anything else but shoot it. Gartrell blew its head off with one shot, then jumped over the carcass and ran up 86th Street. The AA-12’s loud discharge captured the interest of every stench in the area, and before he knew it, the intersection behind him was filling with moaning, walking corpses. And ahead, more stenches appeared, hurrying down the street from Second Avenue. Gartrell was caught between two waves of oncoming zombies.
There was only one thing left to do. Hide.
Gartrell dropped to the ground and slid beneath a car parked at the curb. He flipped up his night vision goggles and unstrapped his AA-12 so he could fit beneath the car; with his body armor and the rest of his gear, it made for a very, very tight fit. He reached down with his right hand and drew his Heckler & Koch Mk 23 SOCOM pistol. It took some effort, as he could barely move. Even with the pistol in hand, if the zeds discovered him he no doubt as to how he would fare.
Sure gives a new meaning to close-quarters combat.
He then remembered that if McDaniels and the civilians made it to the Coast Guard cutter, it would make a lot of sense to contact the major and let him know Gartrell was still alive. He cursed himself for nothing thinking of it sooner, and he keyed his microphone button twice. Click. Click.
“Gartrell! Terminator Five, is that you? Over.” McDaniels’ voice sounded louder than usual in Gartrell’s ears.
Gartrell keyed his microphone button. Click. Click. Two clicks for yes, one click for no—that was how they’d been trained to communicate when voice wasn’t possible. And with a thousand zombies advancing on the area where Gartrell lay, having a nice easy chat with the major wasn’t going to happen.
“Five, this is Six. Can you speak? Over.”
“Five, this is Six. Are you somewhere on 79th Street? Over.”
“Five, are you injured? Have you been bitten? Over.”
“Five, stand by.” The radio fell silent, and above the distant pounding artillery, Gartrell heard the moans of the dead. He heard their footfalls as they shuffled along the street and sidewalk, and from the corner of his eyes he saw them shamble past the car. So far, so good.
Something grated nearby, metal on metal. Gartrell turned his head toward the sound. One of the ghouls had kicked his AA-12. The weapon lay on the street only a few feet away, but the zombies ignored it. Of course, how could they know one of the keys to his continued survival lay at their feet?
“Five, this is Six.” McDaniels didn’t sound happy. “The Coast Guard won’t allow us to come ashore and rescue you. You have to find a place and hole up, over.”
Gartrell shook his head. Are you fucking kidding me?
“I’ll be back, Gartrell. As soon as I can get some fellow legionnaires or even lightfighters, we’ll be back for you. Over.”
Click. It was stupid for anyone to come back to New York City just for him. If Gartrell couldn’t find his way out, then there was no way anything less than an entire Army Corps was going to be able to rescue him.
“Five, this is Six. We’ll be back for you. I’ll bring you back to your wife and kids. I swear it.”
Apparently, McDaniels didn’t see things the same way. Gartrell hit his microphone button once. Click.
“Gartrell…we’ll be back, Gartrell. You know the code, we never leave our own behind.”
Well, you’re going to have to this time, major. Gartrell knew McDaniels would continue preaching the party line, and espouse Gartrell not to give up hope. Then and again, McDaniels was apparently safe and sound on the Coast Guard cutter, so he could spout those kinds of platitudes and not really know just how ridiculous they sounded to someone on the receiving end. To avoid that, Gartrell switched off his radio.
He flipped down his night vision goggles and slowly checked the territory to either side of the vehicle. Dozens of legs stalked back and forth as the zeds cast about in the darkness, looking for him. Gartrell was completely surrounded, and as soon as the sun came up…
He looked at the Mk 23 pistol in his right hand, and wondered when he would finally have to use it—on himself.
Three loud, long horn blasts cut through the air. The stenches all turned as one to face the East River. Gartrell tried to look back, but his feet were pointed toward the river, and there just wasn’t enough room under the car to turn around. But over the rumble of the distant artillery, he heard something else—the rhythmic throb of big diesel engines. The horn blasted again, and the zombies shuffled toward the river. Gartrell knew it was the Escanaba getting underway. Had the horn blasts been intentional on the part of the Coast Guard, or McDaniels? An attempt to draw as many stenches to the shoreline as possible, and give Gartrell a chance? Or was it just Coast Guard procedure?
Whichever, it didn’t matter to Gartrell. The horn blasts kept sounding, and the zeds practically fell all over themselves trying to get back to the river. Soon, Gartrell saw no pacing feet on either side of the car. He was, for the moment, alone.
He crawled out from under the vehicle and picked up his AA-12. Keeping to a crouch, he took a moment to make a long scan of the immediate vicinity. He was half a block from Second Avenue, and perhaps four blocks from the East River Drive. Looking in that direction, he saw the Escanaba was indeed underway; she’d turned around and was heading back to the sea. All along East 86th Street, apartment buildings and small shops stood silent watch over the dark street. It would be dawn soon, and Gartrell knew he had better find some shelter by then or risk becoming something’s breakfast.
Or, more likely, forced to eat his gun and put a bullet in his own brain.
A Starbucks was across the street. He hurried across the traffic-clogged artery, keeping to a crouch, avoiding contact with the zombies wherever possible. Indeed, they seemed quite fixated on the Escanaba’s bleating horn, and that was curious. It seemed that anything that might lead them to a food source was worthy of 100% attention, even though there had to be hundreds if not outright thousands of people trapped in the city. Gartrell prayed the stenches didn’t suddenly experience an IQ upgrade that made them better hunters. He had enough to worry about at the moment.
The door to the Starbucks was, miraculously, unlocked. Gartrell stepped inside slowly, panning his AA-12 from side to side as he walked down the flight of three steps to the main floor. The coffee urns sat silent and cold behind the counter. Pastries were still inside the refrigerated display case, though it had stopped running quite some time ago. Gartrell eyed what he thought were cinnamon coffee cakes with some intent, regretful now that he had abandoned his rucksack and the several Meals Ready to Eat it contained. Not that MREs were even remotely palatable, but a man on the run from the zombie horde needed something to keep him going. However, the offerings from Starbucks would make a suitable substitute, even if a trifle stale.
And Lord knows the coffee cake’s gonna taste better than Meals Rarely Edible…
He turned away from the display case and took a long look around the shop. The NVGs revealed everything in stark, green-and-white detail. To his right, a short hallway that led to a single restroom. Beside that, another door—probably to the utility area. Next to the door he had entered through, an elevator for disabled patrons—not that anyone would be using it in the near future. To his left lay the dining area. Moving slowly, Gartrell stepped around the counter and looked down its length, toward the barista’s area. He raised his AA-12 immediately when he saw a figure crouched on the floor there.
It was a woman. A live woman, not a zed. Though he doubted she could see him clearly, she looked in his direction, likely after having heard him enter the store. While Gartrell had moved as stealthily as possible, the coffee shop was as silent as a tomb, and even the small noises of his movements stood out. She was dressed in clean, faded jeans, Nike running shoes, and a long-sleeved black T-shirt. Her hair was on the short side, short enough for Gartrell’s NVGs to pick up the glitter of the diamond studs in her ears. Her eyes scanned from right to left as she tried to separate his outline from the dark background of the wall. Gartrell cataloged all of these details automatically, but filed them away as tactically irrelevant under the current circumstances. Only one aspect of the sudden encounter commanded his complete attention.
That was the fact she had a gun pointed right at him.
Hope you folks liked the teaser. The full novella should be available at the end of next week. At around 33,000 words, it’ll be on sale for the nice price of .99¢. So check it out, and see what waits for our beleagured hero as he tries to navigate through a city full of the walking dead.