THESE DEAD LANDS: IMMOLATION–Society Unravels
Another excerpt from the first book of a new zombie apocalypse series written by Yours Truly and the globe-trotting retired Army Special Forces guy and all-around security expert, Scott Wolf. As always, this advance peek is unedited, and while dropping it in here, I already see things that need to change–so be aware there are changes afoot.
Fifteen miles later, they found several abandoned vehicles in the parking lot of a diner that had obviously been overrun by the dead. Hastings didn’t quite get what had gone down—it seemed that a dozen souls had tried to barricade themselves inside the establishment, but a fire had broken out, which put an end to their apparent siege. Pools of dried blood lay scattered throughout the parking lot, along with dried, tacky bones. The driver’s door to one Ford pickup truck was open, and as Hartman slowly eased the Humvee past it, Hastings saw the vehicle’s interior was splattered with blood and gore. Just the same, he noticed the PowerStroke insignia on the side of the driver’s door. It was a diesel.
“We’ll need to check out that Ford,” he said. “And it looks like there’s a produce truck or something near the back of the lot. Might be a diesel, too.”
“Roger that, sir,” Hartman said.
The three vehicles slowly drove around the parking lot. A flock of crows sprang into the air when the first Humvee drew near; they had been feasting on the remains of a human rib cage. Hastings suddenly became aware of the two young boys behind him, and he glanced back at them. Their mother had them wrapped up in her arms, and she met his eyes with an inscrutable gaze. Since she was taking the time to shield her boys from the sights beyond the Humvee’s windows, Hastings presumed she was finally coming out of her deep shock.
“All right, the area looks pretty secure for the moment. Let’s dismount and see what we can get. Stilley, take your Humvee back to the entrance and sit there—Tharinger, keep the fifty manned and ready. Ballantine, you might want to keep your truck close to one of the Humvees, so we can provide protective fires if required. Over.” To Hartman: “Pull over next to that produce truck, okay?”
“You got it, sir.”
“Six, roger that. I’ll stick with you guys. Over,” Ballantine transmitted.
Hastings double-clicked his radio. Pssht. Pssht. Message acknowledged.
“Missus Ballantine, stay with the Humvee,” he said when Hartman braked the vehicle to a halt.
“My boys need to use the restroom,” she said. “And frankly, so do I.”
Hastings grunted. “Very well. Guerra, stand guard in the cupola. Hartman, you check out that truck, and I’ll back up Ballantine as he stands guard over his family. I’ll keep you in sight at all times.”
“Sounds good to me, sir.” Hartman shut off the Humvee and scanned the area outside the driver’s door. Once satisfied that there were no immediate threats awaiting him, he eased the door open and stepped out into the sweltering day. Hastings did the same as Guerra took position in the Humvee’s gunnery cupola. Once he was convinced they were secure, he opened the rear door and waved the Ballantines out.
“Let’s go, folks. Slow and easy, all right?” He didn’t look at them; instead, he scanned the area, his M4A3 at the ready. In his peripheral vision, he saw Ballantine climb down from his truck and hurry over, his assault rifle indexed and ready.
Ballantine hurried to his side. “What’s the procedure, sir?” he asked, eyes on his family as they emerged from the Humvee.
“Your family needs to use the latrine,” Hastings explained. “You’ll stand guard, and I’ll back up you and Hartman. Hooah?”
Kay Ballantine kept her boys close to her, and looked from her husband to Hastings, then back again. “I’ll need some toilet paper,” she said after a long moment.
“Me too,” said the younger boy. “I have to poo-poo.”
Hastings smiled at that, despite the fact that there was ample evidence that indicated the zombies zeroed in on the smells of human habitation, especially those scents made by biological wastes.
“I’ll get you some from my pack. Ballantine, make sure they bury their business, okay?”
“You know it, Captain.”
Hastings reached back into the Humvee for his loaded backpack and opened it. He removed one of the sealed packs of toilet paper and handed it to Kay Ballantine, then pulled his weapon back into a low-ready position.
“There you go,” he said, scanning the area again and taking the time to ensure that Hartman was secure. He was already at the produce truck and was opening the fuel cap.
“Where can we go?” she asked, looking at her husband.
He pointed toward the nearby trees standing watch just past the parking lot. There was still a good amount of vegetation everywhere, so Hastings figured privacy shouldn’t be that much of a problem.
“Follow me,” Ballantine said.
“Ballantine, stay in my line of sight,” Hastings said.
“Will do, sir.” With that, Ballantine led his family away from the parking lot. Hastings looked back at Hartman, then up at Guerra. The stocky soldier had the grips of the Mk19 in both hands, and he looked at the remains of the diner for a long moment. He then turned and looked down at Hastings.
“Sir, the diner might be worth checking out,” he said. “Only half of it seemed to go down. The other half actually seems pretty remarkably preserved.”
“If we have the time,” Hastings said. “Hartman, how’re we doing?”
“Looking pretty good here, sir,” Hartman said. He was already preparing to siphon the produce truck. “Definitely diesel, and it’s a good quarter-tank’s worth.”
“Outstanding.” Hastings spoke into his headset microphone. “Reader, this is Six. You checking out that pickup? Over.”
“Six, roger that. Thing’s got two tanks, and both are almost full—we almost might be able to fill both Humvees from this vehicle. Over.”
“Understood. Break. Tharinger, anything from the road? Over.”
“Negative, Six. We’re good on the road. No signs of movement or activity of any kind. Over.”
“Roger.” Hastings continued his scans. He looked at Ballantine, who was standing at the end of the parking lot; apparently, there was a ditch on the other side of where he stood, and he was able to keep watch over his family and still scan the surrounding area from a slightly elevated vantage point. Several birds called to each other amongst the trees, and Ballantine turned in their direction. Hastings watched Ballantine from the corner of his eye, taking in his body language, ready to respond to any situation that might arise from his direction. When Ballantine went back to his scans, Hastings relaxed again. Minutely, anyway.
The siphoning went off without any issues. Reader had been right—both Humvees were nearly completely filled with the fuel from the Ford pickup, which meant Hartman just had to top them off with what he could pull from the produce truck. And when they were done, they still have a good twelve or thirteen gallons of excess diesel they could bring with them.
The Ballantines finished with their latrine mission and returned to the first Humvee. Once they were secure inside the armored vehicle, Ballantine and Reader set about securing more fuel for his pickup. He had two five gallon gas cans in its bed, and he emptied them into his pickup’s fuel tank before refilling them from other vehicles in the parking lot. Hastings told Hartman to stand overwatch while he cased the diner.
“You sure it’s a good idea to go in there, sir?” he asked, a worried frown darkening his features.
“I won’t be going far,” Hastings assured him. “I’ll stay in sight.”
“Okay, sir.” The skinny soldier didn’t sound very convinced, and his big eyes flicked this way and that. He wasn’t comfortable being the only soldier on overwatch, despite Guerra and Tharinger manning the cupola weapons.
“You’ll be fine, Hartman,” Hasting said. “All right? Just keep scanning and watch your lane. Ballantine and Reader aren’t so involved in what they’re doing that they can’t go to guns on a threat in just a second. Okay?”
“Okay, sir,” Hartman repeated.
Hastings nodded and started toward the remains of the diner. As he crossed the parking lot, he buttoned up his facial armor and took a moment to crack his knuckles, then flex his gloved fingers. His uniform stuck to his sweaty body, and not for the first time, he reflected on just how welcome an event a hot shower would be. As he drew nearer to the half-burned diner, he slowed and checked out the scene. He surveyed where he might step, where he might need a hand hold, and where he could simply step up into the diner itself. He tested a pile of blackened debris and found it would hold his weight, and he slowly scaled it until he could step into the diner proper.
The fire had ripped through more of the structure than he had initially thought, and the floor creaked and groaned beneath his weight. Hastings halted just inside the diner and waited, realizing he was almost perfectly silhouetted against the bright day behind him. Should there be any ghouls inside the building’s remnants, they would have a fantastic target to home in on. He stared into the diner’s fire damaged interior for a good thirty seconds, but nothing happened. There was no movement, there were no sounds he couldn’t immediately categorize, and above the smell of ashes and fried plastics and fabrics, he couldn’t detect even a whiff of a reeker. As far as he was concerned, Hastings was alone.
He moved deeper into the diner, stepping carefully, his rifle at the ready. Tables had been overturned, and their plastic tablecloths had melted to the floor. Along the rear of the diner, a long bar stretched from the far wall to the opening that faced the parking lot. Behind it, Hastings could see a blackened doorway that led to the establishment’s former kitchen. It was too dark for him to see anything inside the kitchen, but in order for him to inspect it, he would have to leave Hartman’s field of view. That would be unwise.
He slowly circumnavigated the diner. He saw a shape in one of the booths, and he snapped into a defensive posture immediately, his M4 trained on the human-shaped mass sitting there in the semi-darkness. It didn’t stir, so after a long moment, Hastings crept closer.
As he drew nearer, he saw there were more shapes on the floor. Zombies. Four of them, each down with fatal wounds to their heads. It looked like a big caliber weapon had done them in, a .45 or something similar.
There were actually four shapes in the booth. A woman and two children—a girl and a bog—were crammed into one corner, all of whom had been shot through their heads at close range, the skin on their faces dappled and fried by powder burns. They all had straw-blond hair, a color that even now shimmered in the wan light… despite the dark blood that matted it flat in places. Sitting across from the three corpses was another, a large man with dark hair and a dark beard, his head thrown back against the booth’s cushioned bench seat. His right arm was outstretched across the bare table. A pistol was still clutched in his hand, the slide locked back, the weapon empty. He had taken down some of the zombies that had broken into the diner, but there must have been more. Hastings imagined the man had killed his family after he’d realized he’d never be able to stop the horde himself. And he’d committed suicide after enduring the nightmare of shooting his family.
In a way, Hastings envied him. He knew how his family had died, and even though their last moments must have been full of sheer terror, he had been there. He had acted, and he had acted honorably.
Across from him, a puff of humid air entered the shell of the diner. The windows opposite had been shattered, and dense shards of glass lay across the floor. Another zombie lay stretched out on the floor, its mouth open, its lips drawn back, exposing bloodied teeth. The body of an elderly woman lay next to it, its head separated from the rest. The zombie had fed with such ferocity that it had torn the head right off the body.
As Hastings watched, the severed head’s mouth moved, and the rheumy eyes in the skull looked toward him with silent hunger. He grunted. He had seen this before, where a decapitated head had reanimated. The called them rollers, because that was the only way it could possibly pursue it prey.
Hastings walked up to it, pulled his brain bar from his belt, and swung at it mightily.
“Captain, we got something out here. Over.” Ballantine’s voice was somehow excited and sanguine at the same time.
“More reekers, Ballantine? Over.”
And then Hastings heard it—the sound a motorcycle would make when the throttle was wide open. He turned and ran for the demolished section of the diner and quickly picked his way down the debris, looking for his men. They were clustered behind Stilley’s Humvee, weapons at the ready, leaving Guerra alone to guard the other side of the formation. Hastings ran toward them just as a blue Suzuki sport bike shot around a bend in the street and rocketed past the diner. As the bike zipped past, its helmeted rider looked in their direction. Hastings was out in the open so the biker must’ve seen him, but the sight of Tharinger sitting in the Humvee’s cupola and training the .50 caliber machinegun on the newcomer did little to invite the biker to stop. He just kept going.
Hastings had no doubt what the biker was running from.
“Okay, do we have enough fuel for the vehicles?” he asked Ballantine as he pounded up.
“Yes, sir. We have all the fuel we can carry right now,” Ballantine reported. “Anything in the diner?”
“It’s a write off. Let’s mount up, that bike’s noise is going to lead the reekers right to us.”
“Hooah.” Ballantine turned to the rest of the soldiers. “You heard the man, let’s pull out of here!”
“Hey, that bike’s coming back,” Tharinger reported. He slewed the .50 around, and sure enough, Hastings heard the nasal roar of the crotch rocket approaching. He stepped around the rear bumper of Stilley’s Humvee and nodded to the black soldier who knelt nearby, his M4 at his shoulder.
“Get behind the wheel, Stilley. Hartman, get back to the other Humvee,” he said over his shoulder. The two soldiers complied as the blue Suzuki returned. The driver was clad in black leather, and his face was invisible behind the smoked visor set in the black helmet. Hastings saw a machete on the rider’s belt, and there was a bulge inside the riding jacket… right beneath the gentle swell of the rider’s chest.
A woman, he thought idly.
The Suzuki braked to a stop twenty feet away, and the rider’s feet dropped down to the ground. With the bike still rumbling, the biker undid the helmet’s strap and pulled it off her head. She was an Asian woman, with severe features that indicated she didn’t spend a lot of time laughing. Or maybe the events of the past few months had just conspired to rob her of any humor she might have once had.
“You still the good guys?” she asked over the rumble of the bike’s engine.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Hastings responded.
“I’ll make it easy for you. Down that street, there are two pickups full of rednecks who set up a road block and trapped the family I was traveling with. They killed the father, and they’re in the process of raping the woman and the little boy. Are you going to do anything about it?”
Hastings felt Ballantine ease up on him from behind. “How many men?”
“I didn’t have time to do a count, General. Five, six, maybe more.”
“How are they armed?” Ballantine asked.
“Guns. Shotguns. Nothing like that,” the woman said, inclining her head toward the .50 caliber machinegun Tharinger held on her.
“How far back are they?” Hastings motioned for Stilley to start up the Humvee, and a moment later its diesel engine clattered to life.
“A mile or so…” The woman looked down the road, and her eyes widened. “Well, maybe a little less than that—here comes some of them,” she said, and then she popped the helmet back on her head and spun the bike around.
“Hold on!” Hastings shouted, just as a late model black over tan Dodge dually pickup rounded the bend in the road. There were two men in the bed, both with beards and wearing old woodland camouflage battle dress and grimy baseball caps that were reversed so the bills pointed backwards, lest they be blown off by the wind. At least two more men sat inside the truck’s club cab. They had been hooting until they came around the bend and saw Stilley’s Humvee. Tharinger dutifully slewed the .50 around until he had it leveled on the big Dodge 3500.
“Captain, let me know what you want me to do!” Tharinger said.
“If they start shooting, you’re clear to fire,” Hastings said. “Ballantine, call Hartman and Guerra forward. Reader, back me up!” He hurried toward the road, M4 at his shoulder, and motioned for the truck to stop. It didn’t look like the driver was going to comply, so he fired a single round through the truck’s enormous chrome grille. That got everyone’s attention, and the big pickup slowed so abruptly that the two men in the back yelled as they nearly catapulted over the cab. Over his radio, he heard Ballantine call the second Humvee forward, and from the corner of his eye, he saw Reader trot toward the rear of the truck, covering the two men there with his assault rifle.
“Do not fucking move!” he yelled.
“What the fuck is this?” hollered on of the men in the back. His nose was bleeding, and he must have dropped his rifle. Just the same, he kept his hands up where Reader could see them. His companion still had his weapon, a mean-looking tactical shotgun… but he hadn’t pointed it anyone. Yet.
“United States Army. Dismount from your vehicle immediately, or you will be fired upon!” Hastings shouted, staring at the men inside the truck. The driver’s eyes were wide, and he held his hands up in the air above the steering wheel. The man sitting in the passenger seat didn’t look nearly as surprised; in fact, he practically glared at Hastings through the glass. While the driver appeared to be overweight and sported an ill-groomed goatee and mustache, his cherubic face framed by a virtual waterfall of greasy brown hair, the man beside him was slender and blond. His hair was in a long ponytail, and he appeared to have retained some general sense of what hygiene was. His pale eyes locked onto Hastings and didn’t move.
“There ain’t no Army any more, motherfucker!” yelled the man with the shotgun in the back of the truck. “Why the fuck are you stopping us?”
“Get out of the truck, or you will be fired on!” Hastings repeated. “Five seconds! Tharinger, stand ready to fire into the cab on my count! Five! Four! Three! Two—”
The two men in the back of the truck jumped out of the bed. Reader took a few steps back, keeping them both lined up in his targeting picture. The driver’s door slowly opened, and the fat driver half fell out of the lifted truck. He wore a stained black T-shirt, worn black jeans, and battered cowboy boots. A white Stetson fell to the road at his feet, and he looked down at it as if contemplating whether or not to pick it up. He had a chrome-finished pistol tucked into his waistband. The smaller man in the passenger seat kept his eyes locked on Hastings, and he slowly opened the door on his side. Something about the furtiveness of his movements bothered Hastings.
“Passenger! Remain where you are!” he said, and he reinforced the command by sighting on the man’s head through the red dot scope on top of his rifle.
The passenger sneered at him but got the message.
“What the fuck is this?” shouted the man with the shotgun.
“Reader, if that man does not put down his shotgun in three seconds, kill both of them,” Hasting said.
“Roger that,” Reader replied. “Boys, dump whatever weapons you have right now, or I’ll kill you. Three. Two. One.”
“Fuck you!” shouted the man with the shotgun, and he raised the weapon. Reader fired three rounds into his chest, driving him back against the truck. The man with the bloody nose held up his hands and shrieked, then got to his knees as the crotch of his jeans turned dark as he pissed himself.
“No, no!” he cried to Reader. “No, don’t shoot me!”
“Reader, if you need to shoot that man, do it,” Hastings said. “Your call.”
“Tharinger, keep that truck covered,” Ballantine said behind him. “I don’t trust that fucker in the passenger seat.”
“Hooah, Sarge. Got him lined up nicely here,” Tharinger said.
“Driver, disarm yourself right now,” Hastings said. “When you’re done, move over to the other guy and get on your knees with your hands on your head. Passenger! Remain where you are!”
“Yeah, whatever,” the blond haired man said.
“Guerra, keep your eyes open for any other threats,” Hastings said over the radio. “Over.”
“Roger that, Six. We’re good for the moment. Over.”
When the driver had complied with Hastings’s instructions and had joined the other man kneeling near the rear of the pickup, Hastings shouted to the passenger once again.
“Passenger! Slide across the seat and come out through the driver’s door. Keep your hands in our sight. If you do anything we think is stupid, you’re dead. Only warning.”
“Fine. When do you want me to come out?”
“Right now would be plain awesome with us.”
The man sneered at Hastings again. Keeping his hands above the dashboard, he slowly slid across the truck’s bench seat.
“He’s armed,” Tharinger said from his position atop the Humvee. “Looks like a little Heckler and Koch rifle slung off his right side. Also saw a pistol on his belt. And FYI, the guy’s got blood all over his jeans.”
“There’s supposed to be more of them,” Ballantine said, his voice low.
“Stay sharp,” Hastings said.
The passenger finally alighted from the truck, his hands still held high. He wore a denim vest over a black T-shirt, and his faded jeans and surprisingly clean white running shoes were in fact dappled with blood. And it looked fresh.
“Weapons,” Hastings said. “This is—”
“My only warning, or you’ll shoot me,” the man interrupted. “Yeah, yeah, tin soldier. I heard you first three times you said it.”
“Dude, you are not exactly approaching this situation in the best way,” Ballantine said. “Do as you’re told without further comment, or I will shoot you in the right kneecap.”
From the cab of the Dodge, a voice crackled over a speaker. “Jerry, what’s going on up there? Did you catch the slope bitch, or what?”
“So which one of you is Jerry?” Hastings asked.
“That’d be me,” said the blond man.
“What’s with all the blood, Jerry?”
He jerked his chin toward the woman astride the motorcycle. “She and her friends set up an ambush. Thing is, they didn’t realize how many of us there were, so they got their butts waxed. We were chasing her down to exercise justice.”
“Justice, is it? Okay. Who’s on the other side of the radio? What is that, a CB?”
Jerry said nothing.
“Silence isn’t going to work out here, Jer. Tell you what, let’s see you place your weapons on the ground in front of you, then you move over to your friends down there. Remember, my man on the fifty will chop you in half the second you do anything he even thinks might be stupid.”
Jerry looked up past Hastings’s shoulder and smiled. Probably trying to pass on to Tharinger that he wasn’t worried at all about the fifty cal.
The guy’s nuts, he told himself. But he didn’t know for sure if the woman on the motorcycle who still stood straddling the bike down the road was telling the truth. And one man was already dead—for certain, he had been trying to draw on Reader, and Reader had no choice but to fire.
“Movement in the trees on the other side of the truck,” Tharinger said. “Reekers. Probably drawn in by Reader’s shots. Smooth move, Ex-Lax.”
“Blow me, bra.”
“Sorry, no time to organize a search party.”
“Distance, Tharinger?” Hastings asked. He kept his eyes on Jerry. “Hey, Jer? Want to comply with my order, please?”
Jerry kept his eyes on Tharinger. “With those things moving in? Are you out of your fucking tin soldier mind?”
“Reekers are about a hundred meters out, still moving among the trees. They haven’t spotted us yet. Can’t get a count, but it’s got to be more than a few,” Tharinger reported. Then to Jerry: “And if I were you, jackass, I’d do as the captain orders. The only thing that’s keeping you alive right now is the fact that I haven’t applied another few ounces on the trigger, but I feel a sneeze coming on, so get ready for things to change.”
Down the road, Hastings heard the woman put her bike in gear. She slowly turned back and trundled to where the soldiers had the truck covered. She stopped her bike beside Hastings and flipped up her visor.
“Kill him,” she said. “He’s a rapist and a murderer.”
“That’s a lie, bitch,” Jerry said. He was still looking at Tharinger.
“Six, movement across the parking lot,” Guerra said over the radio. “I count over seventeen reekers heading our way. You want me to engage, or should we fall back? Over.”
“Roger that, Guerra. Break. Hartman, pull up here. We’re moving out in just a minute. Over.”
“On our way, Six. Over.”
“Jerry, your weapons,” Hastings said.
“Okay. Okay.” Jerry finally looked away from Tharinger and reached around behind him. Slowly, very slowly, he brought a SIG516 short barreled rifle. It was similar to Hastings’s M4, but much smaller, a personal defense weapon that was more easily concealable. As Hastings kept his sights on the man, Jerry slowly pulled the weapon’s strap over his head.
Then he snapped it up and pointed it right at Tharinger.
Hastings’s two shots were lost to the sudden staccato crackle of the .50 caliber. Jerry was blown virtually in half as the big rounds slammed through his chest, pulverizing flesh and bone and muscle in an instant, turning connective tissue and supportive biologic infrastructure into a jellified mass. The man collapsed to the road in a spreading pool of scarlet. His mouth moved as he tried to breath with lungs that weren’t there; and even if they had been, they were no longer attached to his diaphragm.
“Fuck! Oh fuck!” cried the driver.
Hastings turned on him immediately. “How many of you are there? Tell me!”
“Don’t say anything, Lenny,” the man with the bloody nose said.
Hastings shot him through the head at close range. The man called Lenny squeaked and gagged. Hastings took a step back just in case the guy started puking. He didn’t want some redneck upchucking all over his boots.
“Six more!” Lenny said. “We got a road block up the road—”
“Are they still alive, fucker?” the girl on the motorcycle asked. She kicked the bike closer, glaring down at the pudgy man.
“I don’t know! I didn’t have nothin’ to do with it!” The pudgy man looked up at Hastings with imploring eyes. “I wasn’t me! It was Jerry and the others, I didn’t have nothin’ to do with it!”
“You are so full of shit,” the woman said. She turned to Hastings. “Are you the commander here?”
“Yes.” Hastings held his rifle’s sights on the man. As the driver began blubbering, incoherently pleading for his life, Hastings felt nothing but mounting loathing for the man. He wondered about that. The world was ending, and he was only moments away from taking another man’s life, an American’s life, over charges that hadn’t even been proven yet.
The woman ignored the blubbering man kneeling on the ground. “Are you going to help me?”
From the truck, the CB radio blared again. “Jerry, this is Frank… what’s with all the gun fire? Are you guys all right? Kick it back, man!”
“Who’s Frank?” Hastings asked the fat man.
“Jerry’s brother,” he replied. Snot dribbled from his nose and ran through his mustache. “He’s like you, a Marine.”
“An active duty Marine?” Ballantine asked.
“I dunno,” the man said. “Maybe. I dunno. He came back to town about a year ago, could that mean he’s still in the Marines?”
“Guys, those reekers are starting to get close,” Tharinger said from behind the .50 caliber. As soon as he said it, Hastings heard a moan, echoed by another. He took his eyes off the sobbing fat man and looked over the hood of the Dodge Ram. Sure enough, ragged-looking corpses were tottering out from the treeline. There were no runners among them… yet.
“Sergeant Reader, gather up the weapons and toss them into the Humvee. Ballantine, go get your truck and get ready to move out.” Hastings glanced at the woman on the idling motorcycle. “Lady, what’s your name?”
“Diana,” she said.
“Hi, Diana. Get off your bike, dump your weapons, and get in that truck.” Hastings pointed to the big Dodge.
She looked at him through narrowed eyes. “Why?”
“We’re going to pay Frank and his pals a visit, and if things aren’t what you say they are, I’ll want you where I can get you.”
“What about my bike?”
“We’ll come back for it. The deadheads aren’t interested in it.”
After a moment’s pause, the woman killed the motorcycle’s engine and pushed down the kickstand. She slid off the bike and regarded the approaching zombies, flexing her fingers beneath her black leather gloves. She unzipped her black leather jacket and pulled out a small caliber pistol and put it on the ground beside her feet, then unstrapped the machete and dropped it as well.
“The gun’s empty,” she said. “I don’t have any more bullets.” She watched as Reader gathered up the weapons, then looked down at Jerry’s remains. His eyes were half-closed, and a thin thread of bloody drool had seeped past his lips. Hastings didn’t think the guy was alive any longer.
“Front seat or back seat?” she asked finally.
Diana pulled the helmet off her head and ran a hand through her medium-length black hair. Her skin was dark, and her eyes were bright. She appeared to be nervous, not frightened. Hastings didn’t know what to make of that. She stepped over the bodies without any trace of remorse and pulled open the left rear door and climbed onto the bench seat in the truck’s cab.
Reader finished gathering the weapons and dropped them into Stilley’s Humvee. While he stood guard, Hastings told the chubby driver to get into the driver’s seat. He then walked around the pickup and climbed into the passenger seat beside him, the barrel of his M4 sticking into his ribs.
“Try not to hit any bumps,” he said to the driver.
“Where we goin’?”
“To meet your friends.” Into his radio headset, he said, “Stilley, stay at least a hundred yards behind us. Tharinger, stay on the fifty. Reader, ride shotgun with Stilley. Ballantine, your call if you want to take your truck or mount up with Hartman. Hartman, I want you playing rear guard. Guerra, don’t be afraid to use the Mk19 if things get hot and you have a shot. Questions? Over.”
There were none.
“Let’s roll,” he said to the fat driver.
And there you have it. I’d hoped to have CHARGES released before this, but this book’s within spitting distance of being complete, so I had to push CHARGES back and move this one into its editorial slot. I’m due to hand it off around December 20th, which means Wolf and I should be in a position to release it within the first week of January. That’s not a hard release date–the editor might be late, and then the product will have to be proofed one more time, as well as under go a final review by us, so that date could slip a week or two. I’m relatively confident that it can see the light of day sometime in January 2015. We’ll probably start work on the second book in the series one or two months afterwards.
Unless no one buys the first book, that is. 🙂
By the way, this series is going to be very military-heavy, more along the lines of The Rising Horde. It didn’t start out that way–as a matter of fact, I took the original story I was going to write and used that for The Last Town series. With Wolf stepping into the mix, this is now a big, sprawling story about how the US manages to continue during the apocalypse. This means it’ll be a series chock full of guns, action, and acronyms. You heard it here first, folks!