Next Up: DEAD IN THE CITY OF ANGELS
Coming over the next couple of days is Dead in the City of Angels, a more off-beat zombie adventure set in Los Angeles. This is more of a survival tale as opposed to the high-octane military adventures I’m known for, and in this instance, I’ve partnered with Jarret Liotta to introduce a different spin on things. The story deals with a Hollywood stuntman, Robert “Orion” Wallace, coming out of a long illness to discover that Hell-A has been overrun by zombies. The city has been mostly evacuated, his wife is dead, and his son is missing. Orion sets off into the zombie apocalypse armed with a baseball bat, a Springfield XDM .45 (bi-tone, of course), and a taciturn attitude to find his boy, Miles. (Liotta provided the bat, I provided the pistol.)
The book is around 60,000 words/250 pages long, and will be priced initially at $2.99.
Here’s another excerpt, along with the cover art. Here, Orion is traveling through Los Angeles with a woman he’s partnered up with named Samantha. Regrettably for Orion, Sam has little in the way of survival skills:
They journeyed back out into the quiet streets. The sun was very hot and, as so often is the case in LA, clouds were completely absent from the sky. They trudged along in silence, each contemplating the bleak future, the dismal present, and the uncomfortable load they were being forced to bear.
It wasn’t the one they had targeted, but they found a Ford dealership before they reached the other. The walk had been much farther and more exhausting than Orion had imagined it would be, so he was grateful to find the dealership when they did.
“I’ve never stolen a car before,” Samantha said, “so you’ll have to show me how to do it.”
Orion rolled his eyes. “It’s a dealership, Samantha. They have these things called ‘keys’ on the premises.”
“Listen, I’m sorry for what’s happened to you, but do you have to be such a raging asshole?” Samantha snapped.
Orion snorted. “Do you have to be a functional idiot?” he shot back. “Use your head. If I could hot-wire a car, we’ve walked past hundreds of candidates, right?”
Samantha glowered at him but said nothing.
As they approached the dealership, Orion pointed at a tall, black pickup truck sitting out on the lot. It was loaded with aftermarket accessories, like a four-inch lift kit, huge off-road tires, and a thick, flat bumper that housed a winch and a sturdy, powder-coated combination push bar and brush guard.
That’s the ticket.
The building was locked, so Orion hurled a brick through a door around back. The shattering of the glass sounded as loud as thunder, and he jumped back as shards exploded inward, skating across the dealership’s tiled floor.
“Christ!” Samantha said, shielding her face.
“Sorry, I’m an amateur when it comes to breaking and entering. Keep watch out here while I check this place out.”
Samantha looked stricken. “What, you want me to stay out here?”
“Only for a couple of seconds. Follow me in and stay by the door. Watch the glass.”
Orion grabbed his rifle and switched off the safety. He pushed in through the mostly empty door frame, taking care to avoid cutting himself on any of the shards that remained behind. Glass crunched under his feet, and he was thankful for the thick soles on his boots. He took a moment to sweep some of the glass away with his foot, as Samantha wore only thin running shoes. He pointed to the cleared area, indicating she should stand there. She did as he instructed and turned to face the parking lot with wide eyes. She held her rifle in both hands.
Inside, the air was still and smelled of new rubber tires and dangling air fresheners. Orion moved through the dealership quickly but quietly, rifle shouldered. While he wasn’t a trained shooter, he’d certainly played a few over his career as a stuntman, and had even taken advanced firearms and tactics classes in Nevada in order to prepare for some shoots. He had eaten that up, and the training still remained with him.
Never thought I’d get a chance to use it at the end of the world, he thought idly.
In one darkened office marked GENERAL MANAGER, he found a wall-mounted lockbox. It was, of course, locked. Orion swore under his breath and made his way to the service bay, where he found a crowbar. He checked in with Samantha as she stood by the door, now half-hiding behind a tall potted plant.
“Everything cool?” he asked.
“For now,” she said nervously. “Please hurry.”
Orion returned to the office and attacked the lockbox with the crowbar. It took several minutes, and it wasn’t a quiet, stealthy operation. By the time the box’s door popped open, he had nearly ripped it from the wall. Inside, dozens of key fobs and key rings hung in neat rows. Orion felt like he’d just won the lottery.
He had to go through the tags on each fob in an attempt to match up the keys with the truck outside. That took five minutes, and by the time he found it, he had two dozen key sets lying on the desk behind him.
2016 FORD F-350 SUPER DUTY
SRW TUXEDO BLACK AFTRMKT LIFT/WINCH…………………………$68,670
Damn, Ford sure is proud of its trucks!
“Orion!” Samantha’s voice sounded strangled, like someone who wanted very badly to shout but couldn’t. “Orion!”
Orion bolted from the office holding the truck’s key fob in his left hand and the pistol grip of his rifle in his right. Keeping low, he scurried through the dealership, weaving around a pristine Mustang GT and a Taurus SHO. He picked his way across the field of shattered glass and found Samantha cowering behind the plant, her rifle only haphazardly pointed at the broken door.
“Something’s outside,” she gasped.
Orion put the key fob in his left pocket and shouldered his rifle, keeping to a semi-crouch. Through the many large floor-to-ceiling windows the scene appeared quiet. The couple studied the picture while each held their breath. Sun glistened off the many windshields of the fleet of cars parked outside in the lot. It was hard to see if there was anything out there at all, for the glimmers made the illusion of movement.
They were both looking at a zombie for a long moment before either realized it was right there. For some reason it stood waiting, just on the other side of a nearby car, staring inside. Yet it made no movement.
“Oh shit! There it is!” Sam whispered.
“Sshh! I see it,” Orion hissed. “Don’t move … I don’t know what— It’s not moving … That’s …”
“Let’s get out of here,” Samantha said, and her voice was barely a whimper.
“No, no. It doesn’t see us … I don’t think.”
“Well, why wait for it?” Samantha tugged Orion’s sleeve. “Come on.”
“All right, all right … Keep calm. The truck we need is right at the front of the lot.”
As he spoke, another creature appeared. It walked up behind the first zombie and came to a halt a short distance behind it.
“Aw, hell.” Orion felt sweat break out across his forehead.
Another followed right behind that one.
“Orion, we’ve got to get out of here.” Samantha was edging into full-on panic mode. From the corner of his eye, Orion could see her trying to raise her rifle and sight on the zombies while simultaneously being afraid to move. The end result was she just wound up jerking the rifle barrel up and down a little bit.
“We will,” Orion said. “Just keep your shit together, Sam.”
He watched as the zombies continued to gather outside. It seemed they were almost assembling in the area, but they did not advance upon the dealership. The gathering reminded Orion of birds settling on the same fence.
Samantha seemed to reach the same conclusion, though it did little to comfort her. “What are they doing?”
Orion shook his head. “Maybe they don’t know we’re here, but maybe they …” He didn’t know how to conclude his thought.
“Well, look. Let’s just get in a car or a truck or a boat and get the hell out of here.”
“Right. You ready to move?”
Samantha looked over at him, a surprised expression on her face. “Wait, do you have a plan?”
“Yeah. Shoot the fuckers in the face before they mass and roll up on us.” Orion looked at her rifle. “Might want to switch off the safety, like I showed you. And put the scope on your target … like I showed you.”
“Do you have a fucking plan?” she snapped.
“Yeah. We’ll shoot as many as we can, then run for the truck. I have the keys. Pretty simple, right?”
“Now would be a great time, don’t you think?”
Samantha made a frustrated noise in her throat and raised her rifle to her shoulder. She waited, then glanced over at Orion.
“Well what? Shoot one!”
Samantha turned back and sighted on a zombie. Nothing happened.
“The trigger—it won’t move!”
“Switch off the safety, Samantha,” Orion said, clearly at wit’s end. “Pay attention, and remember what I told you!”
Because if you don’t, I’m cutting you loose, he said to himself as he raised his rifle and sighted on a target of his own. He heard a muted metal click as Samantha set her rifle to FIRE.
“Ready,” she said.
“Then shoot!” Orion hissed.
Samantha fired and yelped at the loud cracking noise. A cartridge flew out of the weapon’s ejection port, bounced off the wall, and rebounded off her head. Her bullet hit one of the zombies, but too low—it tore through its cheek, blasting out fragments of teeth and jawbone as it went. The zombie jerked, but didn’t fall.
“Hit it again!” Orion shouted, dropping one of the zombies himself. “And by the way, your rifle works.”
As Samantha took another shot that hit the zombie right in the nose—it went down—Orion straightened up and fired three rounds in quick succession. Two zombies went down, another floundered from a graze across its skull but recovered and shambled forward. Samantha kept firing from behind the plant, the concussions of the reports causing leaves to explode out in the parking lot. Another zombie danced slightly as the bullets ripped through its chest and shoulders.
“Head shots! Head shots!” Orion screamed.
“Well, it’s not going to get any easier, because now we gotta boogie!” Orion lowered his rifle for a moment and pulled out the key fob. He pressed down the remote start button on it, and a moment later, he heard the throaty cackle of a diesel engine springing to life.
“Follow me!” he yelled as he stepped through the windowless door frame they had entered through. “And try real hard not to shoot me in the back!”
“Oh, go fuck yourself!” Samantha shouted.
“Yeah, you might get your wish,” Orion said as he straightened and drilled out four rounds, taking down another two zombies as they picked their way around a row of cars. Beyond them, though, he saw at least three dozen more approaching. They stepped out of doorways and climbed out of buildings. One pushed itself right through a high window. It crashed to the sidewalk below in a shower of thick glass. Orion caught a glimpse of it thrashing about, still moving, still trying to hunt.
“Wait for me!” Samantha called, pushing her way past the plant she’d been using for concealment.
Orion gunned down another ghoul at a range of ten feet. “Better idea: you move your ass!”
Samantha came out firing. She missed more than she hit, and she didn’t down a single zombie. She did shoot up a lot of cars, and even sent one round ricocheting off the parking lot, where it narrowly missed Orion’s feet.
Orion sprinted halfway to the truck, then stopped to clean up some zombies. He shot them over the tops of cars as Samantha caught up. He swung around and oriented on the idling F-350. It was clear.
“Get in the truck!” he shouted to Samantha. “I’ll hold them back!”
Samantha needed no further prompting. She slipped past Orion as he continued dropping zombies, but the closer they got, the harder it was. There were too many. And while most of them moved slowly, some were coordinated enough to get some speed up. Twice, he was almost taken down by ghouls who got close enough to grab him. He killed one, and leaped away from the other, which fell flat on its face. That was fortuitous, for a virtual stampede of zombies tripped over their fallen brother, collapsing into a pile at Orion’s feet.
“Orion!” Samantha was at the passenger door of the truck. She stood on the broad chrome running board that ran the length of the cab and yanked on the hulking F-350’s door handle.
“It’s locked!” she shrieked.
Well, fuck me! Orion sprinted for the truck, body-checking a thin, emaciated-looking zombie that lurched into his path, arms and jaws spread wide. Orion didn’t even slow down and slammed into it with such force that he sent the corpse bouncing between two cars as it fell to the ground. As he ran, he let his rifle dangle by its strap as he reached back into his pocket for the key fob. He pressed the unlock button manically, again and again and again. Sam kept tugging on the passenger door, and when it suddenly popped open, she fell right off the truck’s running board. She shouted when her bottom hit the hard concrete of the dealership lot.
“Get up!” Orion had to skid to a halt and seize his rifle again so he could gun down two zombies that immediately shambled toward Samantha. She yelped as the bullets crossed over her and ripped through the grotesqueries, returning them to death’s everlasting embrace. Without wasting a moment, she gathered her feet under her and practically launched herself into the tall truck. Orion juked back to the driver’s side as she yanked her door closed. He fired three rounds into another zombie as it reached for him, but the shots weren’t aimed. They passed harmlessly through its chest, but one round must have impacted its sternum, for it was driven back long enough for him to slip past it. He reached for the Super Duty’s driver door, yanked it open, and hauled himself inside.
But not before a child zombie wearing ripped Spider-Man pajamas grabbed onto his foot. It sank its teeth into the padded collar of his work boot and began shaking its head back and forth, like a great white shark knifing away a huge chunk of blubber from a floating whale carcass. Orion kicked at it, trying to dislodge the ghoul. The zombie’s teeth tore away from his boot, but it held onto his ankle with one stubborn, clawed hand. Orion tried to turn the rifle on it, but the truck’s steering wheel was in the way. Likewise, lying mostly on his right side, his pistol was trapped beneath his body.
“They’re coming!” Samantha screamed. “They’re coming!”
Zombies swelled outside the truck, reaching for it, moaning over the idling diesel engine. Orion felt a bolt of sheer terror rocket through his body. They were within seconds of descending upon him, where he knew they would tear him from the cab and rip him to pieces.
Orion kicked at the kid zombie one more time, then pulled his legs inside the truck’s cab. The pint-sized corpse held on, snarling like some sort of rabid animal. Orion snarled back as he slammed the door closed on its wrist. He could feel the zombie’s cold, dead fingers flexing around his ankle, still trying to pull itself toward him despite the fact that the heavy door separated it from its prey.
The zombies hit the truck like a fetid tide, slamming it with their fists.
“Go! Go!” Samantha screamed.
Orion knew he had to insert the key in order to put the pickup in gear. He fumbled with it, trying to slide the key inside the ignition lock on the steering column. The cab was filled with the moans of the dead and the terrified shrieks of Samantha. Orion realized he was screaming as well.
Finally, he got the key in the ignition, turned it, slammed his right foot on the brake and dropped the big rig into drive. He then punched the accelerator, mowing down five zombies that had gathered at the truck’s grille. Their fingernails left scratches in the pearlescent paint as they went under, and the big Ford bounced up and down as it powered right over them. Despite everything, Orion was impressed. The truck was not only big and well protected, it was one powerful piece of machinery.
Gee, I kind of don’t miss my Dodge so much anymore.
He fought with the wheel momentarily as the rear wheels spun out and the truck fishtailed across the street, its big bed swinging back and forth and taking out even more zombies. One ghoul grabbed onto the big side-view mirror and held on for a moment before Orion cranked the wheel to the right and sent it flying across the sidewalk on the other side of the street, where it bounced off the thick metal base of a streetlight.
“Ain’t but one way out, babe,” Orion muttered, thinking of a favorite Allman Brothers’ song. Then he started laughing, as he remembered the next line. “And Lord, I just can’t go out the door!”
More zombies filled the street, a virtual chorus line from a nightmare—things that were once haggard old women and grisly men, tall business suits and teenage goths, and even some child-size creatures that scurried around the legs of the bigger monsters.
“Hold on!” he said more to himself than Samantha, plunging the truck right into the heart of the massing dead. In a second, zombies were splashing over them like the scrub brushes of an indoor car wash. Several flew right over the brush bars and onto the hood, while others were smacked and thrown off to the sides in both directions by the heavy bumper. The new tires of the truck jerked and bumped over any number of bodies and random limbs as they made their way down the street. Orion cranked the wheel left and right, trying to spare the front end of the vehicle from as much punishment as he could. Even though it was well fortified by the aftermarket push bars, he didn’t want the radiator to be damaged—he’d been there before. It was a hot day and he very much felt the diesel-guzzling, fire-breathing engine under the Ford’s broad hood needed a lot of cooling. And then there were other vehicles in the street, those that had been abandoned or had been involved in traffic accidents. It was a nightmarish obstacle course from hell, and the truck’s cab was filled with the sounds of multiple impacts, snarling moans, and Samantha’s never-ending screams of terror. Not to mention Orion’s own.
Ahead, he saw a clearing in the street—they were approaching the end of the mob. Orion stomped down on the accelerator and the truck leaped forward, the bellow of its huge diesel engine sounding almost like a lion’s roar. More necrotic bodies spun away from the rig’s reinforced front end, tumbling across the street and plowing into abandoned vehicles or other zombies. The big Ford left a wake of spasming corpses behind it, corpses that still tried to pursue the truck despite broken bones and perforated body cavities.
As they cleared the mob, five or six of the creatures still clung to the truck in various places—two on the brush bars at the front of the vehicle, others with greedy arms clutching over the side of the open bed.
“They’re holding onto the truck!” Samantha squealed.
“You might want to shut up and put on your seat belt,” Orion told her as he took his foot off the accelerator and let the truck slow down. Keeping his right hand on the wheel, he reached back with his left, grabbed his own seat belt, and pulled it across his body. Samantha did as he told her and Orion heard her belt click into place.
“Brace yourself and hold on!” he shouted. Samantha pushed herself back into the padded leather seat without a word. Orion glanced over at her, then slammed on the brakes. The big truck’s anti-lock brake system thrummed like a quartet of snare drums as it shuddered to a sudden halt, its big, knobby tires dragging along the pavement in fits and starts.
The stop threw the two zombies off the truck’s grille, along with a couple in the back. Orion goosed the accelerator and drove right over the corpses flopping around on the street in front. He grimaced a bit when he heard the sounds of skulls and bones being crushed under the heavy tires, like plastic bottles being stomped and popped. There was some frantic scrabbling against the truck’s underside as the big rig rolled over the bodies without even slowing down.
Orion sped on, heading north on Sepulveda, while Sam took a moment for an inventory of what was happening behind them.
“That was fantastic! You must have—shit! They’re still on us. Orion, there’s two … no, I think there’s three hanging on. On the back! They’re still on the back!”
Orion checked the mirrors. Sure enough, there were zombies still clinging to the truck. He swerved the pickup left and right in an attempt to shake them off, but they clung fast. Ahead, he saw another abandoned car. He sliced the truck toward it, bringing the truck’s right fender within six inches of the car’s bumper. The zombie hanging on that side of the truck bed slammed into the car with a sickening crunch and cartwheeled through the air. It had been torn in half. The impact jerked the truck sideways and Orion lost control for a second, fighting to get it back under his command as it swerved around on the road. He glanced in the rearview mirror and saw the legs and lower torso of the zombie flop to the ground at the roadside. A pile of ravaged meat.
“Got him!” Samantha called out. “You—”
She screamed. The upper half of the mutilated zombie had tumbled into the bed of the truck. It raised itself over the lip of the spray-lined bed and started slapping one hand against the tempered glass at the rear of the cab. In the rearview mirror Orion saw it was staring at Samantha with flat, lifeless eyes. It didn’t even seem to be pissed off that it had been torn in half.
“My God! It’s still alive! It’s still moving!” Samantha cried. The zombie’s ravaged abdomen left a painting of crap-colored goo all across the black plastic bed liner as it moved.
Meanwhile the two other creatures continued holding on at the other side, struggling to hoist themselves up and over into the back.
“Hold on,” Orion warned. He hit the brakes as hard as he could, jerking the half-severed creep straight up flat against the window, where it crashed and fell back, leaving a disturbing splash of bile and goo. Orion slammed the truck into park, unsnapped his seat belt, and threw open the door. The juvenile zombie was still there, clinging to the running board. It was severely scraped up, but still moving. Orion planted his boot right on its head, crushing its skull with two powerful stomps. At long last, the hand clutching his ankle went slack and fell away.
“Jesus, where the hell are you going?” Samantha shouted.
“Just taking out the garbage,” Orion said. “Sit tight.”
He slammed the door closed and stepped toward the rear of the truck. The two ghouls that had been clutching to the side of the truck fell to the street on unsteady legs, their eyes on him, wide and unblinking. The zombie in the bed hissed as it slithered toward him, trailing a streamer of ochre-colored intestines. Orion appraised the situation for a moment, then reached into the bed, grabbed one of the mangled half-monster’s wrists with both hands, and hurled it right at the two remaining zombies. The impact knocked one of them on its ass, but the other slumped against the truck’s dented fender and slid toward him, reaching for him with gray hands.
Orion pulled his pistol and shot it right in the face at less than three feet. The effect was dramatic—the back of the corpse’s head exploded outward, pelting the other zombie with gore as it tossed aside its severed compatriot and slogged its way back to its feet. It ignored the bloody gruel that clung to it. Orion shot it right in the mouth and it fell to the street as if poleaxed. That left the half-zombie, which was already crawling toward him as fast as its dead arms could move it. Orion looked down at it.
Save the ammo for the real threats.
He looked around and saw more zombies were stepping out of doorways and crossing the sidewalks to get at him. He pulled open the driver’s door and slipped behind the wheel.
“You all right?” Samantha asked.
“Never better,” Orion said as he threw the truck in gear. “At least not this week.”
He stomped on the accelerator and the big Ford surged down the street.
Next up, and I’m talking maybe two or three weeks: The Last Town #3.