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THE RETREAT 6: Flat-Headed Neanderthals

November 23, 2020 Leave a comment

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?”

THE RETREAT 6: Never Fuck With The Old Dogs

September 21, 2020 2 comments

As always…offered without assurance this will appear in the final. Unedited, raw text…so reader, beware.

Tackaberry spun toward Lee like a supercharged cyclone, his movements strong and direct. Lee didn’t have an instant to respond; just like that, the big former lightfighter was on him like an eight hundred pound gorilla. He wasn’t acting like a full bird colonel now; he was acting like a light infantryman, and Lee saw the wild fire in his eyes. He grabbed the front of Lee’s battle rattle and practically yanked him off his feet as if Harry Lee was nothing more than a child as they stood in the cool shadow cast by the UH-1N.

“I flew Hueys in Vietnam, you little snot nosed fuck,” Tackaberry said, his voice a rough growl. Zhu reached out for him, and Tackaberry lashed out with a vicious strike, slamming the flat of his right hand against Zhu’s body armor. The acting sergeant major stumbled backward and fell against the bullet-riddled helicopter, arms pin wheeling. It was almost comical to watch, Lee thought.

He struggled against Tackaberry, but the old man was bigger and surprisingly strong despite his age. He held Lee firmly in place with one hand like an adult would restrain a wayward toddler. Tackaberry pointed at Moreau as she sat on the ground not far away as Rawlings and Campbell surged forward, weapons shouldered. They found themselves facing down three of the Geezer Brigade, old men who were steeped in the recipes of armed conflict and perpetuating disaster.

“Stop!” Lee shouted. “Weapons down! Weapons down!”

“Stand down!” Zhu yelled. “Let’s pull this together!”

“You think that because we’re old men we’re somehow unable to answer the call,” Tackaberry snarled at Lee. “You think that because we’re old men that when things get tough we’ll shit our pants and wonder where the fuck our tapioca pudding is, right?” He snorted. “You wear the rank of lieutenant colonel, but you have no fucking idea what that means. I’m telling you now, diaper rash—it’s all about making the one call you have to make.” Tackaberry released him then, practically throwing Lee away from him like a piece of garbage. Lee stumbled backward, and then Muldoon was there. He caught Lee and steadied him, and Lee felt embarrassment course through his veins.

“You might want to be a little more gentle with the Old Man,” Muldoon said. He added after a long pause, “Old man.”

Tackaberry laughed. “Want to make a run at me, boy?”

Muldoon seemed to think about it, then slowly shook his head. “I don’t want to be brought up on charges of elder abuse.”

“Outstanding. I don’t want to be remembered as a child beater,” Tackaberry shot back.

Muldoon chuckled, though in truth Tackaberry was almost as big as he was.

“Colonel Tackaberry—” Lee began.

“This aircraft is flyable, Lee,” Tackaberry snapped. “Load up this murderous bitch, and we’re on our way. Yeah, a bunch of old men will fly her to the aircraft carrier instead of the Marines. I mean, unless you’ve got a destroyer in your pocket? That’s the only way she’s going to get there.” He glared down at Lee from his formidable height, then motioned to the collection of old men standing around him, weapons tucked in, eyes sharp. “Look around you, simp—almost two hundred years of military service surrounds you whiny little bitches. You think these troops can’t do at least that much for you?”

Now On Audio: LEFT WITH THE DEAD

Left With The Dead, A "Gathering Dead" Novella

Art for Left With The Dead, A “Gathering Dead” Novella. Artwork by Jared Rackler

https://www.amazon.com/Left-Dead-Gathering-Novella/dp/B0892W25QK/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1590805851&sr=1-7

It took a darn long time, at least a month longer than it should. But here it is, cruel world: the audiobook presentation of Left with the Dead, performed by none other than your man Knight. Listen to the sample before you buy! No need to buyer’s remorse, you have all the tools to make the right decision. 🙂

And for those who want a code for ACX direct, here it is:

https://www.audible.com/pd/B0892SSM6N/?source_code=AUDFPWS0223189MWT-BK-ACX0-197784&ref=acx_bty_BK_ACX0_197784_rh_us

Bon apetit.

Now on Audio! THE RETREAT 4: ALAMO

April 21, 2020 4 comments

teaser

The Retreat 4: Alamo has been released, voiced by none other than R.C. Bray. As we speak, his dulcet tones are busily enunciating the craziness that makes up The Retreat 5: Crucible with an anticipated release imminent. And in the background, I continue to peck away at The Retreat 6. But for now though, let yourself be transported to an America where you’ll need can after can of .50 caliber to make the laughing stop…

https://www.audible.com/pd/B0876HXXYS/?source_code=AUDFPWS0223189MWT-BK-ACX0-192046&ref=acx_bty_BK_ACX0_192046_rh_us

 

EARTHFALL 2: THE MISSION CONTINUES now 99¢

March 30, 2020 2 comments

Earthfall 2: The Mission Continues is now on sale for a mere 99¢, folks. So if you haven’t yet signed on with Andrews, Mulligan, Laird, Eklund and the rest for the next foray into the good ol’ US of A after a thermonuclear apocalypse, I’d recommend you get your ticket now! Come on, you’re at home cooped up with nowhere else to go, so why not spend it perfecting your social distancing technique while confined inside a Self-Contained Exploration Vehicle?

Clicky the link for goodness below.

In other news, I’ve tabled Single Tree, the sequel to The Last Town: A Novel of the Zombie Apocalypse in favor of another project which may be near and dear to your hearts: The Retreat 6. I’ve taken over the authorial duties on this one, and it’ll detail the 55th’s final encounter with the Klowns as the battalion (or what’s left of it) makes its way to Florida. Lots of maneuvers in this one, multiple fronts of action, and tons of mud will be moved by pretty much every piece of weaponry in the American arsenal as deployed by every branch of service. And a lot of those servicemembers are giggling while delivering payloads on target.

Some related news: RC Bray is putting the finishing touches on The Retreat 4: Alamo and will then start on The Retreat 5: Crucible. In November, he’ll commence recording the audiobook of These Dead Lands: Desolation, and if things hold up on my side, Scott Wolf and I should be knee deep in the next release of the These Dead Lands cycle, tentatively titled Desperation.

And lastly, my audio version of Left With The Dead should be released on/around April 7th. ACX is backed up after the holidays and, of course, our bestest pal corona virus.

All this aside…I hope and pray everyone out there is hale and hearty, and that you’re all doing what you need to in order to survive these troubling times. I’m here at my son’s house in Connecticut, loving hugging him…and my Mossberg 930. Take care of yourselves, people.

EARTHFALL 2: Getting into the Fight

November 19, 2019 3 comments

The shiny new engineer aboard SCEV Four gets into the fight. On sale now, folks.

When the chime sounded over her headset, KC Winters knew that somehow, someway, Command Sergeant Major Mulligan had managed to flush out the enemy. The SCEV’s receivers picked up the pulse of the enemy rig’s VCARS transmission system, meaning that the captured SCEV was operating under engine power. She had no way of knowing how Mulligan or Andrews had managed to get the enemy commander to take flight, but that was immaterial. What she needed to do now was act.

SCEV Four was still parked in the warehouse. The fighting raged outside, but it wasn’t right on top of her position, but she was aware of it. The rig was also still covered by a great amount of solar panels. She had to get those off first, then figure out how she was going to move the vehicle into a firing position. She couldn’t just pop missiles through the warehouse roof. While its structure wasn’t hard enough to prevent the Hellfires from punching through, it was sufficiently dense to destroy their seeker heads, making them useless once they made it into the air. But she also didn’t have enough time to exit the rig and manually dump the panels by herself. They were big and fairly heavy, and moving them alone would be too time consuming.

What she wound up doing was releasing the rig’s parking brakes and shoving the machine forward under battery power. After it rolled forward a few feet, she toed the pedal and locked up the brakes. The machine jerked to a sudden halt, and solar panels cascaded off its armored back in an avalanche of glass and metal. Many of them shattered when they hit the concrete floor, and delicate planar photovoltaic modules were irreparably destroyed. As someone with a background in technology and engineering, KC knew these objects were now lost forever. But if Sherwood fell, then the loss really wouldn’t matter any longer.

She activated the FLIR turrets and spun them around, checking the SCEV’s upper deck. Though a few panels remained atop the vehicle, the radome and more importantly the missile pod were clear of any obstructions. Part one of her improvised firing solution was complete. Now she had to get the missiles unobstructed access to fly. She’d had time to consider that, and she knew that exposing the rig while enemy forces were attacking Sherwood would only serve to make it a ballistics magnet. One operator couldn’t drive, shoot missiles, and hose down enemy combatants at the same time, so even now the rig needed to stay hidden for as long as possible. What she needed to do was make a hole in the roof, preferably one that was between six and eight feet wide.

She powered up the miniguns and narrowed their firing positions as closely as possible. Even though the roof of the warehouse was a good fifteen feet higher than the rig, the minis couldn’t be dialed in to interlock their fire at that range—the closest she could consolidate fires was at a range of forty feet. But if she adopted a more-or-less circular firing pattern, she was confident she could blow away enough structure to give the missiles room to fly.

With a buzzing roar, the miniguns erupted a stream of bullets that tore through the wood and metal roof. Pieces of debris and insulation hailed down, bouncing and banging as they struck the rig and the floor before its slanted nose. KC moved the guns in a clockwise pattern, maintaining a constant stream of fire. It didn’t take long before she had torn a huge, ragged hole through the warehouse’s roof. Air poured in through the gap, dissipating the cloud of burned propellant that hovered around the SCEV like a veil of fog. Bullet casings littered the floor, and she heard them being crushed as she rolled the vehicle forward. It took a bit of maneuvering to get the missile pod lined up beneath the hole, but with both forward and aft FLIR turrets giving her a good visual, it wasn’t much of a problem.

Leona had already configured a firing solution that would allow the missiles to home in on the VCARS frequency until they got within range of the target, and it took no time at all for KC to load the profile into the fire control computer. Using radio homing built into the Hellfires’ seeker heads, the missiles would fly toward the signal’s anticipated point of origin. Once they were within thirty seconds of impact, the missiles would activate their millimeter wave radar sets. Their internal computers knew they were going for an armored vehicle, so they would lock onto the SCEV and, using both the VCARS signal alongside the radar returns, they would slam into the target and utterly destroy it.

In theory, anyway.

She raised the pod and elevated the missile rack so the weapons were pointing almost straight up. She selected four shots for delivery; she’d hold two in reserve. The VCARS signal was still transmitting, so there was no need to wait. She triggered the missiles, manually firing them at a staggered interval so the enemy wouldn’t be able to anticipate the impact pattern. The Hellfires blasted into the sky with a hissing roar, trailing initial bursts of smoke as their propellant ignited and launched them off the rails. One of them went ballistic, its stabilizers damaged from coming in contact with the side of the hole KC had made. That weapon bobbled as it tracked northerly, while the others made skidding turns toward the south and east.

Gotta move.

Now that she had clearly marked SCEV Four’s position, KC had no choice but to leave the warehouse. She configured the engines for auto-light as she had no time to pore over the checklists to ensure the startup procedures were verified. Andrews and Mulligan would be aghast at such a breach of procedure, but she knew the systems as well as anyone and the chances of auto-light failing and an engine entering a hot start were remote at best. As the computer engaged the full authority digital engine controls for startup, KC pushed the control column forward. The SCEV rolled through the warehouse on battery power, bearing down on the structure’s still-closed sliding doors as she maneuvered around the tractors and other equipment that had been parked in the structure. She gave the air horn a quick jab just to notify any friendlies on the other side that she was about to come out, which was the best she could do as far as advance warning went. The rig hit the door at almost thirty miles per hour, and the wood-framed metal barrier was as effective at retarding the SCEV’s progress as a strip of aluminum foil. Debris exploded outward as the rig hurtled into the bright, war-torn morning. She regretted not having her sunglasses close at hand, as the sunlight had her squinting big time; after spending days trapped inside the rig’s semidarkness, KC was dazzled by the intensity of sunlight.

She guided the SCEV down the road that led to the warehouse. The people of Sherwood were in action, and while most of them were doubtless arrayed against the attacks against the community, there were enough people about to take notice of the SCEV as it accelerated through the day. The number one engine was fully spooled up at that time, and it bumped the batteries offline as it took on the load. The second engine growled to life, adding its own power volume to the chart. As the turbines took hold, KC had to back off on the control column lest the gigantic vehicle continue accelerating. While speed was important, too much of it right now would only get her killed. Using the FLIR as her guide, she scanned the immediate vicinity. Radar would reveal much more, but she had no idea if the enemy rig had been hit—VCARS was still broadcasting. She needed to move out of the area before she could unleash the remaining two Hellfires, because as she had fired on the enemy rig, she had also broadcast SCEV Four’s exact whereabouts. The enemy rig would be able to analyze the trajectory and determine her previous firing position and respond in kind. The problem was the Hellfires were autonomous weapons, they could determine where their target was if it displaced in the span of time between launch and arrival. If they were unable to acquire their target, they would scan the immediate area until they detected the appropriate silhouette. KC needed to make some tracks and put as much distance between her and the warehouse as possible.

So she guided the rig down the winding road that led to the warehouse. She bolted through the middle of the community, ripping past the bar that served as the town hall at forty miles per hour. People were running down the road, and they looked at the speeding SCEV with expressions that were an equal mixture of hope and dread. KC ignored them as well as she was able. Her course had been loaded into the navigation system, and she was going to follow it, come hell or high water.

Until she couldn’t, and then she’d improvise.

SINGLE TREE: Afloat

October 26, 2019 2 comments

LATITUDE 32.511639, LONGITUDE -130.589518

 

“Stop being such a little bitch, Kimosabe. Get on with living.”

Victor’s voice echoed about in Corbett’s head as he lay on the single stateroom’s narrow bunk. There was no port hole in the room’s side, so the chamber was as dark as a crypt. He knew where he was, and he was aware of the vague noises of a ship at sea—pumps, air, machinery, running generators—but the only sound he could pay attention to right then existed only in his head. Victor Kiruk’s deep, robust, dignified voice telling him to grow a pair and go on with his life.

Get out of my head, Victor. You’re dead.

You will be too, Kimosabe, Victor replied. Sooner rather than later if you can’t let go of Single Tree.

Corbett snarled to himself in the darkness. While he had slept aboard Norton’s yacht, with its well-appointed forepeak stateroom, cherry wood joinery, en suite head, and bright lights, he’d never heard Victor speak to him. But after moving aboard one of his own vessels, which were infinitely darker, much more cramped despite their size, and general institutional design, the voice of Victor Kiruk had come alive. Speaking to him in the man’s usual rational, measured cadence. Counseling life over death. Sage words of wisdom, especially since Barry Corbett had spent no small fortune trying to defend his birthplace from the dead hordes, only to have it all ripped away at the very last moment. Victor, had he still been alive, would have advised these same perceptions. But Victor was dead.

So Victor’s ghost spoke to him instead, using the veil of sleep as its medium.

Corbett switched on the bunk side lamp and blinked against the sudden flood of LED brilliance. The small stateroom was now fully awash in harsh, sterile white light. The shadows had been vanquished in an instant; and with them, Victor’s voice disappeared as well. Corbett was left alone in his own head, which was just how he liked it.

He pulled on his clothes. Jeans, t-shirt, denim work shirt, sturdy boots, and finally his battered USMC cap. Victor’s ruminations could be entertained another night. According to his watch, it was dawn. And dawn meant work.

Though he might be as old as a dinosaur, Barry Corbett still had a town to liberate.

It was time to get to it.

 

As always, this is presented unedited and unproofed, and no guarantee what you read here will make it into the finished product.

THESE DEAD LANDS: DESOLATION Released!

October 22, 2019 6 comments

It’s here, it’s here! Join Hastings, the Ballantines, Diana, Kenny, Guerra, Hartman, Reader, Tharinger, Stilley, and the ever-taciturn MSG Slater as they take on the reekers!

THESE DEAD LANDS: DESOLATION–Hastings Gets Hasty

October 17, 2019 Leave a comment

The convoy continued moving south towards Site R. It rolled past the town of Orrtanna before pressing on through Fairfield. Fairfield was the last sizeable community on their way to PA 116, which would take them the remainder of the way to Site R. As the convoy pulled up to the intersection with PA 116, Jones pointed off to the right of the vehicle.

“Hey look, sir! There’s a post office. You want me to stop?”

Hastings looked over at Jones who had a huge smile on his face. “No, Jones—Slater made sure I stocked up on stamps at the last one. Good one, though. I’ll give you that.”

As Jones slowed the vehicle to make the right turn at the T intersection, he pointed at a large cluster of vehicles parked on a gravel lot. They were all neatly lined up, and all had prices on their windshields. Everything from small, beat-up compacts to pickup trucks on lift kits with giant tires were represented—there was even a 1980s vintage red Corvette. Inside the lot, a small group of reekers turned toward the noise of the oncoming column. Their slack faces became only vaguely more animated when they saw the hulking, cliff-nosed MRAPs turning onto the street.

“Hey, check out the crowd,” Jones said. “They must be having a hell of a sale. I’ll bet they’re offering zero down with a current LES and a guaranteed twenty-eight percent interest rate for seventy-two months!”

Both Hastings and Jones laughed out loud. It was the kind of deal most new privates fell victim to in military towns when purchasing a new car or other high-dollar items.

After rolling past the dealership, the convoy entered the Borough of Fairfield. It crossed over Middle Creek and the road’s name changed to Main Street. As always, the two-lane blacktop road was lined with homes on each side. Hastings worried about that. It was going to be like running a gauntlet with not many places to go, given the size of the MRAPs. The side streets were little more than narrow alleyways between the houses, which offered little opportunity for maneuvering off the road, presuming they could even manage the tight turns. Reekers began to appear now, stepping out onto the road from between the houses. The column made a lot of noise, as stealth wasn’t one of its attributes. At first only a few zombies appeared, but as Jones kept pulling the convoy forward, the number of reekers grew steadily larger. From behind them, Hastings heard short, sporadic bursts of gunfire. He knew the zombies were charging the column, and the softer vehicles had to open up on the threats to hold them back. It was a lot easier to damage a Humvee than an MRAP or a five-ton truck.

As the convoy approached the intersection of Main Street and Fifth Avenue, Jones called out. “Sir, you see that up there?”

A block or so ahead, the entire street was full of reekers. More importantly, there was a multitude of abandoned cars and trucks. This had apparently been an evacuation route, and the civilians fleeing the apocalypse had apparently driven right into a wall of the dead. But the zombies weren’t the problem. While the MRAPs and larger vehicles could crush their way through the dead, the tightly packed vehicles would be a different story. Jones had to slow down almost to a stop; otherwise, the MRAP would have traveled right into the blockage. The towering MRAP caught the attention of every reeker in the street, and they shambled toward it as of one mind. A shambling flood of dead, necrotic flesh and a never-ending appetite for human flesh and blood.

Hastings looked at his map, then quickly to his left and right. He pointed to the alley-like street to the right of the MRAP’s cliff-like nose. “Turn right here! Follow it to the end, then hook a left. That should get us around them.” He raised his voice. “Slater! Let the rest of the convoy know we’re taking a detour. It’s gonna be tight, so everyone needs to make sure they don’t bunch up in case we have to back out.”

“Copy that,” Slater yelled in response.

Jones turned the vehicle down Fifth Avenue, which was more like a narrow driveway alongside a house than a legitimate road. The MRAP barely fit down its narrow width and Jones had to drive slightly to the right on the overgrown grass of a house’s lawn. Tree branches scraped across the top of the vehicle, and Hastings worried about the .50-caliber machine gun in the turret. But it would be worse to crash along the house immediately to the vehicle’s left, so Jones had made the right call.

The road ended a few hundred feet down into another T. A huge, open agriculture field lay directly before the MRAP, and to the left was a chain-link fence surrounding a small children’s playground area. Jones cranked the steering wheel to the left and continued to drive, paralleling Main Street. The vehicle was now behind a church and the house of worship’s parking lot which was also full of incapacitated automobiles, piles of garbage, and temporary shelters that had long ago been overrun by the dead. Zombies poured around the church, zeroing in on the convoy’s new route. Ahead was another intersection, and Hastings consulted his map as Jones continued on.

“Keep going straight,” Hastings shouted as he scanned the area outside of the vehicle. Jones continued down the side street, still paralleling the town’s main drag. The road became very narrow and soon they were driving behind people’s backyards. Low hanging tree branches struck the MRAP’s turret and top in a cacophony that was clearly audible above the roaring diesel engine and the whir of the MRAP’s tall, knobbed tires. A small group of reekers stepped out from behind some trees, and Jones accelerated to meet them. Just before the figures disappeared before the vehicle’s tall nose, Hastings believed they had been an entire family. A man, a woman, and perhaps two teenage daughters mindlessly threw themselves before the speeding MRAP, their clothes torn and stained black with dried blood. The MRAP bumped slightly as the front tires rolled over the corpses, then again a microsecond later as the rear set of tires did their job. No doubt all the other vehicles following behind would roll them over again. The machine-gun fire from behind was constant now—short, controlled, continuous bursts was all that could be heard along with intermittent radio traffic and Slater giving directions to the rest of the convoy.

Jones paused the vehicle at the next intersection. The road ahead looked even narrower. “Getting tight here, sir—which way? It doesn’t look any better ahead, left or right!”

Hastings looked to the left, back at Main Street. The horde of reekers still pursued them, boiling onto the side streets. They were still more than a half block away, but there were runners in the mix—they’d catch up to them in no time if they stayed put.

“Take the right and follow it around,” Hastings said. “It should come out back on the main drag when it ends. Hopefully we’ll be able to make another right and get back on course.”

Jones wasted no time in making the turn and moving the convoy away from the reekers. Behind, the machine-gun fire rose in pitch as the Humvees and five-tons found themselves under direct attack. They were in the center of the convoy, and there was no way to switch them out now—they would just have to soldier on. The road they turned onto began to curve around to the left, bringing them back to their original direction of travel. The street was wider now, growing back into two lanes of blacktop. The houses became more spread out, with wider yards separating them from one another. Aside from a few reekers in the street, Hastings saw the way ahead was a clear straight shot. Jones saw that too, and he pressed down on the accelerator to pick up speed and get the hell out of Fairfield, Pennsylvania, as quickly as possible.

“Slater, how we looking back there?” Hastings yelled over his shoulder.

“So far, so good. Sounds like a few vehicles sideswiped a few things but all are still mobile. We just need to keep moving and not slow down—we’re dragging a mighty long tail behind us.”

“You heard him, Jones … keep it rolling. Take the left when we get to the intersection ahead. It should take us back to the main road.”

Jones barely slowed down to make the left turn onto a road called Beechwood Drive, and the MRAP listed drunkenly to one side. There were some shouts of surprise from the back, along with the clatter of unrestrained gear shifting under the centrifugal force caused by Jones’s speeding, sharp turn.

“Safely, Jones!” Hastings cautioned. “Safely—we don’t want to end up on our side!”

“Sorry, sir.” Jones continued to the intersection with Main Street and paused momentarily to quickly scan left and right. To their front was the Fairfield area school and a huge parking lot filled with vehicles … and even more reekers.

“Oh, fuck me!” Jones turned the vehicle and accelerated as the reekers swung around toward the MRAP.

“Slater, let the convoy know to expect a heavy reeker presence when they get back on Main Street at the school.” A long burst of .50-cal drowned out the last part of Hastings’s sentence as they sped past the school. The MRAP in trail had already opened up. More weapons added their own salvos to the din, including the muted thunder of an Mk 19 grenade launcher.

“I think they track that, sir,” Slater yelled back.

The convoy continued down the road past the school. The roadway remained two-lane blacktop, which was a relief for Hastings and, he suspected, Jones. Threading an MRAP down a single-lane street was zero fun when the heat was on. Small businesses were on either side of the street, and Hastings verified they were getting close to the edge of town. The sounds of gunfire eased up, then ceased altogether.

“Jones, ease up a bit,” he said. “Let the column tighten up some.”

Jones took his foot off the accelerator. “Roger that, sir. I’ll keep us at around thirty. Okay?”

“That’ll do fine, Jones. Thanks.” Hastings heard Slater still talking on the radio in back. The sound of the engine, the whine of the radios and their fans, and the muted conversation among the troops behind him felt like a deafening silence now that it was over and the gunfire had stopped. Hastings looked back at the navigation system and zoomed in and compared what he saw on the display with his map.

“We’re coming up on a Y intersection. Stay to the right fork. I think it’s called Jacks Mountain Road. Couple hundred meters ahead.”

“Copy that, sir.”

Jones slowed the MRAP as it approached the fork in the road. He guided the vehicle to the right and peered out the driver’s window. Hastings leaned forward in his seat and looked to the left as well. He found what he was looking for: the street sign. Jacks Mountain Road. And right behind it was a sign that exclaimed, “Welcome to Carroll Valley Founded 1974.”

The convoy continued down the road for a solid ten minutes, rolling past small houses and farms until the column was once again surrounded by open agricultural fields that were slowly returning to the wild.

Hastings yelled back to Slater, “Slater … tell the column we’re stopping, but to stay buttoned up. I just want to get a SITREP and make sure we’ve got everyone we started out with.”

“I’ll let them know. Stand by.”

“Go ahead and bring us a halt, Jones. Right here in the middle of the road is fine.”

“Yes, sir.” Jones slowed the vehicle to a stop in the middle of the road.

The high school parking lot had been one massive field of reekers when Hastings’s MRAP had pulled up to the intersection. With the rest of the convoy behind him, he was sure the reekers had swarmed the road en masse. Now that they were clear, they needed to make sure they didn’t lose anyone and that all the vehicles were together. He’d monitored the common net and had heard all vehicles report in, but he might have missed some in all the excitement. Calling a halt to verify readiness was expected.

Slater walked up from the back after a moment. “Hey, Captain. Looks like we still have everyone. Several of the vehicles report some minor damage, but the thin skins took a beating. At least one vehicle needs to be checked, the driver thinks there might be a reeker stuck beneath the undercarriage that he’s been dragging since the school. Everything else sounds pretty cosmetic damage. If you’re okay with it, I’d like to have every vehicle drop a guy to do a walk around and make sure we’re still G to G.”

Hastings looked back at Slater. “Ah, G to G?”

“Yeah, good to go. What are you … new?” Slater answered with a smirk.

Hastings snorted. “Oh. Right. Anyway, yeah. I’m good with that. But tell them to make it quick. We’re not very far away from Site R, and I’d like to get there while we still have light.”

“No problem, sir. Uh, about the approach to Site R. It’s a narrow access road to get up there, and if it’s a dry hole, that’s going to be a colossal pain in the ass to get the entire convoy backed down.”

Hastings thought about that. “I’ll pass that on to War Eagle, with the recommendation that the main body waits off the access road. We’ll take Eagle One and his detail up and go from there. Cool?”

Slater nodded. “I’ll let all the vehicle TCs know that. Once we know we’re G to G, we can radio for the main body to join us.”

“All right. See to that inspection, and I’ll have a word with Victor.”

As always, the above is offered unedited and may or may not appear in the final product.

These Dead Lands: Desolation arrives on October 22, 2019! Get ready for some zompoc carnage!

THESE DEAD LANDS: IMMOLATION Now on Sale!

And for a paltry 99¢ at that. Over five hundred pages of explosive action, tense drama, and thousands upon thousands of hungry zombies looking to crash the buffet line. Get it while you can at this price, then snap up These Dead Lands: Desolation which will be released on October 22, 2019.

It’s the end of summer, after all. If it doesn’t go out with a bang, let it go out with a savage growl.