Posts Tagged ‘horror’

THESE DEAD LANDS: DESOLATION: Stilley + Flash-Bang = Dumbness

June 13, 2019 2 comments

In every unit, there’s always one dogface who just doesn’t get it. And his name is usually Stilley. As in, Craig T. Stilley.


“Man, that shit’s gonna wake up Kenny,” Hartman said.

“Yeah. World’s gone to hell, and all we have to worry about is a kid getting enough sleep,” Tharinger said from the back.

Guerra turned to look at him, irritated by the comment even though he had kind of been thinking the same thing himself. “You’re all heart, Tha—”

He was cut off by a piece of metal that bounced off his helmet. Stilley, Tharinger, and Guerra all stared at the flash bang grenade in Stilley’s hand, dumbfounded. Somehow, Stilley had pulled the pin and managed to let go of the safety lever at the same time.

Stilley’s eyes were as wide as silver dollars. “Yeah, like I didn’t mean to do that…”

Drop it, you idiot!” Guerra thundered. Stilley dropped it to the floorboard and pulled his knees to his chest. At the same time, Hartman wrenched the wheel to the right and stood on the brakes without being told. Guerra threw open the Humvee’s heavy door with all his strength and managed to get it ajar about halfway before the grenade went off like a thunderclap right behind his seat.


THESE DEAD LANDS DESOLATION: Stilley, Stop Staring at My Tits

February 2, 2019 8 comments

Now that Earthfall 2 is mostly in the can–mostly!–I’m reorienting fires onto this…


As the train roared down the tracks, Diana Li looked over at Kenny. He had initially been excited when the train took off from Fort Indiantown Gap, chugging away as its diesel engines began moving the load along the rails. The soldiers on the flat cargo cars continued shooting at zombies as they drew closer to the long consist, and Kenny flinched at every report. But as the National Guard training facility and the thousands of zombies that had overrun it fell behind, the firing tapered off. Soon, the only noises that entered the passenger coach were those of a long train hurtling down steel rails. The sound and repetitive rhythm of the train’s progress apparently agreed with the slight boy. His eyelids grew heavy, and he slowly leaned into Diana and fell asleep. He snored gently every now and then, his breathing heavy and deep.

For her part, Diana relaxed bit by bit and sank against the seat cushions as the tension slowly drained out of her. The little Sig-Sauer rifle she’d taken possession of was still slung across her chest and she shifted it away from him. Even though the safety was on, Kenny was generally unpredictable, and it was just common sense to keep control of a loaded firearm while he was nearby. She was thrilled that the boy had drifted off to sleep. Even he had limits, though it had taken him going bat-shit crazy during the zombie attack on the barracks she and the rest of the civilians had been housed in to finally run his battery out.

It just means he’s not going to sleep later, she told herself. The guy’s going to be up all night.

Diana sighed at the thought. The little autistic boy had latched onto her something fierce, and she couldn’t go anywhere without him glomming onto her like some sort of symbiotic life form. She understood that she was the only person he’d known before his parents had been killed—not by zombies, but by lawless men who had used the rise of the zombie apocalypse to crawl out of whatever survivalist cave they lived in to perpetuate crimes against their fellow survivors—and that to him, there was great comfort in her presence. The kid didn’t care that she was a former stripper who’d balled men for money and drugs. All he knew was that she was a calming presence, and he couldn’t get along without her in sight.

That was, as the saying went, a total drag.

Reaching over him, she checked the status of Kenny’s diaper. Despite all of the activity of the past few hours, it was amazingly still dry. That was a switch. She’d almost shit herself when she’d had to chase after the boy when he panicked and ran right into the midst of a zombie horde. The sudden onslaught of maternal instincts left her puzzled and a bit depressed. Did it really take the end of the world to get her to understand the value in other people, especially defenseless children? Was God or whomever/whatever higher power conducting this hell house orchestra they were in spending a lot of time and energy to teach her a lesson she really hadn’t needed to learn before?

Oh, fuck this.

She leaned back in the seat and tried to get some rest. It had been a killer of a day, and it wasn’t over yet. She gently rocked from side to side as the train rolled down the rails, surrounded by the murmurs of dozens of other people in the cramped coach car. She heard the idiot soldier Stilley talking at the far end of the car. Even in a moving train, the guy’s voice carried.

Try as she might, sleep eluded her.

She opened her eyes and looked around the coach. Bill Everson, the old Marine who had taught them to shoot, sat across the aisle from her, his eyes directed toward the scenery out the window. His M4 rifle leaned against the coach’s sidewall, in easy reach if he needed it. Sitting next to him was another man, a younger fellow Diana hadn’t met before. He had longer blond hair that reached his shoulders and a scruffy pale beard that hadn’t really filled in yet. Wearing jeans and what looked to be a vintage Star Wars T-shirt, Diana could tell he clearly wasn’t a member of the military set. Pounding away at the laptop on his lap, the man’s brow was furrowed in either consternation or concentration. She moved her head, trying to catch a glimpse of what he was working on. A game? She couldn’t tell, there was a privacy screen over the laptop’s display.

“You need something?” the man asked sharply, without looking up from the laptop.

“Just wondering what you’re doing. Hopefully playing Left 4 Dead so you can get some experience fighting zombies.”

“Coding,” the man said.

“Coding? Coding what?”

The man sighed. “I’m writing code for a radar system. I’m trying to change it from tracking aircraft to softer targets.”

“Really,” Diana said, losing interest in the conversation almost immediately.

Everson stirred, pushing his glasses back on his narrow nose. “Jacob’s working to try and reset the C-RAM so it can engage the zombies,” he said. “If we can get that system operational, we can kill hundreds of them in one sweep.”

“Ah, sea ram?”

Everson pointed toward the front of the coach, and Diana guessed he was indicating the freight cars ahead. “You see that big gun on one of the cargo cars? The one that looks like a giant R2D2 with a hard-on?”

Diana snorted at the description. She knew exactly what he was talking about. “Yeah, I saw it. What about it?”

“It’s an anti-aircraft weapon,” the man with the laptop, Jacob, said. “I’m trying to recode the radar array so it can lock on and engage ground targets, like a mob of reekers.”

“We’ve got, like, a thousand soldiers who can do that,” Diana said.

Everson chuckled. “The C-RAM spits out twenty millimeter rounds that’ll tear right through a dozen of those things and not leave much left,” the old man said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s a head shot or not—precision won’t be the name of the game. That gun can take out a couple hundred reekers in one sweep in about three seconds.”

“Sounds impressive,” Diana said.

Everson nodded. “And if Jacob here can get it to work, it will be. It’s a fine piece of machinery. We’ll be able to keep at least two avenues of attack clear, so long as we can keep feeding the gizmo ammunition.”

“Sounds like R2D2 out there isn’t the only thing with a woody for weaponry.”

Everson snorted. “At my age, I pop wood over almost everything.”

“Guys, this conversation’s pretty gross,” Jacob the coder said.

“I prefer the term ‘earthy’,” Diana said.

Jacob shook his head. “And I wish I still had my Bose headphones.”

“Life in the zombie apocalypse is a tough one, guy,” Diana said. “Now might be a good time to man up a bit.”

Jacob looked up at her, an expression of consternation embedded on his face. Diana laughed inwardly. Okay, this guy takes things women say a bit too seriously.

“Do you have something else to do?” he asked, a whiny-bitch kind of snarl in his voice.

“You don’t want to get this one’s back up, Jacob,” Everson said mildly. “She really will punch you right in the face, and even though she’s got tiny lunch-grabbers, I’ll bet it’ll still smart.”

Diana nodded toward Everson. “Yeah, the old man speaks the truth.”

“Leave me alone,” Jacob said, turning back to his laptop. “I’m busy.”

Everson looked over his shoulder at Kenny, who was still sleeping soundly in the seat. “I see the young one’s checked out for the moment,” he said. “Poor kid—going through this hell has got to be especially tough on him.”

“Thank God it’s been so easy on the rest of us,” Diana replied.

Everson looked back at her. “Tell you what. Let me sit with the boy for a while. You go do something else for a bit. Playing mother hen isn’t exactly your gig.”

Diana was perplexed to find she actually took offense at the old Marine’s words. “What the fuck does that mean?”

Everson looked at her for a long moment, his eyes unblinking behind his glasses. For a second, Diana thought the old man was going to tear her a new one. Instead, when he spoke, his voice was surprisingly mild.

“It means take a break,” he said. “I’ve got Kenny for the moment. If something comes up that I can’t handle, I’ll be sure to let you know.” He motioned to the front of the car. “Go hit the head. Or hang out and shoot the shit with your lightfighter pals. They’re all fifth wheels right now, until someone can give them a mission.”

Diana sniffed. It was odd; only a couple of days ago, she would have been thrilled to hand off Kenny’s care to someone, anyone, even an old former Marine who looked like he should be starring in one of those Discovery Channel shows about rebuilding vintage motorcycles. A few days ago, she didn’t want the responsibility, felt it had been foisted onto her because she was a woman and the kid had a soft spot for her. She realized she’d undergone a sea change when the kid had run right out into a group of hungry zombies, and she’d followed him in.

“He’ll be fine,” Everson said, as if reading her thoughts.

“Yeah. Okay. Something goes down, let me know. I’ll be up front, I guess.”

Everson nodded and stood up, crouching beneath the luggage rack over his head. “Coming out, Jacob. Watch your laptop.”

Jacob shifted in his seat, easing his legs out into the aisle as Everson climbed over. His eyes never left the computer’s screen, and Diana figured it was because he was engrossed in his work. Or she had pissed him off so much that he didn’t want to look up and meet her gaze. Which was actually fine by her. Despite whatever had changed between her and Kenny, she didn’t have time for men who couldn’t do something for her, like offer her lots of money. Or in the current circumstances, lots of protection.

Like Phil, she thought. She smiled to herself about that, mentally referring to him by his first name instead of Hastings or General, as she’d called him in her more usual derogatory way. Damn girl, you are going soft.

“Okay, get gone while you can,” Everson said, stepping into the aisle. “I’m pretty sure he’s going to want to see you when he wakes up, so do whatever you want to do until then.”

“Thanks, Mr. Everson,” Diana said.

Everson scowled. “You can call me Bill. Or just Everson. I may be old, but honorifics were never my thing.”

“Okay, old man. That better?”

Everson snorted. “Much. That I can definitely deal with.”

Diana nodded and stepped away from him, heading toward the front of the car. She swayed as the train bumped its way down the tracks, gently undulating from side to side. If the coach’s occupants were dirty, bruised, and generally looking terrified, the scene could have been one of a suburban commute, or a cross-country Amtrak ride. The thought reminded her that such a thing had been on her bucket list—taking a train ride cross country in a sleeper car on the Southwest Chief, like John Belushi and Blair Brown had done in that old movie Continental Divide. Maybe this trip would have to serve, because it didn’t look like things were about to improve.

The coach’s rest room was up front, and it was currently unoccupied. Diana took the opportunity to use the facilities and freshened up as much as she could with the weak stream of tepid water that poured into the stainless steel sink. So far, the room wasn’t a total mess, but that would happen soon enough. Too many people, and not enough places to take on new water and empty the shit tank.

Outside, she saw Stilley standing near the vestibule. He was talking to the people sitting in the club seats there, so she wandered over to check it out. Stilley grinned at her like the lecherous buffoon he was, his uniform still filthy from fighting the dead.

“Well hey there, ma’am,” he said in his booming voice. If he was even attempting to be surreptitious when looking at her chest, he failed miserably. “How’re you doing?”

“Dial it down a bit, Stilley,” Diana said. “And for the love of God, stop staring at my tits. You look at your mother like that?”

“Oh, no ma’am!” Stilley said, appropriately chagrined by the question.

“So why are you looking at me like that?”

“Well, you’re not my—” Even Stilley was smart enough to realize this wasn’t a conversation he wanted to have, so he stopped in midsentence. He opened his mouth to say something, then closed it. Just as quickly though, he opened it again. “Hey, have you met Trevor?”


“He means me,” said one of the people sitting in the club seats. Diana looked over and saw another soldier sitting on the rearward-facing bench. The seat opposite his was empty, and his right leg rested in it. Diana noticed the air cast around his lower leg. He was a pretty good-looking guy, in his late twenties maybe. His uniform had different patches on it than Stilley’s, but that didn’t mean anything to her.

“You a celebrity or something, Trevor?” she asked, wondering why he was getting some VIP treatment. The coach was supposed to be for civilians; aside from the 10th Mountain guys, most of the troops were kicking it on flatbed rail cars.

“He’s with the Cavalry,” Stilley said, as if that was supposed to mean something.

“That so? You got a horse around here I don’t know about?” Diana asked the soldier with the bum leg. “If you do, keep an eye on it. Stilley might take a swing at it.”

“Yeah, somehow I can see that happening,” the man said, looking up at Stilley. He shook his head slightly and looked back at Diana. “No horse. I’m Trevor Martin. Just another dogface.”

“You a general or something, Trevor? Because I thought this car was for civilians only?”

Martin pointed at his leg. “Got special dispensation because of this. Compound fracture. Happened during the fight at the Gap. Wasn’t able to deploy with the rest of my Cav troop, so I got left behind with the rest of the Guard and these lightfighter scum.” He jerked his thumb at Stilley. “I guess I should consider that a win, but once this guy showed up I kind of wish I’d been killed.”

Stilley frowned. “Hey now, Sergeant, that’s not a very nice thing to say,” he said.

Martin winced when Stilley spoke. “Anyone ever tell you that you talk really, really loud? What are you, a cannon cocker or something?”

“Well no, I’m a light infantryman,” Stilley said. “You know that.”

“True. What I’m curious about is why your guys haven’t shot you.”

“They send him on ahead to call the dead,” Diana said. “Seems to work.”

Martin looked up at Stilley. “Yeah, stop doing that shit. All right?”

Stilley appeared indignant. “Man, I can’t believe I’m getting this. We were just having a nice, civil conversation earlier!”

“Well, you were certainly talking,” said a woman sitting next to Martin.

Stilley’s eyes almost goggled out of his head. “Damn,” was all he said.

Diana laughed. “Ignore him—he’s mostly harmless. Stilley, where are the rest of the guys?”

Stilley pointed to the closed door behind him that led to the vestibule between train coaches. “Standing security in there.”

“Okay. I’m going out. Try not to grope me.”

Stilley made a flustered noise and shook his head in apparent embarrassment. “Man, I’m getting no love here today!” Just the same, he stepped away from the door behind him. Diana pulled on the handle, sliding it into the wall recess. The vestibule was darker than the interior of the coach, but she still saw Guerra and Hartman standing off to either side, leaning against the bulkheads. They pushed off onto their feet when she stepped inside.

“Hey, dudes,” Diana said.

“Something wrong, ma’am?” Guerra said, looking at her with his dark eyes. He still wore full battle rattle, helmet, chest protector, ruck sack, rifle, and a plethora of spare magazines. So did Hartman, though the truth of the matter was he didn’t look nearly as impressive as Guerra.

“No, nothing’s wrong,” Diana said. “I mean, aside from the fact that we’re running away from thousands and thousands of walking corpses that just overran an entire military installation. Other than that, things are damned peachy, bud.”

Guerra didn’t blink. “Okay. Do you need anything, ma’am?”

“Well, now that you mention it, a mani and pedi would just about hit the spot right now.”

Guerra looked over at Hartman, then back at Diana. “Not so sure we can accommodate that, ma’am.”

“What is it with you guys and ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’ all the time? Do you guys work for me, or something?” Diana asked.

“It’s a polite form of address,” Guerra said, his voice stiff over the rumble of the train.

“I’m Diana,” she said. “You guys know that by now. Skip the”—the term Everson had just used sprang to her mind—“honorifics and that stuff. I’ve even been known to answer to ‘kid’, ‘sweetie’, and in rare instances where the other party is extremely good looking or fantastically wealthy, ‘bitch’.”

Guerra did blink at that one. “I think ma’am should be fine, if that’s all right.”

“How about Diana?”

“Ma’am—Diana—is there something you need from us?” Guerra asked.

She shook her head. “No. I think you guys have done more than enough for me lately.” She looked over at Hartman, who looked away from her and toward Guerra. Diana turned back to Guerra, who seemed extremely weirded out by her presence.

“Dude, what’s wrong with you?” she asked.

“I’m just wondering what the angle is,” Guerra said.


“You aren’t very likeable, ma’am. You strike me as the kind of lady who only talks to people when she wants something, and that makes me wonder why the hell you’re out here hanging with us,” Guerra said.

Diana thought about that for a moment. “Ah… right. I think I owe you an apology, Guerra.”

Guerra frowned. “Apology?”

“Yeah. Back at Indiantown Gap, when you were asking me what I needed, and I needed sanitary napkins. I rubbed that one in your face a bit, and I know that must’ve been embarrassing.”

Hartman snorted. “Sanitary napkins, Hector?”

Guerra glared at him. “You always make more sense when you’re not talking, Hartman.”

Hartman shook his head, and looked out the small window in the door beside him. Guerra looked back at Diana.

“You didn’t embarrass me, ma’am. I just didn’t know why you were being so difficult when all I was trying to do was find out what you needed.”

“It’s called menstrual cramps, Hector. Even nice girls who spend all day knitting cream-colored doilies get bitchy when they’re OTR.”

“OT—? No, never mind, I get it,” Guerra said. “All right, well. Nothing to apologize for, ma’am. I’m good with it.”

“Yeah, well. Thanks for helping.” Diana looked at Hartman. “You too, guy. All you men stuck it out for me and the others. And you saved Kenny, too. You guys are fucking hard core.”

Guerra and Hartman exchanged glances again. Diana looked from one to the other, amused by their sudden inability to know what to do. Wow, I must’ve really been tough on them.

“Well, thanks for that, ma’am,” Guerra said.

“Diana. You guys can call me Diana. I don’t care what anyone else calls me, but you guys are tops in my book.” She turned back to Hartman. “I know he’s Hector, but who are you? I only know you as Hartman.”

“Hartman’s fine, ma’am.” The younger NCO looked a little stricken. “Um… Diana.”

“Come on, guy. Throw me a bone, here.”

“Um… AP. It’s just AP.”

“AP? What the fuck? Your first name is Associated Press?”

Guerra snorted loudly, and Diana looked back to see the solid-looking NCO fighting back a smile. “What’s so funny?”

“Go ahead and tell her, AP,” Guerra said.

Diana turned back to Hartman. “Well?”

Hartman sighed. “Apollo. My first name’s Apollo.”

Diana laughed. “No shit?”

Hartman nodded slowly. “Yeah. No shit.”

“Dude, you must’ve been put through hell with a name like that,” Diana said. “Is your middle name Creed, at least?”

“No such luck,” Hartman said.

“Well… good to know I’m here with the Greek god of war,” Diana said.

“Yeah, that’s him to a tee,” Guerra said. “Total god of war, that guy. At least up until he steps out of a Humvee, then he’s just a step above Stilley.”

“Speaking of Stilley,” Diana said.

“His name’s Craig,” Hartman offered.

“Awesome—I was thinking he was going to be Athena,” Diana said, and both men laughed at that. “Seriously, though,” she continued, looking back at Guerra. “The guy’s a total perv. He isn’t able to even pretend he’s not looking at my tits. I mean, I know they’re great and all, but there are kids around.”

Guerra cleared his throat, suddenly staring at the wall. “Yeah, okay. I’ll talk to him about that. I apologize if he’s making you uncomfortable.”

“Uncomfortable? Guy, being lusted after by the village idiot isn’t something that makes me uncomfortable, it’s just that in the past most of them have been drunk or high. That guy’s just rock-solid stupid.”

Both men laughed again. “Yeah, I guess you called that right,” Guerra said.

The door to the forward coach opened, and Ballantine pushed his bulk through the narrow doorway. The big NCO’s helmet came perilously close to scraping across the overhead when he straightened up. He stopped short when he saw Diana.

“What’s the problem?” he said, more the Guerra and Hartman than her.

“Do I have to do this again?” Diana asked, looking at Guerra.

“Do what again?” Ballantine looked at the two soldiers, eyes narrowed.

Guerra waved him down. “Don’t get bent, Carl. She’s just talking with us. Nothing’s going sideways.”

Ballantine didn’t buy that. “Oh, really? And what were you guys talking about, exactly?”

“Aside from Stilley, Hector and AP and me were just getting around to introductions.” She extended her hand toward Ballantine. “Hi, Carl. I’m Diana. We’re in this together, so we might as well be pals.”

Ballantine looked at her hand, clearly caught off guard. “What?”

“You know how to shake hands, right?” When Ballantine didn’t move, she raised her hand and showed him her palm. “Look, it’s been washed and everything. No joy buzzer or anything like that, I promise.”

Ballantine narrowed his eyes again, then gave her a quirky, I’m-too-busy-for-this smile. “Joy buzzer… there’s something I haven’t thought about in a million years.”

“Then shake, bro,” Diana said.

Ballantine sighed and shook her hand gently. “Okay. Done.” He released her hand then looked at Hartman. “Hartman, go forward and join Reader and Tharinger. With those two guys standing security unsupervised, this train’s going to be designated the knucklehead express.”

“Hooah,” Hartman said, pushing off the bulkhead he’d been leaning against. “Any chance we might be able to sit down sometime soon?”

“Yeah, when you take a shit or when you’re dead,” Ballantine said. “Go on, man.”

“I’m going.” With that, Hartman squared up his ruck sack, ensured his rifle was secure, and stepped through the door leading to the next coach. Ballantine turned to Guerra, then looked down at Diana.

“So everything’s cool?” he asked.

“I’m cool. You cool?” Diana replied.

“Totally,” Ballantine said.

Diana looked up at him for a long speculative moment. The big NCO had been kind of hinky ever since she’d met him, but he’d obviously been wrapped around the axle trying to get his family squared away. That was understandable; if their roles had been reversed, and if Diana had somehow been born with a more nurturing soul, she was certain she’d be the same way. Actually, maybe even worse. She kind of suspected she’d be a little more on the bat shit crazy side of the spectrum than Ballantine was if she had to worry about a family in the middle of all of this, so maybe the big guy was holding it together pretty well.

She remembered Kenny suddenly, and even though she had no doubt Everson would be able to stand watch over him, the boy wasn’t really his responsibility. She needed to get back.

“Hector, you cool?” she asked.

“Born that way, Diana,” Guerra said. “You need more lady supplies, I’m your man.”

Ballantine frowned. “What?”

“Just an in joke between us,” Diana said. “Don’t sweat it, big guy. All right, I can see you two have soldier shit to discuss, so I’ll leave you to it.” She pulled the Sig’s strap tight around her shoulder, ensuring the little short-barreled rifle was secure. “If you hear gunfire, it’s because Stilley forgot to be polite.”

Ballantine started to say something, but Guerra held up his hand. “It’s being handled,” he said.

“Attaboy,” Diana said, before returning to the coach.



“What the fuck was that about?” Ballantine asked.

“Yeah, I can see how it might’ve looked like some crazy shit was going down, but she was really cool, actually,” Guerra said. “She just wanted to get to know us a bit. Thanked us for putting ourselves on the line for her and the kid.”

“Oh.” Ballantine shrugged. “Okay.”

“Also wants us to call her Diana, not ma’am or anything like that.”

“Shit, she gonna enlist?”

“I think she’s just realized the whole bitch on wheels routine wasn’t working out for her, and she’s making the necessary attitudinal adjustments appropriate for the situation,” Guerra said. “Whatever it is, I’m good with it. I was thinking I might have to rip the bags out of her chest and beat her to death with them.”

Ballantine grunted. “What’s this about the loudmouth?”

“I have to yank his coattails a bit. He’s doing the leering bit.”

“What, at her? What the fuck does she expect, she’s a fucking stripper,” Ballantine said.

Guerra looked up at Ballantine and let out a long sigh. “Yeah, well. Not that it matters. You trying to tell me you never had a stripper girlfriend, Carl?”

Ballantine glared down at him. “No, Hector. I never did.”

“Huh. Okay. So what’s the op? Everything cool with the train?”

Ballantine nodded. “Yeah. So far, everything’s running like it should. Train’s strong, no problems. I watched the thing roll over like twenty dead, didn’t even feel a thing.”

“Okay. So where’s the gotcha?”

“Lots of unknowns out there. Switching problems. Rail problems. Other train problems. Shit we can’t control.”

“But for now, we’re good to go, right?” Guerra asked.

“Yeah.” Ballantine looked toward the rear coach. “Yeah, for now.”

“Carl… man, I got to talk to you about something.”

Ballantine looked down at him. “What’s the problem?”

“You, man. You’re the problem,” Guerra said.

Ballantine cocked his head to one side. “Don’t get you, Hector.”

Guerra cleared his throat. He thought Ballantine knew exactly what he was trying to get at, but wasn’t going to play ball and make it easy. Which meant Guerra had to nut up and tell one of the toughest soldiers he knew that he’d been acting like a fucking pussy.

“Your family’s safe, man. They got you right here, and the rest of us, too. No one’s going to let anything happen to them. But you seriously need to get your head back in the game.”

“Guerra, just what the fuck are you talking about?” Ballantine asked, and his voice was hard and brittle.

Guerra steeled himself. No turning back now. “Okay, I’ll lay it all out. You were just gonna stand there and watch the reekers tear apart that kid and the girl. You got as far as climbing out of the truck, but it wasn’t until Hastings went all Rambo and actually had to call you out that you engaged.”

Ballantine’s eyes grew wide, but his voice didn’t change. “Just what is it you’re trying to say, Guerra?”

“I’m saying that’s not what we want to see, Ballantine. The entire Tenth Mountain is gone, man. We’re it, we’re all that’s left. We want to see the remaining senior NCO get balls deep fighting the dead, no matter what. We’re fucking light infantry, man. It’s what we do, close and destroy. We don’t let little American kids die, or women either, even if they are just fucking strippers.”

“So you’re saying I’m a coward?” Ballantine took a step toward Guerra, getting right into his personal space. Most men would have taken a step back—Ballantine was a good six foot four and built to match. Guerra was five-ten on a good day, but he was quick and strong and in great shape. If Ballantine thought he could intimidate him that way, Guerra would at least give it back as good as could.

“I’m saying,” Guerra said, keeping a reasonable tone to his voice, “that we all know you’re worried shitless about what happens to your family. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to let you get away with allowing a little autistic kid to get killed, just because you’re suddenly averse to taking a risk.”

Ballantine snorted. “You got balls, dude. I’ll give you that.”

“Brass ones,” Guerra agreed.

Ballantine glared down at Guerra for a long moment, his eyes filling with brewing fury. Despite his unwillingness to show weakness in the confrontation, Guerra felt sweat slowly rolling down his back. If Ballantine was going to take it all the way, it was going to hurt both of them.

The anger receded in Ballantine’s eyes, and he stepped back after a moment. He continued to stare down at Guerra, but he slowly nodded.

“All right. I hear you, Hector. I’ll do my part. You don’t have to worry about me turning into a Nancy boy. I’m still in the fight.”

Guerra nodded back. “That’s all I’m asking for, man. Nothing more. We know you got your family to think about, because they’re right here in the shit with the rest of us. I know it’s gotta drive you crazy, but listen—my people are in California, and I have no idea what’s going on with them. So I have to stay operational, otherwise I’ll go stir. You might want to keep that in mind. You have your problems, but we have ours, too.”

“I’m with you, Hector. I’m with you.”

“Okay, man. Cool,” Guerra said. “Why don’t you check in with the fam. And send that jerk-off Stilley back here. He’s next on my hit parade.”

Ballantine smiled thinly. “You gonna bust him up?”

“Nah. Just have a talk with him.”

“Use small words.”

“Trust me. He’ll understand where I’m coming from.”



August 28, 2018 1 comment

This one was a bitch to write, but it’s done and has the blessing of my co-authors. It’s out on Amazon right now, so if you’re in the mood for cackling Killer Klowns versus the light infantrymen of the First Battalion, 55th Infantry Regiment…enjoy!

The Retreat 5: No Country for Old Men

July 28, 2018 1 comment

Some new additions to the 1/55th: several ex-military guys who aged out of service but are still able to contribute, either through direct fires or by virtue of their experience and intellectual capital. Aside from a wide-ranging Muldoon, a reticent Walker, and another addition full of fire and spice named Campbell, LTC Harry Lee has to deal with a full colonel named Tackaberry who happens to be a fellow lightfighter…albeit with the storied Seventh Light, long since inactivated. But his battalion has been whittled away after multiple engagements with the klowns, and Lee had no choice but to accept the old colonel and his mish-mash of retired servicemen into the fighting ranks. Tackaberry himself has decade of functional experience over Lee, which of course provides its own dynamics, not really reflected here. But the Old Dogs stand up and do what any American fighting man would do under these circumstances: project red-hot hate into the enemy’s face.

As always, the below is presented unedited, and with no guarantee it will appear in the finished product.

“Dismounts in the barrens. Estimated size, sixty to seventy-five. They’re running screens on both sides of the road—have to assume an equal number of combatants on the other side.” Haynes’s report was delivered calmly and without a hitch. “We’ll give them a speed bump, but these people aren’t going to be bothered much by a few troops sending ordnance downrange. You definitely need to get the TOC and headquarters company relocated, Six.”

For the first time in years, Tackaberry was caught flat-footed. The finality of his friend’s transmission was obvious. If the klowns were coming through the thickets and brambles and wiregrass on foot, then they knew something was up. While the armored cav guys might be infected, laughing lunatics looking to get their kill on, they hadn’t forgotten their basic mission. They were cavalry. They were scouting.

The wiregrass…

“Haynes, lie low,” Tackaberry said. “Lie low and let them pass you by!” As he spoke, he spun around to look for Linton. The old Air Force NCO had heard the report, and he shot Tackaberry a thumbs up as he relayed the information to the lightfighters in the fighting position he was talking to.

“We can hold them up, Six. Maybe not for long, but we can give them something to think about. Over.”

“Negative—you’ll get yourselves killed. Find a place, lie low, cover up and wait—”

“Six, they’re going to be at your pos in less than ten minutes. Don’t worry about us. Get yourselves out of the danger close zone. This is a no bullshit situation, Colonel—even an Army rag like yourself has to know that. Over.”

“God damn it, Haynes, I know it!” Tackaberry snapped. “Go to ground, cover up, and hit these fuckers in the ass when I tell you to! That is a direct order! Do what I tell you, and you can fold up their advance! Over!”

There was a brief pause, and then: “Roger that, Six. Just so happens Esposito found a nice hide site. Going for it. Will update as soon as we can. If you hear a bunch of gunfire, it’ll probably be us and they have us. Over.”

“Roger. Break. Seven, you got that?” Tackaberry said, transmitting to Linton.

“Six, this is Seven. Got it all. Relaying now. Over.”

“All Geezers, this is Six. Come back in right now. Fall back inside the wire. Fall back, fall back, fall back!” Tackaberry was surprised to find he was suddenly having difficulty breathing. His heart hammered in his chest, and his breath was running short. Now would be a hell of a time to have a heart attack.

You wanted this, now deal with it, he told himself. It’s just a fucking panic attack, you old fool.

“Six, this is Waltrip. We’re not going to leave Haynes and his guys out here alone.” Waltrip was a veteran Navy guy, one of the progenitors of the SEALs, back when they were simply called BUDS. “You’re going to need a couple of dimensions to the fire fight. I can guarantee you at least two of ‘em. Over.”

Tackaberry was beside himself. “Wally, what the fuck? Direct order, come back in!”

“Yeah, negative—in real life, Navy beats the shit out of Army in football, so I’m taking my cues from that. I’ll have my two guys go to ground and cover up, and if we can figure out the pattern of advance we’ll adjust to provide harassment fire. I’ll go high and keep an eye on things. Over.”

Tackaberry was nonplussed. “Go high? What, you’re going to light a joint? Over.”

“Climbing a tree, Six—climbing a tree. Have to get up high to see what’s going on. Even a grunt should know the value of the high ground.”

Tackaberry was taken aback, trying to picture a seventy-year-old man scaling a pine tree just so he could get a birds-eye view of an enemy recon force pushing into the zone. He was at once flabbergasted and swollen with pride. These were men who were considered historical artifacts, relegated to society’s distant memory. An inconvenience to their families, an embarrassing cue to the young of what lay in store for them one day. But here he was, septuagenarian CPO3 John Waltrip, USN Retired, Vietnam veteran and a member of the Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club, scaling a tree so he could go eyes-on an enemy advance…at seventy years of age.

What a man, Tackaberry thought. Who knew such courage existed in the Navy?

“Wally, you get caught in a tree, you’re a dead man,” he said. “Japs tried that in World War II. They got killed every time. Over.”

“I’m seventy and Charlie’s Angels went off the air in 1981, Six. What have I got to live for, really?” As he spoke, Tackaberry heard the old Navy NCO grunting with exertion. Was he really climbing a tree? Really?

“Let me know when you’re in position, and make sure your guys are secure,” Tackaberry said. He saw someone emerge from the TOC rig, look around the area, and zero in on Tackaberry. He recognized the slab-sided shape of Command Sergeant Major Turner, and marveled at how fast Turner could move as he ran directly toward him.

Ah, to be young again, he thought, even though Turner had to be around fifty.

“Roger that, Six,” Waltrip replied. “Can tell you now, have eyes on forty- to seventy-plus bad guys. All in uniform to one degree or another, providing you call extra body parts uniform. It’s going to be messy. Over.”

“Roger,” Tackaberry said as Turner pounded up, encased it what looked to be an extra hundred pounds of gear. “Sarmajor, how’s it hanging?”

“The usual, fourteen inches limp,” Turner said, and without being out of breath at that. “Status of your teams, sir?”

“Most are falling back inside the wire, have two hanging tough to provide intel on enemy movements,” Tackaberry said. “As far as we can tell, they don’t know we’re here, but there’s about seventy enemy coming in through the pine barrens. Maybe they’re blind and they’ll miss us, but I doubt it. Can you dial in arty fires?”

“Hooah, sir. But they’re already refocusing on the main element. We can get mortars on line in two minutes, as soon as Colonel Lee coordinates the shift.”

Tackaberry spread his hands. “Meaningless to me, Turner—have no idea what the mortar team’s original tasking is. What does Lee need to know in order to facilitate that? Got seventy klowns inbound and the only thing between them and us are six old men. Maybe you can expedite that shit, huh?”

“I’ll see what I can do, sir,” Turner said. “How far out are they?”

“Half a mile, tops,” Tackaberry said. “We need to give them a little surprise, Sarmajor. And in a hurry.”

“Already arranged, sir.” And no sooner had the words left Turner’s mouth, Tackaberry heard the shriek of banshees. Artillery rounds zooming past overhead, at less than four hundred meters altitude. That he could hear them told him two things: one, they had already flown past, as they flew faster than the speed of sound. Two, the breech creatures crewing the guns had put quarters in each shell’s fuse housing—a little special something to strike fear in the hearts of those who had advanced beyond the arty fire’s engagement radius. Under normal circumstances, it would have worked. But for the klowns?

It would just make them laugh.

“Those rounds are too fucking high!” Tackaberry said. The explosions came an instant later, great thunder that struck him in the chest like a physical blow. Artillery, doing its job, making things far away blow up.

“That’s because we didn’t want to turn your old guys outside the wire into explody-dopes,” Turner said. “I mean listen, we took your team’s best interests to heart here, Colonel.”

Tackaberry reached for his radio transceiver. “Haynes, call the BDA!”

“Six, BDA appears to be effective at the longer range,” came the immediate response. “I can see fire and smoke now, looks like the cav’s main body took the strike right on the chin”—more rounds screamed past overhead, and again, they were too high for Tackaberry’s liking but he couldn’t call in to adjust fire—“and yeah, that last salvo probably rang their bells pretty good. But the dismounts are pushing forward. Revised contact estimate, you guys are going to be danger close in about three minutes. Over.”

“All Geezers, fall back right now,” Tackaberry said. “Haynes, that means you too.”

“No can do, Six. Already danger close. Besides, you know the Aerosmith song…‘Haynesie Has a Gun’.”

“Haynes!” Tackaberry fairly shouted, but it was too late. As another salvo of artillery rounds screamed past overhead, he heard an eruption of small arms fire somewhere in the forest. And mixed in with it was the heavy bam-bam-bam of Haynes’s 7.62-millimeter rifle. The gunfire reached a fever pitch before the explosions from the artillery barrage drowned it out. Downrange, several of his men emerged from the forest, their faces long and grim. The hammer was swinging their way, and they knew it.

“You have something to report here, sir?” Turner asked as Linton hurried over.

“Got a ground element heading our way. I have six or seven guys in a stand-up with them now, but they’re not going to last long,” Tackaberry told him. “We’ll never get out of here in time, so you’d better get ready to fight a bit, Sarmajor.”

Turner grinned. “Hell, sir. Fighting is what I’m all about.” He turned away and started speaking into his Peltor headset’s boom microphone, relaying the information to Wizard. As he spoke, the troops manning the fighting positions came alive. A tri-barrelled GAU-19 in a Humvee’s cupola opened up, sending a fusillade of fifty-caliber fire ripping through the trees. At first, Tackaberry was afraid his men were the ones taking fire. Then he saw the shapes struggling against the big machinegun’s fire. They were all in various stages of undress, and were rolling up already mutilated in some tribal fashion that he frankly found horrifying. He raised his rifle to his shoulder and added his own fires to the conflagration, even though they were ridiculously puny compared to what the lightfighter in the Humvee was pumping out. It was stupid, standing out in the open and firing on inbound goblins, but he was too far away from any credible cover, and his only thought was to give Turner some protection while the burly command sergeant major made his report. He dropped a klown as she blundered out of the brush, holding a machete high above her head while releasing an ululating scream, her pale eyes standing out in stark contrast against the dried blood that had been smeared across her entire face. One of his rounds slammed right into her forehead, causing her to drop like a sack of wheat in midstep.

Then a hand clamped onto his shoulder and pulled him away. It was Linton, holding his big man-killer AR in his right hand while pulling Tackaberry away with his left. His dark skin was wet with perspiration, and his eyes were wide as he tried to look everywhere at once, head on a swivel.

“We got to get under some cover, Colonel!” he shouted. “Sarmajor, come with us!”

Turner continued speaking into his microphone as he followed, pausing only to drill six rounds into the pine barrens. Two figures fell, Tackaberry saw. Then bullets began ripping past him, snapping like firecrackers. He heard them slapping into the Humvee where the gunner was still ripping away with the GAU-19. Tackaberry stopped looking and began running along with Linton.

It was going to be a long day.

The Retreat 5: When MOPP Isn’t a Just a Four-Letter Word

As the klowns pass through the lines and mount an attack against the 1/55th’s tactical operations center…

“Aw hey, Foster! You’re in luck!” Murphy said while manning his M4. “You don’t have balls, so you’ll get a free pass!”

“It’s all right, your sister’s a lesbian and she goes down on me every night,” Foster shot back.

“That was his sister? Man, I know the women in Murphy’s family are ugly, but I coulda sworn that was his dad going down on you, dude,” Sienkiewicz said.

Foster shook his head. “I’m about to die, and to think that’s going to be the last thing I heard.”

“Nah, it’ll be this,” Murphy said. He then ripped off a long, loud fart. “You heard it here first, folks.”

“Well. Thank God for MOPP,” Lee said, “though that’ll probably be the last time I say that.”

When Lightfighters Get Some

July 18, 2018 2 comments

What I’d imagine the musical score would sound like when the 1/55th has finally had its fill of running away and turns around on the klowns to deliver some hot hate…like they do in The Retreat 5: Crucible.

The Retreat 5: Mission Essentials

Things are heating up for the 1/55th. As I post this, I wonder if Craig and Joe are gyrating in fury, as they haven’t seen this stuff before the rest of you?

As always, I offer the below unproofed and unedited, with no guarantee it will appear in the final product.


Inveigle was a two-platoon element numbering almost eighty soldiers led by Captain Hank Caruthers, who was new to the battalion and had just finished his mountaineer training before the unit was rotated into Boston. First Sergeant Weide Zhu had grown to know him during the evolution of that engagement and found him to be generally unflappable and trustworthy. But he was a closed-off sort, not the kind of leader to give inspirational speeches or react to pressure by barking out orders and getting shit done. He was the sort who studied a situation and responded accordingly—essentially the kind of officer the Army liked. In fact, he reminded Zhu of his own father, an immigrant from mainland China who was slow to act and always measured in his response. Zhu was quite certain his father was dead now, or among the laughing throngs sweeping through Alhambra, California. Zhu viewed that philosophically. Yes, his father was possibly a murderous klown, but at least he was finally having a good time.

The problem with serving under Caruthers, filial similarities aside, was that engaging the klowns always resulted in shit flying off the rails. Caruthers would really need to step outside of himself to get things done and preserve as much of Inveigle as possible. As insurance this happened, Zhu had been detailed to Inveigle by Turner to ensure that when the shit hit the fan, the lightfighters had a steady advocate who had seen his share of shit. While Zhu’s public reputation was that of being a steady hand—he was a favorite of the troops—Turner was well aware the Chinese NCO could turn on the heat when things started to pop at the seams. Zhu and Turner had come up together. As entry-level grunts, they’d faced the heat, sand storms, and camel spiders in Desert Storm, but weren’t finally blooded until Restore Hope in Somalia. Between the two of them, they embodied half a century of military experience. Turner was chained to Colonel Lee’s side, but he knew full well that an extremely senior NCO could make all the difference during an operation like Inveigle. And it wasn’t like Turner had to beg. Zhu was ready for doing more than checking up on the troops and acting as a chauffeur/bodyguard for the extraordinarily lame Major Walker.

Of course, meeting the klowns head on wasn’t something he looked forward to. Or did he? Zhu had inherited a great deal of his father’s caution, and while the life of a professional soldier wasn’t without bucket loads of risk from time to time, he had managed those risks fairly adroitly over his career. While he had been exposed to explosive, frenetic combat in the past, it wasn’t something he had courted in some years. But here he was, at what might very well be the end of the world, leaning forward in the foxhole and getting ready to spray hate at his enemies all day long. It wasn’t a hundred percent atypical for him, given his occupation, but that he found himself longing for it made Weide Zhu wonder just how much he had changed since getting the orders to deploy to Boston. The Chinese had a saying: Life is short and bitter. The phrase popped into his mind suddenly as he examined his rifle for the hundredth time. Despite his preparations, he had a sense of dread in the back of his mind. The adage might prove more correct than he had previously thought.

You’re fifty-one years old. For you, life might be bitter, but you cannot complain it was too short.

The plan called for Inveigle to attack a small assembly area at the southern edge of the base and hammer the shit out of it, then fade back and draw in more klowns to pursue them. Using battlefield deception tactics Inveigle would essentially make a lot of noise and do a token amount of damage, enough to keep the inflowing klown masses interested but the lightfighters would not close and destroy. They were to avoid becoming decisively engaged, and instead filter to the southwest. Once they’d shaken the klowns, they would push overland back to where Desperado would hit the post, near where Eyes had gone in. The general assumption was the klowns would be easy to pull off target, and while they were combing the pine barrens to the south searching for Inveigle, the unit would instead go to ground and provide covering fires for Desperado’s retreat. Backed by Thunder’s mortar tubes—and he hoped, some of the bigger guns he’d heard hammering away at the klowns from somewhere inside Fort Stewart proper—Zhu felt that Caruthers’s command might be successful in its mission.

But shit always blew up when the klowns entered the fray. They were fearless, still intelligent despite their disease, and as unpredictable as any foe in the history of combat.

Yes, life might be bitter, indeed.

When he advanced through the pine barrens with Caruthers and the advance team to reconnoiter their intended target—what appeared to be a rear area encampment where the klowns could rest and reconstitute after attacking the defenses around Fort Stewart—Zhu had his first inkling he might have misjudged the twenty-eight year old captain he was supporting.

It wasn’t a bivouac they were targeting.

It was a center of torture.

For fifteen minutes, Zhu and the rest of the advance team watch as klowns, decorated with everything from freshly-hewn bone adornments, feathery scalps, and tribal tattoos to hundred thousand dollar diamonds, bespoke tailor-made suits, and Rolex watches slowly turned captured civilians and military officers and soldiers into klowns. They did it in a variety of ways. They did it by pissing in their faces, by stabbing them with infected lances, by hurling offal into open wounds.

And most horrifyingly, they did it by rape.

First Sergeant Weide Zhu considered himself to be a very reasonable, well-ordered senior soldier of the United States Army. And so did everyone who had ever profiled him over the course of his career; one of the adjectives that usually came up was “unflappable.” While he had an emotional range just like any other man, Zhu had been able to tamp it down, secure it, and leave it tied up while he dealt with whatever crises had to be attended to. He would release the emotions later, usually alone or in the company of close friends and colleagues, where they could be reviewed when lives were no longer on the line and decisions had already been made. Four times in his past, Zhu had openly wept in front of men for whom he had nothing but the greatest of respect. And they had wept with him, for some of the things a man had to do in uniformed service was absolutely soul-crushing, and they could not withstand that final report out, where the actual human cost was accounted for.

Every man, woman, and child who was raped was savaged first, so that whatever canal was to receive their unholy seed was already torn and bleeding. Then the klowns would line up and fuck the hell out of their target, delivering payload after payload of infected semen. Some pleaded for their lives, but most fought, even the children. Neither tactic worked. Once the right viral density was arrived at, the laughter would commence. It would start as giggles at first, then outright, uproarious laughter, along with exhortations for the rapists to redouble their efforts and give their best.

I will never survive this, Zhu told himself.

“Mortars.” Caruthers was stone-faced as he watched these goings-on from the hide site the twelve man advance team had carved out in the pine barrens. “We can use the mortars, neutralize all of them.”

“Fuck that, Captain,” said another soldier. “Call Wizard and have him put arty on target here. Wipe ‘em all out. Fucking end this shit, right here, right now.”

“Yeah,” Caruthers said.

“Not…not our mission,” Zhu said. He had to struggle to get the words out.

“What?” Caruthers didn’t look at Zhu, but his tone told the NCO everything he needed to know. The company grade officer was scandalized by the dissent. “How can this not be our mission?”

“It’s the right thing to do,” Zhu said, as a screaming preteen girl was brought into the zone and her clothes were ripped from her. Knives glittered in the Georgia sunlight as the klowns below set about their work, flaying, cutting, chipping at her most private of parts. “But it’s not the mission. We wipe them out, we accomplish nothing. We have to enrage them, bait them, bring them out of here to chase us.” He paused then to swallow what little spit was in his mouth. “We have to pull them away from here and give life to the rest of the plan, not try to save those we could never help anyway.”

“Are you fucking telling me we should turn away from this?” Caruthers snapped.

“I’m telling you we have a plan to put in motion, Captain,” Zhu responded. To his ears, his voice was rational, calm, completely controlled. It was in no way a mirror of what he felt. The desire to attack, to kill, to savage was so overwhelming he marveled at how well he was able to hide it. He looked over the klown breeding ground, and he found he was full of a despair so deep and so dark that he feared there was no way back. His sanity had been fractured, and while he might be able to tape it all back together later, there was no chance he would go back to who he had been only fifteen minutes ago. He was damaged goods now. Section Eight Express all the way.

“The fuck you say,” Caruthers said. Zhu tore his eyes away from the blood-curdling vista below and looked at the officer. Caruthers’s own eyes were wide and full of fury, terror, and madness. He’d gone right off the deep end, and there was no coming back.

“Captain, you have a mission,” Zhu reminded him, and he called forth the voice of a senior non-commissioned officer of the United States Army, the voice that fully indicated you did not fuck with an institution that had hundreds of years of heritage of service behind it. “If you fail here, you fail the men who depend on you, the men of the battalion, and the nation that expects you to defend it against all enemies.”

Caruthers turned and looked at Zhu then. He glared at him with wild eyes, then barked a short laugh. “Chinamen…always able to serve up lo mien, but never guts.” He reached over to the RTO lying beside him and snatched up the handset to the field radio. “Wizard, Inveigle Six. Fire mission for Thunder, unless you can get us access to bigger guns. Over.”

“Coward.” Zhu spat out the word like a curse. Without waiting for a response, he pushed himself to his knees and shouldered his M4. Before anyone in the advance team could do anything to stop him, his finger worked the trigger. He blasted three rounds into the klown that was currently victimizing the young girl, then lowered the barrel slightly and fired another three into the girl herself. He raised it then and capped off another three into the klown who had been supervising the insemination, blasting off his jaw and hopefully separating his C1 and C2 vertebrae, leaving him at best a paraplegic for life. All three lay motionless on the ground within three seconds, courtesy of 5.56-millimeter ball ammunition delivered from a weapon that had been chosen first for its low production cost, and secondly for its ability to shoot and hit a target reliably over five hundred meters distant.

“What the fuck are you doing, First Sergeant?” Caruthers bellowed.

“Fulfilling mission requirements…you white piece of shit,” Zhu replied. “You are in charge of a military operation—complete it, Captain, and do it now!”

From the target area, a wave of laughter cascaded like a thundering waterfall. It was followed an instant later by a fusillade of bullets ripping through the pine trees. Zhu ripped off another three rounds and sent two infected to meet their maker.

Inveigle had executed phase one of their tasking. They had the klowns’s attention.

Now, they just had to survive it.