Friday, April 12, 2013

My Time in Zombie Writer’s Camp IV: The CONFEDERATION Project

WARNING: Although the following installment features two more zombies than the last one, you only see them towards the very end after a Bible lesson. 

I’m running this chapter because I’m establishing the complex personality of the antagonist church in Confederation through Deacon Dare, a composite of those sharp old men I’d meet on rare occasion in my home state of South Carolina. These men could leave you walking away feeling beat-up or exalted, depending on how you approached them and their appetite for busting balls at the time. James Dickey is a once-famous example I was proud to have known. I all but cast him in the role in my mind.

Reading Dare’s dialogue takes me back to a time and place when I knew people who talked exactly like him. Southern accents are usually a necessary accessory to mean, evil, stupid or maybe sweet-but-stupid characters in movies and TV, but for my travels I’ve yet to meet a regional accent more poetic in its expression. That’s because it’s more than an accent. Old-school Southern speech draws on a large, shared vocabulary based on a rich, shared culture, the very same that gave the greater U.S. its distinctive culture, from country music, to jazz, to rock and roll; from Poe to Faulkner to Cormac McCarthy. 

Or, as I like to tell smirking Yankees, at least we don’t talk like we have dicks in our mouths.

Deacon Dare appears under another name in The Resilient, Book Two of The Saga of the Dead SilencerHere, Dare sets up the offscreen Big Bad, Deacon Sparks, who we know is fearsome-awful bad by the terror of the boys when Dare offers to send them to him. I love the tension between Dare and the boys, and how Dare is not the stereotypical evil Christing bastard, but a decent man with a sense of mission, and a strong mind to back it up. A lot of the world of Confederation is set up here—for instance, Dare’s story about the camp jibes with Ranger McCracken’s story in the previous chapter, and we learn what the church does with those that just won’t do right.

At the end of the day New Bethany Church is all the more formidable an antagonist to our titular Confederation of villages in the mountains because it has such diverse personalities and agendas as Dare, Sparks, Dr. Mark and others I’ll introduce later. 

All this and a Bible lesson. Hang in there, faithful readers, I’ve got some more grisly chapters for you gore fans coming down the pike. Meanwhile, there are treasures beyond the boilerplate for those who know how — not merely where — to look:

In 2008 James Robert Smith and I collaborated on a project we hoped would turn out to be the Winesburg, Ohio of zombie epics, a mosaic tale describing the communities coming together (and squaring off against one another) in the wake of the zombie apocalypse. For various reasons the collaboration fell apart. Bob took his part of the narrative — which included his idea of a border collie manipulating the other abandoned dogs and zombies—and crafted The Living End. I scuffled around for a couple of more years until I came up with The Saga of the Dead Silencer.

For the benefit of those readers who were following the first part of my saga, Bleeding Kansas, and miss having something nasty-mean to read, here’s the fourth installment I wrote for the project. Of course, if you like this, feel free to pick up Bob’s completed work. Support your local architects of the apocalypse!

One mile before camp it sat in the path of the convoy, as fearless as you please. Danzler’s truck stopped, the New Bethany truck behind it, then Corey’s and the New Bethany truck behind it. Justin, Travis and Dare, sitting on the Blessing Boxes in the flatbed of the second truck, stood to look over the cab.

Danzler honked his horn. The dog didn’t move. He revved his engine. The dog stood and wagged his tail. Danzler opened his door and started to get out when the dog leaned forward on its front paws — butt in the air, tail wagging — catch me if you can! — and sprinted into the woods.

“Didn’t know dogs that small were still around,” said Justin. “Figured somethin’ or someone’d eaten ‘em up by now.”

“What I wanna know,” said Travis, “is what that dog’s been eatin’.”

“Looked like a terrier,” said Darius “Dare” Redding, Rescue Deacon for the New Bethany Community Church. “They’re bred to catch rats and such. Likely stuffed full of squirrels and field mice. I imagine we’re pretty close to campgrounds by now. Judging by all the play in it I’d say it belonged to one of the campers.”

Dare called out to Danzler. “You know who that belonged to?”

“I never seen that thing before in my life!”

“Well, we better get goin’. We’re burnin’ fuel sittin’ here.”

Danzler got back into his cab and the convoy resumed rolling up the long, broken grade towards Wildwood Holler.

“They can’t be doin’ too bad if no one’s eaten it already,” said Justin.

“Well, as for that,” said Dare, “I reckon they’re just tired. Can’t say we didn’t tell ‘em so.”

“That’s right, you’ve been here before,” said Travis.

“’Bout the same time last year.” A jolt shook the truck so they had to grab the sides to hold on. “Told ‘em about keepin’ these roads up, too. It’s not like they had to keep laying down asphalt, just mind the weeds comin’ up the cracks in the road. We left ‘em some herbicide to take care of it. Wouldn’t surprise me if they just left those tubs lyin’ around unopened, right where we left ‘em.”

Another jolt shook the truck. “It’s a miracle Danzler and his people didn’t blow a tire comin’ down to New Bethany in the first place,” said Justin.

“Actually, he did, as I understand it,” chuckled Dare.

“Well,” said Travis, “it says somethin’ if they was desp’rate enough to risk it.”

“Like I said. They’re just tired. Ready to come and join civilization.”

“Whyn’t they come down with you last year?” said Justin.

“Oh, a number of reasons,” said Dare. “Pride, for one. Franklin town back there was packed full of dry goods, guns, ammo and liquor. With all of maybe a hundred people up there they figured it was gonna last next best thing to forever. And when it did run dry, why, they’d just shoot themselves some deer. All these weekend warrior types up there apparently never read Little House in the Big Woods.”

The two younger men looked quizzically at the deacon. “It the first book in the Little House series,” said Dare. “Most people know the sappy TV show better but — aw, never mind, that was before your time too. Anyway, it’s one of the best accounts of American pioneer living ever written, and very pertinent to what we’re talkin’ about here. Mainly ‘cause Pa Ingalls had to move his family out of the big woods of Wisconsin on account he shot up all the game.

“Course, that’s what he said. Truth be told, most of it likely had to do with his itchy foot and the passage of the Homestead Act, but then it isn’t hard for one man — one man, mind you! — with miles of woods about him and his family to kill off all the game over time. Unless you’re raising a good head of cattle you gotta be a nomad if you want to eat meat.”

“A what?” said Justin.

“A nomad. Means you move around a lot. Learn to live in teepee like Injun, follow deer and antelope play.” Dare laughed.

“I figured the Bible was the only book pertinent to anything,” said Travis.

“Why, that’s a right funny thing for you to say, Brother Travis.”

“What’s so funny about it?”

“Yeah,” said Justin, “what’s so funny about it?”

“Oh, you want in on this too, Justin? You sure about that?”

“Oh yeah! You bet!”

Dare’s eyes narrowed. “Try ‘oh yeah, you bet’ sir.”

Travis and Justin looked at each other, then back at the deacon.

“I see. Gonna stand your ground before the old deacon. Never mind I was keepin’ charge with God’s church since long before you two were fillin’ diapers. Just plum forget I was runnin’ missions like this into farms and towns when the walking dead were thick as fire ants in the fields and you two were still whimpering in your tighty-whities, waitin’ for someone like me to come save you.”

Dare’s expression hardened as he regarded the two boys. “So, you wanna know where I get off talking about books other than the Bible? Like maybe I’m some crazy person who doesn’t think the Bible is the True Word of God?”

“Well, that was the general idea. Sir.”

“First off, I do believe the Bible is the True and Living Word. Your assumption that I don’t is not merely foolish, but an insult. An insult I find funny — and not in a ha-ha funny way, either — because I don’t see where either one of you bothered to bring along your Bibles on this mission.”

“Well, I —” said Justin.

“Well you what? Thought you didn’t need the Word of the Living God?”

“No sir. I mean, I did an’ all, but....”

“But you had someplace to go this weekend and God’s Truth was just so much surplus baggage. Is that it?”

“I don’t see you with your Bible,” Travis said.

“Unlike you and your little friend here, Travis, I carry the Word of God in my heart. Always.”

“Well, maybe that’s where I carry mine.”

“Your what?”

“The Word of God!”

“You mean like the Bible, Travis?”

“You know what I’m talkin’ about!”

“Oh, I know exactly what you’re talkin’ about. The question is, do you?”

“Huh!”

“Tell me, Travis, what the Apostle Matthew said in Chapter 15, verses 17 through 20.”

“I ain’t gotta quote it chapter and verse!”

“No. Not necessarily. But you do have to know what it’s about. Can you tell me?”

“Jesus is Lord, that’s all I need to know!”

“No, you just figure it’s all you need to say. There’s some verses on that, too. You’ll find ‘em in Matthew Chapter 7 and in Luke Chapter 6. I’ll get to those in a minute.

“Meanwhile, I’ll let you in on something. It was a trick question. Matthew isn’t doing the talking. It’s Jesus. The One you proclaim ‘Lord’ with your mouth while disrespecting Him in your heart.”

“I’d never disrespect Jesus!”

“’Do not ye yet understand,’” quoted Deacon Dare, “’that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.

“’For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.’”

Again, Dare paused to regard the boys. “That just went right over your heads, didn’t it?”

Justin regarded his hands. Travis worked on looking defiant as he stared away into the woods.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you! Either you explain to me what that passage was about or tell me you don’t know.”

Justin shrugged. Travis started to look away again but Dare said, “Nuh uh! You turn your eyes back towards me! You like to think you’re such a big man, little Travis Carlson, but you ain’t nothin’ if you can’t look another man in the eye!”

Travis’s head was still turned somewhat but he did meet Dare’s eyes, “Good,” said Dare. “Now do you have the sense to tell me what you just heard me tell you straight from the Bible? Or are you man enough to own up that it went right over your head?”

“All that old language,” said Travis. “I don’t know how you expect me to understand it. Sir.”

“A pitiful three-legged dog of an excuse, but since it’s comin’ from you I guess it’s all I can expect.” Dare looked at the other boy. “Justin?”

“Sir?”

“It’s been two years since the walking dead chased everyone they didn’t chomp down on and eat out of the cities. These days we don’t do those sissy excuses like ‘Attention Deficit Disorder’ to explain away the fact you watch too much television and don’t mind your elders. Do you know why?”

“Uh...sir?”

“Do you know why there’s no such thing as Attention Deficit Disorder anymore?”

“Because we got no TV?”

“Because we have no television. That’s part of it. The biggest reason, though, is you’re now under the care of godly people. And the two of you are gonna learn your Bible, learn your manners, and learn how to be men. And not just any men, but righteous warriors for the Lord. Got that?”

“Yes sir.”

“Now I’m asking you: what was that Bible verse I quoted you about?”

“Sir, I’m sorry, I don’t know.” Dare continued starting him down and Justin blurted, “Like Travis said! All that old language and stuff! Can’t you read us from one of those English versions?”

Dare laughed. It was a genuine, mirthful laugh but when he saw the tension in the boys loosen he cut it short: “That was English, son! What they used to call the King’s English! King James, to be exact!

“He used to be King James the Sixth of Scotland. He rode south to become James the First of England when the Tudors petered out with ugly ol’ Queen Elizabeth. Shakespeare was around back then; he kissed ol’ King Jim’s hiney writin’ Macbeth for him. James of Scotland figgered himself an expert on witches and such and wrote a book which Shakespeare—ah, forget it!

“Anyway, King James did a most bold and daring thing. Pissed off the church nearly as bad as Elizabeth’s old man King Henry the Eighth did when he got his divorce. You see, King James, he ordered the Holy Word translated into English. It was the first time ev—”

The boy’s eyes had widened. “What’s the matter?” said Dare.

“You said....”

“Said what?”

“You said ‘pissed’!” said Travis.

“So? It’s a word Shakespeare used. ‘Let the piss-gutters run Chablis!’ That’s from one of his histories. But history just goes right over your head, so never mind.  I’ll tell you this, though: know where the best collection of Shakespeare to be had is?”

The boys shrugged, fidgeted.

“Listen up, because I’m gonna ask you again sometime and you’d better know it! You listenin’?”

Justin nodded. Travis glowered at him.

“At brother Bob Jones University! In Greenville, South Carolina! I mention that because the God-haters are always sayin’ we Christians are anti-culture when we’re the ones workin’ hardest to save it! They’re the ones offerin’ courses on slutty pop stars in college and calling it serious academic study! ‘Cause they say sluttiness is ‘empowering’ to women, and Shakespeare’s ‘a dead white male,’ and therefore oppressive to hip-hoppers in baggy clown clothes shootin’ each other up in the ghetto when they’re not slappin’ their own women around and calling ‘em whores!

“Anyway, we’re talkin’ history. All the old clergymen what passed for preachers in King James’s day thought the Word of God was too good for people like you and me. But King James thought everyone should read and know it in his own mother tongue. And those that couldn’t read, could hear it from those who did — and not just the corrupt old church. So in the Year of Our Lord 1611 we get the King James Bible!

“To this very day it’s considered the most authoritative of translations. Sure, there’s the New International, or NIV, which everyone else seems to like a lot. Dr. Mark quotes from that one for the benefit of the sheep who might otherwise be spooked by majestic language. You got your dull-as-dryin’-paint American Standard, which some people swear by if only because it’s got ‘American’ in the title. You’d prob’ly go for that for the same reasons and understand it just as well as good King James. Makin’ the Word of God dull! I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there’s a divin’ pool a hunnert feet deep in the Lake of Fire made up just special for those sinners.

“Now a few years back some genius comes up with the idea of doing a New King James in which all the thees and thines and whatnot are replaced with yous and yours. And I’ll tell ya, it’s all right. I got a copy you could look at.

“Course, I’m what you young people call ‘old school.’ But that’s okay. You don’t like me, you don’t respect me — fine! You’re off my team. Happy now?”

Justin shrugged. Travis glowered.

“Heh. You have no idea what that means, don’tcha?”

Justin shook his head. Travis’s glower had become a dull-eyed stare.

“It means,” said Deacon Dare, “I’m transferrin’ you over to Coach Deacon Trenton V. Sparks!”

The color drained from Justin’s face. Travis bolted up straight against the side of the truck. “Sir!”

“Why, little brother Travis. I do believe that’s the first time you’ve addressed me as ‘sir’ and it didn’t sound like you were cussin’ me.”

“Sir...Deacon. I don’t wanna play for Coach Deacon Sparks.”

“Why not? You gotta play for somebody. Why not him?”

“Sir,” said Justin, “he’s mean.”

Dare raised an eyebrow. “That’s a serious charge against a deacon of the church.”

“Well, he is!” said Travis. “Everyone knows it!”

“Hm. It’s not as if he makes you memorize Scripture. In fact, that’s part of the competition between him and me. Well-read, well-rounded boys versus boys who just more or less behave themselves and do what they’re told. Pastor Winthrop — dear old Dr. Mark to you boys — wanted to see what worked best in terms of bringin’ up the young men in the church.

“Now as I see it, you both hate reading and you’re both too good to so much as bring a Bible with you when you go out in the field. So it makes no sense why you’re here with me at all. Given what I’ve seen and heard from you all today I’m signing you both over to Coach Sparks’s team as soon as we get back.”

“No!”

“Please, Deacon, sir! I’ll start reading! I’ll do whatever you say!”

Dare’s expression did not change. He allowed the boys to beg and protest for another minute or so. “All right, all right! Enough! Quiet, both of you!”

The boys quieted.

“That’s a start,” said Dare. “Now. I’m going to talk. You wanna stay on my team, don’t say anything. Just nod your head. Got that?”

Justin and Travis nodded.

“Everything hangs on how you two behave this weekend. You’re gonna do what you’re told, when you’re told, and no attitude. None! You got me, little brother Travis?”

Travis nodded.

“No smirking, no eye-rolling. Nothing! I see or so much as think I see anything I don’t like from of either one of you and you’re both going over to my esteemed brother in Christ, Deacon Trenton V. Sparks. And you can bet I’ll be sure to tell him why.”

Justin flinched. Travis stared glassy-eyed at Dare, visibly working to banish all emotion from his face.

“Travis,” said Dare. “I’m going to ask you a question. How you react to it is as important as how you answer it.”

Travis nodded.

“When I ask the question, you will answer out loud. Understand?”

“Yes sir.”

“I haven’t asked the question yet.”

Travis stiffened.

“Did you or did you not pack food for our little journey up the mountain here?”

“Yes sir. I did.”

“You didn’t trust me or the Security Ministry people to provide for you?”

“Sir, we were told to help ourselves to the sports bars in the box. So we’d have something to snack on in between meals. Sir.”

“That’s good, Travis. Now. Are you familiar at all with the passage in the fourth chapter of Matthew, repeated with small variations in the sixth chapter of Luke, in which Christ says man shall not live by bread alone?”

“Yes sir.”

“So what else does man need besides food?”

“Sir?”

“You wanna train with Coach Deacon Sparks?”

“Sir, I’m sorry! I don’t understand!”

“When Christ says man shall not live by bread alone, he means food in general. So what else does man need besides food?”

“Um—”

“Son, this passage from the New Testament is second only to John 3:16 in terms of recognition factor. Course, you probably can’t tell me what John 3:16 is, can you?”

“Ooh!” said Justin. “I know! ‘For God so loved the world he—”

“I’m not talking to you, Justin!”

Justin’s mouth hung open for a moment or two before he remembered to shut it.

“What do you say, boy!”

“I’m...sorry, sir.”

Dare turned back to Travis. “’Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he afterward hungered. And the tempter came and said unto him, If thou art the Son of God, command that these stones become bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’

“So,” Dare said, “I ask again. What do you need aside from food.”

“The Word of God,” said Travis.

“Wrong!”

“Sir?”

Dare smacked the back of his right hand into the palm of his left for emphasis. “Every! Word! That! Proceedeth! Out! Of! The mouth! Of! God! Did you get that, boy?”

The tension in Travis was such Dare saw he was close to losing him. Dare smiled: “Every word!” he said. “Every word. You know what that means, right?”

“That I need to be studying my Bible.”

“Why?”

“So I can get every word.”

“Yes!” Dare slapped his knee. “Hallelujah! Now you know why it’s more than just proclaiming Jesus as Lord! Any jackass can do that! Don’t think God is stupid, either! Because that’s exactly how you’re treating Him when you say Jesus is Lord and you don’t even bother to study His word! You with me on this, Justin?”

“Yes sir.”

“You don’t wanna piss God off, do you?”

“No sir!”

“Travis, you wanna hear what Jesus had to say about people who think they can get away with calling him ‘Lord’ and doing nothing else about it?”

“Yes sir!”

“Again, from the book of Matthew, the first Gospel, Chapter 7, starting with verse 21: ‘Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity!’”

Dare looked at the boys. They were sitting straighter. “I hope you heard that part about casting out demons and doing mighty works. See, even if you cleaned out the entire Charlotte metro area of the walking dead and did it all in the name of Jesus you still wouldn’t earn passage to heaven. No, you’re still missing something. What’s that, Travis?”

“You need to doeth the will of the Father who is in heaven.”

Dare chuckled. “That’s ‘do.’ It’s all right, after a while you’ll read this and speak it like your own. Anyway, how do you know how to do His will?”

“By reading His Word.”

“Justin! Where’s His Word?”

“In the Bible.”

“‘Every one therefore that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, who built his house upon the rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon the rock. And every one that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and smote upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall thereof.’

“So you see,” Dare continued, “it’s not enough to know the Word. You have to obey it. And you can’t obey it if you don’t know it. But then, you don’t have to do this. You do have a choice.

“You can study and memorize and learn the Bible with me. Or you can take your instruction from Deacon Sparks.”

“I’d rather learn under you, sir!” Justin said.

“You’re tellin’ me Deacon Sparks is hard. But I’m tougher.”

“Just tell me what I gotta do, said Travis. “Sir.”

“I want you both to memorize Matthew Chapter 4. Not the whole chapter. Just the first four verses. You know how to follow the numbered verses in the chapters?”

Justin looked at Travis. Travis looked at Dare and slowly shook his head.

“Believe it or not, I understand that. You came from a world that thought a vague statement of belief was enough. You said, Oh yeah, there’s probably a God. If nothing else you were afraid not to believe. It was a step in the right direction, if nowhere near far enough.

“You knew about the Son if only ‘cause you got presents for His birthday. You just said you believed, and then you all went and did your thing like He didn’t exist at all.

“I’ll say this much, it was a consistent lifestyle. Just like you got promoted from one grade to another simply for making attendance at your school. All you had to do was be there, wearin’ the latest clothes, carryin’ the latest electronic play-pretties, and talk like you were tough stuff and knew something.

“Well, my young brothers, my soon-to-be young men, here’s a news flash — that world has passed away! Some say The Thing was God’s judgment. I say not so fast. Check Matthew Chapter 24, cross-reference with Mark Chapter 13. This Thing was just another one of those things. I personally don’t see how a walking corpse tearing living flesh out with its teeth and swallowing for no good reason except to make more walking dead people could be anything like God’s work.

“But that’s neither here nor there. The important thing is that we’re here, they’re there, and there has to be a reason for all this. And if we don’t take this opportunity to build Christ’s kingdom on this earth, then where will we all be when the Lord finally comes down to judge?

“Anyway, Matthew Chapter 4, first four verses. That’s all I’m askin’. But if you can’t recite it to me word for word by this time tomorrow — yes, Justin?”

Justin had had his hand in the air. “Sir, how are we gonna study? We don’t have—”

“Bibles?” said Dare. “Mine’s up there in the cab with the rest of my stuff.” He laughed. “What, you think just ‘cause I got most of it memorized I’d leave home without it? No more’n I’d go outside the church grounds without my old service revolver! How’d you think I got all that memorized, anyway?”

Dare nodded towards the cab of the truck. “Brother Jared might loan you his if you ask real nice and he isn’t already doing some study of his own. Anyway, I strongly suggest you work closely together. And never, ever hesitate to ask for help from a brother. Never! The days of every-man-for-himself and being lonely in the crowd are done. And I say Praise God for that!”

“Deacon, sir?”

“Yes, Travis?”

“I was wonderin’ somethin’...I don’t want you to think I’m bein’ disrespectful or anything.”

“What? Spit it out, boy!”

“Well, it says in that one chapter we have to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

“Every word that proceedeth, you got it, son.”

“I—I don’t want you to think I’m tryna be a smart-ass— sorry—”

“‘Smart-ass’ isn’t in the Bible or even Shakespeare, but I take your meaning. What’s bothering you?”

“If we’re supposed to live by every word that comes from God, and then obey every word, then I don’t understand why Dr. Mark is lettin’ Deacon Sparks get away with what he’s doing.”

“Get away with what?”

“He treats people mean, and—”

“He’s rough with people who need it. Maybe a little too rough. On the other hand, Proverbs Chapter 10, verse 13 tells us ‘a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding.’ And a lot of those boys he’s workin’ with are as void as void gets.”

“But they’re not learnin’ the Word!”

“They don’t want to learn the Word. They’re not much good at doin’ what they’re told, either.”

“But isn’t he disobeying God?”

“Who?”

“I don’t mean any disrespect!”

“You mean Deacon Sparks?”

“Yes sir.”

“You know there’s just the two teams,” said Dare. “Mine, and Deacon Sparks.”

“Yes sir.”

“This is the first year all the boys will go into competition. But this isn’t just shirts and skins, red and blue. Dr. Mark, playing wise as the serpent — on the advice of Jesus Himself in Matthew Chapter 10, verse 16 — is looking to separate the wheat from the chaff. That is to say, a certain kind of young man is trained by me, and another by Deacon Sparks.”

“Um, isn’t the chaff like, bad?”

“The chaff is cast into the fire. In this case, not much more than zombie bait when Deacon Sparks and his crew go on their expeditions into the city. That’s what happens to the worst of them. If that sounds harsh, then consider they’d have a much better chance of survival if they’d paid attention during training. In case you weren’t paying attention the first time I told you, I’ll tell you again: we don’t do Attention Deficit Disorder in New Bethany. No dope for dummies here.

“But you know something else? Not all who walk into the fire are cast there. Some walk in willingly. You are, after all, talking to the Rescue Deacon. Not that I expect to do too much more rescuing after this, but I have done my share of driving or walking willingly into the thick of the hungry dead. 

“There are others in Deacon Sparks’s Security Ministry who are much like me. They read their Bibles, they take them to heart chapter and verse. And they’ve read a few other books besides. I know  a man in Deacon’ Sparks’s Security Ministry who can recite the poetry of T.S. Eliot and E.E. Cummings one minute and go into a mob of zombies all a-reachin’ an grabbin’ the next, and him with nothin’ more’n a machete and an honest desire to cleanse this earth for the coming of the Lord.”

Deacon Dare raised an eyebrow at the boys. “I bet you think poetry’s for sissies, don’t you?”

“No sir!”

“No sir.”

“Make no mistake, boys. You don’t score points for lyin’ to me.”

“Honestly, I never thought much about it!”

“Me neither! It’s not like it came up in my classes!”

“Naw, I expect not,” Dare sighed. “Prob’ly studyin’ the Wal-Mart ‘clean’ version of some rap song so they could be ‘relevant.’ Anyway, lemme tell you something about Deacon Sparks. Don’t ever make the mistake of thinkin’ he doesn’t know his Bible. He knows his Old Testament warrior-kings and their battles nearly as well as I know my Gospels. If he seems a little hard it’s because the Old Testament is serious old-school hard. Never forget he’s on our—”

Dare was cut off by the pop of gunfire in the woods. The truck jounced hard over a buckle in the road and slowed to stop. A brown lab charged across the road in front of them, followed by two more dogs of indeterminate breed.

Emerging from the woods behind them were what was once a teenager the same age as Justin and Travis, followed by a hideously nude and torn heavyset female. One gray breast hung deflated and loose from the uppermost bite-wound. It growled hungrily as it saw the people in the truck.

In one fluid motion Dare checked to see if anything was coming behind the two boys (who were all but set to jump out of the truck and run) before turning and pulling his .45 from its shoulder holster. Two shots in quick succession, two zombies falling backwards into the woods, neat black holes smoking between their eyes.

Dare held up his hand, knowing brothers Frank and Neil in the rearmost truck already had their rifles at the ready. He made a twisting motion with that hand, and one by one the trucks killed their engines.

Dare listened. He could hear screaming, gunfire. Barking dogs.

And that most unmistakable sound, a low hum at this distance. Aroused corpses, the risen Unclean, with fresh meat in their sights.

“How far away is the camp from here?” Dare shouted to the truck ahead.

“The turn’s right here!” Danzler said, pointing up the road to his left. Sure enough, there was the ranger’s cabin at the head of the turn.

“Well, whaddya waitin’ for! Let’s go!”

Dare waved his arm and the trucks re-started, groaning forward towards the embattled campgrounds.

He turned towards the boys, looking younger than ever, younger than they did when his crew rescued them from that abandoned house only six months ago.

“You boys wanna live long enough to get kicked off my team an’ have your scrawny, spoiled asses whupped by Deacon Sparks you grab those sticks I gave ya and hang on to them for dear life. And don’t you ever, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever, even think of jumpin’ outta this truck!”

“Yes sir!” they said at once.


More to come!


Copyright © 2008, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken

The Living End © 2011, 2017 by James Robert Smith