Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Third Series from Zombie Adventure BLEEDING KANSAS: Escape from Dead City, Part I

Here’s a link to the page with the links to the first two series. The series follow a chronological narrative, but it’s not like you absolutely have to read those first. Our tale opens on the morning of the first full day of the New Weird Order, and Derek Grace knows there’s no safety in the city. He’s not even sure of Tanner, the only other living soul in the luxury hotel they were locked up in while the police and National Guard were overwhelmed outside.

Still, you do what you gotta do, and oftentimes it’s with people you’d rather not be doing it with. Especially when SHTF.
  

 “It doesn’t occur to you that trust might have gone out the window when you let that undead cougar have at me last night?”


Tanner gamely pretends he didn’t get punked this morning. “I thought you’d gone ahead and left,” he says.

“I figured I’d sleep in,” I say, walking past him to the kitchen behind the bar. The look on his face when I came around the corner behind the stairs was priceless. At least he’s not wearing those silly tennis shorts.

“You realize it’s a long way to Colorado from here.” says Tanner, following after. “We’ve got a lot of Kansas to cross. Six hundred miles.”

“I’d allow for some leeway on our ETA. You said it yourself. We don’t know who’s waiting for us on the road. Or what.”

“Okay,” he says. “You’re right about that. That’s why I was hoping we could go scouting on foot. I suggested that last night, too, if you’ll remember.”

“I remember. And since this is the last place we’ll have ready access to food for a while, I suggest eating the biggest, heartiest breakfast we can come up with. Right now.”

I bang through the swinging doors behind the bar into the kitchen. He bangs in after me. “We don’t have the time for that.”

“You don’t have time for that. Me, I figure I’ve got the rest of my life to starve to death.” I take off my suit jacket, hang it up where Angie had put it yesterday. “For however long that is.”

“We can find food on the way.”

“Oh, you’ll let me stop to eat? When?”

“I thought you’d want to see your family tonight.”

I laugh. “You were honestly going to let me see my family first? My apologies, Mr. Tanner. All this time, I’d presumed you were passive-aggressively carjacking me.”

“All I’d asked was whether or not you want to come with me to Highlands Ranch. I’ve got guns and supplies there. I thought I was doing you a favor.”

“That’s what you want the man with the rental vehicle to think while he does all the driving, puts all the gas on his credit card, and takes nothing from you but orders.” I’m turning the dials on the fryer and grill. “By the way, how were you getting around while you were in town? Didn’t you have a rental of your own?”

“I had a driver.”

“Better call him up, then. I’m running my own itinerary here.”

I go into the fridge for eggs. Tanner is still standing by the grill when I come out. “You going to eat all that?” he says, watching me crack eggs on the grill.

“Not right now. I need to find something to carry the rest with me.”

“Look, I understand if you don’t trust me,” Tanner says as I check the fry vats. “I imagine you figure you had a pretty good reason to move from your room.”

“How did you know I’d moved?” I say.

“You weren’t answering. What was I supposed to do? I had the master key. I looked in. Everything was gone. I thought you’d left already.”

I look at this jumped-up salesman before me. Yeah, nothing creepy about that at all, Tanner. I had a feeling he’d do something like that, which is why I changed rooms. Sometimes I really hate being right about people.

I turn to the freezer to get the breaded chicken tenders. I wish I’d thought to put these in the refrigerator last night to defrost, but moving what was left of Angie and all those twisted-faced corpses turned me off all thoughts of food. Last night was no good until I got a fresh, non-corpse-carrying luggage carrier up to my room, and moved everything down to the second floor. Then I could finally work on my growler of high-end draft before passing out.

 “Look,” Tanner says. “Like it or not we need each other. Our best chance for surviving is to have someone on shotgun at all times. Alone, we don’t stand much of a chance. We have to sleep. Those things don’t. That’s one of the few things they know about them. They don’t stop to rest.”

I pull my large oval plate close for the eggs. Something’s missing. Orange juice? I drop the first round of chicken tenders into one fry vat, a bag of onion rings into the other. The crackling and steam causes Tanner to step back.

“There’s probably an optimal number of people who could expect to make it safely through the swarms of dead and the occasional bands of marauders,” Tanner says as the racket dies down. “Right now it’s just you and me. But we need to build on this. We’ve got to trust each other.”

 “It doesn’t occur to you that trust might have gone out the window when you let that undead cougar have at me last night?”

“What? You’re going to hold that against me?”

“Unreasonable as it sounds to an arrogant, sociopathic fuck like you, Tanner, yes.”

“Okay, okay. Look, I don’t know what you’re talking about but I obviously crossed a line somewhere. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. Will you accept my apology?”

“No.”

“You’re not accepting my apology, then.”

“I just said I wasn’t. That you don’t know what you’re apologizing for renders it invalid.”

“All I heard was cursing and my name.”

“Fine. We’re done. Look, this might be the last time any of us will see eggs, bread, and fried cheese sticks, and I’d like to say a proper goodbye. So.” I jerk my head in the direction of the door.

Tanner opens his mouth to say something but shuts up. He turns and leaves the kitchen. I hear the TV come on in the lobby. 

I’ll give him credit. He could have pulled his gun. And the more I think about it, he’s right. We both need a wingman. The hell of it is someone like him won’t entirely have my back. And you could fill a fleet of Luxury Tanks with the fucks I don’t give for him.

Which brings home how long it might be until I have eggs again. The monsters were eating the family dogs at the mass burial; will chickens survive this? Cows?

All of a sudden I flash on my wife. My son and daughter. Our cats.

I feel the heaviness upon me. Just as it was when I woke up, writhing within the constricting coils of an anxious pre-dawn hour before I managed to fling my legs over the edge of the mattress. I try telling myself I would have left my wife well cared for before I began furnishing my new house in Kansas City. 

Right. I was still leaving her to grow old and die in that crumbling little starter cottage in that crumbling old neighborhood in crumbling north Colorado Springs.
Which she did anyway.

My wife of 22 years. 

My son. My daughter.

Goddamn, and those poor fucking cats. (Yes, the cats!)

The timer beeps over the fry vat. I pull up the basket, bang it to the side to knock the oil off, and hook it to drain. The snap-clicks as I shut off the fryer and the grill—I wish I had something less trite than “sounds like the slamming of coffin lids” but it’s all I got.

I hear the TV outside in the bar. I look around the kitchen. The bright overhead lights. The fry vats and electric grills. Humming. Buzzing. Functioning. 

Like regular TV programming, this is all going away. 

I doubt there was even an evening shift to relieve at the power plants this a.m. How about the water and sewage treatment plants? How many of those workers were straining against the yellow tape when the dead kicked out of their winding sheets and clambered out of the trenches on each other’s backs? 

I pull up a stool. I could sit outside at the bar but I need to take all this in without the distractions of Tanner, the TV, and whatever might be pawing at the front plate glass in the lobby. 

I’m working the knife and fork when I realize what I’ve been missing. I go to the fridge and bring out all the bacon that will fit on the grills. Breakfast tastes so much better as I take my bites in between laying out the strips and cleaning as I go. I use the time before the first turning of the meat to secure the insulated bags used to carry up room service dinners. Once the bacon is turned it’s less than a minute before they’re draining on the paper towels I’ve laid out for them. 

I’m laying out the rest of the bacon along and a box of sausage patties when Tanner comes through the door. He’s a smidge paler than when I last saw him. “There’s nothing on the TV but pre-recorded loops,” he says. “Nothing. Not even local stuff.”

“It was like that since before dawn,” I say.

“It’s just—well, this was to be expected.” Tanner pulls himself up a little. He chuckles nervously. “Crazy as it sounds I half-expected someone to pop in with a weather report.”

“Weather’s gonna be what it’s gonna be,” I say, breaking down the boxes the bacon and sausage patties came in. I put them in the lined trash barrel behind me. “Hot, with a chance of afternoon thundershowers. What about it?”

“That’s just it,” Tanner says as if he’d heard something else entirely. “The sky looked good from the roof but these things can blow in anytime. If nothing else, we need to be in the air well before afternoon.”

I stop and look at Tanner.

“What?” says Tanner. “I pretty sure these things didn’t eat the Cessnas and Pipers. If we can find one of those and gas it up we’re out of here.”

“You can fly?”

“Well, it’s something I just thought of, really. I didn’t want to make a big deal of it. It’s been so long….”

“Tanner, you are a piece of work. I swear, if you’re making this up—”

“I’ve only flown these things on the computer, all right?” Tanner says. “Are you willing to take that chance? Because whether or not I want to chance it myself is what’s got me in knots right now.”

“How many hours did you put in on the flight simulator game?”

“Enough for my wife to comment on it.”

“Enough that you’re seriously willing to try it?”

“Various stretches of hours over the years. Just haven’t had the time for lessons and licensing. It’s been on my bucket list.”

“Here’s your chance to prove to your wife you weren’t wasting time.”

“Really? Are you trying to talk me into this? You didn’t strike me as that desperate to get back.”

“In the best of conditions, it takes all day to drive across Kansas. And that’s assuming we’re starting at dawn, and that nothing and no one stops us.”

“Even without interruptions we’d never get home in time,” Tanner says, as if speaking to himself.

“No interruptions in the air. We’ll be in Colorado well before dark.”

“I don’t have to take it too high.” 

“We can just follow I-70.”

“That’ll work until Denver.”

“Where you’ll follow I-25 south towards Highlands Ranch. At least until we’re in the open country outside Lone Tree.”

“Where’ll we land?”

“Any open stretch of Interstate should do.”

“Huh. Yes. They were actually designed for that.” Tanner pauses. “Thing is, we have to assume Highlands Ranch and Colorado Springs look a lot like this. If they’re not broadcasting out of New York, Atlanta, or Los Angeles, it’s Game Over across the board. Which is why I’d really like it if you came along. Safety in numbers.”

“We’ll need food.”

“Yes, I understand that better now. You think you could spare me a plate of what you’ve got left?”

“Take the leftover eggs and French toast. The bacon and sausage will keep if I cook it thoroughly.”

“Protein and fat. My God, this might be the last we see of it.” 

I hand him an oval plate. “Let’s worry about that when we get to wherever we’re going.”

I expect him to take it outside to the bar but he straddles the stool I was using and eats where I was just minutes before. I’m under the impression that this is all coming home to him, and he’d rather not be left alone with it.

This shit is getting weirder by the minute.


NEXT: “Like stepping into the hot beating heart of rotting garbage.”



First edition. Available
only in paperback.
AFTERWORD: Crazy as it sounds, there are two editions of Bleeding Kansas, and they differ in more than just their covers. The first edition contains more overtly misanthropic observations from Grace about the people and even the undead around him, some of which apparently hit some reviewers where they live. It also contains the death of a special-needs child that really upset some others. The child dies because Tanner is an asshole, but people blamed Grace, then me, for being fucking heartless, or whatever. Because innocents don’t die in zombie apocalypses, only people who have it coming. Or who can defend themselves. Or whatever.


Second edition, in Kindle
and in paperback.
So I rewrote the book. Six pages fell away as I niced it up for sensitive readers. We slapped a new cover on it and figured we could leave the bitchy reviews behind. Although the reaction to the new version hasn’t been all that bad, it seems we got more positive vibes from those discerning readers who expect a properly violent and nasty apocalypse than not. When I finish the third book in the series (yes, the second is already out) I’ll restore the child’s death and some of the misanthropic snark, in the course of making the Ultimate Version. If the death of special-needs children bothers you, if angry people make you feel uncomfortable, this is the version for you.