Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Chapter 1 of The WRONG KIND of DEAD: “Unbearable”

From the ALL-NEW, Yet-To-Be Proofed and Published FINAL BOOK of the SAGA of the DEAD SILENCER

Most people know to make quiet and back away upon discovering a mama bear with her cubs. I’m sure even the dead obeyed this essential instinct a few months ago, before the winter’s hard freezes immobilized them.

Like the bears, though, the bacteria animating the dead went into hibernation. When the thaw came, it awoke ravenous. The urgency to devour raw, living flesh shuts down all sense of self-preservation in the host cadavers’ brains. Roaring furiously, mama bear rears up on two legs and swats these humanoid beasts into spinning pieces. Still, they come, hooting jubilantly for their meat.

Round-the-clock exposure to the elements has weathered the corpse-flesh of every race, color, and creed into the same pale, jaundiced leather. Their clothing hangs in ribbons of blood-rotted cloth, the backs of their trousers and skirts eaten away by the toxic scat they pass after consuming living flesh. It looks like mama bear climbed with her two cubs to this rocky shelf to get away from these ghouls. Unfortunately, the walls around this shelf are 25 to 30 feet of vertical rock. They’re trapped. I’d need a rappel to get down to them from where I am.

But to get up to where the bears are from the base of this ridge, one would have to climb nearly 75 feet of steep, naked rock. The dead wouldn’t have attempted anything like this when they were last active. Judging by the slimy brown wetness on their hands, the successful climbers still had flesh left to wear off in getting here. The dry-boned ones can’t keep a grip. Much angry wailing follows as they flip and tumble down the slope, taking out many of their fellows on their way.

Mama bear rears up again, in a halting, staggering motion, and for a moment I fear she might fall over. The outline of her ribs shows through her fur. I’d ease over to the wooded ledge on my level of the ridge to see how many ghouls are still coming after this starved and cornered bear, but I don’t dare move. The first thing these monsters do when they find their feet is twist their heads to either side, sniffing the air. They smell us; I’m sure of it.

I’m fairly certain (I think) they can’t get up the walls around the shelf, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try. As berserker reckless as they are, there is also an eerie sense of purpose about these post-freeze dead. It’s not something I want to test.

Mama bear swats one gore-swollen tick of a man so hard his head flies from his body. Claws out, she slashes one former cubicle drone stem to stern. He falls in halves, one side, then another, about the growing pile-carpet of corpses.

The numbers are against her, though. At first it’s one, then two that manage to avoid mama bear’s swinging paws. Soon, half a dozen of them are staggering about the bodies and body parts in the clearing. While mama fights four deaders, two others are going after the cubs. Mama bear’s preoccupation allows one more to surmount the lip of the shelf, then three more after him.

Squealing piteously, the cubs charge up a narrow slope of scree to a rocky outcrop eight feet up from the floor of the shelf. For a moment both seem to be running in place as the scree rolls and slides beneath their paws. Only one finds the traction to get there before the other.

The second cub cries out as a woman in the rags of a floral print dress grabs it by its rear legs, adjusting her grip to bring its soft belly to her mouth. She falls backwards, a shock of fur poking from her mouth as a young man in a metal band shirt pulls the cub away. He grapples with the man whose shirt front and tie are rotted away from the multiple bibs of gore he’s slobbered there. The remaining knot of his tie resembles a dog collar. He grabs one leg and rips it away towards himself, making barking, laughing noises at the man in the remains of the T-shirt. 

I hear the bone snap in the cub’s leg, the cub shrieking, mama bear’s anguished roar as she sees and hears but can’t get away. A teenage girl in a dirty bra, the shreds of flannel pajama bottoms flapping about her legs like filthy pennants, clings to mama bear’s back, pulling her fur away with her teeth as the burly young thing in a muscle shirt circles behind, and the shirtless middle-aged man in soiled Bermuda shorts goes straight for her belly. 

Mama bear falls forward, crushing the man in the Bermuda shorts, but affording the remaining ghouls a chance to pile on her back. She attempts rolling over on top of these newcomers, but her strength is gone.

As is my tolerance for the sound of that little cub’s cries. I pull the crossbow from my shoulder harness and nock an arrow. I spend more time than I’d like getting my breathing under control. 

I want to take the cub out of its misery but its head thrashes in agony. I have a better shot at Barking Laughing Man. I’m nocking another arrow as he falls. Metal Band T-shirt is next. Now the cub, but a large woman in a soiled pink shift lumbers into my line of sight. The shaft thumps into her back. 

It may as well be the kiss of a gentle breeze as she falls hungrily upon the twitching and mewling cub. I aim for her head. It takes two more precious shafts to drop her sprawling atop the little bear, silencing its cries. Her generous mass requires the efforts of two men and another woman, as they wrestle her capacious carcass from the still-warm remains.

They’ll have her off in a minute. Mama bear is down, her face in the dirt. These hijacked remains of humans, people who once had names, jobs, and debt, with siblings, parents, children, and pets, sprawl across her body, rising and falling with her dying breaths. They cling with their rock-sharpened finger-bones exposed through their bloodied hands, burying their faces deep into her fur as they gnaw through to the pale flesh beneath.

At last, one of my arrows finds mama bear’s head. I drop three more ghouls, but that still leaves six to feast on her carcass. I don’t have many arrows left, and we’ve got to get home.

At least no more are climbing over the edge of the shelf. Even better, the ones already there have taken no notice of the arrows dropping their fellows. They are securely tucked into their respective meals. The fallen cub is already a cage of ribs open to the sky. A lanky young man tugs at the head. He nips at the face once, twice, then decides, what the hell, and curls up with the cub’s head between his knees. 

I feel her small hand slipping into mine. “Daddy?”

I look down at nine-year-old A.J. “Yes?” She took to calling me Daddy around Christmas. She tugs at my arm and nods at the bear on the rocky outcrop. I’m about to open my mouth in a doomed attempt to convince her I can’t afford the arrows when I see something that makes me pull the girl to me, my hand over her mouth to stifle her scream. 

The dead who are not already snorting and gulping down every bloody gobbet of flesh from mama bear and the dead cub are closing in on the cub on the rocky outcrop. It’s how they’re doing it that causes the hair on my arms to stand on end. Three groups of two each carry the mangled remains of their fallen between them. The first couple throws the body at the foot of the wall beneath the ledge. The other two couples follow suit. 

It’s a ladder of corpses to the frightened baby bear on the ledge. A solution to a problem conceived and executed with cooperation among presumably mindless dead things. The three men and two women stand aside as the alpha of their group, a tall man in the rags of a suit, puts his foot upon the bodies, and lifts himself stiffly up, his long, yellow fingers extended towards the cub.

The cub leaps off the ledge, its hind paws tearing into the face of the alpha. The cub manages to land without hurting itself, but the dead are turning to catch it. The cub bounds over the corpse-littered floor of the shelf, straight for the ledge. A.J. cries out into my hand as it leaps over the edge into space.

Forgetting my previous avoidance of the ledge alongside our terrace, A.J. and I grab hold of the trees along the edge in time to see the cub hit the slope one-quarter of the way down. It bounces and splays in midair before landing in the writhing pile of corpses and corpse-parts at the foot of the ridge.

The stench is eye-watering. Over one hundred bodies and parts of bodies wriggle helplessly at the foot of the slope. The widening streaks of thick, brown corpse gravy oozing down the rock have joined to make one vast, slippery sheet of old, dead blood, dislodging the later climbers. What was merely difficult is now impossible, and these latecomers join the mass of broken bodies groaning at the foot of the ridge. 

I squeeze A.J.’s shoulders, and we begin creeping away. With the bears dead, and no more ghouls coming onto over ledge, the only noises from the rock shelf below us are slurping, smacking, and moans of mindless pleasure as the new lords of the food chain take their meat. Baby bear is thoroughly skeletonized. This could get nasty once mama bear’s carcass is stripped, which looks like any minute now. 

The foul sounds follow us up the slope. It’s a long walk into the trees before we can no longer hear them. There’s got to be some place far, far away where the people aren’t. Where the dead people would have to roam far to find us. We’ve got to do that with six newborns and another mother ready to pop. Ready or not.

But where?

“When are we leaving?” says A.J, jogging alongside of me.

“I need to talk to your mother first,” I say.

“We have to go,” she says, sounding far older than her years. 

“Be sure to tell your mother what you saw, too.” Agnes will raise hell at me for having A.J. anywhere near the dead, but it should help emphasize the urgency of our situation. 

“Brother Christopher would have saved those bears,” says A.J.

“Only if he’d had everyone with him working at once. Even then, there was no way the bears were getting off of that shelf. I’m sorry, but they were just too late. They should have run along with the first two waves.”

I’m talking about the stampedes across the mountain a couple of weeks back. Rabbits, squirrels, deer, mountain lions, and bears—even dogs and cats, swarms of rats and mice, foxes and coyotes—charged through our yards and kept us inside for two days at a time. Christopher and his men tried culling what they thought would be easy meat from the charging herds. Not a chance. You were as liable to be trampled as anything. Or attacked, as happened to Justin with that one big dog of the pack that nearly took his arm off. Everything, everyone is hungry and scared.

The tears brim in A.J.’s eyes. “You still coulda—”

We freeze at the sound of engines. Not the kind we own. A.J. follows me up the rise overlooking the road below. Where I left the golf cart out in plain sight.

“All right, warrior princess, time to put on your cloak of invisibility.” I look around. Bless her, she didn’t wait for me to tell her to do that voodoo she does so well. This leaves just me to face the one, two—aw, hell, who am I kidding? I can’t tell how many vehicles they are.

If they stop here by the golf cart, and all I have is a crossbow and a 9mm against God knows what…well, A.J. should be able to find her way home. 

Whether she still has a home when she gets there is another matter.

NEXT EPISODE: Chapter 2, “Uphill”

For the price of a happy hour drink, you can enjoy many delirious hours among the delightful hellscapes of my first two SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER books, available in Kindle and paperback from Severed Press. We commence the crash of civilization in Bleeding Kansas, wherein our intrepid hero Derek Grace must survive a plane crash, combat with the undead at the local Wal-Mart, an exploding fire truck, a female hardbody assassin, and lots of hungry walking dead people-things.
Book 1 has ONE exploding head
on its cover.

I’m told it reads even better in German. This edition from Luzifer Verlag also sports a hellacious one-of-a-kind cover courtesy of ace artist Michael Schubert:
You can buy this German version stateside here.
You know you wanna.

Book 2, Grace Among the Dead, steps up the game with a tale of love and redemption, the living dead, and a flame-throwing monster truck. We’ve got an arc going from decadence to...respectability?...for our hero. As close as it gets, anyway. You should savor this big book o’ hell while it lasts, because things are about to go completely to shit.
Book 2 has TWO exploding heads.
See the pattern here?

They’re also available in Canada and the UK.