Friday, January 01, 2016

Chapter 2 of The WRONG KIND of DEAD: “Uphill”

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


PREVIOUS EPISODE: Chapter 1: “Unbearable”



I’m doing my best to become one with the pin oak overlooking the road. Goddamn diesels. If the people riding in these things have nothing but plastic whiffle-ball bats, they’ll still kill us all with the mobs of dead following their loud-as-fuck machines.

The engines grow louder. I know they hear this on the mountain. Brother Christopher and his crew should be melting into the trees as A.J. just did, except they’ll have compound bows. Me, I’ve got all of six arrows left. The Glock has a full magazine, but I’m only good for a few yards in terms of accuracy. 

Besides, it’s my weapon of last resort. My primary weapon is a panga, a 20-inch custom African machete with the wide scimitar tip at the end of its black carbon-coated blade. It’s quiet and doesn’t attract attention, which makes it ideal for fighting the dead. Now it’s just a fancy knife at the gunfight.
I hear the metal slams as their vehicles bounce across folds of frost-buckled asphalt. An armored personnel carrier emerges from around the switchback. It’s a little taller than the ridge, so I drop behind the top of the rise and little to my left.

It roars past. Following close behind is a luxury SUV with black-tinted windows. Behind that is an armored vehicle similar in size and shape to the personnel carrier, but different. A satellite dish sits on top. A communications truck?
 
I’m glad I had the presence of mind to pull the golf cart off the road when I parked it. I don’t think they would have stopped to move it out of their way. I push myself up. I look down the ridge to see A.J. already standing by. I skid down towards her. She’s seated and ready to go when I roll us out.

Catching up with the convoy is out of the question. We’ll be lucky to make it all the way up the hill. The winter’s killing cold did a number on the battery, even if we did keep it sheltered. These things aren’t built to take these kinds of slopes, either.
What the hell. Nothing lasts forever, right? After everything we’ve been through these past few months, I should have known. Entropy is the natural order. Things break down.

From everyone’s weddings in August, through the New Year’s Eve celebration around the bonfire, we might have been excused for thinking otherwise. Our camp’s relationship with the Abundant Life settlement to the north made the transition into the cold months seem easy. We’d learned the hard way that greenhouses make good shelters for so long as the temperatures don’t get too close to zero or below, but no matter. We had people, we had community. It wasn’t a total disaster. Not yet.

In February, the pipes burst in two of our houses, forcing those families to double up with other families accustomed to their own spaces. Then came that freak warm spell in early March when Pastor Walsh got caught and torn apart during a field mission that proud, stubborn old man had no business supervising himself.

Most of Walsh’s inner circle fell to the recently thawed dead in that disaster, providing the opportunity for Heather Simmons and her fellow McMansionland mommies to seize control of the church-run settlement. We still have friends at Abundant Life, but we no longer have backing of those in power. I’ve never met Pastor Julie Pearce, but I’m told she’s preached more than one sermon in which she’s explicitly stated that the re-animated, flesh-eating dead aren’t the real threat, but the moral cancer represented by the living Philistines on the mountain, namely, us.

We lost this support in time for our women to start having their babies. We lost Bethany Driscoll and her daughter to a messy, traumatic childbirth in the middle of a heavy spring snow. Although the other five, including Agnes’ and our son, Damon, came out fine, it was still a blow to morale. Especially for her husband, Justin, who spent the night trying to get Martha from Abundant Life to help midwife, but was held up at the checkpoints. He returned with Martha hours later, only to find his wife and baby dead. I had already put the .22 rounds through the undersides of their jaws before they could come back with their monster faces on. Justin understood, but he was still angry. As was I. They knew our babies were being born. Pastor Julie’s people went out of their way to make it difficult, because they could.
I sat with Justin, and asked him point-blank if he was thinking of revenge. Because, if so, my panga—and all the resources of our nameless settlement—were at his service. Justin looked at me uncertainly and said, “I know I want to. I just like to think we’re better than that.”

As badly as I wanted to put paid to those hateful witches running Abundant Life, I was glad we weren’t tying up camp resources on a vengeance quest. As if to emphasize the always-can-get-worse principle, the next morning three elk charged up the road and across out backyard, followed by a bear, then a pack of dogs. Then another bear, more dogs, five deer, dogs, and another bear.

Thank God we were all behind closed doors when the main stampede came through minutes later. Raccoons, and even prairie dogs running up far up from the plain below, threatened to knock them from their feet, and beneath the hooves of the larger beasts. The leaves and straw in our open spaces looked like rippling water as the smaller animals fled beneath it, beneath a hail of debris from the trees, as the cats and squirrels clawed and ran and leaped from branch to branch overhead.

That night we noted the ominous change in tone as the dead called out to the rising moon, fat and red from distant fires.
Minutes ago, A.J. and I watched what happened to a family of bears only a little over a mile down the hill from where we live. Now we have goons in armored vehicles charging up the hill. As their engines pull away, I listen for the horde that must surely be behind us. Even A.J. turns her head at the sound of gunfire. Automatic rounds pop like firecrackers behind us. They have more people at the bottom of the hill? Great. Maybe the dead will eat them all up for us before coming up here.

A low boom shudders through the air. A unified cry of God knows how many deaders boils up through the trees into a beautiful blue Colorado sky. 

“Daddy?” says A.J. Her voice trembles with the rock beneath us.

“We’re going to do what we always do, babygirl. The best we can. We’ve made it this far, what’s another day?”

“Don’t call me babygirl.”

“Right.” I make the next turn, wincing to hear the strain on the motor. A.J. sits and stares straight ahead at the frost-buckled road, trying not to look terrified. It would be funny as hell if I wasn’t scared shitless, myself. 

The cart’s battery runs out of juice as we clear the edge of the wide plateau marking the edge of our settlement. There are three estates on the left, two on the right, and a couple more on either side as the slope rises. There’s one more large house cut into the side of the hill opposite, where Brother Christopher lives with his wife and daughter. Beyond that, the road rises with alarming steepness towards the compound where I live.

None of the ladies of these houses along the road are out. By this time of the day, almost all of the women, with and without babes-in-arms, are up the hill at my place, hanging out in the living room, and in and out of the rooms on Elyssa’s side of the house. It makes sense that they feel safer together. The mothers can take turns to rest, while their babies never lack for attention.

If it wasn’t bad enough the whole place stinks of baby shit, that’s where all the bad people are now, too.

A.J. has already pulled her disappearing act. I walk past the wide lawns, wondering how she manages it with the trees spaced out the way they are. The sound of running footsteps draws my eyes back straight ahead. A woman in a white linen dress is coming towards me down the crumbling blacktop. It’s Christopher’s wife, Teresa. Teresa isn’t at my place because, alone among the women of our camp, she keeps to herself and the house she shares with Christopher on the slope. 

“A.J.,” I call out. “I’m going to need your help on this one.”

Teresa slows as A.J. comes out from behind a hedge to meet her. A.J. is about to take her hand but Teresa says something. A.J. backs off and starts looking around up in the trees.

“Mrs. Grier,” I say.

“Please,” she says. She stops a few feet from me. “I’m Teresa.”

“Only if you call me Derek,” I say, stopping to respect the distance she’s established. “What can I do for you?”

“They know you’re here.”

“They came up here for somebody, I imagine.”

“They announced it when you stopped the cart and started walking. They even knew where Agnes’ little girl was hiding. They’ve say they’ve got…a UAE, or something.”

“A UAV?”

“I…I’m not sure, really. They know you, though. They know exactly where you are.”

“Is that all that brings you out here?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m grateful for the heads up, Teresa. It’s just not like you to leave your house like this.”

Teresa flushes. “Caroline’s up there. With Elyssa.”

Caroline is Teresa’s and Christopher’s infant daughter. Elyssa takes Caroline on most days so Teresa can work out through whatever it is that keeps her housebound and anti-social. No one who has lived throughout the past year has done so without taking some damage. Still, I’ve always thought it odd that no-nonsense Christopher would take on someone who, in blunt language, can’t get over herself.

Then again, for all our time fighting alongside one another, Christopher and I have never talked about anything other than business. He keeps to himself the way Teresa likes to keep to her house. I laugh and begin walking again. I’ve still got to climb this steep slope to meet whoever it is who knows my name and can call my exact location from out of sight.

Teresa and A.J. run to catch up. “What’s so funny about Caroline? Your baby is up there, too. You’re just going to walk up to them?”

“Pretty much everyone I care about is up that hill, Teresa.”

“I know, I mean—”

“You’ve got skin in the game and you’re concerned. For what it’s worth, if Caroline is with Elyssa, she’s probably safer with her than she is with you. Now if you’ll excuse me.”

“You don’t have to be so mean, Daddy.”

I stop and turn back to the ladies. The sound of gunfire from the foot of the mountain precedes another low boom, and the yowling of angry dead. “Mrs. Grier, please take A.J. back to your house and sit tight until something happens. A.J., please tell Mrs. Grier and anyone else you see about what happened to those bears down the hill. Everyone needs to know about what we saw.”

Leaning into the slope, I listen for the sound of the loudspeaker. It’s quiet for now. Nothing but the sound of my breathing. My breathing, and the chirping of the birds. My breathing, the birds, and whatever explosive ordnance is going off two and one-half miles down the hill as the pickup truck trots.

I crest the edge of the plateau where the sprawling, one-story ranch house stands to my left. The mother-in-law house is behind the other side of the tennis court, which serves as a pad for the solar panels we’d re-purposed from the Air Force Academy. 

The property goes back another four acres or so before it meets the woods that rise with the mountain, but it’s impossible to miss the black convoy parked beneath the oak a little over from the near side of the tennis court. I’m nearly blown back over the edge when I hear, loud as God, “Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Derek Samuel Grace, the DEAD SILENCER!”

Young men in black body armor standing by the personnel carrier clap, cheer, and whoop for my arrival. I see the stack of compound bows on the picnic table between them and Brother Christopher and his people. No doubt Christopher and his crew were apprised of their positions and told to do the sensible thing. They look at me, the misery of defeat in their eyes. I tell them It’s all right silently as I approach the SUV. My hands are up, away from my weapons. I’m wearing a big aw-shucks grin and sure enough, someone is stepping out to meet me.

“Mr. Grace,” says the fresh-faced young man in short-sleeve Air Force blues, colonel’s eagles on his collar tips.

“Colonel.”

“Colonel Randall M. Dietzen, at your service.”

I look between his 20 or so armed goons and my disarmed boys. “Of course.”

“Relax, Mr. Grace, we’re the good guys. Come on, there’s some people who have been waiting to talk to you.”

The black-haired, blue-eyed devil gestures to the comm truck, its side panel open to reveal a wide, flatscreen monitor. You’d think I’d break into a run, but it’s one slow step at time towards that comm truck, and two faces I never thought I’d see again.

“Dad!” 

The monitor screen is about the size you’d find in your average sports bar, but it seems two-stories tall as I stand before the live image of Sybil and Jack. My son and daughter. 

“Are you all right, Dad?” says Sybil. After one year, her hair is at last its natural color. I don’t think I’ve seen that color since she was in middle school. She’s 19 now.

“Where are you?”

Sybil looks at Jack. “Somewhere in Wyoming,” Jack says. “They picked us up by helicopter just as things were getting really bad at the farm. They knew who we were.” Sybil nudges Jack. Jack shrugs. “Hey, I was glad they came when they did.”

“We’re okay, Dad,” Sybil says. “They’ve got food, electricity, everything. They’ve even got Internet.”

“Internet?”

Jack looks offscreen. “We’ve got to go. Someone else wants to talk to you. We’ll see you when you get here.”

“I love you, Dad,” says Sybil as they rise to exit stage right.

“Yeah,” is all I can say as another familiar figure settles into the screen. The last time I saw this man was in the bay of a big black Chinook from which black-clad goons like the ones outside my house right now poured out to bust government-issue caps in the living dead and the undesirable living alike in Natalia, Kansas. The good doctor had wanted to know the salacious details of my brief relationship with a vicious, man-hating assassin he called the Mantis, whom I knew as hard-edged, troubled girl named Rebecca. Goddamn it, he stopped me for that. 

Given the slaughter of both living and dead going on in the general vicinity of that chopper, I was grateful to get away with my life. But then he bugged me with texts to alert him if I see undead citizens with stopped alimentary tracts. He’s a major reason why I had no problems giving up my cell phone when I moved up here.

“Dr. Clyde Hearn,” I say. “Long time, no see.” 

“I’m sorry to break into this reunion, but you don’t have a lot of time. I want you to know I personally checked both of them out, and, aside from mild malnutrition, they’re doing fine.”

“I appreciate that.”

“You have no idea what I went through to make this happen,” he says, leaning into the camera. “There are people here who would just as soon see you and your family swallowed by the hordes.”

“I imagine most are still pissed at losing their bets over me versus Deacon Sparks last year.”

Dr. Hearn looks over his glasses, off-camera. “Please don’t give Col. Dietzen any trouble. Let them help you get here. I’m hoping you collected enough data on the risen dead you’ve fought to justify a position in my office?”

“I’ve been keeping a notebook, if that helps.”

“Mr. Grace, hang on to that notebook. Don’t turn it over to anyone but me.”

“Er…all right.”

“They are very big on people ‘pulling their weight’ around here. Especially as they—well, it’s a long story. For now, you and your people are under my protection. Please help me justify that.”

“Will do.”

He speaks while looking offscreen. A remote control box is in his hand. “You will suffer some trials. Nothing you can’t handle. That’s all I can say. I look forward to seeing you again in person.”

“Thanks.” But he’s already pressed the button. The screen cuts to an aerial view of our compound.

I back away from the screen. The heel of my foot catches on something and I fall backwards to the overgrown lawn. I lean forward and put my head into my hands in time to hear the front door of my house slamming open as my wife charges out, shouting how she’ll kill everyone with her bare hands for this.

For the price of a happy hour drink you can enjoy many delirious hours slashing and shooting your way through 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 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 book 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.

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