Thursday, January 07, 2016

Chapter 4 of The WRONG KIND of DEAD: “Freak Shows”

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

PREVIOUS EPISODE: Chapter 3: “Enemies, Foreign and Domestic”

“No worries,” laughs the young colonel. He has his chief master sergeant lay it out for us while he goes inside the comm truck to take a report from the lieutenant in charge there.

In a tone that makes it clear he’s only speaking to us because he’s under orders, Chief Master Sergeant Watson tells us we’ll have clean, usable fuel once that chopper comes in. The colonel’s people will get one of the trucks up here going before taking some fuel cans down to the other houses to get the vehicles there started. What we need to do is pack up and do as we’re told the first time, every time, because there will be no time to explain things again.

Brother Christopher comes over and we brief him on what we hope to do. Christopher calls Ethan over. Ethan and the others are excited knowing they’ll have their own rides up and running for the evac. As for me, it’s not simply a matter of having a tall truck with which to speed through the roiling masses of hungry dead people. We can carry more stuff now. 

The plan is to have Agnes’ monster truck do its usual squash-and-burn up front, while I bring up the rear with Justin, Rene, and Melinda. Brother Christopher and the rest will cover the women and children from either side. The Air Force convoy will cover our back and sides. We’ll rendezvous with the two groups at Abundant Life before taking off as a larger group.

Chief Watson cuts in to say, “Of course, everything has to be authorized by the colonel, so don’t get too attached to whatever you’re planning here.”

Brother Christopher looks at me. I look at Agnes. I grin back at the chief. “Of course.”

“I’m not kidding around here,” he says sternly. “You want our protection, you do things our way.”

“Do I look like I’m kidding?” I feel Brother Christopher and Agnes closing in on either side of me as I say this.

The chief is trying to keep his hard face on but the three of us standing together causes him to take a step back. Col. Dietzen comes out of the comm truck. “What’s the problem here, Chief?”

“Just clearing up a misunderstanding, sir,” he says through clenched jaw.

“There’s nothing to misunderstand,” says the colonel. Col. Dietzen turns to me. The corners of his mouth draw back to reveal unnaturally blue-white, glow-in-the-dark teeth. “Mr. Grace, I’m counting on you to lead the last remaining survivors of Colorado Springs to the Promised Land,” he says. “All we’re doing is providing support.”

“Who else is coming with us from the city?”

“Everyone we wanted out of here was extracted a year ago,” the colonel says. “What you’re seeing out there is one last run-through for things left behind during the initial evac. Lucky for you, Dr. Hearn and some other very important people like you, so you and Abundant Life happen to be the only live humans we’re extracting from the zone.” 

Everyone we wanted…initial evac…extracting from the zone…. Before these words have a chance to sink in, Col. Dietzen takes a remote control box from the comm truck lieutenant and clicks a button. “Behold these brave souls, giving their lives so we can eat shrimp and steak, move some furniture, and hit the road.”

I recognize the view on the screen. It’s along the hill going up 8th Street. I see the Mexican restaurant where Sybil once worked, on the curve as the road winds around the hill. Behind the restaurant, on a higher terrace carved into the hill, is a four-story apartment building. Its lowest floor is a parking area with double-doors leading upstairs to the units.

Pied Piper quadcopters broadcasting the merry sounds of children’s laughter and barking dogs have brought the dead to the building. A sea of matted hair and discolored scalps envelops it on all sides.

Some idiot on a second floor balcony fires his shotgun into this ocean of teeth, claws, and insistent hunger. Another scraggly-haired, shirtless madman on the third floor blasts away at where he thinks the UAVs are.

“Once they realize there’s no way out, you see all kinds of interesting behavior.” Col. Dietzen chuckles as an emaciated woman emerges onto her fourth-floor balcony, a squalling infant in her arms. Her face is stretched into a semblance of the old Greek tragedy mask, her eyes squeezed into slits, the corners of her mouth weighed down with terror and grief.

“Every damn time,” mutters Chief Watson.

“Wait for it,” says Dietzen.

I feel a pinching on my upper left arm. Agnes’ breath is hot in my ear. “They’re filming us watching this.”

I’m looking around for the camera when I hear a loud “whoa!” from the assembled men. Agnes steps behind me and puts her face into my back. I glimpse the cameraman filming my wife’s reaction. I scowl at him, but he holds his camera steady.

“You missed it, Mr. Grace,” says the colonel. “Your wife certainly didn’t, though. Let’s see the instant replay.”

The screen shows the woman with the baby. She looks down on the horde crushing up against building below her, waves of snapping jaws and clawlike hands reaching up. The woman brushes the top of the infant’s head with her lips—she seems incapable of closing her trembling mouth for a proper kiss—and tosses the infant from the balcony into the roiling sea of bilious faces below.

The child’s body disappears beneath the horde, slipping through the roiling waves of shoulders and heads, the spray of outstretched arms. I can only pray the baby smacked its skull in the fall. There’s a commotion as individuals in the tightly packed mob jostle their fellows in the course of bending over to grab at the remains. One former citizen, his entire face slimed in fresh blood, is already battening down on a tiny, thin leg while another has the child’s entire torso torn from his teeth. Another is gnawing the flesh from the child’s head, the gore dripping thickly from the tip of the intact spine pulled from the body. If the infant didn’t die in the fall, it didn’t live long after being picked up.

The screen goes to a split-image. The one on the left shows the roiling crowd as they begin fighting over what’s left of the infant’s remains, a gooey string of entrails caught in one’s fingers while the others try ripping it away. The one on the right shows the woman on the balcony waving her bony hands about her head, her face pointed to the heavens, wailing to the sky.

I look at Col. Dietzen. He has a wireless microphone in his hand. He catches me looking at him and smiles right at me as he speaks to our unseen audience: “Even though this woman has thrown her own baby to be eaten by the monsters below, she still carries on in such a manner as to draw attention to herself and her plight—a plight nowhere near as immediate as that of her child. Such is the nature of these ferals, who, without the net of civilization to uphold them, shed all that’s left of their humanity.”

I see another screen in the corner of the truck, with the camera eye taking in a three-quarter view of our faces. There’s a shot of Agnes burying her face into my back, as much to avoid looking at the main screen carnage as not to be seen.

In the soothing cadence of an experienced narrator, Dietzen continues: “As our loyal viewers are well aware, I never tire of pointing out this irony unique to our work here on America the Resilient. We so often see this blissful ignorance of civilized Americans in regards to their degraded counterparts: that although this is the same group of ferals who had nearly pinned them down and killed them last winter—that although horrors like child sacrifice are now routine to you, watching from the comfort and safety of your homes—these hardy and resourceful survivors are appalled to behold it. With their hands working the soil, and not sifting through a pile of trash, with their backs into their living instead of a dirty, abandoned building, they cannot imagine the depravity of such creatures who inhabit the crumbling concrete jungles of the fallen American dream.”

He rattles off this sick bullshit so effortlessly. The worst part is not everyone in my group is as appalled as the colonel lets on. A couple of the younger ones nod their heads approvingly at the terror and misery of these people as the dead thicken about their hideout. There’s a satisfied laugh, a whoop, and a smirking uh-oh! as the doors give way at the ground floor, and the dead begin pushing their way through.

“Agnes,” I say quietly, “let’s go up to the house.”

Col. Dietzen sees us backing away from of the crowd. “You two. A moment, please.”

We walk slightly off our path back to the front door with him. Once we’re out of earshot of the rest of the group, the colonel says, “Look, I understand this is…unsettling.”

“How long?” I say.

“Since before last Thanksgiving. The people in the Redoubt wanted inspirational stories of good old American resilience in time for the holidays. Fortunately for you, your people provide good drama. It’s kept the show going for longer than I personally thought we could keep it up.” Col. Dietzen shrugs. “Dr. Hearn wasn’t kidding when he said we all had to earn our keep. Look at what they’ve got the youngest full-bird colonel in the United States Air Force doing. Everyone here has to find another job once this series finale is done, myself included.”

“So I take it this is part of how we’re paying our ticket to Wyoming. What do you need us to do?”

The colonel seems taken aback. “Dr. Hearn said you might go along, but I have to admit, I had my doubts.”

“Oh, we’re plenty upset with being spied on. I’m going to be more upset if we’re left out of what seems to be the final evac of Colorado Springs.”

“You are more intelligent than most,” says Col. Dietzen, with a smirk I’d love to punch right off his face. He nods towards all the helicopters moving back and forth over the city. “Just so you know, the only reason I’m here because Dr. Hearn learned of this operation and made some phone calls, one of them to my show’s producer. Fortunately, my producer already wanted us down here for the load out.”

Dietzen turns from looking at the choppers and looks at us with an expression of…I’m not sure. His color is gone and he’s not even attempting a fake smile as he says, just loud enough for us to hear, “Once these choppers fly out, that’s it.” 

“So what do you need us to do?” I say. “How do we keep a favorable impression so we don’t get killed by way of goosing the narrative drama?”

Again, the colonel is taken aback. I’ve touched on something I’m not supposed to know about. As if this wasn’t the first thing that should come to a nominally intelligent person’s mind once they found out they were the unwitting stars of some Caligula-grade decadent, post-apocalypse reality show.

The young colonel finds his breath, and his script. “There’s no script,” he says. “A theme we emphasize on America the Resilient, however, is the difference between the ferals, the rat people, those scavengers in the cities who depend upon the leavings of others, versus the country-strong people who grow their own food and hunt their own meat. You represent the can-do America our people back home wants to believe hasn’t died with the Final Flu. You’re so American and decent, you can’t believe people would loot and pillage and start drama over who controls how many city blocks.”

“So you’re saying, just be our charming, can-do selves.” Who also have to scavenge from time to time. We’ve yet to figure out how to make our own toilet paper.

“Absolutely,” says the colonel. “Of course, when it’s time to interview you, be sure to thank the provisional government for your family’s rescue. It helps to put them on the spot, if you know what I mean.”

“Right,” I say. “By the way, and no offense, but why is your series getting canceled?”

“Not enough stories to tell,” says the colonel. 

“You mean there are that few survivors?”

“Oh, we find pockets of survivors almost everywhere. The problem is they’re…well, all too often, we find there’s a religious angle to these places, and that tends to turn off our audience.”

“So much for Abundant Life, then.”

“Oh, they’re actually apple-pie normal compared to a lot of these freaks. The great majority of little settlements are out in the woods and in the hills where the leader has more than one wife, and some worker bees with their women under him. Those people don’t photograph well, to say the least.”

“I resemble that remark.”

The colonel raises an eyebrow. “There has been some talk of how you still managed to evolve that way, despite the more evolved trappings of civilization, the solar panels and electricity you appropriated. It’s kept the conversation lively, but not in a good way. I’ll be honest, Mr. Grace, once it became obvious Elyssa Godwin was pregnant with your child, your approval quotient hit the toilet.”

“What can I say? I’m just grateful there are still working toilets for that quotient to hit.”

The colonel looks at me and I’d like to think I’m working my own professional smile, but I’m thinking of Brittany Driscoll and her agony as she bled out, how we debated what to do with her stillborn baby before it turned. Via quadcopter cameras humming just above the trees, these people watched us come and go from our homes, our heads down from the weight of our misery.

Agnes tugs at my arm. I turn my head to her, more abruptly than I’d like. Her face wears a ghost of a smile as she reaches out to touch the side of my neck with two fingers, as if taking my pulse. I smile back at her: message received. I take her two fingers in hand and kiss them. 

I almost laugh to see the colonel’s lip curl in distaste. The poor fool has no idea my wife just saved him from a broken jaw. “Overall,” the colonel prattles on through clenched teeth, “the problem comes down to all you people not fitting into the narrative,” he says. “Truth be told, most of the survivors of the Final Flu and its aftermath who’ve made it this far are unpleasant.”

“So how many?”


“How many survivors?”

“I don’t know the exact number. It’s not something I like to think about. Dr. Hearn will fill you in when you see him.”


“I wanted to make sure we understood each other.” Col. Dietzen looks at the young men standing about the monitor. I catch glimpses of people leaping from the top floor of the high-rise, away from one mob of grasping hands and into a dark, carnivorous ocean below. “I’d like to set up an establishing shot of you walking with your wife to the house. It would make a nice segue.”

“Knock yourself out. Can we go now?”

“What about your security guy? Chris—?”

“Brother Christopher. Have him sent up when it’s convenient.”

“Keep in mind our choppers are landing soon,” he says.

“Right.” I turn to walk with Agnes back to the house.

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 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.