Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap-Day Monday Musings

What a month. I’m actually glad we got an extra day for February. I can’t articulate a rational reason for this—it’s just a day we’ve slapped an arbitrary number and name to—but I’m glad, and that’s a good emotion for a Monday.

Apropos of not much, I don’t recall there being a big deal about Leap Day four years ago when it last rolled around. What the hell. About time we exploited the occasion for a hashtag. I’ll accept any excuse for a party.


What a month, though. In Colorado Springs, we kicked it off with the kind of high-volume snowstorm no one’s seen around here since the same time in 2007. The road outside my house was slush for a week. 

Then the Broncos beat the odds and won a Super Bowl that surprised me by actually dialing back on the overall hype, despite this being its golden anniversary. It’s hard to believe that was three weeks ago. 

That the month quickly warmed up with many days in the 50s and 60sF helped a lot in this regard. It was an unnatural state of affairs for this area at this time of year, and I shudder to think what this means for the summer to come. Still, I was able to get out and walk and run in comfort, and that did a lot to help with the ol’ seasonal blues.

For some reason I couldn’t bring myself to do the taxes,. though. I set aside weekend after weekend until last Friday night, the last Friday of the month, when I could stand it no more. I could justify the procrastination inasmuch as working with TurboTax is a pain in the ass that takes twice as long to do for all the “Are you sure you don’t want to pay a pile of money for all these features an impecunious nobody like you would never need?” screens that slow the process.

Still, we needed that refund, and it turned out to be larger than I thought it would be. As I had to engage directly with the Colorado Department of Revenue’s breathtakingly cluttered and inelegant website, I saved the state taxes for Saturday. I knocked out my grown daughter’s federal and state taxes yesterday, and told her the fee for next year’s accounting services are going up from a 12-pack of beer to a case next year. We’re all getting too old for this shit.

With that out of the way, I’m free to do all the things I should have been doing all along, but haven’t quite worked up the nerve to do. 


The Wrong Kind of Dead is still in re-fit to accommodate the big scenes that will bring the novel to its climax and close. It’s a lot of work bringing this together with the other two books, and making it all work, especially as these are my first books, and I was a completely different writer for each one of the years I’ve devoted to those individual books. I consider myself a competent enough writer, but I’m still not sure that, after all these decades of bashing things out, I have an actual voice, a recognizable style.

There is no time to fuss over that, though. I’ve got to write and post this before the day is up in this hemisphere. And then there are the promotional podcasts and trailers to make.

Okay, I’ve talked myself into it.

Happy Leap Day, and Happy New Month! February was a the best so far for me in terms of blog visits, book sales, and Twitter impressions. Even my weight loss program, however halt and lame, is on track. I’m not quite over the top yet, though. March might be the month everything breaks big, if I can only meet it halfway.

Meet you at the summit.

###

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Happy 99th Birthday, Anthony Burgess

25 February 1917 - 22 November 1993


I normally hold novels with gimmicky language in contempt, but Anthony Burgess made his Russian-inspired patois in A Clockwork Orange such jolly dark fun to read. God help me, there was a brief period in 1982 after I first read the book in which I’d actually talk like this to people. Like I said, it was a brief period. It was horrorshow in the more literal sense of the English portmanteau than a clever homophone for the Russian word for “good.”
From Weirdbook Magazine’s Facebook page. They’re on a hot streak with the memes and creepy art this week.


As someone who’s written a few disturbing scenes for novels, I love the legend about Anthony Burgess presumably staying drunk while writing the A Clockwork Orange because it was the only way he could handle the grim material. If it’s not true—who cares, print the legend!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that A Clockwork Orange is merely the most popular and well-known of Anthony Burgess’ varied and vast career, not only as a prolific novelist and critic, but as a composer. You can look it up. For another dark speculative fiction novel of Burgess’ that seems most prescient given our media’s obsession with certain fads and how those are used to control a population’s focus of attention, I recommend The Wanting Seed.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Chapter 12 of The WRONG KIND of DEAD: “Showdown at the Smiley Place”

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


PREVIOUS EPISODE: Chapter 11: “Welcome to the Boomtown”


I lay the AR-15 in the flatbed as we turn onto the road for Loretta Smiley’s place. This likely saves us from being shot up immediately as the men in black body armor jump out at us from the woods on both sides, weapons at the ready.

Agnes squeezes the button on the flame thrower. Ethan is already taking out the rest with his rifle as Elyssa’s SUV pulls up immediately behind us. Satisfied there are no further surprises, we roll around this latest bunch of road kill to find Loretta’s driveway filled with vehicles with U.S. government tags. Agnes and I wave the rest of the convoy to ride past as we pull into the yard.

“Should I kill the engine?” Agnes says as another Air Force colonel in blues and his camo’d goons emerges from the house onto the deck. Given the height of Mom’s Taxi, we’re at eye level, if not exactly face to face.

“Go ahead,” I say, unbuckling from my harness. “This won’t take long. Might as well top off the tanks while we’re here.”

Agnes looks at me as if she hopes I’ll change my mind. We’re making enough noise as it is, though. I don’t want to make it any easier for the ghouls at the checkpoint to find us. I squeeze her shoulder, and she turns the key. I rise from my seat to retrieve one of the fuel containers strapped on the end of the flatbed.

“Mr. Derek Grace,” the colonel calls out in his best command voice, “are those eight men up on the road also to be added to your murder charges?”

“Sure,” I say, pouring fuel into the monster truck’s tank. “Those, and the eleven would-be rapists of my wife and daughter at the checkpoint. Put ‘em on the tab.”

“Mr. Derek Grace, you are under arrest for arson and murder. If you and your wife and daughter don’t want to ride up to Wyoming in handcuffs, you will get down from that vehicle and surrender yourselves to me immediately.”

“Where’s Martha and Loretta?”

“You are under arrest, Mr. Grace.”

“Mmm-hmm,” I say, replacing the fuel cap before moving on to the flame thrower’s tank. “Now be a good boy and get the lady of the house for me, will you? Otherwise, fuck off.”

There’s a woman on the deck with them. Pastor Julie Pearce, I presume. She pales, then flashes bright crimson with rage at my f-bomb. “You talk like that in front of your daughter?” she says.

I ignore the woman. “I do not recognize your authority. You and your people will stand down and turn my friends over to me.”

“Or what, Mr. Grace? If you try anything, we’ll shoot your wife and child and those two old women inside the house.”

“What, I don’t get a bullet?” I say, strapping the fuel container back down to the flatbed.

“You know why. But I’ll make you live with the regret of not doing what you’re told.”

I look towards Paster Julie. “As a woman of God, you approve of the murder of women and children?”

“From what I’m told you don’t have any moral leg to stand on,” she says.

“This isn’t about me, Pastor. You’d watch a mother and her child shot. Of course, you already have the blood of one mother and her child on your hands. What does that say about you?”

The colonel steps in front of Pastor Julie. “We don’t have time for your false pieties, Grace. Not with all the blood on your hands. You need to get down from that truck, surrender the keys, and talk to me about where your friends have gone.”

“Friends? You mean the people who drove on by and left me to deal with you thugs?”

“Mr. Grace. I represent the lawful Provisional Government. Pastor Julie Pearce here represents the settlement of Abundant Life. This house is on her settlement, and this is a lawful arrest of a known arsonist and murderer, namely you.”

“You know, the funny thing is Col. Dietzen and his people were supposed to be helping us. If they’d come with us and provided support like they promised, they wouldn’t have been overwhelmed by the zombie mob your people sent up our side of the mountain.”

“Col. Dietzen and his troops were killed by the fire you caused—and that’s enough of your delaying tactics. Get down from that truck. If any of your people show up and cause trouble, we’ll start liquidating your collateral.”

Liquidating my collateral? Holy shit. “All right, Colonel. You got me.”

I duck into the cockpit. With my hand on the hatch cover, I look at A.J. and Agnes. “If you’re thinking of raining fire on them, do it before I hit the ground,” I whisper. We can hear the armed goon pounding down the steps from the deck to meet me under the truck.

“No, Mr. Grace,” says the colonel. “Ladies first. Mrs. Grace, I need your hands where I can see them. Mr. Grace, you will assist your daughter coming down the ladder.”

I look into Agnes’ eyes, large and storm-sea green behind her glasses. I imagine the colonel’s goons roughing her up, chicken-winging her arms behind her back, the cuffs cutting into the flesh of her wrists. I imagine the little girl behind me surrounded by strangers with guns, her mother and adopted father helpless.

“One more for the road,” says my wife. She takes her glasses off. We go all out for what might as well be our last kiss. 

“All right, hurry it up, lovebirds,” says the colonel, and as everyone on deck sniggers, she wraps her hand around the back of my head to hold it for longer. 

I squint out the corner of my eye to see that, yes, Agnes is flipping everyone off on the deck with her other hand. I’m raising my hand to do the same when she takes both of my hands in hers and brings them to her chest. Like she used to do before the long, hard winter, and all this ugly hell following.

I look again into my wife’s eyes. “A.J.?” I say to the little girl behind me.

“I love you, Mommy and Daddy.”

“Sergeant Gilkerson, take aim at the girl,” says the colonel.

Without a word, with no change in expression whatsoever, the camo’d goon standing between the colonel and Pastor Julie raises his M4. Pastor Julie raises one of her chins in anticipation. 

“Get behind me, A.J.”

“Take aim at Mrs. Grace, sergeant,” says the colonel.

But the sergeant is yanked backwards. I see a flash of silver. A bright crimson wave of arterial blood crests and breaks over his flak jacket. Pastor Julie screams as the blood arcs forward and the sergeant is kicked hard from behind, across the balcony railing.

Lance Smiley emerges from the sliding glass doors, blade in hand. He raises his legs and puts his heel hard into the sergeant’s sternum. The balcony railing cracks. Lance pulls the sergeant up by the back of the pants, then kicks one more time. The railing gives, and the sergeant falls forward off the deck and belly-flops loudly into the hard dirt below.

The colonel apparently didn’t feel the need for a sidearm. His hands are in the air as Lance turns towards him, the sergeant’s weapon in his hands. “Lance,” I call out to him.

“Sir, he terrorized my mom.”

“Which is exactly why I want him duct-taped alive to the fat lady over there and left for the stinkers to chow down on while we make our getaway.”

“Oh, no.” The colonel sprints to the far side of the deck and vaults over the rail. A loud snap announces his landing below. Apparently he forgot that side was highest off the ground.

“Never mind the duct tape,” I say. “He’s not going anywhere. As for us, we gotta boogie.” 

I pull open the hatch, and, sure enough, the bully-boy who was going to escort us into custody is writhing in the pinestraw, gasping and gurgling around the arrow shaft in his throat. Ian and Seth have already stripped him of weapons and are working on removing his his Kevlar vest without getting soaked in arterial blood. 

I don’t recognize then at first because they’re both wearing helmets they’ve scavenged from the colonel’s men. “Careful,” says Ian. “He won’t bleed so much so long as you don’t move the arrow around.”

“Yeah, dumbass,” says Seth to the choking man. “As soon as you or someone else pulls that out, it’s over. Now hold your arms out straight.”

“Hey,” I call down through the hatch, “whose vest is that one for?” I notice they’re both already wearing flak vests.

“You want it, sir?” says Seth.

“Only if everyone else has one already. I want everyone who’s standing up through a moon roof wearing body armor, if they can.”

“We don’t have that many yet,” says Ian.

“At the rate we’re going….” says Seth.

“No problem. Just make sure Sgt. Dumbass is out from under our truck when we leave. We’ve got hungry guests coming in. I’d like him awake to meet them, if possible.”

“Oh, they’re already on the road coming here. We gotta leave in less than a—”

“Sir,” I hear Brother Christopher say from the deck.

“Make it fast,” I tell Ian and Seth before putting the hatch over back on. I pull myself up and out of the cockpit, the better to face Brother Christopher on the deck. 

“I apologize, sir,” says Brother Christopher, “but the dead are everywhere in the woods around us. The colonel had more people in the house than I thought, too. We barely saved Lance and Tommy’s mom.”

“It’s good to see you, too, Brother Christopher,” Martha says as she steps out behind Loretta Smiley.

Christopher doesn’t miss a beat. “If anyone has to go to the bathroom they need to go now. We’re waiting on—oh, there he is.”

Justin’s truck pulls into the driveway and alongside of us. “We’ve got to go,” he says, jumping from the still-running vehicle.


NEXT EPISODE: Chapter 13, “Hard Choices, Soft Bodies”


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 collapse 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.

###

Sunday, February 21, 2016

REVEALED AT LAST! Where the Ideas Come From

Number 7 gave me explosive diarrhea!



Readers of Kurt Vonnegut recognize the drawing
and handwriting style immediately.
Like anyone familiar with history who spends too much time thinking by himself, I, too, nurture a healthy loathing for what Mark Twain referred to in his final, most misanthropic days as, “the Damned Human Race.” While such loathing inspires much of my SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER series, as it must inform any good post-apocalyptic drama, disgust with human civilization is not what drives my writing.

It took decades of writing all kinds of other crap until, somewhere while writing my first published novel, Bleeding Kansas, that I understood where my drive to make up stories comes from.

I did not get enough quality play time as child.

Like most children, I liked to play. Unlike most children, I didn’t enjoy the company of other children. I liked being surrounded by my toys, and directing the drama without interference. I built towns out of shoeboxes and used whatever was at hand—set ‘em up, knock ‘em down. The hero rises from the wreckage and boom! bam! pow! restores order to the universe.

I would use model spaceships, half-finished models of airplanes, rubber lizards and snakes, whatever it took to drive the narrative to a crescendo of madness only a hero with a will of steel and a heart of gold could hope to overcome. For me, the best representation of the creative process has always been the opening scene of the 1995 animated film Toy Story.

In a variation on the growth-through-struggle theme, once the conflict was resolved, my rebuilt city was always somehow better than ever. This part was especially important to me, not simply for the closure, but because I felt bad for what I put the imaginary characters in my stories through. It was my way of making it up to them.

Alas, I was not a complete freak. I did get lonely. Often, whether I wanted it or not, I would find myself among others who always had to do things this way or that, and while I went along to get along, it was never very satisfying. Not that I was a lot of fun, either. I’ve always been moved by George Orwell’s honesty in his essay “Why I Write,” that, being a lonely sort, he’d “...developed disagreeable mannerisms which made me unpopular throughout my school days.” That was me. Not even a complete freak, but close enough for government work.

As I was coming out of a particularly productive writing session, I flashed on something else other than the little boy in the middle of the floor, making gurgly explosive noises among the little army men and the giant lizard. I thought of my favorite Christmas memory, the one that gives me the warmest-fuzziest of feels.

I’m 12 years old, hunched over my desk in my room, the smells of turpentine and modeling glue stinging my nose. The radio plays the current hits of December 1973, while I make sense of this Pirates of the Caribbean model involving moving parts that I found under the tree this morning. In this case, I have to to be able to push a button and make a skeleton pirate with a sword cut a chain over a barrel so another skeleton can make good his escape from the giant octopus swamping their raft.


As with most cherished childhood things
I have no idea what happened to this.
Thanks to the turpentine I’ve been using for paint thinner, the raft looks like genuinely sun-bleached driftwood. I can’t believe I made simple white Polystyrene plastic look like this. The barrel looks like a fresher, different kind of wood—in short, like a wooden barrel, and I’m pleased with myself for recognizing the difference. The giant octopus is a hideous, fleshy and inflamed pink-red, and my skeletons are looking sharp for a couple of dead guys in rags. But will the skeleton’s sword come down to disconnect the plastic chain and save the day?

I remember sitting there astonished when it worked that first time. I remember the deep breath I took as I set it up. Surely it couldn’t work a second time. I have no talent for this, or so I’ve been told in one form or another all my life.

It was the happiest Christmas ever for me as a boy. I had given and received the best gift ever. That I could build something and make it work—as someone who heard all his childhood how “you got book-sense, but no common sense,” this was the epiphany of epiphanies. No adult ever encouraged me. I found this one out all on my lonesome.

And so it is when I work on a piece of writing. I’m getting the pieces painted just so. And when I push this tiny button here, a specific chain of events must follow, or I swear I'll have a fit.

Things don’t always work to spec, of course. Sometimes you have to improvise. Adapt and overcome, as our friends in the U.S. Marines say.


The happiest place on Earth. In the corner of a small
room in a finished basement, somewhere in
crumbling north Colorado Springs.
But that’s the romance of the process. That’s what inspires me as much as anything. The very act of sitting down and building a world, creating a situation within that world, and making it work. To build a hero, flawed enough to recognize his face within ourselves, but with the steel will and heart of gold to go against the Evil and make things right—this little boy didn’t get to do it enough. There was never enough time. People and things got in the way, as they tend to do.

So here we are. One day I’ll grow up and give it up, I suppose. I expect I’ll be plenty old, and good and ready to die by then, and that’s just as well, too.


###

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Pure Pop for Now People ca. A.D. 2016: Tame Impala’s “Disciples”

It’s past time I brought some music back to this blog.


My son performed a miracle this week. He introduced me to a tune written and recorded in the past couple of years that I cannot get enough of. Like the best of everything I encounter these days, Tame Impala’s “Disciples” has a hard retro feel. It’s easy to imagine discovering this on the radio in the mid-1970s while lazily turning the AM radio dial late at night, when you could get the good out-of-state stations with the DJs that played the really cool stuff.

James was impressed by how much feeling was put into one minute and 48 seconds of music, as was I. “When I first heard this and it started fading out I screamed NO!,” he said. “Don’t take this beautiful thing away!” Like Jimi Hendrix’s original “Little Wing,” much of this song’s power is in its dreamlike brevity. It’s there, and then it isn’t, leaving a sweet ache of a memory behind. 


I love the plaintive So much I want to tell you right at the fade. But, as with the friendship mourned in the lyrics, the song is done. Nothing left but the memory of a melody you wish had stuck around for one more verse.

###

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Chapter 11 of The WRONG KIND of DEAD: “Welcome to the Boomtown”

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


PREVIOUS EPISODE: Chapter 10: “Of Flesh Chopped, Crushed, and Hollow-Point Blasted”

Agnes can’t slow down. The people who were once people, wearing the stiff, matted rags of their former lives, lunge for our tires. If they can get a grip, they hold on until they’re thrown. They don’t stop to catch their breath. They don’t sweat the flesh ribboning away from their hands. They grasp and cling at anything for a chance to crush our flesh between their teeth.

Elyssa steers into her skid. The SUV straightens and she continues downslope to the frontage road. The others bump and skid along behind her. I can tell the drivers would like to slow down themselves, but they’re lower to the ground than we are, and more vulnerable.

“Some of the ladies in those trucks were really losing it while we were stuck back up the road. I can only imagine what it’s like now.” Agnes sighs. “Dammit, I wish had the luxury to scream and lose my shit.”

“You’ve got the flame thrower,” I say.

“Seriously?”

“If it’ll make these things back off, I don’t see where we have a choice. It might not endear us to the television audience back home in Bumfuck, Wyoming, but I want to live.”

“Well, bless your heart,” Agnes says.

A stream of flame arcs forward, sweeping from left to right. We can hear the outraged howls of the dead over our engine. Agnes directs the stream over the edge of the ridge. So many burning bodies sway and stagger across the straw and deadfall. Flames are building on either side of the road.

The combustive dead stagger into trees, fall into the dry brush. Pockets of their highly flammable fatty tissues burst into super-heated balls of chemical fire, making the kind of oily flame water would only spread. If Col. Dietzen and his people decide to come down the hill now, they stand a chance of making it—but only if they leave now, and the wind stays calm. 

Will our invitation to the Redoubt in Wyoming still be valid if Dietzen and his people perish?

One thing at a time, I remind myself. As much as I hate setting the mountain on fire, the flame stream is physically knocking back the dead coming at us. The ones along the sides of the road are backing off. Of course, heads right and left are bursting into brown mist as Ethan and his moon roof snipers go on full automatic across the lines of former people coming up at us from the city below.

“A.J.,” I say, “call Brother Christopher and tell him to—” But the automatic fire stops.

“Tell him what?” says A.J.

“Never mind. He’s taken care of it.” I turn to Agnes. “I better top off the flame thrower before we get down to the Interstate.”

“One second,” she says.

“What?”

Agnes reaches over and pecks me on the lips. “Now go.”

Having torched out a path for us, Agnes is able to slow down. The challenge now is to fill these tanks without spilling fuel, or bouncing off the back of the truck when Agnes bumps over the random smoking corpse.

A horn honks behind our truck and I turn to see Elyssa blowing me a kiss and waving while Brother Christopher pretends to be interested in his phone. I wave and turn back to the task at hand.

I look around at our surroundings as I lift the fuel container. We’re passing the point where A.J. and I hid from Dietzen’s men as they passed, close to where the bears were killed. I can see the black, bloody trails where the dead on the shelf below managed to drag themselves away. It could very well be they figured out how to build a ladder of corpses tall enough to help them climb out. There were probably just enough bear-mauled bodies with which they could do that.

“It seems clear past here,” says Agnes. 

“A chance to catch our breath,” I say. 

“You think we should stop?”

“Hell, no.” I screw the cap back onto the last tank before edging out along the flatbed to strap the empty fuel can down. I have to grab onto the cage as Agnes slows the truck.

“Derek, I’d feel a lot better if you were strapped in, okay?”

“All right, all right. Let me get this secured.”

I drop into my seat but Agnes doesn’t tap the pedal until she hears the click of my harness buckle.

“Good. Now stay out of the kitchen while mama’s cookin’.”

“What?”

A loud whoosh comes from the flame thrower. I look into the mirror. There’s still a wall of fire in front of the road where it meets the road back to the Interstate. We can’t see who or what’s behind it. The trees blaze like matchsticks as Agnes sweeps the area. 

She slows down just enough to prevent us from biting our tongues off on the recoil as the front tires hit the level road at the foot of the mountain. Turning left, she drives as fast as she can through the wall of fire. 

As we roar out onto the frontage road I see that the dead are on the other side of the Interstate. It’s almost completely clear where we are. Agnes looks at A.J. “Ask Melinda if they’ve seen any sign of Dietzen’s people.”

“That might be them, there, for all I know,” I say. I’m looking up to see a Chinook leaving the mountain. Smoke billows white and black from the wooded slopes.

“Ask anyway,” says Agnes.

“Melinda says they see no sign,” says A.J. 

“Screw it,” I say. “We made great TV.” I look around at the sky. These quadcopters are small and hard to spot. To think someone is enjoying watching us get swarmed. With infants in our vehicles, at that. Must be a fetish with these sick fucks. Did they expect us to throw our babies out at those things?

Agnes spits flame to either side of the truck as she ascends the ramp to the Interstate. The biggest mobs of dead are stumbling up the northbound lanes from the south, so Agnes crosses the median to drive against the pedestrian traffic in the southbound lanes. The hungry walkers in the northbound lanes stagger into the overgrown median to follow. A few fall comically over the knee-high wire fence buried in the tall grass. For a moment all you can see are their arms flailing above the brush.

They find their feet, though. They push themselves upright, they throw one leg out front, then the other. Many fall yet again as the thick grasses catch them by the ankles. They’re slowed, but not by much. The sounds and smells of food compel them; they must have us. As more and more of their fellows follow across the median, the fence shall be trampled flush with the dirt soon enough.

Agnes throws more fire to either side while waiting for the trucks and SUVs to catch up. We move a little faster once Elyssa’s SUV clears the median, but we don’t want too much of a gap between vehicles. Even aflame, the former men and women of Colorado Springs advance upon us, and Agnes and I have to draw our pistols to knock them back.

The sound of our engines causes the dead to swarm towards us from beneath the shade of the Bijou Street overpass. They rouse themselves to move even faster as Agnes’ fire blisters the flesh from their bones. “There’s no way they’re getting past these bridges by going under them,” says Agnes. “Derek, can you wave Elyssa over to follow us up the ramp? A.J., message everyone as fast as you can what they have to do. There’s no way I can clear these things out before we’re swarmed.”

I unbuckle from the harness and grab the back of the cockpit cage. I wave at Elyssa, and try to get the attention of the Smileys driving behind Elyssa’s SUV. Elyssa, bless her, knows exactly what I mean when I point to the ramp, and Ethan stands up in the moon roof to wave at the vehicles behind them. Thank God this exit ramp is built up along a concrete block retaining wall and not earthworks. The dead can’t cut across to get at us.

Ethan and Tom take out a few aggressive pedestrians as we cross Bijou Street and descend the acceleration ramp back to the Interstate, but it’s not as bad as it could be. The mob oozes like sickly yellow molasses from beneath the overpass on this side, a lethal mass of grasping hands and gnashing teeth almost ready to meet us at the bottom of the ramp. It’s as if all of downtown packed itself beneath that six-lane overpass.

Of course, there are plenty of others who don’t mind the daylight at all. They walk with their faces pointed to the sun, even as they stagger towards the smell of human steak tartare on the hoof. Those are the ones our moon roof shooters busy themselves with as Agnes pours fat volleys of fire on the bilious mob below the retaining wall. “Goddamn it,” she says, “I don’t remember this many people living here back in the day.”

“Good old Colorado Springs,” I say. “Boomtown of the Living Dead.”

Agnes stops at the bottom of the ramp and reverses over these ravenous former citizens while I wave Elyssa and the rest of our group ahead. What was a deadly cannibal mob is now a flaming deadly cannibal mob. These former cubicle drones, shift managers, programmers, waitresses, and office assistants were ugly enough without crisping like so much meat left too long on the grill. Then comes the part when the rancid fluids steaming within their skulls causes their heads to explode. No one wants that stuff on them.

 Agnes has a berm of crushed, smoldering bodies built up by the time Melinda, Rene, and Justin’s truck goes by. Again, we’re only slowing them down, and not by much. Our rear tires spin as Agnes stomps the pedal to regain her place at the front of the convoy. The retaining wall looks like the world’s largest abstract expressionism exhibit, with scraps of flesh, hair, and the occasional torn-away limb accenting the drip.

We encounter the same scenario at the Fillmore Avenue overpass. We pass it all the more quickly by repeating what we did at Bijou. The way the flaming dead try to burst our tires by clinging to them with their burning bodies suggests they know how we got away from Bijou Street, and they’re damned if they’re letting us get away from them. Agnes keeps the wheels turning, though. 

The lanes clear as Interstate 25 ascends the top of the ridge immediately south of Garden of the Gods Road. A few eaters mill in the dip near the Woodmen Road exit, but we pass through easily. The road curves right in a tight arc as it rises again before Academy Boulevard and the exit for the Air Force Academy’s South Gate.

Agnes slows at the sight. Somehow, some way, someone disconnected and moved every last one of the solar panels on the southeast side of the Air Force Academy. There’s nothing left along this side of the road but slabs of concrete rising in neat lines with the wide slope, wires like ripped veins erupting up their middles. 

The boys in the black helicopters were busy this morning. Still, they couldn’t be bothered to remove any of the remains, some of them their fellows in arms. With the panels gone, their sun-bleached bones dominate nearly every square of earth that isn’t a concrete platform. Scattered skulls scream at the sky, fat thigh bones and spiky rib cages lay carelessly across the dirt. No telling who was whom—or even what, so why bother, right?

As Agnes takes the Briargate Parkway exit, she speeds along in a zig-zag pattern, crushing as many pedestrians as she can with her tires. Our convoy has a clear path so long as they keep up. I look south towards the fire on the mountain. So far the wind is coming in from the north. This favors us. For now. 

“We need to stop someplace and talk about what we’re going to do,” says Agnes.

“What’s to talk about?”

“Well, how we’re going to approach the checkpoint, for one. You know they’re going to give us trouble.”

“We’ll give it right back.”

“Good. You don’t mind, then?”

“Dead, living, fuck them all. Don’t hesitate on that trigger.”

“A.J., pay no attention to your father and his potty mouth.”

“Brother Christopher wants to know how we’re handling the checkpoint,” A.J. says, looking up from her phone.

“Blast-text everyone,” I say. “‘Bethany Driscoll.’”

The look on A.J.’s face as she thumbs in the message is…well, let’s just say she knows exactly what I mean. She was with us in the room that night.

*****

We approach slowly. They’ve got no less than eight people with AR-15s trained on us. The two coming out from either side of the road makes ten, and the smug young thing strutting out from behind his goons makes eleven. He holds up his hand for Agnes to stop. Brother Christopher has already stopped a good 300 yards behind us. Smug Young Thing makes a motion for Agnes to kill her engine. She complies. He windmills his arm by way of motioning our convoy to come forward. They respond by turning off their own engines.

I can’t help laughing out loud at his expression when they do this. He points his rifle at me. “You looking to get shot today?”

I remove my headset and drop it into my seat. “Col. Dietzen might be upset with you if you do that.”

“Col. Dietzen is dead, thanks to you.”

“That’s funny, considering he was supposed to be protecting us. Of course, I can’t help wondering if he wasn’t in that chopper we saw taking off as we left the foot of the mountain.”

“That chopper was picking up the solar panels you stole.”

“Really? Did they get the ones here keeping you warm over the winter? The ones my people got for you?” I grin. “Oh, wait. You let Capt. Wright and his merry band of left-behinds at the Air Force Academy take them from you. Once they knew Pastor Walsh was gone, and I was too far up the road to do anything about it, they drove up. You bitches let them in like they owned the place.”

Smug Young Thing makes a move like he’s going to unload his AR-15 on me. A.J. whimpers. I hear Agnes shush her, reach out to hold her. I remain still, keep my eye on the boy. He’s 22, tops. Looking to get one over on the old man. 

“You’re gonna bring your people over here right now, or I swear to God I’ll shoot you. Then my boys are gonna some fun with your woman while your little girl watches and waits her turn.”

“Is this some new thing Pastor What’s-her-face has going on? Or is this because she blames me for not being here when they took the panels? That is, after she’d banned me and my family from ever setting foot in Abundant Life.”

“Get your people over here now, or we open fire. You’re going to answer for disrespecting Pastor Julie.”

I hold up my hands. “Okay, okay.” I turn to face behind Mom’s Taxi. The convoy is too far back for me to tell if Brother Christopher and his crew left their vehicles while Smug Young Thing was having fun with me.

The thunderclap of a shotgun from the woods answers my question. The checkpoint guards at the front of Mom’s Taxi lift their weapons towards the sound. Smug Young Thing turns as well.

I pull my nine and squeeze off a round in Smug Young Thing’s direction. My aim is thrown off by the scorching backwash of the flame thrower as Agnes sweeps the area in front. I squeeze off another as he turns his rifle back in my direction. He’s knocked over backwards, his AR-15 firing blindly into the sky.

I hug the deck until the discharge stops. I lift myself up, enough to see the huge black and red stain gouged into the top of his shoulder over his shooting arm. I crawl forward towards the cockpit and pull the cover from the hatch. I drop the ladder. I don’t look at either Agnes or A.J. as I let myself down.

The flesh smokes and spits from the bodies in front and to the right of Mom’s Taxi. They writhe where they fell, so close to the flame they didn’t have a chance to scream before it burned away their throats and lungs. I note the difference in bouquet, the tang of fresh vomit that burning living flesh offers, versus the stinging, rotten garbage smell that arises when the torch is put to long-dead, unnaturally preserved flesh.

I walk up to Smug Young Thing, groaning in the dirt alongside the road. “Hey,” I say, nudging his ribs with the tip of my boot, “how long have you been working these checkpoints?”

His expression is the closest thing to an undead rage face I’ve seen on a living human. “I’ve been in charge of perimeter security since February, you ass,” he says.

Smug Young Thing jerks to one side in a heroic effort to retrieve his AR-15, but my heel catches his shoulder as it comes up. I push him back to the gritty hardpan between the road and the drainage ditch while leaning over to retrieve his rifle.

“So,” I say, setting the safety and strapping the rifle over my shoulder, “do you remember what happened that night when a young man came by looking to get the midwife?”

“Aware, shit. I was the one who turned him away. I heard the cow and her sprog died. You gonna send the whiny faggot over to finish me?”

I yank him up by the front of his shirt. “Justin Driscoll is one of our best people. That he won’t waste his talents seeking revenge on trash like you shows a strength of spirit I hope to understand some day.” I shove him back to the earth. “I should live so long.”

Smug Young Thing does a fine job of suppressing his pain. That is, until he lands on his wrecked shoulder. I notice another odor in the air as I strip him of his sidearm. His phone is in a bright green protective case, but it’s the same Provisional Government-issue model Dietzen issued us. I wonder how long he’s had this. 

Not that I need to know that badly. I step away from Smug Young Thing and look towards the woods on the opposite side of the road, then towards Elyssa’s and Brother Christopher’s convoy. 

“Heads up.”

The shotgun blast that distracted the checkpoint crew rang like a homing beacon to the local population. The smoke from the burning live bodies has to be attracting them, too. Agnes, who can see them coming from her high perch in the truck, starts the engine.

“Wait,” squeals the former chief of perimeter security for the Abundant Life settlement. “Aren’t you going to shoot me?” He struggles to get up, but it’s hard to do with one arm. 

“I just did.” I put my heel out again and push him back down, this time on his bad side. Although I missed the artery, the little psychopath sustained serious trauma on his right shoulder. The round scooped his upper deltoid clean from the bone. Gotta love those hollowpoints.

I don’t want to spoil the moment by walking away too fast. I have to trust that the woman in the filthy, blood-rotted shift will settle for the easy meat groaning in the dirt behind me. Judging by the high shrieking I hear over the rumbling of Mom’s Taxi as I begin climbing the ladder, she does.

There’s no sense in trying to look smooth while scrambling up the ladder, though. A man wearing the black ribbons of a white T-shirt and the ruins of boxer shorts sways up behind the woman. It won’t be long until the rest of the Diner’s Club gets here. 

Agnes puts out her hands to help me up. “You think those things will be interested in our friends down there?” she says. 

“Two are still twitching. The others haven’t been dead for too long, and these monsters are crazy hungry.” I look down through the hatch and yank the rope ladder upwards before the weathered corpse of a young man can snatch a rung. His companion steps into view, and, God help me, tries bouncing on the balls of his feet to jump and take the ladder from me. I slam the cover over the hatch and scramble out of the cockpit to my harness seat.

Before I can get my headset on, a loud beeping stabs my ears as Agnes backs Mom’s Taxi up to get around the burning bodies. I grip the cockpit cage tightly as we bump over a ghoul behind us on the left. Agnes puts the truck back into drive and angles around the billowing, flesh-flavored smoke.

A couple of former citizens are already tearing pieces from the smoking bodies as we drive away. They claw and pull about the groin and legs, well away from the crisped areas. Cooked flesh holds no appeal for our monster friends. Their meat has to have that spark of life to it, however faint.

Smug Young Thing is getting around quite a bit, so to speak, as his diners take an arm here, a loop of intestine there, and stagger away as quickly as their dead legs can carry them lest they find themselves forced to share their bounty with latecomers. A.J. calls out to me from the cockpit. “Brother Christopher wants to know if you want to put these things down.”

“No. Save our ammo for the escape.” Less than a year ago you would never have seen a ghoul on this road. Now I wonder how much time we’ll have at Loretta’s. She’d better have her luggage ready to load and go.

“I wonder if those boys at the checkpoint had any idea so many deaders were wandering nearby,” says Agnes. “All they had to do was make some noise.”

“A lot of them are already following us. It’s hard to be stealthy in a monster truck.”

“I’m beginning to like the idea of Wyoming more and more,” says Agnes.

“Yeah,” I say, because what else can I say? At this point, I flat fucking don’t know anymore.


NEXT EPISODE: Chapter 12, “Showdown at the Smiley Place”


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 collapse 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.

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