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.

###