Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Chapter 9 of The WRONG KIND of DEAD: “All Downhill from Here”

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

PREVIOUS EPISODE: Chapter 8: “Insults, Large and Insidious”

“Honey, before you start,” says Agnes, “this is driving me crazy.” She walks to one of the trucks, opens the door, and takes a small receiving blanket from the seat. Agnes folds the blanket neatly as she walks over to Elyssa. She covers Elyssa’s exposed area, along with Damon’s head.

Everyone stands stiffly, caught in a grim, awkward silence, until I say. “Okay, laugh. It is kinda funny.”

Agnes turns and scowls at me. Elyssa sticks her tongue out at Agnes, and even Brother Christopher cracks a smile, which is the weirdest thing I hope I see all day. 

I let the laughter run its course. “All right,” I say. “This is not a trick question. Has anyone noticed how many helicopters were out here over the city? The really big ones?” Everyone nods, shrugs. 

“Either one of the Chinooks that landed here could have loaded us up. Maybe not the one with the furniture, but the one that dropped off the fuel could have taken us on. And if not that one, there were lots of others out there. Did anyone think of that?”

Christopher and Ethan did. I can see it in the eyes of Justin and Tommy, too. I look over at the women, gathered separately from their men and crowded close together, shielding those among them who are nursing children themselves. They have that weary here-we-go-again look on their faces. They’ve gone for so long without having to worry about those things with the horrible faces wanting to tear chunks of flesh from them. Now they’re on the run with infants in their arms.

Melinda and Rene stand before the younger ones with their babies. These ladies were part of a quartet of women in their late 20s who helped Agnes evacuate the boys and me from the Air Force Academy’s solar garden last summer. While Jenny and Beth returned to Sisters Keep at Abundant Life in hopes of meeting men their own age, Melinda and Rene, well…all anyone needs to know is these are the only women other than my wife who ride with us on scavenging and reconnaissance missions. Their kill count, and the no-nonsense finesse with which the accomplish it, sets a fine example for those younger ones among Brother Christopher’s crew who are still a little shaky in the field.

The other women are in their late teens, like the young men they paired with. Danielle, Chloe, Megan, Deanna, Cherie, and Mandy —and Teresa in the truck—have been spoiled rotten by their year in the hills. They may have watched one of their own bleed out and die in childbirth, but, for a full year, they haven’t had to look at reanimated human remains stumbling towards them. 

“Brother Christopher was mindful enough to ask Col. Dietzen why we’re delaying so long. It occurs to me they’re bringing together a decent sized herd for us to fight. We might have to do staged fights all the way to Wyoming.

“So here’s how we’re going to finesse this. Separating family members would make for sweet reality show drama. So I want all of the families and their children riding together, two families per truck. Have one man driving and another at shotgun while the ladies handle the phones and the children. We’ll keep a tight formation. They’re going to bark orders at us over these phones we left on the bumpers back there, try to split us up. Ignore them. I’ll decide if it’s something we need to do.”

The women look among each other. Phones? So much to explain, so little time: “Something season-finale spectacular bad is about to go down here,” I say. “There is a rather messed-up bright side to all this, though. Aside from feeding us, Dietzen’s people got our vehicles fueled with fresh gasoline. If they hadn’t come, we’d be going up this mountain on foot, with nothing but our babies and our guns and the clothes on our backs. 

“The dead people were coming before Dietzen got here. I don’t like what’s going on with Dietzen and his crew, but this could be a lot worse. Agnes, Christopher, do you have anything to add?”

Agnes steps forward. I’m about to step back when she takes me by the arm. “You ladies haven’t seen what your men and the rest of us have seen.” Agnes nods towards Melinda and Rene to include them with “the rest of us.” Melinda and Rene are stone faced as always. The others look back at Agnes nervously. 

“If you’ll just take care of your children while trusting us to take care of business, we’ll get through this. Don’t look out the windows. All I need is you to try and keep yourselves and your babies calm while gunfire is going off all around you.”
“What if I want to drive?” says Elyssa. “We’re taking my SUV, aren’t we?”

“Being that it’s already loaded up with our clothes and stuff, yes, absolutely. Do you have a problem driving?”
“I’d rather be driving my own vehicle that sitting up in the open air in your loud-as-hell thing.”

“Good. Because I want Brother Christopher’s eyes and hands free, along with Ethan’s. Yours will be the command vehicle. Brother Christopher will sit up front with you, look out for potential problems and coordinate the fleet. Ethan will do shotgun duty with his AR-15. Or his shotgun. Mind the ammunition; we don’t know how long they’re going to make us wander in the wilderness until we reach the Promised Land, where we’ll need those stupid phones in lieu of our papers.”

The girls look quizzically at Agnes; they don’t get her reference to the infamous “papers, please” request of totalitarian regimes. Agnes reasserts her grip about me as she says, “Speaking of which, when we’re done here, we’re picking those phones up and turning them on. We’re all going to know each other’s numbers like they know ours. We need to communicate.”

Agnes looks up at me as if expecting me to disagree with her on this. I give her a slight pat on the back no one notices. She continues. “Brother Christopher, your thoughts?”

This is a radical rewriting of our plans from earlier, but Brother Christopher shakes his head.

“All right,” says Agnes. “We’ll keep chatter to a minimum. Watch what you say in your vehicles, because there’s a chance they’re listening in through our phones. They can even see you with the camera, so keep them close, but covered. All right now, let’s go.”

Justin walks over the rear of the trucks where we’d left the phones and waves everyone over. The girls coo and sigh as their phones come on but they’re quickly shushed by Justin and others on Christopher’s staff. Christopher brings over our phones.

“Do you remember anyone’s number from Abundant Life?” I ask Christopher. “I know we gave Jenny and Beth’s phones back to them when they left our group.”

“I don’t have their numbers,” he says. “There are a couple of people I can call, but that’s it.”

“So, can you call them and get them to get in touch with the others on our side?”

“Sir, with all respect, what I mean by ‘that’s it,’ that’s it. We have no way to bring them with us. Unless Col. Dietzen is bringing fresh gasoline to them, too.”


“It’s all right, we’re going there, anyway,” says Agnes. She turns to Christopher. “Call everyone you know. Tell them what’s going on. These are good people. The least we can do is tell them we’re leaving.”

Brother Christopher’s eyebrow goes up, as if he’s just thought of something. “I’ll put the word out,” he says. He turns away, thumbing at his phone.

“Well,” I say, holding my phone before me, “let’s see what we have here.”

I squeeze the button on the side. A tinkling, four-note fanfare heralds the loading of the operating system. I have no idea what make and model and OS we’re looking at. There are no logos identifying the brand. There is no battery compartment, therefore no removing the battery. Of course, if you can’t remove the battery, you can’t disable the GPS signal, or the reverse monitoring features. As design flaws go, it’s rather handy for the purpose of whoever is running this on the other end. 

The phone prompts me to change my avatar from the photo it drew from my old LinkedIn profile. I skip, and see my birthdate, birthplace, dates of graduation, and the date I married Claire. Claire’s name is hyperlinked. I click on it, and see her information, including date of death. Clicking back to my page, I scroll down to find the date of my nuptials to Agnes, and the birth of our son.

Some people would think this is the most amazingly cool thing they ever saw. I suppose it is. They know who you are and where you are at all times. Even better, they know who you care about and where to find them. 

“I take it you have my number, too, Agnes?”

“Of course,” she says. “Along with A.J.’s and Elyssa’s. As soon as their phones came on, I had them.”

“I just need to add the rest of our group,” I say.

With that wan smile I seem to be seeing more and more of lately, Agnes and I walk over to ask for the numbers of all the people we will be talking to in the trucks. With one man driving and the other outside the moon roof, it will fall to one of the women to play the role of communications officer.

The young wives are cheered to have a part in our adventure aside from looking after the babies. Agnes and I tell them to text or call everyone they know at the Abundant Life settlement. Tiffany, Megan, and Cherie are already doing that as we come upon them. To have a phone again after all this time—it’s not like we can tell these ladies not to use them.

Still, we’ve got to get going. With the blanket still over her shoulder Elyssa gently guides the more distracted ones to their trucks and SUVs, insuring their babies are properly strapped into their car seats before bringing Damon over to us. “I know you want to kiss him once for luck.”

Elyssa already has the baby burped and asleep. I hesitantly lean over to kiss his head. Damon squirms. Agnes leans over and pecks him quickly on the head. Then she kisses me quickly on the cheek.

Elyssa leans over to kiss me, too. “On the cheek,” Agnes says sternly. “Quickly. We need to go.”

As if she hadn’t heard, Elyssa pecks me on the lips, and then on Agnes’. Agnes says, “Who’s looking after Damon while you’re driving?”

“Teresa’s looking after the babies. Don’t worry, she’s very good with the little ones. Danielle’s working the phone.”

“Good. You remember how to get to Loretta Smiley’s place?”

“I was just going to follow you.”

“Have Christopher show you. Derek and I might have to break away to clear space for everyone.”

“What do I do when you do that?”

“Keep going. Don’t stop, don’t get swarmed. I have a feeling we may have to go a little hard on the guards at Abundant Life in order to get through. If you get there before us and they stop you, you call us right away.”

“Who will we be talking to?”

“A.J. will be in the cockpit with me, handling the phone. Speaking of which, where is she?”

A.J. steps out from behind a tree. “A.J., did you get your phone?” says Agnes.

The girl nods. She’s been watching and listening the entire time.

“Well, you’ll be talking on mine,” says Agnes, pulling her phone out. She hands it to A.J. “Now go to the truck and get settled in. We’re leaving in a minute.”

A.J. runs away towards the monster truck at the end of the yard. Holding my arm, Agnes calls out, “Everyone! Mr. Grace and I are going down the hill first. A.J. will send out a text letting you know if it’s safe to follow immediately. Wait for that text. We’ll see everyone at Loretta Smiley’s house.”

Doors slam and engines start. Agnes slides her arm around my waist. I put my arm around her and we begin walking to the Xenocider. “This should make for a nice shot,” I say.

“I’m not doing this for them,” says Agnes. She raises her voice to normal conversational tone. “I made a terrible mistake keeping you out of the fights when we went out. I thoughtlessly and selfishly wanted you alive, and I let you get rusty. Now you’re almost guaranteed to get killed.”

“I’ll be fine. That girl in the pajamas got me good and oiled.”

“To hell with her,” she says. “It was the guy behind you who should have taught you to watch your six.” We come to the rope ladder going up into the cockpit. “Age before beauty, hero.”

I climb into the monster truck we still sometimes call the Xenocider, which Christopher’s people repainted and repurposed as MOM’S TAXI in lieu of keeping it maintained for Agnes. As I normally ride in the seat immediately behind the cockpit (hence my order of ascent up the ladder), and as A.J. often insists on coming along, this monster truck we looted from the World Arena essentially serves as the Grace family minivan.

I put my hands on the hard Lexan platform and pull myself up. I step out through the rear of the cockpit cage onto the flatbed of the monster truck. I strap into a seat Agnes had installed especially for me. It has padding and safety straps, and it’s close to where she can lean back and yell in my ear if the headsets aren’t working.

Agnes climbs in and straps into her seat. She pulls her glasses from her shirt pocket. As soon as I see Agnes’ sea-green eyes relaxing behind the lenses I know there’s no turning back.

A.J. climbs up and scrunches into her corner. She’s grown in the last year. Soon she won’t fit in there at all. She’ll have to ride in the flatbed with me, in the chair Brother Christopher sometimes uses.

Let’s hope we all live so long.

Everyone puts on the wireless communications headsets Ethan found us for Christmas. They not only helps the three of us talk to one another, they mitigate the stress that accumulates from being in such a noisy perch. I switch mine on as Agnes turns they key and the large Powerglide engine rumbles to life. 

I take in the house and lawn one last time as we roll slowly out. The remains of Pajama Girl and the big goon who snuck up on me stink where they lie. The big black garbage bag from the barbecue gapes open. Paper plates, red plastic cups, and soiled, crumpled napkins lie along the line of the breeze. The grills still smoke.

Col. Dietzen and his people are loading up to presumably follow us down. If I’d known Dietzen’s people weren’t cleaning up, we’d have taken the extra five minutes to do so. It’s galling to think the place where we settled in with our new families and bore our children over a hard winter is being left like this.

“I’m surprised that ass isn’t trying to stop us one more time on the way out,” Agnes says.

“You’d think he’d at least give us a report on what we’re facing along the way.” I lean towards A.J. “Anything on the phone?”

A.J. shakes her head. 

“Okay, here we go,” says Agnes.

The front end of Mom’s Taxi drops sharply over the edge of the driveway into the road going down the mountain. I look back at Elyssa’s SUV, poised at the edge, giving us the time we need to run ahead and clear the path. We’re nearing the edge of the next terrace down, where the families of our young men and women live. 

A man in the ribbons of a business suit stumbles drunkenly among the trees to Garret and Mandy’s house. A large woman in ruined sweatpants and a turquoise T-shirt staggers towards Jared and Cherie’s place on the other side of the road. 

A man wearing the ruins of a boiler suit, his duckbill hat askew on his head, shuffles up behind her. And behind him…well, we saw this coming, didn’t we?

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

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.