Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Chapter 14 of The WRONG KIND of DEAD: “The Battle of Baptist Road”

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


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


Even from half a mile away these bikes are thunderously loud. The babies scream awake in their mother’s arms, forcing the women back into their vehicles. I expect this relieves the percussive stabbing on the eardrums just enough, but not so much that these children are going back to sleep anytime soon.

Judging from what I see through the SUV’s windows, even Teresa has her hands full. She didn’t step outside with the other women, but poor Damon couldn’t help hearing all these highly compressed engines roaring and blatting our way, even in the airtight confines of Elyssa’s luxury SUV.

Noise pollution and cranky babies are the least of our worries. I motion for Ethan and the other moon roof shooters to get into position. Brother Christopher steps closer to Agnes and Elyssa and me. In nearly a year of fighting alongside this young man I’ve never seen him the least bit afraid. I can’t say this fills me with confidence for what happens next.

I lose count at 36 bikes. I see more riding up behind the pickup trucks and SUVs and school buses carrying people and goods. Several bikes blaze past our position to our front and I see the bikes have more than machetes, but special seats where a woman sits with her back against the rider’s back. These women hold shotguns at the ready, with pistols and hunting knives in various holsters and sheaths about their waists, legs, and shoulders.

The convoy pulls to a halt. The bikes keep coming, until, finally, one lanky man with long hair flowing from a black bandanna pulls up. Two riders flank him on either side; he holds a hand up and they stop. The man reaches into a leg holster for his .45. His eyes meet mine and he holds up his other hand. I hold mine up in turn for the benefit of my moon roof shooters. A quick glance behind me and down the left a ways tells me he’ll get all of one shot off in our direction before he gets perforated—and everyone else dies in the firefight that follows.

So it’s a good thing he points the muzzle skyward. He fires, and every engine in his entourage is stilled. There’s nothing but ringing in our ears when he says, “Thanks for not being too excitable.” He makes a show of clicking the safety with his thumb before twirling the pistol on one finger and dropping it back into his holster. “Seriously, how else you gonna get everyone in this group to shut up and pay attention? I thought of using flares, but those things are too much of a fire hazard.” He nods and smiles toothily at the Mom’s Taxi. “Speaking of which, I’m Brian Darnell.” He holds out his hand. I walk over to shake it. “Of course, Brian’s a shitty name for a bandleader, so we’ll just go with ‘Scuzz.’”

“Good to meet, you, Scuzz. Thanks for getting our people out.”

“You were gonna have to bug out on ‘em, weren’t you?”

“If they couldn’t move themselves. We don’t have the vehicles, and we sure as hell didn’t have the time.”

“Roger that,” says Scuzz. “We’ve been watchin’.”

“Watching?”

“If you can get a TV to work, you can watch America the Reptilian or whatever they call it. You and Dark Agnes and Earth Mother are freakin’ stars, man.”

“Dark who?” says Agnes. I look at her, then at Elyssa, who smiles back at me, her free hand over her rounded belly.

“Ha!” I hear Scuzz say to the man on the bike on the other side of him. “I told you they had no idea.”

“Not until today. How have you guys been getting electricity, anyway? For that matter, how come they didn’t make TV stars out of you? They’ve been featuring all the survivors, from what I understand.”

“Shit, I wish we had time to talk. All I gotta say is we found a way. We found out about those drones early on when one of our people shot one in the woods by accident. We began taking precautions after that. We’ve got people on the lookout for those things 24/7.”

“Sir,” says Brother Christopher, “that shotgun blast you heard in the woods by the checkpoint was Lance taking one out.”

“Did you get it?” says Scuzz.

“Lance brought it down,” Christopher says to me.

“That’s a fine young man you have there,” says Scuzz. “A good thing I got slackers in my group who like to watch a little battery-powered TV or I’d have had him iced for finding out where we were.”

“He never told me about you people,” I say.

“There was nothing to tell,” says Christopher.

“Damn,” says Scuzz. “You didn’t tell your commander-in-chief about us all this time ‘cause you were ashamed of getting caught?” Scuzz turns to me. “I’m honestly sorry about that. We would have been glad to help you fix your engines up to run on ‘shine. Shoot, we might have had a jump on all this if we were working together.”

“I’m glad you’re here now. That’s what, four schoolbuses? How many people did you pick up?”

“Two of those buses have all our goats, chickens, dogs, cats, you name it. Hell, we got those Wilson people helping us wrangle, so it’s all working out. We got everybody and their critters. We’re not leaving anything for the rotters to eat.”

“I can’t thank you enough,” I say. “You people are doing God’s work.”

Scuzz laughs. “We’re doin’ someone’s work. Look, don’t feel bad. We’re grateful for the chance to do some heroics of our own. I know you wanna touch base with your people in back, but—”

A loud crack of rifle fire and the sound of raised voices indicate our time is up. I can hear my phone ringing behind me. “The stranger says we have to get going or we’re not going to make it,” says A.J.

“Oh, so he’s been in touch with you, too,” says Scuzz. “Figured he would. Well, we’ve been looking forward to this for some time now. Can I shake your hand again? Some of my people want to pay their respects on their way out.”

“You know where we’re going, right?”

“Monument Hill, to a military protected area. We won’t be going all the way with you, but we’ll help y’all get there.”

More rifle-fire and shouting erupts behind us. “Mr. Dead Silencer, an honor to meet ya. Dark Agnes, lookin’ forward to you throwin’ more fire. Earth Mother, keep on smilin’.” Scuzz waves towards A.J. “Li’l Dark, you mind your mama and daddy, all right?”

Agnes holds out her hand, which he bows to kiss. Elyssa giggles as he does the same with her. “So when did we get our biker names?” I say.

“Fan interaction in the post-apocalypse,” says Scuzz. “I think they took a vote or some shit. Look, we gotta go. Good luck.”

I watch as Scuzz once again pulls his .45 and fires it into the air. The air around us shudders with the sound of engines roaring to life, the smell of their exhaust a steely counterpoint to the dank stench of arrested decay thickening about our position. A line of bikes rolls through the grass alongside the road, riding in between the pedestrians. A swipe of a machete, a blast of a shotgun drops them one by one. Yet for every rage-faced head puffing away into mist, so many more stumble out from the trees, attracted to the sounds of our visitors’ arrival.

“Don’t worry about those, brother,” says a man with a long ponytail pouring out the back of his Stetson. “Your people, our people, we take care of business. You ready to lay down the fire, Dark Agnes?”

“I’m ready to lay it down now,” she says.

“Shit, I’ll bet. Earth Mother, you stay beautiful, all right?”

“Oh, you’re sweet.”

This doesn’t go on for too long, thank God. Somewhere a signal is given and the riders in back will have to do with saluting as they ride past. I hold my panga over my head, and this gesture is met with whoops and gunfire. A shotgun blast close to us brings us back to reality. A rag-bedecked corpse drops to the side of the road, no further than 20 yards from us.

Elyssa kisses me quickly and skips away back to the SUV. Brother Christopher is already climbing into his side. “Li’l Dark,” not enjoying the attention one bit, disappeared up the ladder into Mom’s Taxi as soon as Scuzz took off.

Agnes and I take our turns up the ladder. She puts on her glasses and starts the engine as I put on my headset. I reach for the AR-15 on the flatbed. I strap the rifle over my shoulder and grab the back of the cockpit cage as Agnes puts the truck in gear.

Multiple single rifle reports pop over the rumble and squall of our engines as Agnes takes us slowly up to where Scuzz’s hogs have established a stationary position at the top of the ridge. The dirt bikes are riding off-road to either side. The machetes and shotgun blasts are thinning out the herd coming from the tree line, enough that I see a couple of scary turns in which a machete swing nearly disarms another rider.

So much for that unit cohesion Brother Christopher was talking about. They got the drop on him, plain and simple. It’s a shame he had to feel so ashamed, when we could have had an alliance to take on all comers, living and dead. For wherever these dirt bike riders with machetes grew up, or however these women with shotguns like to live, these people took the time and effort to save our friends when we couldn’t.

Even now their reckless blade-slinging and shotgun discharges free us to give our full attention to the worst ahead. Scuzz’s crew roll their bikes to either side to give us room atop the ridge. From here, we look down upon the commercial zone of what used to be Black Forest. All these once-living people in one place reminds me of the masses Deacon Sparks corralled here last year for his demonstration of weapons and tactics. Except those dead looked a lot…healthier.

This clot of swaying, grasping, raging ex-humans surges towards the turn for the road leading to the old golf clubhouse where Abundant Life has its headquarters. They’re not following the path of least resistance. They are being led. The few that look over their shoulders, drawn to the sound of our engines, still stagger forward with their groups. Their legs jerk forward, one after another, as if they can’t be helped.

A man in the rags of a suit leads one crew. A woman in a gore-encrusted gray sweatsuit leads another. There’s a big, burly thing taking his once-people down the road, with the willful leftovers of a 12-year-old girl drawing seven used-to-be adults behind her. Even the ones among the leaders who limp with some pre- or post-mortem injury limp forward with undeniable purpose. There is no meritocracy like the living death.

No less than five ghouls follow each leader, and sometimes it’s many more. As weird as it seems to have so many flesh-eating dead uninterested in us, we still have the commuters from the Interstate further below to contend with. I notice a couple of alphas leading squads, but they seem to be knocked around by the individuals in the herd who are clearly in it for themselves.

This surging tide of snarling, snapping heads, the clutching hands, so many fingers curling and uncurling like sea grass on a bed of bile-stained leather—I’m glad for Scuzz’s people now, but I’m afraid even these extra guns and blades won’t be enough. Mom’s Taxi can make a path, but that same path will be filled with hungry cadavers as soon as we pass.

We have all of 150 yards between us the brunt of the surge. Scuzz’s people are dropping the faster walkers with shotgun blasts. “What are we waiting for?” I say over the headphones to Agnes.

“I’m not sure,” she says. “It looks like that Scuzz guy wants to try something.”

I see three of Scuzz’s men distributing brown paper bags among the riders up front. As soon as a rider takes possession he doesn’t wait for an order; he pulls the tubes of Roman candles and rockets from the rubber-banded bundle and fires one up with the cigarette hanging from his mouth.

White trails of smoke hiss away into the approaching herd. Efforts are made to hit these former people in their faces with neon-pink fire, but that doesn’t always work. The concentrated flames will land on a shoulder, burst across a chest, enraging the ghoul and bringing it surging forward for murder. 

One woman’s rags of an outfit burst into flames. This disrupts the forward motion of that group as they, too, catch fire, or struggle backwards against their fellows trying to avoid catching fire. 

“This is taking too long,” says Agnes.

She pushes her glasses up her nose, and with a quickness of motion that tells me she’s doing this before she loses her nerve, Agnes turns the flamethrower 45 degrees to the left and brings the barrel back at a steep angle. The jet of flame arcs so high it loses some of its power before landing short of the near corner where the road leading towards Abundant Life’s HQ meets the one we’re on. It’s enough to ignite blood-stiff clothing, if not dried flesh. The afflicted ignite those closest to them in the course of trying to tear off their blazing rags.

Agnes drops the barrel by a few degrees before sending out another volley of fire. This blaze falls just short of the ones with flaming clothes, and has just enough hang-time to smolder their skins. These crisping former citizens flap their arms and kick frantically, as if they might shake off the flames. 

Still, it’s hard to laugh when you might well be losing. Although our moon roof shooters have thinned out the dead emerging from the tall grass along the road, the stragglers are still drawing precious rounds from the herd ahead of us. Even with the assistance of Scuzz’s people, it doesn’t look like we’re going to run out of dead on that side.

I can only imagine what it’s like at the very end of our convoy. And I’d rather not. “A.J., message Justin, Rene, and Melinda. I need to know how they’re doing.”

A.J. begins thumbing in her message. She stops. “Brother Christopher says we have to move.”

“Advise him of our situation,” I say.

“‘Moving is better than standing still,’ he says.”

Christopher can’t see it from our vantage point high up on the monster truck, but there is no moving unless we make a path. Mom’s Taxi could drive all day through this, but the people behind us might as well be driving into an ocean. An ocean full of things that swarm, smash, bite, and chew.

“It’s that guy again,” says A.J. “He says if we don’t start moving now we’re going to be in real trouble in a couple of minutes.”

“So this is the fake trouble?” Agnes is laying down more fire, expanding the zone of burning bodies. It’s slow going, but she’s steering a good bit of the herd down that road, where they seem content following the others that did this on their own. 

Still, the mob in front of is too dense to wade into with mere trucks and SUVs. I look towards Scuzz’s people. Most of them have exhausted their fireworks supply, but two groups of men on either side are loading rockets into those fat tubes you see at professional fireworks displays. This is tricky work, because these things are not designed to lie on their sides. One man props up the end of his tube with his boot. Another lights the fuse and runs away while the other man checks his foot for the angle before covering his face with his hands.

At fireworks shows in the old days you’d hear a low boom when these things launched. With the mortars to either side of us, it sounds like cannons going off. I’ve never been so grateful for these noise canceling headsets. 

Even the dead step back at the sound, causing some to fall down, others to fall with them. The rockets ricocheting off their chest and legs, scorching them black with the white-hot wash, don’t help their balance. Blue-gray smoke rises about the herd.

Then the bombs burst in air—all of four feet up, and smack in the middle of the seething mass. Sizzling white spikes of fire fan high and wide before raining flesh-charring hell upon random scalps and shoulders below. The masses might charge forward to do us the favor of murdering us before eating us, but the afflicted can think of nothing but their pain. They slam into their fellows, knocking them down one after another. One gets up and takes an actual swing at a burning dead man’s head with his fist. The burning man falls backward onto another unaffected one, and that one goes howling after the slugger. The chaos of outraged dead has slowed their charge, but for how long? 

The crews on either side are loading and firing more rounds. That awful boiling-garbage stink of smoldering corpses fouls everything as the pained dancing of the inflamed pumps oily smoke into the air. Still, the masses stumble forward, a tide that will surely engulf us if something isn’t done in the next two minutes.

Agnes looks at me. I nod. “Buckle in,” she says, pushing her glasses up. My wife revs the engine. “A.J., baby, put the phone away and hang on. Let’s pray to God I don’t flip this.”

The front end raises and I find myself facing the cracked, stained asphalt of the road as I hang by the mercy of the harness. Mom’s Taxi bolts forward on its rear tires. As we hit the first line of dead I brace for us to flip backwards.

Instead, the front end comes down, and the sound of so many necks snapping at once is like nothing I’ve ever heard before. We bounce before the full weight of the truck crushes their bodies entirely, and then bounce again on their remains. 

The tires spin on the blood-slicked flesh. Once the rubber catches asphalt we’re rolling and bumping over former mothers and fathers, sisters and best friends. I see their faces, black mouths agape, dusty eyes wide open in the sun. They fill the gap behind us, pressing in on all sides, reaching to take us.

Agnes cuts the wheel hard. Many former office mates and ex-fellow commuters are struck by our tire rims. They go flying, knocking over everyone in their path, making them easier to crush beneath our wheels. Agnes points Mom’s Taxi towards the wall of flame she was building on the near side of the intersection with the road leading to Abundant Life HQ. She cuts the wheel hard again, knocking a volunteer soccer coach and assorted parents and siblings into the blazing wall of corpses.

Agnes has to be mindful of making contact with the fire. The clothes and skin are harmless to us as they blacken and crisp, but once the fatty tissue beneath their flesh catches fire, it’s like the stickiest, most corrosive stuff on earth. Even the asphalt in the road is eaten through. Ghouls who step in these simmering remains scream in chillingly human-like pain as the lower parts of their legs dissolve away on contact. For our part, our tires would burst, and we would find ourselves thrown into the sizzling, stinking street among the hungry mob.

“A.J.,” I say, “did you get a number from Col. Dietzen’s text? Can you reply?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Tell him he needs to take the road going west by the clubhouse going out. A herd is coming his way from the north on the road between him and Sisters Keep.”

“Sir.”

I’d be more impressed with her terms of respect if I didn’t know she was scared half to death. I can only imagine how the text is going to look with all this roaring and skidding about.

The cracking and snapping of once-human bones sound like scattered automatic gunfire over crumpling cellophane. Elyssa doesn’t wait for the go-ahead from us. No doubt goaded by Brother Christopher, her SUV rolls and bumps over the crushed bodies. I can only hope a rogue bone shard doesn’t puncture anyone’s tires. Even Scuzz’s bikes have difficulty navigating what amounts to a slick leather carpet with many rips, tears, and soft, gooey spots, with the occasional pointy end of a rib or leg bone sticking out. The stink alone must be blinding. I can hardly stand it where I am.

We’re coming out the other side, though. There are still a few pedestrians staggering about, but they have an even harder time wading through the remains of their fellows towards us. Up ahead, it’s the next best thing to free and clear.

I see bikes turning and speeding away towards the rear of the convoy as the larger vehicles, the SUVs, pickups, and school buses emerge over the ridge to navigate the human wreckage carpeting the road. Agnes stops the truck as we wait for everyone to fall in line. We can see everyone except for the rearmost defense vehicle, the truck with Justin, Rene, and Melinda. 


NEXT EPISODE: “Ride to Live, Kill to Ride”


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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