Zombie Boxed Set #2, the successor to Zombie Boxed Set #1, will be released this year exclusively on Kindle. Zombie Boxed Set #2 will contain two complete and unabridged zombie novels: Sanctuary in Steel and Kill Ratio, books 3 and 4, respectively, in the Chad Halverson zombie apocalypse series by Bryan Cassiday. Two complete books for one low price. I’ll keep you posted when I know the exact date of release.
I’m giving away ten free copies of my zombie apocalypse thriller Kill Ratio on Goodreads. Don’t miss out on your chance to win a free zombie book. Below is the cover of the book the winners will receive.
The Ridge Of Death – Teaser Sample Chapters 1-3
By Thomas M. Malafarina
© 2014 Thomas M. Malafarina and Sunbury Press
The early morning sun was just beginning to peek over the eastern hills, casting its luminescent rays down across the pockmarked asphalt and gravel surface of Rt. 61 just outside of what was once known as the community of Mountain Springs in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. Now, however, the road was in severe disrepair, as were most of the roads in the country, not to mention the world, but everyone understood that no such repairs would be coming any time soon to this particular highway or to many other rural roadways in the foreseeable future. It was simply not cost effective; at least for now for smaller communities; maybe if they were a large city, but that was not the case. Some of the deepest and potentially deadliest potholes had been crudely filled with dirt and stone, likely by armed road workers in a haphazard attempt to keep the highway at least passable. However, despite their best efforts extreme caution always had to be used whenever traveling along such questionable roadways.
An ancient 2013 Toyota Corolla was slowly working its way along the highway; its once beautiful teal green finish was now scarcely recognizable as such because of the numerous attempts at do-it-yourself body repairs which the owner had done over the years just to keep the wreck running. The original shiny teal paint had long since faded to something of a flat looking turquoise color, and its various repairs were easily identified by its random patchwork of colors, which made the vehicle resemble a rolling jigsaw puzzle. The car had rolled off the assembly line in Japan five years before its present driver was even born. That same driver was now thirty-five, and as far as he knew, Japan either might or might not still even exist. The aged vehicle moved cautiously along the highway, its driver zigging and zagging to avoid the numerous craters and other obstructions. He had driven this road many times, and although familiar with most of its obstacles, he was always on the lookout for new ones. Also, because it had been a few weeks since he had last driven on this particular stretch of highway, it was probably a good idea for him to use caution.
This was a fairly straight and relatively flat section of road with fields, woodlands, and the ruins of many abandoned houses on both sides. No one lived in these formerly suburban houses any longer because the properties were located outside of what were considered safe zones. In fact, just traveling these roads whether armed or not could be extremely dangerous; so much so that attempting to such a trip unarmed was not only illegal, but it was just plain stupid. Every citizen knew the rules, and as such, everyone always traveled armed.
In the distance was the base of a mountain where the road climbed steeply upward, winding and twisting its way toward the summit, where it passed by the local reservoir located behind a forest thick with trees. Most of the leaves had changed to their vibrant fall colors a few weeks earlier, and many were beginning to shed their foliage in the chilling autumn air. The reservoir was surrounded by a fifteen foot high electrified fence topped with razor wire to keep the water supply safe. Armed guards patrolled the area round the clock for the same purpose. The reservoir provided water for two different safe zones; the Ashton Cooperative and the Franksville Colony.
The driver of the automobile was alert, always on the lookout for trouble as he and everyone else in what was left of the civilized world knew they had to be. The focus of the driver’s attention was not just the perils brought on by the questionable roadway, but also the other dangers which quite possibly lurked beyond the highway, in the nearby woods. He was happy to see the leaves fall from the branches, rendering them bare, as this also provided additional visibility into the woods along the sides of the highway. Such an increased line of sight was always welcome.
He understood no one could ever be too careful when driving alone in this brave new world. Something as simple as an automotive breakdown or flat tire could easily prove fatal. There was no guarantee the limited number of government highway police would happen by in time to assist if trouble should arise. This recollection caused him to rest his hand on the 45 caliber pistol located on the passenger’s seat next to him. The driver of the vehicle didn’t consider himself a daring man by any means; but neither was he anyone’s fool.
Jackson Ridge earned his living as a freelance writer and occasional investigative journalist and often worked with several area newspapers as well as other news services located within a commutable distance of his home in the nearby Ashton Cooperative. Most of the time, Jackson found he was able to work from his home office. This allowed him to keep the number of required road trips to a minimum; a good idea for obvious safety concerns.
Jackson could best be described as an average man in almost every sense of the word, and if asked, he would likely agree. He was of average height and build, and had light brown hair and glasses, which gave only a limited amount of character to a slightly pale complexion with no other noticeable facial features. He looked about as nondescript as one could imagine. Likewise, his personality was equally run-of-the-mill.
He did, however, have a good sense of humor, and although he appreciated light-hearted conversation, he seldom if ever told a joke himself. Jackson was not comfortable being the main focus of any conversation and tended to stay in the background in group situations; observing others. If necessary, he could rise to the occasion and participate in discussions but was far more comfortable listening as opposed to speaking. If he had anything to say, he preferred to do it through his writing. His profession brought Jackson many different acquaintances but very few close friends.
Although his chosen profession was journalism, which occasionally resulted in his involvement in controversial issues, Jackson avoided publicity and conflict whenever possible. He had not always been that way, however. Years earlier, he was quite ambitious and had dreams of fame and fortune; but then everything changed, not only for Jackson, but for the world. Now with a wife and daughter, Jackson Ridge had settled down quite a bit, spending most of his time dealing with the business of surviving and taking care of his family. He now thought of himself less as a reporter and more as a writer. Jackson loved writing but often had trouble dealing with the hassles some of his stories brought with them.
Although some might consider Jackson’s normality to be a negative trait, for an investigative reporter, it often proved to be a benefit whenever he was wearing that particular hat. He could go almost anywhere virtually unnoticed and could easily blend in with any crowd, gather whatever information he was looking for, and then slip stealthily away with no one being any wiser. Jackson was a good watcher and an even better listener. Those two traits combined with his ability to blend in was what made him so good at his job.
As a journalist, occasionally one of Jackson’s stories would be deemed noteworthy enough that he was able to sell it to one of the remaining national publications or syndicated wire service. On these rare occasions he could score a small bonus, but most of the time, Jackson’s bread and butter came from working with local news outlets. This is not to suggest the money he got for his work with such businesses was all that profitable, but at least it managed to provide something resembling a steady income.
Sadly, many of the better paying opportunities were becoming few and far between. Jackson was very fortunate, however, that his wife Andrea, a registered nurse, still had a lucrative and much in demand profession, which provided a comfortable income as well as a decent medical plan. This was quite unusual, since such benefits were a rare commodity. His wife often found she had more work available to her than she could ever expect to have enough time to handle. It seemed to be that way for anyone working in the medical, law enforcement, and military professions. Her substantial income helped to make up for those times when Jackson could find little work or work that didn’t pay as well as they would have liked. Andrea didn’t mind being the primary bread winner and Jackson had no trouble with it either. Such former social stigmas were all but gone now that so much had changed with the world.
The highest paying jobs for Jackson usually came whenever a writer at one of the local newspapers took sick, went on an extended vacation, was fired, or else moved on to that great editorial desk in the sky. Whenever something such as that happened, he would get a call from one of the several temp agencies he used, asking him to fill in for a few weeks, or if he were really lucky, for several months. The work was often tedious, consisting of such mundane tasks as writing obituaries, covering town meetings, and doing the occasional human interest piece; but as he was always fond of saying, money was money. Every so often he would get an opportunity to work on a real story; an investigative piece. Regardless of the assignment, Jackson was always grateful for whatever writing work came his way.
As he drove, Jackson reached down and found his sunglasses, which he slipped onto his face because the morning sun was now high enough to blind him as he crested the top of the mountain. He traveled down the long sloping hill on the opposite side and entered the Franksville Colony. His final destination was the Yuengsville Free Zone office of the Schuylkill Daily News.
Early the previous evening, Jackson had received a call from a temp service with which he often worked. The recruiter told him one of the newspaper’s regular staff writers had fallen and broken his leg or some such thing. From what he could determine, the writer would be out of commission for at least six weeks, and because it was an emergency assignment; a last minute sort of thing, they would be willing to pay an additional premium on top of Jackson’s normal hourly rate.
One of the things Jackson loved best about temporary work versus direct employment, besides the higher hourly rate, was the fact that he could for the most part; set his own schedule; coming and going as it suited him. Also, once he had built a good working relationship with a client, he was often permitted work from home on certain projects. Traveling the twenty miles one way along the hills of Schuylkill County on a daily basis would put quite the strain on his decrepit old car, not to mention his having to deal with the dangers involved with such a daily trek. Jackson accepted the assignment, however, because he hated to turn down good money. He had worked for “The Skook,” as it was locally known, on many previous occasions and assumed the editor would be agreeable with allowing him to do most of his work offsite as he had done on previously occasions.
Jackson passed through the Franksville Colony without incident after making it past the various checkpoints, all of which were manned by heavily armed guards. Then as he headed south down the winding, one-way hill from Franksville to the former village of Saint Clara, the sun had moved off to his left and his view of the road was much clearer. He was not at all surprised at the lack of traffic; there were few if any cars on the roads these days, especially early in the morning or late at night. If people could avoid driving anytime, they did. Although life within the cities was fairly normal, conditions outside of the cities had not improved enough yet; although everyday they seemed to be getting just a little bit better.
Truckers, for example could often been seen driving their large rigs between cities. With their speed, size, and weight, there was little they had to fear. Also, because of the perils of road travel, truckers were often known to be some of the toughest and most well-armed workers around.
Rounding one of the sharper turns, Jackson saw something along the right side of the road at the base of a hillside. It appeared to be a large mass of barely recognizable remains of some sort. There were several turkey buzzards tearing hungrily at the tattered flesh of the disgusting mess. The hideous birds scattered as his car approached, their massive wings opening to a span of over five feet. “Could be a deer.” he thought at first, then as the car got closer, Jackson saw a tiny orange flag mounted on a flexible metal rod sticking out of the top of the indistinguishable pile. Then he noticed a few remnants of clothing and knew exactly what he was seeing.
“Damn!” Jackson swore with frustration, “I could have really used the extra hundred bucks. If only I had gotten here a little earlier.” Then looking at the amount of destruction which had been done to the thing he wondered what could have possibly struck it with enough force to cause so much damage. He decided it must have been an eighteen-wheel tractor-trailer rig or something equally as large. He did occasionally see them from time to time in his travels. “Those truckers are driving money-making machines” Jackson thought with additional frustration. “If I were to hit one of those things with this antique piece of crap I’d probably total my car and end up dead myself as well.”
A few hundred feet later when Jackson was about to increase his speed, he noticed a road sign. He hadn’t driven this highway for a few weeks and the sign must have only recently been put in place. He noticed fresh overturned dirt at the base of the sign pole confirming his assumption. That, combined with the gory pile of mangled highway meat he had just seen by the side of the road made it all too clear.
The sign was a typical diamond-shaped reflective yellow insignia, with a black border paralleling the outside edge. It was similar to those signs used in days gone by to depict deer crossings or in school zones for student pedestrian traffic, but instead of depicting the silhouette of a jumping deer or shadow of a walking child, this sign had a much more ominous symbol. The illustration depicted the black silhouette of something resembling an undead creature. Above the image was the word “Zombie,” and below the image the word “X-ING”. Just below the triangular sign was a small rectangular white sign, which read “Reduce Speed 35 MPH”.
“Wonderful.” Jackson said sarcastically at the reduced speed zone. Then realizing what the presence of the sign might potentially mean to him in terms of money Jackson changed his opinion. “Wait a minute. I might be able to score myself a Benjamin or two today after all.”
He looked in his rearview mirror to make sure no one was behind him. He was fairly certain the road would be clear, as he had seen almost no other cars or trucks on the road that morning. Jackson immediately slowed his car down to a bit less than the required speed limit. He didn’t do this so much out of respect for the law as for his own safety and hopefully financial gain. Then he couldn’t believe his luck when he saw exactly what he was hoping to see about one hundred yards ahead, at the place where the highway entered a straight stretch. It was crawling up awkwardly from the wooded area on the left side of the road. “Bingo!” Jackson yelled happily, and then added “Ca-ching!”
This portion of Rt. 61 was a divided highway, and both sides were one way roads. Jackson was traveling in the southbound lane and down over the hill on the other side of the wooded area was the northbound lane. The creature must have somehow successfully crossed the lower stretch of highway, then gone through the woods and now was making its way onto Jackson’s road.
As it reached the edge of the highway, the creature stood upright and Jackson was shocked to see the size of the thing. It was most certainly a big one, perhaps six feet seven inches tall and about two hundred and seventy pounds of once well developed muscle. Now, however, most of that muscle had begun to decay along with the rest of its grey rotting flesh. The creature wore only a pair of shredded blue jeans, no shoes, and barely enough tattered material to recognize its flannel shirt for what it had once been. Jackson noticed its right arm was hanging uselessly limp with a long gash running along its length, exposing the glistening pinkish-brown musculature beneath.
“A buck!” Jackson said using the slang term for a male of the species. “And a huge monster at that.”
Although Jackson liked the idea of the extra money, the truth was, he hated dealing with the horrible things. He also knew he had no choice. It was every citizen’s duty upon seeing one to take it down. Failure to do so could result in imprisonment. If, for example, he chose to ride on and someone witnessed his leaving and reported him, he would likely be severely fined. If the creature went on to hurt or kill someone else than Jackson could be looking at some extremely serious jail time, up to life in prison.
The beast stood by the side of the road, looking around; as if it had no particular purpose, which seemed to be typical of all of these creatures. However, Jackson knew each of them did have one specific agenda, and it was the same agenda; to satisfy an uncontrollable lust for human flesh. This didn’t overly concern him since he had been dealing with these former members of the human race for many years, as had anyone who could still count themselves among the living.
“This one shouldn’t be too tough to handle.” Jackson thought as he pulled his car to a stop directly across the highway from the hulking beast. “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” Never taking his eyes off the creature, Jackson reached over onto the passenger seat and retrieved his 45 caliber hand gun. He eased the driver’s side window down as the huge, grotesque monstrosity began to lumber slowly out onto the highway heading in his direction with its one good arm outstretched.
“Oh man! That’s so weird! It looks just like that road sign back there.” Jackson thought to himself. Then he saw the creature’s dead-filmed eyes staring directly him with a look of unrestrained hunger he recognized far too well.
The thing opened its ghastly mouth and uttered a deep guttural groan, the same unearthly sound they all seemed to make. A thin stream of blackish drool trickled down the beast’s chin and Jackson saw several yellowish-white maggots falling from the creature’s lips. Most of its remaining teeth were black and broken, inadvertently creating a set of deadly jagged-edged tools, which unfortunately appeared as if they would be far too effective at ripping flesh from bone.
Jackson calmly extended his arm out of the window to prevent the deafening roar his gun would surely have made if fired from inside the confines of the car, and without hesitation, he fired once. The bullet tore past the left side of the creature’s head, ripping off the top of its left ear and leaving in its wake a smoldering groove in the side of its cheek and hairline. The thing stopped for a moment as if confused, and then it slowly shook off the sensation as a living human might shake off the feeling of being brushed by a fly. A moment later it continued its advance toward Jackson’s car.
He tried again and the bullet struck the lumbering creature in the left shoulder. Jackson saw a spray of blood and flesh shoot from beast, as an exit wound hole the size of a baseball blew out from its back. The impact of the round caused the thing to stumble back a few steps and almost lose its balance, but it soon shook off that hit as well and was once again it was back on track, heading straight for Jackson.
Not wasting another second, Jackson took aim trying to keep his now trembling hand steady. He realized if this round missed he was going to have to hit the gas and speed away before the creature got to him. Fine or no fine, Jackson was not going to risk allowing that thing to get any closer. Luckily, when Jackson pulled the trigger this last time the bullet found its mark, entering the horrid thing’s head via its left eye, passing through its rotting brain and exploding out the back of its skull in a shower of gore. The force of the blast knocked the beast backward. This time it did lose its balance as its single working arm pin wheeled uncontrollably, as if it were trying to keep itself upright; but it was far too late for that. Then the monster collapsed in a convenient heap onto the side of the road.
“Thank goodness.” Jackson thought to himself, seeing where and how it had fallen, “He was a big ‘un! And wow! I thought he had me there for a minute. But even though I nailed him, the last thing I needed to do this morning was to have to haul that stinking buck’s carcass off the highway.” And that was exactly what Jackson would have been required to do. Not only was that the law, but it was the only way he could be guaranteed to receive his money. Jackson reached into his car’s glove box, rooted around a bit and pulled out a metal rod about eight inches long with a sharp spike on one end, a flexible spring in the center, and a fluorescent orange flag emblazoned with a digital code; Jackson’s own unique citizen’s identification code.
Jackson stepped out onto the roadway with his gun still at the ready. He looked around to make sure there were no other such creatures lurking about, and then cautiously approached the fallen beast. Most of its face and skull had been annihilated. For a moment he thought he saw the thing move slightly and considered blowing off the rest of it head. Instead he kicked it hard several times to see if there was any sign of movement. There was none. It would never rise up again. Covering his mouth and nose to avoid the ungodly stench surrounding the wretched thing, Jackson reached down and sunk the spear end of the rod deep into its shoulder, which was now the highest point on the thing’s body, making the flag as visible as possible.
As the point of the spear sunk deep into the rotting flesh with a sickening sound, Jackson pulled away quickly and was hit by an involuntary shudder which started at the top of his head and rapidly shot right through his body to the tips of his toes. He stood there on the side of the road slightly bent over with his both hands extended, palms down barely able to hold onto his gun, knees bent and legs trembling. “Oh my God! I hate these freaking dead things,” Jackson said with a shudder in his voice. He was so glad he was alone and no one had witnessed his ridiculous involuntary reaction.
Unfortunately, this was something that had to be done in accordance with government mandated regulations. He looked over and saw he was a few feet from mile marker 25.4. Taking a deep breath to regain his composure, Jackson withdrew his communications unit, or CU, as they were commonly called, and snapped a photo of the creature with his flag and digital code clearly displayed. He also made sure to get the mile marker sign in the photo for reference.
Walking cautiously back to his car, ever vigilant for not just other such creatures but also for possible approaching cars, rare as they may be, Jackson climbed behind the driver’s seat, started his engine, and closed all of his windows. Holding his CU, Jackson selected the required communication number from his list and after hearing the digital preprogrammed greeting, he left his message, “This is Jackson Ridge, citizen number 132-78-5498. I’d like to report a dead kill on the southbound lanes of Route 61 at mile marker 25.4. I have placed my digital code identification tag into the remains in accordance with regulation DK5479-38. I’m sending a digital image as confirmation of the dead kill. Please forward payment to my account on record. And do not hesitate to call me if you have any additional questions. Thank you.”
Then he disconnected, put his car in gear, and continued down the highway to his new writing assignment. One hundred dollars would be transferred into his bank account before the day was over. Jackson was starting to think it was going to be a good day after all. Little did he know the unexpected turn fate would soon have in store for him.
Thunk… Thunk… Thunk. Young Sarah Stanton awoke in darkness. She was disoriented, confused, having no idea where she might be. She could hear a steady, rhythmic “thunking” sound, like that of a leaky faucet dripping water one droplet at a time into a deep metal sink, creating an echoing reverberation all around her. In her confused state, the noise seemed to fade in and out. One moment it seemed faint; barely noticeable. Then a moment later it seemed so loud that it hurt her ears. She knew something was very wrong with her to cause this strange distortion of her senses.
She felt a damp, icy chill, as if some weird mist had settled on the surface of her skin. She was no longer wearing her jacket; she could tell. Sarah smelled an unpleasant odor that was rank, moist, and fetid. She was having a great deal of trouble focusing on her surroundings. It was as if she were coming out of a dream; or perhaps she actually was still in the midst of a dream. She tried desperately to concentrate, wanting to remember what might have happened to her; what she might have done to cause her to end up in such strange circumstances. Her mind was a jumble and everything around her seemed so unnatural.
The last thing she could recall was leaving the Yuengsville library and preparing for the short walk home. Sarah loved the library. It had only reopened about two years earlier after having been closed for almost eight years because of what had happened, but ever since the library was back in operation, Sarah used every opportunity she had to go there. She especially enjoyed reading about how things used to be; how the world was during the time before.
The area surrounding the library; in fact, the entire city, was considered a safe zone. People had the confidence to move around freely with virtually no concerns about any of “them” lurking nearby. The city was surrounded by massive security barriers, and the only access in and out was via one of the heavily fortified and well-guarded checkpoints located at several spots where major highways converged on the city. There was talk among residents that within a few years, maybe ten or less if things continued the way they had been going, it might actually be possible for the barriers to be taken down, but for the present and immediate future they would remain in place.
Most of thirteen year old Sarah’s young life, as least that portion which she could still remember with clarity, had been spent behind these walls. She thought she could still recall fragments of memories of the time before, but those moments seemed like a lifetime ago, and in many ways they were. These snippets of recollections were like short, choppy scenes from a movie, one which she couldn’t quite recall; perhaps a movie more about someone else’s life than her own. She wasn’t sure even if these small memories were actually real, since she had only been three years old. Perhaps they were just fantasies brought on by the many historical accounts she had read at the library.
Regarding what she could recall about what had happened to her when she left the library, Sarah remembered it had been just before dinnertime but was already getting dark as it often did in late October. She could recall how the street in front of the library had not been very busy, and for some unknown reason, that particular fact had seemed to disturb her. She attributed the strange feeling to the early darkness. Everything seemed to not be quite right with the world when the days got noticeably shorter. Sarah found this thought somewhat ironic, since things had not been right with the world for almost as long as she could remember. However, during late October, Sarah always felt like the clouds seemed thicker and darker, the moon appeared more effervescent, and the air was filled with a crisp chill that she often imagined might be colder than a grave. Sarah began to shiver more from that particular thought.
As the fogginess began to leave her, Sarah was able to think back to the last thing she could recall. She remembered how she had rounded a corner at the end of the block down from the library and before she realized what was happening, she had felt someone grab her from behind and put something over her nose and mouth. Just before everything blurred and finally went black, she remembered feeling herself being tossed roughly onto the hard metal floor of a van or utility truck of some sort. Then she saw the vehicle’s door close. That was the last thing she could recall before the darkness had engulfed her.
Sarah had forgotten that “they” were not the only ones she had to worry about. The walls of the city did a good job of keeping them at bay, but danger came in many different forms nowadays. She had apparently let her guard down for just a moment, and now she knew she was in real trouble. Trying desperately to focus in on her surroundings; Sarah felt as if she were seated in a large wooden chair of some sort. When she tried to move her hands and feet, she was unable to do so, realizing she was bound tightly to the chair. She was fairly sure her shoes had been removed along with her jacket because her toes were cold, as were her arms. She had worn a pair of jeans and a sleeveless shirt to school. Her mother had given her a hard time about the weather being too chilly to dress so lightly. Now she wished she had worn a sweater because it would have helped in this cold place for sure. She tried to shake the chair vigorously in an attempt to get free, but it wouldn’t budge even a fraction of an inch. The solid feel of the thing made her understand the chair was either extremely heavy or else it had somehow been secured to the floor.
Squinting her eyes, trying to focus in the darkness, she felt something wrinkling over her eye lids. “A blindfold.” She thought. Then she began to panic, wondering for a second, if she had been gagged as well. She couldn’t feel anything in or around her mouth, and as such, Sarah breathed a deep sigh of relief. One of her biggest fears in life was to have her mouth restricted. Sarah had been plagued with sinus issues and asthma all of her young life, and as a result she had become a mouth breather. She always feared if she were ever gagged she would have a panic attack, and no matter how unlikely, she was certain her young heart might explode in her chest from fright. Or else the terror of such an experience might simply drive her insane. Just the thought of it made her need to take another deep, cleansing breath to assure herself she could breath and to help keep the rising panic at bay. She could practically taste the dank, mildewed air of the room. She knew being in such a moist place for very long would eventually cause her problems because of her allergies to molds and such, but for the moment she seemed to be all right.
“Kidnapped.” She realized with terror. “Someone has kidnapped me.” For some reason she could not begin to comprehend, someone had taken her from the pavement near the library and brought her to this damp, foul-smelling place. “Basement! She thought, “It smells like a cellar or basement.” She wondered why she had been kidnapped and who might have wanted to take her. She was no one special, and her parents most certainly were not rich. Bad guys only kidnapped the children of rich people didn’t they? If whoever had taken her expected to collect a ransom, he was in for a major disappointment, as he would never get much money from her folks, no matter how much they would be willing to pay to get her back. Obviously this all must be some sort of unfortunate misunderstanding. Perhaps the kidnappers had mixed her up with someone else; likely some rich girl.
She knew despite everything that had happened in the world, there were still some people with wealth in the area, people who had power and influence. Her Uncle Frank, the mayor of Yuengsville was one such person, but he was her mother’s brother, and since his last name was McKinney and hers was Stanton, she doubted that anyone even knew they were related. It was more likely if a kidnapper was hoping to extort money from her Uncle Frank he would have been inclined to go after one of her cousins; the mayor’s own children, rather than a virtually unknown niece.
“Hello?” She asked into the darkness. “Is anyone there?” Then she suddenly realized how foolish it was for her to do such a thing. If someone was in the room with her, he would be watching her and would not be someone she would want to speak to anyway since he would most likely be the kidnapper. Yet she still needed to find out what was going on and why she had been taken. Sarah thought about screaming for help but realized it would probably be useless. If her kidnapper hadn’t bothered to gag her, then he was likely not worried about anyone hearing her scream. Also, if she did scream, would he then decide to gag her after all? That was the last thing she wanted to happen. Then she realized with terror that as bad as she could imagine gagging her might be, it was not the worst thing someone might do to her. She was aware that she was a very pretty teenage girl, and she knew what bad men sometime did to girls like her, but she couldn’t allow herself to think about such things or else she certainly would be thrown into a panic.
“Hello Sarah” a strange, soft male voice said from somewhere in the room. Sarah couldn’t determine exactly from which direction the voice came, as the words seemed to echo and bounce from wall to wall. “I hope you find your accommodations acceptable.” The voice sounded almost gentle and kind, but there was something else lurking just below the surface of that smooth voice; something very, very wrong and something evil. She heard the slow patting of footsteps coming toward her.
“He knows my name!” Sarah thought with sudden terror. Because now she realized this abduction was no mistake; she had actually been the intended target of the kidnapping. But why her? Why would anyone want to take her?
Then she felt strange cold fingers gently stroking the side of her face, then gently creeping down the white flesh of her arm which was suddenly covered with goose bumps. She cringed with discomfort as a new chill shot through her body at the stranger’s icy touch. She pulled away in disgust as far as her restraints would permit.
“Oh there, there my lovely little sweet pea.” The voice said with a strange and eerie calm. There seemed to be an odd accent to his voice like someone from a farm area or maybe someone from the south. She had watched many movies from the time before at the library, so Sarah knew what a good number of different accents sounded like. He was standing close to her now. She could smell something, perhaps his aftershave or cologne. It smelled cheap and too strong. “There’s no need for you to be afraid of me, honey. I promise I won’t hurt you. You see, you’re way too valuable to me. But I should mention that as long as you do exactly I tell you to do and don’t go making no fuss, you won’t get hurt. ‘Cause if you do… well, let’s not go talking about that right now. You see, I care very much about you, sweet Sarah. And I promise you in time… well, I’m sure you’ll grow to appreciate all the good things I can do for you. You just wait and see. After all, you’re going to be part of my little old family for a very, very long time”. Sarah heard the sound of a chair or stool scraping along the cement basement floor as the man took a seat somewhere off to her left.
Sarah’s stomach clenched with terror. Had she heard the man correctly? What was it he just said? Had he really said she would be with him a very long time? How could that possibly be? Could he really expect her to remain an unwilling prisoner for days, weeks, years? Surely this man must be crazy. This single thought terrified Sarah to her very soul; most likely because she realized just how accurate the thought was. She was in the clutches of a madman.
“Who… who are you?” The Sarah stammered. “Where are we? Want do you want with me?”
The man’s voice replied, “All in good time my little darling. I promise you, all in good time. For now, don’t you go worrying your pretty little head about that.”
“Please.” Sarah pleaded. “I’m just a kid. I’m only thirteen. Please let me go. My parents aren’t rich. They can’t pay very much. I’m nobody special… please just let me go. I won’t tell anyone, I promise.”
The strange voice chortled with a deep guttural laugh and replied, “But Sarah, my sweet little angel. You simply don’t seem to understand. You’re so very lovely and so very special. Don’t you see? I’m not interested in your parents’ money at all. In fact, I have no intention of asking them for any ransom whatsoever. I didn’t have you brought to me for any dumb old reason like that, my beautiful little girl. I have much, much bigger things in store for you.”
With crippling terror Sarah understood just exactly what that statement meant. This creep was likely a child molester, a pedophile, a pervert, some sort of slimy worm who preyed on young girls. She had heard about such characters. For the first time in her thirteen years, Sarah was sorry she had been born such a pretty girl. It was all well and good when the young boys at school were fawning over her big brown eyes or her long, shiny dark hair, but now she realized her attractiveness was anything but an asset. Now her looks were apparently the reason she had been kidnapped by this sicko.
Sarah heard what sounded like the man standing, once again getting up from his seat. She could hear him walking slowly around her, behind her and off to her right. Her captor said “I think it’s time to get this here show on the road, my little darling. So I’m going to have to say good night for a little bit my baby Sarah.” A moment later she felt a pinch in her right arm, and soon the world around her began to fade to nothingness once again.
“It’s almost time.” The pretty, young blonde hospice nurse indicated in a soft, consoling voice to the weeping middle-aged woman named Francine Moore. Francine’s mother lay unmoving on what was just a few minutes away from becoming the old woman’s death bed. She was barely clinging to what little life remained in her withered, cancer-ravaged body. “You should say your goodbyes now. Then as you know, we’ll have to ask you to leave for just a little while.” Andrea always hated this part of her job. She and many others in her profession could still remember a time when the bereft were permitted to sit by their loved one’s side until the time of the final passing. But that was a long time ago, and things were very, very different now.
“But can’t we just stay with her a little while longer.” Francine pleaded, clinging tightly to the arm of her husband, Tim. “I can’t stand the thought of leaving her all alone.”
“I truly understand your concern Mrs. Moore, but I promise you she won’t be alone. We’ll be with her.” Andrea said, nodding in the direction of her nurse’s aide.
Francine retorted, “Yes, but you two aren’t her family are you? No! You’re just here to…well…to do what you have to do… what you’re paid to do.”
Andrea didn’t have what she felt was an appropriate reply for the woman’s comment, so she said nothing. After all, the woman was right. This was Andrea’s job, her profession, and although she could empathize with Mrs. Moore’s grief as she did with all of her patient’s families, she wasn’t the one whose mother was just minutes from death.
Francine Moore’s husband held his wife closely and tried to comfort her in a gentle voice. “Francine, Honey please. I know how much you hate to leave her, but these laws were put into place to help and protect us. I’m sure you want to remember your mother’s last moments like this, with her resting peacefully. You don’t want to ruin you last memories of her with… with… well, you know.”
“Of course I know Tim!” Francine replied with frustration; her voice trembling “Everyone in the whole world knows what will happen for God’s sake, but that doesn’t make it any damned easier does it now?”
Andrea Ridge attempted to explain with a look of understanding in her sympathetic blue eyes, “Mrs. Moore. I truly do understand your reluctance to leave, but your husband is right. And the truth is I’ve actually allowed you both to say in here longer than I really should have, all things considered.” Then she nodded to Mr. Moore, who looked as though he couldn’t wait to leave the room and understandably so. He turned his wife around and guided her away from the death bed leading her out through the bedroom door, her shoulders shaking and her head down as she wept uncontrollably. Andrea could still hear her muffled cries as her assistant closed and locked the bedroom door.
“Damn girl! You’re cutting this one way too close.” Andrea’s nurse’s aide, Jyleen said, moving quickly and hurrying to secure all of the necessary restraints. Jyleen Wilson was a short and stocky young African-American woman who had been paired up with Andrea for the day. Although not a regular partner and the physical opposite of the taller, slimmer Andrea, Jyleen had worked with her on several previous occasions, and they had gotten to know each other well enough to have built a good working relationship together. As a result, Andrea was always happy when she had an occasion to be paired with outgoing Jyleen.
Andrea replied, “Yeah. I know. You’re absolutely right. I don’t know what’s wrong with me Jy. Lately it seems like I’ve been getting soft or something. I never would have let anyone hang around this long in the past. But I have to focus; to go by the book and do my best to stay on task. Right now this sweet old lady is as helpless as a newborn kitten, but very shortly she’ll be one hell of a force to reckon with.”
“You ain’t kiddin’, sister.” Jyleen replied. “Now hurry up and secure her head before she passes on and turns.”
“Got it.” Andrea replied. This was always the worst part for her. The old woman was technically still alive, although in a deep coma, but Andrea’s experience had taught her that sometimes patients would wake up near the end and would have one brief, final moment of clarity, just before they died. During that momentary time of comprehension, they occasionally would realize they had been restrained. That was never a pleasant experience. Andrea had unfortunately seen it happen several times in cases similar to this one and it was suddenly becoming a very real concern for her with each passing second.
Jyleen said, “I don’t know why they just don’t let us pop her now; one injection of the right stuff and its lights out; permanently. We all know she ain’t never going to get any better anyway.”
Andrea said, “I agree with you, Jy. But unfortunately in the eyes of the law, that would still be considered murder. Once they pass on naturally it’s a completely different situation. So for now, we have to follow the letter of the law.” Andrea smiled at Jyleen and thought about the way the girl loved using street slang on the job and insisted on projecting a no nonsense attitude to everyone she met. She found this appealing because Andrea knew that despite the way the young girl spoke, Jyleen was actually an extremely bright and hardworking young woman who was not only working full-time but soon would be finishing up her nursing degree program, which she had been doing at night. Andrea had nothing but respect for the girl, especially considering the state of the world.
As Andrea tightly secured the leather strap of the cranial device that she had placed over the woman’s head, immobilizing it, the woman suddenly opened her eyes in surprise and said in a weak, barely audible voice. “What… what are you doing? Please… please… don’t hurt me! Where’s my daughter? Where’s Francine?”
“Ah man!” Jyleen exclaimed, “I hate when this happens.” As Andrea had dreaded, the woman had briefly regained consciousness; likely for the last time. Unfortunately, it would change nothing; if anything it would hasten her passing. In Andrea’s experience, when there was this last moment of clarity, the person might be just minutes or even seconds away from crossing over. She doubted the woman truly even understood what was happening to her, but they had to act before she began to scream. If she were allowed her to start screaming, then the daughter Francine would surely try to come into the room through the locked door, thinking some sort of miracle had saved her mother from the grave at the last minute. She would likely stand outside banging on the door screaming, crying and calling for her mother, just causing more confusion, and if that happened then Andrea would have a very unpleasant and potentially dangerous scene to deal with inside. Andrea looked over at Jyleen, who already had the syringe in her hand ready to administer.
“Do it Jy,” Andrea said. Then her aide injected the mild sedative into the woman’s arm and she instantly fell back into blessed, silent unconsciousness. Now it would just be a matter for the two caretakers to finish securing the restraints and then to get ready for the finalization process. There had been nothing in the sedative to speed or assist the woman’s passing; as Andrea said, that would have been forbidden by law, but the drug Jyleen gave her would allow her to peacefully cross over on her own while asleep.
Andrea said, “Good work Jy. Thanks. I was afraid she was going to start bellowing. That was the last thing we needed.” As she fastened the final restraint Andrea said, “There we go. That should do. Now we just wait.”
“Maybe you should put on that mouth guard thing.” Jyleen suggested, looking at the old woman bound in the hospital bed. “You know, just in case when she passes she starts to growl in that horrible way they all do.”
“Yeah. You’re right again.” Andrea agreed. “I hate getting close to their mouths though. I’m always afraid they might come back just as my hands get within biting range. And it’s just our rotten luck that Mrs. Charles here still has most of her teeth.”
Jyleen suggested, “Here’s something new we can try. It’s a gadget the mad scientists back at the lab came up with. We got one of the first prototypes to test out. It connects right to that helmet on both sides like the old-style guard did. Here, I’ll show you.” Jyleen connected one side of the muzzle-like leather mouth guard to her side of the cranial device then passed the muzzle guard over the old woman’s face and let the strap fall onto Andrea’s side. The mouth guard had a shiny, cone-shaped piece of metal attached to it which slid into the sleeping woman’s slack-jawed open mouth. “Now you connect your side.”
Andrea did as Jyleen instructed, and in a moment the guard was secured in place. “What’s that metal piece attached to the mouth guard for?” Andrea asked.
“That’s some new feature they came up with. The brainiaks back at the lab said the metal cone would not only prevent them from working free of the mouth guard like they sometimes did with the old style, but it also gives them something to chew on… besides us.” Then she exhaled an uncomfortable burst of nervous laughter. The old woman gave out a shuddering final breath which both nurses recognized as her death rattle.
Then within a few seconds the woman’s eyes flew wide open once again, but this time there was no trace of intelligence, no sign of life in the filmy orbs. Instead there was just a fury, a seething hatred, and an unbridled hunger. The now dead woman’s body tensed and she tried violently to break free of her bindings in order to attack the two women who were responsible for her entrapment, but she was secured tightly and as such could barely move at all.
As the undead woman thrashed and struggled with strength she had never possessed in life, Andrea took out her stethoscope and placed it on the woman’s exposed chest. “No heartbeat. She’s gone Jy.” The old woman’s filmy eyes bugged out of her skull so much so that Andrea feared the might pop right out of her head. She let out deep growling breaths which already had become rancid with a stomach turning stench.
The formerly dying woman, who was now a living dead creature with a craving for human flesh, chomped down savagely on the steel bit inside her mouth, trying to gnaw her way free. Andrea could hear her aged and fragile teeth shattering under the pressure of the steel cone. The awful sound sent a chill down her spine. It was a sound she would never forget and one she hoped to never hear again. Blood trickled from the corners of the woman’s mouth. Andrea was thankful the woman’s heart had stopped beating and her blood was no longer pumping through her body or else she might have a real gory mess on her hands. She looked over at Jyleen who was likewise cringing with revulsion from the unbearably horrible cracking sounds. Andrea could only hope Francine was not able to hear the commotion from the other room. They certainly didn’t need her out there banging on the door.
“Good Lord save us.” Jyleen said. “That was the worst damned thing I ever heard in my entire life. I think the brainiaks screwed the pooch big time on this one.”
“Oh man.” Andrea replied, equally disgusted. “I don’t know what those guys were thinking. I’m going to have to write this up in my report for sure.”
Jyleen said, “Maybe they should’a use something like leather or rubber. That might be a better idea.”
“I think you’re right on the money Jy. I’ll be sure to add your suggestion to my report as well.” Andrea said.
“Thanks. We can only hope they listen to you more than they ever listen to me.” Jyleen replied, “Sweet Jesus! That’s a horrible sound.”
They both took a moment to regain their composure then Andrea said “Well, I guess it’s time for us to wrap this up. Ok? Ready? Count of three, right? You do your side and I’ll do mine.”
With that, both Jyleen and Andrea took positions near their respective sides of the bed, right next to the cranial device. The old woman continued to struggle against her restraints. There were two buttons located on each side of the head piece along the forehead strap, one red and one blue in each set. The red button was to arm and the blue was to disarm the device. The buttons utilized software which was designed to provide a psychological means to help relieve some of the stress associated with what the hospice nurses were required to do next.
One of the red buttons was useless and did nothing. The other one did what needed to be done. Like a firing squad with one rifle containing blank bullets, this safeguard allowed the hospice nurse to rationalize that it was not her button which fired but her partner’s and therefore she would carry out her work with a clean conscience. The active/inactive state of the buttons was randomly decided by a computer and was randomized each time the headset was activated.
They both placed their fingers near the red buttons and Jyleen counted “One… two…” and on “three” they both pressed their respective buttons. There was a second or two delay, as the sensors checked to assure both buttons had been pressed. If one of the nurses had chosen not to press the red button or accidently pressed the blue button nothing happened. Both red buttons had to be pressed simultaneously in order for the process to continue.
Suddenly, with the sound like that of locks releasing, several areas around the cranial helmet sprang to life, two located at the ears, one at the base of the skull near the spine and one at the forehead. Next there followed the sickening squishing sound of the razor sharp needles as they pierced deep into the creature’s skull, penetrating its grey matter. A specially designed mixture of poisonous acidic chemicals was simultaneously injected into the creature’s brain to further assure the thing was properly destroyed.
After a moment of brief residual thrashing, the horrible creature which had once been Mrs. Mable Charles, mother of Francine Charles Moore, mother-in-law of Timothy Moore, widow of Edmund Charles and most recently a flesh-craving undead horror, ceased movement forever. Then, just as they had done with the red buttons the nurses simultaneously pressed the blue buttons causing the needles retracted back into their ready stations, pulling free from the woman’s flesh with a final revolting sucking sound.
With haste, Andrea and Jyleen disassembled the restraints and packed everything neatly away in their appropriate cases and out of view of the family. Andrea wiped a slight trickle of blood from the dead woman’s forehead, revealing the almost invisible pinhole; left over from the brain piercing device. She also cleaned up the other tiny wounds as well as the blood-smeared lips. She reached into her medical bag and withdrew a container of flesh-tone makeup. Andrea kept bottles of various hues for the many different races and skin tones she encountered in her work. She gingerly filled in the tiny hole, being sure to smooth out the excess, completely masking the wound.
“Ok Jy.” Andrea said when her work was completed, “Let’s bring her folks back in. They can have one last look at her before we have the squad come and take the body away.” And with that, Jyleen unlocked the door and walked out returning a few moments later with the grieving couple behind her. As was always the case at times like this; Andrea found herself distressed over how much things had changed, not only in her profession but in virtually every aspect of everyone’s lives during the past decade. With that bit of realization, she exhaled a melancholy sigh.
* * * * *
The stench of rotting flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour 2014, with 33 of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of June.
Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser… and pick up some great swag as well! Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them! #SummerZombie
AND so you don’t miss any of the posts in June, here’s the complete list, updated daily:
Bryan autographed books yesterday, Sunday, April 14, in the Horror Writers Association booth at the Los Angeles Times Book Fair at the University of Southern California. Plenty of festival guests visited the booth and snagged copies of their favorite scary books. Of particular interest to the guests was Bryan’s first zombie book Zombie Maelstrom, which is book 1 in his Chad Halverson zombie apocalypse series.
Win a free copy of Kill Ratio, a zombie apocalypse thriller by Bryan Cassiday, at Goodreads.
Here’s the ubercool shocking new cover for the Kindle version of Kill Ratio, Chad Halverson zombie apocalypse #4. You saw this cover here first. Designed by Danielle Tunstall, it will soon be available on Amazon. Keep checking.
Only two more weeks till Poxland! Bryan Cassiday’s fifth entry in the Chad Halverson zombie apocalypse series will be released on November 26. If you can’t wait that long, Poxland is available for preorder now at Amazon.