Or perhaps it's really in the middle. I guess that depends on how long it lasts. But either way, it's here, and it's not going anywhere quickly.
Okay, so it's not really the apocalypse in this reality, but in my new book, What Remains: Untainted, it's definitely on. But I guess that's why it's part of the New Reality line at Resplendence Publishing. Stories that look at life here on Earth after some kind of decimating incidence has occurred. For me, there's only one apocalypse—zombies!
To be fair, I'm not fond of the Z word. Zombies makes me think of really cheesy Hollywood movies from the 60's. That was until a few movies set a standard. I think of all the 'older' films, Shawn of the Dead is my favourite…that scene in the bar with the dart. My son and I watched it over and over. What a great take on the genre.
Of course some new variations are out there—28 weeks being one of the creepiest. Mostly because I'm not sure many of us would have a chance. Have you seen how fast those bastards run? Crazy. I also thoroughly enjoyed all the Resident Evil movies…what's not to love about Alice. But of course, the new benchmark has to be Walking Dead.
Now I'm a hardcore Walking Dead fan. Yes, I screamed in vain when they justified taking their only doctor zombie hunting (and with Lorie ready to calf? Seriously?). And I suffered through many a bad plot issue. But all in all, it's an addicting show that you can't help getting caught up in. Thus, when I had an opportunity to write my own Zombie Apocalypse, I knew I couldn't pass it up.
Now my reality is a bit different. The root cause is definitely an infection you have to 'acquire'. Simply dying isn't going to change you. But the extent of the infection—that's where it'll get interesting. I just touch a bit on it in the first book, and plan to slowly evolve the scenario over time. So look for more information on the science behind the zombies in the second. Because for our crew of four, merely surviving is hard enough this go 'round. That's if they can remain, untainted…
The apocalypse has passed. The dead have risen. But what remains…
Colby, Darcy and Barrett are hardened soldiers with a new war. A deadly disease has decimated the human population, reducing it to small pockets of survivors who fight daily again the raging hordes of undead plaguing the planet. The three men are part of a recon mission, scouting locations where humans have been reported still alive amidst the dead. But after ten months of searching, they're ready to give up.
Abby Brennigan has been surviving on her own for half a year, hiding out in an old abandoned control tower. She hasn't seen anything remotely alive in what feels like forever, until the three men stumble upon her hideout, and into her heart. She'd promised herself she wouldn't get close again…wouldn't put herself through the torture of watching another person she cared about slowly fade until they turn into a monster straight off the pages of a horror novel.
But the boys aren't taking no for an answer and as they face one test after another, the big question is—how long can they all remain untainted.
Colby swore under his breath as he swung his sub-machine gun across his back and started up the ladder, checking behind him as he crested the first balcony. The zombies still clamored at the fence, the noise from the ladder gaining their attention so that they renewed their efforts to get inside. He pulled up the ladder, then grabbed hold of the rails and took the twisting steps two at a time. The rusty metal clanked beneath his feet, sending out a steady beat of his progress. He shook his head, covering the three flights quickly before stopping at the last level. The edge of the roof hovered several feet above him, while a door graced the side of the building. He took a deep breath and pulled at the handle, swearing loudly when it didn’t budge. If someone had ventured up the fire escape, he had no idea how they’d managed to get through the door, unless they’d never climbed the ladder to begin with.
He pounded his fist against the wall in frustration. He should have broken down the damn door with his fists and gotten to her before she’d had a chance to disappear. Now, they were stuck chasing shadows. He released a weary breath. Too many dead. That was the problem. In the ten months they’d been doing recon missions, they’d never found survivors who weren’t infected and nothing but dead in the past four months. Darcy was right. They’d lost hope. Seeing the woman…it was like something out of a fantasy movie. Hell, he still wasn’t convinced he and the lads hadn’t simply imagined the entire incident. Perhaps, they’d actually been killed and this was Hell.
The thought sobered him, and he glanced up, calculating the distance as he climbed onto the rail, praying he didn’t fall to his death. He reached out his arms, moving them to maintain his balance before launching his body upward, grunting as his hands closed around the lip of the brick. He kicked at the rough stone, using the uneven surface for traction as he slowly pulled his body over the edge until he could swing one leg up to straddle the wall. His breath puffed in small clouds about his face as he worked to get the rest of his body over the barrier, finally swinging his feet onto the asphalt surface. He paused to catch his breath when a gun cocked off to his right.
“You so much as twitch, and I’ll put a bullet through that thick skull of yours. Now, I suggest you keep your hands where I can see them and turn around real slow.”
He tried not to laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Here they were, surrounded by zombies, stuck on a rooftop, and the woman was worried what he might do to her. Just his luck he’d probably stumbled upon the one person left alive who wasn’t looking to get saved.
Colby turned, his gaze clashing with a set of green eyes. They stared back at him, fear flashing in and out of the bright orbs as she shifted restlessly on her feet. But it was the intelligence in her expression that held his attention. A look he hadn’t seen outside of the compound in nearly a year.
She nodded at him, her hands white-knuckled around the gun. “I’ve never seen one of the Gray climb a ladder…not like that. Sometimes they get over the fences, but never a ladder. Not enough coordination, I think. So that leaves only a few possibilities. Either you’re not your typical Gray, only infected or…”
Her voice trailed off, as if speaking the alternative might somehow change the outcome. She tilted her head, scanning the length of his body as she held the rifle against her shoulder. It was impressive, though not the gun he would have chosen for fighting his way through hordes of undead. The M16 was a good long-range weapon, but didn’t have the versatility he liked for close combat. His gaze dropped to her waist, drawing a smile. Twin Berettas graced her hips, the handles within easy reach. The girl was well equipped, he’d give her that much.
Colby motioned to the horde. “I’m not one of them. What did you call them? The Gray?”
She twisted slightly, glancing from the mass back to him. “The Gray…on account of their skin.” She furrowed her brow. “Where the hell have you been? It’s what we all call them.”
“All?” His heart skipped. “There are more? Humans?”
The edges of her mouth tightened before she gave him the slightest shake of her head. “Used to be, but…”
She didn’t finish. She didn’t need to. He knew how the story ended.
She nodded at him again. “Just because you’re not one of them, doesn’t mean you’re not a threat. At least they kill for a reason. I can’t say the same about all humans. Where did you come from?”
“We were kind of hoping you’d tell us the same thing.”
The woman gasped as the voice sounded behind her, and she dropped the rifle, unholstering the two pistols quicker than Colby thought possible before aiming one at him and the other at Darcy. The rifle swayed back and forth at her waist, secured by a strap across her shoulder. She didn’t flinch, just held one hand out toward each of them, her fingers already compressing the triggers.
Darcy spared him a quick glance, one gun pointed toward them. “Easy, now. I’m not going to hurt you.”
She lifted half of her mouth into a mocking smile. “Your gun suggests differently.”
Darcy shrugged. “I’m not the only pointing a pistol, darling.”
She gave them both a wry grin. “I didn’t survive for four-hundred days by being careless, not when it’s two against one.”
“Neither did we.” He glanced at Colby again, then lowered his weapon. “But I’m willing to take the risk if you are.”
She drew a sharp breath, her hands wavering slightly when a shot sounded in the distance followed by shouting. She looked off to her right. “There are more of you?”
Colby pushed to his feet, swinging his rifle off his back. “Damn, that’s Barrett. And if he’s making that much noise, it can’t be good.”
Darcy took off running. The woman stared at Colby for a moment, then cursed, following the other man across the roof. Their footsteps fell in sync as they raced to the other side, stopping at the edge. Colby skidded in behind them, drawn to the man limping down the narrow corridor between the fence and the building. A mass of pale flesh moved behind him in a nauseating line.
Darcy growled, holstering his gun as he reached for his rifle. “Fuck. We gotta move. Now, Colby!” The report echoed off the side of the walls as the closest zombie fell in a pool of blood.
The woman jumped, hitting Darcy across the shoulder. “Are you insane? You’ll only draw more of them.”
“You didn’t seem to have any issues firing off a few rounds over by the fence.”
“I didn’t think I had any backup, and besides, the noise doesn’t echo down there like it does up here. A few more pops from this rooftop, and we’ll be surrounded.”
He spared her a quick glance before dropping another one. “We’ll deal with that later. Right now, Barrett’s safety is all that matters.”
She looked skyward as if searching for divine help before shaking her head. “I agree, but there’s more than one way to help your friend.”
Darcy killed a third, then stared at her. “One more effective than plastering their brains all over the sidewalk?”
“And when fifty more show up, then another fifty?” She looked at Colby. “Come on. There’s another way down. We can cut your man off and head for the tower before they reach us.”
Colby grabbed her as she tried to dart past him. “Tower? What tower?”
“Move now, ask questions later.” She pulled her arm free and took off, her boots clicking on the asphalt.
“Fuck! Darcy, cover Barrett’s ass but don’t fall behind.”
Darcy nodded, unleashing another bullet. Colby ran, catching sight of the woman as she ducked behind an old air-conditioning unit. He picked up his pace, rounding the unit only to stop as the girl jumped, clearing a small gap and landing on an adjacent roof.
“Jesus Christ! Where the hell are you going?”
She didn’t stop, just raced off again, heading for the other end of the roof. He slapped his hand against his leg, then ran, clearing the gap and landing on the other side. He heard Darcy’s footsteps behind him as he took off again, nearly bowling her over when he dashed around the side of another large air vent.
He grabbed her shoulders to prevent taking them both to the ground as he stared at the rope strung around her waist and down her leg. “What the fuck is this?”
She inhaled roughly, one hand fisting around his shirt as she fought to steady herself. The tips of her fingers brushed across his skin, sending a jolt through his chest and straight to his cock, stiffening the damn thing against his pants. He clenched his jaw, knowing she could feel his dick harden against her leg as he held her close. Her eyes widened in surprise as he released her, taking a step back.
He took a steadying breath. “I know what you’re thinking but…” He shook his head. “It’s common for men—”
“We can talk about your erectile issues later. Now are you with me or not?”
“Guess that depends on whether this will save Barrett’s ass or get yours killed.”
She flashed him a smile as she backed up to the edge. “I’m hoping for yes to the first and no to the second. Wait until I reach the ground. It’s not safe for more than one on the rope at a time.”
He lunged at her, but she jumped off the side, repelling smoothly down the rope.
“Fuck! That girl has more balls than sense.”
A chuckle sounded behind him, and he glanced over his shoulder at Darcy.
Darcy nodded after her. “Sounds like the woman of our dreams. You go next. I’ll cover you.”
Colby grunted, then wrapped the rope around him, following the path down. He landed next to her on the pavement, the sound of groans and thunderous footsteps deadening the impact of his feet on the cement. He untangled the line and moved back, joined by Darcy a few moments later.
The man swung his rifle against his shoulder, motioning to the far bend. “We can grab Barrett at that end of the corridor, but god only knows where we’ll go after that. The Hummer’s in the other direction, and I have no idea if the path’s clear or not.”
“We’ll worry about that once Barrett’s safe.” Colby grabbed the woman’s arm as she tried to dart past him again. “Would you stop running for one bloody second? Now I realize you’ve survived here—without us—for a long time, but so help me god, we did not fight our way in here searching for survivors only to watch the first one we’ve found in months get herself killed. Now either you stay behind me or I swear I’ll toss you over my shoulder and carry you.” He hardened his stare. “Barrett first, then you can tell us about this tower.”
She clenched her jaw but nodded, pointing at the far corner. Colby rushed ahead, slowing as he neared the edge. He pressed his back against the wall, swearing when Goldilocks popped out into the lane, signaling Barrett to hurry.
Colby grabbed her arm and pulled her back, checking Barrett’s progress before turning to her. “Do you have a death wish?”
“We need to know what we’re dealing with. Hiding won’t help your friend.”
“And getting yourself mauled in front of him will kill him just a quickly as the fucking zombies. I said stay behind me, and I meant it.”
Something flashed in her eyes, but he couldn’t tell if it was irritation or gratitude. He turned toward Barrett, dropping two more zombies behind him.
She tugged at his arm. “You’re going to draw the entire horde if you keep shooting that gun.”
“He needs more time.”
“No, he needs not to have to face a hundred of those things once he joins us.”
Colby stared down at her. “A hundred?”
“That’s just a small group. The main horde’s on the other side of the building…the same direction we need to go. We won’t make it to the tower if they block us off.”
“Then we’ll try for the Hummer.”
“Fuck!” Darcy joined them at the corner. “Bad news, bro. There’s another group coming in from the other end of this corridor. We need to move, or they’ll block us in.”
Barrett closed in on them, grabbing the arm Colby stretched out toward him. The man all but fell against Colby’s side, blood streaming down his leg. The sight stopped Colby’s heart. God, if Barrett had been bitten…
“Don’t look at me like that.” Barrett punched Colby in the chest. “I cut it jumping through a damn window when they cornered me in one of the other rooms.”
“Can you run?”
“What the fuck do you think I’ve been doing, Colb?”
Colby smiled. Barrett couldn’t be too far gone if he could still joke. “We’ll head for the Hummer. Try to get out and around them at the other end.”
They took off, Colby shouldering most of Barrett’s weight as they ran in the other direction.
Darcy darted ahead, peeking out before waving them back. “There’s too many, too close.”
Colby looked back over his shoulder. The other group stood at the junction, looking around before staring at them. He clenched his jaw, not sure which mass to fight through when the woman shouted at them. He turned in time to see her slamming her shoulder against a door. There was a loud screech then the slab gave way, swinging inward. Shadows filled the view beyond, and he sighed in relief when Darcy caught her before she could step through.
She tugged against his hold. “It’s fine. I have the key.” She held up a small ring with several keys dangling together. “Hurry, before they get here.”
The men charged the doorway and ran inside. Darcy grasped the handle, closing it as the first group reached the threshold. Scarred fingers tried to wrap around the frame, only to land in a heap on the floor as Darcy shoved the door closed, cutting them off. Small wedges of light scattered across the floor from the occasional window, filling the room with a dull glow. Colby looked at the girl, not sure whether to thank her or put her over his lap.
She pointed across the room. “Through here. There’s another door on the same side as the tower. But we’ll have to be quick. With all that racket, they’re sure to keep moving…keep hunting.”
Colby caught her arm. “Can’t we just wait here until they’re gone?”
“And chance a group of them hasn’t broken a window and found another way inside? Trust me, the only safe place is up where they can’t follow.”
“I thought you said it was fine.”
She shrugged. “It’s better than outside. Besides, I have the feeling you wouldn’t have risked it if I’d suggested otherwise.”
“You are something else, sweetheart.” He pointed forward, following her through a maze of hallways until they reached another door. He stopped beside her, motioning for Darcy to check the window off to their left.
“There’s a mass off in the distance, past some kind of structure.”
The woman nodded. “That’s the tower. There used to be an airstrip here, and the old control tower is still standing. Our group barricaded the doors and stacked a bunch of vehicles along one side for when we need to get out undetected. There’s a ladder on this end that provides entry to the cab on top when we’re in a hurry. So far, the Gray haven’t been able to breech the building.”
Colby laughed in absurdity. “You expect me and my men to trap ourselves in a tower in the middle of a god damn open airstrip? Why on earth would anyone with any kind of sanity do that? It’s got to be the worst idea I’ve ever heard of?”
She crossed her arms on her chest, jutting one hip out slightly. “Would you rather go back and face your fans?” She sighed her impatience. “Look. We tried making a go of it in the buildings, but sooner or later a group of the bastards always found a way in. This is the safest place. I’m the one who’s been living here. You’re just going to have to trust me.”
“Trust is a luxury, sweetheart. One we don’t have much of these days.” Colby released a ragged breath. “Fine. We can’t stay here. We’ll head for this tower, but mark my words…as soon as it’s safe enough to leave, we’re out of here. Period.”
Her mouth twitched ever so slightly, but she nodded, looking over at Darcy. The man gave her the ‘all clear,’ and she unlocked the door, yanking it open. A loud metal hiss filled the air, and she cringed as she cleared both sides, then took off, running swiftly across the open pavement. Colby followed after her, carrying Barrett as much as he could while Darcy pulled up the rear, his attention focused behind them. They’d covered half the distance when Darcy jogged up beside him.
“There’s a huge group on our tail. We need to move faster.”
Colby grunted and picked up the pace, feeling Barrett’s bad leg drag slightly. The man moaned but tried to help, limping faster. The girl had raced ahead and now stood waiting at the side of the tower.
She looked in both directions, her fear clearly written across her face. “I thought you guys were Marines or something. Get the lead out!”
Barrett mumbled something under his breath, making Colby smile. Their new member certainly had a way about her. Shots rang out behind him as Darcy started dropping the creatures closest to them.
The woman moved aside, granting him access as she swung her gun to her chest, joining Darcy in the assault. She nodded for him to climb, and he growled in frustration. This wasn’t going at all along the lines he’d envisioned. He muttered obscenities under his breath as he shuffled Barrett over his shoulder and began climbing, willing his feet to move against the added weight. More shots echoed across the open space, and he knew the rest of the horde was on their way.
He moved faster, watching as Darcy shoved her toward the ladder. It looked as if she muttered something to him but started climbing, catching them quickly. Darcy kept firing as he inched up the ladder backward, trying to keep the mass at bay. Colby heard the woman curse before she reached into her jacket pocket.
Her voice sounded above the howling wind and growling voices, and Colby had just enough time to wrap one arm around a rung before the world erupted in a flurry of bright light and deafening sound. His head throbbed from the noise as the flashbang exploded, burning the zombies closest to it and knocking the others down. Darcy groaned but started climbing again, shaking his head when their gazes clashed. Colby sighed and resumed his ascent, cresting the tower’s ledge a few moments later. He placed Barrett on his feet just over the rail, watching as the man tried to steady himself against the side only to slide down the wall and onto his ass. More blood pooled at his feet, drawing Colby’s attention. He vaulted over the railing and knelt at Barrett’s side. The man attempted to push Colby back when he reached for the wound, but Barrett only succeeded in making his breath hiss out through his clenched teeth.
The girl stopped beside them, tapping Colby on the shoulder. “Let’s get your friend inside.” She opened a door and disappeared.
He glanced at Darcy. “Give me a hand.”
Darcy double checked the ladder, then swung his rifle out of the way and took Barrett’s other arm, wrapping it around his shoulder. The two men shuffled through, easing Barrett down against the inside wall. The man grimaced but managed to push himself back a bit. Colby smiled and turned, his smile fading as he stared into the barrel of a rifle. His gaze met hers as her lips curled slightly at the corners.
She nodded at them. “Now, where were we?”