But things in Memphis are not as peaceful as they seem. First off there's Buzz Talbert, a warped former senator with designs on the Presidency and someone particular in mind as his first lady.
Then there's John Casey Adams, Talbert's former right hand man, now the leader of a band of renegades and cutthroats. And Ty Rydell, a boxer turned soldier torn between his one-time friendship with Chris and his loyalty to Senator Talbert.
And of course there are the zombies, thousands of them, locked behind high fences in downtown Memphis - fences that may not be as secure as they seem.
Episode 10 of the Zombie D.O.A. series is another twisted post-apocalyptic tale with thrills galore and enough zombie action to keep you awake deep into the night.
Click the "Read More" link below to read an excerpt from
Speak Of The Dead
“There it is again, you hear that?” Hooley adjusted the radio set in the cab of his ancient Dodge Ram truck. The radio emitted a squawk of static, ascended through the registers towards an ear-splitting screech and then dropped abruptly to a cycle of whoops and beeps. “Don’t tell me you didn’t hear that.”
“Course I did,” Joe said. “Sounded like a symphony for Martians.”
“You didn’t hear the voice in there?”
“Wishful thinking, compadre. We’re in empty country now. No one out here but the Zs and us refugees.”
“You hear anything, Ruby?” Hooley said.
“Nope,” Ruby said simply, she continued looking out of the side window, to the monotony of trees lining either side of the freeway, a blaze of browns and reds and golds under a darkening gray sky.
They were traversing a stretch of Interstate-40, close to Forrest City, Arkansas. They’d arrived here by a circuitous route.
After their escape from Amarillo, they’d headed back to Moriarty, New Mexico. There they’d rounded up as many canisters as they could and filled them with diesel from Colonel Stone’s damaged tankers. They’d loaded those containers onto the back of Hooley’s truck and then headed east again, Hooley in the lead, Chris following in his Ford pickup. They’d avoided the main roads through New Mexico and Texas, fearful of running into the Dead Men, who were bound to be looking for them. Just beyond Little Rock, Arkansas they’d joined up with the I-40 again. Now, four days since leaving Amarillo, they were closing in on Memphis, Tennessee.
The off ramp to Forrest City loomed up ahead. “Getting’ dark,” Hooley said. “We oughta be thinking about finding a place to hole up. We don’t want to drive into Memphis after dark.”
“We ain’t driving into Memphis at all,” Joe said.
“What?” Hooley almost released his grip on the wheel as he spun towards Joe. Even in his peripheral vision, Joe could see the disappointment on Hooley’s face.
“I said we’re giving Memphis a wide berth. Rule number one in this brave new world of ours, Hooley, the Zs own the cities. We’re going around.”
“Ah, man,” Hooley protested. “Had it in my mind to visit Beale Street. The King got his start there, you know. Always wanted to see the place for myself.”
“Yeah well, these days the only acts likely to be playing Beale Street are ZZ Top and the Grateful Dead. Never figured you for a music lover, Hooley.”
“I ain’t generally,” Hooley said. “But Elvis, now that’s my kinda listenin’.” He launched into a surprisingly tuneful rendition of ‘Love Me Tender.’ Joe was just about to join in on the refrain, when Ruby nudged him.
Joe directed his attention back towards the road, stretching arrow-straight into the distance. About two hundred yards ahead a woman had just broken from the cover of the trees, and was scaling the crash barrier.
“Slow down a touch, Hooley,” Joe said, as a man followed the woman, climbed the barrier and sprinted across the highway. The man had made it half way across when a volley of gunfire rung out and he pitched forward. He hit the pavement on his knees, crawled a couple of paces and then collapsed and lay still.
“Shit! Stop, pull over!”
Hooley pulled the truck towards the shoulder, brought it to a halt. Joe half-turned in his seat, looked out of the rear window, and saw that Chris had pulled over too.
Up ahead, the woman had reached the other side of the road and stopped. Now she ran back towards the man and fell down beside him as three men in camouflage gear emerged from the trees. The men scaled the barrier and crossed to where the woman lie, cradling the body in the middle of the road. One of them raised his rifle and fired.
“Son of a bitch!” Hooley shouted. “Now that there ain’t right!” He slammed the shift into drive and planted his foot on the gas, causing the truck to lurch forward and stall. Hooley instantly twisted the key again and the Dodge roared immediately back to life. The men in the road looked up from their kill - one of them pointed towards the truck, another looked back down the road towards Memphis.
“Hold up, Hooley,” Joe said, putting a hand on Hooley’s arm.
“Hold up, my ass! Did you see that? Sum bitches just shot an unarmed woman!”
“Yeah, and we don’t know the situation, for all we know, she had it coming.”
“Had it coming?” Hooley raged. “How did she have it coming? Them sum bitches just gunned her down in cold blood!”
“Hold up for God’s sake!”
Behind the men in the road, a military green truck appeared over the rise. It trundled past and then turned side-on, obscuring the scene. A detachment of soldiers dropped from the bed and fanned out to secure a perimeter.
Joe twisted in his seat and looked out of the back window again. He could see Chris doing the same, likely thinking the same thing – it was time to get out of here. But it was already too late for that - behind Chris’s pickup, a military convoy was just emerging from the Forrest City onramp. Joe could make out a row of trucks, a couple of half-tracks and a jeep.
“Shee-it!” Hooley said. “What do we do now?”
“Now we sit tight and hope they’re friendly,” Joe said.
Chris inspected the road behind him through the side mirror, seeing as he did a jeep emerge from the ramp, followed closely by two half-tracks and then three military transports, two of them under canopies, the third open, with a detachment of soldiers on the back.
“Who are they?” Kelly asked.
“Some paramilitary outfit probably.”
“It’s the National Guard,” Janet said. “Thank God, we’re saved.”
“Definitely not the National Guard,” Chris said. “That much I do know.”
The convoy came to a stop in the road. A soldier dropped from the cab of one of the half-tracks and jogged towards the jeep, then engaged the jeep’s passenger in a brief conversation before sprinting back to the half-track. Chris shifted his view back to the side mirror and saw the half-track trundling towards them, a squad of soldiers on the back, one of them manning what looked like a fifty-mil cannon. The vehicle passed them by and then angled across the emergency lane between Chris’s truck and Hooley’s. The back of the half-track split open and the soldiers dropped to the tarmac. Four of them turned right and scampered towards Hooley’s Dodge, the other four turned left, jogged towards Chris’s truck and surrounded it. The fifty-mil gunner remained at his station, his weapon trained on the windshield of the Ford.
“What’s happening, daddy?” Samantha asked.
“It’s all right, sugar. These soldiers probably just want to know who we are, that’s all.”
The soldiers in question had now taken up firing positions. Presently, an officer - a lieutenant by the insignia on his helmet - approached. He rapped his knuckles on the side window and indicated for Chris to get out.
“You all just sit tight,” Chris said. “This won’t take long.”
“Ask them if they’re with the National Guard,” Janet said, as Chris flipped the door open and stepped onto the tarmac. Joe, Ruby and Hooley were being hustled towards him at gunpoint.
“Afternoon lieutenant,” Chris said. “What seems to be the –?”
“Shut the fuck up,” the lieutenant said. He looked no older than twenty, the nametag above his breast pocket identified him as, Epps.
“We were just –”
“What part of shut the fuck up don’t you understand?”
The others had reached them now. Epps ordered them lined up against the side of the truck, the soldiers facing them with rifles raised. For a moment Chris thought Epps was going to have them shot, but then the lieutenant stepped in front of the rifles and ran his gaze down the line, eyeing each of them suspiciously.
“You’re Adams men,” he said. It was a statement not a question.
“Sorry? Adams? Who’s that?” Joe said.
“Don’t play dumb with me, asshole. The rebel, John Casey Adams, you’re part of his crew.”
“Never heard of the man.”
“Liar! No one but a rebel would be this far out of town.”
“You’re this far out of town, does that make you a rebel too?”
Epps flushed angry, and Chris again thought he was going to order his men to open fire.
“Look lieutenant,” he said. “I can understand how you might mistake us for rebels, but I assure you we’re not with this Adams you’re talking about. We’re not even from around here. We’re just passing through from California.”
“All except me,” Hooley cut in. “I’m from Texas.”
“California?” Epps said. “Now I know you’re lying. Ain’t no-one left alive in California. Everybody knows that.”
“Check the plates on my truck if you don’t believe me.”
“Anyone can put any plates, on any truck, any time. That don’t mean shit.”
“Lieutenant Epps, what’s the goddamn hold-up?”
A man was approaching, crossing the tarmac with the languid ease of a panther.
“Sir!” Lieutenant Epps said springing to attention.
“Didn’t I tell you to take these people into custody? What on God’s green earth is the hold up, soldier? Get it done!”
“Yes sir, Major Rydell, sir.”
The major turned towards his prisoners and ran his gaze down the line, maintaining a stern-face until he saw Chris and his expression morphed to recognition, then surprise, then delight.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he said, “Chris ‘Cruisin’ Collins.”
“I know you?” Chris said, although there was something maddeningly familiar about the man. The combination of name and face plucked at his memory. He almost had it.
“Ty Rydell,” the major said, whipping off his helmet, “Memphis Ty Rydell. We had us a fight one time at the Paradise Ballroom, which you won on a split decision. Still maintain that was a Yankee hometown call, but anyhow. How the hell are ya?”
The Memphis skyline hovered in the distance, straddling the mud-brown waters of the Mississippi. Up ahead the twin arches of the bridge that would take them into the city reflected the pallid, early evening sunlight. The scene had an ethereal sense of peace about it, a deception undermined by the sandbagged machine gun nests securing the approach to the bridge.
Chris brought the Ford to a halt and waited while credentials were checked. Then, as the convoy began to roll again, he put the truck into drive and eased forward. He checked the rearview and saw Joe, Hooley and Ruby in the truck behind. Joe and Hooley appeared to be deep in conversation, Ruby was looking to her left, out along the river.
Not for the first time, he wondered if they’d done the right thing, realized they hadn’t had a choice. For all Ty Rydell’s good humor, they’d been left in no doubt that they were to be escorted into Memphis. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, at least until you stopped to consider the two people these soldiers had gunned down just an hour before. Perhaps they had been criminals, as Rydell had explained, perhaps not. Either way, the summary execution left a sour taste in his mouth, one that refused to go away.
They were crossing the bridge now, a broad expanse that carried Interstate-40 across the Mississippi, over a narrow bluff, and then over a smaller body of water. They passed through another checkpoint and then crossed into Memphis, its skyscrapers looking somewhat bedraggled in the fading light. He expected to continue on into the city itself, but the convoy made a left at the first off ramp then headed north.
“Look, mom,” Samantha said. “A pyramid.”
Chris looked to his left and saw the distinctive outline of a huge glass structure. He knew what it was, The Pyramid Arena. Lennox Lewis had fought Tyson there, and Chris had been booked for a bout there himself a few years ago, before the venue had gone bust.
They were turning again, making a left and crossing another bridge, backing up on the route they’d come in on, probably heading back out onto the bluff he’d seen from the bridge. They passed through another couple of checkpoints, the second of which had a sign that said “Welcome to Mud Island.’
“Sounds enchanting,” Janet said sarcastically from the back seat.
“So what’s the deal with you and Janet?” Hooley said.
“Deal? What do you mean deal?” Joe said.
“You know, are you two a-courting or anything?”
“Hell, no!” Joe chuckled.
Hooley was quiet for a while. “Fine lookin’ woman, like that,” he said eventually. “Hard to believe ever red-blooded male from here to Manassas, ain’t sniffing around.”
This time Joe’s laugh was more effusive. Hooley gave him a look that was half hurt and half angry. “I say something funny? I don’t take kindly to being joshed on such matters, if it’s all the same to you.”
“Sorry, compadre,” Joe said, trying hard to stifle his laughter. “Didn’t realize you were sweet on the old lady.”
“I ain’t sweet on her.”
“My mistake, thought you just said every red-blooded male from here to wherever ought to be sniffing around.”
“Yeah, well not me,” Hooley said.
The convoy made a left and slowed to a crawl. “Christ, how many checkpoints do they have in this town?” Joe said. “You’d swear we were in the middle of a zombie apocalypse or something.”
The convoy dawdled to a halt.
“Besides, plain to see, she’s sweet on you,” Hooley said.
For a moment, Joe wasn’t sure what Hooley was talking about, then he realized he was still talking about Janet.
“Listen, compadre, Smokin’ Joe Thursday’s not the settling kind. I’ve been married twice, so I’ve done my time in the trenches. You want to make a move on Janet, be my guest.”
“Really,” Hooley said, eager as a schoolboy.
The convoy was moving again.
“Nah,” Hooley said. “Fine-looking, cultured, woman like that’s got no need of a leathery, old varmint like me.”