Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dead Ever After (Zombie D.O.A. Book 20)

"The final episode of the Zombie D.O.A. series. Will humanity survive?"


The once mighty Pendragon Corporation has fallen, leaving humanity at the mercy of the horrendously depraved John Messenger and his Zombie army.

As the horde sweeps north across California, the Collins family finds itself directly in its path and unable to flee. They hope that Messenger will pass them by. Little do they know that they hold the one thing he’s determined to have, and that he won’t stop until he gets it.     

The conclusion to the Zombie D.O.A. Series cranks up the odds and the action, accelerating towards an ending that will make your jaw drop.

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Click the "Read More" link below to read the first two chapters of

  Dead Ever After



one


The Humvee trundled through the dark, its powerful diesel engine delivering a steady thrum. From the passenger seat, Major Jojo Collins surveyed the star-spangled expanse of the heavens, a vast, inky blackness offering no sign yet of the coming dawn. They’d made good time, better than any of them could have expected. Jojo could hardly believe that he was just thirty miles from home, thirty miles from Ferret and his family.
The stretch of road they were on ran parallel to the I-10 and would soon pass under the freeway to hook up with the one-eleven. There, he'd have to make a decision. Were they going to continue on the path they were following, or were they going to mount the onramp and take the interstate? That route was faster and the roads were likely to be in better condition. But, it was going to drop them right in the middle of San Bernardino, with all the problems that entailed.
By the time K-Mart slowed the Humvee to a crawl, with the overpass looming ahead, Jojo still hadn’t made up his mind. Logic told him to stick to the freeway and skirt the city. They might still encounter Zs, maybe even Eaters or road bandits, but with the fifty on board none of those would present a problem. Still, something was niggling at him. He realized what it was. 
He turned to Galvin. “Those ammo cases back there. Check them out, tell me what we’ve got.”
 Galvin shuffled across the cab. Jojo heard the scrape of metal on metal as Galvin shifted the cases aside.
“Lots of twenty-mil back here,” Galvin said.
“Thought as much. Mons, how much fifty you still got?
“Just shy of half a belt, Major.”
“That it?”
“Yes, sir. If I’d known that some idiot back at Pendleton had loaded us up with twenty-mil, I’d have been less gung-ho with the trigger finger.”
“Nothing we can do about that now.”
It did, present a problem though. If they ran into trouble in San Bernardino, half a belt of ammo wasn’t going to dig them out.
That settled it.
“Take the one-eleven,” Jojo said.
“That would be my call,” K-Mart said. He depressed his foot on the accelerator. The Humvee rolled forward and made the turn under the freeway.

*****
For someone who claimed to have no interest in cars, Wackjob sure was enjoying General Harrow’s Caddie. “This is some sweet ride,” he said, leaning back in the plush leather. He and Charlie had followed a winding stretch of mountain road and cut through Crafton and Redlands to join up with the 1-10. The roads hadn’t been in great shape, but the Caddie had handled them well enough. Now, on the stretch of almost perfect backdrop, she was purring along.
“Sweet,” Wackjob said again.
Charlie still wasn’t sure whether he’d done the right thing. Slipping out of town to go after Jojo was reckless, he conceded that. But there'd been no choice in the matter. Jojo was his brother. He didn’t see how he could wait around in Big Bear Lake while Joe was still somewhere out here.
The off-ramps to Banning and Beaumont flashed by, the road signs momentarily illuminated by the sweep of the Caddie’s headlights.
“We going straight on or sticking to the 10?” Wackjob asked.
Charlie had been thinking about that himself. Staying on the highway was the safer choice, the wiser choice. But it added miles, and their fuel situation didn’t look all that great. Right now the Caddie’s gage was showing less than half a tank.
A sign flashed by in the darkness, announcing the imminent turn-off to the one-eleven, Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Palm Desert and points beyond.
“Take the next,” Charlie said.
“You hoping for another crack at our friend Goliath?” Wackjob chuckled.
“Not hoping,” Charlie said. “But if he gets in our way we’re riding straight through him.”
Wackjob began applying the brakes as the turnoff loomed. “Amen to that,” he said. “I’ll even flip her in reverse and back up to spew exhaust into his stupid, pink face.”


two  


It was Mons, standing up in the shooting hatch wearing the night vision goggles, who first spotted the obstruction. They were five miles from the junction, just through Palm Desert, when he called out a warning. K-Mart slowed the Humvee to an even slower pace than the one they’d been traveling at.
“Someone set that on purpose,” he said as the barrier loomed out of the darkness. Two burned-out delivery vehicles were nose-to-nose in the middle of the road, barring their way.
Jojo had been thinking the same thing. The spot was perfect for an ambush, with steep embankments falling away to either side, and a series of low hills to their left.
“Fortunately,” K-Mart said. “Whoever set this trap don’t know shit about the capabilities of Uncle Sam’s favorite buggy. Y’all hold on tight back there. And keep your eyes peeled for bandits.”
He veered the Humvee towards the side of the road and onto the soft shoulder. For a moment the outside wheels seemed to hover in space and then K-Mart eased the vehicle forward and they listed sideways. Jojo was sure that they were going to slide down into the gully. But K-Mart kept them rolling, rounding the back of the truck. Then he floored the Humvee so that the tires bit and they went careening back onto the road.
“That last bit was purely showing off,” K-Mart said as the vehicle began to pick up speed leaving the obstacle behind.   
It was just then that Jojo caught the flash out of the corner of his eye, a momentary spark that seemed to blossom in the darkness. He opened his mouth to call out a warning, ducking his head out of instinct. Too late, of course. The sniper, positioned on a knoll half a mile down the road, had already fired. The bullet was already accelerating towards them. These thoughts flashed through Jojo’s brain in a nanosecond. Then the bullet collided with the Humvee’s windshield and punched through. It struck K-Mart just above the bridge of the nose and ripped off the top of his skull.
The world took on the appearance of a slow-motion nightmare. Jojo saw a crack run along the bulletproof glass and spider web into a series of tributaries. He felt the blast of cool night air on his face, the spray of K-Mart’s warm blood spattering him. He realized, without thinking about it, that the round had been fired from an anti-tank rifle. It had to be, to punch through that armored glass. Then the Humvee was swerving out of control, racing across the tarmac with K-Mart’s foot jammed down on the pedal. Jojo heard shouts from behind him and the sound of heavy ammo cases and diesel canisters being flung around. The burnout wreck of a minivan loomed suddenly out of the dark. The Humvee smashed into it, throwing Jojo forward in his seat, slamming him against the seatbelt. But the Humvee had too much momentum. It carried the minivan towards the collapsed barrier at the side of the road, through it. In the next moment, Jojo felt the world shift under him. The Humvee tilted sideways, tottered a moment and then flipped onto its side, then over again as it hit the embankment.
Jojo felt something slam into the side of his head with all the finesse of a sledgehammer. He was vaguely aware that it must be an ammo case. Then darkness spilled into his world and he faded into nothingness.
The Humvee slid to the bottom of the gully, flipping once more for good measure.
*****
“You hear that?”
“Cut the lights and pull over.”
The road ahead plunged into darkness. Wackjob allowed the Caddie to drift to the soft shoulder and brought it to a stop. Charlie ran his window down, leaned out into the dark and focused his hearing. The sound he’d heard was the unmistakable crack of a high-caliber rifle, followed by what sounded like an auto wreck. Now though, there was nothing but the sounds of the night, the rustle of dry brush, the chirp and chirrup of insects.
“You thinking what I’m thinking?”
Charlie wasn’t sure what Wackjob had on his mind. What he was thinking was this. Out here in the middle of nowhere, so close to where the Eaters and taken him and Wackjob, the shot could only have come from one source. Whoever had fired that rifle had to be one of Goliath’s crew. But what had they fired at? And why only a single shot?
He looked to the ridge of low hills west of their position, perfect for a sniper. No point making it easy for him. He unsheathed his dagger and pried away the plastic cover of the interior light, removed the bulb.
“Pop the trunk and get out of the car,” he said, flipping open his door. “Get out on this side and stay low.”  
Charlie was already on the move, dropping to the shoulder and edging towards the rear of the vehicle. He paused there a moment, peered into the dark, then slipped from cover and lifted the trunk half an inch. A wedge of light spilled out and he extinguished it. Then he flipped the trunk all the way open and selected an M-60 from the impressive array of weapons Wackjob had assembled. He passed that to Wackjob, along with a spare belt, then picked out an AR-15 with an extra mag. As an afterthought, he grabbed a couple of grenades, handed them to Wackjob then pocketed two himself. 
“Let’s move out,” he said.
The light to the east was beginning to fade, black into blue, some low lying clouds taking on a mantle of gold from the rising sun.
Charlie slid down the embankment. That would give them cover from sniper fire. He was certain that the sniper hadn’t spotted them yet. If he had, they’d likely be dead already.
Somewhere up ahead an engine revved up, closer than Charlie had expected. “Come on,” he said and set off at a jog.
*****
Jojo woke to a world of pain. He was lying on his side, still strapped into his seat. Pallid light spilled through the cracked windshield and the air felt thick with dust and the smell of diesel fuel. There was something sticky in his hair. Jojo lifted his hand to his head and it came away bloody. The memory of what had happened came flooding back. K-Mart had taken a hit from a sniper bullet, the Humvee had veered off the road and tumbled down an embankment. Something had crashed into his head, knocked him out, something had…
A groan alerted his attention. He looked to his left, where K-Mart was still in his seat, still suspended from his safety harness. No, of course, it wouldn’t be K-Mart.
The wordless groan came again and Jojo realized what he had to do. One (or both) of the men back there was still alive. They had to get out of the vehicle. They had to find someplace to hide before whoever had fired at them arrived to finish the job.
His hand went to the release catch on his safety harness. He tried pushing at it. Nothing. He applied more pressure. A shard of pain ran up his right arm and seemed to jump from there to his shoulder and assault his forehead. A cry escaped him. He gritted his teeth as a hundred different sources of pain, each more agonizing than the next, attacked his senses. His right arm, he was certain, was broken. A cursory glance at the sliver of bone that had ripped through his shirt confirmed that diagnosis. But that wasn’t the worst of his injuries. His chest felt as though a boulder was pressing down on it. That meant that he’d likely broken some ribs, maybe even suffered internal damage. It was his head, though, that worried him most. The sensation from that source was like a balloon inflating and deflating. Jojo managed to lift his undamaged hand to the wound and detected a concave section of scalp that was sticky with blood. That couldn’t be good.
Another moan from the rear of the vehicle.
“Galvin? Mons?”
No reply came. Instead Jojo heard the sound of a vehicle coming to a stop. Doors opened and then slammed. Now he heard voices and the sound of dirt shifting as someone came sliding down the embankment.

three


Charlie was fifty feet away from the wrecked Humvee when he heard the sound of vehicles approaching. He immediately found cover behind some brush and saw Wackjob do the same. Now the vehicle passed on the road and Charlie was unsurprised to see that it was one of Goliath’s matt black pickups. He silently cursed himself for not destroying the Eater’s vehicles when he’d had the chance. Another pickup drifted past, then another, this one with the deadly shape of the fifty-mil silhouetted against the early morning sky.
The first pickup had come to a stop on the shoulder, more or less in line with where the Humvee lay on its side like a dead bug. Charlie heard voices as men dismounted from the pickup. One of them scrambled down the embankment.
After a moment came an impatient voice that Charlie would have recognized anywhere. “What we got?” Goliath demanded, then when his man didn’t reply fast enough, “I said, what we got?” 
“Four,” the man shouted. “We got four of them.”
The other pickups had now come to a stop, spilling men onto the tarmac, Goliath barking instructions to them.
“Boss!” the man at the Humvee shouted. “Boss, you’ve got to get yourself down here. You’re going to want to see this!”
Charlie directed his gaze from the Humvee back up the embankment. Goliath had just stepped into view, the early morning glow reflecting off his coppery beard.
“What I want to see is you hauling that stock out from the vehicle, so we can load up and leave,” Goliath snarled. “The rest of you, get down there and help.”
“But boss!” the man protested. “You don’t understand. One of these fellers is the motherfucker that escaped from the camp.”
Goliath had been turning away when the man spoke. Now he snapped back as though pulled by a rubber band. “Say what?”
“One of these fellers in the Humvee is the motherfucker that ran out on us, the one that had a knife on Davey.”
Hidden in the brush fifty feet away, Charlie heard those words and realized their impact. It was Jojo in the Humvee, had to be. 
“He dead?” Goliath said.
“Looks that way.”
“Pity,” Goliath said after a moment, “Oh well, haul him out. Either way, I’m carving me a sirloin from his ass tonight. The rest of you move!”
The rest of the Eaters, bar Goliath, the drivers and the gunner, came sliding down the embankment stirring up a mini dust storm.
Charlie felt a cold fury well up in him and spill over. A quick glance told him that the fifty-mil gunner was too far back to fire into the gully. The vehicle would have to be pulled forward to give him that arc of fire. Charlie was never going to give him the chance. He backed off a few paces, bringing the gunner into view, lined up on him. From the direction of the Humvee came shouts and whoops.
“Those are yours,” he said to Wackjob and pulled the trigger.
The crack of the rifle sounded very loud in the early morning stillness. Charlie was instantly on the move, charging up the embankment as Wackjob’s M-60 burst into life. “Mornin’ Eaters!” he heard Wackjob yell over the staccato rhythm of the machine gun.
Then Charlie was over the top, not bothering with cover, running on pure rage-driven adrenalin. These men had killed his brother. They were going to pay. A bullet through the windshield took out the driver of the first vehicle. The second managed to get to his truck and was backing her up when Charlie put a bullet in his brain. In his peripheral vision, he saw Goliath scrambling for the remaining pickup. He'd almost reached the truck when Charlie pumped a round into the meaty part of his thigh. The driver, meanwhile, had got the truck straightened out and floored her, leaving his boss behind. Charlie let him go. His entire focus was on the man who lay on the tarmac, his screams now supplanting the roar of the departing pickup.
“You shot me! Son-of-a-bitch, you shot me!”
Goliath had both hands clutched to his thigh, his entire focus on the blood that was pumping out between his fingers. Then he looked up and his eyes widened. “You…but, I thought….”
“You thought what? That I was lying dead in the Humvee? You should know by now, Goliath, I don’t die easy.”
The sound of gunfire from the arroyo had died down.
“Wackjob, you alright down there?”
“Never better, boss.”
“Check on the crew then,” Charlie said. He turned back to Goliath.
“The man lying dead in that Humvee is my brother.”
“I didn’t know,” Goliath whined. “If I’d known –”
“You’d what? Have let him pass, the way you let me pass.”
“I would have, I swear.”
“Don’t go to hell with a lie on your lips, Goliath.”
“You’re going to kill me? I’m unarmed.”
“Someone should have told you.”
“Told me what?”
“Never come to a gunfight without a gun.”
He raised his rifle and fired. Then he turned and ran towards the lip of the arroyo.

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