Good and evil have done battle down through time with mankind as it pawns. This time, Satan has decided to play for keeps., having grown weary of all the jabs and feints of these minor battles that came before and decides to go for broke. So through the helpful hands of a twisted scientist, he unleashes hell on earth in the form of the living dead. They will swarm the living and turn them all into Satan’s dark minions, insuring his victory over God. But there is something that Satan has not foreseen, and that is that only those without faith can be turned into the empty, soulless shells that crave human flesh. Others with faith who are bitten simply die. And thus the battle for supremacy over the earth begins.
Frank Payens gets introduced to the reader as the start of the apocalypse is occurring. He is a man who has been on a quest to find something called The Home, which is rumored to be a place where ex-military can come to and find peace after absorbing a lifetime of psychological and physical scars in battle. Frank is a former Navy SEAL who doesn’t realize that he has been chosen to become a leader at The Home, which is not just a place where veterans go to forget, but go to prepare for the final cataclysm.
That is the basic overview of the novel, Faith & The Undead, at least at the start. This is not your traditional zombie apocalypse novel, though it has been written by someone who is a devoted fan of traditional Romero zombies, which shines through in this novel. As the minions of Satan, the undead in this book are bound to do his bidding, but other than that, they are your traditional slow-moving flesh eaters from the grave. A few other authors, such as Kim Paffenroth, Mark Rogers, and perhaps even Brian Keene have brought in religious overtones to their zombie novels (Keene might be considered a stretch, but his zombies are in fact demons from beyond the void, so I will include them here), so it is not as if Faith & The Undead stands alone in that regard, but I haven’t seen such a clear depiction of the battle between God and Satan on display in any other zombie books I have read before. In most zombie novels, the main and secondary characters will spend time questioning their faith, questioning whether God has abandoned or cursed them, and even the best amongst them will have ample reason to act in evil and selfish ways as it suits them during the atrocities occurring all around them during the apocalypse. That does not appear to be something that will crop up here. The lines in Faith & The Undead are very well defined between good and evil, and while evil has the upper hand on earth, good is not backing down, as it tends to do in most zombie novels. The Home is prepared for war and I believe we shall see a hell of a war (pardon the pun) in the second and third installments in this trilogy. While I do love the conflicts that tend to occur among survivors in most zombie novels-the tormented characters who struggle to do what is right but tend to lose their humanity by inches as they do, I like the idea of humanity not being such pushovers, which is what this story offers. It will be fun to watch as Humanity, or what remains of it, stands united in the fight against the Devil and his dark followers.
As I always do, I think it only fair to point out what I am critical about with each particular book I read, and so here it is with Faith & The Undead. I think for the first part of the book, the author was working hard to set things up for the trilogy and it seemed somewhat forced in places. I felt that there needed to be more about Frank Payens and his personal struggles before arriving at The Home, and more skepticism on his part about The Home upon his arrival. It takes very little prodding for him to essentially commit the rest of his life to these people he barely knows without so much as batting an eye. Perhaps that is in his nature, but because of the lack of background on him that the reader is given, it seems too abrupt. I do realize that more shall be revealed of Frank with the second and third novels in this trilogy, but I would have liked to have gotten to know him better before things got cooking here. Even if the assumption is that he does accept this path, the internal struggles and the dynamic of that would have been intriguing to see more of. But as the book rolled on, I started forget about this minor quibble as the apocalypse went into high gear and the author seemed to get down to business. The action sequences were tight and there were solid introductions to interesting characters, such as Karen, who is a refugee trying to find her way to The Home, which has opened its doors to anyone who can make it there alive.
There is plenty to like in this novel, and a lot of it has to do with the promise of what is to come in the second and third installments, when the battle for humanity gets into full swing. This is a good start to a promising trilogy, and I am very interested to see what Mr. Rogers comes up with next.
Faith & The Undead can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Faith-Undead-Benjamin-Rogers/dp/1452869820/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1285870690&sr=1-1
Check out the new review for Comes The Dark over at BuyZombie.com. I always like reviews like this one, because they present what they feel is the bad along with the good, which in turn helps the writer to grow and improve. So I am very pleased with this review, which acknowledges that my book isn’t perfect, but is still a good read. That is all that I can ask for!
My interview with Sonar 4 tonight, for those who didn’t get the chance to check it out live.
Lori Titus and Tonia Brown did a great job and it was a lot of fun talking about Comes The Dark, some of my short stories, and the absolutely horrendous book I wrote back in high school that remains locked away forever.
Check it out!
Layne Prescott is an expatriate returning home to Lilly’s End, Florida from his teaching post in China for the funeral of his father. As he and his girlfriend Tara sit waiting in the airport for their plane that will take them across the Pacific, they meet up with a Mr. Scott, who has a briefcase attached to his wrist by a handcuff in an airport bar. After they land in Florida and meet up with old friends, Layne discovers the same briefcase stuffed inside his luggage. From there, things get dangerously strange, as the world falls apart at 11:23, every twelve hours all over Lilly’s End. People go mad, tearing each other apart, and then killing themselves when there is no one else left to assault. The town is shut off by the government and lies about a smallpox outbreak keep the outside world at bay. All the while, everyone still alive inside of Lilly’s End is rapidly going mad, taking things into their own hands, while Layne and a few of his friends attempt to understand what is behind all of this and try to figure out what they can do to escape it.
That is the glossy overview of this story. Underneath that, this 300 page novel is thick with conspiracy, generation why angst, and a constant flow of confusion, deception, and things for the reader to ponder. I have read Jason Hornsby’s previous novel, Every Sigh, The End, and for a long stretch of that book I despised the main character for his self absorbed approach to life, which takes a radical turn as truths about the world are revealed around him. In many ways, I can say that there are parallels between that book and this one, although Hornsby’s writing has definitely matured with this book. It is clear that this is a Hornsby book-I could have picked it out blindfolded after reading several chapters. As another reviewer has put it, no one creates young, disaffected characters quite like this author. They are disagreeable, argumentative, self-absorbed, and irresistibly fascinating. It is hard to describe effectively, but while it is hard to feel much pity for the characters throughout a great swath of this book, in the end their misery is tangible, palpable, real, and you feel it along with them. Layne is one of those characters who would constantly confound you, but if you peeled away most of his facade, he would seem to be one of the most vulnerable people you might ever know. At least that was the sense I got.
I think after reading my first Hornsby book, I got the sense that the author and I would have very little in common, very little that would connect us. My presumption was that he was much like the characters he wrote. I had the chance to meet the author at a Horror Convention recently and I realized then that this was far from the truth. Hornsby just has a knack for writing characters that make you feel like you are biting down on tinfoil. He has a talent for that.
I will readily admit that I am not much of a conspiracy theorist, and as such, I probably don’t rate as someone who is a judge of the conspiracies that Hornsby presents in this novel, but I will say this-I felt pretty damn squeamish as more and more was revealed in this story, as my imagination was sparked and I tried to comprehend how deep and dark the rabbit hole the author had created was. Mr. Hornsby has created a novel that provides the disaffected youth he writes about with a nightmarish world that is even worse than they could ever imagine, which is quite a trick to pull off. This story was creative, wild, and forces you to pay attention to it at every step. But even if you do, there is more than meets the eye, and will give you something to think about long after you put the book down.
Eleven Twenty-Three can be found at http://www.amazon.com/Eleven-Twenty-Three-Jason-S-Hornsby/dp/1934861340/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1285374627&sr=1-1
Here is Part 2 of Megan’s story. This leads up to her initial meeting with Jeff in Comes The Dark.
There will be more in upcoming weeks as I continue to sift through my old manuscript and try to dig free bits and pieces that I think might be worthwhile and contribute to the overall story of my trilogy.
I hope you enjoy it.
Please note: I will be posting all of these stories in order on the page entitled “Dark Stories” on this blog, so they won’t be difficult to find for anyone who discovers them later on. As the second and third book are released, I will post more stories there and in regular posts as well.
Megan, Part 2
There was plenty of noise outside. Beyond the reinforced doors and boarded up windows, she heard them. The infected had come to the neighborhood in force. Megan could hear the moaning and every now and then a scream.
Sometimes they were close. So close that they seemed to be right outside the window. And when Megan heard them that close, it wasn’t the moaning that bothered her. It was something far worse. She tried hard to pretend she didn’t hear it, but it burrowed down beneath the thick layer of blankets and pillows she had shrouded herself with. It burrowed into her ears and down into her soul.
It was the sound of them eating.
That was when Megan realized there were far worse ways to go than suicide or being forced to starve to death as you waited in the darkness, alone.
The fear that those things might discover her hiding place opened up a black and shriveled up part of Megan. The idea of them breaking in and tearing through the house, which would force her to pull the trigger again, held her in thrall for days at a time.
But they never came for her.
One particular memory of those dark days stuck in Megan’s mind. It must have been a couple of weeks after everything had fallen apart. A giant crash echoed up and down the street as several gun shots were fired. Megan refused to look past the blinds and see what was transpiring outside.
She did sit up in bed and then froze, staring at her shuttered window, wanting to go to it, wanting to do something to help whoever was out there.
Megan was terrible at categorizing guns or the report that occurred when any were fired, but the shots sounded like they had come from a rifle. After the first few shots a different weapon discharged and sounded similar to the handgun sitting on her nightstand.
The gunfire had snapped Megan out of the paralysis for a moment, but even as her heart raced and she had to steady her breathing to avoid hyperventilating, she could feel lethargy creeping back in. She shivered inside the sweat drenched night shirt she’d been wearing for days as she pushed her feet over the edge of the bed and stood up, her legs aching in protest as she did.
Megan hovered near the window but refused to pull the shade to look out onto her sun drenched street. The monsters out there were not coming for her this time, so she could drown in her sheets and pillows once again.
As the gunshots played out and the screams began, Megan stared at the .357 Magnum. What amount of energy would it take to burst through the front door and rush to the aid of the people out there? Wouldn’t trying to help be better than burying herself alive once again?
But in the end, all Megan did was stand next to her bedroom window and listen to the cries of agony, the sounds of pleading, and ripping and tearing that always came at the end of the attacks. She listened and let her mind create images of what was going on outside, because she couldn’t bear bending the blinds to know for sure.
There were more crashing noises and the gunshots subsided. The moans and screams grew frantic, an opera of voices covering every octave. Megan wanted to close them off but couldn’t. She couldn’t react at all-to help or to hide. She knew this was her punishment for letting Dalton die … and for participating in his death.
That was when Megan started to scream.
It took her a few moments to realize what she was doing. She was screaming into a pillow she had managed to pull off the bed.
Even as she screamed, Megan had a moment of clarity. The only thing to hope for was that it would go fast for whoever was being attacked. For the next few minutes all she heard was an increase in moans as her muffled screams were drowned out. More and more of the infected joined their brethren to take down the survivors.
Later, Megan realized then that her screams had stopped and her throat was a ragged mess. She had ripped it raw. She remained standing, holding her pillow with quiet desperation, as the undead tended to their needs outside.
At that point, someone must have broken free of the house they’d been hiding in and got out to the yard, and perhaps even the street. He was shouting for someone, but Megan couldn’t make out a name over the cries of the reanimated. Several more shots rang out and the screaming began again. It was a deep wailing at first-definitely a man, but toward the end it grew shrill and high pitched.
Megan tried to pretend she couldn’t hear what happened next but there was little doubt the man was being torn limb from limb. It sounded so close that she imagined the man making it to her front yard before her rotting neighbors pulled him down, swarming over his warm body. As his clothes were ripped away, the moans turned to hisses and squeals of delight as the creatures tore into their prize. Long after she believed the victim had mercifully ceased feeling any pain, one last scream rose above the sounds of eating. It was the cry of someone who no longer cared to be saved, but were instead drowning in a pain that overwhelmed all else.
Then the scream cut off. A sound like a wet branch snapping and then a short gurgle marked the end of the man who died on Megan’s lawn.
That was all Megan could take. She felt her knees give out as she collapsed to the bedroom floor. Curling up in a ball, she began to hum. It was what she did as a child to drown out people she didn’t want to listen to. As she curled even tighter and smashed the pillow over her eyes, Megan remembered her favorite rhyme.
Ms. Mary Mack, Mack, Mack, all dressed in black, black, black with silver buttons, buttons, buttons…
Megan repeated the rhyme over and over in her head to blot out the feeding noises as she crawled underneath her bed. The chant continued as the monsters that had been riled up by the introduction of new flesh continued their aimless wandering long after their feast was over. Megan didn’t realize she was sucking her thumb until it grew sore a few hours later.
Over the next day and a half the creatures drifted away and Megan faded in and out of a fitful sleep. Each time she woke up she would repeat the rhyme to avoid hearing them crashing around outside, searching for more food.
Megan was finally able to crawl out from underneath the bed, stiff and aching, two days after the attack.
She stared at the window for another day, teased by the idea of sneaking a peak outside. Nothing out there could be as bad as she had imagined, could it? She had to know if the cold creep of insanity tugging at her could be pushed back or if she should just embrace it, wrap it around her body like a warm winter coat and just drift into oblivion. Megan got close enough to touch the wispy material of her thin drapes. The fabric rippled gently in response to her touch, but she could go no further.
For the next few days, as Megan stared at the pattern the wallpaper border made around the room, she thought of Dalton a great deal. He was the only one of the dead who didn’t whisper to her, telling her to let go, to give up this charade of living. But the others would tell her that all she had to do was open the front door and step outside and all the lies would be over.
But Dalton never tried to speak to her like her dead neighbors did. The man who had died on the lawn, as well as the woman he had been with, came to her the most. The pain was fleeting, they said. It was just the body’s way of resisting its passage into the new existence they had all embraced. It was only a pain of transition, of shifting to a better existence.
She tried to ignore them, but as the hours ticked by and daylight faded into night, the strain of the words wore on her as her eyes drifted from the wallpaper to the gun on her nightstand.
Not yet. I made a promise to you Dalton. Not yet …
Dalton ran into the room and pulled her off the bed. “Come on hun, we have to leave!”
Megan was thrilled to see him again and knew he had come back to whisk her away.
“I have something to show you.”
Dalton pulled her out of the bedroom and down the steps. Megan nearly tripped her as she tried to keep up with her excited spouse. She managed to avoid a fall as they landed in the foyer.
Dalton smiled as he pulled his wife toward the front door. Megan resisted, but he smiled and gently shook his head. “I have something to show you.”
Megan looked at the door and saw that the makeshift boards Dalton had nailed over it were gone. Dalton put his hand on the knob and before Megan could protest, he pulled the door open.
Megan tried to scream and clawed at the hand wrapped around her wrist. She shook her head, pleading with Dalton.
Glancing outside, she saw the dark shapes of the dead. She stopped struggling and noticed that none of the stiff forms were moving forward, coming toward them.
Megan had never seen one of the walking corpses with her own eyes before. She had seen them on television, but had been hidden away in the house since the beginning, with curtains drawn and eyes firmly shut to what was going on outside.
The dead people on Megan’s lawn were not reacting like the crazed monsters she had been expecting. Instead, they stood silently, swaying back and forth, staring at her and Dalton in the doorway of their house, as if waiting for them to do something.
As they looked upon her, their eyes did not hide the emptiness behind them. There was no life there, no comprehension.
“I have something to show you,” Dalton repeated and put his hand on Megan’s shoulder as he pulled her out onto the porch. Megan looked in her husband’s eyes and her resistance faded.
The bright sun hit Megan’s face, nearly blinding her. Even with her limited vision, she could see the huge crowd that had gathered for them. As the two living people moved forward, the sea of rotting flesh stepped back to allow them to pass.
Megan smiled as she realized they were being allowed to leave! With that jubilant revelation she noticed something about the stiffened corpses all around her.
These diseased creatures were not moaning.
They were as silent as she was. Although they stared at Megan there was no hunger in their eyes. They didn’t reach out to touch or pull at her; they seemed to have no desire to violate her at all.
After a few minutes of trudging on blood soaked grass, Dalton spoke again. “Almost there,” he beamed at her as he looked back and grinned, his teeth dazzling in the sunlight.
Megan couldn’t remember how long they walked before the crowd ahead parted, revealing an opening. Not a large one, just a small circle of space free of the dead. Megan could see something on the ground, a bundle of some sort. But since Dalton was in front of her, leading the way, she couldn’t make out what it was.
Dalton turned away from Megan and dropped her hand. She stopped, watching as the man she loved knelt down and wrapped his arms around the bundle. He made quiet noises she could barely hear as he rose up.
When Dalton turned around Megan knew what he was holding. Dalton was smiling down upon the blanket wrapped shape in his arms, slowly bouncing it and cooing. It was their baby. Their little girl!
Megan tried to reach out to take the baby and cradle it in her arms, but they felt like there were lead weights at her side. She had always known they would have a girl-it had been her dream all along. She could feel tears rolling down her cheeks as she watched Dalton hold their infant in his arms.
Dalton looked over at Megan and smiled. “She wants her mommy. She’s hungry.”
At his words, Megan’s felt lighter and she was able to move forward. It was some cruel twist of fate that had kept the child from her for this long, but Megan knew, deep in her heart, that she would never be separated from her again.
As Megan moved closer, Dalton smiled encouragement at her. She saw a curl of black hair peeping out of the snug blanket and her heart quaked in anticipation.
Megan reached out for her child as she stepped up to her husband. She had forgotten the dark figures surrounding them, though the dead appeared to be leaning in to get a closer look at the child. Dalton gently handed the child over to his wife as she held out her arms.
A scream burst forth from Megan’s lips. She wanted to drop the bundle but Dalton’s arms were wrapped tightly around her and the baby. Megan’s scream continued, piercing the silence of the netherworld like a knife.
Her child, her baby girl, was one of them. Its grayish skin was stretched tight over its skull, its eyes pus filled even though the murky pupils fixated on its mother. Its mouth was filled with jagged little teeth that gnashed and clicked together with menace. As Megan’s screaming stopped, she heard an unearthly moan of the dead escape the baby’s lips.
“She needs to feed,” Dalton hissed and Megan looked at his face. He was one of them, too. Half of the skin on his face had rotted off and the stench was overpowering as he leaned in. “She needs to feed … and so do we.” A thick green line of drool trailed from the corner of his mouth where multiple jagged and broken teeth sat. The moans rose as Dalton lifted the baby up to Megan’s breast.
Megan was torn from her nightmare, clutching at her belly, sweat-drenched as she attempted to hold in the screams. The pain she felt in her gut was real-as real as anything else in this dark, dank place she inhabited. The once almost impossibly strong desire to bring new life into the world had shriveled and died as dreams such this one haunted Megan’s sleep, tormenting her endlessly.
As she sat trying to regain her composure, it dawned on Megan that it wasn’t some simple mercy that had woke her up before her dream could reach its evil conclusion, as it had done so many times before. Something else had disturbed her sleep.
Megan didn’t have to wait long to discover that it wasn’t the sound of moaning or some window shattering nearby that had jarred her sleep. It was an explosion.
When the next one hit, it sounded like a bomb had been dropped on the neighborhood. The bedroom walls rattled as several more bursts occurred. Megan tensed, unsure of where they were coming from and if they were getting closer to her house.
She gripped the covers close, knowing they would provide no protection, but having no idea what else to do as she stared at the windows. A rumble of another blast caused them to vibrate.
Megan remained stationary for several minutes, even after the thunderous explosions ceased. She listened, waiting for something, anything else to happen, but there was nothing. Not even the ever-present moaning of the dead.
What the hell just happened?
It was the only thought that raced through Megan’s mind as she slid off the bed and searched for her shoes. Her actions were automatic. She hadn’t slipped on her sneakers in weeks, but it seemed like the thing to do as she pondered the explosions and the meaning behind them.
It had to be the military. They had been working all this time to clear the city of infected and they’d finally reached the suburbs. It was the only explanation that made any sense.
Limping as her sluggish limbs woke up, Megan made it to her closet. She needed to get dressed. For the first time in the five weeks, the close caress of the nightgown she’d been wearing repulsed her. It stuck to her skin and smelled foul, almost ripe. And as she stripped it away, it was as if layers of fear and intimidation disappeared with it.
Two minutes later Megan was moving down the steps, weak but excited. She had snatched the revolver off the nightstand and held in front of her like some sort of shield as she stared at the front door.
Memories of her nightmare returned. Megan closed her eyes as a vision of the baby she had held in her arms jumped into her head unbidden. She sucked in a sharp breath and opened her eyes again, determined to push the nightmare aside so she could focus on the aftermath of the explosions she’d heard.
After staring at the front door for a couple of minutes, her heart racing, Megan shook her head to clear it of all the confused thoughts that had been swarming through her mind since she had been so abruptly awoken.
“Shit happens,” Megan mumbled as she stepped closer to the door. Her voice sounded odd. Scratched, deflated. It was not the voice she had lived with her entire life, but instead sounded weak, insecure … frightened.
Steeling herself, Megan took a deep breath before leaning toward the window next to the front door, putting her hands on the blinds. There were a few more moments of seconding guessing before she was able to get close enough to pull a slat down.
Megan had to line her eyes up with the area between the boards nailed in place. She blinked a few times and tried to adjust to the light of the mid-day sun after having spent weeks in shadow. When she was able to focus on her front yard and what lay beyond, it took her mind several more seconds to accept what she was seeing was real.
The neutral toned brick and vinyl siding houses and manicured lawns were gone. They had been replaced with a palate of blackened and burnt wooden and stone skeletons. Several houses were smoking and ruined, while others still stood. All the lawns were overgrown and bushes were beginning to run wild. Fires had destroyed some structures while leaving others intact. Cars out on the street were covered with layers of dust, ash, and garish splashes of blood.
The burnt houses with timbers jutting into the sky mirrored the corpses littering the street. While it was mostly bones and splashes of blood, a few unidentifiable chunks of human residue were scattered about. Several younger saplings that had been planted in the grassy patch between the sidewalk and the street had been bent and broken, and Megan blinked as she spotted what looked like an arm dangling from one of the snapped limbs.
She took little comfort from the fact that she saw only a scattering of bodies. There were bones strewn about her yard and what appeared to be a torso stripped free of its flesh sitting on the Miller’s porch across the street.
Megan stifled a whimper as she saw the remains. A wide trail of blood led away from the torso to the front door of the Miller’s house, which had been ripped from its hinges. Several of the other houses Megan could see from her vantage point looked broken into as well.
Rubbing her eyes, Megan took a short break from looking outside while she tried to keep her breathing even and controlled. She’d seen nothing lurking in the shadows outside and the silence from earlier remained intact. There had been no noise since the explosions. No tanks rolling in, no gunfire, and no more moans. She took a small amount of solace from the possibility that the dead had migrated away from the neighborhood, but was disappointed that the cavalry had not appeared.
Megan was still rubbing her eyes when she heard another noise off in the distance. It startled her even though it was no where near as loud or abrupt as the explosions had been.
Letting go of the blinds, Megan stepped back and felt her legs give way as she collapsed onto the floor. Raising the revolver with a quivering hand, she pressed it against her temple.
It was those things. She could hear them moaning. They were coming back.
“Where’s my goddamn rescue?” Megan whimpered as she tried to fight back the tears.
Shaking her head, she refused to believe that the explosions had been some sort of freak occurrence. No! It had to be something else-something more than just another fractured, hopeless misery in a world already filled with them.
Megan continued sitting next to the door, hearing the moans getting closer while her arms rested on her knees and her head slumped over between them. She held the gun up and began tapping the butt gently against the back of her skull. This went on for another minute or so until she heard a new sound and raised her head to stare up at the window.
At first Megan couldn’t place what it was. She’d been subjected to the muffled wailing of flesh eating predators for far too long and her ears needed time to adjust to the subtleties of this new noise. When they did, Megan jumped up so quickly she almost fell on her side as a grin split her dry, cracked lips. She rushed to the window and clawed at the blinds. Flattening her face to the board again, Megan scanned her street and the one that crossed it nearby.
Megan’s street was at the bottom of a hill, the road feeding into her section of the subdivision on a downward slant. With the thin slit between the two boards showing only a little of the outside world, Megan couldn’t see that far, but as she waited, her patience was rewarded a few seconds later.
“Oh my God…”
It was a van! It was racing down the hill toward her street. Megan could hardly register what her eyes were trying to tell her brain. It’s a goddamned minivan! She nearly fell on her butt as her legs threatened to give out on her again. The dark blue van sped toward Nelson Street, where Megan lived, getting closer by the second.
Giggling hysterically, Megan wondered why the army was using minivans instead of Jeeps or Humvees. The vehicle continued to get closer, but appeared to be slowing down. A twisted part of Megan’s mind whispered to her that it was illegal for someone to be driving that fast anyway. The giggling ramped up and she wondered if she should call the police on the driver. Megan’s felt dizzy from all the laughter, but she was determined to get the attention of the person driving the van. Otherwise they would drive past her house, hit the dead end at the end of Nelson, turn around and speed out of the neighborhood without a single backward glance.
The laughter cut off as Megan realized she had a choice to make. It was either time to leave this house which was not only Dalton’s tomb, but fast becoming hers as well, or to give up and end it all.
That was when Megan realized there was still a spark of life left inside of her. This was her one chance for redemption; her one chance for freedom. The hell residing outside the house was beginning to look no worse than the hell that had been living inside of her mind for the past few weeks. Megan heard herself whimper as she reached for the first board that covered the front door.
Tears replaced the anxious laughter as she tugged at the lumber hammered into the top of the solid oak door. As she did, Megan wiped at the small beads of moisture coming from her forehead and her eyes.
The boards didn’t budge with her feeble efforts. Megan was already out of breath after a few tugs and her arms felt like dead weights. Need to get to the gym more often. She rubbed her forearm and glanced over at the window. Dalton had spaced the boards across it so they could still look outside. That would give her a place to slip her fingers as she gripped the boards when she pulled at them. Setting the gun down on a small table next to the front door, she moved to the window.
Megan could feel the itch of panic as she heard the minivan’s engine continued to creep closer to her house. It was taking way too long to get here. Hadn’t the driver been flying down the road? Now what were they doing? They’d been slowing down, but how slow could he possibly be going now? The speed limit is 25 MPH and every good citizen should observe that limit, even during the apocalypse. A new wave of giggles threatened to return with that crazed thought, but Megan was able to force them down as she struggled with the boards over the window.
She moved to the other window on the opposite side of the door and wrapped her arms around one of the boards over it. The fact that the driver was slowing down was some sort of cosmic nudge, urging her to try harder so she could let them know she was here. Megan yanked at the board and it bent slightly toward her but had no further give in it. She shook it, but it remained securely affixed to the window frame.
Megan screamed in rage. “Let. Me. Out!” Each word was punctuated by a futile jerk at the board. She kicked angrily at the wall as she pounded on the wood. Exhausted, she almost slumped to the floor again, knowing she wouldn’t make it in time. The van would pass by and never even know she was inside, desperate to be free.
Megan’s head snapped up as it dawned on her. The garage! She stumbled as she ran through the kitchen. She almost slipped on the linoleum but made it the garage door and pawed at the knob. She was nearly hyperventilating and couldn’t hear if the van was still outside. She slid between Dalton’s Jeep and her little econobox in a rush to get to the big aluminum garage door. With no electricity, the door would just pull up.
Megan snatched at the handle on the door and nearly wrenched her arm out of its socket as she yanked on it. It didn’t budge. A wave of pain shot through her arm as she recoiled from the handle like it was a venomous snake. The door was jammed.
Megan stared at the garage door, exasperated. The house didn’t want to let her go. Slowly her eyes grew wide and she cursed her stupidity. Glancing up past the handle, she saw a rectangular shaped protrusion half way up the door. It was connected to two metal rods that spanned the door horizontally. Of course! Dalton had manually locked the garage door on his return from the failed supply run.
Megan wrapped her hands around the cold, dry metal and twisted it to the left and it did not budge. Turning it the other way met with success as she heard the satisfying sound of the lock opening. She leaned down and tugged on the handle, receiving the result she was hoping for as the door began to rise. She let it go up about halfway and glanced outside, free of barriers between her and the rest of the world for the first time in ages.
Megan had been prepared to run screaming to flag down the driver, but as she looked out on the scene past her lawn, she realized that perhaps her grand vision of escape had been a mistake.
Things could be worse.
That was what Dalton had said to Megan when this whole mess started. He had been trying to raise her spirits and kept on trying to until the end. He wanted her to survive, wanted her to keep on fighting and find a way out of the hell they were in. Now, despite her efforts to entomb herself in the bedroom they had slept in, made love in, and lived in, she had finally woken up. She was somehow still willing to fight after all this time; not just for herself, but for her husband’s sake … because once she was gone, who would be left to remember him?
So when she saw the scraggly looking man standing on top of the blue minivan, looking away from her as he stared at the top of the hill, she realized that despite how terrible he looked and how dire her circumstances were, things could be worse.
Swallowing hard, Megan stepped out into the sunlight.
“Hello,” was all she could think to say.
Quicker than expected, the May December first person zombie apocalypse anthology, Eye Witness: Zombie has been released and is available on Amazon.
I am very proud of my story that appears in this anthology, as it ties into the world I created with Comes The Dark and its two sequels. My story is entitled “A Soldier’s Lament” and is my first foray into first person storytelling. I am used to doing third person traditional, but it was good taking a different perspective for this one and I am pleased with how the story ended up.
So check it out!
Here is the description on the back of the book (and the cover is listed one post below this one, so you can take a look at it there):
THE DEAD WALK! Slip into the skin of common men and women and experience the horror through their eyes. Follow the Zombie Apocalypse from its initial stages to the brink of the abyss, and over…into the pits of an unthinkable Hell on Earth. Tune into your local stations for the latest updates or stay here and follow the story as it unfolds on…Eye Witness: Zombie.
I am quite excited about this anthology from May December Publications. It is being released soon and contains a story of mine that is derived from the same world as Comes The Dark. I won’t reveal the connection, but suffice it to say, there are a couple of characters that appear in my trilogy that also appear in my story, “A Soldier’s Lament.”
This one should be out in the next month or so, and my copy is on its way from the publisher. I can’t wait to get my hands on it!
This past weekend, I got to go to my very first horror convention, Horror Realm, which is held in Pittsburgh. This is a zombie-centric horror conference and gave me and the rest of the authors from The Library of the Living Dead and Permuted Press the chance to meet with horror fans of all stripes, discuss zombies, and have a blast.
Things got going on Thursday night, when those of us who had the chance to come in a bit early were able to head to Rich Dalzotto’s house and mix and mingle with one another. Rich is one of the folks who runs Horror Realm. The party gave me the opportunity to meet and interact with quite a few of the folks I haven’t met face to face before but have corresponded with and spoke to on Skype. Too many to mention here, and I fear that if I start naming names, I will end up skipping someone. So suffice it to say, the party was a lot of fun and a great experience.
Putting up my books and being at the actual show was quite an experience. I have gone to conferences for work before, but never something like this. There were a ton of vendors and quite a few horror celebrities, with reunions for Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead happening at the convention. Even with these celebrities walking around, I gained the most enjoyment in having the chance to get to know a lot of other authors over the three days of the show. Doc, my publisher, was terrific, and so was Jacob Kier, who is the publisher over at Permuted Press. They both took great care of everyone and despite the fact that sales weren’t huge, the show was a rousing success.
One of the highlights for me was getting made up as a zombie to film a commercial for The Library of the Living Dead. All us zombies got to tear into Doc, though it wasn’t blood and guts that came out, but something else entirely. I won’t ruin the surprise, but lets just say we all had a blast filming the commercial.
I wanted post a few pictures I took at Horror Realm here as well, just to provide a flavor of the event and the people I had the pleasure of meeting up with. I am already anxious to go to next year’s event, because if it is half as much fun as this Horror Realm was, it will be well worth the trip!
As promised, I am providing additional story lines to complement the main story in Comes The Dark and its two sequels. The stories I will be posting here on my blog were originally written with the intention of being included in the book. But for numerous reasons, they did not make the final cut. My hope is that by posting them on my blog it will give those of you who have read my book a chance to get to know some of the characters in the story beside Jeff a little better.
There will be a few of these stories for Comes The Dark, and a few more that I will post after the second book is released in the new year for characters that are introduced in that novel.
For now, here is the first part of my introduction to Megan. This story, along with Part 2, relates what she was doing before her meeting with Jeff early on in Comes The Dark.
I hope you enjoy it.
Megan, Part 1
Megan rolled over and stared at the wall. The bedroom, with its closed drapes and lack of light was the only place that gave her any comfort or peace anymore, if there was such a thing. At least sleep still came with relative ease. When she drifted off, it was the only time she could sever the tenuous link to reality she hated so much.
Certainly, there were nightmares, but they were tame compared to her waking reality. All Megan did was drift along like some raft on a meandering river, floating through one horrific experience to the next, never sure if she was awake or asleep as she did.
Despite whatever demons her mind dredged up when her eyes were closed, Megan still craved the sweet release of sleep. Nightmares felt real, but so did the occasional pleasant dream. Those rare moments when she was able to get lost in a dream were the only times she could forget.
That little bit of joy was her drug, so when she woke from them, Megan would bury herself in blankets and pillows and grasp at those fleeting images of happiness. But it never worked; once they were gone, they were gone for good.
No matter how bad or good her dreams became, Megan never made a sound in her sleep, or when she woke up. There was just too much of a chance that her voice would carry beyond the walls of her house. That could not be tolerated.
Megan kept staring at her bedroom wall. She’d been working on memorizing the pattern of the wallpaper border over the past few days. It was a floral print Dalton hated and it consisted of an assortment of red hued flowers repeating on the six inch border all the way around the room. Memorizing the pattern wasn’t much of a challenge, since there were only about ten different flowers on the paper, but doing so passed the time until she was able to drift off to sleep.
The rich color of the flowers matched the comforter and drapes, as well as the pillow cases and bed ruffle. Dalton faked nausea the first time he saw the entire set, but as a husband, he had learned how to pick his battles and bowed to his wife’s evil glare rather quickly when it came to such minor things.
Megan was proud of the decorative choices she’d made in the bedroom. It was the first room they’d finished in the house. The rest of the place was a work in progress, and had been since they’d moved in a little over a year ago.
This was their second place together, and purchasing the house had been the start of their “serious” stage. They bought a house that cost too much, picked out furnishings that maxed out their credit cards, and made plans to have a baby.
Megan and Dalton had been together for five years, married for three, and Megan had been feeling the itch to start a family for at least a year. This house out in the suburbs was going to be the place. The place where they really got going as a couple … and having the bedroom finished and tastefully decorated was the first step in that process.
Now the bedroom was going to be her mausoleum.
It wasn’t as if the food had run out. Megan had never been a big eater and she lost what little appetite she had when the world fell apart.
She could feel her muscles being devoured by her desperate body as she ate less and less. It was fighting her, resisting her desire to fade away. For some reason, Megan’s body wasn’t ready to give up on her just yet.
Before everything started Megan had barely topped “a buck five” as Dalton would say. She was sure if she checked her current weight, it would be a miracle if it was above ninety pounds.
“A strong wind’s going to blow you away if you’re not careful, honey.”
Megan grinned at the memory of her husband’s words. If she lost any more weight she might test that theory. Floating away might not be a bad idea.
Megan spent the rare occasion when she wasn’t lying in bed trying to read old magazines and books, but having never been a big reader, that didn’t last long. So instead, she dug up an old cookbook and flipped through it for hours on end, staring at pictures of recipes that would never be made again.
Ghosts of her old life were in everything that surrounded her. Not just in the cookbook, but in all the little things in the rooms she floated through like some sort of ghost; things they had bought together, made together. There had been so much to live for, but in the blink of an eye that was all gone.
Megan also spent a lot of time thinking about her sister in Pittsburgh. Sandy had three little boys Megan adored. They were all under six; each cuter than the next. “Aunty Mega” probably would never get to see any of them again. Sandy told her she and Phil were taking the boys down to the cabin in West Virginia just as this mess began and pleaded for Megan and Dalton to join them.
Unfortunately, things had turned bad so quickly that the National Guard clamped down on travel and Dalton nixed the idea of trying to make the six hour trip in their Jeep.
With all the reports of log-jammed highways and roadside attacks Dalton doubted they could even make it out of town, let alone to the mountains of West Virginia. Nope, they would stay in the house, stock up on necessities, and pray this wasn’t the end of times, like so many of those damn televangelists were shouting about over the airwaves.
But those bastards had been right.
Early on, Dalton planned on going out one last time to collect supplies-food, water, batteries … anything he could get his hands on. Megan remembered CNN blaring in the background that day, saying that it was Day Six of the crisis.
Dalton was going to take the Grand Cherokee, all their cash, and the revolver. His plan was to head to the closest grocery store and pick up whatever would fit in the SUV and return home as fast as he could.
Megan recalled the conversation before he left, when she was in a white hot panic and pleading with her husband to let her come with him or better yet, for him to not leave at all.
Dalton had gripped her shoulders as he tried to reassure her. “Honey, it’ll be alright. You can’t come with me. You have to stay and—”
“But I don’t even want you to go! Don’t you get it? It’s not safe out there Dalton. God only knows if the virus is here already. Please! If you have to go, let me go with you.”
Megan had gone on like that for over a minute as Dalton shushed her while shaking his head. He never broke eye contact with her the whole time.
Dalton’s level of calm began to overpower Megan’s determination and her hysterics lessened. In a normal situation, if her husband had shushed her she would have punched him in the chest. Not that her slight frame could pack much of a wallop, but he would definitely have known she wasn’t going to tolerate such a condescending attitude. But this time it was having the effect he’d hoped for.
“You know as well I do,” Dalton said as she started to wind down, “there isn’t much you can do for me out there.”
The volume of Dalton’s voice increased as Megan grew agitated again. He glared at his wife. “I’m not taking a chance on something happening to you. And let’s not play bullshit games about who is capable of handling themselves better out there if things get crazy.”
Dalton LeValley stood a smidge over six feet tall and weighed in at a fit one hundred and ninety pounds. He was ex-military, though he’d not seen combat in his two years of active duty. Still, he’d been trained to deal with dangerous situations while Megan had taken a two week self-defense course offered down at the Y. She knew Dalton could deal with trouble and move faster without her tagging along, but the idea of being separated from him, even for an hour, terrified her.
Megan shuddered as she took in a deep breath. Closing her eyes, she tried to shut out all the logic her husband had thrust upon her. The world had gone mad and she didn’t care that what Dalton said made sense. She also didn’t care if she was being selfish. He didn’t have to go out at all. They had enough food and water for a couple of days, and this whole thing would blow over by then, wouldn’t it?
All that day there had been pictures on the TV showing riots. Sure, they were going on in places like New York and L.A., just like you would expect, but they were happening in smaller cities and just about everywhere else.
One story on the television had stuck with Megan. A convenience store clerk in Iowa had been hung from a light pole in front of his store because he tried to stop a crowd of looters from ransacking his place of business. Megan remembered the images of shattered plate glass windows, shelves stripped bare and the store looking like a tornado had hit it. But what resonated in her mind were the images of the poor man after he’d been lynched. He’d not just been hung; he’d been stoned as well. His face and body were a mass of bloody bruises and welts. The censors had stopped bothering to cover up such brutality by then, so she got to see it in all its glory.
Megan found it hard to believe that it would ever get that bad in their anonymous little suburb. Certainly, their subdivision was in an uproar, with neighbors panicking and wondering what to do, but the madness of the outside world hadn’t touched down in Milfield yet. Lots of people were leaving the area and a few teens were trying their hand at vandalism, but the overall perception was that this viral crisis was happening elsewhere and would never reach the local area.
It wasn’t until a camouflaged Humvee drove down their street with a loudspeaker announcing where the nearest Red Cross and National Guard shelters were set up that Megan realized the worldwide panic being wailed about on television had come to their little corner of the world.
The National Guard wasn’t requiring anyone to leave their homes. Dalton told Megan the military didn’t have the resources to waste on homeowners unwilling to evacuate. They were urging everyone to do so, but were too busy cordoning off areas of the city, battling rioters, and trying to maintain the peace to bother with house to house searches.
Some of the families in the neighborhood took the Guardsmen up on their offer, piling into their cars and heading to the shelters. Others like Dalton and Megan decided to hunker down and wait it out.
Dalton had dismissed the idea of heading to a shelter rather quickly. “Why should we spend the next month crammed into some shitty tin can like sardines eating lousy food when we can be comfortable here in our own house?”
Megan didn’t argue at the time. But now Dalton was heading out into that mess to do a little grocery shopping, where the possibility of facing looters wasn’t the worst thing he might have to deal with.
Dalton shook Megan. It wasn’t violent, but she snapped out of her reverie just the same as if he had slapped her.
“Megan! Please, let me go. We both know I have to do this.” He wasn’t pleading with her. It was the last gasp of rational arguing he would do before he got angry. It was easy to read him after five years together, although things had never been even remotely this intense before. Megan knew she didn’t want him angry. Because if something happened and she never saw him again …
Things didn’t seem normal outside their house but it wasn’t as bad as the horror stories the news had cooked up. If Dalton went out there, then everything would be real. Megan was beginning to understand that for her husband it already was already real, and had been from the moment he heard the first hints of trouble in other places on the news. Dalton had accepted this new reality immediately and had boarded up the house and rationed their food and water. He’d even packed the Jeep in case they needed to leave in a hurry.
As Dalton pleaded with Megan to let him leave, it dawned on her that the only reason he hadn’t proposed this trip a couple of days earlier was because he knew how she would react. He had waited as long as he could before broaching the subject, until he had no other choice but to make this trip if they were going to survive inside their barricaded house.
So Megan knew it had probably surprised Dalton when she pulled him close, hugging him, and nodded her approval, rather than choosing to continue arguing. The tension between them remained for a moment, but when Dalton’s stiff shoulders relaxed Megan knew things were okay between them.
Wrapping her hand around the back of Dalton’s neck, she pulled him close to whisper in his ear.
“Please Dal, be careful. God, just be safe … I can’t imagine what I would do—”
Megan’s words were cut off as her husband swept her into a big bear hug. Dalton kissed her on the forehead and then pushed her back so they could look each other in the eyes. She had to bend her neck back quite a bit, as she always did, to accommodate their difference in height.
“You know I’ll be as careful as possible. No screwing around, just getting what we need and then I’ll head straight home.”
He dropped his arms to his sides, still a bit tense, fearful that Megan was some sort of firecracker whose wick had burned all the way down, but hadn’t exploded. Megan gave Dalton one of her sleepy little smiles she reserved for those times when she had essentially lost an argument. Not that she would admit defeat, but it served to let her husband know that this firecracker was a dud. Megan’s smile didn’t reach her eyes, but it was good enough for Dalton. He pulled her close again and kissed her firmly on the lips before heading to the garage.
“Be back soon,” was all he said before getting into the Jeep and driving away.
Dalton did make it back. He had been through hell and the Jeep had suffered some serious dents but it returned, just like Dalton, in one piece. There was a small gash on his forehead, but no other visible wounds when he stepped out of the SUV.
He described people dying on the streets-some sick, but others looking more insane than anything as they roamed the area.
“People were trying to take the truck, grabbing at the doors. A bunch threw rocks at the police and the National Guard … hell, they were attacking them! Everyone out there is insane, I swear to God. But …” He paused, his face turning pale at the memory as he told Megan his story. “But it was those sick people, the ones who were infected. They were attacking everyone, ripping and biting them. Christ, there was so much blood. It was a fucking nightmare.”
Dalton hadn’t made it to a store. Two miles down the road past their neighborhood was as far as he got and that was more than enough. He tried to turn around but people were running everywhere, blocking his path. After a few minutes of negotiating traffic to a place where he could turn the jeep around, a bunch of teenagers began throwing rocks and surrounded the vehicle.
When Megan asked for more details, Dalton shook his head, only saying that he had gotten away and was fine. He wouldn’t let Megan touch him as he rattled off his story, spying through the slats he’d nailed over the front door and windows. It was as if he was worried someone had followed him home. When she tried to hug him, he darted away. He was too strung out to stand still for even a moment.
It was when he went to the sink a few minutes later and rolled up his shirt sleeve that Megan saw the bite mark. The wound on his arm looked superficial, but Dalton’s hooded sweatshirt was torn in a couple of places. There were blood spatters on his clothes and Megan wondered if there were any other wounds he was hiding from her.
Dalton pulled off his sweatshirt and tossed it into the trash can. Still agitated after cleaning up at the kitchen sink, he locked himself in the bathroom. Megan tried to leave him alone for a while, certain her husband just needed time alone to calm down. But when he didn’t come out for ten minutes, she couldn’t wait any longer and banged on the door, demanding Dalton talk to her.
When he came out, Dalton still didn’t want to be touched. The thrill of seeing him again had been replaced by a dread that grew inside Megan. Dalton was alive, but what he’d seen out there had rattled him to the core. He was supposed to be the cool and rational one-the one who remained calm no matter what. Instead, he looked like some scared kid who’d been frightened nearly to death.
The next few hours were almost as bad for Megan as it had been waiting on Dalton to return from his trip outside. She prided herself on knowing her husband fairly well, but even a complete stranger could tell that something was terribly wrong with Dalton LeValley. After any stressful event Dalton was always the first to make light of it, smile and joke, washing away the stress and forcing himself to forget. That was not the Dalton Megan was seeing here. It was then that she realized he was dealing with something more traumatic than a violent run in with some teenagers.
Megan had seen the broadcasts and watched the scientists debate over what was causing the virus to be transmitted so easily from victim to victim. There were countless theories, but the one that stood out from all the others was that it was transmitted through the blood-through bites and scratches.
She didn’t want to accept it, but there it was. Megan wept as she tried to deny the truth of the matter. Dalton had been bitten and he was infected.
Dalton was lying on their bed, and perhaps it was her crying that allowed him to see past his own pain for the first time since his return. He held out a shaky hand to his wife and Megan fought against the urge to recoil as she looked at the wound on his arm, which he wouldn’t let her see before. The bite mark had turned black, with red, puffy skin surrounding it. The infection was definitely in his blood, and she could see that the skin on Dalton’s entire arm looked discolored and in bad shape.
Megan wanted so desperately to touch Dalton, but what if the infection didn’t just spread through the blood, but from touch as well? As she stood above him, near the edge of the bed, her heart racing, Megan looked into the pleading eyes of her husband and realized she didn’t care.
She took Dalton’s hand in hers and climbed in next to him, feeling the heat radiating off of his body. He felt like a blast furnace as she touched his forehead. It was as if his brain was boiling beneath his skull. Megan immediately sprung up from the bed, mumbling something about getting him a cold washcloth, and ran to the bathroom.
As Megan doused the cloth in cold water her hands were shaking. As she glanced at the mirror a ghost stared back at her. There was no blood in her normally olive toned skin.
“Get a grip, Megan. Keep it together. You have to for Dalton’s sake.” The whispered words were drowned out by the running water, but had the desired effect. Megan was able to resist the urge to break down crying again. Instead, she turned off the water and rubbed away the tears that had already fallen.
Returning to the bedroom, Megan could feel the washcloth cold and wet in her hands. She leaned over the stationary form of her husband and gently put the cloth on his forehead, wondering if even though it was wet, it might burst into flames from the overpowering heat coming off of Dalton. When he grabbed her wrist Megan jumped, startled. She yelped before she could cover her mouth with her free hand as she stared into his eyes. The hazel color she had always loved was beginning to cloud over with a milky film.
“Promise me … promise me you won’t let me change …”
It was only a whisper. Megan stared into his dull and weeping eyes, fighting to break free of their hypnotic effect. She wanted to shake her head and turn away, to avoid seeing the ravages of the virus as it changed Dalton, twisting and warping him into some kind of monster. Although it was still her beloved husband lying before her, he was already changing as his body was consumed with poison.
Megan touched his face gently. “Everything is going to be okay, baby,” she said in a surprisingly steady voice. She forced herself to look deeper into Dalton’s eyes. His fetid breath smelled of rot and it was all she could do to not gag. Instead, Megan smiled weakly at him. She wanted to run to the toilet and throw up, but stood her ground. This was her husband, no matter what was happening and she had to make sure he knew she was there for him, would stay by his side no matter what.
Dalton attempted to smile. Although he was wheezing and showing all the signs of a terminally ill patient, he seemed to be winning the battle with his fear.
He retained his grip on Megan’s wrist as he spoke again. “I’m going to head down to the basement. Please help me get down there. We have some giant sized trash bags I can lay on. If you wrap a towel around the revolver it will muffle the blast and not drawn any attention to the house.”
Megan only heard the first sentence, and then the blood pounding in her ears was just too loud. She’d felt faint before, but nothing like this.
A couple of minutes later … or maybe it was much later, Dalton was still holding her tight and all she could remember was screaming “No! No! No!” over and over again while she battered his shoulders with her small fists. Dalton was weak, but still had enough strength to get control of Megan and hold her until she stopped. He waited patiently for her to regain some sense of comprehension before he spoke again.
“God I know this is hard honey. There is nothing easy about it. I love you. More than you’ll ever know. But I CAN’T change what’s happening to me. Don’t you see? Either I have to do this myself or you have to …” at that Dalton broke down crying, taking his arms away from Megan as his broad shoulders shook and heaved.
The world was ending right that second. Megan could feel it. There was nothing left. She would pull the trigger and murder her husband, then stick the barrel in her mouth to put the final touch on this nightmare. She sure as hell couldn’t stay here without him. That wasn’t going to happen.
At that moment Megan was angry. Angry at herself for letting Dalton leave the house and angry for not letting him go a few days earlier when it might have been safe outside. She was angry with Dalton for coming back infected. She was angry at God, who seemed to be turning his back on them. The world was coming to an end and God didn’t give a shit.
Dalton’s crying slowed as Megan’s rage grew. He tried to take a deep breath to steady himself, but a coughing jag took him and lasted several minutes. Megan sprung up and ran to get him a towel as Dalton spat up blood, bile, and whatever else his body was liquefying as the virus tore through his system. He gestured for her to stay back, but to toss him the towel.
As the coughing died down Dalton was able to speak again. “You have to live Megan. No matter how bad you feel, you need to make it through this.”
The look in Dalton’s eyes told Megan that her husband knew what she’d been thinking about. More tears flowed from her eyes as Megan shook her head violently. None of this should be happening. It wasn’t fair.
“I’ll be dead in a few hours, Megan. I know you don’t want to hear it, but it’s true. But you won’t be. You’re alive and I want you to stay that way. You can make it through this crap, I know you can! The house is fortified and by yourself there is enough food and water to last a long time.”
Megan could only stare at her husband. The idea of putting a bullet in Dalton’s head was abhorrent, but she knew that he would pull the trigger if she didn’t. That was as much a part of who Dalton was as anything else: once he made up his mind, he followed through to the bitter end. No chance things would be different this time.
Dalton took the towel and wiped away the spittle and sweat from his face, though his lips remained crimson from the blood he’d coughed up. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and Megan resisted the urge to rush to his side to help him. If he wanted to go down to the basement to commit suicide, he could do it by himself.
Megan wondered if the man she had loved since their third date would do more than say goodbye as he left their bedroom, or would realize he couldn’t go through with this and instead profess his endless love to her. It was a selfish thought, and she knew it. All she could think about was how this impacted her and her existence. She wanted Dalton to fight this thing, resist it, so she didn’t have to accept that this was truly the end of their lives together.
Megan watched as Dalton got out of bed and moved toward the door. He looked at her but said nothing. He could see the parade of emotions on her face and likely knew how impossible all of this was for his wife. And that was when it hit her.
Even as Dalton was dying, he was thinking of his wife, which was exactly what she was doing. In the last few hours of his life he was more concerned with her well being than his impending demise.
That was when Megan ran to Dalton and slid under his shoulder to help him make it down the stairs without stumbling or falling. She was too short for him lean on her effectively, but the pained smile on Dalton’s face told her how grateful he was.
Dalton’s last few hours were better than Megan could have hoped for. They talked about everything, cried, and even laughed a few times.
Toward the end, Dalton touched Megan’s cheek with shaking hands as he started to fade. She watched as her husband fought to stay coherent, her face stunned and fearful.
Dalton had avoided telling Megan what to do up to that point, instead sharing the memories they both cherished in an attempt to forget his impending doom, if only for a little while. But as he felt his body shutting down and the pain gripping him so tightly he could barely resist crying out in agony, Dalton knew he had to explain what needed to be done.
“Do it before I turn. Don’t wait long; it probably won’t take more than a minute or so after my heart stops.” Dalton’s eyes were closed as he spoke and his skin was a gray, almost translucent as the virus’s victory over his body was nearing completion.
Megan heard the words and despite the fact that Dalton’s eyelids remained closed, she nodded down at him, knowing that if she said anything her voice would crack and she would lose control.
She was still considering pulling the trigger on the .357 Magnum not once, but twice. It would be so easy: they would escape this lunacy together. ‘Til death do us part-that was the vow, wasn’t it? But what if she didn’t want death to part them?
Megan remained lost in her thoughts, only half listening to the rattle of Dalton’s breathing, when she realized that the basement was silent. She glanced down at her husband and tried to hold back the flood of tears as she realized he was gone. His chest had stopped rising and the loud and ragged breathing had cut off. Dalton was laying there, his head resting on a garbage bag she had placed beneath him at his request, his eyes closed for the last time.
So when he sprung back up a moment later Megan felt her heart stop and her bladder let loose. Dalton grabbed his wife’s arms, looking at her with eyes that were dead and unseeing.
Megan didn’t time to ponder the fact that she had waited too long to do what he had asked. All she knew was she was going to die on the basement floor as her husband attacked her. As he pulled her close, she prayed the pain would be fleeting.
Before she could scream out or squirm loose he spoke.
“… make it! … to keep fighting!”
It was all Dalton could spit out. He fell back so fast his skull thumped against the concrete floor, his grip loosening (later there would be welts where he had grabbed her).
This time there was no doubt Dalton was truly dead. He was gone and taken with him everything Megan loved in the world. His last words echoed in her head: he wanted her to keep fighting.
The terror of his death grip on her receded and her heart rate dropped back to normal. Megan’s head was pounding, but she felt more alert than she had been in a long time. The jolt to her system had cleared her head.
Megan stared at the body of her husband as she stood. She lifted the dead weight of the pistol as she hovered over Dalton’s corpse. She was the only mourner he would ever have.
It was up to her to say good bye.
Megan reached for the towel and wrapped it around the muzzle as Dalton had instructed her.
What if I wait? The though slithered through Megan’s head like a serpent, its forked tongue tickling and teasing her. What if I wait to see if he gets back up? I’ll be able to look in his eyes and know for sure.
The thought that Dalton was somehow still in there, inside his ruined body, splashed Megan with irrational hope. She looked at him with love in her heart, wanting to touch him again and wanting him to touch her as well. He’ll look at me and know who I am. He’ll understand what happened and still know he’s my husband.
Megan shook her head. She raised the gun and rubbed the towel against her wet forehead.
“I love you so much Dalton. I would give anything to have you back with me. But I …”
The pain in Megan’s stomach made her double over. A huge knot had formed inside her gut. She moaned and almost fell to her knees, but somehow retained her balance.
“You’re the best man I’ve ever known. I will always love you Dalton.”
As she pulled the trigger, Megan swore she saw her husband’s eyes opening. The gun kicked and the towel covering the barrel shredded away as the bullet traveled at a tremendous velocity and blasted a hole the size of a dime in Dalton’s forehead. Megan blinked as she fired and when her eyes opened again she saw that Dalton’s eyes were still closed.
Megan avoided looking at the mess splattered across the garbage bags underneath Dalton’s head. Instead, she grabbed a couple of extra trash bags they’d brought down and laid them on top of him. She unwound the towel from the gun and dropped it beside the body. She was trying to be as clinical and removed from the situation as possible.
It isn’t Dalton, it’s just his corpse. She repeated that over and over in her head in a vain attempt to drown out the part of her mind that wanted to believe if Dalton had come back he would recognized and love her still.
Megan’s thoughts bounced against one another, tormenting her until she raised an arm to her mouth and bit down, hard. The torment inside of her head disappeared with a muffled scream as the coppery taste of blood filled Megan’s mouth. She kept screaming as she stumbled up the steps.
Somehow, Megan managed to hold on to the gun all the way to the bedroom. Later, she would contemplate using it on herself again, but always at the back of her mind was her husband’s dying wish. She held on to the weapon, keeping it close, telling herself it was there, just in case.
Another review for Comes The Dark and another one I am pretty pleased with. I am particularly fond of this quote from the review:
“Comes the Dark is non-stop action. It feels as if you are watching a movie that you can’t get up to go to the bathroom because you might miss something. D’Orazio, portrays the undead in the best light, hungry, vicious creatures with a destructive appetite.”
Check out the review here:
Another anthology that I am excited to be a part of, Doomology, from the Library of Science Fiction and Fantasy, has produced it’s cover and I am thrilled by this. My story, “You Only Die Twice” appears in it. Another one to check out once it is on the shelves. More details to come once it is available.
Another anthology that I will be appearing in, this one filled with superheroes and villains, will be coming out later this year. The cover art was just released and I am thrilled with it. I am excited about being involved in this one, as it gave me a chance to stretch my wings and write in a completely different genre. My hope is that this anthology will do well so that there is an opportunity to continue some of the stories that have been developed with this new world of good and evil.
So check out this cover. This one is going to be cool!
A lot of things have been happening lately in my writing and personal life, and it feels like I am finally able to take a breather for a moment before I dive back into the chaos. Most of what has been going on has been good, though there have been a few trials as well. I am going to just talk about the good things here, and try to keep it brief.
First off, the Kindle version of Comes The Dark has been ‘fixed’. By this, I mean that a few formatting errors that occurred in the transfer to the kindle have been rectified and the new and improved version looks terrific. For anyone who bought the original version, they can re-upload it and will get the new, clean version. I was told by the folks over at Kindle that anyone who has any problems with that process can reach out to them by via the contact button at www.amazon.com/kindlesupport. Hopefully, that won’t be necessary and it will just be a click of a button on your Kindle. Of course, that also means for anyone who hasn’t bought it already, the Kindle version of my book is back up and running. At $2.99, its a terrific price, so check it out!
Second, I wanted to announce that I will be posting a few stories here under the category “Dark Stories” that I had originally written with the intention of including in Comes The Dark or in one of its sequels. There were several reasons why that did not happen, including space limitations. As I have mentioned in more than one interview, I originally wrote about a half a million words for what would become this trilogy. The final word count of the trilogy is around 170,000, give or take a couple thousand. That doesn’t mean the 330,000 words that were sliced in the editing process was pure gold…or even tin for that matter, but some of it was decent back story on characters, including flashbacks as well as parallel stories happening at the same time as events in the novels. With a little more editing, I am hoping to present a few choice bits here on my blog that will give readers of my trilogy a bit extra about characters like Megan, George, and others that are introduced in the sequels to Comes The Dark. I hope to post the first story within the next week or so. After that, there won’t be a set schedule, but I will try to post some more after Horror Realm, which is two weeks from now.
Third, I have been working on Chapter 12 in the Collaboration of the Dead novel that nineteen writers agreed to take part in several months back. Each writer gets to write two chapters, one in the first half of the book, and one in the second half. Since 11 chapters have already been written, my responsibility leans more toward character development rather than introducing new characters-at least that is how I see things. I realize that others have been adding new characters all along and will probably continue to do so, but I am focused on stirring the pot with what is already there. All I can say about this process is that it is tougher than I had expected. I was nervous about it from the get go, given that so many other talented writers would be counting on me to avoid screwing things up at the very least and maybe even doing something a bit better than that. Now that I am actually writing this, I find that I am putting more pressure on myself than I would have for something I was doing for myself. With that said, it is still a blast, and a learning experience to boot. Here’s hoping that I don’t get stoned when I submit my chapter, or worse yet, asked not to write the second chapter I’m supposed to write down the line!
Dead Tide Rising is the sequel to Stephen North’s Dead Tide, which maps out the zombie apocalypse from the perspective of a wide array of citizens of the Tampa Bay area of Florida. The unique geography of the area played a significant part of the first story and does as well in this follow up, boxing in the characters on every side but one with water, forcing them to cope with the undead with virtually no place to escape to. Stephen’s unique storytelling spin also provides the reader with a different way of looking at the zombie apocalypse, with him thrusting you directly into the action, face first, in the present tense.
Dead Tide blew me away with its intense pace, harrowing action, and myriad of compelling characters. I knew there was no way Stephen North would be able to maintain such a heated pace in a sequel, and I was right. Dead Tide 2 is even more of a whirlwind of adrenaline fueled zombie terror than its predecessor. The author doesn’t take his foot off the gas pedal for even one second in this intense sequel that outdoes the original.
We return to the stories of the characters who we got to know in the first installment in the trilogy. Characters like Hadley, Bronte, Talaski, Janicea, Trish, and Jacobs among others who are trying to cope with each other and the undead, but we are also introduced to an intriguing new character, Johnny, who wanders in and out of this story like a ghost, offering a unique perspective based on the fact that in some ways, he looks like one of the walking dead despite being very much alive. He promises to play an even bigger role in the third act of this story, though the second book ends much as the first did, with many unanswered questions about all of the characters, including Johnny, and who will and won’t survive from one scene to the next.
Present tense narrative and having a wide range of characters filled the complaints about the first installation in this trilogy, and those complaints will likely remain for those who aren’t fond of a story told with this much immediacy and with so many characters to focus on. There is little I can say to convince someone that they will enjoy this book if they are adamant about either aspect of the first book, except that Stephen North is a hell of a story teller, and it’s a shame if you don’t give his spin on the zombie apocalypse a shot. While present tense is non-traditional, I feel that it works well in action heavy stories like this one, where the reader is plopped right into a scene and gets to feel everything going on in it. There is an immediacy, an urgency about it that I really like. No, it doesn’t work all the time and some stories would suffer for it, but Steve North’s vision of the zombie apocalypse works exceptionally well because of it.
Dead Tide Rising can be found on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Tide-Rising-Stephen-North/dp/1453731423/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1283382138&sr=1-1