Sneak preview of Z-Risen: Poisoned Earth book 3 By Timothy W Long
In the event this log is found with my corpse, I’m Machinist Mate First Class Jackson Creed and it’s been a week since we arrived back in San Diego following the event. With me is Marine Sergeant Joel “Cruze” Kelly.
We were both stationed on the USS McClusky, an Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate out of San Diego. Our ship was overrun by the dead and we barely escaped with our lives. Now we live in the middle of Undead Central.
05:35 hours approximateLocation: Just outside of L.A.
The sun rose over a desolate road, and that’s the nicest thing I could say about the morning.
Abandoned cars and trucks lay across the road like an obstacle course in hell. Suitcases had been emptied and tossed to the side. Glove boxes hung loose and had long since been vacated of all but papers and melted tubes of lipstick. I no longer bothered to check under seats.
After a vehicle had sat in the sun for a few weeks, anything that had been edible became something mushy and frequently sported mold or, as a real bonus, maggots and rot. I once found a bag with a freaking severed hand inside. The hand didn’t move, but I damn sure did. What kind of a wacko cuts off someone’s hand and leaves it in a goddamn bag?
There was enough debris littering the road to remind me of a war documentary. I used to watch the History Channel. They always showed men and women on the move, dragging kids and belongings. That wasn’t the case now. We were in the midst of a full-scale war that none of us were truly equipped to deal with. We did our best, but it was hard to handle the shitstorm we’d endured for the past month.
The level of Zs had decreased as we moved away from the city on our journey to Los Angeles. That didn’t mean we could be any less vigilant. One wrong move–one careless step like forgetting to check under the camper before everyone was out–and it could be the end for one or all of us.
I’d seen a Z try to grab Christy when she dropped to the ground. Either we’d run over the bastard or he’d crawled under there during the night. He’d sent Christy stumbling back and screaming. I wasn’t too quick with the wrench, because bashing something that’s got its head under a vehicle is like the most fucked up game of Whack-A-Mole ever devised.
Just another day in paradise.
The night before, we’d spent our time huddled in the camper, backed up between two houses so we had an easy exit. The pair of ramblers was so close together that the truck slid between them, leaving very little room on either side of our mobile home. If the Zs came, we’d have a fighting chance.
Following our escape from a shitload of shufflers and an asshole with an army, we’d spent a week plus change on the road. We didn’t move all that fast. Didn’t try to. It was a time to lick our wounds and press on. Los Angeles had become some kind of quest. It was our fiery mountain in Mordor. It was where we’d find warm beds, food, and acceptance. We had talked about it so much and for so long we no longer considered what would happen if the town was like everywhere else we’d visited: fucked.
Frosty–our newly adopted dog–was the only one that played it cool. She nosed around the little camper, and I took her out when she sniffed at the door. She always kept on guard, and still didn’t bark when Zs were near. I was tempted on more than one occasion to let her tease some Zs like she’d done the day I found her. Seemed like she loved nothing more than taunting the undead and leading them on a chase. But she was also smart enough not to let one of the rotters get ahold of her.
When I went out, Christy went with me, and hung around asking questions every minute. Never knew a kid could have so many random thoughts in her head. When will we find a place to sleep? Where are we going to get some fresh fruit? Could we grow a garden somewhere? Would I ever tell Anna how I felt about her? That last one got me, but I ignored it, because Anna was aloof about what had happened between us. Two could play that game, so I kept my mouth shut for a change.
When we found our safe place for the night, Christy took Frosty out to play. With the dog outside, I knew that if she got a whiff of more than one or two Zs she’d sound the alarm and we’d hightail it to a new hiding spot.
07:20 hours approximateLocation: Vista
Joel had spent a couple of days sitting around looking miserable while we all did our best not to get on each other’s nerves. Bunch of hardasses in a tiny space meant tempers could quickly flare. One time I was so sick of being cooped up with them, I took a walk just to clear my head. Cleared my guts, too, because I had hellacious gas. If it was just me and Joel, we’d fart and play it off, give each other an earful and then look for a window to open. But Anna and Roz had this way of looking at us like we were a couple of thirteen-year-olds.
It was so early the crickets were still making a hell of a lot of noise. I’d been outside stretching my legs when I’d realized that the new world had a weird smell. Fresh and clean. Kinda ironic considering all the dead stuff we’d seen over the last few months. After I found a place to piss, I headed back to the camper so we could gather around the small table and plan our next move.
Anna rested on the edge of the bed. Her arm was a mess from the gunshot wound. Roz sat in the tiny alcove, curved in a display of terrible posture, one knee cocked back and her other leg under the table. Christy was trying to teach Frosty to hold a treat on her nose until she was given the command to eat it. The treat was just some dried-out food from the night before. Frosty thought it was the shit, but didn’t seem to think much of the game.
Joel stood over the table like a limp-dick general. His ebony skin was sallow. After taking a couple of rounds to his IMTV armor he’d been left bruised and battered. We’d had a hell of a fight on our hands.
Now, a week of rest had done little but irritate him. We studied a beat-up map of the area, looking to stick to any roads that were off the main drag.
This plan didn’t always work out so well. Looking at a map was one thing. Actually finding our way was another. We’d pick a side road, head toward a larger road, and then learn the hard way that “progress” had screwed up anything resembling what we found on our fifteen-year-old paper map. One thing the zombie fucking apocalypse did not allow for was GPS.
The day before, Roz and I had raided a little convenience store. Miraculously, the place had only been mostly picked over. We found some dried goods, but not so much in the canned food department. Roz did turn up one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen in my life: a whole cooked chicken in a can. When that abortion slid out of the tin, I thought I was going to puke up all the stomach acid my empty gut had to offer.
It’d tasted worse than it looked. It was so bad I dreamed of some mid-rats back on the McClusky; that stuff tasted like boiled shoe leather, but beggars can’t be choosers. You either get used to eating shitty food or you starve. You get used to being on the run, constantly looking over your shoulder. You get used to the moans and groans of Zs. You get used to hiding and keeping quiet. If you don’t, it’s a quick trip to zombieville.
And that’s why I’d choked the stuff down and been thankful for the protein.
Frosty had nosed around, so I ripped off a few ounces and fed her. She licked my fingers and whined for more.
“I know, dude. Good shit.” I rubbed her head.
A half hour later we’d headed back to the camper where we shared the meager contents from our backpacks. Roz had inspected Anna’s wound and “tsked” a few times. She then took a turn feeling up Joel’s chest to check for cracked or broken ribs. She told him the bruising and swelling were going down.
“Hear that, jarhead? You’re going to be around for a while, so suck it up,” I’d grinned.
“I got something you can suck,” Joel had shot back, and grabbed his crotch, but winced for the effort.
When McQuinn’s army of jackwads had tried to take us down, we’d concocted a stupid plan that involved leading an army of Zs right at the other guys. Joel had made use of an ambulance, complete with flashing lights and a siren that told all of southern California we were still alive. The ambulance had crashed, and that’s when he’d been shot. His armor had saved his life, but it hadn’t saved him from looking like he’d been punched repeatedly by a gorilla.
“Get some rest, Joel,” Roz had advised. He’d rolled his eyes at me, so I’d shrugged and gone back to staring out of the space between the curtain and the window. I’d expected a horde of undead to locate us at any moment and make our lives hell.
To be clear, I expect this from every moment of every day.
“I’m fine. Just got the wind knocked out of me,” Joel had said.
“Fuck’s sake, Joel. It’s like you got kicked in the chest by a donkey. Just chill and stop being a jarhead for a day,” I’d said.
“Yeah. You say that now. Wait till your ass is hanging in the wind and a bunch of ZULUs are about to take a bite,” Joel had said.
“I’ll keep that in mind, and I’ll keep my ass pointed in your direction.”
Joel hadn’t said anything and instead, started to field-strip his assault rifle for what seemed like the twentieth time. Of all the weapons we’d had along the way, Joel had never abandoned the Rock River Arms AR-15 with its EOTech holographic sight. He loved it like it was his own rotten little kid. When he thought he’d lost it during a firefight, he’d made us go back a few days later and scour the area for the gun.
08:35 hours approximateLocation: Vista
The next few days passed in a blur. We stayed a tight group for the most part, but being a tight group meant that we were together too much and for too long. We laughed, bickered, fought, and had to keep more than one screaming match down to more of a hissing match so the Zs didn’t hear us. Joel and I had been cooped up together for days at a time, but we’d developed a way to deal with it: just not talking to each other. With a teenage girl and two women in our group, it wasn’t that easy.
I think it was a Thursday when we decided that we’d have to range out in a wider area to find a cache of supplies. I hated it, but we were going to have to hit some houses. That was dangerous. Open a door and there could be a Z waiting to pounce. Knock on a door and there could be a civilian waiting to shoot. And houses weren’t our only worry. We hadn’t seen a shuffler in days. Instead of being reassuring, it scared the shit out of me.
The shufflers were smart and cunning. They weren’t like regular Zs, because they seemed to be able to think. Not only that, but they acted in groups and were able to hide in masses of Zs.
But that wasn’t the real reason. Anna had a bullet in her arm, and as much as she’d played it off–and even though Roz had cleaned the wound and told us everything was okay–Anna was hot. She’d had a low-grade fever for a couple of days. We needed to get the bullet out, and Roz said she needed antibiotics.
So I counted rounds, readied gear, and then lay next to Anna for the night. She slept like a rock, but it was a long time before I dropped off.
06:10 hours approximateLocation: Vista
Morning arrived like a bitch with a hangover. I rolled over, studied the light streaming in from the outside world, and thought about taking a siesta for the rest of the week. Let the others do supply runs. I was sick of it. Running, hiding, ducking, sneaking, and bashing in heads. Wears a guy down, you know?
After I quit feeling sorry for myself, I became aware that Anna had backed up against me in the night. I had one arm over her waist and she was snuggled right against my chest with her head resting on my arm. My hand had fallen asleep but I didn’t care to move it. She smelled good. Feminine.
When it was time to do the supply run, I tried one last time to tell Joel to take it easy and take care of his wounds. Joel flatly responded that he and I were going out there. I nodded. Besides, if we had to spend another day holed up in this tiny camper, I was going to go fucking postal.
Joel said he was better and Roz seemed to agree.
“I’ll take it any way I can get it,” he said.
Roz looked like she wanted to punch him in the face.
Joel had gone over his IMTV tactical gear and made adjustments. He’d tossed out a shattered ceramic piece of armor that had saved his life, then twiddled with other pieces until his chest was protected. After the battle at the RV camp, we were dangerously low on ammo. I took Anna’s Smith & Wesson R8 .357. She glowered at me but I promised to bring her boyfriend back.
“Don’t lose him,” she said.
“I meant me,” I said and tried to pull off a cool smirk-wink thing. All I got in return was a flat look.
06:40 hours approximateLocation: Vista
We had an assortment of 9mm pistols, but barely enough ammo to fill all the magazines. Joel settled on the Beretta 92FS and stuffed a handful of extra rounds into his pockets. He had nearly a full magazine for AR-15. Joel slipped the mag into a pouch, snapped his assault rifle onto a two-point sling and draped it around his body.
During scouting missions, food runs, and house invasions we’d come up with so many different types of guns it was hard to keep track. I was happy with my Springfield XDM compact and always kept it close.
I hoped we had enough ammo to get us out of a scrape.
I took my trusty wrench and draped it over my shoulder. I’d found a piece of webbing that had been a guitar strap, and constructed a half-assed strap for the weapon. The wrench was conveniently left to swing under my arm, but it banged against my hip and side with every step. I had to figure out a better way to carry this thing, or leave it behind. But if there was one lesson I’d learned over the last three weeks, it was to never go unarmed. Never.
“Think we should bring Frosty?” I asked Joel.
“I don’t know. What if we get stuck and have to hide out for a day or two? How we going to keep her from going stir crazy?”
“How am I going to keep you from going stir crazy? Put a jarhead in a box and shit gets busted and shot up,” I said.
Joel snorted, but eyed Frosty.
“I don’t know, man.”
“Just leave her with Christy. She loves the girl more than me anyway.”
“Because I’m cute and you smell like a sweaty guy,” Christy said.
“You smell like sweat too. You just can’t tell,” I teased.
Christy looked at me like I’d slapped her.
“I do not stink! And it’s not like I can take a bath unless you can bring back a barrel of water.”
“I’m sorry, dude,” I tried. “I was just teasing. You smell like roses and puppy dog farts.”
“You’re so gross, Creed,” she said with a laugh.
Frosty nudged Christy’s side, and got her head rubbed for the effort.
“We’ll leave her here,” I nodded at Frosty. “Hear that, dog? You’re on guard duty.”
Frosty didn’t answer but she did loll her pink tongue out of the side of her mouth.
Roz said she’d stay behind and keep an eye on Anna and Christy. Better her than me. She handed me a list of usable antibiotics and told me to be on the lookout for them.
I’d been stuffed into this fucking sardine can for days and I needed a break. I needed fresh air, even if that air reeked of the Zs. With quick goodbyes that included me unsuccessfully trying to kiss Anna Sails on the cheek, we left.
We’d walked a few minutes when Joel broke the silence.
“Sails doesn’t seem to like you much.”
“What, that? She just doesn’t like public displays of affection.”