Category Archives: What's Up….
Just in time for Halloween, I bring you my latest Teen horror novel, Intentional Haunting!
Think of it as Stephen King for the John Green fans. Great stuff! So go ahead and click that link, have a read, and enjoy the spooky season!
Intentional Haunting (13+)-
Wyattsville, Oregon –The Most Haunted Place In America.
For fourteen year old Cotton Tennison, the Wyattsville ghosts are not the horrors he fears. The living are far more scary.
As the town outcast, Cotton suffers the abuse of his drunk father and the torment of the local bullies – a group known as the Red Meat Boys.
His only refuge is The Wyatt House, an abandoned house at the end of his street, a house filled with ghosts and specters that the town would prefer didn’t exist.
When several teenagers are brutally murdered, the town council decides to turn the Wyatt House over to a family of ghost hunters with questionable intentions. Here begins Cotton’s struggle to find a way to save the house, his ghostly friends, and the entire town before an evil force de-stroys them all.
Intentional Haunting is a Teen horror novel that mixes the tender macabre of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, the suspense of Stephen King’s The Shining, and the dark humor of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice. It is the personal story of a young man surviving the abuse of a town that has abandoned him, a young man that will be faced with a choice when the fate of Wyattsville rests in his hands. Will he be able to look beyond his resentment to save the town that has caused him such pain or will he walk away, just as the town walked away from him?
So, as many of you may or may not know, there has been a little kerfuffle over Permuted Press and its decision to stop releasing the majority of its novels in POD (Print On Demand). So, I thought I’d chime in now that most of the drama has chilled out. Why chime in? Because I’m a Permuted author and there have been a ton of rumors, misinformation, and flat out lies said about what’s going on.
Now, originally I had a legal pad’s worth of notes I was going to address with responses to claims that a couple of authors have made. But, in the end, I decided not to give them my energy. Flame wars are useless.
Let me just say this, though: the blog post that started all of this is so riddled with falsehoods and flat out lies that even if there is some truth in there, you better believe you’ll need to dig through a pile of horse shit to find that truth. [Quick note: I couldn't help myself and went back to said blog post. Guess what? Half of it is gone and edited out. So, I amend my statement above and say WAS filled with falsehoods. Interesting.] And the subsequent blog posts that came out, including an author’s declaration of his personal boycott against Permuted, are all based on the original post by an author that had an axe to grind based on employment issues well before the kerfuffle started. Employment issues, not publishing issues. Trust me when I say that that original blog post cannot be trusted in any way, shape, or form.
Speaking of trust (and truth), I made a statement on Twitter in response to something James Roy Daley (I link because I like!) tweeted. My statement was that some authors have flat out lied about their versions of paying to be released from their Permuted contracts. But, since I cannot say for 100% certain that they did lie, as I am not privy to their personal interactions with Permuted, I willingly retract my statement and apologize to Mr. Daley for misleading him. My bad. I also apologize to those authors for making any misstatements myself. This post is about clearing up misstatements, not perpetuating them. Again, my bad.
See? Being honest and admitting when you are wrong isn’t so hard. Others should try it.
Back to the kerfuffle!
Here’s the deal, Permuted Press announced that they are going to be publishing in primarily ebook format from here on out. Their reasoning being that 42% of labor was going into getting books ready for print whereas only 7% of sales were coming from print books. Now, be sure to read those numbers carefully. They are very telling because unlike so many reports, this wasn’t about not being able to afford the costs of POD, it was all about wasting 42% of labor (time) on 7% of sales. No respecting business would keep going in that direction and I sure as hell wouldn’t want them to.
But, regardless of the business aspect, the news was hard to swallow for many. There is the emotional aspect of holding a print book of your own, not to mention the ego boost of being able to point to it on a shelf and say, “That’s mine!”. Due to the emotional issue, many authors lost their shit over this. I am not exagerating. Some flat out freaked. Many of those authors were first timers and I can totally see why they’d freak. Without my experience in business and in the writing game, I’d have freaked too.
Full disclosure: Permuted’s decision does not affect me. I am part of their Permuted Platinum imprint which means my books (with the exception of one) are not POD, but offset print. That’s a whole other ball of wax. So, in all honesty, I had the luxury of standing back from all of this and analyzing as an inside outsider. It was surreal, to say the least.
Where was I? Oh, right, no more ebooks. But, wait! That isn’t 100% true. Here is Michael Wilson’s, CEO and President of Permuted Press, response to that:
“First, Permuted Press is NOT ceasing all print. The email was worded for, and sent specifically to, authors who had works releasing with us in the future. It leaked beyond those recipients and landed in the lap of people that are unaffected by our policy change. In fact, if you have a print title with us already, the news is even better. We’re shifting our printing away from Createspace and over to Lightning Source. This change, when fully implemented, will mean that anyone who currently has a printed book with Permuted Press will be able to go in to their local book store and ask them to stock that title. Lightning Source print on demand books are made available through the Ingram catalog, and retailers anywhere in North America can stock those titles. This isn’t the same as Permuted Platinum where a sales team works to get bulk buys and acquire shelf space for the books, but current print titles from Permuted Press will be available upon request to order at retail.“
That clarifies, but doesn’t help those that felt/feel betrayed by their novels not seeing print. Which then led to the major meltdown from many authors that wanted out of their contracts. While most quietly contacted Permuted, and were let go without hassle, some made a public display of their struggles and then began a smear campaign of misinformation and misdirection. I’m not here to defend Permuted. I’m Team Jake 100% of the time. So, let me have Michael speak again:
“Next, there has been some misinformation spreading about Permuted asking authors to buy back their titles. Let me clarify the reality of this accusation. Because we understand that many of our authors would not have signed with us as an electronic only publisher, and that our new e-first model would create some concern, we have very liberally been granting authors rescission of their agreements, including print rights as well as all other rights. The exception has been for a very small number of titles that Permuted Press has already made a financial investment in for artwork or editing. In cases where we have not yet paid an advance and we have not worked on art or edits for titles in question, we have freely and without hesitation allowed the author to have their rights back. In some cases we have borne the burden of artwork and editing and taken a loss in an attempt to absorb the sting of a thorny situation, but in no case have we held an author’s work for ransom.“
There’s that. Goes against a couple authors’ assertions they have been held for ransom. Maybe they have or maybe the authors were so offensive and aggressive that no one in their right mind would want to help make things easier for them. Speculation! I don’t know the answer to the specific accusations, I just know what I’ve witnessed so far: authors being let out of their contracts without a fight.
And speaking of contracts, that is the next direction the kerfuffle went! One established horror author hopped on his soapbox, using the less than credible postings of a disgruntled author as his fuel, to attack Permuted’s boilerplate contract. Then the HWA got involved as well as Absolute Write.
Let me say that Permuted’s boilerplate contract is not author friendly. I knew that the second I read it. Which is why I negotiated changes and Permuted was happy to make those changes. End of story for me. Other authors did not read the contract or understand it or give it to a professional that would understand it. They signed it and then got slammed in the face with the Regret Hammer once the ebook announcement came out. BUT, and that but is big for a reason, if you read the statement above, Permuted is willingly letting authors out of their contracts! So whether it is a crap ass contract or not is moot. Permuted has been doing right by its authors and freeing them from contracts they are not happy with.
So let’s shut up about the contract, okay? It’s every authors’ responsibility to read and understand what they are signing. Shit, folks, it’s every AMERICANS’ responsibility to read and understand what they sign! [You foreigners can sign whatever you want. I don't care. I'm looking at you, Kiwis. 'Murica!] [[That’s a joke. I love Kiwis. They are all short and have hairy feet and eat second lunches and elevensies. Especially Paul Mannering. One day I’ll be able to hug that hobbit in person.]] [[[All jokes. Calm down. No, seriously, calm down. What are you doing with the axe? NOOOOOOO!!!]]] [[[[I'm playing here, folks. Paul has had a great take on all this. Click the link above.]]]]
Shit, where was I? Contracts. Right. Another thing on the Permuted contract: the brass knows it’s a shite contract and during a meeting I had with them in September, they said they were working on changing it so it was more author friendly and would give authors way more rights and freedoms with their work. This was weeks before the announcement. That’s why, for me, the contract issue is a red herring and has been used as a smear weapon against a publisher that is already in the thick of fixing it. They probably should have announced that, though.
So, if all of this is being addressed and authors are calming down (are they?), then why am I talking about it, you ask? Because, whether directly or indirectly, my reputation has been attacked because I am sticking with Permuted Press. Hear that? Yes, I am sticking with Permuted Press. Why? Because they have been nothing but professional to me from day one. They have kept every promise and have gone out of their way to be open and honest with me. Because that’s what people do when they are professionals.
Ah, yes, people! This is where it gets personal. This is where I really started to get pissed about the smear campaign. You see, a lot of authors and bloggers want to paint Permuted as some investor owned mega corporation that only cares about profits. That’s bullshit. These are really, really, really nice folks. And they are not a mega corporation, they are a team of six (maybe seven now) hard working, horror and genre loving fans that have been overworked and under appreciated. I got to meet all of them in Nashville and we had a blast sitting and eating tacos and talking about our love of True Lies and Con Air.
True Lies and Con Air, people! That’s not evil, that’s just awesome!
So, when you picture Permuted Press, don’t picture an ivory tower, picture several enthusiastic lovers of all things genre with sour cream and salsa on their chins. That’s how I picture them. Seriously.
Okay, what else? Right, how it all sucks.
It does. R. Thomas Riley posted about the ebook only move and while I corrected him about the Nashville meeting and how none of the authors present were ever told to lie, not ever, even though he makes it sound way more ominous and conspiratorial than it was even in my correction, I do agree that he and Roy C. Booth got screwed because they don’t have physical copies of their book for a book signing. That does blow. And I know there are others that got left in the lurch. That’s why I am leaving this part at the end of my post.
Permuted Press could have, and should have, handled this a little (a lot) better. Leaving some authors without print books they had planned on getting isn’t cool, contract or not. Not responding to all the misinformation and BS blogposts while the authors are being attacked left and right for staying with them isn’t cool. Keeping authors in the dark for a week when there were a billion questions isn’t cool. It does hurt the spirit of small press publishing.
That’s why I’ll give Michael the last word (almost!) on that subject:
“It’s been a week since I announced the changes going in to effect, and before I made any comments here in the author’s group, I was determined to give emotions a chance to calm a bit so that we could have a calm, civil discussion. I believe we’ve all seen in the past week the wisdom in that decision. I have been silent, but I haven’t been distant, disconnected, or lacking in concern.“
Like I said, almost the last word. I don’t think it was wise to stay quiet. Things got messy. But, in the end, I have to admit that I too stayed quiet (for the most part) for the exact same reasons- to give emotions a chance to calm a bit. I am hoping they have and they continue to. Sure, there are still those that are hurt and pissed and want to lash out, but I think they have had time to look at the reality of the business and see this is not the end of the world. As for the others that want their personal grievances and war to be every authors’ war, I have only this to say- grow up and fight your own battles especially when you use blatant lies and misdirection as your only ammunition. Just knock it off. Especially the guy that believes threats of violence are the way to get a point across. Grow up, dude. Really.
Now, that’s my statement on the matter. I’m done and have three novels to write/finish before the end of the year. Jake ain’t got time for this!
If you want to comment, please do. Just be respectful and honest. No rumors, no unsubstantiated anything. Be professional and be prepared to discuss, not fight. Cool?
That’s right folks, Mega 2: Baja Blood is swimming towards your earholes! So get to the clickety-click and buy that puppy from your favorite audiobook retailer!
Mega 2: Baja Blood!
Team Grendel is back and this time they have double the monster sharks and double the trouble as a drug cartel and the Mexican Navy are both ready to blow the Beowulf III out of the water!
When a top secret, undercover mission goes wrong for one of the company’s operatives, Ballantine must call on Team Grendel and the crew of the Beowulf III to take down a drug lord and stop Southern California from being overrun by a new substance more addictive and deadly than any drug on the planet.
But things are never that simple as Team Grendel find they are under siege by cloned Megalodon sharks that developed a taste for the new substance, sending the monsters on a drug fueled rampage of bloody violence along the Baja Mexico coastline!
Blood is in the water and the feeding frenzy is on!
I am very pleased to announce a couple of new releases!
First, allow me to introduce you to AntiBio. This novel is my return to military scifi. Now, a lot of my novels have military themes, elements, badass Teams ready to rip some bad guys apart, but this is the first one that isn’t a horror novel, but a straight up, high-tech, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, military science fiction novel.
Phew. That’s quite a mouthful.
They have failed.
All that’s left are the Strains- bacteria so strong they have brought the world to its knees.
But humanity has fought on, carving out pockets of civilization in a wasteland known as the Sicklands, creating the super high-tech Clean Nation cities.
And from the cities GenSOF has been born- Genetic Special Forces Operations. An elite military branch of the government that enlists men and women with specific genetic anomalies that allow them to be hosts to bacteria that even the Strains cannot defeat. Under the watchful eye of Control, GenSOF protects the Clean Nation cities from the ever encroaching Strains and the diseased inhabitants of the Sicklands.
But now Control has other plans for GenSOF, and possibly the Clean Nation cities themselves, and it is up to the operators of GenSOF Zebra Squad, and their cloned Canine Units known as bug hounds, to find out what those plans are.
Or die trying.
How ya like them apples? AntiBio is a crazy mix of Blade Runner and Damnation Alley. You’re gonna dig it!
Oh, what’s that? You want to know what’s coming next from me? Okey doke!
May: Mega 2 (Severed Press) and Little Dead Man (Permuted Press)
June: Kaiju Winter (Severed Press)
July: The Apex Trilogy audiobooks
And so much more! I’ll announce the rest of 2014 as soon as my schedule is nailed down.
Friday Night Drabble Party will return next week at its regularly scheduled time. Tonight we bring you this Special Presentation.
*Cue trippy ’70′s graphics*
So, as I stated in my latest Views From The Captain’s Chair this week, I am under a deadline. Gotta write the words so I can get the latest manuscript in on time to my publisher. What’s this novel about? Oh, you know, just a post-apocalyptic, military scifi doohickey set in a world where antibiotics don’t work anymore and humanity survives in high-tech, walled off cities in the Clean Nation, which are separated by a wasteland called the Sicklands. I like to think of it as Blade Runner meets Damnation Alley. Gonna be sick, yo! Pun intended.
But tonight I am here to pitch something else. Instead of writing a brand spanking new drabble, I am going to give you an excerpt from my latest published novel, Dead Team Alpha. What’s it about? Here, have a read:
“In the post-apocalyptic, zombie infested wasteland, there is one beacon of safety in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains: The Stronghold.
For decades, the inhabitants have fortified and defended the Stronghold from zombie hordes, building their society and culture on military precision.
And chosen from the best of the best is Denver Team Alpha. DTA is the elite strike force used to rescue survivors and refugees that have made it to the hellish wasteland of Denver below. But because of the unbelievable risks, and high mortality rate, DTA has come to stand for something else: Dead Team Alpha.
Now DTA will be put to the test as something far worse than zombies comes at them out of the wasteland. People.“
As you can see, I like the post-apocalyptic wasteland fiction. It gives me the warm and fuzzies.
Now, for another quote, and this is from the latest review of DTA. It cracks me up.
“While I agree that it is very well written, I couldn’t get past that nearly 100 years into the future and Z’s are still an issue. Which is why I say its only Okay. I would think that by now they would have falling apart and become fertilizer. I still plan to read the next in the series…if only to find out what happens to the characters. “
I love how serious folks take the whole zombie thing. In my defense, I never explain how the zombies came about or any of their physical sciencey stuff, so theoretically they can live a thousand years if I want. But, who really cares, right? There’s guns and gore and lots and lots of action and swearing! FUN!
So, without further ado, I give you Chapter One of Dead Team Alpha!
Chapter One- Silo, When I Was Young…
“Fourteen checks out.”
“Only twelve more to go.”
“More like twenty-four.”
“Twenty-four to go.”
“What’s this all about, TL? First, the increased copper quota for the Reclamation Crews and now these equipment checklists we have to go over at each silo, marking the circuitry that works, the supplies the silo has, and all this crap, for what?”
Silo Team Alpha’s Team Leader turns to the woman on his right.
“Need to know,” TL Joshua Mills replies. “All Command has said to me is we need to be on constant patrol. The silos have to stay secure and they need those detailed lists of what works and what doesn’t.”
The woman frowns and looks about the barren landscape. Scrub brush and sparse grass are all that cover the hardscrabble hills of what the citizens of the Stronghold call Silo Park, a four hundred square mile region of what once used to be where the borders of Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota met.
But the days of states is long past, and Silo Team Alpha knows nothing about borders or state lines. They only know their carbines, their training, and their hatred for the undead that they occasionally come across in the wasteland.
“We have about four miles before Silo Fifteen,” the woman, Team Mate Tonia Delaney says. “We can clear that one and then move through Sixteen, Seventeen, and Eighteen.”
“Can we make Eighteen by dark?” Team Mate Troy Morrissey asks. “I fucking hate the Park at night.”
“You afraid of the boogeyman?” Team Mate Stephanie Lazzar laughs. “Afraid he’s gonna jump out from behind one of the boulders and grab your tiny dick?”
“No,” Morrissey replies. “Because I don’t have a tiny dick.”
“It’s true,” Delaney smiles. “He has a vagina. A big, gaping one.”
“Fuck you,” Morrissey sneers.
“What’s wrong with a vagina, Morrissey?” Lazzar asks. “Oh, that’s right, you don’t know what they’re for, do you? Still too busy with that love affair between you and your right hand, eh?”
“This is a lovely conversation,” Team Mate Adam Chinn sighs. “But can we cut the little kid bullshit for just five minutes? Been listening to you punks jabber for days.”
“Let them have their fun, Chinn,” Team Mate JT Blackmore says. “God knows we have to have something to talk about in this fucking place. I always hate it once we leave the Fort Collins outpost. It means nothing but blah blah blah for miles.”
“No shit, man,” Team Mate Mark Miller agrees. “We don’t even get to put down Zs out here. We’re so far from any of the old cities that it’s nothing but fucking buffalo and prairie dogs.”
“You fuck buffalo and prairie dogs?” Lazzar asks.
“Bison,” Team Mate John Ellis says from the back of the Team. “They’re called bison, not buffalo. Didn’t you pay attention in school at all, Miller?”
“I paid attention to Ms. Fortney’s tight ass in those jeans she always wore,” Miller replies. “Nearly busted a nut every time she dropped the chalk, man. I’d have to rub one out during break just to get through the next class.”
“Well, I had Mr. Shipley,” Ellis says. “So I actually learned something other than how to spot a panty line.”
“Oh, Ms. Fortney didn’t wear panties,” Lazzar laughs. “Trust me. I studied that ass more than Miller did.”
“Fuck yeah,” Miller says, holding up his hand for a high five.
Lazzar responds in kind, but then quiets down as they see the look on TL Mills’ face.
“You done reminiscing about ogling a woman’s ass?” TL Mills asks. “Because that woman worked harder than you know to educate you ungrateful fucks. Not so easy to expand minds and open new avenues of thought in the fucking apocalypse.”
“They’re just Zs, TL,” Miller responds. “No harder to deal with than rats. Why do so many people get all bent out of shape? This is how the world is, has been for nearly a hundred years, so who cares? Folks need to lighten up and get some joy where they can, you know what I mean?”
“And there was plenty of joy in Ms. Fortney’s jeans,” Lazzar smiles. “Gettin’ wet just thinking about them.”
TL Mills shakes his head and looks towards the horizon. He frowns and holds up his hand. The Team stops instantly, all eyes on him, their M-4 carbines to their shoulders.
“What you got, TL?” Delaney asks. “Zs? Wind’s blowing this way and I don’t smell them.”
“I don’t know,” TL Mills replies, “thought I saw someone up past that hill.”
He nods with his chin and Delaney turns her attention that way. After a couple of minutes, she shakes her head.
“Not seeing anything,” she says. “You sure it wasn’t one of Ellis’s bison?”
“No, no,” TL Mills says. “It was human size. I know what a fucking buffalo looks like.”
“Fucking park,” Morrissey says. “I hate this shit. How many days are we out here?”
“Until we have every checklist completed,” TL Mills says. “We clear the silos, one by one, then send Cook back with the data so the Beta Team can come relieve us.”
Morrissey looks over his shoulder at the wiry man following behind the team. Armed only with a 9mm, Pauly Cook doesn’t come close to measuring up to the muscled and geared out bodies of Silo Team Alpha. However, the look in the man’s eyes tells a story of survival and endurance.
“You looking forward to running back to the Stronghold all by your lonesome, Cook?” Morrissey asks.
“As long as it keeps me from having to stare at your ugly face, Morrissey,” Cook grins, his tanned and weathered skin looking as cracked and rough as the earth around them all.
“You can’t ever get away from this pretty mug,” Morrissey laughs. “Once you see me, I’m in your head, man.”
“Like syphilis,” Delaney says. “But without the fun of fucking first.”
“Shut the fuck up,” TL Mills says, still studying the horizon. “I saw something. I’d bet my commission on it.”
This gets the Team’s attention. No one would dare insult the privilege of being a Team Leader by betting their commission unless they were very serious. The Team life is what drives the survivor refuge of the Stronghold. Military discipline and the warrior ethos are the fuel that keeps the engines of post-apocalyptic endurance running.
“Let’s go have a look then,” Blackmore suggests. “It won’t take us too far off course.”
“No, we move to the next silo,” TL Mills says, “but stay sharp. If it’s not a Z then it could be wasteland trash or one of the crazies scouting new land.”
“Trash wouldn’t last out here,” Delaney says.
“Neither would the crazies,” Miller adds. “No resources, just dirt and shit.”
“They aren’t called crazies because they make sane choices, moron,” Morrissey says.
“Can it,” TL Mills orders and the jabber quits. “We hit Fifteen, then keep going. If we can’t get to Eighteen by dark, then Seventeen is where we dig in.”
The Team all nod, look away from the horizon, and keep marching towards Silo Fifteen. TL Mills wants to look over his shoulder, but he knows that would look weak. A Team Leader can’t be weak in front of his people, not out in the wasteland where the closest backup is miles and miles away at the Fort Collins outpost. Every Team needs to know that they are in steady hands. He shakes it off and concentrates on their mission and the two dozen more silos they have to check before they can head home to the Stronghold.
The pitch-black tunnel is outlined in ghostly hues of green and grey as Delaney moves forward, her vision enhanced by the night vision goggles (NVG) each Team Mate is outfitted with. Having cleared Silo Fifteen, STA is now working its way through Sixteen, ready to secure the site and move on.
Made up of two main sections, each silo site has a launch control center (LCC) and a launch facility (LF), connected by a long concrete tunnel. The LCC houses the missile controls as well as the personnel barracks while the LF is where the actual missile is stored and ready for launch.
Leaving TL Mills, as well as Mates Miller, Morrissey, and Lazzar, back in the LCC, Delaney takes point in the tunnel with Chinn and Blackmore following close behind. They are halfway to the LF when Delaney pulls up, her fist in the air. The two men behind her go into a crouch, with Chinn pivoting so he covers their six while Blackmore creeps up closer to Delaney.
“Huh?” Blackmore grunts. The sound is like a gunshot in the pure silence of the tunnel.
Delaney nudges him with her elbow and points forward, her hand moving from left to right. Blackmore pats her shoulder and crouch walks his way towards the direction Delaney has indicated. He gets to a junction in the tunnel and looks left then right. If he turns right, he’ll move to the maintenance area of the LF. If he goes left, he’ll come to the launch site and the massive nuclear missile that the underground silo houses.
He focuses his attention right and then glance over his shoulder. Delaney and Chinn are holding their positions, waiting for him to give them the clear. There is only a short stretch of tunnel ahead with a large steel door at the end. While the door should be shut securely, Blackmore can see that it’s open a crack and there’s actually a faint light coming from within. He waves his Team Mates forward.
Delaney comes up on him and pats his left shoulder as she moves past, her senses at full alert and muscles tensed for the worst. With light present, it’s highly unlikely it’s a Z that’s made its way down into the facility, which leaves the possibility of a human element.
As every survivor has found out since Z-Day, the human element makes the zombie apocalypse a true nightmare.
Less than a foot from the door, Delaney stops, with her head cocked as she listens for movement. She extends her leg and slowly pushes the door open wider, then hurries through, sweeping the room with her carbine. Nothing moves and she relaxes as she spots the source of the light.
A low whistle brings the other two into the room with her, and Blackmore laughs.
“Poor bugger,” he says as he walks over to a set of shelves and nudges the dead gopher on the ground. The thing is covered in luminescent green goo that drips from a low shelf above its corpse. “Thought it found a snack and instead found Mr. Black.”
“You should be a poet,” Chinn says. “That’s a good rhyme.”
“Glow sticks,” Delaney says as she crouches and pulls the gnawed box free from the shelf. “Rats got to it first, looks like. I’ll bet there’s a nest of glowing rat corpses somewhere in this place.”
“Any still good?” Chinn asks.
“Nope,” Delaney says, setting the box back. “Looks like they’ve all been nibbled on. Come on, we’re only half done.”
“Godspeed, little gopher,” Blackmore says as he nudges the gopher again. “May you find peace in the great burrow in the sky.”
Back in formation, the Mates leave the room with Delaney pulling the door shut tightly behind them.
They miss the glowing handprints smeared on the back of the door.
“Seventeen it is,” TL Mills says as he watches the sky darken with a late spring thunderstorm. “Could have made it to Eighteen before dark, but not with that coming in.”
“I don’t mind getting wet, TL,” Lazzar says.
“Yeah, you’ve already expressed that,” Miller laughs.
“We dig in here,” TL Mills says. “Clean sweep first, then lock it down tight. I don’t want any visitors in the night.”
“Who’s going to come knocking?” Blackmore asks. “Ellis’s bison?”
“Fuck you all,” Ellis snaps. “I didn’t invent the fucking word. That’s what they’re called. Bison. So fucking deal.”
“Somebody has buffalo envy,” Chinn whispers.
“Blackmore, Delaney, Chinn, Lazzar,” TL Mills says, pointing at the semi-hidden hatch recessed into the small hill. “You’re up.”
Blackmore works the hatch open and Delaney moves inside fast, her carbine tracking left to right and back. Right behind her is Chinn, then Lazzar with Blackmore bringing up the rear. They move quickly, but cautiously, their NVGs illuminating the entrance for their eyes. Their footfalls bounce off the concrete walls and echo down the hallway. Blackmore looks down, then reaches out, and taps Lazarr’s shoulder. She reaches out and taps Chinn who in turn taps Delaney.
Pointing his finger down, Blackmore indicates for the Mates to glance at the floor. Partially evaporated puddles of water randomly dot the concrete, telling the Mates that either the hatch doesn’t seal properly, or someone has been in the silo recently since the last storm was only a couple days before. That gives all of them pause. A Team hadn’t checked silo Seventeen in well over a year.
Delaney nods then turns and keeps moving down the hallway. The tension ratchets up considerably amongst the Mates as they work their way towards the first checkpoint. A wide, solid door stands before them, securely locked. Delaney motions for Chinn to come forward and he does, with a thick key in his hand. He slides the key into a lock just below the door handle, turns it once to the left, two rotations to the right, then back to the left three times. The sound of large tumblers falling into place reverberates around them.
Grabbing the handle with both hands, Chinn muscles the door open. It’s almost a foot thick with huge, recessed rods inside, and it takes all of Chinn’s strength to get it pushed back. He takes a deep breath and steps out of the way as Delaney, Lazzar, and Blackmore move quickly past him, their carbines leading the way.
A quick sweep of the room and they all relax. The thick coating of dust on the control panels shows them no one has been inside in a good, long while.
“Clear,” Blackmore calls out.
Lazzar rests her M-4 against an old rolling chair and starts flicking switches on the center control console. “No residual power.”
Delany pulls a clipboard from her pack and makes a zero next to the “Power” entry.
“All controls appear to be in working order,” Lazzar continues. “No rust or scorch marks.” She gets on her hands and knees and pops open a panel. “No corrosion in the wiring that I can see. This LCC is stable, just needs power.”
“That’ll be quite the extension cord,” Morrissey says as the rest of the Team joins them in the control center. “Don’t think Mayor Coolidge will authorize that use of emergency resources.”
“Knock off the jabber,” TL Mills says. “It doesn’t have to digress into a kids’ sleepover every time we clear a silo.”
“Can I have Delaney do my hair?” Miller asks. “She does the best French braids ever.”
“You have to have hair first, baldy,” Delaney says.
“Funny,” Miller says. “Don’t be hating on my shiny scalp.”
“Cut it,” TL Mills says. “Blackmore, Chinn, and Morrissey, you get the LF. Complete your checklist and then regroup here. We’ll bed down in the LCC, then move out at first light. Lazzar, you have first watch, so get comfortable up at the hatch.”
“Yes, sir,” Lazzar says as she hurries from the control center.
“It’s getting nasty,” Cook says, pulling up his zipper as he passes Lazzar on his way into the LCC. “Wind is picking up and I see lightning on the horizon. The storm’s going to be ugly. Smells like tornado weather.”
“Great,” Lazzar says. “That’ll be fun for the later shifts. Glad mine’s getting done now.”
She hustles to the hatch and pushes it wide, and then steps back into the shadows of the hallway, her eyes scanning the countryside. There’s nothing but the same old shit. She sighs and settles in for the next two hours of her shift.
Morrissey notices it first.
He waves the other two Mates forward and they all study the scuffmarks on the wall. Chinn looks up and sees the ventilation grate above them at the top of the wall. He taps Morrissey on the shoulder and the man bends over, his hands clasped, and gives Chinn a boost up.
The ventilation shaft is nothing but green glowing darkness and Chinn struggles to see more than a couple feet, even with the NVGs on. After a good minute, he shakes his head and Morrissey lowers him to the floor. They each study the ground, but can’t see any more marks. Without saying anything, they move on to the LF in order to finish their sweep. Morrissey hangs back just a second to make a note of the discovery on his clipboard, then tucks it into his pack and shoulders his carbine, catching up quickly to his Team Mates.
The flash of lightning and ensuing thunderclap are considerably closer than Lazzar is expecting, causing her to jump. If her finger hadn’t been resting along the trigger guard, she would have squeezed off a couple of rounds. She laughs to herself, glad none of her Mates saw her little scare, and steps outside into the blowing wind. A light rain has started and the cool mist wets her skin. Closing her eyes, and opening her mouth, she welcomes the fresh water.
Another flash and clap go off and Lazzar opens her eyes, feeling refreshed. The daylight is completely gone and the barren landscape about her is cloaked in inky darkness. The storm is picking up and the rain goes from refreshing mist to needling drops in seconds. Lazzar begins to back up to the hatch when a third flash lights up the land.
Her carbine is at her shoulder instantly and she drops to one knee as she sees an illuminated figure before her for just a split second. The lightning has messed with her vision and she turns her head slightly to the side, letting her stronger peripheral vision study the area. She goes over the image in her mind, looking for clues as to what she’s dealing with. It held itself upright with a straight back, so not a Z. It also wasn’t moving towards her, further proof it isn’t a flesh-hungry zombie. It also hasn’t come screaming at her with some improvised weapon, which means not a crazy or wild wasteland trash. It made itself known, instead of the normal sneak attack nature of a cannibal.
So what or who is it?
Lazzar stands and slowly walks her way back to the silo hatch. Her back bumps up against the side of the hill and she eases herself into the opening. The lightning flashes once more and the area in front of her is empty, no sign of the phantom form. Being a ten year veteran Mate, Lazzar knows better than to think she made it all up in her head. She saw something, that’s for sure.
Risking a quick glance, Lazzar looks behind her and notes her position to the hatch. The sky above her booms with thunder just as another lightning flash fills her sight.
She has no time to scream before the blade pierces her throat. The sounds she makes as she collapses to the wet ground are nothing but surprised gurgles from choking on her own blood. The blade is yanked back and is flicked to the side, sending splatters of blood mixing with the fresh rainwater.
Lazzar looks up at her attacker and the final thoughts that go through her head are, “What’s wrong with its face?” Then the life leaks out of her and her eyes glaze over as her last breath wheezes from between her bloody lips.
Folding his legs under him, and careful that his knees don’t bump the beeswax candles that surround the large map, Cook grabs a seat next to TL Mills on the floor.
“Spill it,” Cook says.
“Huh?” TL Mills asks, not taking his eyes off the paper before him. “Spill what?”
“Whatever it is you aren’t telling the team,” Cook says. “How long have I been a Runner with STA?”
“Long time,” TL Mills replies.
“And how long have we known each other?” Cook asks.
“A lot longer,” TL Mills says.
“So safe to say I know your moods,” Cook says. “And right now you are hiding something. And that something is bugging the shit out of you.”
TL Mills shrugs. “Not for me to say.”
“Bullshit, Josh,” Cook snaps. “I was there when you got married and there when Millie was born. We used to tell stories of the Great El and Granny G around the campfire together as kids. If there’s one thing I know about you, it’s that you always have something to say.”
TL Mills looks at the map a while longer, and then finally turns to Cook. “Before we left the Stronghold I walked in on Lee and Mayor Coolidge arguing. I only caught the last couple of words, but what I heard has me more than worried.”
“And…?” Cook prompts.
“The commander was telling off Coolidge about something,” TL Mills explains, “something about information being kept from everyone in the Stronghold. They shut up as soon as I walked through the door.”
“What information?” Cook asks.
“I don’t know,” TL Mills says, tapping the map, “but my guess is it has to do with the silos. It’s been a long time since Commander Lee last sent STA out to the Silo Park on extended recon missions. The fact that she sent STA out first tells me she expects trouble. This type of sweep and clear job should be for a Beta Team, not an Alpha Team.”
“Huh,” Cook responds.
“Yeah, huh, exactly,” TL Mills nods. “It’s not the way the teams work, keeping back intel. Ignorance gets Mates killed. It’s as deadly as a herd of Zs.”
“All clear,” Morrissey says as he walks into the LCC with Chinn and Blackmore. “LF is secure.”
Chinn sets the clipboard down on one of the control panels and looks at TL Mills. “We did see some scuffing by one of the ventilation grates.”
“Scuffing?” TL Mills asks as he stands, his back popping and cracking into place.
“Jesus, TL,” Blackmore laughs. “If I heard that in a Denver alley I’d think a group of Zs was coming to get me. You’re lucky I didn’t draw down on you.”
“Give a veteran a break, Blackmore,” TL Mills says. He picks up the clipboard and reads the notation then sets it back down. “Nothing else?”
“That’s it,” Chinn says. “No signs of anyone. No signs of Zs. Just some scuffs on the wall by a grate.”
“Could be anything,” Blackmore says.
“Hmmm,” TL Mills says. “Could be…” He points at Miller and nods towards the door. “Go relieve Lazzar. Chinn, show me the marks. I want to see them for myself.”
“There they are,” Chinn says, showing TL Mills the wall. “I’ll give you a boost so you can check the shaft, if you want.”
“Do that,” TL Mills says, stepping into Chinn’s hands. He’s lifted up to the grate and he scans the shaft with his NVGs. “Looks clean to…wait. Do you hear that?”
“What?” Chinn asks.
“Let me down,” TL Mills says and Chinn obliges.
TL Mills looks up and down the corridor then spots another grate about ten yards away. He walks over to it and cocks his head.
“Hear that?” TL Mills whispers. Chinn listens, but shakes his head no. “Lift me back up.”
Again, Chinn laces his hands together and boosts TL Mills up. The sound of quiet scraping reaches Chinn’s ears.
“I hear that now, TL,” Chinn whispers. “What is-?”
Blood rains down on the man and he jumps away, letting TL Mills fall to the floor. Sticking from the right eye of the Team Leader’s NVGs is a short, steel rod. The man twitches a couple times, and then stills, black blood pooling around his head. Chinn reaches for his carbine strapped to his back, but screams instead as his hand becomes nothing but pain.
“What the fuck?” Chinn shrieks as he brings the bloody stump up to his NVGs, the black blood spurting to the rhythm of his heart.
He starts to scream again, but his throat is slit from ear to ear as a hand yanks his NVGs from his face and grips his forehead. Above, the ventilation grate came flying out of the wall and clatters to the floor next to TL Mills’ corpse. Chinn is tossed aside as a figure drops into the pitch blackness of the corridor, nearly slipping on the blood that is slowly stretching from wall to wall.
“Not good,” Delaney says, as she checks her M-4’s magazine and slams it back into place. “That was TL.”
“Where the fuck is Lazzar?” Blackmore asks. “She should have been back here by now.”
“Morrissey? I want you to go get Lazzar and Miller,” Delaney orders. “Blackmore? You stay here with Cook. If none of us return in five minutes, I want you and Cook to get the fuck out of here and head for Fort Collins, got it?”
“Roger that,” Blackmore says. “But do me a favor and come back before five minutes, okay?”
Morrissey shoves the heavy door open and then stops. Delaney glances over at him and frowns.
“Morrissey? Get moving, man. We need every hand back… Oh, fuck…”
Morrissey turns around slowly, his hand clutching a large knife buried in his belly. He looks down at the blade, and the blood leaking from his guts, and then up at Delaney as he falls to his knees. Before anyone can say anything else, his head goes tumbling from his neck and a gust of wind whips into the control center from the outside corridor, blowing out the beeswax candles that illuminate the room.
“NVGs!” Delaney shouts as she reaches up and yanks hers over her eyes. At the flip of a switch, the LCC is all shadows and green light. A grunt and a splashing sound to her left makes Delaney spin in that direction, her carbine up. “Blackmore? Blackmore, speak to me!”
The man stumbles into her view, his hands gripped to his throat. He lurches towards her and reaches out with his right hand. As he does, a fountain of blood gushes from his neck. He reels and turns, and the fountain sprays Delaney’s NVGs.
“Fuck!” she yells as she yanks the goggles from her face. “Blackmore! What the fuck? Blackm-!”
Everything goes numb as her spine is severed just below her ribs. She wants to reach back and pull out whatever has done the damage, but her arms won’t obey. Helpless, she collapses to the floor, her cheek resting in a pool of warm, slick blood. She wants to speak, wants to scream and shout at the attackers, but all she can do is gasp and struggle for breath. Before it all ends, she hears a loud grunt and cry of pain, and then the hurried slapping of feet.
Cook, she thinks. Run, you marvelous bastard, run your ass off.
The ground under his feet is nothing but slick mud as the rain pours down from the sky. Cook doesn’t give the horror behind him a second thought, using all of his faculties to concentrate on keeping his footing. The storm rages about him, lightning striking the ground in the distance, then only yards from him. The air is rocked by ear shattering thunder. He can taste the electricity in the air, which to him is horrifyingly similar to the tang of blood.
Hitting a rise, Cook clambers up a small hill, then slides his way down the other side, letting the mud and gravity do the work for him. He hits the flat ground and his legs keep pumping, not missing a stride. He focuses on the terrain ahead whenever a flash lights up the landscape. In the best of times, navigating the monotonous country that makes up the Silo Park is difficult, but at night in a thunderstorm? Cook is glad for the years of experience he has as a Runner. A rookie would already be lost or have snapped an ankle slipping in the mud.
His lungs burn and he can feel a cramp starting to stab into his side, but Cook doesn’t stop. He has too many miles to go before he can even think of slowing down.
So many miles.
Cook crests the final ridge before the Fort Collins outpost, his heart sinking as he sees the flames licking the sky as the outpost’s buildings burn, burn, burn.
His first thought is to hurry down and look for survivors, or at the very least, salvage some supplies. But the shapes on the ground that ring the outpost tell him to steer clear. Cook knows corpses when he sees them, and in the zombie apocalypse, corpses don’t always stay down.
The sound of the rain almost hides the approaching footsteps, but even nearing full exhaustion, Cook’s senses are dialed up to full. He spins around and slams a fist into a woman’s face just as her blade nicks him on the side. The wound doesn’t feel deep, but pain radiates up his side quickly. He staggers back, his hands clenched to the cut, his knees feeling weak. After only a couple of steps, he falls to his knees.
“Who are you?” Cook asks as the woman stands over him, her hand wiping away the blood that gushes from her nose. “What do you want?” The light of the flames illuminates her features and Cook gasps. “Dear God, what’s wrong with your face?”
His head tumbles from his body and rolls down the ridge towards the burning outpost. The rest of him doesn’t move for a good few seconds before the muscles give in and his body crumples into the mud.
The woman stands over him, her face impassive, completely void of emotion. She reaches up and cuts herself just above her left cheek, directly on the occipital bone of her eye socket. She cuts the other side, leaving a matching slice in the flesh.
Flesh that has been cut and scabbed over many times. Flesh that surrounds the dark holes where her eyes should be.