It Never Became Light Again

Combat veteran Liam’s steely calm has not failed, but after the traumatic death of one of his friends, his facade slips and we get a glimpse of his past.  A scene from We are the Living.

I walked out to the truck and looked at the bullet hole through the tailgate, at the piled boxes, the scattered bottles, and the blood—a dark dried stain that stabbed me harder than any cry. Just like that, fury overtook me.

I slammed the tailgate down and jumped inside. One sweep of my arm, and half the boxes flew aside. A blue vodka bottle rattled across the truck bed, to my feet. There was a bloody handprint around it. I picked it up and hurled it out the back. It shattered against the building, scattering blue shards all over the packed earth. I took a bottle of water in each hand and poured it over the truck bed. Then I stripped off my shirt and began scrubbing at the stain.

The grey fabric turned burgundy and brown. I was only smearing it. I needed more water. I needed…

“Liam?”

I swung my head around. Simone, grim-faced, stared at me from the tailgate.

“Oh.” Her face sagged a moment. “Good idea. But let me get some water.”

I shoved the t-shirt across the blood again. A moment later the truck wobbled as Simone climbed up.

“Move over. I’ll pour it.” She held up a big plastic jug of water.

Mute, I crawled out of the way. She poured the water, and Alex’s blood streamed toward the tailgate. She just kept pouring, until it had all ebbed away. Then she set it down and came to hunker down by my side.

Everything she had done barely registered. My body shook, white light flashed behind my eyes.

Oh God. Oh God, no, no. Keep it together, please!

I shut my eyes tight, and the scenes that were so familiar played before my eyes like a movie—but worse, because it was not just before my eyes but around me, in my lungs, in my nostrils. One second, a laugh is burbling from my throat, next the screech of tearing metal and the boom of the explosion. The seat I’m in separates from my body and the roof parts as I pass through it. I hit the ground. I see Breanne, sprawled beside me, her eyes catch mine, her mouth parts, the light goes from her gaze. And then everything goes dark.

And it never truly became light again.

I didn’t want to, but I whimpered.

“Liam.”

This is my fault somehow. If we’d switched spots… if I hadn’t been…

“Liam.”

My eyes cleared, and I saw Simone’s heart-shaped face and bloodshot blue eyes staring up at me. She grabbed my bare arms and my confusion and anger gave way to shame, yet I forced myself to meet her eyes.

She shook me gently, “Liam, this wasn’t your fault. If anything, was it not mine?”

“What does it matter?” I looked down, past her.

“But it is what you are thinking, is it not?” And then, before I could react, she leaned in to me and her warm hands brushed up my arms to my neck. She kissed my jaw with rough, chapped lips. “Because it’s what I’m thinking too.”

I grabbed her shoulder, if only to brace myself against her. My skin could not decide if it should recoil, or tingle with warmth. A rough laugh squeaked through my lips. “I don’t know if you can call it thinking. I haven’t been so confused since…”
She reached up and touched the scar along my hairline. “Let me guess.”

I nodded.

“It’s okay,” she said softly. “I’ll cover for you.”

I stared into her eyes, trying to formulate a response. Her head bobbed closer, and my mind made itself up. I pushed her gently away.
She looked down. “Sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry,” I said. “I just can’t… right now.”

She laughed breathlessly and backed away. She rose up into a crouch and scrunched her face into a smile of sorts. I had a feeling it was her brave face. “Well, we’d better find you a shirt. Can’t have people getting ideas.”

I laughed half-heartedly and followed her off the tailgate. The heaviness pushed away just for a moment, and then swooped back in deeper and harder than before.

We are the Living, a zombie apocalypse/love story is now available on Amazon Kindle, as well as other E-Readers through Smashwords.  The print edition (which I’ll admit I’m super pumped about) will be available within a few days!  

Zombie Baby

The following is an excerpt from my novel We are the Living, an apocalyptic love story set in a small Tuscan town.  In this scene, Liam and his colleague are cleaning corpses from a house in the dead city of Siena when they make an unexpected discovery:

“Liam, we forgot that one.” Gennarosa contorted her face in an attempt to adjust her mask without touching it. Her gloved hands were slick with gore and decomposed flesh. She tipped her chin toward a house with a green door and pots of dead, dry geraniums on the doorstep. Behind them, Max shouted at Julio as they came out of a store, carrying a corpse between them. The radio crackled, and someone rattled off in Italian. Gennarosa ignored it and so did I.

I sighed and stepped toward the door. I stood, gun trained on the door, and Gennarosa reached over and opened it. The door slammed against the wall. Through the protection of my respirator, I caught the faintest whiff of rotting flesh.

I peered into the semi dark.   The kitchen looked undisturbed, like the owner had stepped out for a bit and would soon return.

Gennarosa motioned for me to go first. We passed through the kitchen. The dining and living area had been tossed. Blood splattered up one wall, and there, below the bloodstain, was the bloated corpse of a man. His arm was flung out, fingers frozen, pointed toward the doorway. He was definitely dead, not infected.

I pushed open the bedroom door. Only a sliver of light peeked through the drapes. I pulled the flashlight from my belt and swung the beam of light around the room.

“Feet,” said Gennarosa, pointing.

Two shoes stuck out from behind the unmade bed, half covered by draped blankets. I rounded the bed, the gun trained on the feet and bundled bedclothes. Just as the body came into full sight, it moved.

I jumped back, taking Gennarosa with me. We crouched, half-expecting the body to spring up, or at least make another move. It didn’t. It remained as it was, with only the legs protruding from under the blanket.

“What the hell?” Gennarosa leaned forward, but stayed safely behind me.

I reached out with one foot and poked the leg. It didn’t move. To heck with it. I kicked it. There was a faint movement around what should have been the torso, and then a squeak.

“What?”

“I’m going to pull off the blanket,” Gennarosa took a step closer, “At the ready.”

Poised on the balls of her feet, she leaned forward and yanked away the blanket.

“Oh God,” Gennarosa said.

The body was that of a woman, whose long dark hair splayed away from her browning skull, face erased. Her arms were locked around a little form, a baby. The baby was burrowed into the woman’s body-cavity, intestines spread around it like dried sausages.

It lifted its head. Its face was grey, eyes vacant and its cheeks were smeared with blood. It was a zombie baby.

 

We are the Living is now available for purchase through Amazon Kindle, and for Kobo, iBooks and other platforms through Smashwords.  You can download samples on those sites, or read samples I have posted here.

 

 

Welcome to the Dead City

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming novel, We Are The Living–‘raw footage’, if you will.  The novel is in the beta stage, to be released this summer.  In this scene, Liam arrives in post-apocalyptic Siena, Italy.

“In the early days,” Gennarosa shouted over the wind blowing past us, “The army was here in Siena. They fought mobs of infected in the first few days—tiny streets like this, there was no way to get away from them really.”

Max, his respirator clamped over his face, added something but it was so garbled and the truck rattled so much that I could not understand him.

The truck chugged up through a Roman-era gate onto a narrow street, hemmed by sentinel trees. I gazed at their green leaves. After weeks inside Emilio, the trees looked so live and so wild to me, even amongst the flat-faced brick and stone buildings.

“Will we see any infected?” I asked.

Gennarosa shook her head. Her pony-tail caught the wind and blew out beside her into Max’s face. “Probably not. There aren’t many left. The disease kills them eventually.”

At that moment, we crested a hill and the wind blew straight into my face—with it, a stench I’d never forget: decomposing flesh. I choked and shoved my nose into the collar of my t-shirt, but Gennarosa smirked at me.

“Just wait. It gets worse.”

I gritted my teeth and imagined the narrow, winding street like I’d seen Siena in the guidebooks: teeming with people, with the odd car, with voices and music and with sunlight. We had the sunlight, but the only sound was the groaning engine of the truck. We were the only people.

As we swung around a tight corner onto an even narrower street, I caught the first glimpse of the carnage that had gone on in this place: pockmarks on the yellow stone wall of a building, and a brown splatter. I gripped the hot metal side of the truck and stared as we rumbled past more and more bullet holes. The street was clear, but no rain had come to wash away the blood of whom? Infected? Soldiers like me?

“This is the creepiest place ever,” Gennarosa yelled. “Infected or no infected.”

In a couple minutes I caught a glimpse, in the gap between two buildings, of a slender tower rising above the flat roofs. It was the Torre del Mangia, on the edge of the Piazza Del Campo, and home base was right beside it.

As we imerged onto road that ran around the Piazza del Campo, the sun went behind a cloud and shrouded the Piazza in grey. I had the images from the guidebooks in my head, and I wasn’t prepared for the emptiness, and the ravens perched on the fountain at the far side, and the ravaged buildings. The storefronts gaped empty: windows shattered, stone facades speckled with bullet holes, awnings vibrating in ribbons. The red pavement of the piazza was blotched here and there. It was blood, or body fluids.

Welcome to the warzone, Macpherson you old fool.

The truck jerked to a halt and snapped me from my observations. The square, ochre building still said ‘Pizzeria’ on the outside, but every window was sealed from the inside and the door was reinforced by heavy steel. Gennarosa jumped over the side of the truck and led me in.

There were remnants of the pizzeria: the front counter where I imagined the till had been—the doorway into the kitchen where I could see a glimpse of the stone oven, but the rest of the ground floor was gutted. The walls were torn up, with distinct bullet holes here and there.

“They’ve fought here?” I asked.

“Not while I was here,” said Gennarosa. “Hey!” she yelled. “Let us up!”

I heard a rattle, and then with a deep creak, the ceiling opened up: two heavy, steel-enforced trapdoors rose and a stairway dropped down. The hole was dark, as if they had no lights upstairs.

Nice.

“The original stairways have been blocked.” Gennarosa sprang up the stairs and I followed on her heels.

Someone grabbed my arm and hauled me up onto the landing. “Thanks,” I said. I looked into grim, dark eyes—a man taller than me, whip-cord lean, a silver cross around his neck.

“Father Domenico,” Gennarosa muttered to me. She turned and addressed him in Italian. He gripped my hand and gazed into my eyes and Gennarosa translated his words:
“Welcome, Liam. Gennarosa has told me of you. You are most welcome here.”
I felt as if my spine had stiffened in his presence. I felt alive, ready for battle in the presence of this priest, my commanding officer.

“I will show you around and give you the rundown,” Gennarosa said quietly. She nodded to Father Domenico, and he released me. As we stepped inside, the trapdoors shut with a metallic ‘chung’.

It was baking hot inside, with only slight whiffs of breeze coming through, almost so hot it felt cold. My body was in an instant sweat. As my eyes adjusted I saw why. Every window but two, on polar ends of the room, were shuttered and barred. I noted, with a thrill in my gut, that each shutter had cross-shaped holes: gun ports. The interior was gutted—every stick of furniture gone, but for cots and pallets along the back wall, only a few interior walls standing. But it was clean, swept up, and there was a wooden crucifix displayed prominently on the wall opposite the trapdoor.

“Welcome to the fortress,” said Gennarosa. “Weapons this way. Not much else to see.”

Weapons.

She led me behind one of the standing walls, into a makeshift supply room: two shelves, two cabinets, and a table, and another set of stairs.

“That leads to the third floor,” she said. “We’re not using it.” She opened up a cabinet and pulled out a submachine gun like the one she carried, handed it to me, and then gave me two magazines of ammunition, and a half-mask.

“To be clear,” she said with a sardonic hint in her eyes, “The gun is for emergencies. We see a infected, we tranq it.”

“You’ve never shot one?” I thought of the skittering, slavering creatures overrunning the barricade at Paris. Tranquilize those?

“Nope.” She filled up her cheeks and blew them out with a pop. “Others of us have—it does happen, but prepare for the wrath of Domenico if you do. To Domenico, they’re still people.”

“Can’t argue with that.” I’d been infected, after all. I flipped the submachine gun over and popped open the action. It felt a bit stiff. “Where’d you get these?”

“The army supplied us with them.”

“Hmm.” Father Lucien had mentioned some sort of connection to the army, after all. “So what, the army just left the weapons and Domenico took over?”

She nodded. “Pretty much. Lucien and Domenico persuaded the army to stop killing infected so that they could start curing them.” Her eyes glinted. “Some of the guys who were here first said that Domenico waded in while they were still fighting, cured some of their guys, and persuaded to stop.”

“Holy shit,” I muttered.

“Now, the riot act.” Gennarosa faced me square on and thrust her thumbs into the belt loops of her jeans. She pointed her chin at the MP5. “Like I said, that is last resort only—as in life and death. If you see a zombie, we neutralize it with this.” She picked up another gun from the table, beside the cabinet. “Tranquilizer—strong.” She looked around the room. “We work seven to one, three to eight. The truck goes to Emilio twice a week, and we pull straws on who gets to go. Water must be boiled before drinking. Birdbaths only—you can shower if you go to Emilio. Uh… don’t eat any of the food unless its mealtime.” She pressed her lips together and rolled her eyes toward the ceiling. “Did I miss anything? Yeah, so I’m one of two girls here. You can’t sleep with either of us.”

I laughed. No problems there.

“Serious. Padre’s rules. Okay?”

I nodded. “Yeah, no problem. No offense, but I’m not interested.”

She smirked. “Don’t sleep with any of the men either. But if you do—,” she tipped her head toward the stairs. “Third floor.”

O…kay.

Max called from the other room, easily identified by the garbled voice. “Gen, time to go. Grab a radio.”

“Off to work.” Gennarosa turned and led me out. All eleven of them, including the priest, clambered down the stairs, guns swinging over their shoulders. I noted three tranquilizer guns among them, three hand-held radios, and two bags of unidentified supplies.

“We started piling bodies today,” Gennarosa said. “We’re cleaning out the area closest to our place, and hauling them out of the city.”

“And then you’ll do what?”

“Burn ‘em.”

My stomach dropped to my boots. “Isn’t cremating against, uh… against Catholicism?”

She shrugged. “I’m guessing that they never brought up zombies at any of the church councils.”

Lingering Smoke (A Work-In-Progress Excerpt)

The following is an excerpt from my current work in progress, a disaster novel set in Europe.  This portion won’t actually make it into the novel, as it is set about two and a half years after the story ends.  By this point, the main characters are attempting to return to a normal life, and struggling to move on.

Sienna came back to haunt us one Sunday when we returned from church to the stench of burning beef roast. I rushed to the stove and yanked open the creaky oven door and pulled out the smoldering rump roast.

“Aww…” I flipped through the Rolodex of my mind for a word that would express my disappointment but was also appropriate for my two little kids, who were standing in their boots and winter parkas, watching me with big eyes. I settled for saying nothing. Tears welled up in my eyes. My roast! My one and only roast, which had cost me a good chunk of my weekly grocery budget.

I swiped at my eyes with one hand and tossed the oven mitts down with the other. Damn!

“Mommy.” Mo tugged at me. His mittens, dangling from their strings, waved some of the smoke toward the open door. “Mommy.”

“Shut the door, Mo,” I said.

“Mommy, Daddy is sick.”

I turned. Liam was gone. Sean’s bundled little figure was silhouetted in the doorway. I crossed to the door with three strides. Outside, Liam was kneeling in the snow, heaving up the last of his breakfast.

Oh God. I suddenly smelled, in what had just been smoking beef roast, what Liam must have smelled: burning flesh.

“Mo, go get Daddy a glass of water.” I jumped off the step into the snow. Sean waddled out behind me and stood on the edge of the step, whimpering. I touched Liam’s back. He stiffened.

I pulled him to his feet, away from the foul mess on the ground, and wrapped my arms around his waist the best I could with my pregnant belly. I ignored the odor of vomit on his breath and held him and listened to his breath hissing between his teeth as he fought to get himself together.

Mo tugged on my hand and held up a blue plastic cup, half full of water. “Daddy?”

I let Liam go, and Liam took the water. “Thanks Mo,” he said softly. He swished water in his mouth, spat it onto the snow, and repeated the process. Sean, still on the step, whined.

Liam touched my hand and gave the cup back to Mo. He picked Sean up and nuzzled his chubby cheek. Sean wiggled, oblivious to his daddy’s pain.

I sighed deeply and walked back into the house, where the open door and fresh air had not yet dissipated the smoke. Mo followed me, clutching the cup. He set it on the counter beside the roasting pan.

“Mommy?” he said in a small voice.

I turned back and looked down into his big brown eyes.

“Mommy.” His brow wrinkled. “What’s wrong with Daddy?”

I lowered myself down, awkwardly, and dropped to me knees so I’d be on eye level. How would I explain this? “Mo, we’ve told you about the bad things that happened before we lived in Emilio, right?”

Mo nodded solemnly.

“Well, sometimes things remind us of those bad things and sometimes when we remember, our bodies do funny things—like get sick.”

He seemed to understand. God knew that Mo, at four, already understood way too much about human suffering.

I hugged Mo. “Well, Mo, I think we’re going to have to eat somewhere else. Can you open the window by the table?”

“It’ll get cold.”

“But it will let out the smoke.” I opened the kitchen window. Mo fumbled with the crank and opened the window by the dining table. Then we put our boots back on and went back outside. Liam had kicked snow over his mess, and was carrying the giggling Sean around on his shoulders.

He smiled weakly at me. “McDonalds?”

I laughed.

Mo nodded eagerly. “Yeah! ‘Donalds!”