Authors: James Cook
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
SURVIVING THE DEAD BOOK ONE: NO EASY HOPE. Copyright © 2011 By James N. Cook. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the nonexclusive, nontransferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse-engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of the author and Amazon.com.
Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data has been applied for.
Epub Edition © NOVEMBER 2011
Gabriel raised the stock of the Belgian P90 assault rifle to his shoulder, took aim, and squeezed the trigger. The weapon’s silencer muffled most of the noise from the shot. I heard a dull crack, similar to what an empty box dropped on a concrete floor sounds like, and the metallic clang of the next round going into the chamber. Gabriel moved the barrel a few inches to the left and fired another shot. Crack-clang.
“You are way too good with that thing.” I said. “Scary good.”
Gabriel lowered his rifle and grinned as he looked at his handy work. Two dead bodies lay face down on the ground about forty yards ahead of us on the other side of the perimeter fence. Both had gaping exit wounds visible on the backs of their heads. A rust colored sludge began to ooze from their broken skulls, staining the snow beneath. The cold mountain air stung my nostrils with the acrid scent of cordite. Gabriel turned to face me, still smiling. His white teeth stood out in contrast to his dark black beard, and his bright gray eyes twinkled with humor.
“You didn’t think it was too scary last week when I saved your ass from being a meatball on the dead-guy buffet.” His breath rose around his face in a thick fog as he spoke.
It was a cold late December morning, and the sun was just beginning to crest the peaks in the distance. Reddish-gold shafts of light pierced the gloom, their reflections sparkling against the snow and frozen tree limbs. I looked into the distance for a moment before responding.
“First of all, you didn’t save me from anything. I knew those two geeks were behind me, and I would have put them down right after I finished dealing with the bastard crawling under the fence. Second, those shots went by close enough to tickle my whiskers. You know how to say ‘duck’, right? Maybe you should give that a try next time.”
Gabriel laughed as he replied, “Hey, you needed a shave. I was just trying to help you out.”
I shook my head. “Whatever, fur face.”
We made our way down to the fence line, snow crunching under our boots as we walked. The incident Gabe referred to happened a little over a week ago, as he and I were coming back from an unsuccessful scouting trip. We were making a circuit of the ten-foot steel fence that encircles the mountaintop. As we approached the main gate, we spotted a crawler trying to pull itself under the fence line. It heard us coming, and started dragging itself across the ground with its one working arm. Seeing the disgusting thing drag itself so far up the mountain with only one arm reminded me just how dangerous it is to underestimate the undead.
Gabe was about ten yards behind me checking the nearby the tree line for movement. I heard rustling in the evergreens to my right and turned around. Two walking maggot farms were stumbling in my direction. They must have heard the other one moan, and set off in the direction of the sound. I decided to deal with the crawler first, before it made too much more noise. The dead don’t usually start crowing until they actually see you.
I drew my small sword from its sheath on my back as I approached the crawler. The small sword is a descendant of the rapier style swords that were popular in Europe a few centuries ago. Unlike the rapier, a small sword does not have sharp edges, but it does have a very sharp tip. Due to the triangular shape of the blade, the small sword is narrow, but very strong and durable. In spite of its name, a small sword is actually twenty-seven inches from cross guard to tip. It is the perfect weapon for skewering undead eyeballs and rotten brain matter.
I kicked the crawler over onto its back and planted my right boot on its withered neck. I lined the small sword up with its left eye and plunged the wickedly sharp point of the blade downward into the cadaver’s brain, giving the ornate handle a little twist as it went down. The crawler shuddered once and went limp. I was just about to turn around and deal with the two walkers when I heard the familiar thump-clang of Gabriel’s P90 and the distinctive thup-thup sound of bullets passing by close to my head. Two bodies crumpled to the dirt a few feet behind me. I looked up and gave Gabriel an irritated glance.
“Cut that one close enough, asshole?”
Gabe shrugged, “They were about to make dinner out of you, bud. I did you a favor.”
“I knew they were there, Gabe. Next time just say something first.”
I have the utmost confidence in Gabe’s marksmanship, but I do not like being downrange of anyone firing a weapon if I can help it. Gabe brought my thoughts back to the present by tapping me on the shoulder and pointing a gloved finger down the mountainside.
“More of ‘em coming. Guess they didn’t want their buddies here to have all the fun.”
I looked where Gabe was pointing and saw a loose knot of five ghouls staggering their way up the mountain. They looked to be about a hundred yards away.
“I wish like hell I could figure out how they keep making their way up here.” I said. “You think they know we’re here somehow?”
“I doubt it.” Gabe replied. “Most likely they’re just ranging farther out to find food. Bastards are probably chasing deer and varmints around the countryside.”
I had seen the remains of a few animals unlucky enough to be blindsided by the walking meat sacks, and although it was not a pretty sight, it was encouraging to see direct evidence that the Reanimation Phage does not affect animals. Gabe has known for years that the infection only affects humans, and has told me as much many times, but it was still nice to be able to confirm it for myself. I have often wondered why the infection only takes hold in people and not animals, and I pray that it stays that way. Undead people are bad enough; the last thing I want to encounter is an undead mountain lion, or a revenant brown bear.
Gabe shifted his P90 around to his back and held out a hand for my hunting rifle.
“No way, dude.” I said. “You already got to have some fun this morning. Besides, I need the target practice.” Gabe frowned, but dropped his hand.
“Fine, but try not to waste too much ammo. We’ve only got a few hundred rounds left for that thing.” He said.
I put one hand on a fence rail and rested the forearm of the rifle between my thumb and forefinger. I tucked the stock firmly into my right shoulder and peered through the scope. I lined up the crosshairs slightly above the forehead of the lead walker to compensate for the drop of the projectile, and concentrated on timing its jerky, uncoordinated movements. Through the magnified view of the scope, I could see that the undead shuffling in front had been a tall young man before it died. The tattered remains of a business suit flapped around its grayish skin. Its shoes had long since fallen apart, leaving its torn and ruined feet exposed to the elements. A lime green tie dangled from its neck flapping listlessly in the frigid wind.
I let out half a breath, held it, and squeezed the trigger. The suppressed rifle thumped as the stock bucked backward into my shoulder. Even with a silencer on it, the powerful weapon still made a good bit of noise when fired. Through the scope, I saw the dead man in the suit collapse, his shattered skull covering the corpse behind him with gray and brown chunks.
“Nice shot.” Gabe said. “See if you can do it four more times.” He was peering through his binoculars at the undead below.
I worked the bolt of the rifle and chambered another round. I managed to drop the next three undead with one shot each, but on the last target, my aim was slightly low, and punched a hole through the ghoul’s cheekbone. It staggered backward for a moment, then righted itself and doggedly trudged forward. Most of the left half of its face was gone, but its brain remained intact. The hunting rifle was out of ammunition, so I handed it to Gabriel. I reached back and drew my small sword.
“No sense wasting any more ammo on just one of them.” I said. “Grab some cartridges and reload the rifle will ya? I’ll wait for it to come to me.”
Gabe slung the hunting rifle over his shoulder and opened the cover to my backpack. He took out a handful of 30.06 rounds, and put them in the camouflaged breast pocket of his heavy winter coat. I stuck the point of my sword into the frozen ground and propped the handle up against the steel fencepost. I crossed my forearms over the rail and rested my chin on them as I watched the undead make its way up the mountain.
“You making any progress on that journal of yours?” Gabe asked as he reloaded the Winchester Model 70.
“Yeah, I guess. Mostly I’ve just been recording mundane stuff. Supply and ammo inventories, areas we’ve scouted already, locations of fresh water and building materials, things like that.” I replied.
“You ever think about writing down more than that?” Gabe asked. “Now that some folks have finally managed to get part of the Internet back online, we might get a chance to post something on the way out to Colorado. Might be a good way to pass the time for the next few months.”
I looked up at the tree limbs in the surrounding wood line. There was a gentle easterly breeze sending small swirls of powdery snow floating through the air. Good that the wind is blowing east, I thought. That’ll keep the worst of the radiation away from us.
“I have thought about it. I’m just not sure where to start. There’s so much to tell, might take me a long time to write it all down.” I said.
“Well, unless you got something else planned for the next few months, other than patrols and scouting, I think you’re going to have plenty of free time.”
Gabe finished loading the rifle, worked the bolt to chamber a round, and handed it back to me. I slung the strap across my chest to leave my hands free.
Gabe was right, of course. Since winter set in, we only went scouting for supplies when the weather permitted, and we never went more that a day’s walk away from home. The weather can change quickly in the Carolina mountain country, and we did not want to be stuck out in the cold or get pinned down by a storm. We had both survived too much to want to die by something as preventable as freezing to death.
“Yeah, you’re probably right. Like I said though, I just don’t know where to start.”
I picked my sword up from beside the fence rail. The undead was only about ten yards away. I expected it to start moaning and gurgling at us, but it didn’t. I held up a hand to shield my eyes from the sun, and saw that the infected that killed it had torn out its throat. That explained why it was not making any noise. It wore the tattered remains of a police officer’s uniform, and still had its duty belt on. I took a step back and let the corpse walk into the fence rail.
It had the same look on its face that all of the undead have. Wide, bloodshot eyes turned milky white, mouth hanging open, a look of perpetual hunger and anger on its wasted features. It ran into the fence rails and began to heave against them in impotent rage, reaching through the gaps trying to get at me. Gabe pulled his heavy Falcata short sword from a sheath at his hip, and in two swift strokes lopped off the creature’s arms at the elbow.