I’m not re-inventing the wheel. Let me make that clear. It’s just that I started with an idea, and it has become something other than my original intention. DEAD: Snapshot–LasVegas, Nevada will be a peek into the mind of a person that you would probably consider a “bad guy” in the classic zombie series. The question I will struggle with as I write this is whether he is bad, or simply brutally practical. I also go into this one like I do all my others…wondering if I am totally missing the boat.
If you knew how often I doubted myself when I wrote, you might laugh. I know my wife and daughter always get a kick out of it. I think they started placing bets on how soon it would be before I announced to the house, “I think I’ve jumped the shark this time. I worry this one just won’t be very good.” I can’t think of a single book I’ve written where I didn’t have that feeling at least a hundred times.
This book will really try to give you a look at the thought process behind a person that most would consider to be a villain in any zombie series. But Joel isn’t a bad guy in his mind…instead, he is only trying to give his “people” the best life possible. He believes there mus be rules. And he accepts that maybe not everybody will see things as he does. This scene is what I am hoping will be a ‘scene setter” for the entire book. Of course writers get plenty of ideas, and not all of them transfer to paper as clear or clean as they do in our heads. I hope this scene (that last I will be sharing until the book’s release) will pique your interest.
An excerpt from DEAD: Snapshot–Las Vegas, Nevada:
Joel hid his grimace. This meant that somebody in communications had let slip information. That would be a problem he would fix later. Right now he needed to handle the one before him. He needed to do it in a way that would make very clear the degree of tolerance he possessed. More important, it needed to demonstrate that any form of rebellion or dissension would be dealt with harshly.
Joel gave a nod and Will struck like a cobra. The butt of his rifle smashed into the base of the neck of the man, dropping him to his knees. Just as fast, Debra stepped in with zip cuffs and bound Patrick’s hands behind his back.
“We will leave as soon as this is dealt with,” Joel announced. He scanned the faces of the rest of those who had answered his call for volunteers. Not one of them showed much more than mild curiosity.
“You gonna toss him to the stiffs?” Malik asked, toeing the downed figure with his boot.
“Too easy.” Joel made a dismissive wave with his hand. “Bring him with me and have the entire population mustered to the emergency stairwell.”
It took almost an hour to bring everybody down to the open corridor that terminated with an ominous metal door. An elderly woman stood beside the door with Joel. Her gray hair was pulled back in a severe bun and her face showed the ravages that years of smoking could do to the skin. In her hand was a large key.
Once it looked as if everybody was assembled, Joel began, “When this dam was constructed, they had to build a set of switchback stairs to go up and down. I would like each of you to make your way through this doorway and travel in far enough so that everybody gets down to the first landing.”
There were more than a few looks of confusion, and even a few of concern. Anticipating this, he gave Debra a curt nod.
“Everybody follow me. I’d maybe keep a hand on the person in front of you so nobody gets lost.” Without another word, she ducked through the open door, past a metal gate, and down the stairs.
Joel watched as everybody began to follow suit with the exception of Will who remained and kept Patrick at gunpoint. It took well over twenty minutes for everybody to file in and past. Once the last person went through the door way, Joel moved over to a circuit breaker switch.
“I will ask you to indulge me for a moment,” he called down the stairs. “Stay put, and do not worry, what you are about to experience will only be temporary.”
With that, Joel stepped back, shut the heavy metal door and turned the breaker switch to off. Even through the solid metal of the door, shouts of alarm could just be heard. He glanced over at Will who was shaking his head slowly.
“Do you have a problem, Mister Barnes?” Joel tapped the switch but still did not turn it back on.
“That is some cold shit,” the man replied. “And there won’t be any going back once we do this.”
“If you lack the stomach…” Joel allowed that statement to hang in the air.
“Nope.” Will shook his head. “Just saying that we are going to be committed to this once we cross that line.”
“Let me be perfectly clear.” Joel folded his hands across his chest and regarded the man with a cold stare. “We will have order. This is not a world were anything can be left to chance. The moment one of ours refuses to do what is asked of them, or believes they can rely on the old way of making a fuss to draw attention to what they deem is some sort of social injustice, we return to the same hamstrung politically correct world that failed and brought us to where we are today.”
Without another word, Joel flicked the breaker back on and wrenched the lever up. With a grunt of effort, he swung the door back open. He didn’t have to say a word as people flooded out and back into the light. Many were blinking and rubbing their eyes. A few were busily wiping tears away. He made a point of memorizing those faces. Fear could be a weapon that he could exploit if the need arose.
“Bring the prisoner forward,” Joel announced once Debra filed out. She gave him a slight nod, her lips hinting at a smile that once again threatened to give Joel chills to his core.
Will grabbed the man from where he’d been kneeling and brought him to Joel where he forced him back to his knees again. Joel looked into the man’s eyes and saw fear. But there was something else. He didn’t have long to wait to find out what that might be.
“Are you all going to allow this?” Patrick croaked. “This is not what we are. Building a new life doesn’t mean we have to lose our humanity. And how can one person set the rules and change them arbitrarily? This is doomed to end poorly.”
“One person setting the rules will ensure we have order,” Joel said in a voice almost too soft to hear. “These are the ways and thoughts that brought us to where we are now. If you give everyone a say, then the center is pulled apart in every direction. To achieve what is best for our chance at an actual life in this disaster, there must be one hand on the rudder. I am here to guide and bring us to the other side.”
“And so anybody who disagrees with you is murdered? That is a dictatorship. We have seen how that plays out through history,” Patrick spat.
Joel felt a kernel of sadness grow in his heart. He respected the man kneeling before him. He was strong. Only somebody with real courage could face certain death and not be reduced to tears and begging.
“What is your name again?” For some reason, that was important to Joel in the moment.
“Very well.” Joel nodded to Debra and Will who stepped up and grabbed the man in the crook of each elbow. “Patrick Sweeny, you have been found guilty of sedition. Your actions endanger the community, and therefore, you must be removed.”
Joel looked around at his gathered community. He saw what he expected in the various gazes he locked onto. Some were curious, others afraid, a few still in shock and visibly numb. But there were a few that stood out. He knew well what the feverish look of the devoted looked like. These would be the ones he would pull in closer. They would keep his rules and not hesitate to move against any who did not conform.
“Do you have anything else to say before I pass sentence?” Joel looked back down at the man and now saw the hint of desperation creep across his face like a cloud.
“You’re mad. This will not end well…not for you…not for anybody mad enough to follow you?” the man replied, his voice shaking just a bit now as the inevitability of an unknown but terrible fate loomed.
“Then, Patrick Sweeny, for your crimes…I sentence you to the darkness.”
With that, Joel gave a nod. Will and Debra jerked the man to his feet and dragged him to the open doorway. In a flash, Will produced a knife and sliced the zip cuffs right before shoving Patrick through the open doorway and down the metal stairs.
Debra pulled the gate shut and locked it before the man could recover. “You will find water at the bottom.” With those words, she stepped back and slammed the metal door shut with an ominous clang, instantly silencing the man’s first real scream.
Joel turned back to the crowd gathered around. “There will be order. Each of you was told when you first joined us that there would only be one person in charge. You were asked if you could accept that. Each of you said that you could. Make no mistake…this is not a democracy. If you stay here, it is under my protection, but it is also under my rules. I want each of you to take part in a scavenger run in the next week. I want you to see what is out there. I want you to see for yourselves what chaos and anarchy can bring. I want you to experience with your own eyes the lawlessness that now claims this world and understand that this was what seethed under the surface of our society with its bleeding heart sympathy for people who refused to care for themselves and instead burdened society with their care. A criminal justice system that failed long ago and housed the worst of society in conditions far better than what some of our own people who worked hard and struggled daily to put a meal on the table could hope for.”
As he spoke, Joel paced back in forth with the metal door behind him as a visible reminder of what awaited any who would think to rebel or disobey. If his dream of carving out not just the chance of survival, but a place where life could flourish were to have any chance at success, then he needed absolute obedience.
“When you go to your quarters, we have power, we have hot meals and showers. We are not merely surviving…we are alive. Outside this bubble, the world is dark. Death is now the norm. People are devolving into creatures worse than the walking dead. Make no mistake…this was our ultimate destiny. We lived in a world where every person cared only for themselves and their own tiny circle. Courtesy, decency, and personal accountability were relics. What I offer here is a world where you will all be part of something greater than yourselves. We will rebuild a beacon that will shine against that darkness. But for that to become a reality…there must be order. Are you with me?”
Joel looked around. There were a lot of blank expressions. Not quite the rousing cheer he’d expected. Perhaps they believed the question was rhetorical.
“I ask again…are you with me?”
It started with individual shouts of “Aye!” or “Yes!” and then grew into cheers and applause. This was his time to strike.
“We will make a kingdom here that will be the envy of the world. We will return to the ways that made this country great!” The cheers grew louder and some of those he’d seen with a devoted fervor were now beginning to actually weep. I need each of you to commit to this with all your heart and soul. I need you to accept that I will always put the community’s strength and health ahead of everything else. I will build an empire where each of you will reap the rewards, but you must be willing to work hard for it. The days of having things handed to you are gone. You must earn your place…daily. What you did yesterday will not matter. It will always be about what you do today…what you do in the moment.”
He let the cheers grow. He brought his hands up and encouraged the applause to continue for a few minutes. He also took that time to scan for any who might still be holding back. Those would be the ones to watch. At last, he signaled the crowd to quiet down.
“Know that I will see to it that we have a paradise here in the midst of the hell that the world has become.” His voice grew solemn, and he smiled inwardly when he saw his people lean forward in order to hear. They craved his message. “If you fail to do what is asked of you, there will be consequences. I will not kill you. I will not return you to the world where you might be swallowed by the evil that exists, or worse, try to come back here and destroy what we have built…what we will build. No…I will bring you here before the community and sentence you to the darkness where you belong. There, you will be denied the light that the rest have earned. There, you will exist with your own thoughts and poisons for as long as you care to cling to the misery of your failed life.”
Joel waited for a moment, and then dismissed the crowd. Once they were gone, Debra and Will approached him. Malik stayed back with the three other individuals that volunteered to leave with him on his mission to try and rescue Conrad and his people.
“You brought down the four pallets of military rations and the water source is active?” Joel asked Debra.
“Yeah,” Debra answered with a harsh laugh. “I sure don’t envy the poor bastard that has to make that trek all the way down to the bottom. We switched off our lamps for a minute or two once we got to the bottom. Even with the door open at the top, there is no light down there. It is a darkness I never knew existed. And with the door shut, the entire stairwell is a void.”
“Where the hell did you get that idea?” Will snorted.
“One of the tour guides told me about it when she was taking me around,” Joel answered. “I knew we would have the need for a jail sooner or later. It seemed to fit the bill.”
“Why not just toss ‘em out…or over for that matter?” Debra asked with a deadly glint in her eye.
“Tossing them over is too quick. And it isn’t really much of a deterrent. Everybody has been exposed to the stairwell and I have a feeling that will stick with them for quite a while. Also, I refuse to be a cliché and allow some rebellious trouble-maker to be expelled from the community only to return with a small army and attack with full knowledge of our setup.”
“I thought you weren’t into this crap before the Zee Event.” Debra drew a blade from her belt and began to run the tip under the tips of her fingernails.
“I wasn’t. But my wife loved it. While I managed to avoid it most of the time, I was not able to duck it entirely.” Joel clapped his hands together, signaling that this part of the conversation was over. “So, we have our team. I assume you have a vehicle gassed up and ready?”
“Absolutely,” Will piped up, his tone making it clear that he was glad to be able to contribute to the conversation again. “I figured that Humvee we came here in would suit perfect for the lead vehicle. We also have one of the big M35 deuce-and-a-halfs. That should allow us to bring back this group as well as some supplies if we find anything worth grabbing while we are out there.”
Twenty minutes later, Joel was in the front of the Humvee with Debra. Will had given over the machine gun turret to Malik so that he could drive the M35. Joel had made it clear that he was not yet ready to put that level of trust in anybody else yet. That was only partially true. His main reason was that he wanted to see Malik in action. The young man seemed very confident and sure of himself. Joel needed more people that he could trust out in the field, and Malik would fit the bill nicely.
The two-vehicle convoy rolled out through the gates that had been the first thing installed once they’d arrived. The sturdy iron gates ran between two massive power supply stations with ten foot walls acting as a funnel for anything that might approach his outpost. By the time they were on the Great Basin Highway and headed towards Las Vegas, Joel had counted two lone undead and both turned around and started away from his growing complex to follow after this newest form of stimulus.
“I want a patrol out this far every day,” Joel said to Debra as they cruised up the onramp. “Have them equipped with some sort of noisemaker.”
“Alrighty,” Debra’s voice came back in his headset.
Joel sat back and smiled. That was just another reason that he liked the woman. No questions. She simply did what was asked. She was the perfect soldier. The fact that she was just a bit terrifying didn’t hurt.