I am very excited to be back to writing a new and (hopefully) epic zombie series. Book one of my new DEAD series is titled DEAD: Onset (Book one of the New DEAD series). You will be introduced to Evan Berry in this new first-person zombie novel set in the world of my million-plus word best-selling zombie series, DEAD which began with DEAD: The Ugly Beginning and ended with book 12, DEAD: End.
DEAD: Onset will chronicle the first month of the zombie apocalypse where Evan’s life is dumped upside down and broken into pieces faster than he has time to process. As is my custom (and style if you prefer), this will be very character driven. Yes, there will be blood and gore. People will be torn apart and zombies will be the unstoppable tide. Yet, for me, it is the people and how they cope that is most important. Not everybody is a Special Forces member…not every main character can be a wise-cracking hero. So, without further delay…I offer this little glimpse at what I hope will be this Halloween’s “MUST HAVE” book.
The First Forty-eight Hours
“Evan? Are you up?”
I spat out the mouthful of toothpaste and cupped my hand to my mouth. “Just getting ready to shower, babe,” I called back.
As I rinsed the sink, I could hear Stephanie, my fiancée, padding around upstairs. I was almost done washing my hair when the curtain opened and Steph popped her face in.
“You should leave about ten minutes early,” she said and then took a sip from her coffee. She closed her eyes and gave a slight moan of pleasure, taunting me with the fact that I hadn’t had my first cup yet.
“Is something wrong?” I asked as I patted down my body to make sure I’d rinsed off all the soap and then shut off the water.
“I guess the police have a section of Highway 26 blocked off. Something about a homeless person or something wandering around in traffic.” She stepped back and handed me my towel.
As I dried, I could hear the Channel 8 morning news team discussing the road closure. I tuned it out and went about gathering my things for my first day of work. Granted, I was only going in as a substitute, but the principal had made it clear that she believed there was a place for me in the music department. I would finally be a full-time school teacher by next year!
As I zipped my bag, my eyes drifted to my heavy tool belt. I’d worked the past few years in construction while I finished school to be a music teacher. It was hard work, but I didn’t mind it knowing that it was only temporary. Also, if not for that job, I would’ve never met Stephanie Strasdin.
One last look in the mirror on the back of the door to be sure I was ready. My straight dark hair fell just past the shoulders. I’d been pretty happy when I was told that I didn’t have to cut it. I had on a simple black pullover shirt with the long sleeves pushed up just above the elbows and my favorite pair of black jeans. I’d actually debated on shoes. I loved my Doc Martens. The toes were a bit scuffed, but Steph had nudged me towards the fairly new docksiders.
“You want them to take you somewhat seriously,” she had quipped. “That is going to be hard to do if you look like just another student.”
She had a point. I’d always looked young for my age. Chances are, I would end up being carded well into my thirties which were only three years away.
As I shut the closet door and prepared to head into the kitchen, I paused to watch the bedroom television that had on the local morning news. The footage was being taken from the Channel 8 helicopter. Sure enough, Highway 26 was a parking lot for as far as the eye could see in both directions.
The picture swung around and zoomed in on a group of police cars with their lights flashing. A tighter zoom brought a few of the officers into focus. It looked like they had their weapons drawn. I had a feeling that scene wasn’t going to end well.
Grabbing the remote, I shut it off. I didn’t want that kind of negativity bouncing around in my head on the first day. Sub or not, this was my first teaching job. I didn’t want anything to take the shine off this day.
“Didn’t you say there was just some mentally ill person wandering around on the highway?” I asked as I walked into the kitchen where I could smell toast and coffee in that perfect marriage of morning fragrances.
“I think so,” Stephanie said with a nod as she slid a small plate with two pieces of toast with butter and honey.
“Wow…wonder why the cops feel the need to pull their weapons? You’d think they would learn from all the others showing up in the news these past few years.” I took a bite of my toast and shoved that story out of my head for good. Today was my big day and nothing was going to ruin it.
“I will probably have to stay late today,” Stephanie said over her mug of coffee. “So how about you grab some pizza from the take and bake around the corner? We will celebrate your first day and you can tell me all about it.”
“That new girl didn’t work out?” I pushed my plate aside. I’d only eaten half a piece of toast, but I was just too damn excited to eat.
“She has called in or left early every day for the past week.”
I got up and moved around the breakfast island to kiss Steph. She leaned up and kissed me on the tip of my chin. It was one of those things that had a story to why she did it. Too bad I couldn’t actually remember it.
“Chewie!” I called.
There was a long pause and then I heard the dull thud of my Newfoundland as she slid off our bed. There was a jingle of her tags and the sound of her big feet padding down the long hallway. I knelt down to greet the big, black dog as it plodded into the room.
“You be a good girl for me, okay?” I grabbed her by her jowls and kissed her cold, wet nose. I looked up at Steph who was holding my denim knapsack out, waiting for me to take it as I headed out the door.
“She’ll be fine. All she does is curl up under my desk and snore.” Steph gave the dog a pat on the side as I stood and took my bag.
I opened the door and stepped out into the misty morning. A solid blanket of low clouds were providing a steady mist. That was one thing about spring in Portland, Oregon…it was not much different from fall or winter. I reached in my pants pocket and grabbed my keys as I tried not to leap down the stairs and sprint to my car. A fresh surge of excitement churned in my stomach making me glad that I hadn’t eaten much or downed a full cup of coffee.
I reached my door and paused. My nose wrinkled and I habitually checked my shoes to ensure I hadn’t stepped in a Chewie landmine. They were clean. I sniffed again for some stupid reason and almost gagged.
“Smells like something died,” I choked out.
“Probably Mr. Bickford’s cat,” Steph held a hand over the lower part of her face to try and block the smell that was almost so thick that it seemed as if I could taste it in the back of my throat. “That silly animal keeps killing squirrel and then leaving them on the porch. I think it has a crush on Chewie.”
“It’ll be anarchy…dogs and cats living together,” I said in a poor Bill Murray from Ghostbusters impersonation.
“You are such a dork,” Steph teased.
“You’re marrying this dork,” I called back as I slid into my beat up old pickup truck.
I turned over the engine and bumped the lever to get the windshield wipers to do a quick sweep across so that I could see. I backed out and heaved the wheel around to aim me towards the exit of our quiet little cul-de-sac. As I dropped into drive, I glanced over one more time at Steph who was standing on the porch with Chewie at her side. She brushed a lock of her dark hair from her eyes and raised that hand in a wave good bye. I waved back and headed to the first day of what I was sure was going to be the most memorable day in my life.
Today…I was going to be the music teacher at Franklin High School. As I pulled out and headed over to Foster Road, I switched on my radio.
“…unconfirmed reports of the entire town being quarantined—”
I gave my CD a nudge and smiled as it slid into the player. Seconds later, the opening chords to AC/DC’s Highway to Hell blared in my cab. The news had been pretty dismal as of late. There was some new flu or sickness or something that had everybody in a tizzy. Personally, I could care less. I never understood why folks got so bent out of shape over a sickness that killed a handful of people. The news always made it seem worse than it really was and did a hell of a job scaring the gullible general public.
I sang along with Bon Scott all the way to work. As soon as the big brick building came into view, I had to fight the urge not to stomp on the gas. When I pulled into my parking space, I had to just sit for a moment as the excitement swirled around inside me. I watched groups of kids as the trudged to main entrance of the high school and finally got out of my truck when I saw another teacher giving me a questioning look.
“Can I help you?” the older woman said.
She was probably in her fifties and had hair that had turned a very unflattering shade of gray. The wrinkles around her eyes, the crevices in her cheeks and the lines at the corners of her mouth gave her away as a smoker before I got close enough to pick up on the telltale stink. She was maybe a shade over five feet and more than a shade over two hundred pound. Her eyes were dark and piggy and the frown she wore so naturally had me thinking of every teacher that I’d despised when I was in school. I could just imagine the life being sucked out of a room whenever she entered it.
“Name’s Evan Berry. I’m the music teacher?” I hated that my voice quavered just enough to make that seem like a question.
“Mr. Poole is the music teacher here,” the woman said with a snort.
“Yeah…I’m his sub.”
“Oh…well then, you aren’t really the music teacher, are you.” There was no quaver in her voice, so her words came across as a statement and not a question.
I opened my mouth to say something that I would probably regret later when the sounds of a police car’s siren erupted on Powell Boulevard just a few yards away causing me to jump. I looked over to see the squad car speeding away with lights and siren in full effect.
“Not from around here, are you?” the woman sniffed as she waddled past me and headed toward a side entrance to the school.
I felt a bit of my earlier exuberance trickle away and quickly made the decision that I would not let some sour old lady ruin this day. If everything that I’d been told in my final interview was true, then this would be the end of my days in construction.
“I’m the music teacher, dammit,” I whispered as I took a deep breath and pulled open the door.
This may be my first day, but I was familiar enough with Franklin High School to notice that there was something a bit off. There should be more kids walking the halls, hurrying to class, or just hanging out by their lockers. As I made my way to the teacher’s lounge. I began to notice something else on the faces: fear.
I made my way down the hallway of hushed conversations and teenagers that were acting more like frightened children being dropped off for their first day of pre-school. I pulled up by a fountain a few feet away from a trio of girls.
“…says that his mom made them help ties her dad down to the bed because he kept trying to attack them,” one of them was saying in a hurried whisper.
“Jessie said that she saw a man behind the Dumpster in the Safeway parking lot, and that he was eating what she swore looked like a dog!” another girl exclaimed.
“He was probably one of those gross homeless people all spun out on meth,” the first one tried to insist.
“Yeah, well my dad says that this is something worse than the news is letting on. He is home right now packing things into the RV. He says that we are leaving this afternoon for someplace in Eastern Oregon where he goes during hunting season,” the girl who had told about the supposed dog eater.
I decided that maybe I should just head to the faculty lounge. Teenagers—especially the girls in my experience—love to over exaggerate and overdramatize.
I was anxious to get to my classroom, but it was obvious that something odd was going on here. For the first time ever, I was beginning to regret the fact that Stephanie and I did not own a television. There was just too much to do in this life to spend hours wasting away in front of a TV screen.
I was a little disappointed when the first person I saw as I opened the door just happened to be the unpleasant woman from the parking lot. I stepped inside and shut the door. A handful of other teachers were clustered around a table that had a ratty looking coffee maker sitting on it; that seemed like the place to be.
“Evan,” a man’s voice called from my left. I glanced over to see Principal Julian Gordon poke his head up from behind a newspaper.
“Principal Gordon,” I returned the greeting and adjusted my course to head over to the collection of chairs and a loveseat that had a rip where some of the stuffing poked out.
“Looks like your first day is going to be a short one.” Principal Gordon folded his paper and tucked it into a small pouch sewn to the side of his chair.
“Why is that?”
“Where have you been?”
I looked around the room and suddenly realized that everybody’s attention was now directed at me and the principal. I felt my mouth grow dry at the ominous feeling that filled the faculty lounge. A bell rang signaling the start of class, but I wasn’t the only one to jump at the sudden sound.
“The rumors are that some sort of human rabies is spreading like wildfire,” Principal Gordon said with a grimace once the ringing stopped. “Riots were reported this morning in Tokyo, but the worst is North Korea. They just went dark about twenty minutes ago and the president is calling some sort of security council meeting.”
“The internet is saying that a town in Kentucky is being completely quarantined and that the citizens have all turned into crazed lunatics that are acting like gee-dee zombies just like the movies,” a man wearing a red flannel shirt and faded jeans growled from where he stood staring out the window on the far side of the room.
“Carl, don’t be ridiculous,” the principal scolded. “Carl is our resident conspiracy theorist…and when he isn’t filling that role to the fullest, he is our woodshop teacher.”
I laughed and then wagged my finger around the room at all the assembled teachers. “This must be some little ritual or something that you folks do to the new guy.”
“You really don’t have a television?” the parking lot lady said in total disbelief.
I was about to say something about how watching television can keep a person from going out for as nice healthy walk when my phone buzzed. I was still getting used to having a cell phone and it took me a few seconds to realize the source of the tingly buzz in my pants pocket.
“Excuse me, just a second,” I said, holding up a finger as I saw Stephanie’s name on the screen.
We had a standing policy about calling each other at work: we didn’t. When you were on the clock, your time belonged to your boss. If she was calling me, then it had to be an emergency.
“What’s wrong, Steph?” I asked in a loud whisper as I stepped back out into the almost empty hallway.
“There is a man in our backyard and he is trying to get in the house!” Stephanie sobbed. “He tried to attack Chewie…she managed to get away, but he bit off a piece of her ear, Evan.”
My mind quickly replayed the snippet of conversation I’d heard from the girls gathered by the water fountain. I shook my head to clear it and was about to speak when I heard the sound of glass shattering.
“Steph!” I shouted, already my feet had me moving towards the parking lot.
“Evan, he’s trying to come in through the back door…he broke the window.”
I heard the deep bark or Chewie, but it didn’t really sound like her. This dog was ferocious sounding. That was the opposite of my gentle giant. There was the sound of something cracking followed by Stephanie’s scream.
Then the line went dead.