As you all know – unless you haven’t been following me on twitter (@blindoggbooks) or facebook (https://www.facebook.com/BlindoggBooks) – I began working on a collaboration effort with my friend Armand Rosamilia (@armandauthor) a couple of months ago.
Armand is a zombie/horror author, and he asked me to co-write the next installment in his Dying Days series, to which I happily agreed.
For the setting of our story, we used a local business/condo complex called European Village and we thought it would be fun to include some of the people we see there on a regular basis – from business owners to patrons and employees.
Right from the get-go, it was a blast. We had fun brainstorming, writing together and putting our friends in all sorts of zombie-filled situations.
The story is finally finished and the Kindle version can be found here. The print version will be available with two weeks and I will let you know how to secure a copy as soon as it is.
I want to thank Armand for including me in this adventure and I hope you all enjoy reading the story as much as we enjoyed writing it (a little cliché, I know, but it’s true).
And now – without further ado – here are the first two chapters of Dying Days: The Siege of European Village…
The Siege of European Village
Armand Rosamilia and Tim Baker
Darlene Bobich, wishing she had a nice pair of sunglasses, shielded her eyes with a hand as she swung the baseball bat and felt it connect with the face of the dead man. When he tumbled backward, landing on the ground and thrashing, she finished him off by bashing his rotting brains in.
“I think he’s dead,” John Murphy said behind her.
“Technically, he was already dead.” Darlene smiled. “Where to now?”
A1A was deserted and this stretch had trees on either side, the grass long and unkempt. They’d just passed a torched Publix and a bank, and there was nothing left to salvage. Up ahead was an overpass.
John carried his compound bow, a bag of arrows slung over his shoulder, and his machete dangling in the loop at his waist. He pointed at the overpass. “I think it leads over to Palm Coast. We should use it to get over the Intracoastal. Maybe the area hasn’t been picked clean yet.”
The farther they scavenged from St. Augustine, the fewer needful things they found. Darlene wiped the sweat from her exposed, eternally burnt arms. She liked Maine weather so much more. “Should we go back for the SUV?”
John looked back down the desolate road. “I’m not walking back two miles in this heat.”
“Always a gentleman,” Darlene said. “You can’t expect me to hoof it by myself. I’m a girl. I’m fragile.”
John snorted. “Fragile is not a word I would use to describe you.”
Darlene swung the bat in a mock threat. “What are you trying to say, Murphy?”
He just smiled. “If we get over the bridge and there’s nothing to see, and the road is clear, I’ll get the SUV.”
“That sounds fair.”
“Of course it does, to you. You don’t have to walk it back.”
“But then I’ll miss your stunning conversation. What will I do in the meantime?” Darlene asked. “Actually, if there isn’t anything amazing over the bridge, I think we might need to turn it around and get back home.”
“You called it home.”
“It’s easier saying home than the stilt house I currently reside in, just south of the Matanzas Inlet, overlooking the gorgeous Atlantic Ocean. Gorgeous when dead bodies and zombies aren’t being washed up on the beach, that is.”
John smiled. “It does make sense. Let’s move out.”
They followed the signs for I-95, coming around a bend in the road where a car had been abandoned and torched months ago. The grass and bushes to either side were beginning to push into the street, growing between cracks.
It won’t be long before most of these roads are overgrown and nature takes them back, Darlene thought. She marveled at how quickly everything man-made broke down when there was no one to fix it and no constant maintenance. Even though only months had passed – or could they count it in years now? – it looked like it had been a decade with all the rust, weeds and destruction.
They stopped at a crossroads. Before them was a torched area, with only sporadic grass poking from the ruins, and the faint smell of charred wood lingered in the air. To their left looked like a development, the security fence breached and warped in several spots.
“To the bridge,” John said and nodded at Darlene. “Do you want my bow?”
“I’ll tell you where to put your bow,” Darlene said. She’d tried and failed miserably when John had tried to teach her to use it. While he was a near-perfect shot, she had yet to kill anything with it. Heck, she barely managed to hit a zombie at all.
Darlene shook her baseball bat and patted her machete. “I think I’m set. I like to get up close and personal with them.” She grinned. “Using long range weapons is so cheating and unmanly.”
“I’d rather you called me a girl and I’m still alive. Trust me.”
The bridge was relatively clear of debris, with a makeshift fence, long since breached, before them. They walked up the bridge, and Darlene loved the view despite the heat and the danger of being trapped. They were always in danger, though.
“What if we find something useful?” she asked quietly as they moved up the steady incline of the road.
“You go back and get the SUV,” John said over his shoulder.
John moved to his right and Darlene followed as they walked. They looked out over a sprawling network of destroyed condominiums, the waterway beneath them choked with floating debris. There were no fires and no smoke. Whatever came through and purged this area (whether zombies, looters or both) had come and gone.
They got to the top of the bridge and crossed back over to the left side.
“It’s still intact,” John said.
“And occupied,” Darlene said as she pulled him back and away from the side. “There are two men in sight with rifles.”
“Is it an apartment building?” John asked.
“Not sure.” Darlene stooped down and went back to the side for another look. The building itself was massive, with four stories and set in a triangular pattern, three different buildings connected by catwalks and ramps. “It looks like shops on the bottom floor and apartments on levels two to four.”
“Almost like a small city. The sign says European Village. Looks like a nice place to spend an afternoon. Except for the guys with rifles. Oh, and the zombies.”
“This side is gated and I’m sure every other entrance is blocked as well. It looks like a great setup for whoever is living there.”
“The problem for us is they’ve most likely looted the area for miles around.”
Darlene snickered. “When we are out, we’re scavenging. When others do it you call it looting.”
“Exactly.” John sat down on the hot pavement. “What do you think?”
“I think we’re wasting our time here. Going into Palm Coast will end up being a bust. We need to get back on A1A and find another neighborhood.”
“Where? Everything out there has been picked clean already. Even the extra supplies we couldn’t carry and left at the Golden Lion on previous forays have been moved.”
“Did you say foray? Really?”
“Shut up.” John’s smiled faded. “We have company.”
Two zombies, both older men, were shuffling slowly and silently toward them, dead eyes locked onto John and Darlene.
Darlene pulled her machete out and marveled at the gore covering it. She didn’t even bother to clean her weapons much anymore, since they were always running into trouble and hacking the heads off dead people. Funny how a zombie apocalypse can raise the bar on what you find socially acceptable.
She knew the trick was going to be dispatching the zombie without getting shot by the two riflemen watching the bridge. If she stood, she’d be screwed. Darlene decided to chop at their knees and drop them to the pavement. That sounded like a plan.
John had his machete ready, squatting at her side, as the two approached.
The nearest one bumped against the road barrier, drooling dark blood from a multitude of open sores and cuts.
And then his head exploded with a wet sucking noise, brains and mush flopping into the air before splashing to the ground.
Darlene closed her eyes and forced the puke back down her throat. You never get used to this, even after all this time, she thought.
Still holding back the vomit and the stinging tears in her shut eyes, she heard the second shot and the second body hit the ground.
“Wow,” John was saying next to her, back against the barrier and out of sight. “Are you okay?”
Darlene opened her eyes and wiped her tears, giving John a smile. “Just another day on the job. This still beats selling makeup in Maine, though.”
She sighed. “Not really. I’d give anything for minimum wage, a shitty boss yelling at me, and an actual coffee break.”
“I’d be out on patrol, shooting bad guys and bank robbers, making the Florida Panhandle safe for the common man,” John said.
“You were a mall cop.”
“There’s really no difference,” John said. “Fighting crime in the mall is pretty intense. Damn kids with their skateboards, no free tables in the food court… it was pretty intense.”
“I can imagine.” Darlene loved the way he made her feel, and how he didn’t dwell on her panic attacks or bursts of girlie emotions. John Murphy was quite a catch. “Now what?”
“I say we stoop down and I follow you to the other side of the bridge and away from men with guns.”
“Why don’t you lead?” she asked.
“If I follow behind I get to follow your behind. Get it?”
“Jerk,” Darlene said but smiled. “We can play the Guess What Color Thong Darlene Is Wearing Today game.”
“Sweet. After you, ma’am.”
“Such a gentleman.” Darlene slid past him, keeping her head down, and began moving slowly along the barrier.
“Red is my favorite color,” John whispered behind her. “Wow. This never gets old.”
“I can’t imagine it does for you,” Darlene said as they got to the other side and out of visibility and range of the riflemen.
It didn’t for her, either.
Ike unscrewed the gas cap and shook his Harley between his legs, listening for signs of how much fuel he had – not much.
The Bridge of Lions lay before him littered with carcasses, both human and automotive, making his ’74 Shovelhead the only way to cross other than the shoe-leather express. He detected movement on the far side, more of the undead, for sure. He checked the clip in his .45, half-full. He topped it off from the supply of ammo in the leather bandolier across his massive chest.
He had enough fuel for about 15 miles, not enough to reach Brewski and Didi in Palm Coast. He’d have to make a fuel stop on A1A on the other side of the bridge. There was no way he was going to stop on the bridge to siphon gas and leave himself in a potential rat trap.
He started the bike, the rumble of the V-twin sounding even louder in the complete vacancy of St. Augustine. He took a look at his boat, The Knight’s Mare, bobbing peacefully in its slip, and hoped it would still be there and in one piece when—if—he returned.
He popped the Harley into gear and let the clutch out. The full heat of the day was still a few hours away and the moving air felt good, despite the lingering smell of death.
He wove his way across the Bridge of Lions, navigating around corpses and between abandoned vehicles. The drawbridge section of the bridge was slightly misaligned and he had to negotiate the 4 inch step carefully. As his bike was straddling the hump, movement to his right startled him; reflexively, his right hand released the throttle and drew the .45. The shot was fired before he fully determined what his target was.
The pelican’s body exploded and slid down the windshield of a torched Toyota.
Ike hung his head and exhaled slowly. His Harley rumbled under him, almost as if to ask if they were going to continue or not. He re-holstered his weapon and nudged the bike forward until the rear wheel was over the hump. On the opposite side of the drawbridge, he was able to generate enough speed to ride over the step, which was slightly more than a foot on this side. As he approached the bottom of the bridge, he readied himself.
A pile-up of cars forced him onto the sidewalk and into the parking lot of a sport’s bar called The End Zone. A dead body dangled over the sill of a smashed window in the buildings front façade. As he maneuvered his bike onto A1A, he saw the movement ahead. Crouching behind a car on the far side of the road, a zombie waited for him. Ike stopped on the yellow line and pushed his kickstand down. Stepping off the bike, he moved slowly around the car and drew his .45.
In all his years as a Navy SEAL, he had never had to make a tougher shot. His target crouched a mere six feet in front of him. It wasn’t lying in wait to pounce on him; it was hiding. Ike looked over the front sight of his weapon at the mutilated face of a girl who couldn’t be more than 11-years-old.
Ike looked into the dead eyes and thought he saw a struggle between the new instinct to feast on human flesh and the fear of a little girl who probably wanted her mother.
His finger tensed on the trigger. This was not a target; this was a little girl. She didn’t deserve to have her head blown off.
The voice of an old drill instructor burst through the haze.
“Pull the fucking trigger!”
A shuffling sound behind him completed his wake-up call. He dropped to a knee and spun. His first shot hit the zombie in the left shoulder, slowing it, but not dropping it. His second shot obliterated the head.
He thought he could relax and get back to his bike, until he heard more shuffling behind him. He turned to see the zombie girl lunging for him.
The .45 exploded before he even thought about pulling the trigger. The body of the girl dropped to the sidewalk in a cluster of weeds which had pushed their way through the concrete in a defiant statement of determination.
He reloaded his clip as he walked back to the bike.
“This is fucking unreal,” he muttered to himself.
He holstered the weapon and popped the clutch. The Harley roared off on A1A, making slow arcs around the bodies of the fallen and the ruins of the town.
* * * * *
Eight miles up the road Ike pulled over next to an abandoned mobile home. He took a hose from his saddle bag and siphoned a tankful of gas into the Harley, keeping one eye open for unwanted visitors. Ten minutes later he was back on the road. As he rode the double-yellow line, he constantly scanned for signs of life, or un-life.
Somewhere near the intersection of Route 206 and A1A, the road opened up and Ike was able to open the throttle and get the bike up to 70 mph. As the desolate road stretched out before him like a portal into a foreign world, he wondered how Brewski was doing.
It had been three days since Brewski and his girlfriend, Didi, had left for Palm Coast to look for Didi’s uncle. Uncle Brian lived in a condo in Palm Coast in a large complex called European Village. At his age, Uncle Brian was unable to fend for himself so Didi insisted on a recuse mission. Ike woke up on the boat three days ago to find a hastily scribbled note from his friend.
Gone with D to Palm Coast – If not back in 3 days call the President. Brewski.
Ike would have appreciated the humor if he wasn’t fairly certain the President was either hiding in an underground bunker or one of the undead himself. Ike had given Brewski 2 days to return before deciding to strike out and find him.
Ike had an idea for an escape of sorts and wanted his two closest friends to be with him. Once they returned to the boat, they would set out for Key West. With a small population and limited access, Ike figured there was a decent chance the undead hadn’t claimed it yet. If he was wrong, they would find another island.
But first he had to find Brewski.
As he approached the Matanzas Inlet, he checked the horizon carefully—another bridge. The tactical advantage of a bridge was common sense in the military, but Ike had been out of the service for a long time and had let his instincts return to civilian habits as much as possible. Now he was bringing them back and pressing them into service in a hurry.
Crossing a bridge in wartime was not something to be taken lightly—the risk of ambush was too great. Being alone didn’t make things any easier. He opened the throttle a little more at the approach of the bridge—hoping to cross the thousand yard chasm quickly and without incident.
Ordinarily, at this point in the ride, he would enjoy the fresh air and the view of the ocean as it rushed under the bridge. Now he examined the horizon carefully for activity. When he reached the crest of the bridge, his mind automatically returned to the time he had dove over the parapet to save the occupant of a car that had crashed through the barrier.
It was a strange feeling to look back on such an event nostalgically.
At the far end of the bridge, Ike spotted movement in the parking lot of a restaurant that used to be called, naturally, The Matanzas Inlet. As he drew near, a slender blonde woman ran from the parking lot toward the road, waving frantically. As she reached the edge of the cracked pavement, Ike pulled to a stop about 50 feet away and climbed off his bike.
The woman ran toward him with the fear of death in her eyes. Without the roar of his Harley, he could hear her screams of terror. As she threw herself into his arms, he drew his .45 and immediately began looking for whatever she was running from.
“Please, help me, please help me,” she begged.
Ike moved her off the road and to the parapet wall where he crouched low and peered toward the restaurant. The woman crouched behind him, crying hysterically about somebody named Bob and how they ate him. Her words were almost indecipherable between her sobs.
With no signs of pursuit, Ike turned to her and held her by the shoulders, looking into her eyes.
“Okay,” he said as calmly as possible. “It’s okay. You’re safe now.”
I hope, he thought.
“Take it easy,” he said.
The woman took a few minutes to gain some semblance of control.
“My name is Ike,” he told her when her breathing began to approach normal. “What’s your name?”
She looked at him as if she didn’t know how to answer.
“Your name,” Ike repeated. “Tell me your name.”
“Ummm,” she brushed a long clump of curly blonde hair out of her face. “Angel, my name is Angel Godwin.”
“Okay, Angel, you’re okay now. Do you understand?”
“No,” she shook her head violently. “They’re coming. They killed Bob and now they’re after me.”
She stood to run, but Ike pulled her back down.
“Okay,” he said. “We’ll take care of it, but running isn’t the answer. We have to stand and fight.”
Her eyes told him she thought he was crazy.
“How many were there?” he asked.
She shook her head. “I don’t know, five?”
“Were they close behind you?”
Again, an unsure headshake. “I think, I don’t…maybe.”
Ike took her hand in his and stood.
“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go.”
She glanced at his motorcycle with relief, until he started walking toward the restaurant. She yanked her hand from his and ran for the bridge. Ike caught her after a few steps and picked her up with a massive arm around her narrow waist.
Angel fought and kicked, demanding he release her. Ike put her on the ground and looked into her eyes.
“Listen to me,” he said with authority. “You can’t out-run these things. You might get away from this group, but there’ll be another group waiting before you get a mile. And where exactly are you gonna go? There’s nothing north of here and even if there was, how far are you going to get alone?”
She looked at him with large, wet brown eyes, her mouth moving soundlessly and her head moving slowly back and forth. After several seconds, she collapsed into his arms, sobbing.
Ike held her, but gradually turned their bodies around until he was facing the restaurant. When she began to calm down, he held her at arms length and looked into her eyes.
“We have to do this,” he said.
She nodded and held his hand.
“Let’s go,” she said with a nod.
Ike followed his .45 off the bridge to the entrance of the restaurant. The parking lot was a good four feet below the road so their pace quickened as they followed the overgrown gravel entrance downhill. They approached a food service delivery van and Ike gave it a wide berth. He stopped at the front corner of the van and looked back at Angel giving her a shhh sign. She nodded her understanding and they took a step forward.
Two zombies emerged from the front door of the restaurant ten feet away. Ike raised the .45 and fired two shots. Each one a direct hit. The two headless corpses fell harmlessly to the ground in a cloud of dust. According to Angel’s estimate, there should be three more.
They worked their way around the building to a deck overlooking the inlet. A pair of corpses lay on the deck in a dried puddle of blood, while a pair of vultures sat on the deck rail waiting for Ike and Angel to vacate their dining space.
At the rear entrance, they heard a loud crash from inside like that of a pile of pots being thrown about. Ike pulled the door open and they entered the dark dining room. The smell was staggering and the buzzing of flies was the loudest white noise Ike had ever heard. The swinging doors to the kitchen were blocked open by the body of a zombie—once a college aged girl—lying in a heap on the floor. She had been killed by an arrow through the left eye. It reminded Ike of one of those novelty items where the two ends of the arrow are connected by an arched metal band that fits over your head giving the appearance of a through and through.
Ike could see a zombie shuffling around the kitchen in search of anything living. He quickened his pace and stepped over the body blocking the doors open. There were two zombies in plain view. Without hesitation, he took both of them out with perfect head-shots.
Ike stepped into the kitchen and surveyed the room. The stainless steel door to the walk-in freezer stood open.
“Wait here, I’m just going to check the freezer,” he said to Angel.
Ike trotted across the kitchen to the freezer and sprung into the doorway like a cop making a bust, gun drawn in the classic shooter’s stance.
He turned back toward Angel.
“Angel,” he said calmly as he walked slowly toward her. “I’m going to count to three.”
She looked at him with confusion; he held up a hand to stop her from asking any questions.
“When I say three,” he continued, “I want you to fall to the floor. Understand?”
She nodded slowly without taking her eyes from his—understanding the situation now.
“One, two,” he timed his strides with his count, “three.”
Angel dropped to the floor and Ike fired three shots at the zombie who had been approaching her from behind. Another two steps and he would have been on her.
“Let’s get out of here,” he said.
In the parking lot, Ike opened the sliding door of the delivery van and stepped inside. He holstered his weapon and filled an empty box with cans of non-perishable foods. Angel was leaning against the van when he stepped out.
“I think you should come with me,” Ike said to her.
“Charlie?” Angel said.
Ike furrowed his brow, about to ask her to repeat what she had said when he saw her looking past him. He turned around quickly, dropping the box and reaching for his gun. The zombie had come around the van and was only four feet from him. Ike leveled the gun and squeezed the trigger.
Ike reached for Angel’s hand.
“Come on,” he said, meaning to drag her far enough away to buy enough time to reload his magazine.
She stayed put.
“Charlie,” Angel said again, “Is that you?”
The zombie shuffled toward her. If it was Charlie, he didn’t respond to her question. He had probably been a handsome man before he joined the ranks of the undead. Now his face was contorted into a melted rubbery mask and his eyes were vacant black holes. He wore a blue polo shirt and khaki cargo shorts. His bare feet scuffled on the gravel parking lot.
Ike loaded a single round into the chamber of his .45 and fired at Charlie, hitting him in the throat. Charlie turned to Ike with a quizzical, albeit dead, stare.
“Shit,” Ike cursed. “Angel, come on!”
He moved quickly to his right, hoping to distract Charlie enough to give Angel a chance to join him. Instead, Angel bent down and picked up a can of onion soup. She took two quick steps toward Charlie and slammed the can into his temple. Charlie fell like a bag of rocks and Angel pounced on him, pummeling his head with the can until there was nothing left to hit.
Ike grabbed her arm and lifted her off Charlie’s corpse. The stench of death filled the air and, immediately, Ike’s head was filled with the Jethro Tull song, Locomotive Breath,…old Charlie stole the handle and the train it won’t stop going…no way to slow down.
“Nicely done,” he said with a grin.
“He used to hit on me,” she said. “I was the photographer at his wedding for Christ’s sake, and he would still try to get me to go on business trips with him.”
“I guess you don’t have to worry about it anymore,” Ike said.
Angel dropped the can onto Charlie’s body and stepped away. Ike collected the rest of the food and reloaded his magazine. They walked to his bike where he transferred the canned goods into his saddle bags.
“Never thought I’d have to scrounge for food again,” he said.
“Again?” Angel asked.
“Military,” he answered. “Spent a fun-filled year in the jungles of South America. You know, if you cook a python the right way, it’s pretty tasty.”
“South America? We didn’t have any wars in South America. Did we?”
“The war on drugs,” he said. “The kind of stuff you don’t see on CNN. I guess it’s all declassified now,” he added with a chuckle.
“Yeah, I guess it would be,” she said.
“Anyway,” he said as he started the bike. “It’s nice to meet you, Angel Godwin. Shall we?”
She threw her right leg over the bike and wrapped her arms around his waist.
“It’s nice to meet you too, Ike,” she said. “Let’s roll.”