Julie from my novel:
Severed Chains: Fateless
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LEVEL 06 - QUESTING
Tiffany aimed her gun at the zombie-killer, brows creased, eyes narrowed. I shook my head as he grinned. There had to be a misunderstanding.
“He’s joking.” I threw my hand out to block Tiffany’s aim. “He didn’t kill her for real.”
Tiffany growled like a dog. “Don’t get in my way, Zach!” Her voice dripped with so much poison, I dropped my arm.
“He didn’t mean it.” I glared at Wesley. “You didn’t mean that you killed her, right? When she was alive?”
Wesley put a hand under his chin. “Let’s see… You killed the zombie Serenade. So, what do you think?”
I frowned. “Seriously? What’s wrong with you?”
Tiffany’s aim didn’t falter. She stepped closer, coming with inches of the still grasping corpses.
“Careful!” I said.
She hit me with a ferocious glare.
I looked from Tiffany to Wesley. “He killed her in self-defense?”
“It wasn’t,” Wesley sang.
Wesley hung his head and raised a hand. “Drop it. I killed her cold.”
Tiffany stomped past the undead and shoved her gun against the idiot’s forehead. Did he want to commit suicide by pissed off teenage girl? And if she shot him, she’d regret it forever.
“Give me one reason I shouldn’t shoot you cold,” she hissed through her teeth.
“Because you’re not like me,” he whispered.
“Not good enough!” Tiffany jerked her hand.
I shut my eyes tight, but the gun didn’t go bang. I peeked to see she still held the firearm in Wesley’s face. Tiffany pressed a side button. “Next time, no safety.”
Wesley chuckled. “You almost had me there. I think I pissed myself a little.”
I put my arms in the air. “Please, we have to work together!”
Tiffany swung her head. “I’d rather kill myself than work with anyone who takes a life! Bastards like him are the reason, Zach. The reason you—”
Wesley put his hand on her gun. “The reason he what? Why don’t you tell him?”
Tiffany looked away. “Never mind, we’ll finish this later.”
Wesley grabbed her hand. “I want to clear the air. The kids won’t understand if he thinks his wife is a killer!”
“As if I’d marry him!”
I frowned at that. It wasn’t like I wanted to marry her either, but there was no reason for rudeness.
“Oh, we’re all killers aren’t we, Tiffany Gainsborough?” Wesley stepped forward, forcing her back. “Aren’t. We. Tiffa?”
Tiffa—that name again! Why’d he call her that? And I didn’t understand what he meant by us all being killers. Before I could ask, a series of groans gave me reason to spin. A corpse horde shambled through the garage gate, ravenous eyes trained on us.
“You have got to be kidding!” I said.
So many limbs shifted next to each other, I couldn’t count them. As I stepped back, I lifted my gun. “What do we do?” The corpses closed in by the second, but Tiffany and Wesley stared into each other’s eyes as if having a silent conversation. What were they saying and why not involve me? I had to intervene. “This is nuts. We have to run!”
The first monster came within ten feet of Wesley. It was ugly, fat, and ready to burst. It didn’t look like it could consume another bite, but that didn’t matter, it would still try. Crimson overflowed from its lips and its stink scorched my nostrils. Tiffany shoved Wesley, who stumbled toward the bloated corpse.
“Is that your game?” He held both hands out wide, his back to the wave of undead. “Let them do your dirty work?”
“Tiffany, come on, please!” I held out my hand. “Don’t do this.”
She didn’t speak.
“Tiffa!” I said, and she glanced at me, a look of confusion in her eyes.
The fat corpse walked behind Wesley, and Tiffany turned back, eyes cold. If I tried to save the zombie-killer, I might shoot him. I’d never fired a gun. The corpse grabbed his shoulder and brought its grotesque and gory face forward.
“Tiffa!” I shouted.
Bang. A gaping hole appeared in the bloater’s face, and it collapsed.
Wesley cocked an eyebrow. “Good shot, Mrs. Mastiff.”
I furrowed my brow. I’d never told him my last name. And why did he keep referring to us getting married?
She growled. “Just shut up, already!”
Wesley stepped back, arrogance overflowing. If he got bitten, blood would be on her hands. She’d have to live with that guilt.
“What are you doing?” I snapped at him.
“The exact thing she wants!” Wesley laughed. “But Tiffany’s not the real murderer. She’s not the Negastar.”
His words made no sense.
Two more corpses grabbed his arms, and I winced. Tiffany’s gun fired twice, and they fell away.
Wesley broke into a fit of laughter. “You’re priceless! You’ve got a mother’s instinct.”
“I’ll never marry or have kids, so shut the hell up!” she screamed.
Wesley was playing a dangerous game. Why mock her? A trio grabbed Wesley, but he didn’t resist. He lifted his head to the sky and laughed like a maniac. Three shots fired, and all three fell. Tiffany had great aim, but the number of corpses tripled. This time, he would die for sure. From what Jeff said, we had eleven bullets, which left her with only four shots.
The Corpses grabbed Wesley’s arms and attacked. She pulled the trigger repeatedly. Four crumpled, but the two remaining tore into him and my jaw fell, but still, he laughed. Their teeth weren’t piercing his coat.
“Time to set the stage of destiny!” Wesley cried. He grabbed the shotgun from his back, spun and whacked one, sending it reeling. Pumping the gun, he fired. The powerful spread-shot leveled several of the nearby undead. He continued forward, pumping and firing, pumping and firing, disappearing further into the crowd.
“Where’s he going?” I asked.
“That bastard!” Tiffany said. “He’s trying to escape!”
She ran after him and I yelled, “Tiffany wait!” But she didn’t stop. “Dammit!” I gave chase. The dismembered corpses snapped their teeth as I jumped between them. Wesley continued to fire his gun, clearing a gore-ridden path. After a couple more blasts, I lost sight of him. Tiffany stabbed with her dagger, making her way through, and then she too disappeared. They were both suicidal idiots! There were too many corpses! From behind the wall of monsters, a car engine revved. They were about to leave me.
“Wait, I’m coming!” I said.
Corpses converged before me, and fear stole my ability to move. I needed to shoot. A pair of undead crashed down as an SUV backed over them and them.
Tiffany leaned out the window. “Get in, now!”
I jumped in the back, but a corpse grabbed the door with its bloody fingers. I attempted pulling it closed, and another seized my ankle, but I reared back, and kicked, snapping its wrist. “Go away!” As the corpse fell, I slammed the door shut. With a sigh, I leaned back. Tiffany sat in the passenger side, with Wesley at the wheel.
“What about the others?” I said.
Wesley grinned. “They don’t get to go on our little field trip.”
Tiffany snapped her seatbelt on and cursed. “I will kill you as soon as you stop this vehicle.”
“Yeah?” Wesley geared into reverse and stomped his foot. The SUV became a corpse-smashing machine. He spun the wheel, hollering like a howler monkey.
I held on for dear life as the vehicle spun in tight donuts, sending indistinguishable body parts flying. I slammed into the opposite side, and as I landed on the floor, my weapons bounced away. Wesley continued spinning us. More than once we lifted onto two tires and almost flipped. An agonizing time later, the ride came to a complete stop.
“Are you done?” I swallowed vomit.
“Yeah, he’s done.” Tiffany sighed.
Wesley laughed, and I pulled myself into the seat. The gore-covered windows blocked all line of sight. Wesley smacked the steering wheel. “That was a hoot!”
“For you maybe,” I muttered as everything spun.
“Won’t do it again. I promise, Mr. Mastiff.”
I held my head. “Oh please, by all means.” I opened the door and blew chunks, furthering the mess.
“What kind of stunt was that, dumbass?” Tiffany shouted.
“What stunt?” He cocked his head. “I’m showing you noobs how to kill zombies!”
“No! You tricked me into wasting my ammo so I wouldn’t shoot your sorry ass!” She punched his shoulder again and again. Wesley took each hit with a chuckle.
“We’ll deal with your shit later,” Tiffany said. “The only reason I didn’t blow your brains out is because we need you and your stupid skills.”
“And my hat! Always need my zombie-killing hat. It’s the source of my skills. Remember that, children.”
To Wesley, the world had become a game. A wild, insane, game.
“I will burn that hat the first chance I get,” Tiffany grumbled.
Wesley grabbed his fedora. “Don’t! She’s my baby!”
“It’s a she?” I sighed. “Like a car or boat?”
“Sexist bullshit,” Tiffany said.
Wesley shrugged. “Get over yourself. Political correctness went out of style today.”
Tiffany huffed, then peered out the front window.
“Do you see something?” I asked.
“More of them. We need to close the gate.”
In response, hit the wipers, clearing the windshield, and hit the gas pedal. The SUV lurched, slamming me back. We flew over several corpses and slid outside, stopping to idle again. Wesley left.
I leaned forward. “What’s he doing?”
“How should I know?” Tiffany screwed up her face.
Wesley approached a small silver box on the wall and pried it open. He fiddled with something, and the gate lowered with a loud electrical hum. Garage secure, he returned, slashing a few corpses on the way. Wesley climbed into the vehicle. “Hey, Zachy-boy?”
“Zach,” I said. “My name is Zach!”
“Yeah, Zacho, whatever—” Wesley waved his hand.
He cleared his throat. “There should be a radio. I saw it fly back there.”
I searched and felt under the seat, finding a handheld receiver. “This?” I lifted it.
“Yes.” He stole the radio and tossed it up, ready to catch it, but Tiffany snatched the receiver and turned it over in her hands.
“It’s linked to the security desk,” Wesley said. “I gave each employee one for their cars. We radioed the desk, and they opened the garage with the security console—You know when we were doing overtime. But it only links to this building.”
“We’re really going somewhere?” I asked.
“Yeah, the 7n20.” Wesley named the local department store.
“Supplies,” he said. “And to teach you the way.”
A smile hit the corner of his lips. “The world is different. Also, I need a new high score.”
The idiot would doom us all for a few points.
Tiffany handed me the radio. “Tell the others.”
“R-Right.” I held the button. “Hey, it’s me, Zach.”
A few moments later, Jeff spoke. “You guys worried Jessie sick! We watched you walk into the garage and then it sounded like a war in there!”
“A horde of corpses,” I said, hoping she wouldn’t mount and kill Wesley, although she glared with utter hatred.
“Are you all right?” Dave’s voice crackled.
“Yeah, all three of us.”
“Zach!” Jessie said. “Where are you now?”
“We’re heading to the 7n20.”
“Oh, yeah!” Dave said. “Dude, bring back chips and cheese, then I’ll whip us up some—ow!”
“Sorry,” Jessie said. “What were you saying?”
“We need supplies. It looks like we‘ll be staying at the game studio, I guess.”
“Please be careful.”
“We will. Over and out.”
I lowered the window as we drove. The city of Milpeg had gone to hell in just a matter of hours, and only corpses still moved through the streets. There were no people, or animals anymore. Instead of a ten-minute trip, Wesley turned it into almost an hour. He stopped every time he saw a corpse. His scoreboard was overflowing. After more than a couple dozen stops, we pulled up outside the enormous parking lot. Hundreds of corpses shambled. Everyone had to have been doing their X-mas shopping, and it became a slaughter. Before we climbed out of the car Wesley reloaded our guns and gave us extra magazines.
“I suspect that we won’t be alone in the store.” Wesley sounded a little too happy.
“Who knows,” I said.
Wesley ran to a clear aisle and motioned to us. We had to be careful. To attract one corpse would be to bring them all upon us. We made our way to the storefront as drops of freezing rain fell. The sky had become dark and dreary. It was hours until nightfall, but a storm would make things worse. We might get sick, carrying food and supplies to the SUV. A security camera outside the building swiveled. Was someone watching?
“What is it?” Tiffany asked.
“Nothing,” I said. “Let’s get out of the rain.”
“The zombie apocalypse had to start in winter.” Tiffany swatted a water droplet off my nose.
Her touch, ever so slight, gave me goosebumps. I shook off the feeling, reminding myself I liked Jessie, not Tiffany—No matter what my stupid dream made me feel.
“It’ll be Christmas in a week,” I said.
“I couldn't care less.” Tiffany checked her gun. “Holidays aren’t my thing.”
“Well, I care,” Wesley sang.
“You do?” I asked.
“Yes!” he said. “It’s time to go shopping for some new toys.”
I rolled my eyes.
The doors slid open, and we entered the dark store. The doors worked—Why not the lights? There were no visible corpses although blood pooled in multiple places. We walked through the woman’s clothing section.
“Guns and weapons are upstairs,” Wesley said.
“Shouldn’t we start with food?” I asked.
“You can.” Wesley nodded to the still-moving escalator. “I’ll get me some guns, some new blades, and see if I can find any hot survivors.” He boarded the automatic stairs and up he went. How long would the power last? A world without electricity, without video games—A depressing thought.
Tiffany shrugged and rushed to catch up with him.
“No one has their priorities straight.” I sighed.
As I walked after them, a shadowy figure appeared at the top and struck Wesley on the head with what looked like a rifle. Tiffany didn’t react in time, and they hit her too. They both collapsed.
“Oh, crap!” I scrambled around the side of the escalator and peeked upstairs. Two people dragged my companions out of sight. One stopped and snapped their head in my direction. I pulled back and held my breath. My heart thundered so loud, at any second it would betray me.
Wesley was right. We weren’t alone.
LEVEL 05 - PLAYER ONE: PRESS START
Somewhere in the darkness a young girl said, “Press Start.”
“What?” I murmured.
“I said, press start. Unpause the game or else!”
My eyes were open, but I couldn’t see her. There was only darkness in all directions.
“There’s no time for video games!” I said.
“If you don’t press the stupid button this instant, I’ll go home!”
I would have done as she asked to quiet her, but I didn’t have a controller—We weren’t playing a game. We were in real life and an undead stood outside the door, pounding. Didn’t she care?
“Okay, Zachary. That’s it. You’re no fun at all!” She sounded like Tiffany, but I’d never played games with her. I was always a solo player, wasn’t I? My head ached, and the confusion made it hurt worse.
“I’ll give you one last chance. If you want to be my boyfriend, press start and play the game! Stop being such a coward!”
Boyfriend? Tiffany didn’t like me. In fact, she hated me… She didn’t even want me saying her name. But something seemed wrong about that. I’d spoken her name many times. It felt right coming off my tongue. She liked it. She even adored the nickname I’d given her—Tiffa. That couldn’t be right. But I could swear we’d grown up together. There were so many images of us flashing through my mind—Playing games together, wrestling around in one of our rooms, going out for hot dogs. Even a planned trip to the kick-ass amusement park, Dante Land.
The door shuddered and jolted me to reality. “Zach?” Tiffany shouted. “Open the door! I won’t say it again!”
“Tiffa?” My eyes popped open, and I was laying in the same dark office. Serenade’s body rested between my legs. I still had the flashlight clutched in my hands, and the light shone on the pile of mush that’d been her head.
“Zach, are you alive in there? Please tell me you are,” Tiffany’s voice cracked. “If you got yourself killed, I’ll—“
“You’ll what? Cry?” Dave said. “You sound like you’re worried about the noob.”
“Hell no! We need numbers. If you forgot, Wesley ran off on his own.”
“Find him yourself,” Jeff said. “You want every guy to be your boyfriend.”
“No way. I don’t want a boyfriend. I-I don’t even like boys!”
“So you like girls?” Dave snorted. “Get that, Jessie?”
“Oh?” Jessie giggled. “You think I’d date Tiffany?”
“Well, I wouldn’t date me. Or anyone else—Boy or girl!” Tiffany said.
“This is annoying. Try pushing the door again.” Jeff sighed. “If we don’t hear him in their groaning, then he isn’t a zombie. At least not yet.”
“You do it!” Tiffany said. “I’m tired of trying. If anyone else puts me in another romantic hypothetical, I’m punching them in the nuts or boob. And Dave I’ll punch you in both!”
“Hey, I don’t have boobs…” Dave muttered.
“Here I go,” Jeff said. “Stand back.”
Silence. And then the door exploded open and the filing cabinet shot forward sending me tumbling and landing on my face. My head throbbed as the bright light scorched my eyes.
“The power is back!” Dave cheered.
“Zach!” Jessie and Tiffany cried at the same time.
Someone lifted me under my arms, but then flung me into the wall, sending a sharp pain up my back.
“What’d you do that for, moron?” Tiffany said.
“He’s got blood on him,” Jeff said. “Could be a goddamn zombie.”
“He’s still breathing,” Jessie said. “Oh, thank the gods.”
“Which gods?” I murmured, my head spinning.
Tiffany groaned. “The gaming ones, idiot.”
My eyes adjusted and someone kneeled before me. Jessie. Her eyes were red and puffy, her lips quivering as if she were about to burst into a flood of tears. Tiffany stood behind her, arms across her chest. The corners of her lips and eyebrows were twitching.
Jessie threw herself, wrapping both arms around my neck. “You worried me! There was slamming and screaming. Jeff got back by himself. I thought if you were… I might have… well, yeah.”
“We figured you were dead,” Tiffany said.
“I almost died. There was a corpse in the office. The power turned off, Jeff ran, and then it attacked me.”
“So Jeff ran before the attack?” Dave snorted.
Jeff punched Dave’s arm. “Don’t make me sound like a coward!”
Dave burst into laughter and slapped his knee. “But you are!” The dynamic duo continued to argue.
I bolted upright. “The gunshot! What happened?”
Tiffany shrugged. “Wesley wanted to check the other wing, and I guess he shot a zombie—And Jessie screamed.”
“Aren’t you worried about him?”
She swung her head. “I’m not worried about anyone but myself. But we should see if we can find Mr. Zombie-Killing Hat.”
“Yeah, he might score too many points for us to catch him.” I forced a grin.
“Drop the game references,” Tiffany grumbled and walked away, gun held before her.
“Wesley started it,” I said, but she’d already left.
Jessie leaned forward and kissed my cheek making my heart almost burst from my chest. She whispered, “Please be careful. I don’t know what I’ll do if I lose you.” My face burned red as she turned and hurried after Tiffany. Dave gave a grunt of annoyance and followed. He stumbled over my leg but caught himself on a zombie statue.
“Careful, noob!” Dave said.
Jeff grabbed my collar, pulling me to my feet. “Sorry about leaving you. I thought you were behind me.”
I shook my head. “Don’t worry about it. I scored my first point.”
“Good job. Gross, though, you got zombie all over you.”
“Some corpse brains.”
Jeff rubbed his chin. “Corpses? Nice name for them.”
“Sounds better than the word zombie. It’s more real—Like we need it to be, though, huh?”
Jeff and I shared a laugh. Despite leaving me, we were friends.
Back in the lobby, the girls examined the security monitor. Dave leaned against the desk, staring at the front doors unblinking. That same corpse still pounded the glass. Another shadow joined the first, this one wearing a wide-brimmed hat. Instead of pounding, it stood there, unmoving. It made my mouth dry, and chills rushed up and down my spine.
“Any sign of the almighty zombie killer?” I said.
Tiffany shook her head, leaning in close to the screen. “Not him or his hat.”
Jessie sat in the security guard’s chair. “Look at the camera near the garage.”
“That zombie from earlier vanished.” Tiffany rubbed her nose. “It might be anywhere.”
Jeff stood near the door and the corpses, shaking his head. “Let’s split up and find it.”
Dave threw up his hands. “Has that ever been a good idea? Do you figure thinning our group will help?”
“It was only a joke, man. Calm yourself.”
“Sorry.” Dave slumped his shoulders. “It gets dark at five. We need to find safety by then.”
“We‘re draining the backup power,” Tiffany said, the monitor light reflecting in her eyes. “Game companies need to leave computers and consoles on for extended periods of time. They couldn’t risk a power failure, so it’s only a guess, but we have time.”
“No use in standing here again. We better do this,” I said. “I have too much anxiety with that monster pounding.” The hat-wearing corpse had left.
“Nope, no way, not a chance. I’m staying right here.” Dave crossed his arms. “But if they have nachos bring them back, will ya?”
Jessie’s eyes were full of fear, and Jeff looked hesitant this time.
“Tiffany and I will go,” I said.
She scowled. “Who made you Big Boss?”
“You had me lead back at the school.”
“Didn’t go so well, did it?” Dave said.
I narrowed my eyes. “How about you lead?”
“Hell no! I’ll be the comic relief. Every group needs comic relief.”
I summoned my courage and held out my hand. “Jeff, I need your gun.”
He handed me the pistol. “It’s a Smith & Wesson. Only holds ten bullets, plus one in the chamber.”
“No, first-person shooters are kinda my thing.”
“Funny. Those go hand-in-hand now.” I grinned.
“Our skills are what will keep us alive.”
“Gamers vs. the zombie apocalypse.” I tittered, my nerves spiking. “We’ve been waiting for a long time, haven’t we?”
Tiffany groaned. “Don’t expect you can press start so you can run away. This is real life.”
“Press Start?” I tilted my head. She’d said the same in my dream, but it had to be a coincidence.
Tiffany walked towards the unexplored hall. “You coming?”
“Right behind you.”
She stopped me after several strides. “Hold your weapons like this. With the dagger below your gun. You’ll have a better reaction time.”
“And you learned this from games?”
For the first time, she grinned. “Stealth games are my forte.”
I took up the position, and we continued, past more zombie statues. Every time we got to an open door we closed it. We didn’t need a corpse sneaking behind us. As Tiffany said, TVs and computers were on, and most had start screens of the same game.
“Did these guys ignore everything going on outside?” I said.
“Wesley said they were prepared,” Tiffany said. “Seems like they wanted to have fun until they died.”
We came to the kitchen area which smelled of melted nacho cheese and processed ham.
“Dave wanted nachos.” I chuckled.
“Forget that dufus. He always wants nachos,” Tiffany said as we entered.
A splash of red had splattered the open microwave. Sauce or blood? I didn’t want to investigate further.
“Looks like they were on break when it happened,” Tiffany said.
I sighed, closing the microwave and fridge. “They never expected to be the snack.”
“Enough dilly-dallying.” She waved for me.
Soon we found ourselves in a second open room. We walked past more gaming stations. One TV screen caught my attention. The graphics were super realistic, showing a zombie eating a fallen victim.
“What’s this?” I leaned in close. The screen read, Omega Virus—Developed by G.O.D. Mode Games. I didn’t recognize the company. “Hey, Tiff. Ever hear of the company—?”
She spun on me, gun raised. “Don’t call me Tiff!”
I threw up my arms, afraid she would shoot. “I-I’m sorry!”
She sighed. “Tiffany. It’s Tiffany.”
We came into the next hall, the one from the security camera. We’d found the garage—door wide open. Inside most of the cars were missing from their spots, which might have suggested most of the employees escaped, but a pile bodies contradicted that. Many of them had grasping hands and gnashing teeth.
A decapitated head sat by Tiffany’s foot, slowly opening and closing its jaws. Tiffany looked down without pity and kicked it like a soccer ball. The head bounced and rolled away.
Wesley stood from behind the pile, grinning. “I see you’re still alive.”
Tiffany didn’t say a word as Wesley kneeled and retrieved the decapitated head.
“Watch out!” I winced expecting it to bite him, but he held it from under the jaw.
Wesley sighed and said, “To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?” Once again Wesley was reciting Shakespeare.
I laughed. “Did you know him well?”
“Nah,” Wesley sounded so solemn, I almost cried. “I didn’t… Not this guy. He was a noob. You know the bottom level of the PvP ladder. Game tester, or if you need to be technical, quality assurance.”
“So, kill it before it bites you.”
“Yeah, yeah.” He dropped the head and stomped it in with the heel of his boot. “I haven’t found a single survivor.”
“I ran into Serenade Kennedy.”
Wesley raised his head and eyed me.
“She almost got me, but I smashed her brains. Score one Zach!”
“That suggests it‘s airborne then,” Wesley muttered. “Meh, good riddance to the bitch.”
I furrowed my brow. “She was a person! How can you say that?”
“Serenade wanted to sell us to another company. She owned a lot of the stocks and crap. But she thought G.O.D. Mode would be better for our future.”
Tiffany narrowed her eyes. “You knew the woman was already dead?”
“Yep.” He nodded.
“But how? You didn’t go that way.”
Wesley lifted his eyes, cold and jaded. “She had it coming.”
Tiffany raised her pistol. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“Yep.” He grinned. “I killed her.”
LEVEL 04 - QUALITY ASSURANCE
Wesley James stared hard at that last camera, deep in thought. If his friends were dead, maybe he still had a family? If not, we were all he had. And he was all we had.
“Wes, what’s wrong?” Tiffany whispered.
The zombie-killer ignored her. He chewed on his bottom lip, eyes fixated. I didn’t want to say it, but he needed to accept reality. Heck, I couldn’t believe I’d accepted it. But somewhere in his mind, the cogs ticked, and he calculated his next move.
On the camera facing the garage, the living corpse lifted the human drumstick to its mouth and sank in broken fangs, tearing away a chunk of sinewy muscle. There was a gross ripping as it chewed, and gore dribbled off its chin.
Guilt encroached upon my mind and I felt bad about my wisecrack.
I stuck my hands in my pockets and lowered my head. “Wesley, I’m sorry.”
He didn’t seem to hear. Instead, he leaned on the desk, deep in a far off world. The Gamers’ Guild stood there in silence. They weren’t my friends, but I didn’t want to imagine losing any of them to a walking corpse. We were now a party. Jessie and I exchanged glances, and she shook her head. Wesley needed time. I joined the Guild by the entrance. No one found words. The banging on the front door continued, never-ending. The tall, zombified figure, smeared bloody handprints with each slam.
After several more thuds, I grew too anxious. “I’ll go look.”
Everyone, save Wesley, shot me a look.
“You’re insane!” Dave said. “Those things are in here.”
“Don’t go, please,” Jessie said.
I examined the knife Wesley gave me. “Someone’s gotta do it.”
“I’ll go with him.” Jeff shrugged. “I don’t wanna stand here with my thumb up my ass”
Instead of a glare, he had a blank look on his face. It was almost peaceful. I know he said he believed it all, but now he accepted it and I wouldn’t refuse backup. Jeff carried a gun, which increased one’s chances of survival.
“Let’s go,” I said.
Jeff nodded, and we walked toward the hallway labeled: Development.
Wesley’s hand shot out. “Wait. Stay away from the Development wing. The garage is there.”
“R-Right,” I said.
We took the other hall labeled: Offices.
Only a few steps had passed before Wesley muttered, “Noobs.”
I opened my mouth to snap back but instead sighed. “Jerk,” I whispered and hurried to keep up with Jeff. I followed the emergency lights by my feet. Around the corner I slammed right into him. “Don’t do that! I almost stabbed you.”
Jeff turned back. “But you didn’t. So, we need a game plan.”
I peered down the hall. “You’re right. What do you suggest?”
“You’re shorter, so go first.”
“You can’t see past me. What good would it do for you to provide backup?”
The truth of being the shorter one burned my pride, but I didn‘t argue. “Right, you can shoot over me.”
I scurried in front, noting that Jeff towered over me by at least half a foot. Even armed with a wicked knife, my pulse pounded. The dark floor tiles made the shoes of the statues blend, making it harder to tell if one was real, and shifting its weight. Stupid statues! I studied each one, making sure none moved an inch. Several tense seconds passed.
“Go already,” Jeff hissed.
I moved on, but still worried. They were too realistic, from deep cuts on their faces, to ragged clothing—Any might be a corpse. The third one! Did it move? I stabbed and my blade clanged to the side. Jeff chuckled, making me grumble at my mistake.
After the first hall were offices. The first had a plaque with the name, Ben McRoy. I approached the door and pushed. It creaked open and showed nothing more than a messy desk, covered in papers and junk food. Secure enough.
“Looks empty,” I said.
“Someone was here recently, though.” Jeff pointed at a bottle of beer sitting on a small table. It had sweat on the dark glass.
I picked up the still-cold bottle. “Are some of Wesley’s friends alive? There’s no blood.”
Jeff shrugged. “Makes you wonder how prepared they were.”
“If they were drinking? Who knows? Isn’t that a sure-fire way to get yourself killed in a dangerous situation?”
“Well, let’s find the bastard.”
I closed the door behind us and walked up to the next office that belonged to one: Serenade Kennedy.
The door opened without a squeal. This room presented a stark contrast to the prior. Everything was pristine. Papers were in piles without even a stray corner misplaced. She’d lined a shelf behind the desk with anime action figures and little plush dolls of cats and other cutesy animals—All arranged by size. Utter perfection.
“Okay, this office belonged to a girl,” I said.
“And she was hot,” Jeff said.
Jeff grabbed a picture frame from a bookshelf and held it to his face. “She wasn’t hot, she was boiling!”
“Why does she have a picture of herself? Let me see!” I reached, and he pulled away.
“Why do you care?” he said, “You have the hots for Jessie.”
A twisting knot of butterflies swarmed in my stomach. “N-No way!” My cheeks burned.
An electrical hum filled the air.
Muscles tensed. “What’s that?”
“C’mon, admit it. You like her.”
“I’m serious! What was that?”
“I need to know, man. Tell me.” He showed me the picture. The woman had long black hair, perfect green shining eyes, and tan skin. She wore a tank top, tied into a knot at the bottom, and short shorts while standing barefoot in the grass of the Milpeg Community Park. A real beauty but she didn’t compare to Jessie, who had fair, freckled skin and beautiful red hair.
The humming escalated, and all emergency lights cut out. My first instinct kicked in, and I tried leave, but Jeff grabbed my arm. “Don’t move.”
His tone sent chills ricocheting through me. A scraping sound came from somewhere nearby—Like nails on the linoleum floor. I gripped my knife, trying to fight the panic. “Where is it?”
“Shuddup!” Jeff said.
I listened. The scraping seemed too close. Even though I couldn’t see, my hearing told me there was danger. An image flashed through my head—A zombie chewing my leg.
“Run!” Jeff said. His heavy footfalls echoed through the hall before I could move.
“Wait!” I wanted to follow but fear held me still. A silhouette of a zombie statue outside moved. Or did it? What if it did? They all were real and waiting to tear into us! Tears welled in my eyes and terror rose from the soles of my feet to the top of my head. How could I get back?
There came a single gunshot followed by a girl’s scream. Jessie? Tiffany? An employee? Serenade? But a cold realization chilled me to the bone. It wasn’t Serenade because Serenade scraped the floor right behind me.
My legs flew from under me, and I screamed. My head hit a file cabinet, and plushies rained upon me. The corpse-woman gripped my foot. She groaned and grabbed my jeans, pulling herself. I struggled for the knife, but my fingertips sent it skidding into the hall.
Serenade the corpse screeched in a hissing rage and yanked me under the desk.
“No! No! No!” I cried.
I pulled back my leg hard and kicked with the other. My foot landed in her mouth, and the hissing moan skipped like a record. I crawled back enough to get my hand within dagger’s reach. But she lunged, and I somehow jerked away, making her head smack the floor.
“Help!” I shouted.
Again, I tried for my knife, but didn’t get my fingers around the handle. She reeled me back like a fish. I reached for leverage to pull myself away and grabbed a drawer of the cabinet. The whole thing came crashing down, and I rolled. It crashed to the floor, cutting me off from the dagger.
As things bounced from the opened drawers, a beam of light shot out from beneath the desk.
A heavy silver flashlight was by her hand—She’d accidently hit the on button. I grabbed it and aimed the beam at Serenade. The once-stunning woman was dead. Her eyes were dull, glowing, and filled with the hunger of a feral beast. Green veins bulged in her forehead as she bared broken teeth. Spittle and blood sprayed over me.
I kicked her corpse face, but she came back hissing and snapping. My only weapons were small items lying around, so I threw them. A plushy cat, a hard plastic cartoon unicorn, a little basketball with a large Z on it! Nothing proved to be a useful weapon!
She lunged higher, past my leg and near my inner thigh. I could no longer kick. The moment of death had come. But no—I held a large, heavy flashlight.
I lifted it, and as she lunged, slammed the makeshift weapon down and smashed the handle into her skull. Brain matter splattered me, but she continued to twitch, so I went insane. I brought up the flashlight, smashed it down, brought it up, smashed it down, over and over, until it hit the floor beneath the bloody mess of her head. She stopped moving.
With my back against the fallen cabinet, my heartbeat jackhammered in my ears. I stayed there for many long moments, catching my breath. After I calmed, I shoved the dead body away and examined my legs to make sure there were no bites. Adrenaline might have covered the pain. I thanked the gaming gods when I didn’t find a scratch. The only injury was a slight headache from hitting my head.
“That was too close.” I shined the flashlight around the room, making sure no more corpses hid. Safe. But the gunshot and the scream? I tried to stand, but slipped in the gore. Once again, I smacked my head into something hard, and I collapsed.
Everything turned fuzzy and seemed to slow. There came more noise. Footsteps? Scraping? I cursed and grabbed the bottom of the office door, slamming it shut. I pushed all my weight against the cabinet, forcing it over to serve as a barricade. Flashlight to my chest, I clicked off the light. Something pounded on the door, just like the monotonous corpse outside the front entrance.
“You will not get me!” I whispered, fading in and out of consciousness.
I had just survived a near-death experience, and another flesh crazed monster stood outside the door! Who ever said things were fair? My family didn’t care, no girls ever liked me or gave me a nickname. I had no friends to speak of unless you counted NPCs in video games. They were my friends—Characters. But they couldn’t come to my rescue. Not even Jeff had my back. He too ran away. Go figure.
I leaned back and whimpered as the smell of blood filled my nostrils. Outside, the undead pushed against the door, trying its damnedest. There would be no budging. I would starve before getting torn apart. I would never let them get me. Never. Ever.
LEVEL 03: GAME ON
Wesley James had saved my life, and I couldn’t find it in me to thank the jerk. He exuded a cockiness which permeated the air. Or it was his pungent cologne. During the zombie apocalypse, both were a sure-fire way to get yourself killed.
He spun full circle, arms extended. “What do you think? Nice job, huh?”
“You’re a badass!” Tiffany called from the rooftop and made a heart with her thumbs and index fingers. “I heart badasses!”
I rolled my eyes. So badasses made her swoon? It made my blood boil, and a knot form in my chest. But why?
With an exaggerated bow, Wesley swept his zombie killing hat from his head. “O, speak again, bright angel! For thou art as glorious to this night, being o’er my head, as a winged messenger of heaven into the white, upturned, wondering eyes of mortals that fall back to gaze on him when bestrides the lazy-puffing clouds and sails upon the bosom of air.”
Tiffany giggled, and Jessie did too. I really didn’t like that.
On the roof, Dave threw out his hands. “Um, guys? You know, ZPoc and all!”
“Seriously, bro!” Jeff said. “Run now, flirt later!”
Wesley chuckled. “Run? Fear not! I have a vehicle that will transfer us away from this zone.”
“What zone? You’re acting like this is a game!” I gritted my teeth. “You wrecked your bike and it was only a two-seater.”
Wesley turned on me, eyes wide. “Did you think I meant you?”
I balled my hands into fists, and it took every ounce of my self-control not to blast him in the face.
Wesley placed his hat back on his head. “I saved you once. Once! It‘s all you get. No more continues.”
Grumbling, I walked to the building. “Guys, pull me up, please. I’d like to leave now.”
Tiffany reached, and as I raised my arms, she pulled back. “Um, not you. I was trying to help Wes!”
“Are you serious? You’re giving him a nickname?” I set my jaw.
Jessie, the small and frail one, reached for me. “Don’t worry, Zach. I’ve got you.”
Jeff kneeled next to her and offered a hand. I jumped and grabbed hold. Together they pulled me onto the roof. Wesley strutted over, and Tiffany struggled to lift him by herself, and she didn’t look happy about it. I left her to her complaining and scanned the city streets. My heart sank. Four of the five tall buildings Milpeg boasted were on fire. Cars continued to crash, running over civilians and zombies alike. An old man with a cane limped along the sidewalk. He spotted us and opened his mouth, but pursuing zombies lunged from between the buildings. He didn’t suffer for long—a speeding ambulance splattered them.
A tighter knot formed in my chest. “This has to be a nightmare.”
Jeff joined me in overlooking the chaos. “It‘s real bro. You were right. We are balls deep in a zombie apocalypse.”
“Duh, guys! We need to GTFO!” Dave said. “We should find food, weapons, water, and more food!”
Jessie appeared on my other side and slipped her hand into mine. “Where’s a safe place to hide?”
I couldn’t lie to make her feel better. “There‘s no safe if this is it—The ZPoc.”
“Attention, my adolescent companions!” Wesley lifted his hand to the sky. “For I have decided with the kindness of my heart, that I’m inviting you to my safe house.”
I shot him a glare. “Why aren’t you there, moron?”
“Hey, he saved your life!” Tiffany narrowed her eyes.
Wesley patted the air. “Now, now, I’m sure he didn’t mean to call his hero a moron!”
“You’re not a hero!” I said. “You didn’t know I was there!”
Wesley chuckled. “You’d be surprised what I know.”
Jeff regarded him. “What the hell are you doing out here?”
“Um duh, killing zombies!” He pointed to his hat. “See the Fedora? The feather is red with their blood.”
I snickered. “That hat was on sale at the hipster store in the mall.”
Wesley glanced to the side. “Hell nah. Blood. Enemies. Believe it.”
A long moan reached us. The crushed old man stood, his arm severed, and his entrails hanging to the sidewalk.
“There’s no time for this.” Dave stomped his foot. “There are goddamn zombies everywhere!”
He was right. The number of undead moans were increasing, echoing through the streets. The idiot zombie killer’s gun show had attracted unwanted attention. Wesley drew his twin pistols and thrust his wrists forward. From inside his sleeves came ammo clips. He crossed his arms in a quick motion and popped them into place.
“Hold it.” He approached the edge. “Time for an achievement—Being a Badass Again.”
Jeff seized his collar. “You mean achievement—The Suicidal Idiot.”
“Yeah.” Dave nodded quickly. “Show us the safe house first. Then get eaten.”
Tiffany smacked the back of Dave’s head. “No one is getting eaten.”
“Ow! You’re abusive, ya know?”
“Come on, man.” Wesley pulled away from Jeff and readjusted his shirt. “Let me do my job so I can brag to the others.”
I crossed my arms. “What are you part of some secret zombie slaying army?”
“Uh, no, that’s stupid,” he said. “Would have been pretty bored until an hour ago, given there were no zombies.”
“Then you’re secret service?” Jessie tilted her head.
For all I cared he was a billionaire vigilante, but I almost fell over when he gave his answer.
“I’m a game designer!” He grinned ear to ear.
“A gamer?” I threw my arms down to my sides. “We are gamers, and we can’t do what you did! Have you been preparing since you were in diapers or something?”
“Haven’t we all?”
Groans came from right below our feet. They were amassing, waiting for their buffet.
“Here!” Wesley thrust a pistol into my hand, and then the other into Jeff’s.
I fumbled with the weapon. “W-What?”
From his back, Wesley drew the shotgun and walked to the roof’s edge while Tiffany snatched the pistol. “Give it to me. I need points too.”
“This isn’t some game. Once I thought we’d be ready for this, but we aren’t!”
“This chick is more prepared than a wet-behind-the-ears noob!” Tiffany threw a glare my way.
“I’m not a noob.”
Jeff shrugged, following Tiffany and Wesley to the edge.
Dave patted my shoulder. “Don’t worry, dude. We’ll protect you!”
I growled. “I don’t need protecting!”
Jessie stayed beside me, trembling. “I never thought this would happen.”
She nodded. “Zombies are unreal.”
“Don’t be afraid.” I put my hand on her shoulder. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”
“Afraid?” A small smile curled at the corners of her lips. “No, not afraid.”
She grinned wide. “I’m so excited!”
My jaw dropped, and she giggled—as serious as could be. In games I loved to kill zombies. And I guess I always thought I’d be excited too. But in real life it was different. We might die at any moment. And I was inexperienced with real guns. I’d never even played paintball or laser tag.
With what we’d experienced, how could she be excited? She had a bad life at home but she didn’t talk about it. There were whispers of her parents being abusive, with how she came to school bearing bruises on her arms and sometimes face. But she smiled through it all. The ZPoc was her escape. But what about me? On the other side of town, nestled in a small suburb, were my aunt and her husband. They weren’t bad people, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t miss them. We didn’t talk much and only coexisted. We knew little of my parents. I wanted to talk myself into going for them, but they were probably already dead. It was too late for them—too late for Milpeg, Texas. Were zombies spreading around the state? The whole country? The world?
I turned to find my companions all on the next roof. Frowning, I approached the gap between us. The alley below was filled with reaching zombies. To fall would be game over.
Jessie waved. “It’s easy, Zach.”
Wesley motioned with his hands. “Run, and jump. No biggie!”
“Even a noob can make it,” Dave said. “But I’ll catch you if you fall. Don’t worry.”
He had no intentions of catching anybody. I pictured him reaching for me. I didn’t weigh much, even with my backpack, but it might be too much for him and he’d let go, letting me become zombie chow.
Tiffany said, “Hurry or we’re leaving you.”
I backed up, muttering, “How did Dave make this jump?”
With all my speed, I dashed forward. The ledge came, and I jumped, assaulted by the groaning. I landed on the opposite edge and teetered back. I flailed but Jeff grabbed my shirt and pulled me to safety.
“T-Thank you,” I said.
“Don’t mention it.” He shrugged. “Return the favor one day, yeah?”
We went to the next edge and looked down onto the new street. Thanks to a flipped semi, there weren’t many zombies wandering. Wesley hopped to the grass. Jeff and I climbed down, knowing not to expect help. But he turned and caught Tiffany when she jumped. He even caught Jessie. Then when Dave jumped, Wesley pulled back his arms, and Dave landed on his face.
Dave grabbed his nose, groaning. “Jerk!”
Wesley took the combat knives from his coat and passed them to us. “Remember, aim for the brain. Try not to use the gun, babe.” He winked at Tiffany and she swooned. “Emergencies only.”
“Unless you’re looking to score points,” I scoffed.
“Only professionals get points.” Wesley laughed.
“Shut up, already!” Tiffany pointed a finger in my face. “You are getting on my nerves!”
I bit my tongue, resisting another pointless argument as Wesley led us in a single file line.
Tiffany followed right behind him. “So, you work for which company?”
“Epic Possibilities.” Wesley peeked around a parked car.
It sounded familiar, but I couldn’t be sure.
Dave shrugged. “Make anything good?”
“Sure,” Wesley said. “Strange World, Severed Chains, God Forge, and Dark Dayz. We’re even working on a VR version of the last one.”
I was wearing a Dark Dayz t-shirt. How could I have forgotten the developer? Now I wanted to rip my shirt off and burn it.
We avoided any zombies as we snuck between trees, bushes, and cars. Wesley took us across town to the Tech District without incident.
When we stopped, he pointed out a building across the street. It had a huge E.P. logo above the entrance. “We have a lot of food and water, plus medical supplies.”
My eyes were wide. “What kind of company hoards supplies?”
“The smart kind!” Tiffany grumbled. I was annoying her? She was annoying the heck out of me.
We crossed the final street and came before the building.
Wesley turned back to regard us. “We prepared for the end game. It was part of the job requirement to bring in non-perishables every Monday.” It sounded crazy, but that gave me relief. Someone had to be crazy to keep us alive in end game times. Wesley approached a panel on the wall. “This is the hand scanner. Only employees are registered.”
The glass doors looked thick, and the windows above were dark. Something seemed off, and I was going to mention it, but a zombie moan came from nearby, and Wesley smacked his hand onto the scanner. The doors slid open, revealing a gloomy lobby.
Jessie peeked around me. “Did the power already give out?”
“Doubt it.” Dave shook his head. “It won’t be too long, though.”
We entered, and the doors shut, bathing us in shadow. All but Wesley lifted our weapons. Shadowy figures stood against the walls. Had he led us into a trap?
“Pause button.” Wesley held up his hands. “Those are statues.”
My eyes adjusted, and I sighed. But they did look like zombies. I lowered my knife. Where is everyone?”
Wesley looked around and his cocky grin faded.
“What’s wrong?” Tiffany said.
A slam came from behind us and we all started. The silhouette of a zombie pounded the doors, forcing us to back into the security desk. I swallowed a lump lodged in my throat. Hopefully the glass would hold.
“I don’t hear them,” Wesley murmured.
“Well, what do you expect?” Jeff glanced at him. “They have good reason to be quiet.”
“Here, no one ever is.”
I squeezed past the group and leaned over the desk. There was a security monitor with several squares—Each revealing a different area of the building. A kitchen caught my eye. The fridge hung ajar, all its shelves empty. Also, several open cabinets were bare. The other cameras showed various rooms with TVs and game console devkits. Not a soul anywhere.
I frowned. “I think your friends bailed on you.”
He stormed to the desk and peered at all the feeds. “They wouldn’t.”
“Maybe everyone went to score achievements?” I chuckled, but in the lower corner, a camera flickered. In a doorway labeled parking garage, a lone figure stood holding a severed arm—Blood and gore dripped from the end. Wesley didn’t speak, and his face was blank. They hadn’t gone for achievements—Instead they had become one.
Achievement unlocked: Zombie Chow.
Greetings and salutations!
I'm Jake A. Strife.
Currently, I'm the author of 20 books.
Also, I'm a huge anime and video game fan!
My Original Novels:
Crimson Wars - 1 - Blood Sisters
Dark Dayz - 1 - VR Dawn
Dark Dayz - 2 - Shaded Noon
GodForge - 1 - Forge of the Mind
Omega Virus - 1 - Beta Hour
Omega Virus - 2 - Gamma Hour
Omega Virus - 3 - Delta Hour
Omega Virus - 4 - Sigma Hour
Omega Virus - 5 - Psi Hour
Omega Virus - 6 - Omega Hour
Severed Chains - 1 - Fateless (3 ver.)
Severed Chains - 2 - Tribulation (2 ver.)
Severed Chains - 3 - Abyss
Severed Chains - 4 - Dark Side of a Moon
Strange World - 1 - Grimoire
Strange World - 2 - Mega-Real
My Fan Fics Include:
Earthbound - A Hero Chosen
Final Fantasy - Warriors of Light
My 2018 release schedule:
1. God Forge 2
2. Omega Virus 7
3. Dark Dayz 3
4. Strange World 3
5. Severed Chains 2 (rewrite)
Get your copy of Omega Virus: Beta Hour on Amazon! Just click the link!
Get your copy of Dark Dayz: VR Dawn on Amazon! Just click the link!