Champagne Jackson Kicks Zombie Ass
by
F Tallahassee  

Read The First 5 Chapters

Horror Books

"Champagne Jackson Kicks Zombie Ass" by F Tallahassee is a witty, entertaining tale of zombies, screw-ups and endless action. Every second of this book is jam packed with something juicy: humor, sexiness, thrills, and an all-around gritty, bloody party. Fans love Tallahassee's no-holds-barred style, which is unabashed in its witty and slightly over the top sense of delight. All the way through, there's a bit of a tongue-in-cheek tone, which gives the most serious bits even more weight.

Read The Summary And The First 5 Chapters Below

 

Summary

There are good days, bad days and then there’s the kind of day where you discover that your husband’s cheating on you, your car gets firebombed by some jackass and the zombie apocalypse decides to break out in all its bloody glory. Champagne Jackson has lived in the ghetto all her life, but is she tough enough to survive the fun and frolics that mark the end of the world?

She’s a big black woman with a bad attitude and a tendency to turn the air bluer than a penguin’s butt on the Antarctic ice. She also owns a pawn-broking store that contains the kind of arsenal that’s tailor-made for Armageddon. If she can get to it. The streets between her and it are bristling with coffin dodgers and zombie types. She’s not exactly built for speed, but she doesn’t lack for moxie, so she makes a mad dash for it. That’s when she discovers that the walking dead are misnamed. Not only can the fast ones run, they’re quicker than she is.

Things are looking ominous for our feisty heroine when Mike Wilkins, a marine with a cool mind and a steady hand, steps in and helps out. CJ and Mike join forces and soon they encounter two orphaned, but highly resourceful Hispanic children, Diego and Manuela. Together they try to find a way out of this urban hellhole, but every exit is blocked.

Tiny Tyler and his all-black gang, The Gravedigger Crew, have barricaded their sector. They are at war with the white-supremacist Marauders and the Chicano Death Dealers for control of the city. They will let no-one in and no-one out.

Our heroes manage to get on Tiny’s bad side, as if he had a good side, and Mike must face the diminutive, but deadly Lord Slice in mortal combat. He’s not the only one. The pint-sized psychopath is something of a chubby chaser and Champagne Jackson is just his kind of woman. It’s a good thing that she has fists of steel and takes no crap from man nor beast.

Even if they can somehow get past the Gravedigger Crew, they still have the other gangs to contend with. Not to mention a crazy voodoo priest and his maniacal followers. Oh, and thousands upon thousands of zombies. Fast ones, slow ones and mutant monsters. It’s time to kick ass or die trying.

‘Champagne Jackson Kicks Zombie Ass’ is the debut novel from F. A. Tallahassee, otherwise known as the Florida Ape-Man. It’s a story that blends horror, action, adventure and comedy. It’s a tale of survival against insurmountable odds and resilience in the face of a world plucked from a madman’s nightmares.

The novel began life as a short story idea and essentially the first chapter of the book is that story, but Champagne Jackson is a larger than life character and she refused to be constrained. She had adventures to live and insults to hurl and she was suited and booted and ready to rock and roll. Soon there were bad-tempered midgets, angry giants, religious zealots, trigger-happy gangsters, ravenous zombies, speed-freak zombies and super zombies, all determined to have their say too. Yeah, the post-apocalyptic landscape is no place for the meek and mild. You need to be a badass, butt-kicking bitch like Champagne Jackson if you want to survive.

 

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Chapter One

If you could stroll down to your local pharmacy and pick out emotions in fancy little vials like perfumes, then Champagne Jackson’s might have been labelled ‘High Volatility’ or ‘Hellcat by the Tail’ or ‘Going to Whale on your Face ’til I’ve Pounded it Bloody’. She was a woman seriously big and seriously black and her mood might otherwise be titled ‘Midnight Thunder’, ‘Bullwhip Lightning’ or ‘Wrath of an Angry God’.

‘Our wedding anniversary, and here I sit all on my goddam lonesome again. Jackson, you are a worthless sack of shit,’ she said to the empty chair, which sat on the other side of the small, round dining table, which was draped in unaccustomed red cloth. A bead of sweat trickled from her forehead, down to the tip of her nose and paused in trembling uncertainty, like a jumper working up the nerve to end it all. Then it took the plunge and splattered on the table cloth. It was too hot to have the windows closed but the city was Saturday Night loud even though it was Monday and the noise had irritated her into slamming them. Probably more damned rioters out destroying the neighborhood. Like it wasn’t shitty enough already.

Her husband was named Jackson Jackson and she had often remarked that his parents must have been some imaginative sons of bitches to come up with that moniker. They must have had ideas falling out of their imaginative asses. Meanwhile, Champagne’s own mother had written the name as ‘Shampain’ on the birth certificate, (father having taken the words ‘Elroy, I got a bun in the oven’ as his cue to run for the hills and not look back). This spelling choice led to more than a few schoolyard sniggers and Champagne tended to answer with a slap upside the culprit’s head for educational purposes. She had always been on the chunky side and her ham hock hands packed a wallop meaner than a jackass’ hindquarters. There was some pain alright and it was no sham.

As soon as she was old enough, she had the spelling changed officially. Not that mommy dearest was round to see it. She’d died, a needle in her arm and a puzzled expression on her face, when Champagne was 7, leaving her bouncing round from children’s home to foster family and back. Her say it like it is and take no shit attitude wasn’t exactly designed to win friends and influence people. What the hell, if they didn’t like it, then they could kiss her big black butt.

One thing she wasn’t afraid of was hard work. She had built up her own little business from scratch. Worked making rich folks’ houses sparkle for 3 years, gathered enough capital to rent a storefront, start up a pawnbrokers. Magnum she called it because of both her name and the .44 she kept behind the counter. Any attempts to negotiate the price tended to wither under the barrage of profanity that followed and Champagne’s exhortation, ‘Yo! Marvin Haggler, get your cheap ass outta my store ’fore you make my day!’

Champagne was what you might call colorful and the neighborhood responded to that. She paid better than most of the other shysters too and she got by alright. And then, one day, gold-tooth glinting in the sun, Jackson Jackson Esquire stepped into her store. A skinny, sharp-talking fellow in a suit that had seen better days but which he wore well. He had been reduced by bitter circumstance to selling a treasured family heirloom, his beloved mother’s silver brooch, he told her and shrugged and smiled his most disarming smile. Which she’d had to admit was pretty darned disarming. Pretty darned dazzling in truth. But not enough to blind her to the cold hard fact that...

‘Sugar, that trinket is hotter than a bare ass under an African sun.’

That made him laugh long and loud and somehow she found herself laughing with him and before she knew it she was falling into the well of those deep brown eyes and telling him all about herself and somehow they wound up having dinner together which, of course he’d have paid for if only he hadn’t fallen on hard times and somehow they wound up back at her place because his was too low rent for a classy lady like her and somehow they wound up in her bed and she found out that one thing he wasn’t bullshitting about was his ability as a lover. He mayn’t have weighed much but half of him was cock and he knew how to use it.

When he crooned that he was going to make love to her like she’d never forget, he wasn’t kidding. Champagne had few illusions about her own attractiveness. She wasn’t a virgin, but boyfriends had been few and far between and more than one of her one-night-stands was left wondering how the hell it had come to this, once his beer-goggles had fallen off the following morning. Their awkward scrambles for the door were enough to pierce even her rhinoceros-hide.

But come the morning after her night of epiphany and there was Jackson bringing her breakfast in bed, eggs over easy and bacon fried crispy, how she liked it and a single red rose on the tray next to the coffee cup and her eyes welled with tears and she choked over the words, ‘Oh, Jackson!’

He kissed the tears away so tenderly and one thing led to another and by the time they got round to eating breakfast everything was cold, but delicious, so delicious. And before she knew it, he’d moved in and she’d bought him new suits because she wanted her fine man to look fine and suddenly he was down on one knee and she’d asked, ‘But why Jackson?’ and he’d answered, ‘Cos I love you Cham, cos I love you.’ and then there were those darned tears again and she tried to say, ‘Then yes, my love,’ and oh-my-god there was a string of snot hanging from her nose and he wiped it for her and in short order they were wed.

Jackson had run away from home at an early age and neither of them had a wide circle of friends, so it was a quick service before the civil registrar, witnessed by Tyrell, Jackson’s buddy who made her hackles rise with his constant leer and smutty comments and by her best friend Lavonda who ran a hair salon and asked her if she was sure she knew what she was doing because Jackson had hustler written all over his skinny black ass.

But she wouldn’t believe that, couldn’t let herself believe that.

So about 3 months into their marriage, when she came home early because it was slow at the store and she was missing her man and she found Lavonda of all people with her legs wrapped round that skinny black ass, she didn’t just see red, she saw a blazing crimson. Both their scrawny asses were plucked from the bed, but she couldn’t bring herself to harm Jackson and tossed him casually behind her. Lavonda, though, her friend Lavonda, now that was a whole other matter. She laid both her hands round her cheating throat, lifted her clear of the ground and squeezed until the bitch’s eyes were bugging from their sockets and her tongue lolling from her mouth, while her legs kicked uselessly at the air.

Dimly she was aware of Jackson calling to her and tugging, pulling, but she had only one focus for her attention. She was going to snap this skank’s lying neck, she was going to feel her trachea crumple. Only suddenly she was slipping into a pool of black.

Her beloved had coldcocked her. Hit her over the head with a baseball bat, not once but 3 times, before she finally let go. And she had the lumps on her noggin to prove it. Lavonda had slithered back to her hole and Jackson was all contrition and remorse and begging for forgiveness and lamenting over his weakness and how he’d let that Jezebel seduce him and how nothing like this would ever happen again.

It took time, but she couldn’t hold out against him. She didn’t want to lose him. Anyone was entitled to one mistake.

Unfortunately, Jackson’s love life was one long string of mistakes. Mistakes with secretaries, stewardesses, shop girls, office girls, even a lady fire fighter one time. Champagne had cooled that bitch’s ardor with the ice-bucket housing a cheap bottle of her namesake and chased them both naked out of the apartment, Jackson’s hose wilting as they went. She then set to work chopping every one of the suits she’d bought him to shreds. That was the last time that he had brought any of his conquests home with him.

Jackson Jackson! It had a hole and didn’t put up much of a fight, he’d fill it. Unless it was hers. He had hardly been near her in months and the last time he’d shown any real vigor for his labors was their previous anniversary and only then because she was so mad at him for forgetting again. She’d vowed then that they were through, told him as much and he’d begged and pleaded and dropped apologies from his ass, the rich way ideas flowed from his parents’ rear ends. Promised to mend his ways and laid on the charm thicker than a jar of molasses and wham, bang, thank you ma’am, a 3, (count ’em ladies), round knockout that’d won him his reprieve.

But Jackson was an alley cat. And the only way to stop an alley cat creeping around was to neuter it. And she couldn’t bring herself to do that. Not yet at least. So pretty much every night he was out boozing and carousing and playing around. Spending her hard-earned dollars free as water, though H-2-O was one liquid he’d sooner go thirsty than drink. Then, come the wee hours, he’d stagger in and flop on the couch to sleep off his drunk. After his Sunday night card game he wouldn’t show up until late afternoon or not at all, like today.

Well no more. This shit ended tonight. He wasn’t sweet-talking, sweet-loving his way out of this one. It was Crunch Time and Judge Jackson was going to lay down the law before that No Good ever got a chance to lay down some pipe.

A scrape from outside, then a trashcan lid crashing to the ground, the sound startlingly loud even through the closed window.

She stabbed the knife that she wasn’t even aware that she was gripping, into her untouched steak and cracked her best china. She stood fast enough to topple her chair and strode to the window, pulled it open.

She heard Jackson’s voice say, in whispered panic, ‘Shit girl, take it easy. You trying to wake the dead? Damn girl, what’re you on?’

More scraping. The damned trashcan going over with a clatter.

Champagne stuck her head out of the window and the scene below cut through her heart just as surely as that steak knife would have. There was Jackson leaning back against the wall and there was whichever rancid skank he’d picked up tonight necking on him. Not just necking, but going for gold, chowing down like a starving hound. The bitch so horny she was making low sounds in her throat as she worked.

Champagne spoke aloud. Not shouting, just talking to herself.

‘Well if that don’t take the mother fucking biscuit and cover it in gravy.’

‘On my own doorstep?’

‘On our anniversary?’

‘Oh no you didn’t.’

As she talked, Champagne calmly pulled the pump-action shotgun from the wardrobe, loaded it to capacity and racked a round into the chamber.

‘Uh-uh, uh-uh. Cannot have it.’

‘You spell Bimbo B-I-M-B-O.’

‘And you spell ho H-O.’

‘And you think you can bring your Bimbo Ho up in here? All up in my face? Put on a goddamn show?’

‘Why don’t you just shit in my mouth and say it’s chocolate?’

She threw the apartment door open, stomped down the corridor and stabbed the elevator button repeatedly. Pressed her ear to the metal to see if it was coming. It was out of operation more often than it was in, but today it was playing ball.

‘No sir. You done gone and messed with the wrong sister. You’d best hightail, skedaddle and run like the fucking wind. Cos I get down there and there is going to be some serious hell to pay. I’m loaded for bear. I got 2 barrels of fun. I will blow your fool heads off mother fuckers.’

The elevator arrived and now she jabbed the lobby button like a boxer on the speed bag.

‘Necking on my doorstep? Won’t be nothing but neck left.’

‘Be a no-good, stepping-out, 2-timing, running-round, sneaky little shit with no fuckin head on my doorstep. Be an ass-twitching, come-hither, cheap-trash, man-stealing harlot with no fucking head on my doorstep.’

Champagne took a deep breath, twisted the latch and yanked the door open, raising the gun as she did so.

She was greeted by the rampant slut chewing (C-H-E-W-I-N-G) on Jackson’s throat. Teeth buried in the flesh, muscle-deep, carotid-pumping claret, her fingers clamped like talons while Jackson twitched and shivered and his dying-eyes loose-focused on Champagne in a silent scream.

Champagne’s scream was less than silent. Aborigines near Ayers Rock turned to each other and said, ‘Jesus! What the fuck was that mate?’

Then Crack Whore Barbie ripped free of Jackson’s neck, turning her blind-woman’s eyes on CJ. Eyes that were bloodshot and red-rimmed and leaking bloody tears.

She snarled and let go of Jackson. He dropped to the floor, limper than erectile dysfunction. Snarled again and lunged.

CJ fired.

But she hadn’t braced.

The kickback blew her on her ass.

Then the skanky-ass zombie bitch was on her.

CJ roared and threw her clear.

Scrambled to her feet. Slipped in blood and landed back on her ass.

She looked round frantically for the zombie skank.

But as it happened zombie skank no longer represented a problem. CJ had blown her head clear off her shoulders with her first shot, just as she’d promised she would. It had only been the bitch’s momentum that had carried her body forward. The stench struck her sudden and hard. God, that skank stank!

‘What the fuck? What the fuck? Jackson, I told you all that running round would kill you. And now you went and found your dumb ass a cannibal? A mother-fuckin cannibal? You’re so stupid you’d drown a fish.’

Jackson began to spasm, sudden and violent.

CJ jumped out of her skin, flew round the moon a couple of times in a sickening orbit and then crash-landed back in Off-Kilter Land.

Jackson crazy-twitched again and there was a wet, ripping sound as he filled his pants with shit.

The lids popped open on eyes blank as cue balls.

‘What the fuck?’

Jackson snarled, rolled onto his front and crawled toward her.

‘What the F-U-C-K?’

His head lolled at an unnatural angle. His jaws snapped open and shut, taking imaginary bites.

CJ wiggled backwards on her ass and elbows until she found the wall. She pressed against it, maneuvering herself onto her feet.

His hand clamped onto her ankle.

She screeched and brought the stock of the shotgun down on his head so hard that bone and cartilage snapped, leaving it to dangle at a now more than jaunty angle.

But he didn’t let go.

His other hand clamped on too.

And his crazily-angled head kept snapping, seeking the flesh of her leg.

CJ roared and punted him in the face for all she was worth. His head jerked to the side and the flesh of his neck tore, leaving his head attached by spinal cord and a flap of skin.

She broke free, his fingers raking furrows in her flesh and grabbed the gun.

Somehow, undead Jackson clambered to his feet, a strange rasping coming from his mouth.

He advanced in a slow, spastic shuffle.

CJ backed away.

‘You’re not Jackson. I don’t know what the fuck you are, but you are not Jackson.’

She racked the gun and fired, blasting a hole in his chest.

The impact sent him back a couple of feet, but didn’t stop him.

She fired again. Took a big chunk out of his side. Twisted him right around. He looked for a crazy moment, like he was pulling a move on the dance floor. Get down! Spin around! Let’s all do the Zombie!

‘Jackson, what the fuck?’

She pumped another round but at the instant she fired his hand pushed down on the barrel.

The shot went low, blasting his groin.

The eyes on his crazy-angle head looked down and he looked sad, as if he knew that now even the most important part of him had died. And that there was one stiff that wouldn’t be returning.

Then his talon hands were gripping her throat and he was trying to pull her toward his snapping teeth. He was strong too. Stronger than rail-thin Jackson had any right to be. CJ racked the gun again, wedged it into his mouth. He bit down on the barrel hard enough to splinter teeth.

She fired. Jackson’s head exploded in a shower of gore. She recoiled as it splattered on her face.

Then the strength fled from her legs and she slid down the wall and sat there, trembling and queasy.

‘Well Jackson, this is shaping up to be some kind of motherfucking wedding anniversary alright. This is a goddam night to remember. Fuck you Jackson. Fuck you and the ho you rode in on.’

Chapter 2

POSSE ON MY TAIL

She wasn’t sure how long she sat there, all zombied out herself. Half-an hour? An hour?

Then she slowly became aware of the noises all around her. Screams and struggles, gunshots, a distant explosion. Some were far away and some too close for comfort. There had been riots up and down the country all week and she was starting to think that they must tie in with what had just happened here. She hadn’t left her apartment today. She’d taken the day off, slept late, lay on the couch reading for a while and then cranked up the music, poured herself a glass of wine and started preparing the ingredients for a kickass meal that she’d purchased the day before.

She stood, unsteadily, closed and locked the front door. She turned the light off, leaving herself bathed in the dim green glow of the emergency tube and surveyed the night. There were plumes of smoke rising from burning buildings, flashes of gunfire. She saw that her car had been torched and was blazing merrily.

‘Oh you dirty little firebug fuckers! You killed my baby.’

Then the skinny refuse collector who lived in the tenement block across the way ran by, screaming, pursued by his fat grandmother. Her nightgown hung open and her pendulous breasts swung dramatically and batted against her knees. Half her face had been chewed off like some kind of anatomical cross-section. She didn’t look like she had bingo and knitting on whatever was left of her mind.

So the way it seemed, and she felt foolish even thinking it, but the way it seemed was like this zombie shit was actually happening. The infected were running around, gnashing their teeth and doing the whole bite, bite thing and then the chewed-up dead were rising to spread the plague themselves. And they didn’t seem to stop until their brains were destroyed. Z-O-M-B-I-E-S!

‘Well if this ain’t a major-league crap fest, I don’t know what is. I need to reload, get my ass down to the store and armor up.’

Decision made, she hesitated only for a second and then she was moving cautiously up the stairs. She didn’t trust the elevator now, didn’t want to be trapped in a stalled metal box while hungry zombies tried to fight their way in. By the time she reached the fourth floor she was seriously out of breath.

‘I am not built for this shit’, she puffed.

She sat, got her breath back as she jammed rounds in with shaking fingers.

In the kitchen, she picked up the largest knife, wrapped newspaper around it and then jammed it into the waistband of her pants.

She knocked back the last of the red wine from her glass, peeked outside her door and then jogged down the stairs. Reaching the lobby, she checked the coast was clear and then she was out the door and moving through the night.

She kept as close to the apartment block wall as possible. Reached its corner and stopped. About 20 yards away, 3 zombies were hunched over their latest meal. There was no cover. The security light illuminated the area in stark detail. If she went, she’d have to go slow and quiet and hope that they were too engrossed in their suppertime antics to pay her any mind.

She inched forward, stealthy as a ninja. Okay, a hefty ninja. But you know what they say about big people being light on their feet. Then again they also say they’re jolly souls. She got 3-quarters of the way to the side gate.

There was a snarl to the other side of her.

She turned.

Another zombie was loping toward her. And fast.

She fired, remembering to aim for the head despite her panic.

Bull’s-eye! Annie-fuckin-Oakley eat your hat!

Only now, of course, she had the attention of the other 3.

They abandoned their meal.

She ran.

For a big woman, who did not run, she ran damned fast.

But these pesky little fuckers were way quicker than Jackson had been.

What was that all about?

Was it because he was fresh-turned and not yet with the program? Was it that they’d just eaten and human flesh was some kind of drug to them? Feeling run down? Dead on your feet? Try new Revive, it keeps the undead alive.

She was gasping for air now.

And there weren’t just the 3 on her tail, now there was a whole posse. She glanced back, saw they were gaining on her.

The ones out front were way quicker than Jackson!

No-good, undead, sprinting sons of bitches!

She turned her face forward again and…

WHOMP!

Smack into a lamppost.

She saw stars.

Dropped the shotgun.

Landed back on her ass yet again.

Oh, Champagne Jackson, you are dumber than diaper-doo. Now you’ve gone and done it. Your fat ass is zombie chow now. Going to be party time up in this mother fucker.

The lead zombie leapt for her. Leapt like a damned quarterback.

She tensed for the impact.

But instead she got showered in blood and brains as half the zombie’s head exploded and his limp body collapsed onto her.

Champagne struggled free and got to her feet. For all of 3 seconds. A zombie in his ‘Big ‘n’ Beefy Burger’ work clothes barreled right into her, knocking her down again.

She held him off with one oversized hand round his throat, while her other sought the kitchen blade in her waistband and she tried not to gag from the intensity of the creature’s stench.

She heard another shot, then a third. Was someone looking out for her? Did she have a guardian angel?

The zombie was trying to snap at her hand and his fingers were clawing at her face, scratching blood trails.

The damned knife wouldn’t come free!

The zombie forced himself closer, its sewer-breath fetid and rotten. She felt bile rise hot in her throat.

Stupid damned knife! Come free! Come free!

She was getting tired.

The zombie lunged closer still.

Drool spilled onto her face and she winced, gagged.

And the stupid, damned knife finally came free.

She jammed it with all her remaining strength into his ear and through his skull into the brain.

He gave a final, mighty spasm and then was still. She pushed him free and rolled to her feet, panting.

A man’s voice called out to her, ‘Fat lady, you had better run!’

Under different circumstances, she might have had something to say about that ‘fat’ bit. And also about the fact that he appeared to have let himself into her locked store, but a glance behind her showed not only a bunch of perforated zombie corpses but several ‘live’ ones coming right at her.

She ran.

Ran like her big black ass was on fire.

Even so, she wouldn’t have made it if he hadn’t have taken 2 of them out.

She felt the second bullet whistle hot past her ear. And a splash of warm wetness on the back of her head.

She jumped through the doorway and rolled until she came to a jarring stop against the glass display counter, which thankfully was well anchored and made of toughened glass. Even so, the tape dispenser was jarred free and cracked her a good one on the top of her skull.

She saw him slam the outer grill home and wrap a chain round it. Pause, draw a hand gun, one of her 45 Colts if she wasn’t mistaken and shoot the zombie that tried to bite his hand as he fastened the padlock.

Then he closed the door and hammered 2 shelves he’d torn off the walls in an x-shape across the doorway to compensate for the lock he must have busted on his way in.

By this time CJ had dusted herself off and was back on her feet, using a rag to wipe blood and gore from her face and head.

As he turned from his handy work, she said, still breathless, ‘Thank you. You saved my life. They’d have had me for supper if you hadn’t been here. There are a couple of things I’d like to know though. Like who the fuck are you and what, in the name of Sweet Baby Jesus and his wiggling toes, are you doing in my store?’

Chapter 3

THE STASH

A little later they sat on the floor, backs to the display cabinet she’d tried to bulldoze, eating, if not enjoying 2 of the k-rations from his backpack. She was amazed she could eat anything, particularly this shit, but she was surprisingly hungry.

They watched the zombies milling around outside. For a while, a whole bunch of them had tried to fight their way in, tearing at the bars, clawing at the spaces between them. Snarling and carrying on. The grille held though. CJ hadn‘t skimped on security. It didn’t pay to do that in this neighborhood. Which reminded her.

‘Hey, how come my alarm’s not going off? Should be sounding fit to bring down the walls of Jericho right about now.’

‘Yeah. I might’ve had to disable that on account of it being like a zombie dinner bell and also annoying the living crap outta me.’

After a while the zombies relented. They were like a child with attention deficit disorder and since there was no immediate hot food to be had here, they got distracted by fresher sights and sounds and wandered off in search of greener or perhaps redder pastures.

‘So I think, white boy, you were going to tell me some things.’

‘Ma’am, if I tell you who I am and what I do, I’m going to have to kill you.’

‘You could sure as hell try, but not as hard as you’d have to try getting’ my big black foot outta your little white ass.’

‘Yes ma’am, you are a character. Master Gunnery Sergeant Mike Wilkins, U.S. Marine Corps at your service.’

Actually he was newly retired but he hadn’t quite got his head around that fact yet. He held out his hand.

‘Glad to make your acquaintance ma’am.’

She looked at the proffered hand, shrugged and shook it. ‘Champagne Jackson and if you don’t stop calling me ma’am, we’re going to be back to that foot-in-the-ass situation.’

‘Yes m...Mrs. Jackson.’

‘That’s Ms. Jackson. I just had to blow my fool husband’s fool head off. Him and his latest cooze. What you might call a shotgun divorce.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that.’

‘Don’t be. What I had in mind all along. Only this makes it legal. Kind of. Sort of. I guess. Fucked up as things are, I don’t guess it matters.’

‘A zombie holocaust does make for mitigating circumstances.’

‘You think that’s what they are too then?’

‘If it looks like an undead duck and quacks like an undead duck...’

‘Then it must be undead duck-hunting season. Be vewy, vewy quiet.’

‘I flew in from Germany on an army transport plane and was sat next to a doctor who had some very alarming opinions on what we’re facing here. I didn’t understand all of what he told me, but I got enough of it to scare the pants off me. I just never imagined that it could all turn to shit so quickly. I figured we’d at least have some time to prepare, a fighting chance. But it just happened. Like that.’ He clicked his fingers and paused.

‘As to how I came to break into your store, it’s no secret that your legendary Magnum isn’t the only gun in here. This hunting rifle you had on the wall pretty much saved your bacon. Throws a little to the right though. Damn near gave you a center parting with that last shot.’

‘Tell me about it soldier. Now, let me show you where I keep the good stuff.’

CJ reached under the counter and pulled out a bunch of keys. She drew back a curtain and they entered a small backroom with rows of metal shelves, floor to ceiling, on which stood neatly tagged items. There were guitars, chainsaws, ornaments, TVs, PCs, lawnmowers, all your modern day essentials.

She pulled a lever and the rear shelving unit swung out from the wall. Behind it was a metal door. She used a different key on each of its 3 locks and then, with a grunt, swung the door wide.

‘That is a damned vault door. What kind of treasure you got hidden in there?’

‘Not the Aladdin kind, but you may find some of your wishes coming true.’

CJ flicked the light switch.

‘Holy Mary, Mother of God!’

The vault held an arsenal. There were Uzis, Kalashnikovs, M45s and a whole lot more.

‘You got RPGs. What the hell do you do with rocket-propelled grenades?’

‘I just hold ’em. It’s not my vault. It belongs to Tiny.’

‘Tiny Tyler?’

‘Well who else is going to have a stockpile like this? I may not care for the man or the filth he peddles, but I’ve got to live here, and I am not going to tell him where to stick it and come back, and find my store firebombed. And right about now it’s starting to look like one hell of a wise investment.’

‘Hey, I’m not passing judgment. Jesus Christ! Is that a Tommy gun?’

‘His pride and joy. He gets ammo custom-made for it.’

‘Well tickle my ass with a feather.’

Chapter 4

EMERGENCY BROADCAST SERVICE

‘Any of these TVs work?’ Mike asked.

‘They all do. You think I don’t try before I buy? It’s a Jackson tradition. Pretty much my late husband’s motto.’

‘A real snake in the grass, huh?’

‘Sugar, his snake was always in the grass.’

‘We need to find out if this is just a localized outbreak or already nationwide.’

‘You mean is it just us got to jump high or are there Ass-Biters everywhere?’

‘Pretty much, yeah.’

‘Well then, let’s break out the big boy and watch the end of the world in high def. with surround sound.’

They hooked up the 60-inch plasma and tuned into...a whole bunch of static...and interference...and then some white noise.

‘Isn’t that just the way? A hundred channels and still there’s nothing on.’

‘I’m hoping that somewhere there’s some kind of...’

‘THIS IS THE E.B.S...’ sounded an authoritative voice.

The words ‘EMERGENCY BROADCAST SERVICE’ filled the top of the screen and below, in smaller type was the rest of the message.

‘AMERICA IS UNDER MARTIAL LAW. LOOTERS WILL BE EXECUTED ON SIGHT. STAY IN YOUR HOMES. DO NOT TRY TO REACH LOVED ONES. BARRICADE YOURSELVES IN. GATHER AS MANY PROVISIONS AS YOU CAN, AND STAY INDOORS. THIS IS THE ONLY SAFE REFUGE. AN UNKNOWN DISEASE IS SPREADING. THE INFECTED ARE HOMICIDAL AND CANNIBALISTIC. DO NOT CONFRONT THEM. IF CORNERED, ATTACK THE HEAD WITH ANY WEAPONS YOU CAN FIND. THE BRAIN MUST BE DESTROYED TO STOP THEM.

THIS IS THE E.B.S. AMERICA IS UNDER MARTIAL LAW. LOO...’

CJ hit the power button.

‘Well that’s just peachy-keen and super-fine.’

‘They’ve lost control already. This contagion must have spread like wildfire. At the very least, America is lost and if what the doc suspected is true, the whole world’s going down the toilet in a fast swirl.’

‘There you go with that doc shit again. Who the hell is this mysterious doctor and just what did he whisper in your ear? Did he tell you why they stink so much? Cos really, those boys are something else.’

Mike had to agree. It wasn’t any single nastiness but rather a toxic cocktail of horrible upon horrible affronts to the nostrils. A witch’s brew of shit, piss, vomit, decay, body odor, halitosis, spoiled blood and rancid meat. You might as well have dived into the pleasant waters of a sewage farm and opened your mouth as wide as it would go. And these boys were fairly fresh. Lord knew what they’d smell like down the line.

‘The Doc is a scientist who was stationed in a top secret wing of the Landstuhl Military Hospital engaged in research into infectious diseases and he had discovered that there was something very strange about the flu epidemic that hit this winter.’

‘Didn’t come down with it myself, but I know plenty that did. A lot of folks was laid up for a couple of weeks, even a month with it. High fever and diarrhea too. They said that folks was dying from it on the news. More than usually do, they said. People getting turned away by doctors and hospitals because there were no more anti-viral drugs and the wards were overflowing.’

‘Yeah, well I didn’t catch it either, which is maybe part of why we’re still us and not a part of the great zombie horde. I was stationed in Afghanistan while all this was happening and knew of it mainly from news reports. A lot of guys did go down with it even out in the boonies where we were, but only one guy died and that probably had more to do with his legs being torn to ribbons by a roadside bomb blast than the disease itself. I didn’t get out unscathed myself, which is how I came to meet the Doc.

Chapter 5

THE DOC’S DIAGNOSIS

There were no less than 3 bullets with Mike’s name on that day. The first passed cleanly through his thigh, having the good grace to avoid any major arteries. A second ricocheted off the wall behind him and lodged in his biceps. Lucky number 3 punctured his helmet and creased his skull. It appeared that he was today’s designated target for the Taliban out here in the wilds of Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

This had started off as a routine patrol out of Camp Leatherneck by I Marine Expeditionary Force (One MEF to their amigos). They were passing through a supposedly friendly village when they were ambushed very neatly indeed. The first inkling they had was when the little shepherd boy who was walking toward them with his lonely goat, suddenly ran into one of the houses. The goat was as surprised as they were.

A second later and the first shot from the rooftop killed Private Smith. Mike took out the shooter but then the rooftops, doorways and windows of the mud houses were alive with hostiles. They were caught in a withering crossfire and he had pulled them back in a defensive formation to the empty stable in which they were currently pinned down.

Anderson, the communications guy was on the radio calling desperately for backup when he was shot through the throat. Mike rolled, grabbed the walkie-talkie and took over. Their 12 man squad was already down to 7 and the hostiles were getting confident, closing in for the kill. Mike abandoned the radio and levelled his rifle at a young warrior who got a little too bold for his own good. His injuries didn’t help his aim any but he still got off a clean shot that took his man down.

This action was answered with a volley of automatic fire from all sides that had all of them pressed tight to the floor of the increasingly well ventilated structure. All in all things weren’t looking too rosy.

Then there was a squawk and a burst of static from the radio and the next thing they knew, an Apache gunship that had been in the area and had picked up their distress call, swooped down and let loose its own barrage with the 30mm chain gun it carried.

Private First Class Miller leaped up at the sight of the cavalry rushing in and was mowed down in the hail of high caliber bullets that swept the village. There’s no fire like friendly fire.

Mike’s thoughts were as turbulent as the air around him. He’d led his squad into an ambush and now half of them were dead. Sterling work from Master Gunnery Sergeant Mike Wilkins. The real hell of it was that they were one day away from pulling out. The Americans were handing Camp Leatherneck and the British Camp Bastion to the Afghan Armed Forces tomorrow. Not only that. He was one week shy of his 20 years in, about to retire and become a private bodyguard at a greatly increased rate of pay. If he didn’t bleed out and die with his boots on. Never mind, they’d probably pin a posthumous medal on him just for getting so impressively shot up. He found his vision blurring and the rhythmic thump of the rotor blades carried him into a dark sea devoid of pain and guilt.

 

So he’d wound up at Landstuhl in Germany, the largest military hospital outside the U.S. to rest and recuperate. He spent his months there in blissful ignorance that the ‘admin block’ was actually a research facility.

They did pin a Silver Star on him too and although he accepted it, he didn’t feel he’d earned it and it certainly didn’t make him feel any better. The remaining members of the patrol made it clear that they in no way blamed him for the incident and that his quick thinking had likely saved them, but he couldn’t help thinking that if he’d been just a tiny bit more alert, he’d have seen a flash of movement or heard a scrape of metal on clay and they’d have stopped before the trap closed.

His rehabilitation went well and he was officially discharged from both the hospital and the Marines. He was scheduled to return to the States on a Saturday flight and a mini bus picked him up together with several other soldiers. He was glad he’d reserved his place well in advance. Over the last few days, worrying reports of rioting in major cities and towns across America and indeed the world had soldiers anxious to return home and make sure that their families were okay. He’d already had several generous cash offers for his spot, but he wanted to check up on his younger sister, Ella who lived in a rough inner city neighborhood.

A crowd of angry soldiers in civilian and uniform dress stood outside the gates at Ramstein Airport and they refused to let the bus through. There were rumors of an imminent flight embargo on traffic into the States and nobody wanted to be stranded out here. In the end one of the MPs fired 3 warning shots into the air and they relented long enough for it to pass. A couple of protesters got through too, before the gates could be closed but they were subdued. It looked to Mike like things might quickly turn sour. If they rushed the gates and the MPs cut loose there could be a bloodbath.

Ahead he could see the control tower and the passenger terminal.

The bus pulled up and MPs checked everyone’s papers before letting them into the terminal. One of the passengers wasn’t on their list and he was pulled away struggling and cursing. The building was packed and yet more MPs were sorting people into different lines according to information on their clipboards. Anyone who looked ill was placed in a separate line. None of these lines seemed to be moving except one and there was a lot of restless murmuring.

A diplomatic car arrived and a thin, elderly man emerged. He reached in and gathered up a huge pile of folders and papers which he carried with some difficulty. General Macklin exited the far door of the Lincoln. Mike was impressed. An honest to goodness, 5 star general.

Then his attention was grabbed by commotion from the next line over. A large man dressed in civvies like himself was jabbing his finger in front of an MP’s face.

‘So what’s so special about those guys? How come they get fast-tracked? I’ve been here for hours and haven’t moved. So screw you and screw this bullshit. I’m getting in that line.’

The MP tried to stop him but was brushed aside. More came running He had one on each arm and the original guy on his back, but he kept moving. The guy was strong. There were shouts of encouragement from around the terminal. 3 more MPs weighed in and finally brought him down but the whole mess of them collapsed on top of the old man and his papers went flying.

Mike hurried over and helped him up.

‘Are you alright Sir? Do you need medical attention?’

‘I’m fine. But my work!’

The man was concerned only about his documents.

‘Don’t worry Sir, I’ll collect them for you.’

Mike gathered up the papers trying to keep them as orderly as possible, but some had burst from their folders and these he just shuffled together into whichever file he assumed they’d come from. Everything seemed to be marked as classified. Mike rose with the bundle as the man was trying to convince one of the MPs of his bona fides.

‘Sir, this flight is being strictly vetted. I have to see your documentation before I can ascertain whether you should be on it.’

‘But the general has all my papers. I’m not sure what’s happened to him.’ said the elderly man.

‘If it’s of any assistance, I can vouch that this gentlemen came out of the same car as General Macklin.’ said Mike.

‘I still need to see the paperwork. Security’s extraordinarily tight today.’ said the MP.

‘Yeah, we’d noticed.’ said Mike.

Just then the General bustled in and the MP saluted.

‘Come on Tompkins. I’m not lining up. Rank does have its privileges.’

He took the old man’s arm and started leading him to the front.

‘But my papers!’ said the man.

‘What? Oh!’ The General turned and said, ‘Well don’t just stand there man. Bring them over.’

Mike did as he was asked and while the General was showing his documents at the desk, the old man asked, ‘What is your name?’

‘Mike Wilkins.’

‘Follow my lead Mike.’

‘All done, let’s go.’ said the General.

‘What about Wilkins, my lab assistant?’ the scientist asked.

‘Fine. Show your papers Wilkins. Quickly.’

Mike did and the soldier at the check-in said, ‘Wilkins? I can’t see it on my list.’

‘Yeah, that’s what I was trying to tell the other guys. There’s been a screw-up. My name somehow wound up on the other list.’

The soldier searched and said, ‘Yes I see it, but I really need authorization.’

‘For the love of God man, I’ll authorize it. What do you want a Presidential order?’ said the exasperated General.

Mike winked at the clerk, dumped his shoulder bag on the counter and hurried after the other 2, clutching the pile of papers tightly.

 

They boarded the plane, popularly known as the Patriot Express, which flew regularly between Ramstein Airbase and the Baltimore/Washington International Airport. Macklin went off to talk with a lowly Major General.

‘Thank you. Really. I’m not sure I’d have got on at all without you.’

‘Well you helped me. I doubt if even half those men will make it though. High ranking officers and scientific personnel have priority.’

‘You know what’s going on here?’

‘I’m one of the few men who knows exactly what’s happening and I have to tell you that it’s not going to be pretty.’

‘I understand if you can’t talk about it.’

‘Such distinctions are purely academic at this stage in the game. The General would likely disagree, but I can’t see what harm it will do. It probably won’t do you any good either, but there’s not much I can do about that. Also, it’s useful for me to try and explain this to a nonscientist because I’m very shortly going to be addressing an audience of the most powerful men in America and I need to put my case across in commonplace terminology. My name is John Tompkins, by the way and I work in C Block.’

‘The Administration Section.’

‘That’s what the sign says, but no. I’m the chief research scientist there. We mainly investigate the threats of biological weapons and create vaccines to counteract them when possible. Most recently though, we’ve been concentrating on Eboflu.’

‘What the hell is Eboflu?’

‘The stuff of nightmares. As far as we can tell, an Ebola victim in Guinea was bitten by a mosquito and somehow the virus hijacked the malarial protozoa and now you had mosquitos that carried not only malaria, but Ebola as well. Something Africa could have well done without. Then a flu sufferer was bitten by such a mosquito and something horrible, but remarkable happened. The RNA of the 2 distinct viruses merged and mutated into a new strain of virus altogether. No longer Ebola or influenza but the rather unimaginatively named Eboflu.’

‘You see viruses are clever because they’re stupid. They make frequent mistakes in gene replication. This leads to mutant viruses and is called antigenic shift. It is an evolutionary advantage because it allows the virus to elude detection by the immune system of the infected organism. The antibodies that the host produces to fight the infection are looking for the original invader not the new mutant. Small errors change the configuration of proteins on the surface of the virus particles sufficiently to render them temporarily invisible to the immune system. This prolongs the period of infection.’

‘Type A flu virus for example is constantly changing and is the type of influenza that causes pandemics when a major mistake occurs in its gene replication. An animal, let’s say a pig, is infected with 2 flu strains simultaneously. Inside a cell of this pig, genetic material from one virus gets accidentally mixed up with that of another and a whole new influenza virus is born. If this crosses the species barrier as swine flu did in 2009 and infects humans, then nobody has antibodies for it because nobody has encountered it before. Despite the mass panic, that particular pandemic was responsible for no more than 300,000 deaths. Most victims made a full recovery. Eboflu is something far more deadly.’

‘The most alarming aspect of the Eboflu virus is that it’s airborne like influenza. You don’t have to have direct contact with the bodily fluids of the infected as with Ebola, now they can cough and sneeze and really spread it. Had we acted when Ebola spread across Africa, maybe we could have avoided the situation, stopped it before this mutation occurred. But we turned a blind eye until our own citizens became infected and even then our response was too limited.’

‘The thing is that at first Eboflu seemed to be relatively benign. Certainly it was nowhere near as deadly as Ebola. The early symptoms of Ebola are very much like flu anyway and Eboflu didn’t ring alarm bells until it was too late. Under the electron microscope it even looks like a flu virus, but that’s not what it is.’

‘We estimate that 60 to 70 percent of the world’s population have been infected at some point over the last 6 months due to modern society’s globetrotting ways and insufficient border controls. Most of them have seemingly recovered, but that is because the virus has entered a latent stage. When it becomes active again, it is far more virulent and far more like Ebola than flu. There’s a day or 2 of fever and then it spreads through the body with incredible rapidity, no more than 24 hours. It causes massive internal bleeding and the shutdown of major organs. It is invariably fatal and we have been able to find no way to counteract it.’

‘That brings us to phase 3. The patient is declared medically dead. There are no discernable signs of life, no pulse, no respiration. But after anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, they will revive. Minimal bodily functions resume. Heart rate and body temperature are all greatly reduced.’

‘Hold on. Stop a second. You mean to say that people are coming back from the dead?’ Mike asked.

‘Yes, quite so and they come back aggressive and cannibalistic. Furthermore, a bite from one of these undead is so infectious that it greatly accelerates the incubation period of the disease. Often to less than an hour.’

‘Wait a goddamned minute Doc. You’re talking about zombies.’

‘If you like. As I say they’re not actually dead, but in a kind of stasis or hibernation, vital signs almost imperceptible. Until a food source comes in range and then they come alive. And once they’ve fed, they really perk up. It’s almost as if they’d been shot full of amphetamines. They’re very fast and incredibly strong. We’ve measured their brain activity and when they’re at rest, it’s minimal, but put a living person near them and it flares up. For a short period after they’ve eaten, it’s on fire.’

‘Doc, are you yanking my chain?’

‘It’s not something I’d joke about. You haven’t heard about it because any news of it has been quashed. They thought that they could keep it under control. Cases were sporadic and isolated at first. The corpses were disposed of as contaminated waste. But the incidence has been increasing and by my calculations are set to go exponential any time soon. Incidents that are being reported as rioting around the world are actually outbreaks and the subsequent effort to control them.’

‘Now if there were localized outbreaks, then probably we could contain it. But because the disease spread in a mild form initially, it really spread. You can’t control it because it’s set to turn more than half of the world’s population into mindless savages who are hungry to feed on the uninfected minority.’

‘My God! How long do we have?’

‘A week, 10 days if we’re lucky. The world as we know it will very shortly seek to exist.’

‘But how can that be? Isn’t there something we can do? Can’t we develop a vaccine?’

‘If we had more time. Perhaps we even will someday. But not soon enough and even if we do, if it mutates again and it has a very high rate of mutation, higher even than Influenza A, we’ll be back to square one. Not to mention that the world’s infrastructure is going to collapse entirely. We simply do not have the facilities or the resources to contain this situation.’

‘But you said yourself, it has no intelligence, how can something so simple defeat us?’

‘Viruses outnumber all other life forms on the planet. They are infinitely adaptable and while they may lack intellect and intent in the truest sense, they exert a tremendous influence on the world. An example, there’s a parasitoid wasp that lays its egg, together with mind controlling chemicals, in a ladybug. Once hatched, the larva feeds on bodily fluids until it’s large enough to bite its way out and pupate in a cocoon attached to the ladybug’s legs. The ladybug acts as bodyguard until the adult wasp flies out and then it usually dies. Now that’s all quite sinister, but while the wasp is manipulating the ladybug, its strings are being pulled by a virus that replicates in the wasp’s ovaries.’

‘The Toxoplasmosis parasite can only reproduce inside a cat. Not only does it cause serotonin to be produced in the brains of infected rats, making them more likely to take risks and get eaten, it actually makes the smell of cat urine attractive to them. It profoundly affects behavior and recent research has shown that it can make humans more prone to taking risks too. A good third of us are infected with Toxoplasmosis, caused by eating undercooked meat or contact with cat feces. We may not be quite as in control of ourselves or our planet as we thought we were and that lesson is about to be rammed home with a vengeance.’

 

When they arrived at Baltimore/Washington Airport, secret servicemen were waiting to usher the General and his party through customs. Mike thanked John again and the scientist said,

‘If you have any family or close friends living in the cities, urge them to leave as soon as possible. Head for the countryside. Things are going to deteriorate very rapidly over the next week. Goodbye Mike and good luck. Lord knows, we’re all going to need it.’

 

CJ had listened to all this in silence. Now she said, ‘So what are you trying to say, that that’s it? That it’s the end of the world and there’s nothing we can do?’

‘We can survive.’

‘You bet your sweet patootie we can. There’s no way that this gal is going down without a fight. I aim to dezombify the shit outta this town.’

‘And outta this town is really where we ought to go.’

‘Amen to that brother. Army ain’t controlling nada, no offence. ‘Martial law’ my ass. Only law round here’s going to be the law of the jungle. Zombies don’t get you, the jackals will.’

‘Transport is the issue. We go on foot, we can only carry limited weaponry and provisions and we leave ourselves open to zombie attack at every corner. We take a car and there’s the issue of accidental and official roadblocks. There may be no clear route out of the city.’

‘Well since we’re helping ourselves to Tiny’s stuff outta the vault anyway, we might could stop by his warehouse while we’re at it.’

‘And what would we find in this warehouse?’

‘Oh, he’s got a tank.’

‘A tank?’

‘That’s what I said, sugar.’

‘How? Why? What kind of tank?’

‘I look like a reference book to you? It’s a tank. Got a big gun and armor and lots of wheels and 2 tracks and it’s green and it’s his tank.’

‘Tiny has a tank.’

‘Yes. Yes, he does. But first we’ve got to get outta here, run down the street playing Dodge the Zombie and bust the tank out from under his nose. I don’t think he’s going to appreciate that too much.’

‘Tiny may have joined the ranks of the undead already.’

‘You’re not from round here, are you honey?’

‘No, Ms. Jackson. I came here to visit my sister and her asshole husband on my furlough.’

‘Any zombie dumb enough to mess with Tiny is liable to find his teeth so far down his throat he’ll be biting on his own undead ass.’

‘And this is the guy we want to piss off?’

‘Oh, he’s always pissed. You don’t have to do nothing. Then again, we’re going to be in a tank so what do we care?’

‘Right. Let’s get locked and loaded then.’

‘Yes sir, Gunnery Sergeant, sir!’

Which weirdly enough were the exact words his sister had greeted him with.

 

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