Hey survivors! Hope you’re all having a great summer! I wanted to give you all a glimpse of the next installment of the Rise of the Dead series and introduce you to the main character and narrator of book two. Scout! The story picks up shortly after the first book ends in a different part of the country. There’s an early hint in this chapter as to what character(s) Scout will soon encounter that will tie this story into book one and bring the casts of both stories together.
As a thank you for you guys that have been so supportive and signed up for the newsletter, you guys get an exclusive look at the first chapter of book two before anyone else. If you haven’t subscribed and want to check it out, there’s a form on the right side of the page to sign up!
Hope you all enjoy it and that it gets you excited for book two!!
When the vultures are circling, something bad is about to happen. I heard it was a myth. Supposedly, vultures don’t actually circle. Maybe it was just something we imagined before, but it’s real now. I see them circling the sky all the time. I lower the binoculars and wipe the sweat from my eyelids.
“Scout,” Steven whispers. “What do you see?”
There isn’t anyone around for miles, but he is accustomed to whispering now. We all are.
“Nothing good,” I tell him. I lift the binoculars again and peer at the brittle brush on the hilltop and wonder what lies on the other side. The vultures continue to circle and wait. I’ve never used to see vultures in Missouri before. Now, I see them every day. That’s how I can always tell when we got trouble nearby.
Steven keeps pacing behind me, hovering like he is one of the damn vultures. He can be a pain in the ass, but he is good with a machete. He also doesn’t try to get me to sleep with him. Thank god for that.
“We need to get closer,” I say. I lower the binoculars and stand up.
“Come on,” sighs Steven. “Why?”
“You know why,” I grumble. I grab my pack off the ground and shoulder it.
Steven hesitates. He gazes at the birds over the horizon with his languid, blue eyes. With a sigh, he lifts the stetson off his head and combs back his ginger hair with his fingers. He removes a canteen from his backpack and unscrews the top and chugs down half of his water. This is the part where he tries to say something that will change my mind.
“Well?” I prod. I wish he’d just get on with it.
“We’re pretty low on water,” Steven shakes his canteen so I can hear the small amount of liquid slosh inside.
“I got two bottles in my pack. We’re fine.”
Steven looks down at his boot, nudges a rock with it and sighs.
“Okay then,” he resigns. “Let’s go.”
We struggle down the rocky slope beneath an awning of leafy trees. The creek between the hills is emerald green and glistens beneath the morning sun. A rock shifts beneath my boot and sends me sprawling on the ground.
“You okay?” Steven asks. He offers me his hand. I grab onto his wrist and he pulls me up.
“Fine,” I groan. “Fucking Ozarks.” I wipe my dirty palms off on my jeans and readjust the straps of my pack.
We stopped last night at a clothing store just west of what used to be Eminence, Missouri. If I can acquire some more gas for the truck we will finally reach Fort Leonard Wood tomorrow. We don’t know what we will find there, but it can’t be any worse than what we’ve already seen.
“Ain’t so bad,” Steven says. “Kind of quiet and peaceful out here.”
“If you like that sort of thing.” Brian used to drag me along when he would go hunting and fishing all the time, so I know how to deal with the outdoors. That doesn’t mean I enjoy it. I step into the creek. The cool water seeps into my boots and sends a chill through my body. Steven lingers on the shore.
“Come on, you big baby,” I urge him.
Steven looks up and down the creek as if I hadn’t already checked for the easiest spot to cross. He sighs and follows me into the water.
“This sucks,” he complains.
“Don’t make me tell little Stevie that his dad was being a big pussy again.”
The water reaches my waist and I lift my pack over my head to keep it from getting wet. My eyes scan the trees along the shore for any signs of the dead. The leaves are still and quiet. The morning calls of songbirds are the only sound. We reach the shore and I shoulder my pack again. I look up the steep incline and the dark shade beneath the trees. Water sloshes around in the bottom of my boot.
“You sure about this, Scout?” Steven asks.
“What kind of question is that?”
“Just a question,” he shrugs.
“No. It’s a stupid question,” I snap. I can be a little harsh sometimes. Sue me.
“You think it’s them?” Steven wonders. He means the Huns. That’s what we call them anyway. We had several run-ins with some of them already. None ended well.
“Might be,” I whisper. “But if it is them, we need to know what we’re dealing with.”
I turn and start to climb the hill. The incline is steep and I have to grab on to tree trunks to pull myself up to the crest of the hill. The vultures circle in the air. I take out my binoculars and scan the area. Nothing moves.
I lower the binoculars and retrieve the Glock from the holster on my thigh. I raise a finger to my lips and look at Steven. We creep forward through the woods. Steven starts his mouth-breathing behind me and I resist the urge to turn around and tell him to shut the hell up. You’d think he’d know better by now.
Sticks crackle beneath Steven’s boot and I freeze. I turn to throw an irritated glance his way, but my eyes widen when I hear a guttural moan off to the left. I crouch down and scurry for cover behind a nearby bush. Steven leans against the bole of a tree. He peers around one side and then the other.
I peek through the leave of the bush, but I don’t see the son of a bitch. The distant moan reverberates through the woods again. My eyes scan the trees until I spot a long, thin piece of black metal sticking up out of a ravine to the right. There is no telling what lies at the bottom of the ditch.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” whispers Steven.
I shake my head.
“You got a death wish or something?”
“Quit being such a chickenshit,” I snap.
We crouch as we make our way along the ridge toward the ravine. As we get closer, I realize what I spotted was the blade of a helicopter. The battered chassis comes into view as we approach the edge of the ditch. The bird sits belly up in the dirt. The windows are shattered, and sunlight glints off the bits of glass on the ground.
I spot the corpse of a soldier on the ground next to the crash. The thing is pinned to the ground by a blade from the tail rotor. The long piece of alloy impaled his sternum then sunk deep in the dirt. It pushes itself up when it catches sight of us. The rotor blade stirs his intestines as they spill out onto the ground.
I look around to see if there are any more of the dead in sight, but the woods are still and quiet. I take out the Glock and point it at the face of the soldier and pull the trigger. The shot echoes through the trees.
“Search the helicopter,” I tell Steven. “I’ll keep an eye out.”
Steven drops his backpack and approaches the bay door of the chopper. After several seconds at the door, he pokes his head inside. He steps in and disappears in the darkened cabin. A moment later, I hear him howl, followed by several thwacks of the machete.
“You alright in there?” I call out to him.
“Yeah,” he says. “Just dandy.”
I circle around the helicopter and scan the debris on the ground for anything useful. When I come across a two-way radio, I pick it up and try to turn it on. No luck. It might be broken or have a dead battery. I unzip my pack and shove the radio inside anyway. Maybe James will be able to get it working again.
I resume my search of the wreckage and stop when I come across a book on the ground. It’s a copy of The Stand. After I glance around to make sure we are still alone, I bend down and retrieve the paperback. The paper is damp from the morning dew. From the faded cover, I can tell it has been sitting out her awhile.
“Ready,” Steven informs me.
“Find anything?” I ask
“The pilot,” he says. “Nothing else. Had a feeling this was a waste of time.”
He puts his hands on his waist and glares at me. I can’t help but smirk. He lowers his eyes and shakes his head. It’s not like Steven could ever stay mad at me. That’s just not who he is. I tilt my head back and watch the vultures circle.
“Let’s get going,” I say.
The round I fired off could be heard for miles. If there is anyone around, alive or dead, they will probably come looking for us. We climb back down the hill to the creek bed. We cross the lazy water and stop to wring out our clothes on the shore.
I squeeze the water from my filthy green army jacket. It still had some blood on it from the dead soldier anyway. I turn away from Steven and pull off my tank top and twist the fabric until the water stops dripping. Then I slip it back over my head. I turn back around and catch Steven staring. I can’t blame the guy. The world is a lonely place for everyone.
“Quit looking at me like that,” I bark at him.
“I wasn’t,” he insists. He looks down at his boot that is pushing a rock around on the ground. His reaction makes me smile for a second. I don’t understand how someone can shy away from their feelings after everything that has happened. I slip my arms through the sleeves of my jacket and grab my pack.
We struggle up the steep hillside and make our way through the forest until we reach the truck in the clearing. I look back at the sky and notice the vultures are gone. The birds are probably feasting on that rotten corpse by now. Since there isn’t much in the way of roadkill anymore, the vultures mostly feed on dead humans now. They either had to adapt or die.
I slip off my pack and climb into the passenger seat of the truck. Sunlight glints off the windshield and irritates my eyes. I flip down the mirror on the visor. One look at the dark circles around my eyes is enough to make me regret looking. Not that being pretty even matters anymore. I used to care about how I looked. Now, looking good would only bring more trouble. That’s the last thing I need. From my pack, I retrieve a pair of cheap aviator sunglasses and a hair tie. I collect the split ends of my damp brown hair in a ponytail and cover my eyes with the shades.
Steven opens the door and slides in behind the steering wheel. He cranks the key and the ignition sparks the truck to life. His head turns slightly and he stares at me for a moment.
“You sure you’re okay?” Steven asks.
“Can we not do this?” I sigh.
He shifts the engine into gear and pulls the truck around to the face the narrow road. Then he presses the brake. He puts the truck in park and swivels in the seat to face me.
“I can’t just pretend I didn’t see it,” he huffs.
“I wasn’t going to do it,” I relent. “It was just a moment of weakness.”
“Scout,” he sighs. He drops his gaze and shakes his head.
“Don’t lecture me, Steven. Please, just forget it ever happened.”
“You had a gun in your mouth and I’m just supposed to ignore that?” Steven grips the wheel with one hand tightly and leans toward me. Anger flushes his face.
I notice a corpse wandering out of the trees across the road. The clothes it has been wearing for weeks hang in filthy tatters. Watching the miserable thing makes me realize how easily a sane person would decide to call it quits. The fact is, I don’t know why I keep going, except that I’m still afraid to die.
“Steven.” I gesture at the corpse in the road. “We need to get moving.”
“I’m not letting this go,” he whispers.
He grabs the stick and shifts the truck into drive and accelerates toward the road. We drive past the corpse and the smell of death drifts in through the window of the truck.
That’s it for now… what do you think of Scout? Did you notice a big hint about who might have been in the woods? Who is ready for the rest of book two?