On October 20, I will be releasing Ranger Martin and the Search for Paradise, the final book to my zombie apocalypse trilogy. I’ll spare you the long introduction. Below is the first chapter. I hope you enjoy it.
Matty’s gaze locked on to Randy. There were too many. The redhead knew if they didn’t do something fast, they’d quickly become bait for the undead. As she let off one shot after another from her silver Colt .45, a gun that had once belonged to her grandfather, a terrible thought sliced through her head. What if this was it? What if this would be the last time she’d ever see Randy alive again? Then what? Her plan never included dying at the hands of the horde.
The undead crashed through the door, piling into the abandoned parking garage. As one zombie fell, another would take its place. As the bullets hit their targets, green blood flowed freely into the cracks of the pavement.
“We’ve got to do something, Matty.” Randy said, reloading his gun. “We won’t be able to hold them back much longer.”
He was right. The crowd had chased them clear across the back alleys of Sedona and into an empty apartment building where he and Matty thought they’d be safe. But when the rotting corpses burst through the outside door, then burrowed their way through a second door at the top of the stairs leading into the garage, the kids couldn’t think of anything to do other than open fire.
Despite the heavy shelling the zombies received by the pair, the undead didn’t surrender. They continued to flood the basement at the cost of losing more of their brothers and sisters in death.
While a group of zombies hugged the walls near the parked cars, Matty called to Randy and nodded at the vehicle closest to the door. A hidden language was in place between the fifteen-year-olds. When one would signal an idea, no matter how vague the signal appeared to be, the other would run with it. Chances were good they had the same idea. In this case, they did.
The kids retreated to the very back of the parking garage, diving behind several cars and trucks. Nothing had stemmed the flow of bodies shoving their way toward their next meal. The undead footsteps slamming against the hard pavement of the empty area sounded as thunder.
“Now, Randy!” Matty said. “Now!”
Without hesitating, Randy perched his arms on the hood of the car and aimed his gun. The crosshairs landed on the gas tank of the parked vehicle next to the door from where the undead came. He took the shot. He missed. Instead, he clipped the taillights, sending shards of plastic all over the back wall opposite his target.
“Do you want me to do this?” Matty asked.
“I got this.” Randy adjusted his grip to his gun.
In the meantime, the sons of rot continued to hug the walls, shinnying closer to where the teens hid.
Randy closed one eye, stared across the barrel of his gun, and aimed dead center at the gas tank. This time, he thought, he wasn’t going to miss. As more zombies poured into the parking garage, he slowly squeezed the trigger. The sweat from his forehead trickled from his brow into his open eye. He blinked several times until the sound of the gunshot echoed through the lot.
The bullet screamed through the air and hit the car without a problem, but it didn’t hit the tank. It hit the wheel and flattened it.
“You’re kidding me, right?” Matty’s ponytail jumped in the air as she grabbed Randy by the scruff of the neck. “Let me do it.”
“I said I got this.” He twisted his shoulders pushing her hand away.
The group of zombies hugging the walls was now halfway in its journey to making Matty and Randy a main course to a feast of its choosing. That was to say if Randy had anything to do with it. He wasn’t about to let anything happen to Matty. With both hands cradling his gun, he pursed his lips, squinted, and took a deep breath before he positioned his arms back on the hood of the car. Determination covered his face and he held his grip firmly on his weapon until peace passed over him.
The bullet left his gun in a flash and pierced the tank where the car rested, igniting the tank and the back end of the car. It exploded into a firestorm, taking the zombies hugging the walls and everything else in the sizzling blaze.
Flames crawled along the walls engulfing the door and the family of flesh eaters that had entered the parking garage. The fire ate through the crowd, shooting into the stairwell and flooding the steps with heat.
When Matty and Randy raised their heads from their hiding place, they couldn’t believe the devastation Randy had caused. They jumped into the air, slapped high-fives then fell into an embrace with one another. Bodies littered the floor of the garage torn apart from the explosion. The kids had imagined what it would have been like hitting that gas tank, but nothing quite as extensive to cause everything to become charred cinder.
In the midst of the kids’ celebration, as they held each other a while longer, the crowd of zombies that had hugged the walls hit by the fireball and was seemingly lying on the floor dead, began to rise. Whatever had happened, whether the flames weren’t hot enough or the impact of the explosion hadn’t been strong enough, they continued to lift from their fiery grave.
Gawking at the sight, Matty released Randy, pulled her gun and began shooting at anything that moved. Randy did the same without regard to what they would do if they ran out of bullets.
It took a few minutes before the inevitable happened. They ran out of bullets.
Randy tossed his gun and searched everywhere for something he could use to defend themselves from the rising bodies. But Matty had another idea. She yanked Randy’s sleeve and pointed to a door hidden in the shadows behind them. If they could make it to the door, she thought, they’d have a chance of living another day without worrying about the undead. At least that was the plan.
An even half-dozen rose from the ashes of the explosion, skin seared, hair razzed. The undead spotted the kids and their white eyes grew wider knowing the pain they had gone through would never satisfy their hunger for human flesh. Their lips quivered in a roar as they dragged from the spent fire. Their clothes hung from their skin. From that moment forward, not a bullet, human or fire would stop the zombie horde from shrieking its appetite to take hold of the kids.
Across the scorched threshold, Matty estimated they’d have ten seconds before the throng would reach them. It was not something she had imagined. The air caught in her lungs and she tore from her crouch, hauling Randy along with her.
The couple scurried to the door behind them, slamming into it, unable to stop from the inertia of their run. She grabbed the door handle and twisted it. No use, it wouldn’t turn.
“Turn it, Matty! Turn it!” Randy poked her in the shoulder.
She frantically twisted the handle, rattling it, pushing, pulling and finally kicking the door at the same time. The door, however, didn’t give in to her desire for freedom. It stood solid, and in some way, mocked her saying it had the last word regarding their fate.
Matty faced Randy with a ghost in her eyes. The realization hit that they had reached the end. They had escaped the undead clutches multiple times, ducking in alleys, stores, tossing broken crates in their path, slamming doors behind them, climbing fences and finally hiding in the parking garage thinking they had outwitted the undead crowd. Their last chance to leave death behind evaporated with that last tug at the door handle.
“What are we going to do?” Randy asked. He had always looked to her for a good idea.
“I don’t know.” Matty answered, allowing a moment where the groans of the rotting monsters could fade in the distance. “Randy, I have to tell you something. I don’t know if this will make sense to you or not, but I have to say it because it’s in my heart, and I’ve felt this a long time. I couldn’t bear to think what I’d do if I left without you knowing what’s been weighing on my mind.”
“What is it?”
A blast tore through the silence and ignited the parking garage with sound.
The kids gazed at the opening of the stairs where moments ago a fireball had consumed everything in its wake. A silhouette appeared from the smoke. Solid. Firm in its stance. When he took a step forward, the remnant of the garage lights shining from above caught and revealed his face—Ranger Martin. Zombie slayer. The undead’s worst enemy.
Ranger adjusted his Oklahoma City RedHawks cap and reloaded his trusty Mossberg 500. Without a word, he pulled the trigger on his first victim, a deranged dragger that possessed no concept of self-preservation. Its brains splattered on the wall behind. The eater stood there for a moment with a gaping hole in its skull until it dropped to its knees and collapsed. The remaining five steered their attention away from Matty and Randy and pushed against the wall toward Ranger. No one had the right to kill one of theirs.
Despite what the undead thought, Ranger tossed several more volleys of gunfire into the horde, eliminating three more of the mass. As he reloaded, the two that remained turned and quickly raced to the teens that hadn’t moved from the door. Their feet had frozen in place as fear washed over their face. They had nowhere to go except forward, but that wasn’t an option either because forward was from where the zombies came.
In that split second while Ranger reloaded, a boy appeared from the shadows of the stairwell. No more than eight years-old, he shouted, “Matty, catch!” And with a long toss, a clip hurled through the air, passing over the heads of the undead to land in Matty’s hand. Instinct propelled her to unload her Colt .45, inject the new clip and pull a bullet in the gun’s chamber.
Bring ‘em on.
The zombie pair extended their paws as drool spilled from their mouths with only a few feet between them and their dinner. They were so close they could taste the kids.
At the same time that the redhead had reloaded her gun, so did Ranger. Two shots escaped their weapons and both zombies dropped to the ground. Green poured from their wounds. The undead never had a chance.
Relief blanketed Randy’s face. He thought for sure they would have met with death this time around, but fate had other plans for them.
Ranger slipped his shotgun in the holster that he had tied around his right leg, and he strolled toward the kids. Smoke smoldered in the background. Matty also had a place for her gun. She hid it in the small of her back. The teens met with Ranger in the center of the underground lot. Jon, the eight-year-old boy who saved Matty’s life, ran and hugged her. He said, “You didn’t think we’d find you. Did you, sis?”
“I knew you’d show up sometime.”
“You did not!” He pulled away from her then smiled.
“Sure I did. There was no way you’d miss the explosion. How many doors did it take out upstairs? Three? Four? I’m sure it even blew out a few windows, too.”
“You’re so full of yourself.”
Ranger shook Randy’s hand and said, “I thought we lost you.”
“You’re kidding. With Matty around? I wouldn’t think anything else would’ve survived.”
The reunion didn’t last long. As soon as they did away with the pleasantries, the sound of a thump travelled through the garage to hit their ears. Another thump, but this time it sounded like a pounding had erupted from behind the door where Matty and Randy wanted to escape. It happened again. Massive hits to the door until there was silence.
Jon’s face flattened. Matty stared at Ranger while Randy focused on the source of the pounding. They didn’t need another fight—not when they had resolved to put away their guns and go home.
Something else had other plans.
The handle to the door slowly turned as the four watched with gaping mouths. The latch clicked open and from the backdoor stepped a chewer, pale and tired. It must have heard the fuss from the other side. Soon, another appeared. Then another. And another. The longer the humans stood motionless, the more the undead emptied from the door.
“Now would be a good time to run.” Ranger said to the kids. “Go!”
They dashed to the stairwell from where the fire had left ash and soot in its path. As Ranger followed, he had an idea. He wasn’t ready to take a stand, not against fifty of the gut-churners. However, he did want to make clear that nothing would threaten the kids under his protection. This he knew to be true.
When the kids had all but disappeared into the stairwell, all except for Matty who trailed behind, Ranger grabbed her gun from the small of her back, pushed her into the stairwell, and aimed the weapon at the car she and Randy had hid behind when they had set off the first explosion. He waited until the crowd had passed the vehicle to pull the trigger.
The bullet burst through the gas tank and sparked another fireball, bigger than the last, taking with it three other cars. Shrapnel tore through the bodies as if they were sacks of green oatmeal bursting into liquid sludge. Whatever the fire didn’t catch, the shrapnel took care of.
In that instant, when Ranger could have waited a little longer to witness the destruction he had caused, he slammed the door shut behind him as the flames raced and crashed into it, trapping the undead throng.
As the blaze consumed everything in the parking garage, Ranger escaped with the kids with only one thing leaving his lips. “Yahoo!”