TS Alan, author of The Romero Strain
BUY A COPY HERE
As promised, here is an introduction to TS Alan's The Romero Strain for the 2014 Summer of Zombie Blog Tour. If you like what you read, click on the above link to take you to the Amazon page for the book and buy one up! Also, check out the Facebook page for the tour if you like what you see!
The stench of rotting flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Summer of Zombie Blog Tour 2014, with 33 of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of June.
Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don't miss an interview, guest post or teaser… and pick up some great swag as well! Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them! #SummerZombie
THE ROMERO STRAIN
“The Romero Strain. Best zombie book I’ve ever read. It should be a movie... or a mini series... or a game, or all of the above!” ~ Punchline Dvd OZ & NZ
- BOOKS of the DEAD -
This book is a work of fiction. All characters, events, dialog, and situations in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to real people or events is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission except in the case of reprinted excerpts for the purpose of reviews.
Graphic Design by Derek Daley
Edited by James Roy Daley & Paul A. Wiese
Cover Art by Diego Candia
For more information, contact: Besthorror@gmail.com
Visit us at: Booksofthedeadpress.com
THE ROMERO STRAIN
Copyright 2014 by TS Alan
For more information visit:
(1960 – 2003)
Special thanks to friend and editor Paul A. Wiese
And my wife for everything
WHEN DARKNESS FALLS
I. Book of the unDead
My name is J.D. and I am undead, or will be shortly. The virus that ravages this city has infected me, and I am about to enter into phase three symptoms, or so I have been told. By whom, I will explain shortly.
My fever is high, and I can feel a chill running deep into my body with an accompanying pain that pierces my stiffening muscles. My recollections of earlier hours are a bit hazy, but I remember telling my dog Max to slow down and heel. Max is well trained, but he sometimes forgets his place and gets excited when he knows he’s heading home. I have to remind him, on those rare occasions, who the pack leader is. My loyal friend is here next to me as I document this chronicle of events. I write for history’s sake, if there is a future. Let this End of Days’ record enlighten anyone who may read it. Not all of humanity went out in a miserable whimper, but as the expressions goes, kicking and screaming.
Or as I did, kicking and killing.
II. A Virgin amongst the Living Dead
It began like any normal Monday morning in April, just a few days past my 28th birthday. It was a mild day in
–sunny skies, a light, cool breeze, and a
few fluffy, white clouds. I was coming back from a walk with Max, my
three-year-old German shepherd. I tried to give Max as much exercise as
possible so he didn’t become bored. Being a working breed, we always went for
our daily walks with packs strapped on our backs. Max didn’t carry much, just
some essentials. I always carried too many items, even with my minimal go-bag.
Being the city that it was, I needed to be prepared, even if I was walking the
We had just come from the
along the East
Village Park East River, crossing over the
pedestrian bridge at 10th
Street and through the Jacob Riis Houses. As
always, we turned north on Avenue D and headed toward 12th Street. There were other
routes we could have taken, but that was the most peaceful, and in the spring,
the most enjoyable. I liked to walk under the tall branches of the cherry tree
that overhung the chain-link fence in front of Saint Emeric’s Church. I paused
for a moment, looking up at the long limbs of the immense tree. Max, too,
seemed to enjoy the tree, trying to catch a falling petal with his mouth. We
cut through the Haven Plaza low-income housing courtyard which brought us to C
Town Supermarket on Avenue C, known by people of Alphabet City as Loisaida
Avenue; Spanglish for the Lower East Side. We were about to cross the street
and head north when I heard a female voice screaming, “Help, help, he’s trying
to kill me!”
She was a young schoolgirl, made obvious by the school uniform she was wearing, though the uniform couldn’t hide her physical maturity. As she drew nearer, I could see her well-developed chest through her partly undone white Peter Pan collar blouse, bouncing vigorously on her slim frame. Her complexion was light brown. Her hair, a deep rich, shining brunette, was pulled into a ponytail.
My fixation distracted me momentarily from her pursuer, until a twinge of guilt, slight as it was, told me she may look eighteen but was more likely thirteen. Her loud screams and pleas for help jolted me out of my schoolgirl uniform fantasy as she drew within feet of me.
I saw him moving toward us as the girl grabbed my arm and hid behind me. His hurried approach was more borderline lumbering than running. Max’s fur along the back of his neck stood up. He was poised to lunge, snarling with his teeth bared, ready to protect me if necessary. But I wasn’t too concerned. I knew how to defend myself.
* * *
Being the son of a police officer sucked. It did not earn me automatic respect. Having a cop for a father earned me less respect than being the fat sloppy kid in school. I was the skinny, dorky kid whose parents made him take ballet and piano lessons. It wasn’t that my fellow classmates disliked the police; it was the fact that when I first started getting picked on I used the My father is a cop and if you don’t leave me alone he’s gonna kick your dad’s ass card once too often. It wasn’t long before my tormentors realized I was full of shit. It was true; I was full of shit, and I was called on it on a regular basis.
My father was not amused by my bragging, but was sympathetic to my dilemma. He decided I needed to be taught how to defend myself, and took me to the YMCA every Saturday for six months for kickboxing and self-defense lessons, which were taught by one of his commanding officers. I was twelve. Having successfully mastered the basics in kickboxing and self-defense techniques, my father enrolled me in a Jeet Kune Do academy, the same place the police department had sent him to train.
Some kids get sent to summer camp to get away from the city, to enjoy nature, and so their parents can have some privacy. My parents sent me to summer camp at The Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts in Marina Del Rey,
, because they knew if they
didn’t, I was going to make their lives miserable all summer. California
Having learned practical elements of Kali, Eskrima, Jun Fan kung fu, Silat, and advance elements of Jeet Kune Do, I returned home with a strong body and a stronger will—will, not mind. I had embraced the physical aspects of Way of the Intercepting Fist, but not the spiritual. Instead of being a perpetual victim, I became the constant bully. I garnered the wrath of my middle school teachers, and my father’s. He never allowed me to take another lesson while under his roof. My bad attitude would continue into my early twenties, when a fateful event brought upon an epiphany.
* * *
As the man approached I could see he looked ill. His face was pale, grey, and drawn with a few open sores. His eyes were sickly and glassy, but filled with a singular intensity of doing me harm. Max barked and growled wildly. I had never seen such an intensity of alarm from him. I gave his leash a tug and told him to be silent.
The sickly man drew within yards. I shouted for him to stop but he kept steadfast in his intent to apprehend the girl. When he refused to yield and reached out for me; I side-kicked him above the larynx, hard enough to put him down but not hard enough to break the hyoid bone or tear any thyroid cartilage. I expected him to drop to his knees, but he staggered back and lunged at me again. I snap-kicked him square in the testicles, but nothing. I became concerned, very concerned. If those two places didn’t bring him to his knees, he must have been completely tweaked out. I was able to sidestep him on his third lunge and kick him in the left kneecap. He went down hard, not even trying to brace his fall with his hands. I had to do something quick, and kicking him again wasn’t going to do it. I had the girl screaming in my ear and Max ready-to-go on my command, but I wanted this guy for myself.
“Achterzijde, blif,” I commanded, and Max stepped back. I stepped back a few feet and grabbed a municipal green mesh garbage can, which stood next to the crosswalk light. I hoisted it up and swung it, slamming it in the middle of his back. He went down again; his face slammed on the sidewalk.
As quickly as he fell he began to rise up.
“Stay down!” I yelled, but he didn’t heed my warning. Again I slammed him squarely in the upper lumbar region, but for a third time his fall only momentarily impeded him. I raised the receptacle yet again, this time higher, and slammed it against the back of his head. Down he went once more, his head thumping loudly on the hard sidewalk. But like the previous times, it did not stop him from rising. I couldn’t believe he was getting up again.
I lifted the can nearly above my head, and as he was almost upright, I slammed it into the upper side of his skull. The impact of the hard metal bottom support ring slamming against his cranium was so devastating that it split his parietal bone open. He finally collapsed. He lay twitching on the ground, brain matter exposed, hemorrhaging a deep purple color.
“God damn it!” I yelled, and turned to the girl, who was still screaming. “Shut up!” I bellowed over her incessant, grating noise. I was pissed. My red ringer 10003 postal code t-shirt was ruined from all the shit that had slid out of the trashcan while I was defending her, and all she could do was scream in my ear. She stopped screaming and cried, which was a lesser irritation but still damn annoying.
“What that fuck is going on?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” she sobbed repeatedly, and began to mutter rapidly in Spanish. “Él intentó agarrarme. Él tenía ojos locos. Me separé de el y comencé a correr. ¡Pero él me sigio! Grité y grité. ¡Pero nadie me ayudaría! Entonces yo—”
“Hey, hey. Inglés, chica. Inglés.” I interupted. “No puedo entenderte cuando hablas asi.”
I was surprised that a crowd hadn’t gathered. I looked around as I took out my cell phone to dial
It was only , but
someone should have been sticking his or her nose into this.
“I want to report an emergency on Avenue C and
Nichols, J.D. Nichols… 646-867-5309… What? No, I’m not being funny.” The
operator asked me to state the nature of emergency. “There was an attempted
assault on a young girl by an aggressive and delirious male, in which I
interceded using a garbage can… no, just the assailant who is unconscious,
unresponsive, and suffering—what? Did anyone come in physical contact
with the assailant?” I repeated the operator’s question, which was unusual
response. “My foot to his balls. Does that count?” As usual, I was being a
smart-ass. “What? Bit!?” I repeated, with astonishment and curiosity in
my tone at such an unusual question. “Ah… I don’t know. I didn’t. Maybe the
That was a fucking weird question, I thought. I looked at the girl who Max was comforting, or I should say, who Max was sucking up to. “Max, afstammen. Broeden op.” He moved from the girl to me and sat down. “Logeren.”
The girl looked puzzled by what I was saying, and a bit pissed that I called the dog away from her. At least she had stopped sobbing.
“Señorita. ¿Cuál es tu nombre?”
“Marisol,” she said.
Why? I thought. Why the hell not! I just saved your life and most likely killed someone, and you ask me why I want to know your name? “
9-1-1 wants to know if you were bitten,” I
said, holding my tongue.
“Él solamente me… on my arm. See,” she said as she revealed the small scratch on her forearm. “See. A small scratch, no bites,” she assured me.
“No. No bites, just a scratch on her arm. Yeah. Yeah, all right.”
“What did they say?” she asked, concern in her voice.
“He said wait here for a patrol car.”
“Why did he ask if I was bit?” Now she was being a smart-ass. A little spunk in her after all.
“Yeah. Weird, huh? Didn’t seem to interested in the assailant, just if we got bit. That is kind of weird.”
I could hear the police sirens growing closer.
His name was Johnson, Lieutenant John Johnson from the 9th Precinct. He was tall with sandy-blonde hair, an attractive, well-groomed and well-built man in his thirties. His uniform held the regalia of a highly decorated officer. They had dispatched the patrol supervisor for me––a sensible, no thrills, by-the-book, cop. I’d known the lieutenant for years; he had been my CPR instructor. He was a dot your i and cross your t type of cop. Sometimes he could be a ball buster. He was tough but good-hearted, and I had admiration and respect for him even though he could come across as abrasive and curt at times.
John taught me to recognize the signs, symptoms, and how to treat people who were in shock. He also taught me the procedure for dealing with an emotionally disturbed patient. Obviously, that was something I had forgotten. Not only was he a highly respected and qualified officer, but a highly qualified and respected emergency medical technician.
What, where, how, why, when… had I seen the girl before, had I seen the assailant before… did either of us come in physical contact with our assailant? The charm of his personality was overwhelming. Meanwhile, Marisol was talking to a hot looking Spanish cop named Rodriquez. Just a patrol officer; no medals on her chest, but her uniform was nicely filled anyways.
An ambulance finally arrived. It was a FDNY emergency vehicle. I expected the Beth Israel Hospital ambulance that parked on Avenue B between 13th and 14th Street, in front of Brother’s Candy & Grocery—the team I saw every morning as Max and I walked from 13th Street North on Avenue B to 14th Street—but it wasn’t.
“Look, Lieutenant. I’m fine,” I repeated for the fourth time. “Can I go now? I have a job I need to go to.”
I lied. I didn’t have to go to work. I was on medical leave for several months due to a job related injury I suffered during a collision when responding to a call. No, I wasn’t a cop. I wasn’t the heroic type. Well, let me rephrase that. I wasn’t heroic enough to constantly put myself in harm’s way, like my father, who had been a patrolman and later worked in the NYPD Ballistics lab. I was an
EMT-P for Saint Vincent’s
* * *
I loved working as a paramedic, especially at
I worked the to shift, drove around in a
state-of-the-art paramedic ambulance and helped people. Saint
Vincent’s Hospital Manhattan was a member of the EMS Emergency Ambulance Service and responsible for
ambulance and emergency services in a four and a half square mile area of the
lower Westside. Saint Vincent’s was also a designated Level I Trauma Center,
the only trauma center on the lower Westside of Manhattan. New York State
The trauma center was the reason I chose to work at
Vincent’s. Seven years ago I ended up in their emergency room. The
how and why wasn’t important; just say it was a lack of any kind of judgment in
my youth which brought me there via ambulance. After that incident I had a life
altering revelation, and needed to
get my shit together. I tried applying to the Paramedic Education Program at Saint Vincent’s ,
just to find out that I could only apply if I was an Institute of Emergency Care EMT-B—B
for basic. I had my mind set on being a paramedic, so I applied to the EMT-B program and was accepted. Knowing my grades
were less than stellar in high school and community college, I was only
accepted because of the great recommendations my father’s friends wrote—all
cops. As a thank you, I proved my worth by graduating at the top of my class in
both EMT-B and EMT-P, a paramedic.
* * *
“No, not yet,” he sternly said. “I need to let the paramedics look you over first.”
Since he helped train me, I wanted to say, Lieutenant, are you saying a Beth Israel
are more qualified to render a diagnosis than me? I didn’t. Instead, “I’m
“You’re not fine until Beth Israel gives you the clear. Once—”
He stopped speaking when he heard his radio. There was a disturbance a few avenues away.
and First Avenue
in front of the McDonald’s. All available units please respond. Possible—”
He turned his radio down.
A few people had finally gathered around while one ambulance attendant covered the body. Officer Rodriquez commanded the small crowd of onlookers to stand back. God she was hot when she was forceful.
Marisol was getting bandaged, a lot of gauze for such a little scratch. With all the weirdness going on, the Gestapo insisted that I be examined for a non-existent injury. The fact that the lieutenant was more interested in what the perpetrator may have done to us, instead of what I had done to the assailant, should have given me a clue.
I was wasting my time arguing with him. After all, he was a cop and I was the guy who just smashed someone’s head in. If he wanted me examined for an injury I didn’t have, I should have shut up, before getting myself in real trouble… for killing someone.
As I approached the ambulance, I saw what appeared to be a man and woman briskly approaching the scene. I wasn’t sure if the man was chasing the woman or if they were advancing together. They were a block away, moving from the east toward us. Perhaps more gawkers; after all, accidents attract the morbidly curious. I waited for the paramedic to finish with Marisol. Rubber gloves, a mask and eye goggles? That was certainly overkill.
I looked again toward the on-comers. “Oh, fuck,” I said in disbelief. “Hey, hey Johnson,” I yelled and pointed. “Two more!” I grabbed Marisol and pulled her away from the back of the vehicle. Max growled. He could smell them.
“Wait! She has to go—”
They came toward the ambulance. The woman knocked Marisol’s paramedic down like a wolf bringing down its prey. He never had a chance to finish his sentence. She tore at his larynx with wild abandon and voraciousness. He screamed, but his screams quickly turned to muffled gurgles as his throat was ripped away from his neck.
IV. Run Away, Run Away!
The man came at Officer Rodriquez in a frenzy; his eyes were milky and his flesh was pale and blistered. She didn’t have time to reach for her gun. She was on the ground writhing in pain as the man bit into her throat. The crowd and the second
EMT ran, but were
intercepted by another wild-eyed man coming from the other end of the street.
Screams of terror and panic pierced the morning louder than Marisol’s had.
Officer Johnson tried to pull Rodriquez’s attacker off her, but he was too
late. She laid victim to the predator; her throat ripped open, blood gurgling
from a deep hole and the surrounding lacerations.
Johnson didn’t know what he was in for. The crazed man turned from his meal and looked at Johnson with disdain through his clouded eyes. Johnson stepped back, pulled his duty carry pistol as the man stood up, and put four rounds into his chest. The man stepped a foot back, but did not fall. Johnson again aimed, this time for the head, and with another loud report he connected with the kill zone. The man’s head blew apart as the nine-millimeter bullet ripped a path through the frontal bone and out the parietal.
But Johnson had made a mistake. He momentarily looked at Rodriquez after he made sure the assailant was down for good. In his moment of disbelief, the aberration that had attacked Marisol’s
ravenously set upon him. The lieutenant had just begun to turn away from his
fallen partner when the she-beast jumped on him, knocking his pistol from his
hand. The gun slid along the roadway toward the police cruiser.
The thing bit into his jugular as it held fast to him, clamping its legs around him, frantically trying to keep Johnson from pulling its biting mouth away from his neck. Johnson spun around several times. The attack set him off balance. He fell to the ground as the creature gnawed his neck.
I called Max to follow as I grabbed Marisol. I heard that Monty Python line inside my head about running away. But there was no escape. We were momentarily caught in between two crazies from the east and one from the west, and I had a bad feeling it wouldn’t be long before there would be more. We slunk down in front of the squad car. I corrected Max for growling and told Marisol she needed to be silent and do exactly what I said if she wanted to live. I had no illusions that it was going to be an easy out. I’ve had idiots on the subway try to pick fights with me because they thought they had the right to get on the car before I could get off. I’ve had punk-ass kids try to fuck with me in front of my own doorway, just because there were six of them, they had been drinking, and were looking for trouble. Those situations paled compared to the one I was in then. Idiots and jackasses were one thing; crazed, murdering cannibals were another.
Officer Johnson’s dislodged pistol had slid along the roadway, stopping feet from the front driver’s side tire. It was a Glock 19.
The NYPD Glock 19 had twelve pound NYPD connectors, meaning it had a twelve pound trigger pull for safety, with a magazine capacity of fifteen rounds, not including the one in the chamber. The NYPD issued the Gold Dot hollow-point 9mm cartridge by CCI Speer, because my father found it to be satisfyingly powerful on the street. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t stop the creatures unless I knew where to aim, as John had found out.
I knew a few things about a Glock 19, not because I was a weapons’ aficionado, or had ever fired one, but because my father carried one. In my line of duty, I had seen the damage the weapon could do to someone. I needed to get the pistol and get the hell out of there.
Out. But to where? No time to think. Time to run. The things were engaged. I grabbed Marisol’s hand.
We began our departure, stealthy and silent as not to be noticed. We were nearly clear of the car when Marisol let go of my hand. She turned from me and went to the sidewalk where Officer Rodriquez lay.
Two creatures were further down the sidewalk, engorging themselves on several bystanders that had run south along the avenue trying to escape. The other was still feeding on Lieutenant Johnson, several yards from Rodriquez.
Marisol glanced at me.
I gave her a look that said, What the fuck are you doing?
She bent over the bloody, shredded corpse and unholstered the pistol. The she-beast looked up and spotted fresh meat. Marisol raised the pistol and pointed it, trying to fire. The gun did nothing. The safety was on.
Rodriguez’s weapon was a Smith & Wesson LE Duty Carry pistol finished in satin steel. It used 9mm Parabellum ammunition, but had fully ambidextrous safety levers and an external hammer, unlike a Glock pistol, which employed three internal safety mechanisms, all based on the trigger that prevented the gun from firing if it was dropped or jolted. I doubted Marisol knew the differences, let alone how to aim a pistol.
A shot rang out. Dead bang to the head. It was a lucky shot. I had never fired a pistol before. Marisol wet herself. The urine ran down her leg and onto her sock.
“I think—” she began to say, embarrassed.
“I see,” I said, before she could finish. Lucky that had been the worst thing that happened. “Let’s go.”
The other two looked up, but were too engaged in their dining to give chase.
I took Marisol by the hand, holding it tight, letting the strength of my grip show her that I was not going to allow such recklessness to happen again. “Max, fuss,” I whispered, as we picked up our pace and headed toward the Con Edison power station directly up the street.
V. The Electric Company
It was Wonka-esque in the old days. The old, dreary energy factory with its four big smoke stacks looming high into the
sky. Its old, worn brick exterior walls aged with stains of weathered time now
gone, replaced and expanded with a structural steel fabrication, a façade of
prefabricated panels of red and black faux brick. It was called the East River
Repowering Project; the commercial operation of the renovated facility began in
April of 2005, when the second of two state-of-the-art, natural-gas-fired steam
generators began providing power to the electricity grid.
Before the project, conEd gave tours of the facility. Post-9/11 they discontinued them. I had toured the facility once, fascinated by the old turbines and the piping that ran out of the facility and under the streets of
. I often visited unusual, non-tourist
type places. It was my love of movies that started my hobby as an urban
explorer. I started with underground film locations, then became interested in
other places, like the abandoned City
Hall Station of the New York IRT East Side
Line, where the 6 Train turns around to go uptown, and the forgotten
Atlantic Avenue Subway Tunnel, which led me to the power station tour.
* * *
A car came tearing down the street, honking its horn wildly and weaving erratically. The male driver waved his hand back in forth like he was trying to tell us to get out of his way, but we were on the sidewalk. He continued speeding north up Avenue C, past the main entrance to the facility. Something was amiss as we approached the main gate. I didn’t see anyone walking around inside the enclosed area. It was early Monday morning, but in a busy complex I expected to see someone outside.
The chain-link fence was closed and locked. A blue and white striped Con Edison pickup truck sat across the entranceway near the guard shack to prevent unwanted intruders. As we reached the main gate, I saw the door to the small, dirty white, aluminum-sided guardhouse open, and there appeared to be no one sitting behind the wheel of the pickup truck, which seemed wrong.
I looked down
and saw a flurry of activity near Associated Grocery. It appeared to be police
and emergency vehicles, but it was too far to walk in the open to take the
I thought about crossing the street and going to the auto parts store for sanctuary. Once inside I could call
9-1-1 again. But if I wanted immediate assistance, perhaps
rescue, I needed a place that the police would respond to immediately. Whether
anyone at the generating plant believed my story or not, gaining unauthorized
access to one of the main suppliers of the city’s electrical grids would get
the NYPD to us quicker than flies on shit.
As we crossed in front of the gate, I thought I saw a shadow under the truck. I moved swiftly but cautiously to the employee entrance, which lay to the left of the eight-foot fence. The walkway led to a small building, which looked more like a kid’s clubhouse than a storage shed. The checkpoint served as an employee entrance and visitors’ entrance. Inside I would find at least one guard checking identification and doing bag inspections.
As we rounded the gate to the walkway, I could not see anyone through the large window to the right of the door. The white two-panel steel entry door was ajar. I approached the doorway cautiously. Max halted and let out a low growl. I raised the pistol up and I put an index finger to my lips to let Marisol know to be silent. “Ruhig,” I whispered to Max. His growling ceased.
I expected to be attacked by a mob of the undead before I could breach the doorway. Yes, that was what I decided they were. Just like those Romero films I loved. Had I missed something? If I had been working, would I have been aware of the uprising? If I had watched the news the night before, or turned it on before I took Max out, would I have known to barricade myself inside my apartment instead of venturing out? What if? Well, what if didn’t matter. It had come, Dawn of the Dead. And I was about to jump from the frying pan and into the—
They were dead. Blood and flesh was splattered all over the white semi-gloss walls and pooling on the floor. It wasn’t like the movies. There were fewer dismembered body parts and exposed organs and more lacerated flesh with chunks torn out with teeth. Less
more real life, but surreally disturbing just the same. Hollywood
Marisol entered, took one look, and quickly exited. I heard her projectile vomiting on the sidewalk. Funny, she didn’t have a problem taking the pistol from Rodriquez, but the sight of blood pooling with chunks of flesh sickened her.
She came back in. “I can’t go any further,” she said.
“What?” You wanna stay and be meat?”
“No, that’s not it. I got to change.”
“Change?” I said, confused by her announcement.
“Yes, change. I can’t go any further. I’m wet.”
“Now?” I exclaimed, keeping my voice low. “You gotta change now?”
“Yes.” She walked behind the low counter where the guards conducted their bag searches, took her backpack off, and opened it. “Turn around.”
“Turn around? Turn around why?”
“Don’t be stupid. You’re not my boyfriend. You don’t get to look.”
“Ah, Jesus. You’ll change in the middle of dead people, but you’re afraid I’ll sneak a peek at your cooch. Unbelievable.”
I turned away. “Max. Pas op,” I said, pointing to the opposite door. “Hey, wait. You might need this.” I took off my backpack, opened it, and pulled out a packet of Nice ’N Clean antibacterial hand-wipes. “Make it fast. We’re going back to
Street,” I said, and tossed them to her. “And stay
out of the blood.”
She smiled and made little circles with her index finger indicating for me to turn around.
I could hear her behind me as she undressed. My curiosity at what she had in her bag, and the fact that I hadn’t seen a naked woman in over a year, got the best of me. I turned my head slightly and caught a glimpse of the most perfect ass I had ever seen.
“How old are you?”
Her response had not been immediate, and I was not completely sure if she had been truthful.
“Fifteen. Shit,” I said, with slight disappoint in my tone, and feeling like a pedophile.
“Ah, no reason.”
She asked, “How come you know Spanish? You fluent?”
“Part of my job. I’m a paramedic for
Hospital. I speak some Cantonese, but my Spanish is better.” I heard a zipper
go up. “You done?”
“Almost. You can turn around now.”
She had changed into a pair of faded stonewashed blue
with narrow legs. Over her school
blouse she wore a white hoodie with three distinctive stripes emblazoned across
her chest. They were the colors of Levis .
Her soiled clothes were on the floor. Columbia
“Where do you live?” I asked, as she began tying the laces to her black Air
“Why?” she asked with suspicion.
I retorted, “Why is everything why with you? Every time I ask you something, it’s why! How about, because I want to know?”
I waited a moment for her to answer the question but she didn’t; I asked again. “So?”
“I live on—” A look of extreme fear came over her. She realized in all the mayhem she had forgotten about her family. “Oh, my God. ¡Mi madre!” She pulled her cell phone from her pocket.
I could hear the voice on the phone stating that all circuits were busy, please call again later. Marisol cursed in Spanish, eyeing the phone like the operator could hear her. She looked up at me and sobbed. She walked to me and put her arms around me. She wanted comfort and reassurance that her family were fine, but I couldn’t give it. I didn’t know if her family were fine, or even if mine were all right. I held her for a moment, then Max growled.
I quickly let her go, and approached Max. I looked through the window on the door but saw nothing. Max continued his low growl. “Gute hund, Max. Gute hund.” I still saw no one, but by the way Max was reacting I knew there was something out there.
Marisol spoke from behind me in a concerned tone, “There are people coming.”
“I don’t see anyone.” I misunderstood what she was trying to tell me.
“No. This way!”
I turned around and saw Marisol pointing out the front door. There were people moving swiftly toward the complex. Alive or undead, I didn’t know; they were too far away, but I wasn’t about to wait and find out.
“Marisol, time to go.”
I walked toward Max. “Fuss,” I said, as I opened the door. I followed Max out, and held the door for Marisol, but she was not directly behind me.
“Marisol,” I snapped.
She grabbed her nearly forgotten backpack and locked the front entrance door.
“Marisol! Now!” She ran to me and out the door. “Not too fast, let Max lead.”
Ahead of us the open area of the complex stretched all the way to
FDR Drive. The building to our immediate
left housed the turbines, the heat recovery system, and the station monitoring
system. To our right, as we exited the visitor check-in building, was the
guardhouse with the pickup truck adjacent to it. We moved cautiously along the
sidewalk, which stretched along the paved lot. We could see the back end of the
pickup as we cleared the twelve by twelve foot trailer. Max stopped. He curled
his lips back and rumbled a low, guttural growl.
There was the driver, half hanging out the truck, his body dangling and twitching as his attacker gnawed on an arm. He had been unable to escape. His leg was caught in the steering wheel.
The creature looked up and stopped chewing. It wanted fresh meat.
“Run!” I cried. “Schnell, Max. Fuss!”
We ran hard and fast. We came to the entryway of the main building. It was open. He was almost upon us. Marisol went in, followed by Max. I tumbled to the pavement as I was set upon. The gun flew from my hand and landed just out of reach. I struggled to keep his mouth away. I held on firmly with both hands around his throat, trying to strangle him. This would not be a deterrent, but I hoped to hold him back from ripping out my throat. He frantically tried to kill me, whipping his arms and hands at me in a frenzied fit. He scratched at my face. I didn’t know if he had penetrated my skin, but I felt a sting.
I couldn’t punch him in the face, for if I did there was the possibility of lacerating my knuckles on his teeth, so I began to elbow strike him on the side of the head. For a moment the blows disoriented him, enough for me to scoot my body over those few extra inches to reach the pistol. I shoved it in his mouth and blew out the back of his head.
I saw Marisol with weapon in hand. The gun was aimed at me. She had a frightened look on her face.
“I tried to shoot it,” she said, her voice quivering. “But the gun won’t work.”
I responded, “Yours has an external safety. I’ll show you later.”
She lowered the weapon. “You got some blood on your face.”
“Shit. Just tell me it’s my own,” I replied in an agitated tone. “Damn it!” Then I kicked the creature.
“It’s okay. I can wipe it off,” she said in a calming and reassuring voice, as she took out a hand-wipe and cleaned my face.
“You don’t understand. Is there any on my eyes or mouth?”
She assured, “No, no. You’re okay.”
“Not if it got in my eyes or mouth. Shit, what about the scratch on my face?”
“Scratch? It’s just a little mark.”
“Are you sure?” I demanded to know. “Is the skin broken?”
She couldn’t understand my concern. “Why are you freakin’ out? It’s nothing.” She finished cleaning my face and tossed the towelette to the ground.
“You don’t understand. If blood gets into your system, you can turn into one of them.”
“What? Now you’re buggin’!”
“You have no clue to what’s going on. Those crazy people. They’re the undead. And you can get infected through blood or saliva.”
“That’s crazy,” she said, shaking her head.
“Yes, it is.” I confirmed, with deep sincerity in my voice.
“What? How do you know this? I was bleeding, remember?” She held out her overly bandaged arm. She began to panic. “I don’t want to be one of those things. I don’t want to be—”
I interrupted. “You’re buggin’. You didn’t get bit, right?”
“Then chill. You’re fine. I should know. I’m a paramedic, remember?”
“No buts. Time to go.”
I moved toward the door.
“No. We can’t go that way. There are more bodies.”
“You wanna go back that way?” I pointed to the way we came. Then I saw them: the legion of dead at the gate. “Fuck,” I said, with slight disbelief and despair in my voice. I had become so self-involved that I had forgotten about the mob.
Max wasn’t with us.
“Where’s Max?” I asked, looking around.
He was behind the closed door. I looked at Marisol disapprovingly. “Kommen,” I said, opening the door. “Gute Hund. Gute Max.” I affectionately roughed up his fur behind his ears, and turned to Marisol. “We go in.”
“I don’t want to go in there,” she replied, despondently. She was frightened but so was I.
“Look,” I told her. “The barbarians are at the gate.”
“What about the pickup?”
“You wanna check out the pickup, go ahead. I’m going in. Your choice!” Max and I entered the building.
Marisol was right. There were dead bodies. And no one behind the reception counter to the right as we entered. The door opened behind me. I was startled. I whipped around with pistol in hand. Marisol screamed.
I said nothing as I surveyed the area.
“Where are we going?” she said, as I moved to an intersection of corridors.
“I’m not sure. It’s all changed.”
“Changed?” she inquired. “You’ve been here before?”
January 22nd, 2000.
But this part of the building wasn’t here then. Must have been part of the
repowering project a few years back.”
“I remember the crane. It was huge.”
There was a big corridor ahead of us. I hoped it would lead to the old section of the building.
“We can’t stay… this way.”
The corridor led us to two blue-colored, double-leaf doors, like the ones at the entrance of a cinema. As I pushed the doors away from me, they struck something. I looked through the long and thin glass window on the right door. There was a body blocking our entry. I pushed the right door away from me again, hard and fast. It struck the body and swung back a few inches. I grabbed the door before it could swing closed and pulled it toward me. The human doorstop was a cop.
ConEdison had started contracting off-duty uniformed police officers for security through the NYPD Paid Detail Unit, like many other places in the City of
. Using police
discouraged intruders, plus they had full law enforcement powers to do whatever
was necessary if unauthorized individuals tried to gain access to the facility. New York
He was dead. He had bled out. I took his weapon from him and removed the ammo clip. My father used to say, If you don’t have a backup, you don’t have a plan. I stuck the clip in my pocket and left the pistol.
The turbine room was three floors. The main level, which we were on, was level two. The first level, below us, was where the generators stood. The floor above was the third level, which I knew nothing about. The entire inner structure was open-concept, surrounded by railings and staircases. I looked over the guardrail, down into the abyss.
One hundred plus miles of steam mains stretched from
Manhattan to 96th
Street, with over eleven hundred manholes. I could
go anywhere in the Borough of Manhattan, via way of the steam or subway
I had read that they had bored a tunnel, twelve feet in diameter, up
First Avenue from 20th Street
to 36th Street,
which was at the Queens Midtown Tunnel. I was sure there was an exit tunnel
somewhere under the First Avenue Canarsie Line Station, since tunnels ran along
to First Avenue.
The BMT Canarsie Line (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation), known to New York City urbanites as the L Train, ran directly under the power station, from Brooklyn, under the East River, to Manhattan’s First Avenue Station. We could use the tunnel system to make an escape and find help.
“We’re not going down there,” Marisol said, half asking and half stating.
I replied, nonchalantly, “Yes.”
“There’s that why again!” I shook my head disapprovingly.
I took her hand and she followed, for the first time without hesitation. I spoke in a whisper as we walked toward the stairs, ever über-vigilant.
“Ever walk up Avenue C and see those big conEd manhole covers, or the grates in the sidewalk at
by the L train entrance?”
“Some of them are emergency exits for the
and some are access points for conEd tunnels. There’s a huge tunnel below that
can take us west along the L line or north along the FDR. So down we go.”
We ascended the stairs quietly as possible. Max covered our backs.
VI. Tunnel Vision
Goddamn it! It was my cell phone. And the ring was on full volume. The
911! ringtone told me it was my father. Reno
After having served twenty-two years with the New York Police Department, my father moved out west to
to retire. Within six months he joined the Tucson Police Department’s
Motorcycle Division—something he always wanted to be, a motorcycle cop. His
original plan was to buy a ranch so he could relax and ride horses and fish all
day. After four months on what he would later call “the funny farm,” he became
bored and decided to come out of retirement. Arizona
The only relaxing he did was ride motorcycles, watch The Colbert Report, and re-runs of
911!. He especially loved Reno 911! because it was the most realistic
television show he’d ever seen, more realistic than Cops. He later admitted that he thought Reno 911! was a spin-off of Cops, the bloopers, until he found out
they were actors. Reno
I answered as quickly as I could. “Dad?” I tried to be quiet as I spoke. “Dad. Are you all right… what do you mean? What did you hear?”
Marisol pulled on the waist of my shirt. I ignored her.
“No, I didn’t hear that… I’m fine. Yes, I’ll make sure I stay in and not answer… Dad? Dad? Shit!”
I lost the connection as I reached the bottom of the stairs. It was in
Marisol tugged harder on my shirt. I heard low growls from Max. Marisol pointed up. They had heard and they were hungry.
I grabbed Marisol’s hand and ran. “Schnell, schnell!”
They were coming down the stairs from the top level and the level we had just descended. As we ran between two GE gas turbines we saw several partly eaten technicians sprawled out on the floor in bloody pools.
Ahead of us more corpses were hidden behind machinery. There was a guard surrounded by several of the undead. Apparently he had managed to fend off a few attackers before he succumbed to overwhelming odds. I saw Marisol eyeing a pistol on the ground. I pulled on her arm, telling her to ignore it, as we ran around the carcasses.
We were nearly grabbed from the opposite side of the large turbine to our left. As he lunged for us, he slipped in his victim’s blood, lost his balance, and fell over one of his fellow undead, crashing to the ground. We ran straight ahead, never slowing to look.
From the main turbine room I could see the pipes overhead running north, then jutting east and west in an area ahead of us. It was the way to the
tunnel. I followed the highway of piping into the tunnel ahead. A half block
west the tunnel took an abrupt right turn, heading in a northerly route under
Avenue C. In my haste to flee the impending onslaught, had I missed the tunnel
to 14th Street?
Had it been somewhere to the left of the turbines? There was no going back.
As we headed north, passing from one tunnel section to the next, the piping ran into a ceiling abutment and disappeared, only to reappear on the northern side of the next section. It made a downward slope as the tunnel narrowed in height and width.
We reached a section, maybe fourteen by fourteen feet wide. It was well-lit, but not as bright as before. Five figures stood in the tunnel talking to one another as we advanced. The tunnel turned in a northwesterly direction, thirty feet or so from where they stood. Several flashlights were flickering back and forth along the eastern part of the wall and along the ceiling. Since I didn’t think the undead used flashlights, I felt it safe to proceed.
They stopped whatever inspection they were doing as they saw our hurried approach. It was easy for them to hear us as we neared. A man, his dog, and a girl running through a large subterranean tunnel caused echoes, plus the sight of us would be unusual.
They stood in our way, blocking our escape. One guy outstretched his arm and put up his hand like a traffic cop giving direction to halt. Two women stood behind three men, forming a barricade.
“Stop! Where do you think you’re going?”
“Get out of the way or my dog will rip your balls off!” I demanded.
“No,” he responded, authoritatively.
A stocky, little man with black hair raised up a big Maglite flashlight, as a threat for us to stop.
Marisol pleaded. “Please, they’re coming. They’ll kill us.”
“You’re not going anywhere, miss. How did you get down here?” Maglite man demanded to know. He appeared to be the one in charge.
I raised the pistol, pointed it at them, and spewed one of my favorite lines from Scarface. It was Al Pacino’s line that referenced saying hello to a little friend. The jackass with the Maglite, whose ID badge read Anthony DiVincenzo, moved back. So much for being in charge.
Deliberate, slow clapping came from a tall, medium-built man with dirt-blonde hair and a beard. There was a badass intensity about him.
“You think that’s funny, jackwagon,” I asked, not the least amused.
“Yes,” he replied, snidely. “Nice Tony Montana imitation… I have one for you. He rattled off a line that ended with caution and flammable.”
I didn’t know to what he was referencing. “What?”
I pointed the pistol at him. He wasn’t intimidated. He was either stupid or thought he could take me.
“Don’t know that line? Try Bubba Ho-Tep. If you shoot that pistol in here and miss, you could rupture a natural gas line.”
Bruce Campbell was one of my favorite actors. I met him once at a book signing. I had watched Bubba Ho-Tep several times, but I didn’t remember the line from the film. Strange that out of all the films about shooting a weapon off around a gas pipeline, he chose that one.
I could get to like anyone who could reference dialog from a movie, especially if it was a line I didn’t know, and I knew a myriad of lines. Too bad he’d probably be dead in a few minutes. And so would we, if we didn’t keep moving.
“No time for chit-chat, gotta run!” I said. I pointed the pistol at them, trying to be menacing, hoping it would scare them enough to get out of the way so Marisol, Max, and I could make a rapid escape.
“Hey, pal. Put the gun down before you hurt someone,” a well-groomed All-American ordered. He was clean-shaven and wore a work uniform that was too sterile to be anything but a supervisor. His name was Jack Blas-something-or-other. I couldn’t completely read his identification badge.
Somewhere in The Journal of General Psychology or perhaps The American Journal of Sociology, there was a chapter relating to the collective phenomena of the behavior of groups. An important concept in this area was deindividuation––a reduced state of self-awareness that can be caused by feelings of anonymity. Deindividuation was associated with uninhibited and sometimes dangerous behavior. It was common in crowds and mobs, and could also be caused by a uniform, alcohol, dark environments, or online anonymity.
It was not a mob mentality driving the group to uninhibited and dangerous behavior. It was their strength in numbers, the authoritarian uniform, and the low-lit environment.
Perhaps they were pissed off and felt threatened by me finding them fucking around on the job. In any case, the men were trying to get in my face.
“Hey, hero,” I said loudly, pointing the pistol at Jack. “Fuck you!”
He jumped back.
Max could sense my anger and frustration with them. He crouched into his ready-to-attack stance. His lips curled back as he growled.
“I’m calling security. You don’t belong down here,” DiVincenzo threatened, as he moved to a wall phone and picked it up.
“You think I’m down here for some hot sex on a steam pipe with the girlfriend?” I asked him. “Just walked right by security to take the dog for a fucking walk?” I grabbed Marisol’s hand and we bolted.
I heard DiVincenzo shouting, “Guess I won’t have too. Here comes security!”
We looked back and saw three undead proceeding toward them.
“Oh, no,” Marisol gasped.
“Run,” I shouted. “Just run!”
Fuck you very much! I thought. Those idiots had about sixty seconds to live. I heard a girl scream as we fled up the tunnel, and I knew it was over for them.
I didn’t look back again.
I wasn’t sure where I was going, but the little pit-stop we were forced to make could have cost us dearly. As horrible as the thought was, I hoped those things stopped to snack for a while. I was wrong. I could hear three sets of footsteps rapidly approaching from behind. I couldn’t outrun them with Marisol in tow. The smart thing to do would be to get rid of the girl. But Confucius had taught me, To know what is right, and not to do it, is the worst cowardice. I chose the honorable thing, as before, to defend her.
“Marisol,” I said, panting. “When I tell you, let go of my hand and keep running. Understand? Don’t look back!”
“What are you going to do?”
“Don’t worry. Just run, understand?”
She kept going. Max and I halted and turned, my pistol raised to fire.
“NO. Don’t shoot!” A voice rang out. It was the Bruce Campbell fan, Jackass, and a dark-haired Asian girl.
I didn’t miss a beat. As soon as I saw all three were of the living, I started to run with the others on my heels.
“Blondie and Maglite-man toast?” I asked, as Bruce caught up.
He responded, “More like pulled pork.”
The tunnel ahead was smaller. As we ran into the section, Bruce slapped something on the tunnel wall. I heard mechanical sounds from behind. My curiosity got the better of me; I glanced back for a look.
Two large stainless steel doors were sliding together. I could only see one of the creatures and it was attempting to squeeze through the door as it shut. As the two pieces of the gate came together, it sheared the man-thing’s legs off between the pelvis and knees. It fell, landing on its head.
Glancing back, I could see it spinning in circles as it propped its upper torso up with its arms. Round and round it moved, either dazed or brain damaged from the fall.
Bruce yelled, “Stop, STOP,” between his panting. “It’s okay. The doors are shut.”
“Nice job with the blast doors,” I said, also panting—just slightly—trying to breathe normally.
“They’re not blast doors,” Bruce replied. “They’re security doors with ISO 9001:2000 locking mechanisms.”
“ISO… the International Organization for Standardization. It’s a worldwide—”
“No, that’s not what I meant. You told me they were blast doors.”
“No, I didn’t.”
I looked at him with confusion, as I took off my backpack and reached in for some water. “But you quoted that Bubba Ho-Tep line.” I passed the water bottle to Marisol. “This isn’t a gas tunnel?”
“No, dude. It’s a water supply feeder for the steam generators. But don’t worry. The doors are blast and fire resistant as well as rated for a fifteen minute dedicated attack duration,” he reassured. “Those guys aren’t getting in.”
I called Max to my side and retrieved his bowl from his pack. Marisol poured him some water.
“Listen, Bruce—” I began, but was quickly corrected.
“David,” he said.
“David. Those aren’t guys,” I informed him.
“Then who are those guys,” Jack asked.
I glared at him with a go-fuck-yourself look, and turned back to David. “You’d never believe me.”
I paused and shook my head. “Okay,” I said, knowing they weren’t going to believe me no matter how I said it. “They’re the living dead,” I announced, in a wry and chilling tone.
“What?” Jack exclaimed in disbelief. “You’re crazy! You watch that zombie festival on television last night? Now you think the world’s coming to an end?” he mockingly taunted.
“As a matter of fact, I did. So what?”
I could understand that the dead coming back to life and attacking the living was an absurd concept for most people. But belief in the Resurrection, and the raising of Lazarus––though no historical proof of the events exists––was completely fathomable and accepted by billions of people who never witnessed it. It was an absurd concept, but I didn’t disbelieve it, either.
No one could conceive or imagine all the wonders and horrors in the world. Had I ever seen fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s not proof that they are not there. So why can’t the dead come back to life without the intervention of God?
The Asian girl asked, “Are you for real?”
“I’m joking?” I asked. “If you don’t believe me, sweet cheeks, ask her,” I gestured toward Marisol.
She saw the frightened look on Marisol’s face, then looked at me. “It’s Julie. And I think you’re lying. I think you’re one of those killers and she’s afraid of you!”
“What!?” I exploded.
Marisol interjected, bitterly denouncing Julie’s act of stupidity. “Were you born retarded, or were you born and then became retarded?”
I thought I heard that somewhere before.
“Do I look like I was kidnapped? You’re so stupid. You almost got eaten by some dead people, puta, and you think he’s a killer? ¡Bolla de idiotas pendejos! If he wanted to kill you he would have shot you.” Marisol looked at me. “Debemos irnos. No los necesitamos. Dejalos que se pudran en el infierno. Pajúos.”
“What is she saying?” Julie asked, directing her question at her coworkers.
David replied, “Something about leaving the assholes behind.”
Julie was irritated and frustrated. “Well… Diu gau lei, ju hai.”
“Suck ju lei go see fut long,” I yelled at her. She was taken aback. She gave me a bewildered look. “Yes, I understand Cantonese,” I told her.
“Enough of the bullshit,” Jack demanded. “And enough of the zombie crap.” He was clearly trying to irritate me, even more than he had all ready. “There are no zombies, there are no dead people walking around. It’s a couple of––”
End of sample
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