This has been a challenging year for me as an author and I’ve really wanted to branch out beyond the light and airy urban fantasy I’m known for. For a number of years, I’ve wanted to write a zombie novel … but not just any zombie novel because, let’s face it, there’s a only so much you can do with the zombies, right? They shamble and shuffle and swarm. They’re mindless killing machines. So it’s the people still left alive that matter the most – somehow they have to fight and survive against incredible odds. I wrote THE NORTH three years ago and it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever written because I’ve had to go to some very dark places to put my characters through the fight of their young lives. I’m self-publishing this book because I’ve had some very good luck with self publishing in the last couple of months (my novel MARSHALL CONRAD has been in the top 100 for dark fantasy for a month now) and while I know there’s risk associated with being a hybrid author, I’m branching out in this crazy new publishing world we authors are trying to make a go at. (I’ve also borrowed the surname for my protagonist from one of my favorite zombie authors and a good friend, Wayne Simmons. (He wrote the bestselling FLU. Go read it!)
What’s THE NORTH about? Well, here’s the back cover blurb:
Breakout from the armoury. Escape the city. Live.
Sixteen-year-old David Simmons is on a mission to save his eight-year-old sister. In a smoldering world infested with walking cadavers, the survivors of Simmons infantry reserve unit are going hatches down in a pair of armoured personnel carriers and everyone knows that it’s only a matter of time until their fuel runs dry.
There’s a weak short wave radio signal from a place called Sanctuary Base and it’s supposed to be zombie-free. But there’s more than a thousand miles to cover, a biting, unforgiving cold, armed survivalists, legions of the living dead and someone called SUNRAY.
They’re outgunned, outnumbered and out of time.
This tense thriller for teens offers a terrifying and brutal vision of survival in a post-apocalyptic world where the bonds of friendship and family are the only things left that are worth fighting for.
Here’s an excerpt. It will be available to purchase on October 6th.
H-Hour Minus Thirty Six:
We stood in silence around Sgt. Green’s mangled body. In his right hand was the three-foot long steel pipe he’d carried as a weapon for the past six months. It saved on bullets but it sure as hell didn’t save him.
Maybe if he’d used his sidearm, he might have stood a fighting chance against the trio of creeps that tore him apart, but they’d cornered him in a storage room with no possible exit other than the doorway where the monsters now lay still as a stone, each with a bullet fired into the back of its head. We heard his screams – we just couldn’t reach him in time.
“Those three had been hiding their fucking infection!” snarled Pam Cruze as she shouldered her still smoking carbine. “Jesus … are we going to have to strip down to our skivvies so that each of us can check one another for bites? This shouldn’t have happened.”
I clenched my jaw tightly as I gazed over at the three monsters lying on the floor. They used to be like us … they used to be us until they turned.
Sid Toomey, a giant sixteen-year-old Newfoundlander fished a cigarette out the breast pocket of his combat jacket and lit it with a quick flick of his Zippo lighter. “Cal Jeffers was a pussy … he wouldn’t have volunteered that he’d become infected if you’d held a knife to his throat. Bonnie wasn’t showing any signs of illness when I talked to her yesterday morning and Sawchuck? That fucker was a secretive bastard at the best of times.”
“We’ve got to burn the bodies ASAP,” I said, as I stepped over Sgt. Green’s mutilated remains and placed the barrel of my carbine against his head. “Cruze … would you go to kitchen and tell Dawson to grab Kenny and bring a stretcher. We need to move fast … it’s getting dark outside and the creeps will swarm the fence in the parking compound as soon as the sun goes down.”
“Alright, Dave,” she said, still eyeballing the horrific scene. “Fuck … what are we going to do now.”
“Figure out our next move,” I said, as I squeezed the trigger.
Journal Entry: 12 November 22:45 HRS ZULU
I’m on sentry duty in about fifteen minutes, so a quick note. There are only eight of us left now that Sgt. Green is gone. Sid Toomey is now the oldest person in a group ranging in age from eight-years-old to seventeen.
Mom is dead. I should be mourning her loss but I’ve given up on the idea because there’s just no point anymore. Maybe in the madness of the days and weeks following the siege she fell into the inescapable blackness of depression over our hopeless situation or maybe her mind simply wouldn’t accept what her eyes bore witness to. Anyway, it probably doesn’t matter now because part of me believes that nobody will survive. I haven’t told Jo that I found a gun lying next to Mom’s body or that the right side of her head was missing.
But I took the gun.
Death prowls in clusters of ten or twenty that can sometimes grow as large as a small army if the creeps ever catch a whiff of your scent. Their outstretched arms and claw-like hands drip gore onto the pavement, and their shuffling feet can be heard to echo in the distance when the night is clear and cold. When they swarm you; their inhuman voices will cry out, screeching, raging and animal-like, and it’s only a matter of time until they burst through the barricade of your hiding place wherever it might be.
I’m all that Jo has left; it falls on me to save her life and perhaps my own, though lately, it’s near impossible to believe that any life can be saved when the sun hasn’t shone in more than six months. The sky is a flat grey canvas that blankets the burning cityscape like a body bag, and the air is tainted with the smell of smoke and blood and putrefying bodies because the dead surround us. We can’t stay here in the armoury. We need to get out of city.
I took the first sentry shift at 23:00 along with Melanie Dixon. She was sporting a doo-rag and she’d recently shaved her head. That Pam Cruze had also shaved her head and wearing a doo rag had me thinking the pair might be an item, not that I or anyone else left alive gave a damn. If Cruze and Melanie had found something resembling happiness in this hell-hole new world, even temporary satisfaction, then good on them. We stood atop the north tower and gazed out over the blocks of overturned and smashed up cars and trucks that clogged the streets surrounding the armoury. Less than a hundred yards away shambled small groups of the monsters, tripping and stumbling through the debris of a city that had transformed into a nightmare world where the dead don’t fucking stay dead and the living are just meat. Four stories below us in the parking compound a fire blazed furiously, fuelled by the bodies of the creeps and Sgt. Green.
He kept us going. He kept us alive even though our numbers whittled away in the weeks and months after Day Zero, the day when the old world ended.
“It doesn’t seem right to burn his body along with the monsters,” said Melanie as she wiped her nose on the sleeve of her combat jacket. “We should have known those three were infected.”
When she said “we”, what Melanie really meant was that I should have known. I was Sgt. Green’s 2IC, his second-in-command. I had only a year under my belt as a militia soldier, but I’d shown a knack for organizing the team and the wily old Balkans civil war veteran picked me to be his back-up. That was two months ago.
“I don’t know what we could have done any differently, Mel,” I replied, as I spotted a creep trip emerge from a debris-filled alleyway and fall flat on its face. It slowly got back to its feet and continued stumbling mindlessly down the middle of 9th Avenue. “They probably became infected when the creeps breached to fence two days ago. It was dark and we couldn’t exactly start shooting the fucking things because gunfire is an open invitation to swarming.”
She shrugged and leaned over the parapet. “Maybe … or it might have been before that. We’ve had people carry the infection for up to seven weeks without showing any signs of illness only to drop dead while on sentry or taking a dump. “Anyway … I’m not blaming you, so get that out of your head. Got it?”
“Yup,” I said quietly.
A sharp gust of wind pushed the flames of the bonfire in our direction and the smoke from the bodies filled my nostrils. The sickly sweet smell of burning human flesh is something we’d become accustomed to over the past six months, though even admitting this fact made me feel like the David Simmons I used to be never once existed. The old me was just a hapless weekend warrior who’d spend Saturdays and Sundays marching around a parade square dressed in combat fatigues just to make a few extra bucks.
I didn’t have a freaking clue back then, and I sure as hell don’t have a clue now – none of us do. We’d been fighting and dying by inches for months and if we didn’t come up with a new plan for survival, none of us were going to make it through to the end of the year.
My mind flashed back to my first encounter with a creep. We lived in a three bedroom upper floor of a small house in Forest Lawn. It was a crummy part of town before the end came and we’d been the victims of three break-ins – not that we owned anything worth stealing. When she wasn’t liquored up, Mom worked at the doughnut shop next to a Ford dealership and took the bus to work each day. It was a Friday morning and I’d just turned on the TV only to see the emergency broadcast beacon on all the channels. Mom was passed out on the couch – pissed again as usual and Jo was packing her lunch for school.
Only there wasn’t going to be any school that day – or ever again. I listened closely to the emergency instructions telling everyone to stay in their homes – to lock all our doors and to stay off the phones so that we wouldn’t jam the lines for emergency services. Ignoring the warning, I grabbed my cell phone and called up the orderly room at the armoury to see if the King’s Own was about to be mustered. The orderly Sergeant didn’t answer, but Sid Toomey did. What he told me next sent me reeling – it was too unbelievable to be true. Even now, six months after the siege, I remember the madness in his voice.
“Dave!” he shouted into the phone. “We’re bugging out – get your shit in gear and I’ll be at your place as quick as I can to pick up your family!”
I kept my eyes peeled on the Emergency Broadcast System symbol on the TV. “What the hell is going on, Sid? Every channel on the television is showing the same emergency warning! I can’t even get the news online – the website is overloaded!”
In the background I could hear shots being fired. “Fuck!” Sid roared. I heard a loud clunk and then the sound of screaming. A series of hard, wet thuds filled my ear followed by Sid screaming in an inhuman voice.
“Fucking die!” he thundered.
Another series of thuds and then Sid returned to the phone, breathless.
“What the hell is going on?” I shouted as my heart raced. “Sid … Sid!”
“There’s a shit storm blowing into town that’s too fucking unreal to be true – no time to explain!” he panted. “Dave – grab a baseball bat or a pipe or anything that’s long and sturdy. If one of these things attacks you, bash its head in. That’s the only way to stop them! Keep your mother and kid sister close because …”
“Bash them in the head?” I nearly spat out the words. “What the hell are you talking about?”
And then I saw who was standing behind my little sister in the kitchen. It was our elderly downstairs neighbour, Martin Kessler. Only he didn’t look right. His movements were jerky and his hair was flat and matted.
“Get the hell out of here, Martin!” I shouted. “I don’t know what makes you think you can just walk into our place but …”
The old man opened his mouth to reveal a set of yellowing teeth rooted into blackened gums and I thought for a moment he was going to say something, but no sound came.
Not a single freaking sound.
He looked more animal than human, his face was the colour of ash and his eyes were just lifeless orbs set deep inside his skull. His shirt was stained with blood and chunks of what looked like meat and he wasn’t wearing any pants or underwear.
“Jo … run!” I barked. The monster reached out with a pair of arthritic hands streaked with blood and gore missing her hair by inches. She raced to my side and wrapped her arms around my waist for dear life.
Any other day I’d have been able to kick the living shit out of the old man but his sharp, almost feral movements belied the fact that he was a senior citizen. He lunged at me and I grabbed him by the wrists as he snapped at my face.
Martin Kessler’s skin was ice cold. In that wild moment I didn’t even try to contemplate how a dead man could have come back to life. I was holding him at bay and the only sound I heard outside of Jo and Mom’s shrieking was the sound of the old man’s teeth snapping together.
Mom raced into the kitchen as I fought the creature. She came back brandishing a butcher’s knife and she thrust it hard into Kessler’s back.
He didn’t even flinch. Not once. He pushed me back against the wall, as Mom pulled out the knife and stabbed it into the side of Kessler’s neck. Blood oozed out of the wound when there should have been arterial spray and even that didn’t slow him down as he tried to take a bite out of me. In that moment of adrenaline-fuelled terror it dawned on me that Martin Kessler wasn’t just another crazy senior who forgot to take his meds. His skin was cold, his eyes bore right through me and he had a butcher knife sticking out the right side of his neck.
Martin Kessler was dead and I’d be dead too if I didn’t think of something. I placed my right foot into his chest and pushed with all my might. Kessler’s grip released and he toppled backward over the coffee table, landing flat on his back.
“Jo … get my baseball bat out of my bedroom!” I shouted as Mom raced down the hall with Jo in tow. I stood in the doorway leading to the hall as Kessler slowly got back to his feet. The monster’s lips folded back into a snarl and he lunged at me again so I gripped the top of the door frame with both hands and swung my feet into his chest sending him careening backward until he smashed into the wall a few feet away.
“H-Here!” said Jo shakily as she handed me my aluminum baseball bat.
“Stay down the hall, Jo,” I ordered. “And close your eyes. You don’t want to see what’s going to happen.”
She did as she was told and I moved into the center of the living room gripping my bat tightly in both hands. Kessler lunged at me again and I swung the bat hard, connecting with the top third of the monster’s head. There was a loud crunch as the bat struck with enough force to leave a dent in his skull and Kessler dropped to the floor like someone had cut the strings from a marionette.
I stood there, bat in hand staring at the creature. In the background the sound of the Emergency Broadcast beacon on the TV filled the room. Kessler didn’t twitch. He just lay there with his dead eyes staring up at the ceiling, his crushed head frozen in a pool of blood that was as black as tar. I’d just killed a man, only it wasn’t murder. The thing that attacked me wasn’t any way human. Now I understood the horrific sounds that I heard when I’d called Sid Toomey.
“W-What happened, David?” My mother gasped, her breath stinking of whatever she’d been power drinking into the middle of the night. “Why did Martin attack us?”
I shook my head. My stomach pitched and heaved and it was everything I could do to keep myself from throwing up right there on the carpet. “You won’t believe me if I told you. All I know is that we need to pack some stuff and get the hell out of here. Sid Toomey is coming from the armoury to get us.”
“We’ll do no such thing!” she barked. “We’re going to have to call the police and let them know that Martin Kessler attacked you – we have to report this.”
I pointed to the TV. “You won’t get the police. That emergency broadcast signal is on all the stations and ten bucks says you won’t connect to the Internet.”
I grabbed my mother by the shoulders and gave her a hard shake. “Listen to me … Martin Kessler is dead, Mom, and he was dead when he came up the stairs – that’s all I know. The safest place for us to be is at the armoury. There’s food, and medical supplies and …”
It was at that moment the TV shut down. I grabbed the remote control and tried turning it on and off but the power was out.
“Shit … the grid just freaking died. Look, Mom … let’s just get some stuff together and head to the armoury okay? Sid is on his way.”
We spent the next few minutes stuffing everything from toiletries to undergarments in a small overnight bag. Sid arrived as promised. I gazed out from behind the curtains over the living room window to see an armoured personnel carrier ploughing through a trio of cars that were blocking access to our front yard. It stopped on the lawn and I spotted Doug Manybears’ head sticking up through the driver’s hatch. Seconds later Sid leaped out the back door, carbine in hand. We raced down the front steps and straight to the back of the carrier. The air was filled with the sounds of hundreds of car alarms and honking horns. Across the street I saw to my horror a person shrieking in an inhuman voice as trio of monsters dug into his torso, each one pulling out a handful of shining, bloody organs which they promptly began feasting on.
“Unreal,” I whispered, unable to take my eyes off the grisly scene. “This can’t be happening.”
“Dave!” Sid shouted as a foursome of monsters, each one shuffling just like old man Kessler stumbled and tripped around from the side of our house and marched Sid’s way. He raised his carbine to his shoulder and fired a series quick well-aimed shots that dropped them.
“Hurry the fuck up!” Sid roared again as he covered us. He kept his carbine at the ready as we climbed in, then he jumped in the back and pulled the door closed, locking the combat locks for good measure.
He pulled a carbine off the weapon rack and handed it to me. “Here. You provide cover from the rear hatch and I’ll crew command back to the armoury. These … these creeps are everywhere. If any of those things get too close, fire single shots right at their heads. It’s the only thing that will stop them.”
“We were attacked by our downstairs neighbour, Sid,” I blurted out. “Mom stabbed him and it didn’t do anything. I finally stopped him by caving in his skull with a baseball bat. A fucking dead guy attacked me – his skin was freaking cold, man! And across the street! They were … they were eating a guy! What is this? What the hell is happening?”
“Hell on earth, Book of Revelations, End of Days … who the fuck knows?” he replied. “Get your ass up in the hatch and single shots, okay?”
I pulled the carbine to my shoulder and nodded.
“Dave … you with me?” Mel said as she batted me in the back of the head. “What’s our next move?” She spun around on her heels to look at me and I hoped she wasn’t expecting me to bark out orders like Sgt. Green would do because for the life of me, I didn’t have anything to offer. I wanted to throw her a glimmer of hope, something she could cling to that would get her through to the end of our sentry shift or to first light. I wanted to pull a genius tactical move that would save our lives but what could I offer that would have been better than Sgt. Green’s plan of hunkering down in the armoury and waiting things out? There was nothing left to wait for in a city that’s little more than a creep-infested husk.
The man pack radio we’d kept on sentry had been silent for weeks. We’d monitored daily to keep track of any military movement in the vicinity and mostly in a desperate hope that maybe a helicopter would be dispatched to get us the fuck out of the city, but the army as we knew it was dead.
It occurred to me that other survivors somewhere might have access to the short wave band – the frequency that ham radio operators used.
“Mel … flip that radio over to short wave. I want to try something.”
She nodded and pressed the toggle with an index finger as I started switching through the channels. A spray of radio static spat out of the speaker with each turn of the knob so I continued to switch channels in hope of hearing something … anything.
“You think there might be military assets broadcasting?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Probably civvies. I mean, if we’re alive there have to be other people out there somewhere. If they have a radio, they’d be using shortwave to contact others – the signal carries all over the globe.”
We spent the next half hour flipping through the channels one at a time, listening for a few minutes and then switching to the next one. I was about to switch back to the military frequency when I finally heard something. It was barely audible amid the background hissing so I fiddled with the squelch knob.
NODUFF. THIS IS SANTUARY BASE CALLING. SANCTUARY BASE AT 53.200 NOVEMBER 105.7500 WHISKEY. ALL CLEAR NOW – I SAY AGAIN – ALL CLEAR. SANCTUARY BASE. NODUFF. ALL CLEAR. NODUFF. NEXT CONTACT AT 0630 ZULU.
Mel threw me a look of shock or surprise, I couldn’t tell which. “Noduff? They’re military, Dave. They’re using army voice procedure.”
I pursed my lips tightly as I scribbled down the message on my field message pad. It was broadcast three more times and then ended abruptly. “Yeah … maybe.”
“Someone else is out there, finally!” Mel said through a wide grin. “We’ve got to tell everyone what we heard. We’ve got to contact these people.”
I wanted to agree with her, but we didn’t have a clue who sent the message and what it meant. “Mel … don’t, okay? Not yet. We need more information before we get everyone’s hopes up – I need to talk with Cruze. She’s the only qualified signals person we’ve got. If there’s anyone who can verify the message, it’s her.”
“Everyone should know, Dave,” she said sharply. “They have a right.”
I couldn’t pull rank on Melanie Dixon because she’d probably kick my ass, but I had to reel her in. “Look … let me talk with Cruze, okay? Just trust me on this, Mel, can you give me at least twelve hours?”
“They’re broadcasting again at 0630, Dave. We might miss something. That’s seven and a half hours from now.”
I exhaled heavily and said, “Then give me seven and a half hours. We’ll let everyone know what to do at first light. It’s what Sgt. Green would have done. He’d take the cautious approach.”
She turned and then leaned over the parapet and pointed to the fire. “Yeah, well he’s dead … and we’re going to be dead if we don’t come up with a plan.”
“Just keep quiet about it, Mel,” I warned.
She said nothing and just gazed out into the darkness.