Sunday Snippet – 28th April 2024

Philip HarrisWritingLeave a Comment

To celebrate the Big Serial Killer Z sale I’m running this weekend, I thought I’d post a bit more than a snippet. Here’s the opening chapter to the first book in the series, Serial Killer Z.

If you’d like to read more, all three books in the series are discounted from $4.99 to 99c/99p (or the cheapest I can make them in your region). You can grab all three books from here.

Dead Eyes

The dead man lunged across the road toward me, too-white teeth clacking as they chewed at imaginary flesh. Its eyes were shark-like black orbs, and they tracked me as I moved. Its right foot had been crushed and was dragging behind the zombie, slowing it down. Rancid breath laced with the smell of carrion and blood washed over my face and caught in my throat.

Backing away, I swung my knife at the creature’s face. The blade swept across its forehead and sliced through the gray flesh. Thick black blood ran from the wound and spattered the ground at my feet. With its eyes locked on mine, the zombie took another lumbering step. My knife’s handle was slick with sweat. It felt like I was trying to hold on to a fish. One wrong move, and it might break free, leaving me defenseless.

The zombie shuffled forward, clawed fingers grasping at my face. The air was thick with the smell of decay. I attacked with the knife again, an upward sweep that caught the creature’s left hand and carved a deep slash in its palm. More blood sprayed across the road.

I looked past the zombie’s shoulder toward the truck it had come from. My backpack was lying where I’d dropped it, beside the driver’s door. It was almost empty. What little food I had was close to running out, but that bag held something far more precious. The one thing I couldn’t leave behind.

A shape moved inside the truck, and another zombie reared its rotting head. It pressed its face against the glass. I groaned. Behind me, something echoed the sound.

I spun around, just in time to see another zombie reach for me—a woman dressed in jeans and an orange-and-yellow safety vest. I twisted sideways, but the creature’s hands caught my shoulder. Its fingers clamped down, sinking into my flesh. A burst of pain shot down my arm. The knife slipped free and fell to the ground. Bright lights flashed across my vision.

Twisting, I wrenched my shoulder out of the female zombie’s grip. The movement triggered another wave of pain. I kicked and caught its knee. There was a meaty crack as bone shattered. The joint bent sideways, and the zombie crumpled to the ground. I kicked again, this time aiming for its head. My boot caught it square on, eliciting another satisfying crack. The zombie went limp.

The first zombie reached for me. I dodged backward and retreated over the fallen woman. The zombie let out a low moan and took a couple of steps toward me. One of its feet landed on the woman’s hand, and for one glorious moment, I thought it was going to fall. But it regained its balance.

My knife was lying on the ground a few feet away, half covered by the grass at the roadside. Not taking my eyes off the advancing zombie, I moved toward the knife. The creature let out a strangled moan. A thin trickle of gray fluid oozed from the side of its mouth.

My foot tapped against the knife. The zombie lunged again. I crouched and grabbed at the weapon. My hand found grass.

The zombie fell on me and knocked me over. I brought my arm up, wedging it across the creature’s throat as it bore down on me. Turning my head to one side, I pushed up. The creature groaned again, and something wet and viscous spattered against my cheek. Rotten air washed over me, hot and vile. Teeth snapped at my face. I pushed again, forcing the zombie up and away as I searched blindly for the knife. My fingers brushed against something cold and hard. I grabbed it, praying it was the knife.

I swung, aiming for the side of the creature’s head. Bone cracked as the knife blade sank into the zombie’s neck, just below its ear. Black blood poured over my hand as I drove the knife deeper, twisting as I went. The zombie made a wet, gargling sound. I rolled sideways, sliding free, then rammed the knife harder into the thing’s skull. It twitched and shook, legs bouncing against the asphalt. I pulled out the knife and scrambled away. The creature let out one last grunt, short and sharp, and was still.

I pushed myself to my feet and stood over the fallen zombies. I was shaking. It wasn’t that I hadn’t killed before. For their transgressions, the guilty had paid the price at my hand many times, but it was always under my terms. I was the one who chose the time and the place. It was a very different thing to be on a deserted highway, fighting for your life against the living dead.

And yet…

The shadow that lives inside of me came forward. It flowed through me like smoke, suffusing my body and wiping away my everyday self. That shadow has been a part of me for as long as I can remember. It gives me a unique perspective on the world and allows me to see people for what they truly are. But succumbing to the shadow leaves me exposed, vulnerable. It takes over completely, drowning my senses and opening me up to whatever dangers lurk nearby. Before the outbreak, that meant the police. Now the living dead are the biggest threat.

The shadow tightened its grip on me. The world retreated until it was as though the zombies and I were the only things in existence. My senses sharpened. The dark blood seeping into the ground became a lightless cavern. The lines on the man’s face became fissures so deep I could almost feel myself falling into them. A smudge of dirt on the woman’s cheek was an island floating in a sea of gray.

And then the shadow pulled back.

I could feel its disappointment as it burrowed deep inside me. The kills were necessary, but they’d also been quick and clumsy. The shadow expected more. It needed more. I took four deep breaths. The shadow would have to wait.

I rubbed my gore-soaked hands across the grass and willed them to stop shaking. Eventually, they did, and I returned my attention to the truck. It lay at an awkward angle with the left side tilted down to the ground. The front left tire had been removed and was now lying in a nearby ditch. The remains of a jack were scattered across the road. A dark streak swept along the truck’s body as though some demented painter had splashed a can of rust-brown paint across it. Its front left corner was crumpled. A scrap of blue cloth hung from the corner of the fender.

I checked the trees behind me for signs of life then cautiously crossed the road. This part of the highway cut through the dense forest that covers large portions of the Pacific Northwest. Even before the so-called LDN-4 pandemic, you could walk for miles without seeing any signs of human civilization. That was why I’d come here in the first place—to get away from people. But there were still enough of the dead wandering around for them to be a real threat.

I’d seen how dangerous even a single zombie could be, but after six weeks of traveling, I’d grown careless. The zombie had come at me while I was checking the truck for food. It had appeared from behind the vehicle and caught me off guard. I’d almost paid the price, but I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.

As I approached the truck’s cab, I heard the familiar moans of the living dead coming from inside. I grabbed my backpack. My eyes fixed on the truck’s window, I pushed my hand into the bag and checked its contents. My fingers found the corner of a box. I ran them around its edge, making sure it was the leather case I was expecting, not some other container I’d forgotten about. Reassured, I moved closer to the truck.

A hand, gray and withered, slammed against the window, forcing me back a step. A moment later, the zombified remains of the truck’s driver appeared. Like its hands, its face was gray. The skin was drawn tight over its skull. The trucker’s hair was black, and it was a stark contrast to the pale skin. Its lips were dry and cracked. They pulled back to reveal two rows of blackened, splintered teeth. It watched me.

I leaned forward until my face was a couple of inches from the window and stared at the creature inside. I couldn’t quite pull myself away. The familiar shadow stirred again. I pushed it down, stifling it for the time being. A voice, quiet but insistent, urged me to rethink what I was doing and let the shadow free. I clenched my hands into fists, digging my nails into my palms. This wasn’t the place.

The truck driver let out a dull moan and then threw itself forward. Its face smashed into the window. I started and raised the knife, ready to plunge it into the creature’s skull if it managed to break through.

It slammed itself against the glass again, and again. A split opened up in its forehead. Black blood smeared across the window. The corpse hit the glass again, and it cracked. The sound was unexpectedly loud in the otherwise silent forest. The creature strained against its seat belt as it tried to tear itself free. It head-butted the window again. The crack turned into a spiderweb of fractured glass.

Retreating from the truck, I reached into the backpack, checking for the box. Once I was satisfied it hadn’t fallen out, I pulled the pack’s drawstring closed and sealed it inside.

The driver threw itself at the truck window again, and it finally broke. Shards of glass scattered across the ground. It leaned through the opening. The seat belt across its shoulder was the only thing stopping it from crawling out to tear me apart. It moaned—a long, drawn-out cry of frustration.

I swung the backpack over my shoulder. The highway stretched out before me, winding up the mountain. The paved road was convenient, but it was also open and exposed. A few hundred feet away, a hiking trail split the forest in two. I checked back down the road. A cluster of zombies had stumbled into view in the distance. They might be a solitary group, but they could also be the vanguard of one of the swarms that tended to form along main travel routes.

They were too far away to be a real threat. Still, I’d been following the road for too long, pushing my luck. Travel would be slower through the trees, but it would also be safer. I adjusted the position of my backpack, took four deep breaths, and walked toward the trail, the shadow within me restless and alert.

Half a mile along the hiking trail, I spotted the telltale glitter of sun reflecting off water. One of the few good things about living in the Northwest is the easy availability of water, but the weather had been hot and dry for almost a month. I checked my water bottle. It was almost empty again.

I turned south off the trail. Within a few minutes, I could hear the rush of water over rock. The ground dropped away toward a river. After six weeks in the forest, I was tired, dehydrated, and hungry. I had to stop myself from running down to the riverbank and diving into the water. There was a good chance that kind of recklessness would end up with me lying at the bottom of the slope with a broken ankle.

Still, my heartbeat quickened as I picked my way down the rocky slope to the river. I could have a bath, swim. If I was lucky, there’d be fish I could catch and eat.

When I reached the edge of the trees, I forced myself to wait. The riverbank was broad and flat. Rocks of all shapes and sizes littered the ground, everything from huge round boulders and dull gray slabs to fist-size chunks. The rocks provided plenty of places for people, living or dead, to hide. The river raced by, maddeningly close. It looked cool and refreshing. The sound of it rushing over the rocks taunted me.

I moved along the tree line, searching for signs of life and a more open area where I could see anyone trying to get near me. A few minutes up the river I found what I was looking for—an inlet fed by a much smaller river that wound through the trees and up the mountain. A flat expanse of gray rock ran around the inlet. Water lapped gently up its slope. There were fewer rocks, too. A couple were big enough to hide behind, but they were near the water. The rest were smaller than my head and certainly not large enough to provide cover. With one final check around me, I ventured out into the open.

The sun was high in the sky. I could feel it beating down on me as soon as I stepped out of the shade of the forest. I made my way to the edge of the river, crouched, and dipped my hand into the cool, clear water. I splashed some over my face then took a hesitant sip. It was cool and crisp, delicious.

I plunged my head into the river. My body clenched at the cold, and when I pulled myself out again, I was gasping for breath. I shook my head, savoring the chill, then scooped up a few more handfuls. I’d forgotten how wonderful fresh, clean water was.

I slipped off my boots and socks and sat on the edge of the rock. My feet dangled into the ice-cold water below. Within a few minutes they were numb, but I didn’t care—I had clean feet.

I was considering taking my jacket and shirt off and diving in for a full-on swim when I saw a black bear and her cub. She’d wandered out of the forest on the other side of the river and was watching me closely as her cub clambered about on the rocks, occasionally drinking some water or splashing a paw at something passing by in the river. They both looked healthy enough, not that I’d seen any evidence that the contagion was capable of spreading beyond human beings.

The river was a good thirty feet wide and fast flowing. There was no chance the bear was going to be able to get to me quickly, but I kept a wary eye on her, just in case. The cub stumbled across the rocks and bumped into its mother’s leg. She looked down at him, letting out a little snort. The cub bounced away, distracted by something down at the river’s edge.

The bear turned toward the forest and lifted her head, sniffing at the air. A few seconds later, I heard the helicopter myself.

[Sunday Snippet – 28th April 2024 by Philip Harris first appeared on Solitary Mindset on 28th April 2024]

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