“The Dying Days universe of Armand Rosamilia is extreme and expansive. His short stories and those of invited authors have expanded characters’ experiences and storylines into amazing and interesting corners of the apocalypse. One of those great explorations came in a short story set in the Dying Days canon by Brent Abell. Dying Days: Death Sentence will be an official Dying Days novel expanding that fascinating story coming soon. It’s going to be great and here we have a super early preview teaser.” — Jay Wilburn #CaptainThreeKidneys
Early Teaser Preview from Dying Days: Death Sentence by Brent Abell
“What did you do for a living?” Harry asked through a mouthful of baked beans.
George finished chewing the mouthful of tuna fish before he answered. He wasn’t a big fan of the supposed ‘sea-chicken’, but food was food when the world ends. “I was an executive with an advertising firm.”
Harry nodded and stuffed another spoonful of beans in his mouth. George forced another bite and gave a disgusted look to the open can.
“If you don’t like it, why do you eat it? We have those MRE things,” Harry said.
George swallowed and forced the tuna down his throat. “Have you ever eaten an MRE? They make this tuna shit taste like a steak.”
Harry laughed and continued eating.
Once he finished his tuna, he washed it down with a swig from his water bottle. Each of them only carried four bottles, so they’d have to be careful how much they drank. Nothing he’d seen so far led him to believe they’d be able to find more around. When it came to it, he figured they’d end up having to boil some over a fire one night to purify it and refill their bottles when it cooled. He didn’t have any pots, but he had a sterno camp stove and plenty of waterproof matches.
Harry moved up the bed and lay back on the stack of pillows. “Do you think we’ll be able to find a car that runs? St. Augustine is a long trip on foot.”
“I’m not sure if any would run after this long. Maybe we can look around at some of the houses for bikes in the morning. Using bikes won’t be as fast as a car, but it beats the hell out walking.”
Harry laughed. George shot him a disdainful look and then cracked a smile. The young man did remind him a lot of Trent. He watched Harry roll around on the bed like a child and for a moment he felt the weight of survival lift from his shoulders.
“You remind me a lot of Trent, you know.”
Harry stopped rolling around and sat up. “You think so?”
“Trent wasn’t our only child. A few years before he was born, Sally miscarried our first one,” George spoke quietly and ran his hands through his graying brown hair.
“I’m sorry,” Harry replied. His voice too took on a quiet reflective tone. He looked down at George sitting cross-legged on the floor and pitied him. In the past few hours, he’d left his home behind, tried to come to grips with the prospect his son was dead, and he shot his zombie wife in the head.
“Look, I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. Maybe it was fate you finally wandered into my house and broke me out of the prison I made for me and Sally. If you hadn’t come along, I probably would’ve put the next bullet in my own skull,” George said.
“Maybe I needed you.”
“Okay, don’t get all sentimental on me, kid,” George chided Harry.
“I’ve lost everything too.”
The father in George brought him to his feet and he ruffled Harry’s black hair like he was a kid. Harry stood up and hugged George. George hadn’t expected it and he returned the embrace. In the dead world, Harry was now his tether.
“Thank you, George,” Harry said with his head on George’s shoulder.
“Thank you,” George replied. “Now, let’s get some sleep so we can get on the road early tomorrow.”
They held each other a little longer, the feeling of belonging lingering between them. For that moment, they felt like a father and son. One pining for the parents he’d lost and the other for the son he didn’t believe was alive. In silence, Harry took the bed and George went back to the sleeping bag he’d unrolled on the floor. Once George turned off the lantern and the room went black, they immediately fell into a deep slumber as soon as their eyes closed.
Harry awoke to the thin rays of the morning sun streaming through the crack in between the drapes. He could hear George snore softly on the floor and he knew everything was still all right. Through the door to the hallway, the dressers and furniture they placed at the top of the stairs to hold a zombie invasion at bay sat unmoved. During the night, he dreamed of living a normal life again. In his dream, the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the aroma of frying bacon filled his nostrils. He sniffed the air and hoped he could catch a whiff of the phantom scent again. The smell seemed so real to him in his dream he hoped he could carry with him to the waking world, but it faded away as reality crept back in.
George began to toss and turn in the floor and bolted upright. He panted and tried to catch his breath. Sweat beaded on his brow and he wiped it off with the back of his hand. Taking deep breaths, he tried to control his breathing. Where Harry smelled bacon when he woke from his dream, George still smelled the gunpowder from putting his undead wife down like a rabid dog.
“You okay, George?” Harry asked.
George closed his eyes for a moment to regain his composure. “Yeah, yeah, I guess I’m okay.”
Harry shot him a questioning glare because he didn’t believe him. “Bullshit.”
“Fine, maybe I’m not quite okay right now. Let’s just eat and get on the road.”
They both rummaged through their bag to find breakfast. Harry settled on a can of chicken salad and George opened the beans and rice MRE. He didn’t care for the main meal, but the oatmeal cookie had become one of his favorite foods in the apocalypse.
“Beans and rice? This early?”
“I like the fucking cookie, okay,” George answered and tore open the top of the meal bag. He wanted to heat them up on the hiking stove, but he’d rather get moving. After spending so long in one spot, his experiences in the last twenty-four hours showed him how lucky he’d been.
George scoped out a bite with the plastic fork the meal came with and immediately regretted it. The sauce was a congealed mess and it made his mouth feel like he ate a vat of grease. When he swallowed, it slid down his throat and he swore he heard it splash in his stomach.
“Should’ve heated it up,” George muttered.
“That why you have that face?” Harry asked.
George nodded in reply. He was pretty sure he did make a funny face when he forced the first bite down. In a way, he didn’t blame Harry for laughing, he probably would’ve laughed too if he’d seen himself.
They ate in silence for the rest of the meal. Once they finished, they packed their gear back up and began to remove the furniture from the top of the stairs. It went faster to pull the barrier down than what it took to build it up.
“Well, we did a good job I suppose,” George joked.
“You didn’t hear me kill the four zombies that busted up in here last night?” Harry chuckled.
“Must’ve been kids if you didn’t wake me up killing them,” George shot back.
Harry laughed and put his pack on his back. George followed suit and they started down the stairs.
“You think they had bikes?” Harry asked.
George reached the bottom of the stairs and held his pistol out. His eyes swept the living room and he found the door remained shut and nothing seemed different than what it did the previous night. The house remained silent and George stepped into the living room. Harry followed quietly and they cautiously made their way through the overturned furniture. Coming to a halt in the kitchen, George began to search the cabinets and drawers again.
“I think the food’s all gone,” Harry stated.
George closed the drawer in the island he was rifling through. “Just looking for things like matches and an old school can opener. Never know how much of that stuff we’ll come across on the road and since we’re here, we might as well have a peek.”
Harry helped George finish looking through the kitchen. They didn’t find anything worth taking and George approached the back door. He pushed the curtains covering the small window in the top center of the door aside and surveyed the back yard. A wooden swing set stood tall in the middle of the yard and the weeds had taken over the sandbox next to it. The grass hadn’t been cut in months and it looked like a jungle. He could barely make out a concrete path going from the back porch winding through the grass to the side garage door.
“Shit,” George muttered.
“What’s out there?” Harry asked and tried to sneak a peek into the yard.
“So?” Harry shrugged.
“Snakes. This is Florida and tall grass is a haven for the bastards,” George moaned.
Harry stifled a laugh. “You’re afraid of snakes?”
“Yeah, problem?” George sternly answered.
“No, so now what?”
“We go out the front door and go through the big door if we can get it open. If not, I’m sending you around through the yard.”
“So, I get to fight the giant boas and pythons while you stand and listen to me scream on the other side of the fence?” Harry asked.
“Well, yeah,” George shrugged.
“I can feel the love,” Harry snickered.
“Be glad you don’t feel the love from them,” George laughed back. “Let’s go try the front door.”
George and Harry maneuvered their way back through the house and out the front door. The morning air was stagnant and stale. The sun had barely risen and the humidity was all ready stifling. George raised his arms to help free his arms from where the sweat made his tee shirt cling tightly to him. Harry looked up and down the street. Nothing moved except for a squirrel racing up a tree across the street. Behind the abandoned cars and trucks, he didn’t see anything moving about. No zombies, no people, no nothing.
George nodded in the garage’s direction and walked of the porch. He glanced down at the driveway and he could make out the faint markings of a home plate and a baseline. Kneeling to the concrete, he touched the barely visible chalk lines and rubbed his fingers together. After seven months, the last days of the boys in the house survived. He looked to his right, next to the house, and saw the same chalk markings but in the shapes of flowers and unicorns. At least he thought that’s what they were. The few scant rains they’d had wasn’t enough to totally erase the drawings of children from the world.
“Anything?” Harry asked.
“No, just thinking about how we didn’t find the others.”
“Let’s get the bikes and get out here. This place is really creeping me out,” Harry said.
George felt the shiver up his spine too. The silence and lack of any people, living or dead, unsettled him. He stood up and walked to the garage door. “Help me lift up on the handle.”
George and Harry both took a hold of the handle in the door’s middle and lifted. At first, the door didn’t budge, but finally it broke free and lifted. The first thing to hit them was the cloud of rot and decay. The second thing to hit was the zombies.
When the door flew up, the handle slipped from Harry’s grip and he fell backwards. The zombie in front pushed George down to the concrete and fell on him. Two smaller zombies filed out of the garage and tried to help the larger one. George let go of his pistol and grabbed the thing’s shoulders to keep his teeth far away from him. The zombie snapped at him. Pus and blackened blood dripped from his mouth and a yellowish fluid ran from his eye sockets.
Harry jumped up and kicked the man in the side. It turned its head and glared at back him. The smaller two focused their attention on Harry and reached for him. He brought the baseball bat back ready to swing, but hesitated. The zombie in the Florida Marlins jersey growled and tried to grab Harry’s arm. Harry looked at the blood-matted hair and pictured how the boy would’ve looked in life. He hesitated. He tried to swing, but the bat remained on his shoulder.
George writhed beneath the bigger zombie. “Harry? I need you here.”
Harry saw the kid zombies stop, like they knew the bat was a danger to them. George’s voice broke his paralysis and he swung. The boy’s head split like a melon. The bat’s barrel broke through the fragile skull and the boy’s brains squirted out from the blow. Bits and pieces of brain and bone flew in the air from the blow and its eyes faded out to black before dropping to the ground.
Before Harry could get a swing at the one on top of George, the other boy attacked. Harry watched the boy stumble toward him and he felt himself die inside. The white shirt the boy wore was streaked with huge swaths of dried blood and he wondered if it was the boy’s or someone else’s.
George pushed hard on the zombie’s shoulders and rolled to his left at the same time. The undead father became unbalanced and fell of George. The father landed right in the path of his son and the boy tripped over his decaying father. George scrambled away from the father and snatched his pistol from the ground.
The boy crawled on the drive toward Harry. His face was in a further state of decay that his brother. He noticed the torn flesh on his cheeks looked like bites and part of his right ear was missing. In other places, his skin appeared to be paper-like and flaked of in layers. The kid had a grotesque visage and Harry stomped down in his face. His shoe sank deep into the kid’s face. It reminded of him of stepping in deep mud and his foot made a sucking sound as he pulled it free of the crevasse in boy’s face.
George heard the squishing sound from Harry’s foot and fired at the dad. His head exploded and the shot echoed loudly throughout the quiet neighborhood. The father dropped to the drive and didn’t move.
“You okay, Harry?”
Harry stared at the bodies and then gazed off up to the sky. George could see the glistening of tears on his cheeks.
“No,” Harry whispered. “They were children.”
“No, not anymore. No more birthdays, ball games, or school. They’re dead and when we do this, we release their souls. Would you want to live like that?” George asked.
Harry stood in silence for a moment. “No, I’d want you to send me off. I don’t want to be like them.”
“I guess we have a deal, I don’t want to go on like that either,” George replied. He thought back to his Sally in basement with a bullet hole in her head and he fought back the tears. They never had a proper agreement like he just made with Harry, but he knew she would’ve wanted him to end her suffering.
“Let’s see if they have bikes,” Harry flatly said and entered the garage.
George followed Harry in and scanned the walls. He smiled when he saw four mountain bikes hanging from the ceiling.
“Oh, Jesus,” Harry got out of his mouth before he rushed out of the garage.
George turned and saw Harry double over and vomit between the zombie corpses. “Are you…,” he began to ask when Harry waved him away.
George noticed the car door to the Audi was slightly ajar and the stench wafting from it was foul. He made the same mistake Harry made and peered inside. He felt the bile rise in his throat, but he managed to push it back down.
The daughter was still buckled in her seat. If it wasn’t for the floral dress and pig-tails in her scalp, he wouldn’t have known it was a girl. Her face had been ripped away and her skull caved in. Nothing remained inside her head and from the blood covering her dress, it all had spilled down her. Her arms and legs were covered in bite marks and he could tell chunks of her flesh had been torn away.
“They fed on her,” George said and turned away in disgust.
Quickly, he unhooked two of the mountain bikes from the ceiling beams and rolled them out to the driveway one by one. Harry sat down with his back to the garage and didn’t say anything. George didn’t blame him; he wanted to do the same.
“Let’s get out of here,” George said.
Harry looked up and his eyes were wet. “They ate her.”
“I don’t think they knew if they turned first. At least she didn’t have to suffer as one of them,” George tried to comfort Harry.
“I don’t know if this world is for me.”
“Harry, you haven’t survived this long to quit now.”
“George, I didn’t know it had come to this,” Harry sobbed. “Even when I ventured out of the house, I never saw anything like it.”
“What would make you feel better?” George inquired.
Harry thought for a minute. “When we go through Orlando, I want to see if we can scavenge anything from Milton Mouse World.”
“Deal, now let’s get on the road,” George said and mounted his bike.
Harry silently followed suit. George saw a smile on his face for a fleeting moment, but the frown and vacant look soon returned. He felt sorry for the kid, but they had to survive. They had to reach St. Augustine.
While you wait, check out The Southern Devils series by Brent Abell and continue through to Southern Devils: Reconstruction of the Dead. Also, check out the original short story which inspired Dying Days: Death Sentence.