As a thank you to my fans for getting The Undead Situation to over 100 reviews on Amazon, here is the second chapter to The Undead Haze. This is the last sneak peek as TUH comes out on April 30th. Read the first chapter here!
Bear had a sick grin on his face as he strode in. Three men trailed behind him. One of them wore heavy gloves and carried a charcoal chimney. A thin metal rod protruded from it. Ashes dusted the ground as they jostled each other while situating around me. The heavy scent of hot metal engulfed me. I could taste it.
How many people had they branded with that exact rod? How much burnt flesh was caked onto it? Nausea swept over me. Fear made it worse.
Bear pulled the rod free from the coals. An insignia of a sword with licks of fire around it glowed red hot. Its light reflected in each of the crazies’ eyes. I turned my head away. I couldn’t look at it or them.
“Where you want it, buddy? Forehead? So everyone can see it?” Bear glanced as the other men for validation. The goons chuckled.
“How about you shove it up your ass where no one can see it?” It wasn’t my joke that made them laugh harder. It was the shake in my voice.
“Look at ‘im, boys. Trying to sound tough!”
“What a pussy!” I said.
Beneath his beard, Bear flushed. “Shudda fuck up, bitch. Ain’t nuthin’ you can say to stop me.”
Another one piped up. “Immortal Son said to put it over his heart, so that’s where we put it, ya hear?”
The three converged on me. Two held me down while one unzipped my jacket and lifted my soggy layers of clothes up to reveal my chest. I struggled but I couldn’t move.
“Looks like yer gonna be one of us soon,” one said. “Won’t be able ta eat ya.”
Bear stood in front of me and let the branding rod hover over my chest. “Nah, brothers. We can still eat ’em. Just have to eat ever last bit, so you don’t know who he is.”
Ambient heat caressed my skin as the rod came closer. My gaze flashed down. The sight of it so close to my flesh made my heart race harder. My breath was labored, my chest tight. This was worse than being shot or stabbed. I could see it coming closer, closer…
He grinned and, without preamble, pressed the emblem into my chest. At first, nothing was real. It wasn’t my chest the smoke wafted up from. It wasn’t my skin and muscle that smelled burnt and bloody. It wasn’t my body that sizzled under the heat of the brand. That loud, continuous scream? Not me.
But it was. And it all hit me at once. My blood pumped so hard I felt it in my chest, my ears, my head. The scent of cooked flesh—my own fucking cooked flesh, oh fuck oh fuck—made my stomach rumble. Ragged screams tore up my throat. When I ran out of air, I sucked in more and shrieked again. As pain engulfed me, I never thought I’d stop.
When he pulled the rod away, the pain stayed, as though the rod was still there.
They left, laughing while I gasped for air and tried not to pass out.
I was wriggling out of the ropes as soon as they left. The pain of the burn pulsed with my heartbeat. It took everything I had to steady myself. Every movement took double the effort, but not having any choice was good motivation.
There were three zip ties connecting the two pieces of tent I noticed earlier. I needed something to cut through them and fast.
I went to the trunk first. It was locked. I searched the junk on the floor that had fallen when Kevin flipped the table. Nothing of use.
What if no one is even watching the tent, Cyrus? Did you check?
I peeked through a crack in the front. There were four crazies strolling the camp site, all of which would be attracted to the sight of someone coming out of Kevin’s tent.
Great. I stepped back and scrubbed my palm against the side of my head. All that stood between me and freedom was some plastic. If this was the end of me, my life hadn’t been worth living.
I ground my teeth as I stared at the items on the ground. What would I do with a notebook, pen, map…
Notebook. Spiral notebook. I snatched it up and uncoiled the thin metal wire. It was sturdy enough. It could work.
The papers slipped to the ground as the last loop came free. I took my wire to the zip ties, pinched the connector in my hand, and slid the wire inside. There was a small tab in the tie that only needed to be pressed for the tie to release. The first try didn’t work.
I folded the wires in half and twisted them, creating a stronger poking device. This time the tab pressed in and the thick plastic popped off and hit the ground. I had the second and third ties free in no time.
I pulled the edge of the flap open. In front of me and on all sides there was forest. Kevin set his tent far from the rest.
Arrogant jackass. Didn’t think anyone could ever escape?
I took a deep breath of the crisp morning air and tried my best to sprint to the forest. It ended up a determined, awkward lop. I didn’t look back. If they were chasing me, it wouldn’t matter if I saw them coming or not.
They’d get me, just like they got me in the forest before.
My lungs ached. I ran until I couldn’t run another second, then I walked. I couldn’t stop. Walking was better than being stationary. Had Kevin or his crazies found out I was missing yet?
I went straight into the forest then started jogging in a wide arc to the left until I saw glimpses of road. I didn’t hear any voices. No roar of truck engines, either. I had to keep up the pace.
Eventually I passed the gas station. I kept far away from it.
Fuck if I felt naked. I had the clothes on my back and not a damn thing to defend myself with. I tucked my chin down into my coat and thought about getting to Pickle and getting far away from Kevin. I made fun of the situation, but now that I was out of it the gravity of my near death experience hit me. If I hadn’t been snarky Kevin would’ve eaten me.
The sun was almost entirely risen by the time I made it back to the house I’d left Pickle in. I climbed through the back window I left open. The house was small and set back from the highway in a wooded area. I chose it for its privacy. It hadn’t let me down. There was no sign of entry. Not a single Z wandered the area.
When I cracked open the door to the bathroom where I’d left Pickle, I wanted to hear an angry scurry to the door. But I didn’t hear anything. She’d burrowed into the blanket I set in the bathtub. She lifted her head as I approached, her beady red eyes dull.
“I’m sorry, girl,” I said as I picked her up. “I hope you weren’t worried.”
I stroked her thinning white fur and kissed her head before putting her back in the blanket. There would be time for apologizing later. I needed to change my clothes, pack my gear, and keep on moving.
I wasn’t sure who owned the house. There weren’t any family photos on the walls. Clothing in the closet and dressers indicated a man and a woman. No kids. As I sorted through moth eaten sweaters, I wondered if the house was empty before the apocalypse.
The jacket, jeans, and sweatshirts I found were a size too big, but it felt good to shed my damp, urine scented clothes.
I rummaged through the pantry and found two cans of soup with pop-tops. It wouldn’t last me more than a day and a half. I hoped I’d find more once I had the chance to stop.
I cleaned my brand wound with rubbing alcohol and cotton puffs. They didn’t have bandages big enough to cover it. I made one out of duct tape and gauze.
I placed Pickle in the top of my pack and left the zipper open a few inches for better ventilation. Then I left.