For the final entry in Zombies Tales the Astounding Outpost proudly presents the first chapter in Mel Odom’s latest novel, Hellbound Express. As an Outpost exclusive he has given us permission to serialize the first part of his novel. Check back every Sunday for the latest installment of Hellbound Express.
A painful yelp woke Gant and he opened an eye to take stock of the situation. Around him, the swaying of the train car and the clickety-clack of the steels wheels grinding along the rails comforted him. He knew where he was and that he was safe.
He hadn’t been safe in his dreams. In those he’d been trapped again, and he’d been breathing in the stink of the dead trying to get at him with shattered teeth and broken fingernails. The gray light invading the car from the barred windows told him it was early morning.
On the other side of the train car, Wickham, who had once been a producer in Hollywood, slept in a hammock like Gant. Wickham was now a scavenger/scout aboard Mitchell Peress, Senior’s train. For Wickham, dinners with movie stars had ended four years ago when the Yeomra Virus was launched from Wonsan, North Korea, and landed in Tokyo. From there, the virus had spread across the world in days before international borders could be closed.
By then it was too late.
Douglas Peress, Junior, stood at Wickham’s side and prepared to kick the sleeping man in the side again. Junior, as most of the train crew called him even though he insisted on Major Peress, was in his early thirties and enjoyed throwing his weight around. Junior stood six feet five inches tall and was built like a football linebacker. He kept his head shaved but wore a dark brown goatee.
“I’m awake,” Wickham protested. He shifted in the hammock and threw off his blanket. His breath grayed in the chill that filled the train car. In the beginning, he’d been a little heavy, but living rough—even on the train—had stripped the excess weight off him. He ran a hand through his shaggy blond hair as he sat up.
“About time,” Junior grunted. He turned and headed to over to Gant, then drew his foot back when he arrived.
Casually, Gant reached down for the sawed-off double-barreled shotgun at his side, rolled the twin hammers back with his thumb, and lifted the weapon just enough to point the abbreviated snout at Junior. From that angle, the open bores looked humungous.
“Try it,” Gant said in a raspy voice.
Junior put his foot back on the ground and stepped back. His face had paled. “I was just waking you scouts up. The General says we’re about twenty minutes from the stopover outside of Winslow.” His voice was a whine.
“We’ll be ready,” Gant said. “Go find someone else to bother.”
Scowling, acting for just a minute like he was going to say something, Junior finally gave up the pretense and walked through the door at the back of the car that led to the other cars.
Wickham looked at Gant. “Junior needs to get his head thumped.”
Gant lowered the hammers on the sawed-off and laid it beside him once more. He didn’t comment. The other man needed to stand up for himself. Gant had told Wickham that once.
Wickham eyed Gant speculatively. “Would you have shot him?”
Ignoring the question, Gant shifted out of the hammock and hated the cold that bit into him. The railcar offered a lot of comforts, but heat wasn’t one of them and winter was coming. Douglas Peress, Senior, said he had some plans for helping heat the cars, something about running flexible vents back from the steam engines, but he first had to figure out how to deal with the carbon monoxide issues that raised.
“You would have shot him, wouldn’t you?” Wickham persisted.
Gant picked up his neatly folded jeans from where he’d put them at the foot of his hammock last night. He stepped into them, noting the wear and tear and old blood stains, and thought he might try to pick up a new pair when they drove into Winslow, Arizona.
He added a thermal undershirt, a flannel shirt, and the body armor he’d brought with him out of Afghanistan. He’d purchased his own before leaving Tyler, Texas, when he first signed up to serve in the Army. He’d made sergeant in the Rangers before the virus raced around the globe. By then, he’d been back home, and he’d watched his family and neighbors die.
He’d killed some of them again after they’d died the first time.
Seeing that Wickham hadn’t moved, Gant said, “Gear up and stop asking questions.”
“Roger that.” Wickham fired off a sloppy salute that would have never cut muster in the Rangers.
Gant picked up his helmet and held it by its chinstrap, then reached for his combat rig and slid it on. He looked at the thirteen other men and women in his unit. All of them were awake and sitting in their hammocks.
“The rest of you suit up too and check out the rides. It’s gonna be a long day. If we’re lucky, all of us will make it home when we’re done.”
END CHAPTER 1.
By Mel Odom