Cramps–A Sneak Peek (A Hank Walker Story)

If you follow my work, you know who Hank Walker is. You’ve probably read Dredging Up Memories and possibly Interrogations. He’s a southern man trying to survive in the world of the dead, a world where most people he has come across have lost their minds. You also know there is a third book in the works, Eradication. 

Recently, I realized that over half of the third book in the Hank Walker saga needed to be scrapped. It was a deflating moment for me. However, I’ve been able to save quite a bit of words, including the ones below. This is, potentially, chapter 10 of Eradication. Do I think it will change between now and when the book is completed and when it actually goes to publication? Absolutely. Having said that, I think it gives a hint at a crucial element of Eradication and the arc of Hank Walker’s storyline. Can you figure out what that is?

If you are reading this on the day that I posted it, you may be wondering, why two posts in one day? Well, this is as much for me as it is for you. This is my kick in the behind to get this story finished so you, the readers, can see where Hank Walker is going.

I hope you enjoy this sneak peek into Eradication. 

__________

DUM NEW COVERHis stomach grumbled. Hank thought little of it. The feeling had come and gone plenty of times in the year since the world fell to the dead. When it came again, a gnawing pain came with it. Hank grimaced. Instinctively he hunched over. His face near the steering wheel, his eyes barely on the road, the truck swerved from one lane to the other. 

When the pain subsided, Hank eased back into the right lane. He didn’t think it mattered which side of the road he drove on. There weren’t many people left and the dead wouldn’t be driving. An absurd image popped in his head. It was of the seven biters walking along the highway a few days before. They were all piled in a dusty blue station wagon from the eighties. One of the four men was driving, while one of the women was in the front seat. Between them was the lone child—possibly a teenager. In the backseat, the other four adults scrunched together, with the lone woman almost sitting on the lap of one of the men. In the image he could see a hand between the knees of Lap Lady. It wasn’t sexual in nature, just dangling there, a place to be with no intent at all. 

The Dead Seven sang Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall, all of them off key. The girl laughed as young people would. The car swerved from side to side and the image changed. Instead of the Dead Seven riding along, merrily going about their business, Hank had the rifle trained on the driver’s head. He squeezed the trigger. Less than a second later, the bullet shattered the windshield and struck the driver in his left eye. The bullet exited his skull and struck the hand between the woman’s legs in the backseat.

“You got you a two-fer, Hank.”

Hank froze. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t look to his right where the voice came from. He knew the voice and the tone. He knew the excitement in it. He knew it didn’t sound quite right. 

The car swerved and the Dead Seven, now the Dead Six, screamed. The driver had tipped to the side, his head on the young girl’s shoulder. Her empty white eyes bulged and her mouth was open as wide as it could possibly go. The groan coming from it was loud and scared.

The car sped along the grass, the tires bumpety bumping along. Then the car hit a dip. The front end dug into the ground as the back end tipped up, then fell back down on its top. The windows exploded and the car flipped again, this time sideways. The woman in the backseat appeared in one of the side windows, her body halfway out of the car. She disappeared beneath the vehicle when it flipped again. The next time Hank saw her, she lay on the ground, nothing more than a squashed bug on concrete.

The girl in the front was no longer in her seat, but her head was plastered against the windshield. The three men in the backseat flopped around as the car flipped, end over end, several more times before it came to a stop on its wheels almost a hundred feet from the road. 

The Dead Seven were permanently dead, no longer roaming the world in search of fresh meals. 

“Hmm … looks like you got yourself a seven-fer, Hank,” the voice to his right said again. 

He didn’t want to look, but was helpless to stop himself. The scenery slowly changed from the smoking station wagon, to the interstate (where skid marks stretched thirty or so feet along the road just before the car hit grass), to the trees lining the other side of the interstate, to the edge of the overpass he stood on to the dead and sunken in features of his oldest brother, Lee. He smiled and a centipede crawled from between his rotting lips. 

Hank screamed and woke up. His knee struck the steering wheel of the truck. The horn gave a little beep when his hand hit it. He looked to his right, still believing Lee would be there, staring at him, a centipede crawling down his chin. But Lee wasn’t there. Only the dark of night surrounded him. He had pulled off the road and down a dirt path. Though he didn’t believe anyone else would be traveling that way, he didn’t want to take a chance of being discovered in the middle of the night. Not with all the crazies he ran into. And not while he slept.

A few drops of rain pattered the windshield. When was the last time it had rained? Hank couldn’t recall. The last time there was any precipitation of any kind was when it snowed and that was long in the past, faded like most memories. Yet, here he sat, watching as rain struck the windshield and listening as it pelted the truck’s top and hood and the bed.

Interrogations New Front Cover“Everything in the bed is going to be soaked,” he said and thought about getting out and trying to put as much in the cab as he could. Instead, he sat, watching as the rain came down harder.

His stomach grumbled. Hank turned the overhead light on and searched the cab for food. He found several bags of chips, a can of chili with a pop top and half a dozen bottles of water. He popped the top on the chili. The heavy aroma coming from it churned his stomach. In the past, he wouldn’t have thought about eating anything that made him almost gag just from the smell of it. But times were lean and food was at a premium. 

“Just a few bites,” he said and stuck his fingers into the cold chili. He barely had it to his mouth when his stomach cramped. He forgot about the food and pitched forward, his shoulder striking the steering wheel. The pain reminded him of his dream, of how sharp the pain had been in it and how quickly it shifted to the Dead Seven. The pain grew worse, cramping and pinching at his insides. He let out a moan as he clutched his stomach with both hands, the chili having fallen into his lap, the can having fell between his legs and rolled onto the floorboard. 

Hank got the door open, fell to the wet ground and vomited. The rain beat down on him, cooling his suddenly hot body. Spots filled his vision and he threw up a second time. When he was sure he wouldn’t throw up again, he dropped onto his side, his legs pulled up to his chest, not caring about the muddy ground he lay on, only relishing the icy cold rain. He closed his eyes and waited for the cramps to subside enough for him to stand. One hand went over his face. He felt weak and fear pushed into his mind. 

You need to get up, Hank, it whispered. You need to get up and get back in the truck.

“I can’t,” he said. Several rain drops landed in his mouth. It was like honey off the comb, sweet to the taste.

He lay there a while longer, his hand to his face, his body weak, stomach cramping. Before he realized it, Hank faded off to sleep. 

A.J.

 

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Book Reviews, Book Reviews, Book Reviews

Here on Type AJ Negative, I often talk about things other than my books and writing. I like to tell stories about life. I talk about things that mean something to me and that I hope can mean something to you. 

I deal in words and in the importance of using them to tell stories. Sometimes, however, other folks deal in words and say good things about my work. Though I have a page here dedicated to book reviews, what I want to do is start posting those reviews here on the main page. 

Is this a way for me to interest you in purchasing one of my books? Well, yes, it is. I have a saying: Bet on me. Bet on my writing. You won’t regret it. I hope you will consider purchasing one of my books, either from me directly (for print books and I will sign each one) or through Amazon for digital books. Also, if you’ve read one of my books, will you consider leaving a review if you haven’t already done so? Or, drop me a note here, on my page or at my email, 1horrorwithheart@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you.

The following are reviews that were recently left on some of my books. 

From Amazon, a review of Interrogations:

Interrogations CoverYet another emotionally charged, character driven story from the mind of A.J. Brown. This author writes characters that you feel you know and you worry about them. Hank Walker wakes up in a survivor camp that is not what it seems. The leader should not be in charge and Hank makes it his mission to let the other survivors realize this. Hank is going through changes and he knows he must leave. I won’t say more except you must read Brown’s books if you love amazing stories with down to earth characters.

From Dark Bites, a review of Closing the Wound:

Closing the Wound is a story about ghosts, both living and long since deceased. It’s a story about the type of scars which, while faded over time, remain a stark reminder of what’s been lost and what may never be fully understood. It acts as a brief history of sadness about a life cut far too short and the kind of questions which can only be answered by those no longer here.

coverClosing the Wound doesn’t come across so much as a coming of age story as it does a coming to terms story. The story clearly provides a cathartic path on which the author has set himself upon while simultaneously creating a outlet for honoring a childhood friend murdered on Halloween night several years past. This story seems to be for both the writer, and his lost friend and is sure to hit several emotional chords for readers along the way.

A.J. Brown recalls the painful memories of his past in the same vein as any classic ghost story best told around a campfire long after the kids have gone to sleep when scary monsters get to play with our conscience mind a while. Except, in this case, the monsters are as real as the story told and everything you’re about to read happened as recollected by the author in a bare-bones, journalistic style.

As much as this story of about 15,000 words was written as a method for healing, it’s hard not to relate with at least some of the author’s mournful experiences which speak volumes to anyone who’s ever lost something they cared deeply for at some point in their life. As the author warns up front, don’t expect a happy ending. Happy endings don’t often belong in the real world.

While Closing the Wound may leave readers with more questions than answers, I feel it will also imbed within its readers a sense that it’s okay to not understand everything we think we need to no matter how desperate that need may so often feel. If A.J.’s book has taught at least this reader anything, it’s to remember that while it seems ideal to find answers as a way of closure, it may be important to find a way to accept what little we’re willing and able to remember – and understand – of a painful experience from even the most haunting moments of our lives.

And with that I urge you to do yourself a favour and grab a copy of Closing the Wound for yourself and put aside a few hours of reflective reading. You’ll be glad you did because there’s a lot more where that came from.

Screen Shot 2019-01-01 at 4.52.16 PMFrom Amazon, a review of Zombie:

I love anthologies! Being busy, they give you a chance to actually finish a story in a short period of time. Zombie gives you 14 well written shorts with that A. J. Brown twist and emotional pull. I love that Hank and Humphrey, from Dredging Up Memories, make an appearance in Bonobo. I would have to say, French Dressing was my favorite. It’s great when a story can make you LOL. Thank you again, A. J., for another wonderful book.

From Amazon, a review of Dredging Up Memories:

A.J. Brown has done with his zombie apocalypse novel “Dredging Up Memories” what Shakespeare always strived to do with his plays and characters, to hold a mirror up to nature. Brown, in achieving this, has breathed new life into an often overdone premise. 1 DUM COVERMore often than not, the zombies in such horror novels are mindless drones that serve as nothing more than bullet cushions or slow-moving targets. Brown’s protagonist, Hank Walker, displays his human nature through trying time and time again in the novel to perceive or draw out some hint of human residue in the zombies he encounters. Who they were in life? He takes no pleasure in killing and apologizes to those he is forced to put down. He buries his dead. This, to me, is how I truly believe a good man would react to such a situation as a zombie apocalypse. He is a complex character and one worth following and sympathizing with throughout this powerful novel. Brown has written an intricately-crafted novel and his voice is authentic as it is familiar. We all know the people in Brown’s novel. And Hank Walker could be the guy on the barstool next to yours. I loved this book and didn’t want it to end. And when a book gives me this kind of charge and evokes this type of emotion, I want to read everything by that author. 12 ASOM CoverBrown is such an author. Great, great read!

From Amazon, a review of A Stitch of Madness

I’m 63 years old and I’ve been a horror fan all my life. It takes a LOT to creep me out, anymore. I can’t wait to read another book by this author. In the meantime, I’m going to read this one again.

From Amazon, a review of Beautiful Minds:

A.J. Brown truly has a beautiful mind. His way with words in these 61 stories captivates you as they remind of us what it is to be human, to have feelings and emotions. The stories pull you in as he takes true to life events that make you recall bits and pieces of your own life, with a twist. He makes you feel pain and sorrow, wonder and awe, and fear at what would happen if … At times you will laugh out loud as I did. He has a way with words that make you feel at times you are living within the story, feeling and seeing as the character(s) do. Do I have favorites in the book? Most definitely. Did I mark each on the contents page? I did, and I encourage other readers to do so. You will find, as I did, a row of stars which I will reread again, like other favorite books on my shelves. Thank you, A.J., for giving your audience another purely captivating book to treasure.

Screen Shot 2019-01-01 at 4.50.55 PM***

Well, that’s all for now. As always, thank you for spending your time with me. I hope we can build on this and I hope to hear from you in the future.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

Interrogations Is Up For Preorder

Good evening my faithful Readers. I have great news for you. My novella, Interrogations, is slated to be released in ebook format this Friday, August 2nd, coinciding with Scares That Cares’ opening day. However, you can pre-order that ebook now. Just follow this LINK and check it out. 

For those of you who may not know, Interrogations is the continuation of Dredging Up Memories and will lead to another story, tentatively titled, Eradication. Hank Walker’s story is clearly not through and he has plenty of life left. 

1 DUM COVERIf you haven’t read Dredging Up Memories, you can do so by following this LINK. 

Here is the synopsis for Dredging Up Memories:

In the best of times, loneliness is difficult. At the end of time it can be deadly. 

Hank Walker is alone and struggling, not just with the undead, but with depression that threatens to swallow him. Searching for the family he sent away at the beginning of the rise of the dead, Hank is left to deal with loneliness, desperation, and his own memories that haunt him. 

The dead are everywhere. The few people still alive are scattered, and the ones Hank comes across may be more dangerous than the biters. 

With an unlikely traveling companion, Hank’s search takes him across the state of South Carolina and to the depths of darkness like nothing he has ever experienced before. Can Hank find his family and survive the biters? Or does he completely unravel in the world of the dead?

Curious? Keep reading.

Interrogations picks up where Dredging Up Memories left off. Here is the synopsis for the new novella:

Interrogations CoverHank Walker woke up in a bed in a survivor camp. He should have been dead, and a short time after that, he should have risen and joined the ranks of the shambling biters—those who have died and come back seeking the flesh of the living. Instead, he woke up alive and in a safe place.

Or is it truly safe?

Ruled by Harrison Avis, a militaristic leader, Hank realizes quickly Fort Survivor S.C. #3 might not be so safe after all, especially for those who do not find favor with Avis.

When a member of the camp is exiled to the outside world, Hank launches a plan to expose Avis as corrupt. It’s a plan with possible grave consequences for all involved. Though he knows the dangers of failing, Hank is willing to take the risk to protect what remains of his family, if not from Harrison Avis, then from himself.

Excited? I hope so. I am. 

If you would like to preorder the ebook of Interrogations, follow this LINK. I thank you, as does my publisher. 

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J. 

Oh Come All Ye …

They’re all dead. The whole town. Not a living person to be found.

Hank leaned against the truck, a cigarette between his lips. He wasn’t much of a smoker, but he might not see another day, so why not? The first cigarette he had ever smoked made him lightheaded. It gave him one hell of a coughing fit, as well. The second wasn’t much better, but at least it didn’t take his breath away.

Strike that off the bucket list, he thought and flicked the cigarette away. It tumbled end over end and landed in the snow with a hiss and a light plume of gray smoke and white steam.

He coughed again, but not from smoking. No, this was from the infection. He was sweating from the fever and his eyes watered. Scratches were on his arms, neck and face. Blood had dried on a few of the deeper wounds. His leg throbbed, but at that point, he no longer cared. What he did care about was taking out the biters shambling along the dirt road.

They didn’t seem to notice him. He blamed the infection for that. If he weren’t dying, not being noticed by the dead would be a good thing, but now, as his body threatened to shut down and turn him into one of those creatures, he wanted to be noticed by them. He wanted them to see him coming.

A biter lurched passed him, her grayed hair disheveled, skin sagging from either old age or decay … or both. What Jeanette would have called a housedress barely hung from her shoulders, the flower print speckled with crusted blood.

“Hey lady,” Hank said and reached for the axe next to someone else’s truck he had been leaning against. She turned, not just her head, but her entire body, and seemed to look through Hank. If she would have actually noticed him, she would have seen the stocking cap on his head, the fuzzy white ball hanging from it. She may have even wondered why he wore such a thing if it wasn’t Christmas. Hank didn’t know if it was actually Christmas. Again, he didn’t care.

He hefted the axe in both hands and took a few quick, almost lunging steps. He swung it as hard as his weakening muscles allowed. The top of the woman’s head shattered beneath the blade and she crumpled to the ground. A halo of brownish red blood formed beneath what remained of her head.

“Merry Christmas, lady.”

Hank wiped a spatter of thick blood from his face and then reached into the pick-up truck. He mashed the horn and held it for several seconds. The biters along the streets and in the yards of the small community where he thought he would die turned and began their awkward trundle toward him.

Hank coughed hard, the action tearing at his chest. His stomach cramped and released and then he spat out a string of yellow phlegm, streaked red with blood. It was time and he was tired. Beyond that, he was pissed. He tapped the front fender with the bloodied blade and gave a sickly smile. As the first of the dead approached him, he raised the axe and began to sing.

“Oh come all you biters, come and get your head split …”

 

No Saving Grace–A Hank Walker Short Story

For those of you who enjoyed the struggles of Hank Walker in Dredging Up Memories, I give you this short story.

[[SPOILER ALERT: The next part of this introduction may contain a spoiler about Dredging Up Memories. If you plan on reading it, I would skip this introduction. If you have read it, then continue on. END SPOILER ALERT]]

This piece takes place during one of the moments of Dredging Up Memories where Hank has been drinking. This is after he finds out Jeanette has died and he has lost Humphrey. This also takes place before he meets Hetch, during one of the many black out moments where Hank loses time and all memory of what happened.

I do ask two favors: if you know someone who would like this addition to Hank’s story, please share it with them. Second, please leave me a comment and let me know if you would like more of these ‘forgotten moments’ of Hank’s life.

Enough talk. I hope you enjoy No Saving Grace.

No Saving Grace

Ay A.J. Brown

He wanted to save them. He wanted to save all of them. In the end, he couldn’t even save himself.

***

They approached in a stumbling heap of rotting bodies, their groans like cries of pain. They appeared listless, as if following some unseen force, drawing them up the dirt path and toward the man standing in the opening at the mouth of that path. Hank had his weapons of choice, a machete slung on his back and a Smith & Wesson .357 in his hand. It held eight shots. It wasn’t enough, but that’s what the machete was for. He also had a bottle of whiskey in the van. Right then, he wished he had taken a swig before he left stepped out of the vehicle, but he hadn’t. His mouth was dry, as if he had been chewing on cotton balls for a few days.

The sun was just coming up in the horizon, painting the world with purples, pinks and oranges. He could see it peeking out from behind the dead. He thought it fortunate he could see them through the encroaching daylight. If he wasn’t able to see them, the chances of taking them out slimmed greatly. It was somewhat oddly beautiful, the way the bodies seemed to have an orange aura around them. If they didn’t mean to eat him, he could have stood there until the sun was fully in the sky and enjoyed the odd beauty of the dead in its rising glory.

“Come on,” he whispered as they came.

Though the Smith & Wesson held eight shots, it only had seven bullets. He had fired one off into the pack to get their attention moments earlier.

Their attention?

Sure. There was only one reason a bunch of deadbeats surrounded anything these days: a living person (or people, if the dead were so lucky, which they often were). He had heard the screams. Whoever was in the car was still alive, but may not have been for long—the dead, they had a way of piling on to the point of windows shattering inward. The constant pressure of weight on glass was like a boiler—eventually things would blow and the living in the vehicle would be dead soon enough, become food for the biters.

He waited, his gun held tight, one hand over the other.

And they grew closer and closer by the second. From where he stood, he watched them lurch forward. Their moans became louder. He squinted, focusing in on the closest of the dead. At that moment he didn’t see them in the color of life. The brilliance of the sun faded and he saw them in gritty grays and whites and blacks, the blood on their skin and clothes like dark shadows. The circles beneath their eyes were like black hollows. The hair on their heads were various shades of grays with the blondes being the lightest. He thought maybe the rising sun aided in the gray tones, but that was probably just in his head. The same as he wished this whole mess was just in his head and he would wake up in the morning and everything would be okay.

Everything would be okay.

His family wouldn’t be dead. His friends wouldn’t be dead. His neighborhood wouldn’t be … wouldn’t be what? Overrun by the dead?

“That’s not going to happen,” he whispered. “This is real life.”

He steadied the gun.

Seven shots. That’s all you have before it’s machete time.

A deep breath taken and released slowly through slightly parted lips. The nod was imperceivable, but it steadied his nerves.

“You want to see the sun rise,” he said and pulled the trigger. The boom of the .357 was loud, the kickback powerful. The face of the biter closest to him exploded—a woman at one time, probably in her early thirties. He could have been wrong. The dead decomposed faster than people aged and she could have been in her twenties or maybe in her sixties, though he doubted that. The back of her head blew out. The force of the bullet sent her backwards, her feet coming off the ground and her hands flying up as she fell.

At the beginning of The End Times, Hank Walker would have probably felt guilty for what he had just done. He may have even apologized. He certainly would have taken the time to bury the dead after ending their ‘second lives.’ Not anymore. Not now. Not after everything that had happened. Now, he took aim at another biter, this one another woman of indiscernible age. Her head disappeared with the blast. She spun around, striking a tree just off the path before falling to the ground.

He took the next four shots, one right after the other, each one finding its home splitting open the skulls of the dead. He slid the gun into the back of his pants. The barrel was hot. He felt that heat through his underwear, but he didn’t pull the gun free. There was only one bullet left … just in case …

Hank pulled the machete free and started down the path to the few remaining biters. He swung the machete at their gray, gaunt faces, severing their heads and splintering their skulls. As he did so, he thought of his wife and son and brothers and father and his best friend. And he swung the machete harder, slicing through bone and skin and brains, his anger rising with each of the dead he took down.

Until they were no more.

He spun in a slow circle, his arms weakened, his legs tired, his breath labored, his chest heaving. There were tears in his eyes as he looked at the bodies on the ground. The dead … he shook his head.

“No.” Hank closed his eyes, opened them to his dead family littering the path, missing most of their skulls. Over there was Davey Blaylock. Down the center of the path was Lee. By the tree was Karen. The two bodies lying together, one on top of the other were Pop and Bobby. Jake was not too far from them, his hand missing three fingers, as if he had tried to ward off the machete. At the beginning of the slew of bodies was Jeanette, her head turned into a canoe, her long blonde hair stained with dark blood verging on brown and bits of brain and skull. There were others—so many others—but they didn’t matter.

Hank’s head spun. His stomach churned. He dropped the machete and fell to his hands and knees. Though there was little in his stomach, he vomited it up. It spattered on the ground in front of him and onto his hands. Some of it splashed back onto his face. Sweat spilled off of him. His face and neck were flushed red with heat. Hank coughed and closed his eyes. He shook his head, almost violently as the tears spilled from beneath his eyelids. He dropped onto his bottom and scooted away from the dead. HIs back struck a tree. He sat there for several long minutes, his heart shattered, his mind confused, his chest hurting. He could use a drink—maybe even the entire bottle back in the van.

When he looked up, his eyes were blurry. He wiped the tears away and reluctantly looked back at the bodies. He frowned, the confusion sinking its claws in deeper. The dead were still there, but they were no longer his family. They were no-name corpses that had one time been someone’s brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and children. Though that should have relieved him from the guilt of feeling like he had killed his entire family, it didn’t. It did nothing to alleviate the fact that he was all that was left of the Walker clan.

He used the tree to pull himself up from the ground. It was rough, but it was real. It was tangible. Once standing, he held onto the tree, feeling its bark beneath his hands. It grounded him, bringing him back to the reality of his world.

Hank took the few steps to his machete and picked it up. He was thankful it hadn’t landed in the vomit. He slid it back into the sheath hanging on his back. Then he remembered what he had been there for: to save whoever was in the car from the biters.

He turned around and headed up the path.

“Hey, it’s okay,” he called. “The coast is clear. The biters are dead.”

He reached the side of the car and looked in. Three of the windows had been busted out, either from the weight of the dead pushing in or the car already had broken windows. A biter leaned half in, the car, but it didn’t move. There was a hole in its back. Hank pulled the biter from the broken window and dropped it to the ground. A piece of hanger wire jutted from one eye socket. Blood had ran onto it from the ruptured eye.

He looked back at the car. The door had a hole in it—one created by a Smith & Wesson .357. His shoulder sagged. The man that had been screaming inside the car was dead. Blood oozed from between fingers that had clutched at the wound in his chest.

I must have hit him when I …

He shook his head again. The man in the car was dead. He had been young, probably not even thirty. He had been young …

A finger twitched.

Young or not didn’t matter then. Hank wasn’t sure if he even saw the finger spasm, but part of him believed he had. He watched, concentrating on the fingers of the man’s right hand. He realized with an almost certainty that the man shouldn’t turn if he hadn’t been bit. But did he truly know this? Had he seen someone who hadn’t been bitten or sick become a biter?

The index finger moved again. Then his hand jerked, followed by his arm. His eyes opened and his head moved from side to side, as if trying to figure out where he was. Hank believed he was doing just that, trying to figure out where he was, what had happened to him.

A moan came from the man and he seemed to sniff the air. He turned his head toward Hank and bared his teeth. He tried to sit up in his seat.

Hank pulled out the gun. He check the chamber. Yup, one left.

“I’m sorry,” Hank said and put the gun through the window. He pulled the trigger. The sound was deafening. The kickback caused his hand to jerk hard enough it struck a piece of broken glass. Blood instantly spilled from a wound that was deeper than he realized at first. But Hank didn’t really notice it—he stared at the dead man in the car, a good chunk of the top of his head missing. Splattered against the interior of the car were his brains, some hair and a lot of blood. But more than that, he saw the wound on his hand—a clear piece of flesh was missing between his thumb and first finger on the opposite hand that had twitched earlier.

Hank thought to pull the guy from the car, to bury him right beside it, maybe along the path where that car had stopped. It was the least he could do. Hank rounded the car, but stopped at the driver’s side door.

“What does it matter?” he asked. “He’s dead—he’ll never know he wasn’t buried.”

Besides, he thought, he was dead anyway. I just put him out of his misery.

He turned and walked away from the car. His heart sank as he went up the path. It opened to a cottage where three of the dead stumbled around. He didn’t bother being quiet. He unsheathed the machete and split the skulls of the two men and one boy near the open door. Then he stepped inside.

Hank looked around the cottage. He found a few cans of beans and a half empty bottle of water. He also found the bodies of one woman and a baby. They were in a bed and a crib. A bullet to the head ended their lives. On the end table next to the bed where the woman lay dead, was a picture. The couple had been happy. The baby had been asleep in the woman’s arms.

The man had been the guy from the car.

Hank’s shoulders slumped. He wiped his dry lips with the back of one shaking hand. He stared at the picture for what seemed like minutes, but had really been over an hour. When he finally set the picture down, he left the cottage and went back up the path. There was a biter near the car, standing at the front of it as if waiting to see if the man was going to try and run. Any movement would send the biter into motion. Hank didn’t give the old man a chance—he brought the machete down on the top of his gray and dirty head. The biter collapsed to the ground.

It took him a few minutes to get the man from the car and over his shoulder, and it took him over an hour to get back to the cottage. In the house, he laid the man’s body next to what he assumed was his wife. He went to the crib and gently lifted the dead baby from it. He placed the child between Mom and Dad and pulled the sheet up over their heads.

Hank Walker left the house, locking and closing the door behind him. He took with him the beans and the water, and slowly made his way back up the path again. He passed the car on the path and the biters he had slaughtered. Eventually, he came to his van, crawled in and closed the door. He didn’t turn the key in the ignition right away. Instead, he stared out the dirty windshield.

The baby had been a boy. The woman had been a blonde. The man had dark hair, and at one point blue eyes. The house had been nice, but not too big for a family of three. It had been practical. All of it reminded him of his own family, of his own home. But all that was gone. Jeanette was dead. Bobby … he had no clue if he were alive.

Hank reached over to the passenger’s seat. He plucked up the bottle of whiskey, took the cap off and took a deep drink. The alcohol burned his throat and warmed his chest and stomach. He looked at the bottle. It still had over two thirds of the light brown liquid in it.

I shouldn’t drink this, he said. I’ve drank too much lately already.

In the end, he turned the bottle up again, forgetting what he shouldn’t do and doing what he thought he would regret. He wanted to save them. He wanted to save them all. In the end, he couldn’t even save himself.

Going Forward

Dear Faithful Readers,

This is going to be a short post.

2016 was crazy. I think we all know there were a lot of meh things to come out of the year. There were a lot of negatives, as well.

Though there were quite a bit of negative things going on in the world, there were a few things that were positive for me. I put out two books this year (a far cry from the five I wanted to put out, but still they were published). The two books were a three story collection titled, A Stitch of Madness. The other was my novel, Dredging Up Memories. Both of these books were put out by Stitched Smile Publications. I also became part of the SSP staff during the year and made some friends, a couple probably for life. So, there are some positives.

In 2016 I bit off a little more than I could chew. Part of this was due to being overzealous and wanting to try and get my name out there more than it was at the time. I added a lot to my plate that wasn’t there the previous two years and also added quite a bit to a marketing campaign I started in 2014. Early on a lot of the things I did looked as if they would pay off. Then June and July came and life happened. My focus shifted for a few months. When that happened, my blog, newsletter and writing suffered in silence.

Year two of The Brown Bag Stories also came to an end. For those who know what The Brown Bag Stories are, I will have an announcement about that soon. For those who don’t, feel free to ask about it and I will gladly let you in on the hubbub.

In October I started gearing up for 2017 in hopes of rekindling the push I started two years ago at the end of 2014. One of the things I would like to do is make this blog more interactive. I would love to hear your voices, Faithful Readers. I would love to hear what you have to say. I’d love to hear what you want to know about me or maybe even about my characters and stories.

So, let’s talk, what would you like to see in 2017 (and beyond)?

See, I told you it would be short. Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

Shooting Marbles, A Lesson Learned

Not too long ago I wrote a longer short story titled, The Forgetful Man’s Disease. The story is set in the old Mill Village in West Columbia. It was a place I spent a lot of my childhood. The main character is based on my grandfather and many of the characters within the story are based on people I knew from the area.

Tonight, my brother-in-law, Stephen, came over and we talked about Dredging Up Memories, my second novel. (If you don’t have a copy of it, you can get it HERE). While we were talking, he on the couch across from me, and the house somewhat warm and a crime show playing on the television in the background, the subject turned to my grandfather.

I couldn’t help but talk about him and a particular story he told me.

My grandfather was a good guy. He preached and taught Sunday School for many, many years. He told great jokes—his timing was impeccable. But even better, he told awesome stories. Some of them have ended up in some of my own stories. One of them I would like to tell you about right now. It is a touch of real life that no one gets to see too often.

When I was around eleven, my brother and I began to grow apart. He was thirteen and the things we once had in common were nonexistent. Before that, we had been thick as thieves. We argued a lot and the first of several fist fights took place not too long before my grandfather asked me if I wanted to shoot marbles ‘out in the yard.’

Of course, I wanted to shoot marbles. I loved marbles.

My grandfather took me out in the yard and wiped the sand away from a small area. He drew a circle and we poured my bag of marbles into it. He picked a medium sized cow and I did the same. We walked a few feet away and began to shoot the cows at the marbles in the circle. For several minutes we played, each of us knocking marbles out of the circle, claiming them and putting them in our own separate piles.

When there were only two marbles left in the circle, my grandfather stopped playing. He looked at me and said, “Let me tell you about these two marbles.”

This meant he was going to tell a story. I always looked forward to his stories.

He plucked the two marbles from the circle and held them in his palm. He said, “This circle is your family. These marbles are your family members.” He motioned to the marbles in our two piles when he said that.

He then held up the two marbles. “These two marbles are you and your brother.”

He set them back in the circle and took his cow—what most folks would call a shooter—and took a shot at the two marbles. The cow struck home, scattering the two marbles. One of them left the circle. The other one remained inside.

As my grandfather always did, he told his story without a ton of dramatics, but with a straightforward message.

“Even if your brother leaves the circle, he is still your brother. That will never change.”

He picked up the marble that had left the circle and set it next to the other ones.

“Your family will always be your family. Your brother will always be your brother.”

He stood, patted me on the shoulder and nodded. I think he was proud of himself. He then walked off, leaving me looking at the two marbles in the circle and thinking about the lesson he had just taught me.

Though my brother and I would drift apart over the years, he has always been my brother. And that was his point. We would always be brothers, no matter what happened, no matter what direction we went in.

When I started writing, I tried to capture the flare my grandfather had with telling stories. Sometimes I succeed. Other times I don’t. But here is what I shoot for every time: I want my stories to stick, like my grandfather’s lesson that day. If you remember one of my stories and if one of them moved you, then I have done my job. It is what my grandfather did, and those are hefty shoes to follow in.

One more thing: that was the last time my grandfather and I played marbles. Yes, his lesson stuck.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

Dredging Up Memories-You Want This

13106731_10209260504770741_700376366_o-2.jpgSometimes I get so busy doing other things and writing other things that I often forget that I need to focus on things that are happening right now or have already happened. Like my newest book, Dredging Up Memories.

Let’s talk about this book for a second. Dredging Up Memories is the story of Hank Walker and his downward spiral into depression during the zombie apocalypse.

Zombie apocalypse? Seriously?

Yes, seriously. Before you go and judge a book by its zombies, let me put a few fears to rest:

  • The zombie apocalypse thing has been done to death! Yes, it has, but this isn’t the typical zombie story. The dead don’t play the biggest role in this book. A stuffed animal does.
  • There is no hope in zombie stories. Well, you might be right there, but how do you know if you don’t read the book?
  • Zombie stories are all about zombies rending people from limb to limb. Yes, most are, but not Dredging Up Memories.
  • There is nothing new you can do with the overdone genre. I disagree. I believe Dredging Up Memories is original. Again, the main theme is Hank Walker’s descent into depression, not the gnashing of teeth.
  • Brains. Okay, I have to bark at this for a second. Have you ever seen a zombie in any movie actually try to get to a person’s brain? No. You see them tearing into their stomachs and faces and arms and legs and necks, but you never see them actually going for brains. Besides, how would they get to it?

Here’s the thing about Dredging Up Memories: it’s human. It’s real. It has a certain mood to it that is not like other zombie stories. It doesn’t focus solely on the swarming dead and their insatiable hunger for flesh.

It is, in my opinion, a breath of fresh air from all of the action only, blood and gore zombie stories that are all pretty much the same with the exception of location and character names. It is different.

If you don’t mind I would love to share a couple of reviews with you.

The first one:

Honestly, I don’t like reading zombie books.  This book however, was SO much more than your typical “zombies attack” story. This book was about the main character, Hank Walker, and his journey to survive.  It’s not just about a bunch of zombies eating people. This story is well written, with just the right amount of detail.  The story has emotions, in the characters and emotions that you yourself will feel.  I also like that there are actual towns mentioned in the book that are familiar to residents of South Carolina.  It’s easy to feel like you are there, in the town with Hank.  For me, Dredging Up Memories was a book that once I started reading, I didn’t want to stop.  I just had to know what was going to happen next.  For me, I despise reading a book all the way through just to finish with a terrible ending.  I know books don’t always have the ending that we want, but it still needs to finish well.  This book I’m happy to say has a complete ending.  I won’t spoil it for you and say it was happy or sad, just complete and well finished, and I’m happy with that.  I like that this story can be a stand alone book, but I’m excited that A.J. is planning to continue Hank Walkers journey.  I definitely look forward to reading more works by the incredible author A.J. Brown.

The second one:

This book is an immersive experience. There is plenty of action, but it really puts you into the mind of a survivor. It goes heavily into the headspace and emotions of navigating a world decimated by monsters.

Those are just two of the reviews that have been written for Dredging Up Memories.

The World Smelled CleanHere is something else: Humphrey.

Who is Humphrey? Well, he is a teddy bear dressed in a bunny pajama outfit. Yes, he is a stuffed toy, but he plays a huge part in this story. How can you not want to find out how a stuffed bear becomes a central figure in a zombie apocalypse story?

So, are you interested in reading it yet? I hope so. I believe you will not be disappointed.

Come on. You know you want it. Go get Dredging Up Memories here.

And until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.

Dredging Up Memories

Good evening, Readers. I hope all is going well for you. I am on the last day of a mini-vacation and have settled in for the evening. The family is away at the beach and it is just myself, the hockey game on the television behind me, and writing.

It has been a quiet day, for sure. I will say this about the quiet and being alone—I am not a creature meant to fly solo. The house feels so empty without Cate and the kids around. I don’t like it.

But being alone is something that everyone has to face from time to time. Including Hank Walker, the lead character in my zombie series, Dredging Up Memories. Hank is a good old boy thrust into a world ruled by the dead, where solitude is just as dangerous of an enemy as the biters.

I started writing this series back in 2010 as an experiment. It was originally titled, My Brothers and I, but when I realized Hank’s brothers don’t have big roles in the story that title no longer fit. However, the story is about memories, and Hank has a lot of them.

I submitted the first chapter to Tales of the Zombie War not longer after I wrote it, and honestly, I wasn’t sure I was going to write anymore on it. I wasn’t too sure I liked it.

They accepted the piece, posted it to the site, but I still wasn’t sold on the idea of continuing the story.

Then came the comments and I was quietly humbled.

‘What I like about this is that, as a plot, it doesn’t get any simpler. However it had a real emotional impact that would come, I believe, from being in an environment where you know the victims and have to deal with them up close and personal. Yup, I like this a lot for that. AJ Brown has done a really good job of conveying the impact of that to the reader.’

And…

‘I really like this story. It is set to a realistic tone that most stories don’t have. Don’t get me wrong I like the kill everyone Rambo stories a lot too but this story was simple and emotional.’

And…

‘Haunting. Human. Bitter sweet. I loved this story! Damn fine job. I gotta say, you painted a fantastic picture of one man’s way to cope with everything, and to be honest, I saw him as myself.’

As a writer, things like those comments and others made on the website over the last few years have pushed me onward with the series. Now, here we are, sixteen chapters in and Hank has developed a little fan base. I’m thinking about turning the series into a novel when it has completed its run on the site. I’ve gone back and rewritten some of the first chapters. I’ve also decided to try and rewrite the ‘where, oh where did the virus come from?’ chapter. I’m not so certain I like it as it stands. However, what I came up with as an alternative is really cool, and I think most folks will like it, especially since it really doesn’t change hardly any of the story that follows.

There are also side stories that I am writing for the novel version. There are certain characters that Hank comes across during his search for his son. Some of them are intriguing and I’d like to know the stories behind them. What better way for me to learn that but to write their stories, and then share them with you?

Like all good things that come to an end, I have finished the series, though I haven’t sent all of them in, yet. The end is near for Dredging Up Memories, but not necessarily for the storyline. Yes, there is more coming in the future, but what that is I am not saying. I don’t think the readers will be disappointed.

If you haven’t read the series and would like to, just follow the link below and you can catch all sixteen chapters and a side story. Enjoy the read, and leave comments on the site, or here, on Type AJ Negative.

Dredging Up Memories

As always, thank you for reading, and until we meet again, my friends…

Back to Square One

~Tap, tap, tap~

Is this thing on?

Oh, it seems to be.

Can you hear me out there? You can? Good.

Looking out over the crowded front yard, I see a lot of familiar faces, and a few I don’t recognize. Hey, Bart. How are you? And R.C., my man, things going well? Cate. Nice to see your pretty face. Crashman, glad you could make it. Thank you all for coming to this impromptu press conference.

Ahem.

The reason I called this little press conference is it seems I am back to square one with the short story collection.

What’s that, Herbie? Square one? Yes, square one.

Ummm… yes, I have the stories picked, though I may take one out and replace it with another one (or two).

Yes, I do have the Acknowledgements in place. Yes, the Dedication and In Memoriam as well.

What’s that, Herbie?

No, I don’t have the entire afterward in place, but about half.

Yes? What?

Yeah… ummm… I’m about to address that.

Now, if there are no further questions, I would like to begin this press conference again.

It looks like, though I won’t be starting completely from square one, I will be starting over in some respects.

I need to rework a portion of one story—it sounds too much like something a friend of mine wrote and I don’t want there to be any confusion or anything that could be construed as plagiarism. I realized this a couple of weeks ago, and have e-mailed my friend. She said part of it sounded like her piece, but that I could change it and it wouldn’t have any effect on the story itself.

If I can’t get the kink ironed out, the story will be retracted from the collection. Simple as that.

Then there is another issue, one that I didn’t think would be an issue at all.

Recently, my friend, Lucas Pederson, drew out an image that I thought would make a great–GREAT–image. I tagged it as the cover for Southern Bones and was excited that I finally had an image in place. Then I started playing with it, looking at it as a larger piece, then as a smaller piece—thumbnail size. I checked the image to figure out what it would look like on a Kindle or iPhone or even just on the computer.

Uh oh.

There’s a problem.

The black and white pencil art, though amazing in and of itself, may not work well as a digital book cover.

I’m unhappy about that.

Wait. There is another issue. The title, Southern Bones, may not work either. There are no bones in any of the stories. Sure, there are pieces of bone in one story, but that’s it.

What’s that, Herbie? I can still call the book Southern Bones even if there is no mention of bones?

Yes, I could, but it doesn’t seem to fit.

How did I come to that conclusion?

When I realized the cover image might not work, I started trying to figure out something that would. Cate and I took pictures, but nothing jumped out to us.

Can I still use the image that was drawn for the cover? Of course, but maybe not for the cover—the title just doesn’t seem to work the way I thought it would. Unless there is another definition to the term of ‘bones’ that I don’t know about.

There are those issues and a couple of others. I want lead-ins and maybe images. The pictures probably won’t happen, at least not in the book, but I’m going to look at it either way. Who knows?

I want to give the readers their money’s worth. In order to do that, I have to feel like if I purchased this collection, would I be satisfied that my money was well spent? Don’t you want to be happy with your purchase?

Well?

I would rather put something out later than I intended, than to put something out that I wouldn’t be happy with—and, consequently, the reader wouldn’t be happy with—and ended up regretting in the long run.

I know, I’ve put this off two other times, but I think it’s for the best. I may not be completely back to square one, but I’m close enough to know there is a LOT of work that still needs to be done in order to put out a quality collection.

Before we end this press conference, I would like to say I am considering releasing a book separate from the collection, one that compiles the first ten installments of Dredging Up Memories and some bonus content that is not on the Tales of the Zombie War website.

I’m very excited about the possibilities of this.

I guess that concludes the press conference. So, if there are any questions, ask away. If not, until we meet again, my friends…