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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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. 

Humphrey …

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Dredging Up Memories original cover by Lisa Vasquez

A few years ago, I started a story about a guy named Hank. He was alone in the dead world and searching for his friends and family in hopes of finding some of them alive. That story turned into a novel titled, Dredging Up Memories, and it follows Hank’s story into a downward spiral of … well, I can’t really give you all that information, now can I? Doing that would spoil the book for you.

One thing I can do is tell you about one of the main characters from Dredging Up Memories. Her name is Humphrey and she is a teddy bear. I know, right? Who names a female teddy bear a boy’s name? Anyway, she became like Wilson to Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away. She also became one of the most beloved characters of the Hank Walker universe. 

After completing the novel, getting it published by Stitched Smile Publications, and then writing a handful of shorter pieces involving Walker, I approached a friend of mine about interviewing the characters of Dredging Up Memories. This young man—his name is Frank—went home and wrote out twenty-seven pages worth of questions he came up with for those characters. 

What you are about to read are the first twenty-five hundred or so words of Humphrey’s interview. I know, it’s kind of mean not giving you all thirty-nine pages of it, but as I said above, I can’t give you all the information, now can I?

I hope you enjoy the following excerpt from The Hank Walker Interviews. 

HUMPHREY 

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Just hangin’ round.

There is a room in an old school in the lower state of South Carolina. The school used to be known as Century Falls High School. It is now Fort Survivor #3. Half a block away is what is left of the middle school of the same name (minus the High, adding the Middle). Directly out the front gates are the remnants of the town that used to be Century Falls. Remnants that consist of burned out cars, and buildings that are little more than husks. If one were to pay close attention he or she would see the occasional dead corpse shambling around the debris and other corpses that are truly dead. If one was listening, then he or she would hear the occasional gun shot, putting that walking corpse down, joining its brethren on the ground among that debris.

This room is on the second floor on a long hall with double doors at each end. One set of doors leads down the steps and to the outside world. For the most part, these doors stay locked from the inside. The other set of doors leads down another hall that t-bones before reaching a set of stairs on either side of that t-bone. There’s no real need to get into where those halls lead.

The room number is 209, and it used to be Mrs. Willoughby’s math class. Most kids hated having Mrs. Willoughby, due to her always angry demeanor and her penchant for giving out zeroes and detention notes. That’s not a problem here now. Mrs. Willoughby is among the permanently deceased. The room, however, has been turned into a bedroom for children who have survived the End Times. Currently there is no one staying in the room and it is as dark in here as night is these days.

A creak rings through the room and down the hall as the door opens. A switch to the left of the doorway is flipped up and the glow of lights spill across the room, forcing the dark into the corners and beneath furniture. Speaking of the furniture, the room is nice. It is painted pink and white on opposite walls. There are a row of four beds directly ahead, foot lockers at the foot of each one. End tables are to the right of the beds, each one with a lamp sitting atop it. On the opposite wall is the exact same set up: four beds, four foot lockers and four end tables with lamps on them. It is clear to anyone who enters that this is a room set up as a basic dorm for little girls who … well, who may have lost everyone except for themselves. On the wall to the right, the same wall the door is on, is a long bookcase filled with books. 

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I’m in this book! I’m going to be a superstar.

Sitting in the center of this room is a table with two chairs. This is not normal. The table is round and the chairs are simple wooden dinner table seats. There is a vase sitting on it with a single daffodil in it, its yellow star-like petals and tea cup bud brighter than the overheads that light up the room. Next to the vase are two bottles of water. They are already open, though the tops are still screwed on.

There is one other thing that is out of place in this room: a video camera. It stands between two of the beds on a tripod, its lens pointing directly at the table.

Two men walk into the room, one of them in his early forties, stubble chinned and a book bag over his shoulder. He reaches into the bag and unzips the front pocket. Jutting from it is a teddy bear in bunny pajamas. The man, known to many readers as Hank, sets the bear on one of the chairs. He doesn’t like the way the bear’s head barely comes to the bottom of the table. Hank goes to the bookcase and snags several of the hardbacks. At the table he sets the books in the seat, sits the teddy bear in it, and then scoots the chair up to the table. 

The second man is younger, but not by much. His hair is sandy brown. Wire rimmed glasses are perched on his nose; his hair is long and is pulled into a ponytail that runs down his back. He walks over to the camera and presses a button on its side. The camera comes on. Accompanying it is a faint hum that is barely noticeable if you aren’t standing right next to it. He fiddles with it a few seconds more, pressing the red record button. He looks in the digital view finder and sees the red REC blinking, nods and walks away.

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Dredging Up Memories re-issued cover by Lisa Vasquez

“Morning, Frank.”

“Good morning, Mr. Walker.”

To the teddy bear Hank says “Humphrey, this is Frank. He is going to do your interview, okay.”

Humphrey says nothing.

“Come on, Humphrey. Don’t be shy.”

Still, the teddy bear says nothing. Really, why would it? How would it? It is just a teddy bear, right?

“Humphrey, Frank is a good guy. You have to trust me. Can you do that?”

The teddy bear’s head seems to move slightly. 

“Please?”

“Okay.” 

The bear’s voice is soft, not much more than a whisper. But it is enough to startle Frank. His eyes are wide behind the lenses of his glasses. A lump has formed in his throat. If there is one thing Frank did not expect it is that the teddy bear would actually speak. He really did believe he would sit there at the table with the teddy bear, who had been Hank Walker’s traveling companion for several months at the beginning of the End Times, and field answers from Walker, himself. Not some inanimate object.

“Did … did Humphrey just speak?”

Hank laughs, rubs Humphrey on the head. “Yes, she did.”

“She? Yes, that is right. Humphrey is a she.”

“That’s right. A lot of folks wonder about that, why anyone would name  a female teddy bear Humphrey?”

“It is a fair thought. Why would someone give a stuffed toy that is clearly a female a boy’s name?”

“Why do guys give their cars girl names?” Hank responds. “Who knows?”

DSC_0371
Pelican Snowball anyone?

“Good point.”

“Okay, I’m going to leave you guys alone for a while. I’ll come back later and see how you are doing. Humphrey, Frank is not going to hurt you. I promise. He and I have already done this. You’re in good hands. Okay?”

Humphrey doesn’t look up, but she gives a small nod and whispers, “Okay.”

With that said, Walker turns and leaves, closing the door behind him. 

The room is quiet for several long seconds. Frank has been in similar situations, with the silence being so loud you can hear it. He doesn’t like that feeling. It is awkward and thick. He is determined to fill the silence quickly. He picks up his notepad and flips it open. He turns the pages until he finds the first page marked in his scratchy handwriting as, Humphrey’s Interview. He looks at the first question and starts to ask it, then stops. He looks at the glassy eyes of the stuffed toy in front of him. This is a moment right out of a little girl’s childhood, where the stuffed toy is her best friend and they are having tea and crumpets with their pinkies out and slurping away at the nothing in the cups. He could almost see a girl with her favorite white and pink dress on and her hair pulled back into pig tails, her voice very much like the teddy bear’s in front of him. There is a moment of pure joy as he sees the little girl is blonde and her eyes are blue and she has dimples and freckles across her nose. 

‘Is your tea good?’ the little girl asks.

‘Delicious,’ the teddy bear responds.

The little girl smiles wide, showing off her teeth, including the gap where one is missing.

Briefly Frank wonders if the Tooth Fairy visited her the night she lost that tooth. If so, how much money did he (or she) leave the little girl? A dollar? Two? Five? Maybe the Tooth Fairy was very well off and left her a ten spot or even twenty.

Frank shakes his head, smiles and then chuckles softly.

“What’s so funny?”

He is startled by this question. He’s the one who is supposed to asks the questions. The grin leaves his face and the chuckle dies off. “I … ummm … I just didn’t think you would talk to me.”

“Why is that?”

She is well-spoken for a young teddy bear who Frank imagines is around five or six.

“I just didn’t think you would, especially when Mr. Walker left.”

She seems to nod, but says nothing else.

“So, ummm … would you like to get started?”

“Okay.”

Humphrey Logan Back to Back 1.JPG
A boy and a bear.

Frank glances down at his notes. The first question is short, but he imagines it is an okay question to ask. At least, he hopes

“Let’s start from the beginning. What was life like before Hank?”

The silence he so hates fills the room, but it’s not that same awkward thickness. It is more of an anticipatory silence, as if Frank is watching a game show on a television of the past, one where the show has gone on for weeks and weeks and now there were only two contestants left and the host is about to announce the winner. There should be some sort of dramatic music playing, and maybe there is in Frank’s mind. The host opens his mouth and says, ‘And the winner of who doesn’t get eaten by a biter today is …’ and the commercial break interrupts the tension, sending the audience into a series of groans and ‘you’ve gotta be kidding me’s’.

But the silence doesn’t last all that long. In fact, it doesn’t even last as long as a short commercial break.

“It was fun,” Humphrey says. Frank thinks he can see her pink string mouth turned up into a smile. And is that a shimmer in her eyes?

“It was fun?”

“Yes.”

“How so?”

Humphrey doesn’t say anything right away. When she does, several seconds have passed and it is not an answer, but a question: “How so?”

Though her face doesn’t change, Frank thinks it does all the same. Maybe it was a twinkle in the eye. Or maybe it was just a slight shift of the head, or the angle at which she is sitting, but something has changed and it is a physical thing he can’t figure out. What he does know is she looks confused, as any living, breathing person would be. Then the light bulb comes on and he realizes she doesn’t understand his question.

“Oh, umm … ’how so’ is another way of asking, how was it fun?”

“I see.”

“So that’s what I am asking: how was life fun before Hank?”

The creative mind is a place where thoughts conspire for either good or bad. It is also the center of imagination, and as Humphrey sits, stoically, in her seat, Frank’s mind begins imagining she iss moving, like a child would, maybe one of five or six years of age; maybe a little older. He can see her tapping her chin as if she is thinking. Her lips are twisted slightly, almost in a pucker. Then she smiles, her small pink thread lips turning up and her fuzzy fingerless hand pointing at him.

“Before Mr. Walker came I was alone in my girl’s room. They had left me when everything went bad.”

She is quiet, this time with her head dipped and her glassy black eyes staring down at the floor. One shoulder goes up in a shrug. Then she lets out a deep sigh.

“My girl’s dad died.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” And Frank truly is sorry. 

“Me too. They thought he was dead and they were sad and scared and my girl—her name was Casey—she held me so close as she sat on her bed. She had taken a shower and I could smell her shampoo. She always smelled so clean after her showers. Her momma made her take one every night, and sometimes I got one too, but not in the tub. They put me in the wash machine with some clothes and I spun and swam and spun and swam, and then they put me in the dry machine and I tumble up and down until I am dry.”

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Just chillin’ by a wall, hoping for no biters to show up.

Frank smiles at this. The Humphrey in his imagination is opening up without realizing she is doing so. He remains quiet as she continues her story.

“Then they put my pajamas on and I was fresh like my girl.”

She pauses, as if thinking again. When she speaks, her voice is almost a whisper and Frank has to lean in to hear her. Though he misses the first part of what she says, he clearly gets the second part.

“… they were gone.”

Not for the first time he wonders what it would be like to have gone through the End Times, as Hank Walker calls it. Would he have lost everyone he cares about? Would he have even survived the initial outbreak, and if so, would he have lasted as long as some of the survivors in Fort Survivor #3?

In his imagination—a place he thinks he will spend a lot of time during this interview—he sees tears in Humphrey’s eyes. They are no longer glassy and black, but soft and blue, almost real eyes. His heart sinks into his stomach as he realizes Humphrey is remembering the events that took her girl, her Casey, from her and left her alone when everything went bad. She takes a deep breath, holds it for a second and then releases it. She looks up at Frank. Her smile is still there, but it is not a happy one. What he sees on her face right then is resignation.

“Her dad tried to kill them. Her mommy escaped and took my girl with her. They screamed a lot as they tried to get away from him, and then my girl screamed even more when her mommy grabbed her up and left me behind.”

“She tried to grab me, but knocked me on the floor instead. I landed on my back. She cried and screamed and then the door slammed shut. I heard the car doors and … they were gone.”

“I’m sorry,” Frank says. 

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Coming Soon: Interrogations

Good morning Faithful Readers,

I’m happy to announce my novella, Interrogations, is almost ready to see the world. Stitched Smile Publications and I have worked hard on this new Hank Walker novella and we believe you’re going to love the direction we have taken the storyline.

Interrogations bridges the two full length novels, Dredging Up Memories and Eradication (working title). If you haven’t read Dredging Up Memories, I encourage you to do so before you read Interrogations, though it is not necessary.

Here is the synopsis for Interrogations:

Interrogations Cover.pngHank 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 had 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 its leader.

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.

Yes, that last line is important. 

Though I don’t have an exact release date, the final touches are being put into place as I write this. I hope you are as excited as I am. Stick around for more information coming soon.

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.

Hank Walker: A Snippet

Dear Faithful Readers,

I want to tell you about Hank Walker, the main character of Dredging Up Memories. He’s an everyday average guy who ended up in the not so everyday average zombie apocalypse. He, like anyone dealing with the end of the world as he knew it, struggled to cope with the loss of loved ones and of humanity as a whole. He dealt with the loneliness in the best way he could. Maybe that was the wrong way, but it also may have been the way a lot of folks would have dealt with it. Who knows?

When I created the character of Hank Walker, I wanted to put him in situations that would test his mental fortitude. I wanted to break him and see how he came out on the other side of that. There were things I put him through that bothered me, especially as I got to know Hank and see his personality develop.

Sometimes when we write characters, we have to hurt them in order to make them believable. We have to hurt them in order to make you, the reader, feel something in your heart of hearts and your mind of minds. But by doing that, we also hurt ourselves, we break our hearts. As a writer, I know I have done my job, if I feel the pain of the story as I am writing it.

I’ve been told on several occasions that Dredging Up Memories is like The Walking Dead with more emotion. I take that as a huge compliment.

I can’t go into too much of the actual storyline without giving a ton away. However, I would love to give you part of the story, here in this post. Enjoy:

51xtx8nzwslA middle-aged man groaned as we neared each other. I screamed back at him before taking the top of his head off with the machete. The pistol took out several more, just click and boom and down they went.

I spun and saw another rotter moving toward me. His glasses were still on his face though hanging cock-eyed, just on the tip of his nose. His hair was short, a few cowlicks kicked off the edges. He was thin, and all I could think was Paul Marcum taking a bite out of Lee, essentially ending my oldest brother’s existence. The man looked similar to him.

I backpedaled to the truck, climbed in the bed, and shoved aside part of the tin can alarm system. There were other guns back there, plenty of ammunition, but all I wanted was a vantage point.

The other dead approached, flies swarming around them, their stench filling the air, making my stomach churn. Even after these few months, that smell still makes me want to heave. I plucked them off one by one until only the Paul Marcum lookalike was standing at the tailgate. He was missing three fingers on one hand, and up close, he was a lot worse off than I originally thought. Skin had peeled away from his face, exposing facial muscles as tough as jerky.

“How you doin’, Paul?”

He looked at me, gave a moan, and stretched out his arms.  

“Okay, so you’re not Paul—at least you weren’t in another life. But today… Today, you’re Paul Marcum, and you killed my brother.”

I brought the heel of my boot down on the bridge of his nose. He stumbled backward, let out what sounded like a howl. He was in pain, and I was happy to put him through more of it. I jumped from the truck, landed a few feet from him. A quick whip of the machete on one arm and it separated from his body.

“You think that hurt?” I yelled as he groaned. “You haven’t felt anything yet.”

I circled around him, rage having consumed me entirely. The blade found the other arm. The snap of bone and the rush of fetid blood spilled from a new wound as the arm fell away. Another pain-filled howl left the Marcum lookalike. I pulled the pistol from my waistband and took two shots at his legs—two wasted bullets that I’ll never get back, but at that time…at that time, wounding an innocent man who unfortunately looked like another one was all I cared about. The rotter fell to the ground, lay there with no hands to pull himself along, his legs useless.

With the toe of my boot, I rolled him onto his back. His teeth clattered together as he gnashed at me. His filmed-over eyes held anger in them.

“You’re mad at me? Is that how it is, Paul? You kill my brother, and you’re mad at me?” I laughed. Maybe the wheels had finally come off the car, and my mind had taken the short road to insanity. I don’t know, but at that moment—that frozen, horrible moment in time—I didn’t care about the pain the dead must have been in, the fear that must have been sitting in their undead veins. The only thing that mattered was revenge. Plain and simple. And revenge I would have.

I brought the blade down on the dead man’s chest, yanked it out, and swung it down again. Over and over, I bashed the body of the poor man as black blood spilled from each wound, and dead tissues tore free, bones broke. After several minutes, I finally stopped, my arms aching, my breathing heavy and harsh in my ears. The zombie still stirred, his mouth still opening and closing, his eyes still focused on what could have been a meal.

And the anger was gone from me, all of it unleashed on that poor dead man. I shook from adrenaline and sudden guilt. A hand went to my mouth, and I dropped the machete to the ground. I took several steps back until my back hit the tailgate. The man still moved, still made little groans and moans, and his head turned from side to side like he was saying no no no no over and over again.

I pulled out my pistol, walked the short distance to the mutilated body, and pulled the trigger. The man’s head ruptured, and he stilled. Hands shaking, I got into the truck, closed the door, and locked it. I could feel Humphrey’s eyes on me, sense his disappointment.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered as I stared out the windshield at the carnage around me. The dead were truly dead, their bodies lying where I felled them.

I hope you enjoyed this snippet from Dredging Up Memories. If so, consider bee-bopping over to Amazon and getting a copy. I would truly appreciate it. If you have already read it, would you mind leaving a review if you haven’t done so? That helps me out more than you probably know.

With that said, I leave you all and hope you have a wonderful morning, afternoon and evening.

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

A.J.

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.