Wednesday, November 16, 2016

November UPDATES


Congratulations, winners!

All of the October giveaway prizes were shipped yesterday and should reach their destinations soon.  A special thanks to everyone who entered, shared, and commented during the giveaway.  During October, I had over 3,000 visitors to the blog—that's huge.

There will be more chances to win fun prizes soon.  Subscribe to the blog so you never miss a story or a giveaway.


The kickstarter is over.

While we did not meet our goal of $5,000, we managed to end with an amazing $2,324!  It's mind blowing the amount of interest, and it's all thanks to everyone who has helped talk up the anthology and share the news about this amazing project.  The stories included are amazing, and as Alisha and I work through the final edits, I can't help but feel like a proud parent.
Even though we did not meet the monetary goal, the anthology will be released Mid-December.  Soon I will have links for pre-orders for both soft and limited edition hardcover copies.

We've been getting more of the art that will be featured in the collection.  While I cannot reveal them here, I assure you that they are something wonderful.  Images within images, sometimes frightening, sometimes whimsical—Will Jacques has done a wonderful job with his illustrations.


As I'm #closingcircles and working on BROTHERS IN SOLITUDE, I've cleaned up a bunch of errors originally occurring in the original manuscript, both technical and conceptual.  Like most of my work, this story has evolved over many years, so there are loose threads and sloppy narrative from my younger days along with the precious gems I am trying to polish out.  I've really enjoyed coming back to Chad and Drake.  Their desolate existence stirs up so many personal things for me.  The book is, after all, a story for my brother, Steven.

If you're not reading it yet, why the hell not?

The most current version of the beginning is RIGHT HERE.

I'm posting this as I finish sections in order to giver readers a look inside my writing process.  I'm trying to get the chapters as finished as possible as I work, but there may be some changes before publication.  If you find any obvious errors in the material, please let me know in the blog comments.  Make sure to subscribe to the blog so you never miss a post.

I'd like to tell you some of the secrets of this tale:

*While Chad and Drake are loosely based on Steven and myself, I've jumbled up our characteristics so that neither one is me or him.  Each one is a composite of us growing up.  Their names come from good friends when we were young.  Chad is named after my chum Chad Killion, and Drake is named after Steven's friend Blake.  My brother was and is into dragons, so I changed the B to a D as a nod to his medieval interests.

*Originally it was set in Panama City Beach, Florida, but the town has changed so much since I started writing this ditty that I decided to alter the location to the fictional Port Wallace, named after my writing mentor and friend, Lynn Wallace.  I've also changed the brother's street name from Hilltop Avenue (our childhood home in PCB) to Lister Avenue, named for another of my major writing mentors, Michael Lister.  Most of the streets in the story are a corruption of the South Lagoon neighborhood of our youth, now cloaked with names of dear friends.

*The prologue was written last month.  I'm thinking about adding a detail concerning Mom, heightening the terror before they flee the campsite.  If I do, I'll post a new version of the prologue.

*I don't think the newest version of what I've been posting has mentioned Ambertown yet, but I've changed the original manuscript's Ambertown into Amberton, but I'm changing it back.  As I got to writing, I wanted it sound more natural, but as I dug deeper, I decided I was right the first time.  Crazy how that happens.

*Throughout the story, there are numerous nods to many other works in the zombie genre.  Keep an eye open and feel free to call me out in the blog comments when I drop one of these Easter eggs.  I'm interested in who is paying attention.  I hide a lot of things in my stories.  Those in the know…

*The Megacenter is Wal-Mart on Front Beach Road, but I am wary of branding in my work.  I try not to use any brand names if I can help it.  My writing is not a billboard for corporations, so I'd rather make up a product than try and sell it to readers.  I will, however, name drop bands, movies, books, and other artsy things I am hopelessly in love with.  More on this topic in a later post.

All right, cats.  That's a look inside the new book and all the updates I have at the moment.

More soon.


Sunday, November 13, 2016


I'm #closingcircles and finishing projects before starting anything new.

With this story, I'm letting readers glimpse behind the scenes of my writing process and encouraging them to help me find mistakes and leave their thoughts in the comment section.

Thanks for reading and being a part of this process.

Read the PROLOGUE here.
Read CHAPTER 1 here.


Chad studied the last two playing cards cupped in his palm, fighting a smile.  Taunting the fates would cost his edge.
Drake, a notorious bad winner, had already crushed him during the evening's two previous games.  If Chad lost this hand, the sacred law of three-out-of-five took effect.  Drake would spend the rest of the night gloating and Chad would have to wash the dishes piling up in the sink.  And of all the chores, Chad hated dishes the most.  The nasty cold, soapy water chilled the bones in his knuckles.
Chad couldn't decide if he wanted to pair the queen or hearts or the six of clubs.
As a large vanilla scented candle flickered beside them, Drake scraped a can of deviled ham with a bent spoon.
Chad squinted, trying to block out the irksome clatter.  "I hate when you do that."
"It's almost gone."  Drake raked the spoon against the bottom of the can.  "You can make all the noise you want to when it's my turn."
Chad snorted, locking eyes with Drake.
"Well, what are you waiting for?"  Drake rang the inside of the can like a bell with the spoon.  "You have only two left to choose from.  Call."
"Do…you…," Chad savored the moment, "have any…queens?"
"Go fish."  Drake, beaming, tossed the can and spoon aside and picked up three cards lying face down on his lap.  "After I win, you can clean that can up, too."
"Damn."  Chad reached for the pile between them.  "I thought I had you that time."
"Guppies can't catch tigers."  Drake reorganized his cards.  "It's one of nature's edicts."
Chad drew a two of spades from the deck.
To hell with Drake's uncanny good fortune.
Before the plague, he dominated video and board games.  Neighborhood kids who gambled with him lost lunch money and baseball cards, refusing to come over after they realized that the oldest brother could not be beat.  When the power went out for good, games were all Chad and Drake had left.  Backgammon's appeal ebbed early on, and chess proved fruitless.  Drake always snuck in for the kill with his knights.  Even if Chad took out the horses early, Drake would checkmate him with pawns and then revel in winning with the game's weakest pieces.
Lady Luck preferred Drake.
Chad, on the other hand, excelled at athletic activities.  Drake would be out of breath long before Chad ever broke a sweat.  He could knock baseballs to the next block from the neighboring roof where the brothers often swung golf clubs and wooden bats scavenged from abandoned garages and sheds.
Over the past two years, Chad had become a better shot with guns.
"I'm getting tired of games, Drake.  Why don't we go out?"
"This is just an excuse to get out of losing."  Drake leaned back on his elbows, holding his cards close to his chest.  "Didn't you get enough yesterday?"
"Could have been worse."
"Yeah, and it could have been better.  You didn't listen to me when I told you to stop shooting.  If we ran out of bullets, we'd still be in there."
Chad, not in the mood for a lecture, huffed.
"What do you need?"
"Lighter fluid." Chad flicked the lid of a dull chrome Zippo open with his thumb.  "How about you?  Low on anything?"
"No, I'm good."  Drake set his cards down, tapping their backs with his fingertips. 
"I also wouldn't mind looking at the stars."
"And where do you plan on stargazing, Galileo?  On top of Old Lady Scott's house."
"That place still smells like cats."
Drake snickered.  "It could smell like your bedroom."
Chad ignored the fight bait and returned all the playing cards to the pack.  The stink around Old Lady Scott's cottage had nothing on the death that poisoned the air inside the Megacenter.
After closing the worn flap on the cardboard container housing the deck of cards, Chad returned them to the stack of board games beside Mom's brown recliner.  He couldn't stand a mess.  Putting things in their place kept the world in order.
Drake yawned.  "Ready?"
"Let's go."
Chad blew out the candle, turning on a flashlight.  The beam pierced the dark room, reflecting floating dust motes.  Mom called them spirit flowers when Chad first discovered the translucent specks wafting about, telling him that they were the souls of their ancestors watching over them.
Did her soul watch as Chad followed Drake up the stairs, to the hallway dividing the master bedroom from the two smaller ones?
In the center of the hall, Drake reached for a dangling thread and pulled down the attic door, unfolding an access ladder.
He pointed up.  "You first."
Chad grabbed the wooden rail with his free hand and climbed, the ladder's joints squeaking under his weight.  Drake followed, pulling up the trap door behind them.
Stepping on the crossbeams as not to fall through the ceiling, Cad followed a pathway cutting through boxes filled with the family's holiday decorations and toys the brothers had outgrown but were too sentimental for Mom to throw away.
Past the oblong box containing the fake Christmas tree and plastic wreath Dad hung on the front door every year, a plywood flap attached by hinges covered a jagged oval hole in the roof.  Chad flipped off his flashlight, swung open the cover, and poked his head through the opening.
Suspended like a jewel among the cloudless, starry night, a waxing gibbous moon illuminated the pavement and overgrown grass below.  Thankful for clear visibility, Chad tucked the flashlight into his pocket.
Though their stockpile included plenty of batteries, conservation remained crucial.  Finding high priority supplies randomly buried in the houses dotting their neighborhood took longer and longer before paying off, forcing deeper treks into the surrounding blocks.
Chad wasn't naïve.
One day there would be nothing left worth pillaging, and they would have to leave the nest.  Outside of monthly camping trips, vacations to Disney World, and school field trips to Tallahassee's soaring capital building, Chad had never left Port Wallace.  Leaving their sanctuary and striking off into the world frightened him as much as the reanimates.
In small numbers, the corpses were easy to kill, but there was no telling how many flesh-hungry packs wandered the uninhabited streets.  Equally dangerous, a starving traveler might kill for supplies as fast as the herds could strip the skin from your bones.
Chad envied the night sky's simple serenity.
"See anything?" Drake asked.
"Just Orion making a run at the sky again," Chad said.  "The lawn needs a mow."
"That's not happening.  It matches the rest of the block anyway.  Come on, climb up.  Let me out of here."
Chad pulled himself out of the hole, his blue jeans scraping on the shingles.  Standing on the hipped rooftop, he scanned the dark houses lining Lister Avenue while adjusting his holster.
A southern wind wafted in the peaceful crashing waves from the Gulf of Mexico.
A second later, Drake was standing beside him, checking his revolver's bullets.  "Where do you think we'll find fluid?  The Robinsons'?"
Chad hung out with Timmy Robinson a lot before the change.  An only child, Timmy told a million dirty jokes and was the first kid Chad ever saw smoke a cigarette.  Once he went door-to-door, collecting donations for the TR Foundation, a play on his own name so he could buy a new bike from the Megacenter.  Chad shot Timmy while searching for Robotech comic books in the Robinson house, once in the chest before putting him down for good with a shot between the kid's clouded red and yellow eyes.  Drake disposed of Timmy's parents in their upstairs bedroom.
"No," Chad said.  "Think we cleaned it out."
"Stop and Shop?"
"Beach Mart is closer."
"Yeah, but Double S has more crap inside."
Drake walked to the far left of the roof and picked up one of three metal ladders from a pile on the roof's edge.  Chad grabbed the other end of the ladder and pulled—a sharp click echoed down the street as the ladder opened and locked.
Chad checked the empty street again.
A single sheet of newspaper twisted along the pavement.
"Like a mouse."  Drake heaved the ladder to the edge of the roof, bridging the six-foot gap to next door neighbor's mansard roof.  "We should ditch the bikes and boost a car."
"Drive?" Chad knelt before the makeshift catwalk.  "You never got your license.
"Did so."
"The learner's permit doesn't count."
"Does so.  It's not my fault no one ever showed you how."
"And where would we go?"
"I don't know.  Anywhere.  Nowhere."
"Doesn't sound fun to me."
Drake sat on the base of the ladder as Chad got on all fours and crawled between the buildings.
Chad turned around and held the other end for Drake while he crossed.
The adjacent rooftop lodged their collection of bats, golf clubs, and tennis rackets.  Balls filled several plastic milk crates, and he noticed they were low on tennis balls—something to keep an eye out for.  After Drake traversed the gap, the brothers carried the ladder to the other edge and repeated the process, this time creating a bridge between their neighbor's house and Old Lady Scott's.
The breeze stirred and Chad shivered.
"Next time, I'm wearing a sweater.  You can really feel fall coming in."  He wrapped his bare arms across his worn Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T-shirt, covering Donatello's faded sneer.  "I bet it snows this year."
"It never snows here.  You should be thankful we're not someplace like Philly or Chicago.  I bet whoever's left is dick-deep in snow right now."
"Think the rots freeze up there?"
"If they did, it'd be like a statue garden."
"People would have a fighting chance.  You could walk up and blast them.  Pick them off one by one.  They could sweep in and clear the streets with those big machines they use to plow snow."
"Jesus, the smell when they thawed…  Remember when Dad's fridge broke and all the deer meat went bad?"
Once the brothers reached Old Lady Scott's flat, L-shaped roof, they wheeled their beach cruisers to the pediment overlooking the driveway, listening for movement in the streets.
"I tell you, this house stinks," whispered Chad.  "Cats.  I smell cats."
Drake chuckled.  "It's all in your head."
"No, it's not."
"We can make it top priority, spend a day down there cleaning it up."
"Are you serious?"
"Hey, you're the one acting like a pretty, pretty princess."
"I was just saying."
"Yup.  I heard ya.  Look at your damned stars so we can get on with it."
When they started making runs two years ago, the brothers attached a pair of hemp ropes to a red brick chimney on the right-hand side of the roof.  Drake picked up one of the loose ends and tied it around the frame of his green beach cruiser, lowering the bike over the edge of the house.  Chad affixed his end to a matching black bike.  Drake's bike touched ground, and he used the rope to climb after it.  Chad joined him, making as little noise as possible.
They untied the bikes and wheeled them to the street, searching again for any movement.
They mounted their bikes and peddled towards Bearden Circle, a winding, S-shaped road leading to Cappo Drive and the Stop and Shop convenience store.
The riskiest leg of the journey, dangerous shadowy areas blanketed feral trees and shrubs taking over the tall, tightly-spaced houses lining Bearden Circle.
Chad peddled harder, putting as much distance as possible from the edge of the pavement by riding on the double yellow lines.
"There hasn't been too many of them lately," said Chad after they made the curve.  "Even less than three months ago."
"Doesn't mean anything.  I think they're all inside the Megacenter."
Remembering the suicide in electronics, the hairs on Chads arms tingled.  Looking towards the road's inky shoulder, the shadows suddenly seemed more ominous.
"Stop a second," Drake said when the brothers reached the bent stop sign at the intersection of Bearden Circle and Cappo Drive.
Before them, the Treasure Ship, a towering Spanish galleon rising high above one of the many marinas dotting Wallace Bay, stood sentential over Cappo Drive.  In another time, the immense building served as a restaurant, gift shop, and bar.  Chad's tenth birthday party was held in the third floor's main restaurant.  A man dressed as a pirate twisted two hot-dog balloons into an orange sword and a red parrot that sat on his shoulder.
Happier days.
He couldn't recall how Mom's voice sounded anymore.
Drake panted.  "Think it's empty?"
"I loved watching the boats pass under the fishing bridge from the upper deck."
"One day, we have to go in there."
"I still say it's a giant trap.  Once inside there would be no way out."  Chad turned the bike's handlebars from side to side, digging the front tire in the sandy gravel.  Movement out of the corner of his eye pulled his attention left, towards the two-lane bridge bisecting the Grand Lagoon from Wallace Bay.  "We should fish tomorrow."
"Instead of casting lines from the fishing bridge or the Dolphin Pier, we need to find some kayaks and cast lines on the open water."
"What happens if we hook a shark that wants to eat us?"
"We'll get a spear or a harpoon or something.  Stick it in one of its eyes."
"A hammerhead would pull you in."
"I could take him."
"It would be easy."  Drake's words grew faster and louder.  "We could—"
Chad shushed him and pointed towards the shadows underneath the fishing bridge.
A lone figure staggered towards them.  It reached out towards them and groaned.
Chad clenched the handle bar's rubber grips.  "It's seen us."
"We need to get to the Stop and Shop before it does."
Chad peddled as hard as he could, heading in the opposite direction of the approaching corpse.  Slow and awkward, rots took a while to cover any real distance, but that didn't leave them all night to shop.  It wouldn't be long before it was pounding on the store's windows, hungry and relentless.
At the end of the Treasure Ship's parking lot, they skidded into the Stop and Shop's dive.
Frozen in time, the rectangular convenience store's broken neon cigarette signs dangled behind dark, cracked windows.  An overturned trash barrel blocked the front entrance, Drake's solution to prevent intruders—living and dead—from climbing through the front door's missing windowpane.
They leaned their bikes against a white Chevy Malibu rusting at the gas pumps.  The first time the brothers raided the store, they found a skin mag in its glove box—Drake won the issue after a three day game of Monopoly.
They huddled against the car, panting.
"What are we going to do now?" Chad asked.
"I don't know, man."
Not visible from the road but parked next to the building, a beat up truck waited, motor idling.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Brothers in Solitude Chapter 1

Thanks for everyone's notes on the previous section.

If you haven't caught up, the most compete version of the BROTHERS IN SOLITUDE PROLOGUE is here.

Instead of participating in NaNoWriMo, I'm letting readers follow along as I #closecirlces and finish projects that I've started before getting sidetracked with something new.  Please let me know any mistakes, typos, or concerns in the comment sections.  Thanks for reading as well as your help.


Thirty or forty creatures shuffled about the Megacenter's main parking lot, ambling without any obvious direction or purpose.

Chad pushed through the scrubby bushes he and Drake hid behind and surveyed the scene with olive green binoculars.  Few vehicles remained.  Several random carts scattered the parking spaces, the white lines once representing order now sprawled out faded, cracked, and forgotten.  Before the world went to shit, the Megacenter was Port Wallace's downtown, the small community's shining gem.  Now a tomb, the supermarket served as a beacon for the walking dead.

"Looks like we found where they've been disappearing to."  A chill haunted the Florida air, and Chad wished he'd worn his jacket.  Why did Drake have to be right again?  "Twice as many as the last time we were out this far.  How many do you think are inside?"

"I don’t know."  Drake adjusted the hunting knife on his belt.  "A million?"

 Halfway across the lot, one of the things lurched over the door of a car long abandoned, pulling the handle again and again without success.

"What's that rot going to do with a car?" Drake asked.  "I've never seen one drive."

"Maybe it used to own it."  Chad imagined the decaying corpse parked at the city pier and listening to music.  "Maybe it wants to go home."

"I don't think so.  They're just stupid, reanimated meat."

Chad suppressed a giggle.  "Well, looks like the dummies still know how to shop."

"What could they possibly need in there?"

Chad didn't answer.  Drake, too serious for his seventeen years, rarely picked up on subtle jokes.  So much had changed in two years.  Chad missed his brother's pre-apocalypse silliness.

He tucked his binoculars in his backpack and awaited instructions, like normal.  Drake always took command.

"It's a shame we can't get on that roof.  I bet we could drop right on top of whatever is worth salvaging in there, skip all the hassles."

"I think we can handle them.  They're spread out pretty thin.  We can pick them off one by one.  Start with the stragglers closest to Front Beach Drive and work our way in."

"No, we need to save our energy.  Go hand-to-hand out here, and we'll have nothing left by the time we make it inside."

"Still think we can get in through the far side?  Through the tire center?"

Drake nodded and pointed to the building's left-hand corner.  Once a lush greenhouse sectioned off with a chain-link fence, a new kind of weed consumed the gardening department, their groans a dreadful concerto coming from behind the tattered white plastic.

"Seems they're bottled up there."  Drake's eyes narrowed.  "We can keep low behind all these bushes and follow them past that mess in gardening.  If they're spread out enough, we'll slip into the automotive entrance."

Chad gave a thumbs up and readied his crossbow.  Scavenging the Megacenter would take a great deal of pressure off their resources.  Their supplies were running low, and they had picked clean the neighborhood surrounding their home.

The brothers left their bikes and followed the overgrown tree line surrounding the parking lot.  Chad minded his footsteps.  The dead reacted to sound more than sight or smell.  The older ones, the unfortunate souls ripped from their humanity at the plague's onset, were nearly blind.  Their red and yellow eyes decayed faster than their saggy, gray flesh, but even blind, the creatures pinpointed prey with frightening accuracy.

The brothers, separated from clawing hands and gnashing jaws by thick, tall bushes, passed the crowd outside the greenhouse with ease.  Finding an opening in the plants several feet from the automotive center's entrance, they paused.

The side entrance door hung askew, its hinges broken from swarms of the undead or roaming gangs that looted the area as civilization collapsed.

An oversized lady wearing a light blue bathrobe splotched with old bloodstains wandered from the repair bay.  Her gnarled, mud-covered feet waddled over the greasy concrete as she stared off into the clear, azure sky.  Two further along in their decomposition staggered closer to the entrance.  On the tallest, the sun glinted off an exposed clavicle, bleached white from exposure to the elements.

Chad hoped Drake would call the whole thing off.  How many waited inside?  The automotive entrance was situated on the opposite side of the building from the food section, past electronics, cleaning supplies, and pet care.  The center of the food department housed can goods, but the plan called for staying along the edge of the building and skipping the wide aisles where larger numbers of the things could gather.  Their approach would take longer but sounded safer in theory.

As the reality sank in, the less appealing the invasion became.

"What are you thinking, Drake?"

"We can make it.  Get the fatty.  I'll take out the other two."

"Then what?"

"Then we get inside as quick and quiet as possible."

Chad swallowed hard, pushing back the nausea twisting his guts.  Instincts begged his legs to run away, but once Drake made up his mind, there was no turning back.

Drake readied the machete that their father used to trim hibiscus plants, his icy, unyielding stare fixed on the two obstructing their path.

Chad aimed the crossbow.

An arrow struck bathrobe's temple.  She crumpled with an agonized gasp.  The other two shifted their milky gazes towards the brothers.

Drake sprung, swinging at the tall one's neck, severing its head clean off its body.  The second grasped at him, its gaping mouth poised for a poisonous bite.  After planting the blade deep into its skull, the rancid fiend collapsed and twitched at Drake's feet.

Back at the gardening section, several shuffling corpses remained unaffected by the ambush.  The last thing they needed was a swarm trapping inside the store.

Drake waved the machete at the side entrance, sprinting.

Chad retrieved the arrow from bathrobe's head, reloading his weapon without missing a step as Drake disappeared into the building.

Six crows circled overhead, as if waiting for something to die.

Inside, the auto care department still smelled of new tires and burnt motor oil.  Drake paused by a drinking fountain nestled between two tire racks.  Turning the knob, the fountain yielded no precious liquid.

"What the hell?" Chad kept his voice low.

"I thought since the water still ran at our house, it would work.  Probably would have been stale anyways."

"You think?"

"Come on, dude."

Drake turned left at the first row of antifreeze and windshield wiper blades, hugging the back wall as they journeyed deeper into the store.  The natural light from the outside waned.  Chad, eyes still adjusting, slowed as his vision focused.  Broken glass crunched under his sneakers and reverberated through the aisles.

A gurgling groan replied from the darkness.

"Did you hear that?" Drake whispered.


"Forget it, let's hurry.  I'm not liking the vibe in here."

Chad silently agreed.

Shadows swallowed them.  Drake flicked on a flashlight and kept it pointed low as they passed paint cans and ladders.  Chad fumbled around his pocket for a glow stick.  An emergency precaution, holding the plastic tube offed a drop of relief.

He hated the dark.

Though embarrassing to admit, if their home still had power, he'd sleep with a nightlight.  And should he live another hundred years, he prayed to God that his brother never discovered his fear.

Creeping past a wall of TVs long-starved for electricity, he wished he could watch cartoons again.  Nothing beat lounging on the couch and gobbling potato chips—why did those perfect afternoons end?

It wasn't fair.

When they reached the CDs and video games, the stale air soured.


Electronics used to be his favorite department.  While Mom shopped for groceries, Chad would play the video games on display.  Those random kids he met over the latest arcade delight were probably all dead now.  He couldn't even remember any of their names.

Drake stopped and swept the beam.

Still clinging to a shotgun, a man missing half of his face sat with his back against a CD rack.  Rusty brown chunks of tissue splattered across the rock and pop CDs—the stiff appeared relatively fresh.  Drake traced the body with the flashlight.  His exposed legs revealed chunks of missing flesh.  Suicide—a pitiful mercy from reanimation.

"If I get bit," Drake said under his breath, "I won't hesitate."

"I'll do it for you."

"I got your back, too."

They pounded fists before pushing on.

Loud groans by the paper towels and toilet bowl cleaner.


Feet shuffling.

Numerous creatures, but on which aisle?

The stench burned Chad's lungs; he stifled a cough.

Drake halted, the machete ready to strike.

Chad, holding his breath, raised the crossbow.

At the corner of dog food and cat litter, a little girl around twelve-years-old grabbed Drake's arm, knocking the machete from his hands.  He screamed when the flashlight revealed long-dead skin dangling from her face, exposing a vacant eye socket and unhinged jaw.

Chad didn't shoot.

He couldn't risk hitting Drake.

Hooking the crossbow's prod over his shoulder, he grabbed the little girl by her nappy blonde locks and jerked.  Clumps of scalp broke free, leaving Chad with a handful of dry, knotted hair.  Drake unsheathed the hunting knife in his belt and rammed the blade's tip into her forehead.  Black pus oozed from the wound.  Drake tossed aside her carcass—it hit a stack of metal dog bowls, sending them crashing.

"Shit," he said.

"They're coming."  The raid failed, Chad's adrenaline surged.  "We have to get out of here."

Drake scooped up his machete as a throng surrounded them.

Chad drew his revolver.  "Drake, let's go."

He dropped what was once an elderly man with a single headshot.  The blast bounced off the walls and the store came alive with un-life.

"Save your bullets."

They ran along the back wall.  Almost clear.

At the engine fluids, they rounded the corner with the drinking fountain.  Fifteen or twenty staring pairs of red and yellow eyes blocked the tire and lube entrance.  Behind them, the groans and growls of the approaching mob grew louder.

Drake dove in, swinging the machete and taking down a rotting woman still in her Megacenter uniform.

"Get down," Chad shouted.

Drake ducked.

Chad unloaded, opening a wide gap within the infected.

The brothers dashed at the broken door.

Chad shoved a gaunt man in bloodied scrubs into the checkout counter before stepping outside into the warm sunlight.  After the building's dark corridors, the blue sky and fresh air a religious experience.
They vanished into the bushes and reclaimed their rides, mounting their bikes and peddling as fast as they could to Lister Avenue, to home.