Wildfire will be available for Kindle and Nook within the next two weeks. Until then, I hope you enjoy this preview chapter.
Maria Gilardo crouched by the hospital's side entrance. Across the street was the six-story parking garage. She would have to steel herself and make a run for the garage. She was beginning to think herself foolish for leaving Emma and the others, but her first priority was Jake. She wanted to hear his voice. That slight crack that entered into it once and a while. Calling Jake right now wasn't possible. Her cell phone was in the Honda and she didn't dare linger in the hospital to use the phone.
He was a smart boy. Maria made him lock the doors when she wasn't home. He kept a Louisville Slugger and a hunting knife that had been his father's stashed in his bedroom. The knife didn't thrill her, but Jake was a good kid and she trusted him not to use it unless someone was busting the door down.
Now, she scanned the strip of road that separated the parking garage from St. Mary's main building. There was no sign of any freaks. With a hitch in her belly, she sprinted for the parking garage. She reached it to find the glass attendant's booth empty. The yellow arm that protected the entrance was raised.
She had parked on the fifth level. Maria went to the elevator, hit the button, and waited for the doors to open. Multiple times she thought she heard footsteps on the concrete. The doors opened and the faint odor of urine wafted out.
She took the elevator to the fifth level and got out. The Honda was parked at the end of the first row. The wind whipped through the garage, blowing a dirty newspaper across her path. There were ten cars left in the row. Maria guessed some of the staff had made it to their cars and taken off.
She reached the Honda and dug into her pocket. Pulling out the keys, her hand shook. She dropped them and they clattered on the ground. She bent down and picked them up. That's when she heard the sound, a soft scraping on the concrete.
She crept to the rear bumper and peered down the row. It was the ramp attendant. His shirt was painted with blood and the knees were torn out of his pants. He stopped, sniffed the air. As she started to back toward the driver's side door, the attendant saw her. He broke into a run, arms pinwheeling. Dammit he was fast.
Scrambling to get the keys in the lock, she saw the attendant closing. There was no time to get the key in the lock, so she flattened out and slipped under the car. A moment later she saw the dark-skinned man with the egg-white eyes peer under the car. The bastard looked like he was grinning. He reached for Maria and she slapped his hand away.
He was flat on the ground, straining to reach. Maria inched away. The undead attendant pressed closer, attempting to squeeze under the Honda.
Maria remembered a tip from a women's self defense course the Sheriff's office had put on at the hospital. She gripped the Honda's key, point out between her knuckles. With it, you could go for an attacker's eye. The zombie wedged itself under the car. Maria jammed the key into its eye. It pulled back and she scooted out from under the Honda.
Kneeling, she unlocked the passenger door and slipped in. She locked the door. Then she climbed over the center console and got behind the wheel. The attendant, his eye dripping goo, pressed against his face against the window.
Maria started up the Honda, got it in reverse, and backed out. The attendant gripped the door and she could hear him being dragged. She turned the corner to head back to the entrance and heard a thump as the Honda's rear wheel rolled over the dead man.
She pulled out of the ramp. Had to put a death grip on the wheel to keep her hands steady. The hot glow of a fire burned in the distance, and oily black smoke rose into the air. It made her think of fire and brimstone. The pits of Hell. She didn't know what could have gone up to cause smoke like that.
She reached her little Cape Cod and pulled in the driveway. The lights were out, but nothing looked out of place. Jake might be upstairs watching television. He usually did so with the lights off.
After putting the car in park, she got out and went inside. The smell of pepperoni and cheese hung in the air. She guessed Jake had made himself a microwave pizza. Advancing through the house, she called his name. When she got to the stairs she stopped and listened, straining to hear the television. It was as quiet as a tomb.
She went upstairs, the stair risers squeaking under her weight. She called his name. At the top of the stairs she turned right. Jake's bedroom door was closed. Maria expected to hear Avenged Sevenfold or Megadeth blasting through the speakers, but it was silent. That gave her a chill. She knocked on the door.
“Who is it? I've got a knife.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. “Jake, it's mom.”
“Hang on,” he said, sounding muffled through the door.
Thumps and bangs came from behind the door. It sounded as if he were moving furniture.
A moment later, he opened the door. She marveled at how much taller he seemed every time she looked at him. Tonight the t-shirt of choice depicted the band Lamb of God. A pair of ripped jeans and black Chuck Taylors rounded out his outfit.
“Preparing for the apocalypse?”
“Did you see those things out there?”
If only you knew, she thought. “Yeah, the world's gone off its psych meds.”
She saw the hunting knife and Louisville Slugger on his desk. Next to the desk was a little Marshall amp and his Jackson flying V.
“So you saw them?”
There was no sense lying to him, or trying to sugarcoat things. “They got loose in the hospital. Overran the place.”
“Shit. That's bad.”
“Watch the English, young man.”
“Are you hurt?” Jake asked.
“I'm in one piece. How did you know what was going on?”
“I heard a bunch of noise. Growls. I looked out the window and there were a bunch of freaks out in the street. So I barricaded myself in,” Jake said.
“Why's it like the inside of a cave in here?”
“The lights? They'd see them. Give me away.”
Smart kid, she thought. “Is the back door locked?”
“I wish your father was here.”
“To protect us?”
“To stay with you. I hate leaving you alone. What if something had happened?” Maria said.
“Any zombies show up, I'll beat them down.”
She didn't want to tell him that he'd last not two minutes against those things. “That's the spirit, zombie slayer.”
“What caused it?”
“Something with that flu bug that's going around.”
Something crashed outside. It sounded like a garbage can being tipped over. Her stomach clenched in a knot. The noise had come from the back yard and she slipped into Jake's room, stepping over a balled up pair of sweatpants. Memo to Jake: clean your room. Jake's window overlooked the back yard.
Maria eased the drape away from the window and looked down upon the yard. Nothing by the two-car garage. She spotted the cause of the noise. A man the size of a small boulder trudged across the yard. Blood streaked the side of his face. Maria replaced the drape and backed away from the window.
“Not a sound. They're outside.”
They huddled in the living room, the drapes drawn. She could hear them stomping and muttering to themselves outside. Their shadows danced against the thin drapes. It was only a matter of time before one of them tried to get in the house.
“We got to boogie, my friend,” Maria said.
“They'll find a way in,” Maria said.
“We can go to the basement, lock up,” Jake said.
“We'd be trapped. Listen up. Very quietly, we need to gather some supplies. Clothes. Food. The whole town's not safe.”
“I don't want to leave.”
“We might be back someday,” Maria said. “But not now.”
She watched him, saw the tears form in his eyes. For all his bravado sometimes, he was still a boy. She put her arm around Jake and gave him a squeeze. “Go upstairs and get some clothes in a backpack.”
“Can I bring my guitar?”
“Jake, not now.”
“All right. But make it quick. Go.”
Jake scampered up the stairs. Maria went to her bedroom and packed a bag of clothes and toiletries. Then she went to the kitchen and boxed up dry goods: cereals and granola bars. She took five cans of pork and beans, the can opener, and a flashlight. Then she grabbed a few afghans off the couch and set everything by the front door. The pile of survival goods seemed woefully inadequate.
Jake returned with a backpack slung over one shoulder. He also had the survival knife and baseball bat. They didn't own any guns.
“Didn't bring the guitar?”
“It'll be here when we get back,” Jake said.
“I like the way you think.”
She peered out the front window. The Honda sat bathed in early morning sunlight. The street was empty. They picked up their supplies and Maria opened the door. The chilly air stung her cheeks. When she was sure things were clear, she said: “Okay. Move like your pants are on fire.”
“You haven't seen these things in action,” Maria said.
They reached the Honda. Got the supplies and packs into the back seat. As Maria turned she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned around and saw one of them coming across the lawn. She got a nasty, greasy feeling in her stomach. The zombie was a kid – nine or ten. Not just any kid. It was Dylan, the boy from two doors down. His thick, black hair was matted with blood.
“Jake, hand me the bat.”
She reached her hand out, not taking her eyes off of the dead Dylan. A series of strangled grunts came from the boy. Jake slipped the bat into her hand. It felt oddly disconnected. Gripping the bat with both hands, she said: “Don't look.”
Dylan saw the bat, narrowed his eyes, and charged. Maria planted her feet and swung. The bat connected, sounding like she'd smacked a hollow log. Dylan staggered sideways and fell. She took a deep breath and swung the bat as if splitting wood. It took four blows to finish him off. Dizziness flooded her head and tears stung her eyes. Had it really come to this?
“Mom, you okay?”
“He was just a boy.”
“But he wasn't Dylan anymore. You could see it.”
“Get in the car before more of them show up,” she said, wiping the Louisville Slugger on the grass. “I feel sick.”
Copyright 2012 Anthony Izzo