A Little Give-Away

Here’s a quick something for you to read at your leisure. 

Not everything a writer creates sees print. Pieces that aren’t suitable for the initial market usually get re-constructed and submitted elsewhere. Sometimes that’s not an option, though. These days, that’s not always a disaster.

What follows is an excerpt from a novella entitled Jerusalem which I wrote a couple years back. It was for a shared-world zombie series called After The World, from Black House Comics (now sadly defunct.)  The series itself didn’t go very far, although Jason Fischer did some very cool stuff with it which you should definitely check out right here.  

The cancellation of the series left me with a fairly nifty little novella which was deeply enough mixed into the mythology provided for After The World that I couldn’t extricate it for use elsewhere. Thus it now becomes a promotional give-away. I’ve turned it into a PDF, and if you like the sample here you can download the whole thing for free, gratis, fun, shits and giggles. The mediafire link for the PDF is right here: Jerusalem. I’ll put the link at the end of the excerpt as well, just to be sure.

I’m not going to put out a bunch of different file versions, though. I haven’t the time right now. PDF is pretty universal anyhow. Mind you, if anybody else wants to go through the effort of converting the original document to all the various e-reader formats, just contact me. Oh — and I’ve never tried using Mediafire or any other such service… so if the link doesn’t work, let me know. I’m not exactly sure what I’ll do about it, but I’ll figure something out.

Okay. Enough talk. Here’s a short section of Jerusalem, an After The World story by Dirk Flinthart:

I woke without moving, opening my eyes just far enough to peer through the lashes. It was a trick you had to learn, if you were going to stay alive in Recon. It took me a moment to realise what had woken me: the diesels had stopped. I glanced into the cab, but Squiddie seemed unperturbed, and the truck was still moving.

“What’s going on?” Hunt sat up, her eyes wide and frightened. “Where are we?”

“Don’t worry,” I said, shifting my arse on the hard bench seat. “Squiddie has swapped back to the electrics. We’re making the run to the Gelibrand wharfs as quietly as we can. The truck doesn’t make much noise like this, so keep your voice down. It’d be nice if we could just slide out to the docks nice and smooth.”

Davis’ face appeared in the window to the cab. “We’re about three kay out of Gelibrand now, Captain. Roads aren’t as bad as we thought. Squiddie reckons maybe five, six minutes.”

I dragged in a deep breath, and rocked my head from side to side, feeling my neckbones crackle. Sleeping in armour: you could do it, but it never got comfortable. “Take Battery Road as far as we can,” I said. “I’ll ride shotgun on Doctor Hunt. I’ll put two on the gate and lock, the rest on cover while you and Squiddie bring the truck through.”

All round the truck, now, the others were moving, stretching, yawning. Despite the cramped quarters and all the metal hanging off them, they were quiet, as they were trained to be. I felt Doctor Hunt shivering, despite the oppressive heat of the evening, so I put a hand on her shoulder, and leaned close enough to breathe in her ear. “This is where it gets interesting,” I said. “Listen carefully. Do exactly as you’re told. Right now, we’re the professionals, and you’re cargo. If there’s action, you may have the urge to do something. You may even think you have a good idea. You might believe that surviving on your own this long makes you a veteran Zebedee hunter. It does not. Do you understand?”
She shrank back from me, and nodded just once.

“That’s good,” I said, watching her carefully. New fish were always unpredictable. “Stay close to me. Follow my orders exactly. If by some chance I should go down, Macintyre will take over. That’s him there,” I said, pointing to the day-glo skull painted on his helmet. Big Mac lifted his visor, and gave us a cheerful grin. Hunt managed to smile back. She looked nervous as hell, but at least she was making the effort. Maybe she’d make it through.

The truck slowed, and the noise level rose as Recon Two checked their kit. I looked over the new fish. We’d given her heavy motorbike boots, heavy leather pants with a wide belt, kevlar motorbike gloves with titanium skid-plates, and a heavy, high-collared leather jacket. Hopefully, she wouldn’t get near enough to Zeb to test it.

“Should I have a helmet?” she asked, tugging at the zip on her collar.

I shook my head. “Restricts your vision and hearing. You won’t be engaging Zeb. You follow orders, keep your head down, and you’ll be through the gate and in the clear before you know it, okay? It’s cool. We’ve done this a hundred times.” Something moved at the edge of my vision. I glanced through the divider, out the windscreen. “Shit,” I said, before I caught myself.

The place was crawling with Zeb.

The truck came to a halt. “Await orders,” I told Squiddie through the window, and then turned back to the crew. “Change of plan, people,” I said quietly. “Looks the rent-a-crowd got here first.” I glanced back over my shoulder. “Davis, get on the horn, find out if those dips on the boat used their diesels to get in here. I’ve told them about that so many fucking times…”

“What’s the numbers, Captain?” Digger spoke up. He sounded nervous and scared, and that was bad. Digger was always cheerful. It was one of the things that made him who he was.

Still, I knew how he felt. The last thing we needed after a long field run was a big fight with Zeb. Everyone was tired and edgy. We were close enough to the boat that I could practically smell the beer, and my skin crawled and itched every time I remembered the hot showers. I clenched my fists, and forced myself to answer Digger clearly. “Bad enough. I make it low three-figures, more coming in from the periphery. We can use the truck as a ram, clear the gate long enough for a quick rush, but it’s going to be ugly.”

“Hundred plus, eh?” There was definitely something wrong. Digger’s quiet, strained tone cut through the activity in the truck, and somehow, everyone turned to look at him at once. “What’s Kalkin’s record?”

“Kalkin? What are you talking about?” I got a cold feeling in my belly. There was only one reason to talk about Kalkin. But…

Crystal figured it out first. Her shoulders started shaking, and she pressed her gauntlets to her faceplate. I looked at her, and then it hit me; a wave of nausea, a desperate need not to hear what I was hearing.“Aww, shit. Digger,” I said. “You serious?”

Digger raised his left hand, and stripped the armoured gauntlet from it in a single gesture.

I winced. His hand was swollen, reddened and angry; worst of all, I saw that his ring finger ended just below the top joint in a black-edged, oozing wound.

“Doesn’t hurt at all now,” said Digger quietly. “I guess maybe I’ve got half a day or so left. I just wanted to help you guys get back safely. That’s all.”

Crystal was openly sobbing now, and the others were muttering angrily. I waved them quiet, and looked at Digger.“When?”

“On watch last night. Dammit, Cap — I was taking a piss, okay? I never could handle my prick with those metal gloves on.” He shifted uncomfortably. “What can I say? I lost skin that way a couple times.”

“You shoulda said,” Garvey put in. “Take the hand off early, you’d maybe come out okay.”

“Yeah, maybe,” said Digger, his voice full of scorn. “Except at best I’d be missing a hand, and worst, I’d still be walking Zebedee street.”

Doctor Hunt tapped me on the shoulder. “What’s going on?” she said quietly. “Did he lose that finger to a… a…”

“Yes,” I said. I took a deep breath, and pulled myself together. Time to act like a commanding officer. Regrets would have to wait. “Trooper Diggs,” I said, in my boss voice.

Digger pulled himself to attention. “Sir.”

The words came to me without having to think about it. How many times had I spoken them? I tried not to remember. “I am told you have suffered the touch of the Enemy. Is this true?”

Digger put his gauntlet back on, then saluted. “Sir. It is true, sir.”

A low moan went through Recon Two. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Hunt wrap her arms around herself and shrink back, like she was trying to disappear. I let everyone get quiet before I went on. “The President says your skills are too valuable to lose. For the good of the Republic, you may take the salt, and join the ranks of the Penitent.”

“No salt, sir.” Digger’s voice shook, and he threw back his visor. His rough-edged, bearded face was ashen. “I’m Second Recon.”

Nobody spoke, but some of the troopers nodded, and a quiet murmur of approval rose.

I knew there was no point in asking — but that was the point. I went on, exactly as I must. “I ask again: will you take the salt and join the Penitent?”

“I’m Second Recon, sir,” said Digger. He lifted his chin.

This time, the calls of support were clear, and dangerously loud. I raised a hand, and everyone fell silent again. I dug around my utility belt until I found the little pouch of salt. I’d really hoped I wouldn’t have to bring it out this time. It sat in the palm of my hand, heavy as a guilty conscience, and I held it out for them all to see. “For the last time, Trooper: will you take the salt?”

“I’m Second Recon, sir.”

This time they all came back with the refrain: Second Recon! The intensity was spooky, like a prayer or a curse — and maybe it was.

I dropped the salt, and deliberately ground it under my foot, bursting the bag and spreading white crystals across the scarred plastic floor. “Do you have your collar, Trooper?”

“I do, sir.” Digger brought his out from his belt. We all carried one. We all hoped we’d never have to use it. We all knew that in the end, we probably would.

“Who will place the collar upon you, Trooper?”

“Sir,” Digger swallowed. “It’s been an honour.” He looked across at Crystal, his eyes hollow. “But – if it’s all the same, I’d like Trooper Maguire to set the collar for me.”

“Trooper Maguire?” I turned to Crystal.

She sobbed once, then stood up. Tears streamed down her reddened face, making clean tracks through the sweat and the dust. “You bastard, Digger. You careless, useless bastard.” She took the flexible metal collar from Digger’s hand. “Second Recon,” she said, stripping off her gauntlets. Then she carefully looped the thing around his neck, screwing the two ends together tightly. A little red light came on just below Digger’s scurfy beard. It was armed now, and working. The beginning of the end for Digger.

“Second Recon,” he replied. Very quietly, he said: “I’m sorry, Crys. I can’t even kiss you goodbye.” Her face crumpled, and she stuck her fist into her teeth. Digger turned to face the troop. “Let the dead stay dead!

Let the dead stay dead,” we gave back. Next to me, Doctor Hunt pulled herself into her corner, as tight and small as she could get. I knew what she was feeling, but I had no comfort for her. We were losing one of our own, a friend, a blood-brother closer than family. There’s no peace in something like that; especially not for soldiers. Rage and revenge are your only companions at such a time. Hunt would have to wait.

Digger saluted, and then turned to me. “So I thought I’d aim for a spot maybe a hundred metres up the fenceline. When I’ve got their attention, you take the truck through the gate, lock it up safely, and get on the boat. Are we good?”

I gave him the Recon Two reply: “We are fucking great,” I said. “In your own time, Trooper. And Rob –” I reached across and clasped Digger’s good hand. “Like you said. It’s been an honour.”

He squeezed my hand fiercely and grinned like a skull, his eyes burning in his pale, bearded face. “See you on the other side, Jase.” Then he dropped his visor. He took off his crossbow and set it down. One lingering glance he gave Crystal, still sobbing, her face turned to the wall, and then he drew the sword that hung at his hip, opened the door at the back of the truck, and leapt to the ground. The setting sun shone red as new blood on his battered armour as he strode across the littered square towards the unquiet dead gathered by the security-wire fence which kept them from the docks.

Doctor Hunt grabbed my arm. “What’s he doing?” she said, her voice shrill.

I didn’t answer. I was busy watching Digger close in on the staggering, moaning things in the square. “Ackroyd, take the count,” I snapped. “Squiddie: on my signal, you gun it for the gate. Crystal: straighten up, trooper. You’re handling the lock. Sunny, you’ve got her back. Stay on top, everybody. Digger’s going to give us a chance to get away clean.” Go, Digger you bastard, I thought. Make it good. Give us a show to remember.

Zebedee didn’t notice Digger at first. He took on the dead-walk to get as close as he could. Or had the infection already begun to work in him? He lurched, and staggered now and again, catching himself clumsily, weaving back and forth as he went. It was a hell of an impression — if it was an impression at all.

Then he was almost at the heavy fence that divided the docks from the dusty plaza. And just like that, all semblance of clumsiness disappeared. I blinked, and two Zebs were down. One quick, beautiful, slashing cut, and there they were: two heads rolling in the dirt, two bodies falling.

A third Zeb gave an inconvenient lurch just as Digger swung, and the head didn’t come off in one go. The thing staggered, and let go one of those awful, moaning screams, and Doctor Hunt gave an answering whimper. Without looking around, I reached over and took one of her hands, squeezing it tightly.

Digger didn’t slow down. He took another shot at the half-finished Zeb, then spun with the momentum, arcing the end of the blade through the temple of another dead thing who’d got curious. “That’s four,” he shouted, his voice coming faintly to the truck.

“Kalkin got thirty-eight,” somebody muttered, “But he was Kalkin. I’m betting eighteen for Digger.”

“Twenty,” snapped Nguyen. “He knows that sword. Look how he’s working the edges of the group.”

“Bullshit,” said Crystal. She’d come away from the wall and joined the rest, staring intently across the open space at the walking dead. “He’s good for twenty-five, at least. Look! He’s on eight already.”

Doctor Hunt clutched at my arm. “This is sick,” she hissed in my ear. “They’re betting on his death! You can’t let them do this.”

I pried her fingers loose as gently as I could. “Thirty,” I said, very clearly. “I think he can take thirty. Digger’s good.” I kept Hunt’s other hand in mine, and leaned close as she tried to pull away. “Listen, Doctor Hunt,” I whispered, “They need this. This is the way they’re going to remember their friend for the rest of their lives. Which is better: Digger, the screw-up who got bitten because he took his glove off to handle his cock, or Digger the hero, who went down fighting to give everyone else a chance?” I let go of her hand then, but I gave her my best death glare. “This isn’t your world, Doctor Hunt. This is where I live. This is what my people and I do. How we survive it isn’t any of your god-damned business. Do I make myself clear?”

Pale and frightened, Hunt nodded. And she was quiet. That was good.

“Twelve,” yelped Nguyen from his vantage point by the door. “And a half. He took out a spine with the return shot, but the thing’s still crawling.”

“Nope, nope, nope,” said Crystal, ducking under his arm for a better view. “See there? He knew. He put the boot in as he sidestepped. It’s not moving any more. Thirteen, for sure.”

“He’s got their attention now,” said Garvey. “Listen to him! The bastard’s singing!”

I cocked my head. He wouldn’t. Would he? But there it was. Maybe singing wasn’t quite the right word, but the bastard was trying. Mad, brave, dead man Digger: it was hard enough to breathe, fighting in armour. Finding the wind to sing was next to impossible. It was more a sort of roaring, audible even over the moans of Zebedee, but the words were clear enough. He marked the time with heavy, sweeping blows of his sword that lopped arms and chopped legs and sent heads rolling, and I found myself almost laughing at Digger’s boldness.

Let Bacchus’ sons be not dismayed
But join with me, each jovial blade
Come, drink and sing and lend your aid
To help me with the chorus…

The Garryowen: a beautiful, crazy piece of music from the beautiful, crazy Irishers; a tune kept alive by the armies of the world for nearly two hundred years. It was ours now. Our officially unofficial fighting song, and Digger, ready to die, was belting it out for all he was worth.

Zebedee was clustering now, moving in for the kill. The way to the gate was as good as it would get. The idea that I owed Digger a beer went through my head, and I winced, knowing I’d never get the chance to pay up. The only thing I could do was take what he’d given me: the hope of getting everyone else through that gate alive. “That’s enough,” I said. “Ackroyd, keep the tally. Squid: the gate’s clear. Take us in. Crystal: give us the tune. Garvey can handle the gate for you. Second Recon — that man is singing our song!

The world slipped into battle time, and everything happened at once. The truck rolled smoothly forward, then circled for the gate, and I lost sight of the struggle by the fence. Crystal stripped her gauntlets, brought out her little silver whistle, and put it to her lips. That sweet, hoarse, piping melody skirled out, picking up the time and the tune from Digger’s roars, rising and falling with brilliant urgency. One after another, Recon Two joined the song, howling the words to the fading, sunset sky, stamping their feet so the truck rocked and shook.

We’ll beat the bailiffs out of fun,
We’ll make the mayor and sheriffs run
We are the boys no man dares dun
If he regards a whole skin.

Instead of spa, we’ll drink brown ale
And pay the reckoning on the nail;
No man for debt shall go to jail
From Garryowen in glory.

My heart raced. My sword hand itched and curled, dropping to the worn hilt at my hip. I balled my fists and took a breath. To my surprise, before I could join the song, I heard a new voice beside me rise, quavering at first, then stronger as the chorus returned.

There was Hunt, on her feet now. Her eyes were fixed on the scene through the door, where Digger fought at the centre of a growing circle of Zebedee. She was pale, and sweat plastered her hair back from her forehead, but she was singing. For all she was worth, with all the breath in her little frame, she was singing, belting out the tune like the rest of them: wild with rage, shaking with the furious desire to see the bastards fall forever.

She glanced up, caught my eye, and grinned fleetingly. The freckles on her nose stood out against the whiteness of her skin, and for an instant she looked like the teenage girl she must have been not so very long ago — and in that instant, I almost felt something inside.

But it went away. I had other things to think about.

The truck did a quick one-eighty, and halted. Garvey and Sunny leapt clear, handling the heavy padlock and chain on the big gate even while the truck reversed through. Everyone poured out, and I latched onto Hunt’s arm, and the truck rolled away behind some kind of metal fuel tank thing the size of a building.

“Twenty-seven,” shouted Ackroyd.

“Gate secure,” called Garvey, and then we were all through, all secure, lined along the wire, staring out at the confused mass of Zebedee as they milled back and forth: Digger’s final gift. The singing died away in volume a little, then came back as Crystal picked up the tune once more.

The knot of struggling dead things that marked Digger’s final stand swayed, then collapsed. The music stopped, and Crystal gave something between a gasp and a sob. Then he must have gone down. There was a loud, flat sound as his collar detonated, and the squirming, crawling pile of half-rotted things seemed to jump, and fall apart. Individual Zebs stood and staggered, or squirmed and crawled, until at last only the truly dead remained to mark Digger’s fall.

That was all.

I looked down at my boots. “Final score, Mister Ackroyd?”

“I make it thirty-one, sir. A fine tally.”

“Let it be recorded,” I said. I looked up again. They were waiting for me. They needed someone to take charge. It was what I did. It was all I could do. I straightened, and saluted. “Trooper Diggs died in the line of duty, bringing thirty-one of the enemy down with him. Recon Two!

Recon Two!” shouted the troop, with a stamp that echoed off the big tanks.

“Form up,” I snapped. “Crystal: pick up the tune. Recon Two — to the boat, at the march. Sound off!”

The whistle sounded once more, and less loudly, more tunefully, our little troop marched away down the pier, out over the rolling waters of Port Phillip bay, to the waiting ship.

Not once did anyone look back.

So: zombies. Swords. Tasmanians. What else could you want? Download the PDF free of charge from this link right here: Jerusalem.

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