Plague Nation by Dana Fredsti - Chapter Two
We entered Licker Up through the front door, which was ajar. I took point, hitting the light switch as I stepped in. Even with the bright sunshine outside, the interior of the store was gloomy—not enough windows to let any real light in. Tony and Kai followed close on my heels.
Broken bottles lay scattered on the floor, their contents blending together in a brew that smelled like the afterhours of an especially rowdy frat party, thankfully minus the vomit. Still, it made my eyes water.
“What a waste,” Kai said, kicking a broken bottle of Maker's Mark.
“Plenty still left, bro.” Tony hefted a still sealed one and tossed it to Kai.
I gave them both a look.
“Later, okay?” Truth to tell, I was tempted to grab one of the many unopened, unbroken bottles of booze myself. And maybe I would, to enjoy it after we were safe back at Patterson Hall. With that thought in my head, I tucked a bottle of a forty-dollar Napa cabernet into my knapsack. If the owner of the store turned up alive, I'd settle my account later.
Other than the broken bottles, Licker Up looked clear. No gouts of blood, smears of viscera, or random body parts. It was a refreshing change. We went aisle to aisle, wincing at the smell of way-overripe cheese in a cooler that had long since lost its power.
“That is ripe, señor,” muttered Tony.
As soon as he spoke, a creaking noise drew our attention to the back of the store.
Holding a finger up to my lips, I made my way as quietly as possible to a small hallway that had three doors off of it, each bearing a little plastic sign labeling them restroom, office, and stockroom. The three of us stood quietly, and listened.
All was quiet.
I cracked open the restroom door, reluctantly taking a deep inhalation. I got a whiff of an ammonia-based cleanser that seared my sinuses, but no Eau de Zombi. Letting the door shut, I turned toward the office and gestured to Tony, who smirked and strolled over to the door, opening it with a casual air that made me want to punch him. A familiar urge, that.
While he checked out the office, I went over to the stockroom door and pressed my ear against it. I didn't hear anything, but for some reason my Spidey senses were tingling.
Not satisfied, I knocked.
A moan sounded from behind the door. Suddenly something started scratching and pounding on the other side. Stepping back, I looked at Kai, jerking my chin in the direction of the commotion. I backed further away, giving him room, and he kicked the door inward.
The smell of rotting flesh immediately assaulted my nostrils. Doing my best to ignore it, I slipped inside, and found a male zombie in a red Licker Up vest sprawled on the floor, knocked there by the door's impact. Even in the gloom I could see pieces-parts were missing from its face, neck and arms, and the remaining flesh was a greenish-gray with black goop oozing from the wounds.
Before it could get to its feet, I stepped in and thrust the tip of my tanto into its left eye socket. It only stopped when it reached the back of the skull. Then, putting my foot against its shoulder, I shoved hard as I pulled the blade out. A lovely sucking sound accompanied my movement.
“He's been chewed on pretty good,” Kai observed.
I nodded. “Which means he either got bitten and crawled in here to die, or—”
There was a crash, and three zombies stumbled out from behind the shelves stacked high with cases of hard liquor, beer, and wine—two of them in store uniforms, and a young woman in blood stained jeans and a T-shirt proclaiming “I'm a Princess,” the words outlined in rhinestones.
No, you're a zombie, I thought, giving her a permanent frontal lobotomy. Does it make me a bad person to admit I kind of enjoyed it? I mean, unless you're Honey Boo-Boo, who the hell would wear something like that?
While I took care of Princess Z, Kai dispatched the other several skull-shattering blows to the zombie's cranium, using his crowbar with a casual aplomb that spoke of a lot of repetition. Suddenly a wave of self-consciousness swept over me. It brought my own callousness close to home.
“Doesn't it worry you that we're getting used to this?” I asked, wiping my blade on the leg of my pants.
“I'd rather get used to it,” he said, “than need a therapy session every time we have to put one of these things down. And maybe if one of these people I'd known what to do, they'd still be alive, you know?”
He had a point, but it still bothered me that killing had become so routine. I looked at the floor and shook my head. There was no easy answer to any of this. Maybe normal emotional responses had to be tossed out the window when the dead walked the earth....But it still sucked.
Kai and I checked out the rest of the stockroom, finding puddles of blood and bits of flesh, but no more bodies, ambulatory or otherwise. Tony was waiting for us in the hallway, flipping through an old Licker Up newsletter. Irritated, I smacked it out of his hands.
“Hey!” he protested.
“Did it ever occur to you we might’ve needed your help in there?”
He shrugged. “I didn't hear any screams.”
This time I clipped him on the back of his head.
“By the time you hear them, it might be too late.”
This review and extract was posted as part of the Plague Nation blog tour, celebrating the release of Dana Fredsti’s new novel. For the opportunity to win a copy of the book, simply tweet:
“I would like a copy of Plague Nation @TitanBooks @danafredsti #plaguenation”
Find out more about the book and the tour at: www.titanbooks.com/plaguenation