BOOK 3 Excerpt #2!!

BOOK 3 Excerpt #2!!

It is time.

Time for a follow up from my first excerpt of Chapter 1 of Book 3, American Rebirth.

I know many of you are waiting patiently for Book 3 to come out. Rest assured I am hard at work. Hopefully by end of Summer it will be complete, I’m trying to write my ass off over here.

For those who are looking for the first installment, Book 3 Excerpt #1!  is the link to start from the beginning. Again, bear with me, this is still a first draft.

I hope you guys enjoy it, let me know what you think. This picks up where the first excerpt left off.

-Evan

 


***WARNING! IF YOU HAVEN’T FINISHED BOOK 2, THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS!***


 

Robin took the moment to look around at the soldiers who were looking very relaxed, sitting on folding chairs, tree stumps, or leaning against the trucks they came in on. “You did all this for little old me?” Robin said.
The Templar scoffed. “Of course not. Don’t flatter yourself, thief. The Church has far more important things to do than chase bounties on heretics like you.”
Hood looked around. “So, what the hell are you doing out here? Practicing your line dancing deep in the woods so the other girls won’t laugh at you?”
“Nothing that concerns you, dead man.”
“Ah, I get it. Dirty business. Stuff the Church doesn’t want in the public eye. Like all the refugees from the Sons of Liberty that have been ‘disappearing’ from Austin. Yeah, I know about that. Lord knows what you’re doing with those poor bastards.”
The Templar swing a fist into Hood’s gut. Hood jumped backwards but still the blow doubled him over. Probably shouldn’t have said that. This son of a bitch hits hard. No more of that, please and thank you.
“Enjoy these last days, thief. We may all be damned, but you shall not see the light of redemption.”
Hood managed to stand upright again, wincing. “So, uh, what are you going to do with the bounty money, Mr. Templar?”
“Templar Vargas.” Vargas said with annoyance. “I’m going to give it to the poor and hungry that come to the church for aid. That way at least some good will have come from your crimes.”
“Damn.” Hood shook his head. “Now I feel bad.”
“Why is that?” Vargas raised a quizzical eyebrow.
“Maybe you’re not such an asshole after all,” Hood said, glancing around them.
The soldiers had gone from quietly relaxed to unconscious. Templar Vargas’ eyes went wide. A few soldiers who were still awake struggled to walk like newborn fawns before collapsing to the ground.
“What… What did you…?” Vargas said, drawing his sword and 9mm with each hand in a clumsy flourish. He raised the pistol to Hood, but started swaying. Hood cringed, lurching back and forth out of the way. Oh god, come on, pass out already you asshole. Vargas pulled the trigger twice, the shots wildly cracking the air. Go the fuck to sleep you self-righteous douchebag!
“How…” Vargas looked down at the empty mug of beer on the stump nearby, stumbling until he plunged the sword into the ground to hold himself up.
“Y’all are getting much too paranoid for a run of the mill stunt. Took you guys forever to dive into that beer you confiscated.” Robin said, smiling.
“You… Poison…” Vargas grit his teeth, his eyes narrow with violent rage as he stared at Robin. He dropped his pistol and fell backwards with a thump, a plume of dirt rising through the air.
Robin took a deep breath, the smell of fresh pine and the campfire mingled together in the cool air. He felt the muscles in his shoulders relax.
“What a bunch of idiots,” he said, stepping over his hands. “Relax, your Templarness. It’s not poison. You’ll wake up. It’ll just be quite awhile considering how much I poured into those barrels.” He knelt down beside Vargas’ sword staked in the ground, sawing at the cords of the rope binding his hands until it cut through and the rope fell away. He gingerly rubbed his wrists, kicking at the limp foot of the soldier that ‘captured’ him.
“Church can’t afford some freakin’ normal rope?” Hood said to the passed out soldiers. “Did y’all weave that one yourself out of cactus needles and armpit hair?”
Robin slung his crossbow over his back, tucked his blued Colt M1911 9mm into its holster, and slid his hunting knife into its sheath on his belt. He patted his backpack gently, as if to say I’ll pick you up when it’s time to go, baby. The backpack was stuffed clumsily with his favorite Hoodie that the Redemption devoted had crammed inside. Bunch of savages.
He roamed around the camp, taking all the ammunition from the soldiers that had guns. Ammo had practically become currency itself. For the common man, bullets were more valuable sold for food or a handful of Texas silver dollars than fired at someone.
He had collected quite a good bit of it, carrying it all using the front of his shirt. Whatever they were doing must’ve been important. They’re loaded for bear out here. What looked like forty rounds of loose .38 and 12 gauge, and about twelve rifle magazines that might or might not be full. Damn, this alone makes it worth it. We can sell a good bit of this. Eat like kings for quite awhile. Hood smiled. Gonna splurge and make so many pancakes. And so much bacon. He kneeled beside his pack, unfastening it and pouring all the ammo inside. Ka-ching.
As he stood up, Robin looked around at the comatose bodies of the soldiers. They almost looked dead. Something about they way the lay sprawled out so still felt familiar. Like deja vu. A memory flashed in his mind.
Sick to his stomach, he climbed out of he pit covered in the dead. It was a pit of rotting corpses. Whiskey stood nearby, except younger. Much younger. Hood felt calm, relieved, suddenly. A warm feeling of brotherhood at the sight of him. Family. Whiskey looked repulsed at the sight of Hood. He was covered in the dead. “Don’t touch me, you’re disgustin’.”
Robin took a deep breath. He squeezed his eyes shut, rubbing his forehead. Damn, what kind of sick shit was that? He had long since accepted having memories of a life that felt like it was his. He didn’t know how or why he could remember these things. He couldn’t remember everything, but what he did remember felt like…It felt like he had lived it himself. I have so many things I wish I could ask you. But if you were around, would I be like this at all? There’s some strange feeling I have deep down that says the answer is no. That says we are one in the same. I don’t know how that’s possible. The fire crackled, a log collapsing with a splash of sparks and coal-red embers. He thought of his mother, who only spoke about his father with love. But Robin had never understood why he did what he did. I know you killed the Kaiser, ended the first war. And for what? More war, and more war, and more war. Robin shook his head, trying to pull himself out of his reverie. I won’t make the same mistakes. I won’t leave the people I love behind to carry on without me.
His eyes wandered down to Templar Vargas, laying passed out on his back in the dusty dirt. He knelt down beside him, searching his person. What are you doing here, anyway? As his hand passed through the inside of Vargas’ military jacket he felt paper. He pulled it free of the pocket. It had a broken wax seal on the outside with the Cross and Key imprint of the Church of the Redemption. He unfolded the letter and turned to get the light from the fire.
James,
Gather your men and leave tonight. They should be arriving within a few days.

Stay near enough the Northeast Highway that they can see the light from your camp.

God be with you, and through your service earn your redemption,
Cardinal Vasquez

“Uh oh,” Robin said, looking around. “I don’t think they’ll be able to make the dance.” But who could they be meeting? This has all too much cloak and dagger for my liking. Hood grinned. Or maybe, just the right amount of it. Robin tapped the paper with his fingers, holding it at his side. The rest of the crew better get here fast. I don’t want to be alone out here if whoever this is shows up.

 

 

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Excerpt from BOOK 3!!!

Excerpt from BOOK 3!!!

So, I know this is probably a bit hasty, but…

I’ve decided to share that which is most vulnerable and nerve-wracking for a writer. The dreaded FIRST DRAFT!

That is to say, just a small excerpt from Chapter 1 of BOOK 3, American Rebirth.

So, needless to say, this may change before all is said and done, but by in large I’m actually pretty happy with it. Book 3 is still a ways away, if only I had more time to write it. But I must make do with what I got and write like a maniac with what time I have!

All that said, pardon me if the writing is a bit raw. Enjoy this small taste!

I hope you all are enjoying your weekend! Please let me know what you think of the excerpt if you feel so inclined.

-Evan

 


***WARNING! IF YOU HAVEN’T FINISHED BOOK 2, THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS!***


 

 

Pine Bluff Forest, Territory of the Federation of Texas, Formerly Arkansas

The soldier shoved Hood towards the campfire without warning. Hood twisted his body enough to land on his side, stirring up a cloud of dirt and ash as he thumped against the earth with a dull pain in his shoulder. The sky above him was dark, but growing bluer with the predawn light. Robin’s wrists burned from the rough rope binding them, hands tied behind his back. The campfire beside him crackled and hissed, radiating heat, the comforting smell of burning wood, cooking meat and fresh pine washing over him in the cool air.
“Jesus, was that really necessary? I’m already bound up. What the hell am I gonna do, kick you all to death?” Robin said, turning to face the soldier that shoved him.
“Get up, heretic. Use his name in vain again and I’ll gut you right here.” The man standing above him said. His voice and stature was that of someone in command. Probably a Templar of the Church of the Redemption. The light from the campfire danced on his tan, recently shaved face. He was older, with sharp, accusing eyes and a relaxed brow.
“I think if Jesus could weigh in, he’d think that’s a bit of an extreme response,” Robin said, managing to get to his feet. The man swung a hard backhand at him. Robin turned his head, but pain exploded through the whole right side of his face. He squeezed his eyes shut, working his jaw.
Okay, this guy definitely is lacking in the sense of humor category. Gotta find another way.
“So uh, why am I here?” Hood asked.
The tired-faced soldier who captured Robin handed his backpack, crossbow, knife and pistol to the officer. The officer smirked, inspecting Robin’s gear before setting it aside.
“You think I don’t know who you are, heretic?”
Robin smacked his dry lips. “Before you launch into any long, pointless sermons, you think I can have some of that beer you guys have? That was actually what I was out here looking for.”
The man looked over at the two barrels of beer they had confiscated. Pinned to his loose military jacket was a narrow metal cross in the shape of a key. A Templar. So I was right. The church is up to something serious out here. All of the soldiers around the campfire had filled their canteens with the newly acquisitioned beer, smug laughter on their faces as they taunted Hood. They wore the satisfied looks of soldiers who got the rare chance to enjoy themselves on duty for once. The Templar might be an asshole, but he’s smart enough to know happy soldiers are loyal ones. Most of these guys are a small step above mercenaries. The officer moved calmly to the casks, pouring a mug and walking back to Robin. He drank deep from the mug before pouring half of it over Robin’s head.
“Come on, what the hell?” Robin spluttered, shaking the beer of his face. “You don’t have to be a dick about it!”
“You can’t fool me with this nonsense. You’re Hood. I’ve seen your face on bounty lists for the Sons of Liberty and the Church of the Redemption alike. Murderer of kings and godly men. Your Dead Hand faction murdered King Richard of the Sons of Liberty, and still your rebellion fell apart. Now you’re reduced to nothing but a common thief. How much does it sting, knowing your war was for nothing?”
Hood smiled, the beer dripping off his face. Yeah, go ahead. Feels good tearing someone down, doesn’t it? You don’t know a damn thing, Templar. You don’t know a damn thing about what really happened. “War? That’s a fool’s cause. I’ve never wanted war. War has never changed a damn thing. At this point, I’m happy just robbing self-righteous assholes like you.”
The Templar wore a deep smile, clearly enjoying this view of Robin as a delusional has-been. You love the high ground, don’t you? Everyone who stands against you are evil men. Certainly makes life easier, doesn’t it?
“Whatever you have planned, you will not escape the Church’s justice. This land is ours. I know you came to us alone. We’ve been tracking you. We’re not going back to the Cathedral in Dallas where some of your thief friends can ambush us on the road. We’re going to wait here for our reinforcements. You’ll answer to the Cardinals for all of your crimes against the Church.”
Hood’s face remained stoic, but his breathing started to quicken. Well, shit, you guys have thought of everything haven’t you?
“My thief friends are a lot more godly than your church will ever be.”
Hood readied himself for another blow, but Vargas just stared at him. He didn’t expect Hood to say anything like that. He was searching for intent. He seemed to be analyzing Hood, wondering if he meant the words or if they were just another ploy. I mean it, holy man. You don’t see things the way they really are.

BIRTHDAY POST! With a gift to the readers!

BIRTHDAY POST! With a gift to the readers!

IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!

wooooooooooooooooooooo

Two-nine. Hard to believe I’m nearing the end of my twenties. What a decade of largely awesome things for me (which isn’t completely over) with the occasional huge travesty sprinkled in.

The book has been a huge source of joy for me. Publishing it and having this much success early has been something of a dream, and to have received so much support from readers asking for the next book is a special kind of motivation.

Outside of the book, life is bumping around it’s normal crazy way. Good things and bad things, plenty of shit to learn from. I’m just borderline euphoric that my grad semester is over and I get to enjoy the hell out of my summer and get this next book done.

Speaking of, I have a little gift for y’all! It’s a small excerpt from Chapter 1 of BOOK 2 of the American Rebirth Series.

Enjoy you blood-crazed animals. And by that I mean sweet, kindly people. ❤

Evan


The gunshot cracked the air, echoing deep down the roads. The deer darted away in leaping bounds. Whiskey’s heart raced through his chest as he scanned the area, turning to the others.
Vicks’ rifle was against his shoulder, muzzle slightly down as he stared at where the deer had been. Whiskey stormed over and grabbed a handful of Vicks’ shirt, pulling him close.
“The hell do you think you’re doing?” Whiskey grunted at him. Vicks’ face didn’t move, a fake calm in denial of any wrongdoing.
“I had a clear shot. We’re here so I can learn, right?”
“If you had a clear shot, why isn’t it lyin’ in the road?”
“It moved.”
“Yeah, living things tend to do that.” Whiskey released his shirt, taking a step back. “Listen to me kid. I don’t give a shit if you see the devil walkin’ down the road. You don’t shoot a damn thing until I tell you to from now on, understand?”
“Fine.” Vicks said unenthusiastically. “I didn’t think it was a big deal.”
“One, that was dinner. And two, if there was anyone even remotely nearby they know we are here. A Ranger never fires his gun unless he has to. It’s loud, and it’s dangerous and we don’t waste ammunition.”
Vicks stared him down.
“You got something to say?” Whiskey said, his jaw set.
“Half of what we’ve done is wandering around in nowhere. When are you going to teach us to shoot something other than a target? There’s war out there past the borders. There’s death out there. I want to be ready. We need to be able to survive.”
Whiskey leaned in towards him. “I AM teaching you how to survive. You just ain’t listenin’. You survive by being quiet. By never being found. By knowing when to shoot and when not to. By being smart. You think you can do that?”
Edgar moved up next to Vicks, thumping him on the chest. “Come on.”
Whiskey turned away. Taylor’s hair waved around her wry smile in the breeze. Whiskey breathed deep, looking at her. They gotta learn somehow.
“Remember… honey, not vinegar.” She said, pulling stray hairs out of the corner of her mouth.
“I’m all outta honey right about now.”
“We’ll get the next one. These islands are all wildlife now.”
“If these kids keep shootin’ first we’ll starve to death,” Whiskey grumbled.

 

Free Excerpt: Chapter 2 of HOOD

Free Excerpt: Chapter 2 of HOOD

For those looking for Chapter 1, check out this hotness

Though you don’t have to read it to enjoy CH2. You might just not totally know what’s going on 😀

There’s not much better than a Friday with summer coming just around the bend. COME ON SUMMER DAMMIT.

-Evan

4670361062_400dfcab86_o


Chapter 2 – One Man Gone

Hood slammed the door of the truck. The bright sun blared down on an old house that remained largely intact. He’d seen this exact sight before: an unhinged red front door and pile of rotten wood shingles that lay in a heap next to the walkway. They’d already been to this house, months ago.

He scanned the area, looking over each shoulder. The narrow lake shimmering in the sunlight nearby looked much more sylvan now than in the nighttime.

“Whiskey?”

“Mmm-hmm?” He replied, the crunch of his footsteps on gravel unceasing as he strode towards the old farmhouse. It still held the air of the majestic country home it must’ve been some years ago.

“Why are we looking in the same place again?” Hood’s tone did nothing to hide his annoyance.

“Just keep an eye on the truck,” Whiskey said, entering the house with his police-issue shotgun half-raised.

Hood breathed in deeply, leaning his head back and letting out a grumbling sigh. He looked out over the still lake, a few lost pine cones bobbing about like ships at sea. He turned around, observing the vast overgrowth of grass and weeds on what must have once been fields. The old barn, covered in flaky brown paint, was listing so heavily to one side it looked as if Hood yelled at it, it would collapse.

In the distance, over the top of the treeline, he could see the rise of the Shenandoah Mountains. At least, he was pretty sure that’s what it was.

He hoisted his rifle onto his shoulder, letting it rest there lazily. At least it was a gorgeous day, even if they were in yet another ghost town.

He wondered what his old home in D.C. looked like. The parts of the city that still stood had been on the brink of chaos when Hood and Taylor left two years ago. They’d waited for days hoping their parents would show up, but fled when the survivors grew desperate. Radiation sickness had decimated many of the people who had survived the blast.

How different would Hood’s life be if his entire family had been together during the fall. They probably never would have met Whiskey and become a part of Clearwater. He hadn’t seen Ian in over a year even before the fall. Their brotherhood had become a long distance text conversation and occasional Skype call. Ian had been busy starting his family and Hood couldn’t figure out what the hell he was doing with his life. They both had treated separation like a temporary nuisance, the distance in the modern world seeming so small. God, I miss you bro. What I wouldn’t do just to get to sit down and talk with you again about nothing.

It was hard transition going from global, instantaneous communication to a life where your survival depended on being cut off from the world. A bird of prey was floating slowly on the strong winds high up in the blue sky. Nothing to see here, buddy.

Wearing a blank expression, Whiskey walked out the front door of the house, heading straight for the truck.

“So I’m gonna go out on a limb and say… it’s still an empty house,” Hood quipped.

“Come on, I want to check in town a ways,” Whiskey said, hopping inside and starting the engine with a deep rumble. Hood shook his head and climbed into the passenger side. I should have brought a god damned book or something. What I wouldn’t do for a PSP or a 3DS, with even just a few games and infinite battery life.

Hood’s brain rattled off into the land of the ridiculous, spurred on by boredom. “You ever wonder how long pubes would grow if no one ever shaved? Maybe you could make like a groin-beard, or make braids or something nice.” Hood  cast an absurd look Whiskey’s way.

Whiskey looked incredulous.

“Man, not even a smile?” Hood turned his head, chuckling, and stared with tired eyes out the windshield. The weather-worn, one-lane, two-way road lay baking in the sun. It looked barely wide enough to accommodate two different directions of traffic. Ian would’ve thought that was hilarious. Or maybe not. At least he would’ve fired back with something.

“It’s like you’re drunk when you’re sober,” Whiskey grumbled.

Hood shrugged. “You never thought about shit like that?”

“No.”

They both stared ahead again at the sun-baked road. Whiskey scratched his bearded jawline.

“How did the hobbit ruin the boxing match?”

Whiskey glanced over at him, annoyed.

“What, you not into Tolkien?”

“Not particularly.”

Hood shook his head, looking out the passenger side at the overgrown fields passing by.

“I bet you used to give out bags of pennies for Halloween.”

A slight grin crept over Whiskey’s face. Victory. “Tootsie rolls. I like Tootsie rolls.”

“You’re a man of boundless curiosity, you know that? The body of a thirty-something, but the spirit of an eighty year old losing at bingo.”

Whiskey laughed quietly to himself. “You know what Sue Morris said to me on my last patrol before we left town? ‘Be careful to keep the lord with you. It’s the devil’s curiosity to find a way into our hearts.’”

Hood scoffed. “Her husband doesn’t do much to ward off the devil. All he does on guard duty is sit in a chair, farting in his sleep.”

Whiskey propped his arm on the door and rested his chin in his hand, gnawing at the first knuckle of his pointer finger. He knew they needed more people to defend the town in case they ever were attacked outright.

Hood furrowed his brow. The roadside was empty save for overgrowth and a gas station that looked as though it had been stripped down long before the nukes had changed their world.

“My old partner, Alan,” Whiskey said. “He retired four years ago. That farmhouse was his grandfather’s, and he told me he wanted to move there.” He finally addressed the latent question in the air.

“Well, considering we’ve been here before, and this time we have a truckload of invaluable food and gasoline, I’d consider this visit a waste of time,” Hood said, looking through the back window into the loaded bed of the truck.

“We could use his help. We’ve got too many guys who won’t be worth a damn if wasters find our town with blood on their minds.”

“You can just say the dude is your friend and you want to find him,” Hood shifted in his seat, moving back to sit up straighter, giving himself more leg room.

Whiskey rubbed his chin. “Yeah, I suppose there’s that too,” he murmured after some hesitation.

The one-stoplight town was the kind you might not be able to find on a map unless you knew where it was. The only buildings of note in the intersection were a long-cleaned-out old grocery, a faded white house—once a local diner—with peeling  paint, and an old wooden church. The road curved past the church and over a river with a low, flat wooden bridge across it. Whiskey turned off the truck and Hood hopped out of the passenger side, his shoes grinding dirt into the pavement.

If there had once been  people living in this town, they certainly weren’t here anymore.

“Look there,” Whiskey said quietly, pointing to a watery, muddy trail that lead from the rushing river to the church doors.

No animal did that. Hood’s pulse quickened.

The two of them hustled over to it, guns in hand. Clearly someone had dragged himself  out of the river. Puddles still remained, and wet footprints. Hood’s eyes met Whiskey’s. He didn’t need to say anything.

They moved swiftly and quietly along the wet tracks to the church. The outside smelled of a musty, aged wood that stirred up vague memories of his grandfather’s garage. Was it cedar? Whiskey gave him a glance, then grabbed the cast-iron door-handle.

Hood held up the rifle to sight.

Whiskey pulled the door open and the hinges groaned.

Beams of sunlight lit up the empty pews, and leaves covered  the floor. Many of the windows had been shattered. The muddy trail led down the center aisle and then to the left of the altar, where it became lost to sight. Blood trailed along the faded white stone floor.

He motioned to Whiskey: forward and to the left. The two of them entered, their footsteps echoing throughout the room despite their best efforts, followed by a gust of wind that sent  leaves and dust swirling in front of the altar.

“You win. I can’t run no more.” A man’s voice echoed through the church. A pistol clattered to the ground, sliding to a halt in the empty space in front of the altar.

“Jammed. Ain’t that my luck,” the hoarse voice said with heavy resignation.

Hood and Whiskey turned the corner, guns raised. A wiry dark-skinned man sat on the floor,  his head resting against the prayer pedestal with its rows of candles. He was drenched, his jeans and long-sleeved shirt dark and heavy with water.

After a second, Hood lowered his rifle.

“We’re not here looking for you,” Hood said.

The man stared at him, squinting.“Are you gonna kill me?” He asked.

“No,” Hood said immediately.

Whiskey cast him a disapproving glance.“Provided you don’t do anythin’ stupid,” he  added, shotgun still raised.

The man raised his hands weakly. “Who are you? I thought for sure you were the Kaiser’s men,” The guy broke into a wry smile, avoiding Whiskey’s question. “You boys look like angels to me.”

“Don’t go getting all excited,” Whiskey grunted at the man. “We ain’t nobody’s saviors.”

The man shook his head slowly, eyes closed but still smiling. “I disagree.”

“You were running from the Kaiser?” Hood asked.

“His militants, at least. I was one of their prisoners,” the man said at length, still breathing slowly.

“No you weren’t,” Whiskey said, sizing the man up.

“Sharp, this guy. No, I wasn’t. But I felt like it by the end. I joined ’em early. They were part of this whole separatist group, all military and doomsday survivalists at first. The Kaiser was just some wanderer. He showed up soon after the fall, covered in blood like it was no big deal. The leader at the time, an angry fella named Gary took exception to the Kaiser’s attitude and he tried to kill him. I swear the Kaiser slit ol’ Gary’s throat before he even got close. Never seen someone move like that. He declared that he didn’t want to fight, said he just wanted a place to be. He felt genuine, and many folks didn’t like Gary—he was a wild, power hungry man. Soon enough everyone came to like the Kaiser and wanted him to lead. After he took over, we started raiding, and slaving, and everything got out of control. He had some grand plan but it all seemed sideways to me. My crew tried to fight back, tried to stop the whole thing. They been hunting us down ever since. I’m the last one left.” The man didn’t bother to hide his exhaustion.

“What were you doin’ in here? Praying?” Whiskey scoffed, still holding up his shotgun.

The man shook his head. “Nah. Tabernacle usually has wine in it. Somebody beat me to it though,” He pointed at an ornate gilded container, lying empty on the floor.

“Do you know where survivors from D.C. might have gone?” Hood asked the man.

“Hell if I know. West, maybe.”

“You know of a man called Alan Dale?” Whiskey lowered the shotgun to focus on the man’s face, though he still held the weapon at a hip-fire position.

“Why, he done you some wrong? Is that why you boys are out here?” The man looked back and forth from Hood to Whiskey, reading their expressions.

“Just answer the question.”

“No, I don’t know of him. But I tend to remember the ladies a bit easier. . .” He  seemed content to leer off into some fantasy.

Hood reached into his pack and pulled out a half-drunk bottle of water and a sleeve of crackers. He tossed them onto the man’s lap. He looked up at Hood in shock for a moment, then drank greedily and started shoving crackers in his mouth.

Whiskey grimaced and rubbed his forehead.

Hood walked over to the jammed pistol on the floor and picked it up. He removed the magazine and tried to rack the slide. A casing was lodged in the ejection port. Hood handed the gun to Whiskey, who knocked the casing free with the heel of his hand and then successfully racked the slide. The dented round clicked as it fell onto the stone floor.

“How much have you seen out there?” Hood asked the man.

He wiped his mouth of cracker crumbs. “You boys haven’t had much contact with the outside world, huh?”

“Not much. We try to keep it that way,” Hood said.

The man chuckled. “Smart thinkin’. It’s all gone. I seen a man’s arm fall clean off from the radiation, but the biological shit that tore through the cities was the real nightmare. If you was lucky it killed you, and didn’t turn you into an animal while you was still alive.”

Hood and Whiskey exchanged a glance.  Whiskey’s face seemed to express some doubt. Maybe he didn’t want to believe it was true. But it lined up with what Hood had read in the dead man’s journal.

“You two got any alcohol?”

“No,” Whiskey snapped.

“It’s for my leg. I need to clean it.”

Hood looked at Whiskey, nodding towards the man. Whiskey breathed deeply in annoyance, reached into his cargo jacket and produced a flask, handing it to the man.

He poured it onto a sizable gouge in his thigh, then took a swig, grimacing. He handed it back, then tore off his sleeve and tied it around the wound, baring his teeth as he worked.

Whiskey nodded at the man’s pistol in his hand. “Keep the dirt out of the magazine, and keep the barrel clean next time.”

The man looked up at Whiskey inquisitively. “You sure you ain’t angels?”

“No. I’m keeping it. Consider it payment.” Whiskey put away the pistol. “For your life.”

“I’m dead without it,” The man said simply.

“Or you can die right now,” Whiskey replied, holding the man’s gaze. The man clearly deliberated saying something, but decided against it.

“Thanks for the food,” The man said eventually as he stood up, favoring his wounded right leg.

“Where are you gonna go?” Hood asked. The cool gust of wind through the broken window felt relaxing and unsettling all at once.

“West. Someplace in Colorado. I’ve heard rumors it’s better out there.”

“Colorado, huh.” Whiskey looked ready to see the man gone.

“Col-o-ra-do,” he repeated, limping past them down the aisle.

Hood looked around the desolate church, ransacked of everything but prayer books and Bibles in the pews. Whiskey followed the man closely behind, shotgun still raised. The man pushed his way out the front door. Whiskey followed him. Hood turned and walked out, his footsteps echoing lightly.

The sun still shone strong. Their truck sat still and undisturbed. The man whistled at it.

“Damn, you boys don’t mess around. Where’d you get all that cargo?”

Whiskey glowered at him.

“Never mind. Shit. You sure you don’t need someone to help you with all that?”

“I thought you’ve got Colorado,” Whiskey replied, scrutinizing the man from under his  intimidating eyebrows. They could damn near scowl on their own.

“Right, well, yeah. Right.”

“You gonna limp all the way there?” Whiskey didn’t hide his doubt well.

“No, I’ll catch a ride. I’ll get some beater up and running,” The man said. “Was a mechanic, once upon a time.”

“Good luck,” Hood said plainly.

“Name’s Donte. I’m thinking I won’t see you two again. You sure I can’t get that shooter back?” The man asked Whiskey directly.

He shook his head slowly in response.

“All right.” The man turned, his gaze lingering on the two of them before hobbling over the small bridge heading west. Hood and Whiskey watched him as he walked out of sight.

“Something’s not right about him.” Whiskey turned back to the truck, putting the man’s pistol in the center of the seats.

“Why do you say that?” Hood walked around to the passenger side, putting the rifle down against the seat and climbing in.

“I just have that feeling,” Whiskey said. The truck started with a whine and a rumble.

“It’s because he’s black. You’re racist.”

“Don’t be an ass.”

“It’s okay to admit it. Lots of people are racist,” Hood quipped, unable to hide his grin.

“It’s because of his story about the Kaiser,” Whiskey snapped. “Why am I even answerin’ this crap?”

“So are you like, self-loathing, since you’re part Hispanic?”

“I’m going to fuckin’ kill you.” Whiskey grunted at him.

Hood laughed, leaning his head  against the back window.“Take everything more seriously, please. It’s fantastic.”

There was a momentary lull in the cabin. The suspension squeaked as the truck bobbed back and forth.

“We should’ve killed him.” Whiskey’s face remained stoic as he stared out the windshield, one hand on the steering wheel. Hood turned to look out the passenger-side window, the sunlit  overgrown trees speeding by. He rubbed his bristly chin with his thumb and forefinger. He was glad they’d let the guy live, but he hated the fact that Whiskey was probably right.

Hood was ready to be home. The place he called home now, anyway.

Excerpt: Chapter 1 of HOOD

Excerpt: Chapter 1 of HOOD

The time has come.

*Loads & cocks rifle, serious man-face*

LET THE SHARING… BEGIN!

For all of my fans.. You’ll know this stuff. For people new to my work.. Enjoy this delicious free sample!

 

Chapter 1 – Campfire

Shenandoah Mountains, Fringes of Kaiser Territory, Formerly Virginia

The iron sights of Hood’s AK-47 lined up perfectly between each other, trained on the dark-haired man in the muted blue of predawn light. Something was wrong. This man wasn’t some lost wastelander. Any loner with sense would’ve given their camp a wide birth. There was an undeniable purposefulness to this man’s approach—he was looking for them. Hood’s heart sped in his chest as his breath quickened. The Kaiser knows we’re here. How many more are coming? The image of a host of the Kaiser’s soldiers waiting in the dark mountain woods set his mind ablaze. Focus. Hood took a deep breath of crisp woodland air to level himself. The man hustled to the next tree and crouched down behind it, leaning over to peer around the mossy bark towards the campfire up the hill. No one else followed behind him. Maybe he’s just a scout.

The man’s chest rose and fell quickly as he closed his eyes, pistol in hand. He switched hands on his pistol, wiped his palms on his pants. He doesn’t want this. He’s just like you. The thought surged into his mind unabated. Hood tried to cast it out, focused on keeping his aim true. Just turn around and go back, Hood pleaded. He had a perfect shot from his flanking position up in the tree, but his finger stayed still on the trigger.

You have to shoot him.

Hood chewed on the salty pull string of his well-worn hoodie, breathing in deeply and holding the air in his lungs as he squeezed the trigger on his rifle nearly to the firing point, keeping the sights steady.

The man stood up straight against the tall oak, steeling himself. He turned and dashed towards the camp. Hood kept the sights stable on him as he moved. A loud crack split the air from his rifle, a casing flying out of the chamber and down onto the forest floor below. The man cried out, then collapsed into a heap. He writhed on the ground, clutching at his shoulder. Hood let the air out of his lungs, running his hand through his short messy hair. You had to do it.

The air split with another gunshot, and the man lay still. Hood knew it was coming, but hoped it wouldn’t. Whiskey didn’t take chances. Hood should have just killed the man himself rather than leaving him to suffer before Whiskey finished it. You can’t let it all weigh you down—they were Ian’s words in Hood’s head. It was a resounding memory, but it meant something much different when Ian said it years ago—brotherly words of advice on love. He wished more than anything Ian sat beside him in the tree. Somehow, it would make all of this easier. I know you’re still alive out there. I can feel it.

Whiskey’s broad, tall frame appeared from behind a nearby tree. He moved slowly with quiet steps towards the dead man with a lowered pistol at his side. He wore his usual stoic expression—it was surrounded by short cut black hair and a scruffy beard with a gray patch on his chin. A police issue black flak jacket rested over his dirtied, tan long-sleeved shirt. He always wore it with the sleeves rolled up. He should just cut the damn things off.

The distant cracking of more gunshots followed. Two, three, four, five-six-seven. Then silence.

That didn’t go cleanly.

Hood whistled a melodic bird call. A similar one returned—so Billy had taken out whoever else was attacking. Whiskey was crouched down low, waiting for anyone else to come. The seconds dragged on, Hood straining to hear any sound in the dark woods. The forest sat still, save for the leaves of the trees rustling lightly with the wind. They must’ve just been scouts. Hood laid the worn black metal body of his rifle across his knees and bowed his head. This is the way things are. You have to accept that.

“Why didn’t you make the kill?” Whiskey asked, his voice familiar, slightly southern.

“I missed.” Hood slung his rifle over his back and dislodged himself from his foothold in the tree, swinging down from one branch to another.

“Like hell you did. You can’t change the way the world is, kid. You’re wasting your talent. And our ammo.”

“It just doesn’t feel right.” Hood landed on the forest floor, bouncing up to a standing position. He looked over at the dead man lying in the grass.

“I ain’t sayin’ it’s easy, but it’s them or us. You know that.” Whiskey stared off into the woods in the direction of Billy’s post. “I’m gonna check on him. Head back to camp and get something to eat.”

Hood couldn’t move, staring at the dead man in the wet grass. A memory of the old world flooded his mind:

The sun was going down in the country, Hood, Ian and their sister Taylor taking turns shooting their uncle’s compound bow at a fake-deer target pincushioned with arrows.

“Do you think you could kill someone if you had to?” Ian said, releasing his shot to the sound of a satisfying thunk. The orange sunlight illuminated his short blond hair.

“Who is it you’d have to kill?” Hood said, taking the bow and nocking an arrow.

“You don’t know. You just know its either you or him.”

“So it’s a guy, then?” Taylor asked, shielding the setting sun from her eyes. Her phone dinged a text message tone in her pocket, unattended.

“Does it matter?” Ian said.

“Of course it matters. What if it was a girl you guys had to shoot?”

“I kinda feel bad just shooting this thing.” Hood aimed carefully, releasing the bowstring. The arrow snaked through the air and thunked an inch from the bull painted on the midsection of the fake deer.

“For feeling bad, you’re pretty good at it,” Taylor said.

“The way I see it, you don’t know if the guy is good or bad. But we know we’re good,” Ian said.

“Just playing devil’s avocado here, but if we shoot the other guy, are we still the good ones?” Taylor said with a smirk.

Ian laughed. “We can figure that out while we’re still alive.”

Hood gnawed his lip. He missed that life so much that the memories had become more bitter than sweet. Part of him wanted to forget. He would do anything to have Ian, Mom and Dad with them in this brutal new world. It would make it all bearable. Family against the chaos. He thanked whatever god would listen every day that he had Taylor. He only wished he could tell her they were alright. She’d be worried back in Clearwater, holding down the fort until they returned with the supplies they purloined from the Sheriff.

Only a few years ago Hood had been in college, skipping classes about the history of war and the rare revolutionaries like Gandhi who stood against it. War and death were distant concepts. Now civilization was a memory, and war was a part of life.

A squirrel ran down a nearby tree, darting through the grass and away from Hood before scrambling up the bark of a tall maple. Hood’s shoes tread softly on the wet grass as he moved toward the man’s body. He held the worn grip of his rifle, but kept it at his side. The corpse lay sprawled face-down, blood seeping into the dirt. The dead man was much taller than he’d looked from a distance. He was recently shaven, and his backpack sagged over the back of his head. Hood knelt down, opening it. A book, of all things, sat inside. He pulled it out, inspecting the blank black cover before flipping through the pages. It was hand-written. He tucked the book into the back of his pants, and removed the man’s backpack.

What kind of person were you? At the very least, the type to keep a journal.

The guy wouldn’t be doing any more writing. Hood grit his teeth.

He kept the rifle in hand, headed back towards the campsite. From the other direction in the woods, he could hear the murmuring voices of Whiskey and Billy.

Hood walked up the sloping grass to their camp in the wooded foothills, the fire flickering outside the small, red oak cabin. He tossed the backpack onto the ground near the concrete slab the cabin rested upon. Doug and Tommy sat in folding chairs around the campfire, passing a flask between them, rifles at their sides.

“Kaiser’s men?” Doug inquired.

“Yeah, a few of them. You two take watch. I’m sure Billy could use a break too.” The two of them rose to their feet with some effort, Doug stretching wildly.

“Damn, shift starts early, huh?” Tommy smirked. The two of them turned and headed northwest, in the direction Hood had come from. Tommy shoved the flask into Doug’s midsection.

Whiskey and Billy emerged from the trees into the firelight. Billy was dripping blood from his left hand, which he held tight in his right.

“Oh shit, Billy Red’s got some red on him!” Doug shouted as they passed by. “One of the bastards tagged you, huh?”

“Shut the fuck up!” Billy shouted, grimacing.

Hood moved to meet them halfway. Billy stared nervously at Hood with sharp blue eyes. He pulled his hand away, revealing the bloody hole in his left palm as his hand quivered uncontrollably. Hood flipped it around to the other side, saw the exit wound.

“You’re lucky. It went clear through. Get the iron ready,” Hood said.

“Oh fuck me, this is going to hurt.” Billy bared his teeth as he stared at his bloody hand.

Hood clapped him on the shoulder. “Just don’t think about it. And you might want to start drinking now.

Before Hood had finished speaking Billy had snatched the bottle out of Lucky’s hands as he sat beside the fire. The two of them immediately started to argue, Lucky ranting about how searing wounds shut did more harm than good. Billy was having none of it. Not like Lucky was a doctor or anything, he just didn’t want to give up his booze. Really, none of them were. It was a sore area of need, one they couldn’t easily remedy. They didn’t find many doctors wandering the mid-Atlantic countryside these days.

Whiskey put an old iron rod into the fire, shaking his head. Joey and Wedge plodded out of the cabin with a squeak of the screen door, unmistakably hungover. Ever since they had found a case of vodka on the last raid, this had been a regular occurrence.

Hood walked back towards the cabin, but Whiskey held an arm out, stopping him.

“You all right, kid?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Hood ran his thumb over the sights of the rifle hanging at his side.

“The number of people we’ve killed is never gonna get smaller.” Whiskey held his gaze. He had a fatherly look on his face, whether he knew it or not. “Just remember who we do this for.”

Whiskey would make a good dad one day. If that was ever a possibility, the way things were now. Another guy might have found it uncomfortable, but Hood was glad Whiskey and Taylor were a couple. Under the circumstances, it only brought Hood and Whiskey closer. It’s not like they had a hell of a lot in common other than they both fought to keep Taylor safe. Along with all the other people of Clearwater.

“I’m fine. I’m okay.”

Whiskey’s stern gaze lingered on him for a moment before he turned and walked to the fire to check the iron. Hood opened the screen door of the cabin and went inside. Whiskey was used to the darker side of humanity. He had been a cop for a long time before the collapse of civilization. The idea of someone trying to kill you wasn’t foreign to him.

The poorly made, wood-framed couch and empty spaces on the floor were covered in bedding. Hood ambled slowly to the kitchenette, grabbed some salted jerky from a jar and chewed on it. He picked up the pan on the stove, scooped a few cold beans from the bottom and ate them while staring at a dark knot in the red woodgrain of the wall.

If a bear or a wolf came out of the woods he’d shoot it to stay alive. If a tree was going to collapse on his house he’d cut it down. If a pack of the Kaiser’s men snuck towards their camp, he had to gun them down.

If they were all merciless killers it would be easier. Hood knew by now many of them were regular people just fighting to survive. Being a part of the Kaiser’s army was the only chance for survival for countless refugees.

Maybe to them, Hood and Whiskey and the Clearwater crew were that bear in the woods.

Hood lay down on the couch, staring up at the defunct ceiling fan and the stained wood boards it was mounted to. The dead man’s journal jabbed him in the back. He pulled it out of his pants, running his hands over the soft faux leather cover before opening it. The orange light from the campfire came in through the window. He could clearly read the man’s surprisingly good handwriting. He opened the book to the first entry.

Maybe some other civilization will find this book some day and marvel at our great tragedy. I don’t know why else I would bother to write this. I guess it’s some kind of catharsis. It’s been two years since the nukes and the chemical weapons destroyed our country. One day you’re grocery shopping, the power cuts off. Everyone shrugs nervously and goes home and waits for it to come back on and it never does.

The weaponized virus or whatever the hell it was that made people into wild animals—that was what really ruined everything. Someone had the clever idea to call it the red death. It’s catchy, I’ll give them that. Most of the infected are gone now. Now the survivors just have to stop killing each other. Not like humanity’s ever been able to do that.

I’m writing this because Bob is dead, and I have no idea what to do anymore. I have no one to talk to that I really trust. The Kaiser’s officers are ruthless, and most of the other people are too afraid to go against them. Everyone stays in their lane, even if that lane is fucked.

One such ruthless asshole of the Kaiser’s they call the Sheriff sends us out to take out U.N. remnants. I don’t even know why they want them dead. They’re so pathetically weak, just trying to survive like the rest of us. We fight rangers of the Sons of Liberty more often than not. They’re the real threat to the Kaiser’s dream of a new country. That’s the idiotic party line the officers keep spouting. Honestly, I wish I could fight for the Sons instead. Supposedly the Crusader united the entire New England region under the banner of the Sons shortly after the fall. Though who knows, the Crusader might be as much of a self-righteous psychopath as the Kaiser is. People who’ve been here longer than I have said the Kaiser seized control over the mid-Atlantic region in only three months. Three goddamn months. The whole world has gone to shit.

I have to keep Danny and Kim alive. With Bob dead, I’m the only one left looking out for his kids. I never wanted to have to do that. That’s why I never had any goddamned kids of my own. But they’re good kids. They don’t deserve this shitty world.

Hood let the journal rest under his nose, his hands starting to sweat. You killed a good man today. You killed him because he happened to be on one side and you happened to be on the other. You did it because you had to. But it doesn’t change the fact he’s dead. Now those kids are alone. The chemically treated paper had a sweet, nostalgic smell, one that reminded him of lying on his childhood bed reading fantasy novels as he wished he were on some grand adventure. He heard Whiskey’s voice in his head. Don’t do this to yourself, kid. You’ve gotta let it go. His hands acted on their own as he skipped ahead to the latest entry.

Just got our marching orders. I’m to go with Don and George to sneak into the camp of this country-ass gang that’s been raiding supplies from everyone. The Sheriff says it’s a skeleton crew, and we can take them by surprise. I don’t like it. It doesn’t make that much sense, and it seems an awful lot like a suicide mission. But I don’t have much of a choice. I should’ve kept my goddamned mouth shut. He probably knows I haven’t been too happy with this bullshit they’re making us do lately. I wish there was a way I could get Danny and Kim out of this disaster. Part of me wants to just run off. But lord knows what they’d do with those kids. God, you miserable prick, just give me a way out of this.

Hood exhaled slowly, closing the book. Every fight Hood won was someone else’s loss. Whiskey said it was us or them. The whole world thinks it’s ‘us or them,’ though.

Hood could justify killing an evil man, if he had to. But this man? He felt a closeness to him in reading his raw thoughts. He could’ve easily been one of their crew.

Hood wanted no part of this war. All he wanted was peace and quiet with his family, and maybe to find a girl who lived like the world wasn’t in ruins. That’s a greedy thought in a world like this, though. He’d be happy with peace alone. Not that it would happen. He dreamed that Ian and Mom and Dad would just show up at Clearwater one day. But back in reality, all he could do was protect his sister and pray his family was still alive out there.

Billy’s screams and curses reverberated through the walls of the cabin, interrupting his musings. Hood was glad he’d never had to sear any wounds closed with the iron.

The screen door creaked open and the main door swung in with a crash.

Billy’s blue eyes were wide behind unkempt brown hair. He held his left hand in his right like it was a sick bunny.

“I NEED SOME BOOZE!” He shouted, hurling bedding and clothes every which way with his right hand, desperately digging for someone’s stash.

Hood laughed, knowing full well Billy didn’t want to hear a damn thing he had to say. He sat up slowly to make his way out of the cabin.

Lucky was standing over the campfire trying to ignite the end of his hand-rolled cigarette. The orange glow lit up his round, olive face and the flames reflected in his dark eyes.

Whiskey leaned back into the folding chair, crossing his arms and gazing absently at the dancing fire.

“You guys aren’t going to give him any?” Hood said, nodding towards Billy in the cabin.

Whiskey hmmphed. “He already drank half of mine. Crybaby. I ain’t giving him no more.”

The fire crackled and popped as one log broke into two and fell into the embers below. Hood sat down on a tree stump and basked in the heat from the fire. It was a subtle comfort, but it was something. The three of them stared at the flickering flames, the occasional pop and crack accompanying the birds starting to chirp in the distance. The smell of burning pine brought Hood back to the old world again; he and Taylor and Ian as teenagers sitting around a bonfire at their cousin’s house in Maine, roasting marshmallows on metal shish-kabob sticks and talking about their future in a world that still had one.

Billy emerged from the cabin with another creak of the screen door. He walked over to a folding chair and plopped down, an entire bottle of vodka in one hand. He unscrewed the cap with his teeth and spat it into the dirt, taking a deep swig.

“Man, this is boring,” Lucky said, leaning back and puffing smoke into the air.

“Here, let me shoot you. It’ll keep you distracted.” Billy pulled out his pistol and pointed it at Lucky, who flipped him off.

“Why ain’t we found any stand-up comedians from back in the day?” Lucky said, spitting out some tobacco that had made its way out of the butt of the cig.

“Well damn Lucky, isn’t that why you’re here? I mean, you couldn’t shoot a waster that was listening to the barrel of your gun to hear the ocean,” Hood said, aiming a finger gun and biting his lip in mock consternation.

“Hey, fuck you, I got bad depth perception, all right?”

Whiskey snorted. “Bad depth perception? That’s a new one. I always thought it was on account of you being about as jittery as a cat in a washing machine.”

“Y’all are just jealous of my devilish charm and good looks,” Lucky said through the cigarette, each breath punctuated with puffs of smoke. “You’re lookin’ at a superior male specimen, fellas.”

“Male specimen, my ass,” Whiskey grumbled.

Billy came up for air with a sigh, in between swigs from the bottle he clutched to his chest. “Seriously though, anyone know any new stories? I could stand to be distracted.”

“I’m not sure we haven’t heard every true story and twice as many made up ones at this point,” Whiskey said, unscrewing the top of his flask and taking a drink. Hood smacked him in the knee and beckoned it over with two fingers. Whiskey handed the flask off to him. Hood tipped it back, holding his breath to keep the taste but not the burn.

“Yeah, actually, I got one,” Hood said wiping his lips on his knuckles. He looked down at the stainless steel flask, a smile growing from the fond memory. “It’s from high school, actually. You aren’t gonna believe it’s true.”

Hood looked up at the three of them. Billy and Lucky stared back, attending to their bottle and cigarette respectively, while Whiskey kept staring into the fire. Hood handed the flask back to him, breaking his reverie.

“Well shit, don’t keep us in suspense,” Billy said, resting the bottle on his knee.

“Bet a bottle it’s another one about his adopted brother Isaac or whoever,” Lucky pointed at Billy.

Hood picked up a pebble and threw it at Lucky over the fire. Lucky snatched it out of the air, and jumped to his feet in a crane stance.

“You see that Mr. Miyagi shit? Like a ninja, son!”

“Congrats you caught a rock, sit down and let him tell the damn story,” Billy grumbled.

“Nah that’s cool, Lucky wants to practice his Tai Chi,” Hood said.

“Stop being an asshole,” Billy gestured at Lucky with his bottle.

“Don’t get all butthurt. Go on, tell your fuckin’ story,” Lucky sat down, pulling the cigarette out of his mouth.

Hood rubbed his palm with his thumb, launching into the saga. “So yeah. Way back in high school Ian was all about this girl Deirdre Connelly. Ian’s the kinda kid who was single-minded in his focus. She was a pretty girl, but spoken for all through high school until senior year she and her dude broke up. She skipped class one day, apparently getting pretty high and sexting Ian with her address, saying her parents weren’t home. Problem is, his teacher saw him on his phone and took it away, giving it to the front office for my mom to pick up. . .”

Lucky had perked up at the mention of a pretty girl and sexting, taking a strong pull from the cigarette as he watched intently. Hood chuckled to himself remembering it. The memories almost didn’t feel real, like it was a different world.

“Anyway, so Ian obviously isn’t going to let this stop him. He sneaks out at lunch, meets up with this chick he knows who’s a makeup artist at the mall. They come up with a plan, and they go full Mrs. Doubtfire, turning Ian into my mom. I mean full-blown: dress, stockings, heels, wig, makeup, everything. I swear, it was pretty goddamned convincing. He strolls right into the front office claiming to be Mrs. Huntington, there to pick up her son’s phone. He had the voice pretty good too. Unbeknownst to him, I had just got caught drinking cheap vodka in the bathroom and they decide that while ‘my mom’ was there, they should take me to her for discipline. So I’m in the front office and I see him all done up. Immediately I lose it, I’m howling, dying, I can’t help it. Afraid his cover is going to be blown, he launches into a rant about me being more responsible and taking away my phone and X-box and grounding me and how mad my father is going to be when he finds out, and the whole time I’m in tears. Someone finally musters the nerve to question Ian’s facade. Ian tries desperately to whisk me and his phone away but is caught when the Dean calls my mom’s cell. Ian was so pissed I thought he was going to kill me, but I didn’t care, it felt like the best day of my life. The dean rambled to us about integrity and the whole time I couldn’t stop laughing and Ian wanted to stab me.”

Hood drew the story to a close, staring off into the fire.

“Well?” Lucky said, staring at Hood. “Did Ian bang that chick?”

Hood shook his head. “You’re an idiot.”

“Don’t leave it like that, douche! Tell me what happened!”

“Yes, you moron. They hooked up on and off all through senior year. It was a huge dramatic pain in the ass. Not exactly a limited-time-offer.”

Whiskey shook his head, wearing a slight grin. “That’s some funny shit. How come you never told that one?”

“I guess I normally don’t think about high school much. But I just remembered it.” Hood leaned back, the fire so warm it felt like it was burning his face. Maybe it was partly the liquor.

“High school huh. I bet you were one of those swoopy-haired kids who listened to that weepy ass music all the time,” Lucky said, staring down Hood for his reaction. Hood didn’t dignify it with a response, giving Lucky the finger.

“Who the fuck’s Mrs. Doubtfire?” Billy said, blinking slowly.

Whiskey snorted, rubbing his forehead. “Goddamned kids.”

The fire had died down suddenly. The glowing red chunks of wood lay broken atop each other, glowing suddenly brighter as a gust of wind blew smoke and ash towards Hood. The leaves on the trees swished softly. Lucky tossed the cigarette butt into the fire. Billy was swaying in his seat.

“Should I get more logs?” Lucky asked no one in particular.

“No. We’re going to pack up and head home. The Sheriff will know we’re here for sure when his men don’t come back. He’ll tell the Kaiser by tomorrow or the day after. I want to be gone by then. They’re not too happy with us raiding that stockpile, so we should take the supplies back to town and lay low,” Whiskey said. A look of exhaustion hung in his eyes as he stared at the embers.

Hood was sure he knew what he was thinking: That sooner or later they were going to piss off the Kaiser enough that he wouldn’t be able to ignore them anymore. But they had little choice. Hood knew just as well as Whiskey how much the town needed food, water, gasoline, and every little thing in between. They had a long way to go before they could learn to farm enough food to support themselves, let alone find a way to sustain every other need.

“Well, shit. You ain’t gotta tell me twice. I’m sick’a this busted-ass cabin,” Billy slurred, standing up and moving towards the house in one motion. His foot caught in the legs of the folding chair and he slumped into the grass with supreme drunken inelegance. The airborne bottle of vodka thunked into the grass in front of him. Lucky exploded off his seat, howling in laughter, berating Billy loudly between breaths.

“Damn dude, you all right?” Hood said, trying to suppress his own snickering.

“Changed m’ mind, I’m jus’ gonna lay here awhile,” Billy said, the side of his face pressed against the grassy earth.

Hood looked over at Whiskey, grinning. Whiskey shook his head in annoyance, but couldn’t suppress a smirk. He stood up, hands pushing himself up from his knees.

“Well Lucky, that leaves you to get the trucks out of the hiding spot. Come on, we got to get movin’.” Whiskey stretched his right arm behind his head.

Lucky complained loudly about Billy’s drunken stupor as he stomped off down the hill. Whiskey made the rounds and gathered the crew from out on watch. Everyone started packing up the supplies and loading them into the trucks Lucky parked by the cabin.

All Hood could think about was the dead man and the kids he wouldn’t be able to look after. He hadn’t had many choices. Very few people did anymore.

Hood believed completely that Ian and his parents were still alive; what would they do to protect each other if they lived under the Kaiser’s rule?

Morning light had broken through the trees and onto the dirt road by the time Hood and Whiskey headed off with a truck laden with supplies. It shed clarity on an unpleasant thought.

One day when I look down the sights it might not be a stranger I see walking through the woods, gun in hand.

 

If you’re interested, check out the full novel on Amazon!

See you space cowboy,

Evan Pickering

The Way-Too-Early Excerpt for BOOK 2

The Way-Too-Early Excerpt for BOOK 2

Slowly, deliberately, I move forward on Whiskey, Book 2 of the American Rebirth Series.

It’s an exciting, challenging, satisfying, sometimes teeth-gnashing process. But I’m emboldened by my success with HOOD as my debut novel. Now, my heart is set on creating an original, worthy successor as a sequel. I don’t want to be one of those Indie Authors who kills it with book 1 and just craps out a sequel ASAP to try and capitalize.

I want it to be better than the first. Hard to do with sequels, sometimes.

Anyway. In the spirit of excitement, I wanted to share a short excerpt (even though this is WAY, way too early haha) from Whiskey. Enjoy: (WARNING, POSSIBLE SPOILERS IF NOT DONE WITH BOOK 1)

I Am Legend

Ruins of Manhattan, territory of the Sons of Liberty, Lionheart Kingdom of America.

The skyscrapers towered in the blue sky. Sunlight cast shadows into broken windows where scrappy green plants crept out to meet its warmth. The words written in white paint sprawling across the building were faded now:

YOUR WORLD IS A LIE
SEEK OUT THE TRUTH

Whiskey’s steps splashed gently in the inches-deep seawater that ran along the street with the tide. He breathed in the crisp, salty air mingled with dust. Some dumbass risked his life to write all that.

“What do you think, are we the on the right side or the wrong side?” Vicks said sarcastically. His long brown hair framed his sunburned hawkish nose, his long sleeve gray shirt and military cargo pants showing the wear of their long trek here.

Edgar and Taylor caught up behind them, having tied the boat off. Edgar and Vicks, the two Rangers-in-Training, had managed to not get themselves killed thus far. But they both had a long way to go. Feels a bit too much like babysittin’ these days. Being a Ranger for the Sons of Liberty for the last 15 years had suited Whiskey well. It was something he was good at. Second nature. Being the Captain of the Rangers for the last five of those years was a whole different animal. Most of what he did was train the recruits. The rest of the Rangers were self-sufficient. That’s why they were Rangers.

“The right side is whatever side you’re on,” Whiskey said.

“I know we’re on the right side. I was just messin’.”

“I know what you meant, kid. I’m trying to tell you somethin’.”

“Everyone’s fighting for the right side in their own mind. Remember that when you look down the sight and see someone you call an enemy.” Taylor said, echoing Whiskey’s sentiment.

“So what, you don’t want me to shoot the Dead Hand when I see them? Or the Southland Confederates? They’ll kill us. We have to defend ourselves.” Vicks shook his head.

Whiskey sighed, his eyes finding Taylor. Her green eyes met his, her face as beautiful and calm as the day he met her and Hood at that abandoned gas station so many years ago. “Why do they always give us the kids?”

She smiled. “Because they come back as Rangers.”

Vicks stepped towards them. “I want to know what you’re sayin’. I won’t lie, I’m scared to shoot someone. But I know if I see one of the factions out there coming at me, I’m pullin’ the trigger. I know it.”

Whiskey clapped Vicks on the shoulder. “I know, kid. I’m not saying you can’t defend yourself. I’m not saying you can’t shoot ’em. But you live long enough, you’ll realize people you once called your enemies might one day be your closest friends.”
Livin’ proof. Fighting for the Sons for fifteen years. Are we the right side? Hell, I don’t know. The only side I fought for was safety, protection. For all the Sons shortcomings, this is a free land, and it beats the hell out of sleeping with a pistol in hand in the wastelands.

“What do you think, kid?” Whiskey said to Edgar.
He was a quiet kid, even by Whiskey’s standards. But he had perceptive eyes that seemed to take in everything, and he seemed to always be listening. Whiskey knew he was a sharp kid, even before he had said two words to him on the first day of training. Some people you can tell just by the way they take in the world around them. His cornrows wound neatly down the back of his head, and his dark-skinned angular face had a relaxed look to it.

“I don’t know,” Edgar offered simply.

“Gonna have to dig deeper than that.”

Edgar deliberated, looking down the empty road. A seagull cawed nearby. The sound always sent Whiskey back to those golden vacation days as a young man on the Southern Atlantic coast. Italian ices and sand-worn feet. Not even the same world.
“I don’t think people will ever stop fighting.”

Whiskey nodded slowly. “Yeah, I think I agree with you kid.”

“Bullshit. That’s not an answer. You didn’t even answer the question!” Vicks shouted at Edgar, throwing a glove at him.

Edgar swatted it down into the water, sporting a rare smile. The glove floated gently on the surface, absorbing seawater. “Too bad. Captain liked it.”

“Get off it, stop suckin’ his ass!” Vicks kicked water at Edgar who turned his head, laughing.

Whiskey smiled. He moved slow down the street, crossbow in hand. Captain. Still not even sure how it ended up like this. The city lay empty, the algae covered sidewalks and hollowed buildings baking in the sun. The tide was going out, so the water would be coming down off the streets soon. Peaceful enough. It’s a good life, teaching these kids. I like these two. Remind me of the old days. Minos swam around his feet in the shallow water. And yet I can’t shake this feelin’, like there’s something else. Whiskey took a deep breath. That’s just it. Can’t change the way you’re wired.

“You two have to be the loudest fuckin’ Rangers alive. You done goofing off yet?” Taylor called back at them, following behind Whiskey.

Edgar resolved himself. “Yes ma’am.”

“Yes ma’am,” Vicks echoed, giving Edgar the finger.

Excerpt #4 HOOD American Rebirth Book 1

Excerpt #4 HOOD American Rebirth Book 1

Well, I’m almost home.

I don’t think I’ll have it published by the end of this month like I’d hoped. I’ll probably have edits done, but I’ll still need to do Kindle formatting along with everything else that goes into getting it as polished as I’d like. If it all goes well I should have it out by January.

I can live with that. I’m varying between anxious and excited about being on the home stretch. I don’t think it will feel real until I’m staring at it on Amazon.

It’s been joyous, exciting, painful, growth-inducing, and humbling writing and re-writing this book. I’m glad to say some early version readers have had some very positive things to say about it. Any writer will tell you, that means the world and beyond.

My goal has always been to make an entertaining, enjoyable, page turning story. I think I’ve come a long way to doing that. For all you reading this, I hope you give my story a shot when it’s done.

And with that, here’s the excerpt. Fittingly, I’m ending with the beginning–it’s the opening to the book. Enjoy!

Evan Pickering

HOOD COVER FINAL 1

The iron sights of Hood’s AK-47 lined up perfectly between each other, trained on the dark-haired man in the muted blue of predawn light. Hood’s heart picked up speed, his chest rising and falling with hasty breaths. The Kaiser knows we’re here. The purposefulness of the man’s search was proof enough. A lone wastelander would’ve kept his distance from their camp. How many more are coming? The image of a host of the Kaiser’s soldiers waiting in the dark mountain woods set his mind ablaze. Focus. The man hustled to the next tree and crouched down behind it, leaning over to peer around the mossy bark towards the campfire up the hill. No one else followed behind him. Maybe he’s just a scout.

The man’s chest rose and fell quickly as he closed his eyes, pistol in hand. He switched hands on his pistol as he wiped his palms on his pants. He doesn’t want this. He’s just like you. The thought surged into his mind unabated. Hood tried to cast it out, focusing on keeping his aim true. Just turn around and go back, Hood pleaded. He had a perfect shot from his flanking position up in the tree, but his finger stayed still on the trigger.

If you don’t shoot him, he will kill someone you love.

Hood chewed on the salty pull string of his well-worn hoodie, breathing in deeply and holding the air in his lungs as he squeezed the trigger on his rifle nearly to the firing point, keeping the sights steady.