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About The Author

Weston OchseWeston Ochse

WESTON OCHSE has won the Bram Stoker Award for First Novel and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for short fiction. He is a retired U.S. Army intelligence officer and current intelligence officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

photo: Yvonne Navarro

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EXCERPT

1
 
 
NEW ORLEANS CEMETERY. NIGHT.
That’ll Leave A Mark was spray-painted in garish Day-Glo pink across the front of a seventeenth-century headstone. The out-of-the-way and run-down cemetery was the perfect setting for a horror movie. The ambience was complete with Spanish-moss-hung ancient trees, low ground fog, aboveground crypts crouching like intruders, anomalous statues that could be shrines to the elder gods, and the total absence of sound, except for a tinkling of zydeco on the extreme edge of hearing. And the characters, the complement of characters, inclusive of the astonishingly believable voodoo queen, were as terrifying as they were fantastic. So Petty Officer First Class Jack Walker was pretty pleased with himself that he made this observation while perched high in a tree far away from the action and armed with a sniper rifle.
Only this wasn’t a movie. Through his scope, Walker watched as Voodoo Queen Madame Laboy stood imperiously on the raised sarcophagus behind a wall of bulletproof glass, her arms outstretched as if she were the puppeteer for the vast array of undead which were pulling themselves upright from where they lay on the ground. More than a dozen naked zombies clawed their way to their feet, their jerky movements as they tried to operate their dead limbs increasing the creep factor tenfold. Some of them still had Y-incisions from medical-school students’ inexpert autopsies. Others were fresher, their mortal wounds still weeping fluid, their expressions full of surprise as if they’d just figured out they were no longer alive.
Walker swung the long barrel of the Stoner SR-25 sniper rifle back and forth as he continued observing the scene through the Leupold Mark 4 scope. The other four members of SEAL Team 666 huddled in the middle of the cemetery. Holmes, Laws, YaYa, and the new guy, Yank, stood roughly back-to-back. They wore body armor, including Kevlar forearm pads, Kevlar gloves, and Kevlar shin guards. They each held a slender two-foot metal baton in one hand and a Marine Ka-Bar in the other. Their heads were completely covered with metal helmets, depriving them of sight, sound, and smell. If they were to survive, it would be by touch alone.
The zombies were pretty much as Walker expected—shamblers. Like sailors after a forty-eight-hour drinking jag in Balibago, Philippines. Several bumped into crypts and were redirected.
Walker’s gaze was drawn back to Madame Laboy as she started to sing something in low, guttural French. A mishmash of red and purple satin covered her matronly figure. Her graying hair was piled high and infused with copper coils. Enough of her beauty remained that she could still command a room’s attention, not to mention a pantheon of the undead in a Southern gothic cemetery.
At the sound of her song, the zombies snapped their bodies straight and cocked their heads as if they were listening—which after this reaction, Walker had no doubt they were. Within moments of hearing her, they were all staring with dead eyes at the four SEALs. Then, as one, the zombies moved toward them.
Walker wished he could put a round through the Voodoo Queen’s head. It wouldn’t even be hard. Everything seemed a little easier after he took out the Somali pirates on heavy seas last year at over three thousand meters. Except that the rounds in his rifle stood no chance against the specially designed glass. Still, he could figure out a way to put his rifle to good use. He sighted in, took a moment, and fired. Dust exploded from the ground between Holmes’s feet. The SEAL straightened, tapped the man next to him, who did the same to the next, until they were all alerted to the approaching zombies.
Dragging and tripping, the undead moved faster than expected. With their arms out, fingers curled, teeth gnashing, the first wave attacked.
At first touch, each SEAL used his baton to isolate an arm and spin his attacker. Then the knife blade slid along the back until it found the neck. A hard saw with the serrated edge and the head fell free to hang by gristle and skin as the zombie dropped, lifeless once more.
A male voice spoke through Walker’s Multiband Intra/Inter Team Radio (MBITR) headset. “Increasing volume to five decibels. SEALs, move apart.”
The four SEALs did as commanded. Each one set one foot forward like a fencer, their helmeted faces pointing toward the ground, as they concentrated on what little hearing they were allowed as their only sense.
Holmes encountered a raised crypt and quickly pulled himself atop it. Yank, YaYa, and Laws remained on the ground. They moved their batons and knives in a slow dance, waiting.
They didn’t have long. Thirty more zombies rose from places along the ground where they’d been placed earlier. The problem with cemeteries in New Orleans is that the water table is too high to bury someone in the ground. Instead, people must be buried in aboveground crypts, which can run from the utilitarian to the elaborate. Since the SEALs didn’t want to raise the dead of unknown families, the crypts themselves were kept shut. Instead, Naval Special Warfare Command had requisitioned a number of cadavers, which had been strategically placed along the ground by a cohort of confused Navy seamen, who knew better than to question the details of their classified mission to relocate the recent dead.
Holmes spun as he felt a zombie brush his lower leg. Walker watched through his scope when she turned to face Holmes. She’d been a beautiful girl before something had smashed in the side of her face. She grabbed the SEAL’s leg and tried to pull him to her, but she lacked the strength, instead creating a stationary target for Holmes’s weapons. He slammed the tip of the knife into the center of her skull. Her body ceased all function. He pulled the knife free as she fell.
But Holmes had no time to waste. Two more zombies moved toward him. An African American zombie who was tall and muscled enough to have played professional basketball grabbed one of Holmes’s arms. An overweight, balding white guy grabbed one of Holmes’s legs. Holmes kicked out to rid himself of the zombie on his leg, but as he did, he was jerked off balance by the taller one.
Walker quickly scanned the other three SEALs and saw that while each was engaged, they were holding their own, except for possibly Yank, who had lowered his head and was ramming himself into a clot of three zombies. Still, they were on their feet and fighting, not at all like the SEAL team leader, who was now on the ground and straddled by a freakishly tall zombie. Even while Holmes fought desperately to rid himself of the creature on his chest, the overweight zombie was trying to chew on his leg. Try as the zombie might, he couldn’t bite through the Kevlar, nor could he find a way around it with the booted foot of Holmes’s other leg continually slamming into his face.
Walker prepared to fire. The objective of the training was to help better prepare the SEALs for situations where they had limited use of their senses. No one was supposed to die. In fact, it was Walker’s job to make sure that no one did. Still, he hesitated, watching through the scope as Holmes fought for his life. Walker could afford his boss a few more seconds. After all, nothing was faster than a sniper round.
The zombie kept trying to grab the side of Holmes’s head as if it were a basketball. The fact that Holmes had a metal helmet on didn’t seem to deter the zombie, and Holmes himself kept acting as if the helmet weren’t there. Why not let the zombie try and bite through the composite metal?
It was as if Holmes realized this at the same time Walker thought it. Holmes relaxed and the zombie immediately grabbed his head. He brought it to his face to get a better hold and snapped his jaw shut, breaking several teeth on the metal.
Not being able to see, Holmes had no idea this had occurred, but in one smooth move he slammed the knife into the side of the zombie’s head. He continued pushing until the creature tumbled off him. Without hesitation, Holmes scissored his legs and wrapped them around the other zombie’s head. Holmes rolled, causing the overweight zombie to tumble headfirst after him until Holmes straddled the zombie. The SEAL team leader no longer had a knife but he still held the baton. He placed one end of it on the bottom of the zombie’s jaw and shoved until it disappeared into the creature’s brain.
Walker couldn’t help but shake his head and smile. “Not bad, Chief. Not bad at all.”
Holmes dispatched three more, using the baton in the same manner.
Yank got to his feet from where he looked like he’d been rolling in a pile of dead zombies. Walker made a note to talk to the new SEAL. No matter how much Kevlar he wore, his zeal for battle wouldn’t stop a zombie from possibly finding a chink in his armor. Even after this, the metaphor should be lived.
YaYa and Laws each stood in the center of a pile of his own dead zombies. Other than Madame Laboy, the SEALs were the only ones left in the cemetery.
A series of beeps piped through his MBITR, followed by “Control to Triple Six. Training complete. You may remove your sensory-deprivation helmets.”
The four SEALs below Walker did as they were told and their faces were revealed.
Lieutenant Commander Sam Holmes, blond-haired, square-jawed paradigm of a SEAL, life dedicated to the cause of freedom.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Tim Laws, blond-haired, lanky, a smile already creasing a long, thoughtful face that hid an intelligence unmatched by the others.
Chief Petty Officer Ali Jabouri, or YaYa, Arab American, dark-skinned, dark hair, built like a runner, trying to prove that he was as apple-pie American as everyone else.
Petty Officer Second Class Shonn Yankowski, African American, shaved head, tattoos, burns along the left side of his face from a house fire back home in Compton.
Just as the SEALs began to high-five and celebrate, each examining the zombies he’d killed without the ability to see, they were interrupted by a terrible scraping sound. All eyes went to one of the raised crypts, this one more elaborate and twice the size of most others.
The four-inch-thick metal cover was moving aside. An immense hand reached from underneath and grabbed the lip of the crypt’s lid, a talon the size of a dinner knife jutting from each finger.
The hairs on the back of Walker’s neck began to buzz. He’d felt something electric the entire time, but he’d written it off as the zombies or Madame Laboy. But now with the metal cover free, his skin began to tingle. Whatever this was, it was much more than they’d expected, setting off his supernatural warning system like no horde of zombies ever could.
Madame Laboy’s voice rose. She screamed a series of words that weren’t part of any language Walker had ever heard. Her hands punched at the air in a complex pattern. What she was doing was many levels of mastery beyond the raising of the dead.
Walker watched as the monstrous hand lost its grip on the crypt cover, and let it drop back in place, disappearing beneath it.
Madame Laboy ran around the bulletproof shield and sped toward the crypt. With the help of Yank, she climbed on top of the lid, where she began to spit, and curse, and cast more spells.
“What was that?” Holmes asked.
She ignored him for a moment, then said, “Something I’d almost forgotten about. Something I’d misplaced.”
“Pretty fucking big to misplace,” Laws said, casting a worried eye at the crypt.
“You live as long as me and you’ll forget a lot of things, mon petit guerrier.” She stared at him, as if daring him to ask her age.
Laws snorted. He knew better than to upset a voodoo queen.


 
Copyright © 2013 by St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

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