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Excerpt for A Cold Breath by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Published by EVERNIGHT PUBLISHING ® at Smashwords


www.evernightpublishing.com




Copyright© 2018 Elizabeth Monvey



ISBN: 978-1-77339-868-6


Cover Artist: Jay Aheer


Editor: Lisa Petrocelli



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.


This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.





DEDICATION


Thank you to Stacey and everyone at Evernight, for allowing me to do what I love to do: write and bring stories to life. And thanks to all the readers who want to read those stories.





A COLD BREATH


Elizabeth Monvey


Copyright © 2018


Prologue

Atticus stared through his binoculars at the large encampment, where a dozen or so men stood as sentinels around the perimeter. Poised for any zombie swarm, more than likely they were ready for the real threat, namely marauders and gangs. Anarchy always brought out the worst in people, and many decided the apocalypse the perfect catalyst to throw off any form of civility. Time and time again, he’d seen the destruction left behind, not from the zombies, but from the damn outlaws roaming the ruined countryside.

Not wanting to be lumped in with those bandits and have bullets greeting him, he held up a white flag and waved it, knowing that the motion would be caught quickly by the watchers standing guard. When he got an answering wave, he threw the binoculars and flag into his ATV and headed over the sandy terrain to the fort. He bypassed the cheval de frise, which helped the defense perimeter. And if the long pointy spikes weren’t good enough to snag the walking dead, the moat filled with pikes stood ready for the stragglers.

A gate opened and he was waved inside, although a cautious welcoming party waited with hands on the butt of their guns. Atticus made sure to keep his hands on the steering wheel, well above the visual line to show he meant no trouble. Hell, even if he tried to pull some type of stunt, he’d be dead in seconds.

“Howdy, stranger,” greeted an older man, who had more hair on the lower half of his face than he did on his head. “Name’s Vitto.”

“Hello” Atticus replied. “I’m Atticus.”

“Lost?”

Atticus shook his head. “Wandering. Saw your encampment.”

“We’re plague scouts,” Vitto said. “We’re making sure this disease isn’t spreading.”

“That sounds interesting. You needing some men?”

Vitto scratched his beard, looked his ATV over, then glanced behind him to a tall, beefy man who had a scar crisscrossing over his face. “What‘cha think, Drake? You think Atticus could fit in?”

Drake narrowed his eyes. “You know how to kill what’s already dead?”

The hair on the back of Atticus’s neck stood up, warning him, and he took heed of his instincts. This was a man he shouldn’t turn his back on. “You don’t survive this long without knowing how to put them down.”

“Military?” Vitto asked.

“Once upon a time,” Atticus said. “Been nomadic for the past year or so, I think. I’ve kinda forgotten the date.”

“Well, Atticus,” Vitto said. “We’re actually mounting up for a ride. One of our sentinels spotted a swarm on the northwest perimeter. Want to tag along?”

Atticus stared at Drake for an extra heartbeat before shifting over to Vitto. Something seemed off, a nagging sense that he shouldn’t really trust either man, but he needed something to break the monotony his life had become, so he nodded.

“Great,” Vitto said, smiling, although the humor never reached his emotionless eyes. “Drake here can get you geared up.”

“I’ve already got my gear,” Atticus replied steady. “And I trust it.”

Vitto held up a hand. “Say no more, I completely understand. A good weapon is hard to find. Still, it’s good to take inventory.”

Drake waited for him, and looking around, the barrels pointed in his direction made him realize he wasn’t in much of a position to decline. Reluctantly he followed after Drake, wishing he could get the fuck out of there. He definitely picked the wrong goddamn place to seek out some company.

And this is why I prefer to be on my own!

Chapter One

“No, Remy, move that box over there.”

Remy blew the hair out of his eyes and hefted the wooden box over to where his father, Arnie, wanted it, under the blue tarp and out of direct sunlight.

“How many bags of potatoes do we have left?” Arnie asked.

Remy glanced into the box. “Three.”

Arnie nodded. “Whatever we don’t sell today we’ll have to eat. We can’t let it go to waste.”

Remy sighed and glanced out at the market, seeing only a few lingering souls left. The haven walls kept out almost everyone, and to enter one must prove to be disease free. In the past two years since the virus devastated the world, pockets of humanity lived behind barricades with walls so high only daylight and the moon could be seen. They all traded with each other, so finding a different line of work wasn’t really in the near future. The market would close soon, and those who bargained to stay for the night would rise tomorrow and go out to find more material in the Out-of-Bounds, lands that had been quarantined early in the apocalypse, to trade for food shelter.

It was a monotonous existence that Remy found soul-sucking. Every day he tried to remember what life had been like before, when he had a normal job and a normal life, but the memories kept slipping away like dust in the wind. He wondered what life would be like if he became a hunter, but he knew Arnie would never go for it.

All that was left in the world was walking death and … potatoes.

The sun sank over the mountaintop, ending the market day, and Remy’s dad packed up the last of their crop. They had only a small apartment located within the haven walls, and the majority of it housed dirt boxes to grow potatoes. Remy officially hated the starchy tubers, but they paid the rent and kept them safe.

“I’m going out,” he told his dad, after a quick sponge bath.

“A swarm was reported earlier,” Arnie said. “Perhaps you should stay home.”

“Is the swarm of dead upon our doorstep?”

“No, but that could change. You know how unpredictable they can be.”

“Well, until then, I need to go out.”

Arnie huffed. “Don’t be too late. Morning comes quickly.”

Remy rolled his eyes. “Dad, it doesn’t matter if we’re a little late putting the potatoes out. People will take them because we’re the only ones growing them in our living space.”

“Give some respect. Potatoes give us shelter,” his father said sternly.

“I know, Dad. It’s just … I need a little release, okay?”

His dad’s shoulders slumped a little. “I know. This isn’t exactly an idyllic way to live for a twenty-three year old.”

Guilt slammed through Remy. He hugged his dad. “No, I’m sorry. We’re alive, thanks to you. You made sure we got to this haven and had a value we could add to this community.”

Arnie gave him a quick, tight squeeze before pulling back. “I think before winter sets in we should head into the mountain. Go to that spot we always talked about. You know, our emergency meeting area.”

“I know it. But, Dad, you love it here.”

Arnie shook his head. “No, not really. I think this is a safe place but I also think there’s too many unknowns around here, and not just from the infected. I think it’s prudent we think long term to wait this out. I kept thinking this is going to end soon, but it’s been two years. And there’s still zombies out there.”

Truth be told, Remy wouldn’t mind going into the mountain. They could grow something besides potatoes and not bake in the hot sun during the summer.

“I like that idea,” he told his dad. “I promise not to stay out too late.”

The nightlife in the haven was a muted affair, mainly because sound and light drew the walking dead. He walked to his favorite hot spot, a bar located in the basement of a building. Because electricity relied on a generator, after hours’ enjoyment relied on the old-fashioned way of fire to give light. Dozens of candles rested around the bar and a piano sat in the corner, a volunteer playing the keys. Remy sat at the bar, laid down a few trade tokens, and checked out the male offerings. Part of him would like a quick fuck, but another part of him felt like a true outsider. In the year of living in this particular haven he hadn’t made any friends. The current transient situation didn’t bode well for long-term relationships as people moved from one place to another. Some searched for missing loved ones while others didn’t trust staying in one place—people just like his father. A few men caught his gaze and lingered, a clear invitation should he wish to commence with a moment of debauchery, but his own apathy won out. After downing his home-brewed alcohol, he left the bar and walked home. Being as quiet as possible, he found his cot and lay down, falling asleep almost immediately.

****

An alarm bell rang out, waking Remy from a deep sleep. Screams started, distant at first but growing louder by the second. He bolted from his cot and hurried over to his father, but his dad wasn’t there. Confusion swirled through him, mixing with the apprehension flooding his system, causing his heart to pound with anxiety. Dressing quickly, he hurried from the apartment into the street littered with people. A woman bumped into him, not even apologizing as she rushed past.

“What’s going on?” Remy asked, calling out to anyone who would answer.

One man answered. “It’s a swarm at the east wall! Come on, we have to reinforce it!”

A cold chill traveled down his spine as he remembered his dad’s earlier warning. A swarm meant zombies, the walking dead with the ability to infect the living with one bite. Before the world stopped turning, it had been nothing but a popular horror genre. No one thought it could be real until ghouls started ambling up and down the streets. Now the scent of death lingered in the air.

As chaos encircled him, the only thing he could think of was trying to find his father. Thinking he may be hiding in the apartment, he ran back inside.

“Dad! Dad, are you here?”

No answer, which meant his father had to be out there in the stampeding rush of people heading to the east wall. Swarms were difficult to predict. The shuffling sea of dead could continue to move or they could linger since they were attracted to noise, heat, really anything that offered them a bit of movement or flash.

Remy rejoined the people running toward the east wall, ready to help. Men and women were already reinforcing the steel beams that held up the walls, working despite the gurgling sounds on the other side. He glanced up at the sentries on the guard towers, two men he knew only by name, George and Keegan. They stared through their binoculars off into the distance, not at the horde of dead beating against the walls. Curious, he hurried to the base and ran up the stairs, joining the two sentries at the top.

“What’s going on?” he asked, panting slightly.

“Get out of here,” George growled at him.

“Not until you tell me what you’re looking at.”

Keegan gave him the binoculars. “Here. Take a look.”

Remy looked through them, and at first he didn’t see anything except walking dead people shuffling amongst the destroyed Las Vegas landscape. Then he saw billowing dust rising on the horizon that looked different.


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