Oscar Mike – Chapter One

zombie_kid

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

-Albert Einstein

His hand trembled as soon as the pen touched the paper. He had noticed the tremors as soon as he awoke, but somehow, committing to the act seemed to make it worse. He took a deep breath and pressed the pen’s tip to the paper harder, hoping the added pressure would steady it. But it still found enough room to wiggle on him, creating a small, indented scribble on the page. Removing it, he dropped the pen in his lap and began scratching at the skin on his left arm. At moments like this, the itching and phantom sensations became worse, and the sight of the prosthetic mounted at the end of it didn’t help.

He grunted as he scratched, trying to vent the frustration. How unacceptable was it that he couldn’t even start this simplest of tasks? Of all the things he had witnessed in recent years, all the things he had been forced to endure, was he really going to be defeated by the simple act of keeping a journal? It seemed stupid to keep one as it was, but somehow, he felt he owed it to Andrews to record the many things he could not convey to him directly anymore.

Grabbing the pen again, he put it to the pad and quickly began writing…

Andrews said I should keep a log, so I’m starting now…

That seemed about as good a place as any to begin, a simple admission of what he was doing. A statement of purpose, which required very little thought or planning. Writing the next line proved equally difficult though. Once he had stated the obvious, it was hard to know what to say next. Looking around him, he chose something equally obvious – the days itinerary:

Sitting in formation, outside Espanola, waiting on the command to move out. We’re clearing the town at last. Plenty of talk about the Whiskeys that still remain there. Some people think we might even find some enemy survivors, the leftovers from when those bastards attacked us. Hoping to find some of our own too. People got left behind when we pulled out, wasn’t good. But we were in a mess after that firefight with our own troops. It was fucked. Looking forward to getting some answers on that soon…

He took a deep breath. The words had begun to flow, but he felt as though he were getting the slightest bit off topic. And his fingers were shaking again. The purpose of this journal was to catalog what he and Andrews used to talk about, not to document their units maneuvers. If he had wanted to do that, he would apply for officer training.

Grinding his teeth, he put the pen back to the pad and did his best to get the words out.

Dreamed about Amanda and Iina again. They were alive. We were out about town, the sun was shining. was carrying her in that chest pouch she had. She was smiling at me, they both were. Laughing too. I can remember what it sounds like when I sleep. Too hard to remember when I’m awake. It was wonderful.

He paused again. His fingers were no longer trembling so much, but he felt a terrible sensation welling up inside him. He was poised on the edge of it now, and it felt like the act might overwhelm and crush him. But he had to finish the entry. He owed Andrews that much, and if he couldn’t write it out, he could at least sum it up succinctly:

Didn’t end well. Never does.

He clicked the pen shut and tossed it against the dashboard. He heard a small rustling in the back too, the sound of Majorca shifting in his sleeping bag. Caught between anger and fear of waking his people up, he sighed heavily and just sat there. Once more, it seemed, he had the hit the wall and couldn’t get past it. Every time he tried, it proved to be too much and he had to pull back, leaving him with the sense that he had failed horribly.

In truth, the entire exercise seemed quite pointless and stupid. What good was it to write about these things, the pictures in his head that kept him up at night and haunted the little sleep he did managed to get? The dreams were always the same. The reality was always the same. They were dead and it was his fault. No amount of talking about it had shaken that conclusion, and being told otherwise never seemed to change it. So why bother with it?

In the end, the only thing that ever seemed to work was to just wait for it to pass. Wait for morning to come, the sun to rise, and the darkness to retreat back inside. Clench his fist until the tremors subsided, and get on with the day. Granted, he knew that next night would be the same, that no amount of exhaustion, liquor or drugs would make it any different.

And sooner or later, he knew he’d be joining them, and that’s what mattered. Eventually, the exhaustion would end, the pain would stop. He would no longer be able to keep moving and would surrender to the darkness. And on the other side of that… who knew? Maybe he would see Amanda and Iina again, maybe not.

That thought always gave him pause. Was it bad that he was thinking that death might prove to be a release? Did that mean that he was somehow hoping for it, or even willing to make it happen?

Can’t be, he thought, shaking his head. He had had enough brushes with death of late to know that it was the last thing he wanted. No matter how hard being awake proved to be, there really seemed to be no part of him that wanted to lay down and die. Not now. Not anytime soon.

Drawing what little comfort he could from that, Dezba looked to the far horizon and noted how the sun was beginning to break there. With his plans to spend some time writing thwarted, he made up to his mind to get out and go for a walk. In no time at all, the entire Battalion would be awake, and he would be forced to contend with another day. Might as well enjoy the cool morning while it was still there.

Grabbing hold of his M4, he checked the chamber and made sure the safety was on. He then carefully opened the cabin door and slid out, putting his boots to the ground and stretching his back. Turning around, he carefully closed the door and stepped back to take a look at his squad’s temporary quarters.

In the back seat, Majorca was still lying against the seat and in his sleeping bag, snoring quietly. Underneath, Whitman had the choice position, sleeping next to a soft, cool patch of earth, his bag enveloping him and keeping him warm. That left Morris and Batista leaning up against the passenger side wheels. Their bags were done up especially tight but were open at the top, keeping out the night-time chills but leaving their faces cool and exposed.

He smiled as he watched them, their faces looking perfectly at peace. Their weapons were where they could get at them in a hurry, if need be. But they really didn’t look too worried about that at the moment. Wherever they were right now, nothing was pursuing them. Nothing was menacing the ones they loved, turning them into monsters, and forcing them to deal with it.

He looked next to the surrounding field, which was slowly being lit up by the advance of daylight. Arranged in a semi-circular fashion, the other vehicles of 1st Platoon sat and waited. In each, or arranged around them at each wheel, their men and women in uniform slept and waited. Here and there, others walked the line and maintained watch, keeping an eye while the others slept. These were the unlucky bastards who had drawn sentry duty for the early morning, the loneliest time of all…

Beyond their platoon, several more vehicular formations were arranged in the same fashion, their crews still asleep until their NCOs and officers roused them. He knew that if he were to get on top of his squad’s Humvee to get a better vantage point, the formations would stretch on for some distance. On high, all the bodies, all the Humvees, and all the armored vehicles and tanks – hell, the entire strength of 2nd Battalion – would be visible to him.

And yet, it was enough to know they were all there. Being in front wasn’t so bad when you knew you had so many behind you. Even if their numbers had thinned since the last time they had assembled like this, even if they were short several important souls, he still drew some relief knowing that what remained of them was all here. It was such that his nerves began to feel calm for a change, and he even considered slipping back into the cabin to get in a few more winks.

“Hmm… Sarge?”

Dezba turned suddenly to the source of the noise and saw Majorca looking at him from the back seat. He noted the look of sudden fear and the way his hands were slowly going up.

“What is it, Corporal?”

“Just… saw you… standing there, sir,” he said, hesitantly. “Why are you pointing that at me?”

Dezba looked down at his M4, which was currently trained on the back door of the Humvee. He quickly slung it behind his back and raised his hand contritely.

“Sorry… you kind of spooked me there.”

“Alright…” Majorca nodded and slowly lowered his hands. “Hope the safety was on.”

“Yeah!” Dezba said, quickly and with a small chuckle.

Slowly, Majorca began to sit up and unzip himself from the bag. Beneath his window, Morris was beginning to come alive too, their conversation having clearly disturbed him. The reaction was spreading to the others as well, with Whitman poking his head out from under the vehicle and Batista rolling over on the ground.

“Shit, what time is it?” asked Whitman.

Dezba checked his watch. “Just shy of oh-four-thirty, Private,” he said. “We should pack up and get ready. We move at oh-five-hundred. The Lieutenant’s likely to be coming around soon.”

Whitman groaned, as did Morris and Majorca. Batista resisting complaining, but was making noises the moment he got to his feet. Slowly, they went about the very tired process of getting their weapons and loading up the Humvee. It wasn’t long before the obvious complaints began to flow.

“Gonna be nice sleeping on a real bed soon. Can’t tell you how sick I am of sleeping in this shit can.”
Whitman scoffed at Morris’ comment. “Yeah, bitch some more, replacement. I was sleeping in this ‘shit can’ when you guys were still a bunch of pussy-whipped civies.”

“What are you trying to say, Billy? That it’s my fault this piece of shit doesn’t have a fold out cot or reclining chairs?”
Majorca was just finished packing his bag up and intervened. “I believe what the Private is trying to say is that this vehicle is his pride and joy. One learns to love this thing and find comfort where one can.”

“‘One’ sounds like he’s full of shit…” replied Morris. Finished with their bags, Majorca and Morris tossed them into the back of the vehicle while Whitman made his way to the driver’s seat. On top, Batista was already busying himself with the .50 cal, applying the lube to the gears and cocking it a few times over to make sure it was running smoothly.

Dezba felt another wave of relief pass over him. Seeing his grunts at work, making such an easy go of their pre-combat prep… Somehow, this made him feel at ease too, which was strange. If he were to stop and think about it for a moment, he might have considered how that expertise had been earned: through countless hours of chaotic engagement.

And now, they were about to get into yet another one. And if they all came out alive, he could assume that this expertise would be enhanced ever further. Dezba surely would have found such thoughts depressing, had he taken the time to think about it. Luckily, he didn’t.

The noise of approaching footsteps caught his attention and he turned to see Rollins approaching them. Clearly, he and his squad weren’t the only ones making an early morning of things. Snapping his heels together automatically, he called to the rest of them to let them know.

“Look alive, grunts. Lieutenant Rollins on approach!”

Everyone ceased what they doing and came about, standing erect and bringing their boots together snapping out salutes. Dezba slung his weapon to his side again and snapped out one as well, receiving one back as soon as she was within spitting distance.

“At ease, squad. Just wanted to see how you boys are doing on this beautiful morning.”

“Alive and well, ma’am,” said Dezba. “Just getting suited up.”

“Well, don’t be in too much of a hurry. Officers have morning brief in five mikes, which means you can expect a platoon brief in about twenty.”

Dezba frowned. “Ah, we expecting changes to the ROE, sir?”

Rollins shrugged. “Not sure. Word is the General got some new intel on the town. Could be big, could be nothing. Won’t know until they tell us.”

Dezba nodded and tried not to think about the implications. Any changes to their plan of attack at this point likely meant that Command wasn’t too confident about finding survivors inside the town. There were few other reasons to hold a briefing at this point, short of the entire op being scrapped.

In the end, Rollins smiled and patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to pass on whatever they tell me. In the meantime, smoke em if you got em.”

Dezba nodded and snapped out a parting salute. Rollins returned it and turned to leave without another word. Meanwhile, Dezba went back to watching over his squad while they finished their prep.

“I don’t get it,” said Batista, still working on the guns gears.

“Don’t get what?” asked Majorca.

“Well, we all know Braun was railroaded because he disobeyed orders, right? But why the hell do we get that jagoff?”

“Yeah,” agreed Morris. “Why the hell couldn’t Haynes just promote from within? This platoon’s got plenty of non-coms with more combat experience than that guy.”

“It’s because those same people disobeyed orders with him,” said Majorca. “They all signed off on the LT’s decision. We all did, and getting stuck with a green officer is our penance.”

“Stow it, squad,” said Dezba. “Who’s in charge is not our call.”

“C’mon, Sarge. You telling me you’re not bitter you didn’t get the top spot?”

Dezba glared at Whitman angrily and pointed to the Humvee. Whitman nodded and climbed back inside, checking the radio and navigation console. While he did that, Morris and Marjoca began checking their supplies of ammunition, grenades, and flash bangs, packing some in their pouches and distributing them to Batista and Whitman.

“One other thing I don’t get,” said Morris. “How come Saunders didn’t get the axe too?”

“What are you talking about?” asked Majorca.

“I mean, half the reason the LT got booted was because he was fucking her right? How come Haynes didn’t kill her carreer when he had the chance?”

The words were barely out of Morris’s mouth before the sound of a door slamming caught his attention. Next thing he knew, he was spun around and standing face to face with a particularly pissed off Whitman.

“That woman saved the fucking LT’s life, you prick, not to mention the Sarge’s here and just about everybody else in this fucking squad.”

Morris looked about ready to say something defensive, but Majorca was quickly spun him the other way and began adding his own thoughts to the discussion.

“And in case you haven’t noticed, Private, we don’t exactly have a surplus of combat veterans around here. Case in point, we got fucks like you stepping in when we lose our own. So why don’t you keep your goddamned opinions to yourself?”

Morris quickly nodded and dropped his gaze to his boots. He might have said something equally harsh too, had the others not beaten him too it. But he had an obligation as their NCO to step in at this point.

“Gents, calm your asses down. We got a job to do and we don’t need to fighting over rumors and personal issues right now.”

“Yes, sir,” said Majorca. Whitman echoed the words.

“Private?” he said to Morris, who nodded again and muttered out an affirmative. Quickly, they all went back to getting themselves and their vehicle ready and did not say a further word. This left Dezba alone to contemplate the things he could not speak about, but was nonetheless wondering.

Like just how fucked it was that Braun was no longer leading their platoon. Or how much it really did affect him, knowing that the man he had known and trusted for so long wasn’t be with them on this next offensive. But such thoughts had a way of breeding doubt, and doubts led to hesitation. None of which could be permitted right now.

Such things would have to wait until after they had retaken Espanola, and confirmed that at least of the townspeople they had left to their fate many weeks ago were still alive somewhere. At that point, assuming they weren’t in the thick of yet another fight, there would be plenty of time to bemoan and talk about all the things that had befallen them since that fateful day. The day they had gone from fighting the undead hordes and began fighting their own as well…

Checking his watch again, Dezba turned to head off. Majorca noticed and called to him.

“Sarge? Where are you off to?”

“Piss call, gentlemen. Recommend you do the same. We’re not likely to get another chance anytime soon.”

Oscar Mike – Third Time’s the Charm!

zombies-city-and-the-crowdFor months now, I have been struggling to get the ball rolling on the third book in my Whiskey Delta series, otherwise known as Oscar Mike. Alas, it seems like every time I managed to get a handful of chapters written, I decided they weren’t good enough or were moving the story in the wrong direction and then throw them out. It was incredibly frustrating, but it taught me a valuable lesson.

That lesson is that writing sequels is not easy! And that’s something that I truly failed to appreciate up until now. With just about everything I’ve ever written, the work was standalone or part of something ongoing that had already mapped itself out in my head. But this time, I was just working with what I had written so far, trying to create the next act in a story that had two already set in stone.

Oscar MikeLuckily, I finally created a draft I feel I can be proud of. Incorporating a new group of characters that friends of mine created, material from the two previous drafts, and the reworked idea I now have for it, Oscar Mike is finally coming together. So over the next few weeks and months, expect to see regular updates and installments – I have 18 chapters finished to date and no intention of slowing down!

Some of them you may have seen already, others may have been changed drastically. My apologies in advance for this. And to those who read and enjoyed the first two, my apologies for all the starts and stops! Hope you like what I have I’ve done with the third installment…

Last Day of Whiskey Delta Promotion!

zombies-city-and-the-crowdTomorrow, Whiskey Delta‘s promotional sale (available now for the marked-down price of $1.99) officially ends! This promotion – known as a Kindle Countdown Deal – has been running since March 28th, when the book started at the low low price of $0.99. And overall, I think it’s fair to say it’s been a pretty good run, with the book selling an additional 19 copies since it began. Naturally, more people bought it when it was just shy of a dollar, but I’m not complaining.

Whiskey_Delta2But the good news is, I don’t plan on stopping there. The whole point of initiating this promotion was to get people primed and ready to read the second book in the series – Papa Zulu – which was released a little over a month ago. Naturally, I needed for prospective readers to be caught up on everything in the first book before I could interest them in the second. And now that I’ve managed to get a few people in on that, I thought a second promotion might be in order.

As such, Papa Zulu‘s Countdown Deal is scheduled to start as soon as Whiskey Delta‘s ends. It will begins on Saturday, April 5th at  8:00 am and will run until 8:00 am Friday, April 11th. In accordance with the rules of a Countdown Deal, the book will be on sale for $0.99 for the first few days (Saturday April 5th to Tuesday April 8th), then $1.99 until April 11th. That’s 144 hours exactly (don’t ask me why they do things this way, they’re kind of weird that way!) and a savings of $2.50 and $1.50 respectively,

papa_zulu_cropYou might think this is all about selling more books, but in truth, my full motives are have to do with getting people to read these books in sequence. As everyone is no doubt aware, you can’t start a series partway through anymore than you could start scaling a building somewhere in the middle. You got to get in on the ground floor and see where everything goes as you slowly make your way to the top.

And I hope to get as many people as possible in on the ground floor of this franchise and then carry them along as I release the third book (Oscar Mike), hopefully sometime in early 2015, followed shortly thereafter by the other planned volumes (see The Whiskey Delta Series page for more info on that). Good luck to you all you indies out there, and always remember…

zombie_keepcalm

 

Papa Zulu Proof Ordered!

papa_zuluStep two semi-complete! After finishing my edits on Papa Zulu, I have gone ahead and ordered a proof copy so that my darling wife (i.e. chief editor) can give it a second pass. I’ve also sent the PDF off to my beta readers/other editors, so they too can tell me exactly what’s wrong with it and why I should stick to writing and avoid proofreading.

And while I was working on that, I fashioned a cover for the third book. All this work on book II, as expected, has gotten the ball rolling on book III. And as always, I feel the need to visualize the end product, even before I’ve committed to writing the manuscript. Once again, I’ve gone with a cover image from Shutterstock, which now provides the bulk of my cover art.

Oscar Mike_2What do you think? Too much green going on here? I really like this cover template because of the solid front cover, the watermarked back, and the balance created by the text boxes, images, and quote section. Can’t wait to get moving on that one too! I hope to augment as time goes on with more favorable reviews, which is what I did with the jacket for book II.

Good luck to all us indie writers! May the sales be plentiful, the reviews favorable, and the inspiration unending!

Papa Zulu: Edits Complete!

Oscar MikeWell, it’s finally finished. After months of being behind on getting Whiskey Delta‘s sequel ready for publication, I am finally finished with my edits. And now, I turn it over to my betas and those who’ve selflessly volunteered to take this book on with me. I sincerely hope I got all the typos and errors out in that first run.

Probably not, but it’s nice to think that the next round of edits will be mercifully brief so I can get this book out before the holidays. Fans of the first book specifically requested a sequel, and people shouldn’t have to wait for a year to get one. You hear that George RR Martin?

Another reason I need to get this book out is because of my progress on the third, or rather lack thereof. Twice now I’ve tried to get the ball rolling on that story, only to find myself backtracking a few weeks later and deleting everything I wrote.

I know why too, I can feel in my heart that I’m overreaching. Until such time as I can get book II out and get some feedback on the story, I know I won’t feel confident plotting out the third one.  I imagine there are plenty of people out there who know what I’m talking about 😉

In any case, look for it soon. Papa Zulu, second book in the Whiskey Delta series!

Papa Zulu – Second Revision 1/2 Done!

editing1Editing is such a slow moving process, which is why I hate it so! As it’s not enough that you go through your initial draft and make all those pesky corrections, then you have to go over the whole thing and implement them. Then, assuming you haven’t made additional mistakes, you got to wait on beta readers to pick out anything you missed. Only then can you finally submit your work and wait for the kudos and criticisms from the reading public to come in.

At least, that’s the process when you’re working from a paper manuscript and doing most of it yourself. Were it not for the fact that this way is actually faster for me than scanning line after line of a doc file, I would have abandoned it a long time ago! And of course, its become a necessity since I can’t afford most editors rates. Oh, the slings and arrows of being an indie writer/teacher!

papa_zuluBut alas, this post was supposed to be about good news. After finishing the edits on Papa Zulu‘s first draft – the sequel to my Whiskey Delta zombie-apocalypse novel – I am now half done implementing all the edits and rewrites I made there. The process has felt arduous, but I’m actually surprised by the progress. I seem to be able to get four to five chapters a day done, far better than my initial prediction of say, one!

And in case its not patently obvious, I am very anxious and impatient to get this done! I was so hoping to have this novel finished by the end of this past summer. Despite its initial success, Whiskey Delta has been accumulating dust over at Amazon and the reviews have ceased since the last few (which were all really good). So I am determined to get the ball rolling and figured the sequel would be the best way of doing that.

thumbs upAnd of course, part of why this editing process is taking so long is that I am determined to get it right this time. Whiskey Delta still only has a rating of 3.5 stars thanks to all the people who penalized it for having editing mistakes. In my haste to get it out there after Max Brooks mentioned it by name (thanks again, Rami!), I took some serious flak for that. This time around, I want there to be no mistakes, or at least as few as possible.

I’m also hoping that getting the sequel out will help me get the ball rolling on the third one – Oscar Mike. I tell ya, that book has been through two starts and stops now, but I just can’t seem to capture the essence of what the third book should be about. Somehow, I feel that some sales and some feedback on the second installment might help me get my priorities straight for the latest.

Such is the life we’ve chosen isn’t it, my fellow indies? I sincerely hope you’re all doing well with your own pursuits and your works are garnering praise or at least some constructive criticism. And may we all find our way to that lovely person, known as an editor, who can take some of this arduous process of our hands and help us to do better!

Zombie Hunters!

apoc_soldiersHello fellow zombie smashers! As you may recall, a few weeks back I hosted a zombie hunters get-together. People were asked to take part by designers their own warriors, specifying weapons, apparel, and a bit of a back story. And of course, those who took part would have the honor of seeing their character featured in the next installment of my Whiskey Delta series – Oscar Mike!

So far, only three people have fashioned characters, but this is more than I need to work into the story. Still, if anyone’s interesting in seeing their creation presented in literary form, there is still time. All you need do is consult the pages on Apparel and Melee Weapons, then pick a primary weapon, a secondary, and create a little backstory to go along with it.

And in the meantime, allow me to present the first three zombie hunters that have been created for this challenge, arranged in alphabetical order:

Khaalidah Muhammed-Ali:
Alias: The Hurting Healer (Jamilah Al Mo’alej)
Apparel: Hooded Cloak, denim clothes, leather gloves, hijab
Primary Weapon: Composite Bow
Secondary Weapon: Desert Eagle .357
Melee Weapon: Truncheon
Backstory:  When the zombie apocalypse happened, Jamilah I put her three children (aged 22, 20 and 11) into her truck and hauled out of the Houston metropolitan area. Her husband was one of the many casualties when the biters first came, and the people in her area proved worse when chaos followed in their wake. Once they reached the countryside, they decided to take up residence in an old farm house where she grew herbs for medicine and vegetables while her oldest son, 22 years old, hunted rabbits, birds and fishes in the local stream. Her 20 year old daughter, the nervous ninny that she was, served as their lookout and security adviser and her 11 year old daughter, taciturn yet brilliant, created devious little traps to snare food, and the undead!

Rami Ungar:
Alias: Ghost
Apparel: Trench coat, glasses
Primary Weapon: MP5
Secondary Weapon:
MP5K
Melee Weapon: Katana sword
Backstory: Originally from Ohio, when the zombies began to roam, Rami packed up his gear and what weapons he could get his hands on and hit the open road. Realizing quickly that the only way to stay alive was to move fast and remain unnoticed, he adopted the name “Ghost”. After losing everything to the undead hordes, he lost his old name and has maintained the alias ever since. Though nominally skilled in firearms, his weapon of choice is the naked blade.

Rhys C. Ethan:
Alias: Tromos
Apparel: Kevlar vest
Primary Weapon: Crossbow
Secondary Weapon: .357 Magnum
Melee Weapon: Baseball bat
Backstory: Tromos  was an honourably discharged police officer when the zombie apocalypse first hit. And when the law failed to act in the midst of the crisis, he took matters into his own hands and became the terror of the living dead. His life now is spent traveling to wherever zombies endanger safe shelters, and slaughtering as many of the living dead as humanly possible!

And as promised, these characters will have the honor of appearing in the upcoming Oscar Mike. The re-released Prologue is coming soon, which will offer a sneak peak at these badasses as well as the larger plot of the third book in my Whiskey Delta series. Stay tuned!