Includes two bonus stories: Dying Days: Randy Jackson, featuring the main character from the Highway To Hell zombie novella… and Dying Days: Eric White, the origins short for the character featured in the Dying Days series and written by Lisa McKinney!
36,000 words in all! With Author Notes…
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Dying Days: Origins
Chapter One: Notorious
The apartment was cramped, smoky and the radio way too loud for the neighbors. Tosha Shorb tried to get to the window to open it despite the cold night, but several drunks were in her way.
“Excuse me,” she asked the guy in front of her. He ignored her.
She was tired – she’d worked a double today – and, despite three shots was still sober. And now she was sweating because forty people were crammed into this shitty apartment.
“Excuse me,” she said louder, trying to talk over the inane pop music blasting through the room. When he glanced down at her and smirked, putting his beer can to his lips, she lost it. Before she could think she’d swung around and smashed him in the face, the can crushing on his cheek and beer exploding in all directions.
“What the fuck?” he managed, and took a defensive position even as blood and beer streamed down his face and chest. He cocked his fist to punch but stopped, staring at his attacker.
Tosha was a slight redhead with piercing eyes, which were now filled with rage. She looked much younger than her twenty-seven years, which wasn’t a good thing when you worked in a hospital and patients never took you seriously when you came for blood-work.
She put her hands on her hips, aware the music had been turned down and all eyes were on her. As usual. Glad her twin sister wasn’t here to give her the motherly look, she tried to remain calm. “I asked you to move.”
The guy laughed. “Are you even allowed in here, little girl? What are you, twelve?”
There were a few snickers from those guests that didn’t know Tosha. To her friends and those aware of her reputation, they knew what was coming and took two steps back.
The rage was building. She had two choices: turn, walk out and go home, or take action.
She put her right foot back a step at the same time he wiped his face and winked at her. Tosha tipped her weight forward with her hard leather boot swinging, catching him squarely in the groin.
As he doubled over, dropping to one knee, she leaned over and got in his face. “I’m allowed wherever the fuck I want, you fat piece of shit.” Tosha winked at him as people grabbed her by the arms and pulled her away.
“I think you need to leave,” someone said to her.
“Of course. You can’t have some little girl in here kicking dude’s asses, can you?” Tosha shrugged off their grip and gave them the finger as she left.
Chapter Two: Flesh Eater
It was cold but her rage kept her more than warm. Her Lizzy Borden concert shirt – she’d picked it up in Allentown during their last U.S. tour – was sticking to her chest and her tight blue jeans were starting to bother her. Her toes still felt numb after kicking the guy in the balls, and the thought of it made her laugh.
The streets of Harrisburg were empty, as usual. “Should’ve listened to Trista and stayed in.” Her sister was the introverted one, preferring to sit home after work and play videogames online with her imaginary friends instead of going out into the actual world and talking to actual people.
She even preferred to be called by her stupid online name, Mathyu. Tosha didn’t know if that was the dumb part, or the fact that she’d started addressing her sister by the name.
In order to get to her apartment, she cut through an alley between the McDonalds and the Harrisburg Laundromat. It always smelled bad down here, but it was much worse during the summer, when the garbage heated up, rotten food and dead rats stinking. The bums loved this alley because the fast food garbage was tossed in the dumpster, and they’d rip the bags apart and feast.
Tosha decided to sleep in tomorrow, burying herself in her pillows and stuffed animals on her bed, curtains drawn, and threatening her sister to not wake her unless the world was ending.
She was so focused on her thoughts she stumbled into the bum, standing in the dark in the middle of the alley.
“Watch where you’re going,” she said loudly. Usually when you shouted or acted crazier than they did, the bums would leave you alone.
He didn’t move.
When she tried to sidestep him, he grabbed her left arm. He leaned into her and his breath was like rotting meat and bile. Tosha nearly gagged, but knew she had to get away from this crack-head or drunk and escape before she was raped.
“Back off, dickhead,” she said and pushed him away. He simply reached for her again. Tosha easily moved around him and ran down to the other end of the alley. When she looked back, he was walking slowly toward her. “Fuck you, asshole. Maybe I’ll call the cops.”
He kept coming with that staggered, insanely slow stutter step. What the fuck was wrong with this guy? Was he fucking with me, trying to freak me out? Playing some game?
As he got closer, she tried to see his face, but it was too dark. Was he smiling, laughing, stoned? Tosha had all kinds of overdoses in the hospital, and she’d seen too many drug addicts with faraway stares or looks like they wanted to kill you.
She walked backwards to the other side of the street, aware she was alone. A quick glance north and south confirmed her fear. There wasn’t a person out this time of night. No cars went by on the cross streets, she didn’t hear any traffic, not even a train rumbling by.
It felt like an hour but he finally made it to the end of the alley and stepped out onto the sidewalk and under the street light.
Tosha gasped. He was covered in blood, his mouth dripping with it.
“Is this some fucking joke, asshole? It’s not funny. Did you come from that lame party, and think you could fuck with me?”
She puffed out her chest and planted her feet. She was headstrong and didn’t run away from a challenge, even if it was a dumb idea. Her past was littered with dumb ideas, and she thought this was about to be another one.
“Last chance to leave me alone,” she said. He took another three steps forward, within ten feet, when she gasped.
Something wet and bloody fell from his mouth and to the pavement. His eyes were glazed over and dead, his mouth slowly moving like he was biting the air. His arms were bent forward, straining at her.
“Fuck this,” she muttered and turned and ran.