Dead Things

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Please note, this is a re-release of a title originally published with Silver Publishing. It features new cover art but the story remains the same.

Devin never thought he could find hope or love among the ruins of a broken world. Not until he found Noah.

When Devin Reid returned home from his final tour in Afghanistan he thought he’d seen the worst of what people could do to other people. It turned out he was wrong.

The life Devin knew is gone. A deadly virus has infected the world’s population, leaving in its wake two types of people—survivors and monsters. Devin is a survivor, a man almost as broken as the world he struggles to survive in. Devin is part of a group who have found refuge in a high security penitentiary. Resources for the group are limited, but outside the safety of the prison walls, the newly-made undead monsters are hungry and hunting. It's down to a handful of people like Devin to risk their lives scavenging the cities and highways to meet the demands on food and supplies.

On one fateful venture, Devin finds someone with the potential to change a dark future, destined for blood and heartbreak, into one of hope and second chances. He finds Noah Weber.

Together, Devin and Noah work to keep the monsters at bay, but do they have the strength to overcome the hurt and loss they’ve both suffered in the fight for survival? And find love in this harsh, unloving world?

Word count: 61,300
Cover Art: BitterGrace Art
Copyright: Meredith Russell

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Chapter 1

“You’re kidding, right?”

Devin Reid tapped his thumbs thoughtfully against the steering wheel of the dark Mercedes-Benz SUV. No, he wasn’t kidding. In fact, he was deadly serious. He guided the vehicle to the side of the road, and left the engine running as he considered the surrounding area. Through the SUV’s dark-tinted windows he saw the old diner set back from the highway. The place wouldn’t have seen a dime or a customer in almost nine months. The outer door hung crookedly on only one of its hinges, and the windows were filthy, covered in dirt kicked up from the highway and the strong wind that blew through the valley. Despite the few cars sitting out front in the parking lot, there was no one around. There were no lights on inside the diner or the adjoining gas station, and both buildings had an eerie stillness about them.

Aware of his partner, Lee, fidgeting in the passenger seat beside him, Devin made a decision and cut the engine. “Come on,” he said and pulled at the door handle. The door swung open and he stepped out of the car. Pushing his shades higher, he stepped back from the SUV and closed the heavy door, his hand lingering around one of the metal strips welded across the dark glass of the driver’s side window. He twisted his hand around the metal and checked the car up and down. Several similar bars secured the SUV’s radiator and wheel arches.

“Omelet?”

Devin looked across the hood of the car and frowned, silently disapproving of his young companion’s attempt to lighten the mood.

“Get it?” Lee continued, quirking his head and smirking as he nodded toward the specials board beside the door. The writing was faint, bleached by the sun, but the offer of any omelet and fries for under three dollars could be made out beneath the layer of old dirt.

Devin pressed his mouth into a thin line as his partner raised his automatic weapon and scanned it across the front of the diner. With a sigh he pushed his own gun into the holster he wore on his thigh.

“I get it,” he said flatly and turned from the diner toward the horizon. He found it comforting as he looked across the large empty plain. There was nothing but miles of dry, sandy dirt spattered with tufts of tall grass reaching out in all directions from the diner. With a crooked smile, he walked to the back of the vehicle then opened and closed the trunk quickly, appearing with two gas cans in his hands. “Let’s make this quick,” he said and started toward the gas station. “Head up to the diner. See if they’ve got any canned food in the back.”

“The diner?” There was fear in his young companion’s voice.

Looking back over his shoulder, Devin gave a heavy sigh. He lowered the gas cans and folded his arms across his chest as he turned to Lee. He watched the teenager shift nervously from one foot to the other and run a shaky hand through his short, auburn hair. The spatter of freckles across his youthful cheeks was darker than usual as his face paled.

“Lee, stop being a pussy and get over there,” Devin said firmly, and nodded toward the diner. They didn’t have time to mess around. He waited, watching Lee as he eyed the dilapidated building, the idea seemingly daunting to the teenager. He hadn’t wanted to bring the kid with him, but as he had been told, everyone needed to pull their weight. There was no easy ride in this world. Not anymore.

Lee straightened up, took a deep breath, pulled at the waistband of his pale blue skinny jeans, and wrapped his hand more tightly around the gun he carried.

“There’s nothing in there,” Devin insisted, noting Lee’s hesitation.

“Nothing that’s alive,” Lee said. He looked uncomfortable as he kicked the toe of his heavy boot in the soft dirt.

“Nothing at all.” Devin tried to sound reassuring, though from experience he knew very little should be taken at face value anymore. Too often something was lurking around the corner ready to bite you in the ass. Literally. He looked up at the diner, narrowing his eyes as he focused on the diner windows. There was nothing moving. “Though if you don’t get your scrawny ass moving…” He pointed back toward the highway. “You know we won’t be alone forever,” he warned as he released the Velcro-strap of his Kevlar vest, and tightened the armor around him. “Now get to it.”

Lee’s shoulders dropped as he admitted defeat. “I hate this shit,” he muttered as he stepped forward.

Devin watched Lee start toward the diner, before reluctantly taking his eyes off him. Picking up the gas cans, he headed for the station. He’d try there first, and then move onto the parking lot. It was dangerous to stay in one place for too long so they had to make this quick. Kicking at the dirt, he stopped beside one of the pumps and checked the area around him. Still there was nothing. Placing the cans beside the pump, he quickly headed inside the station. He remembered the first time he needed gas. He’d been clueless. There had been no attendant or help of any kind. It was just him. Eventually, he had found a release switch for the fuel dispensers inside the station’s adjacent store. Also he discovered many gas stations were equipped with a secondary power supply, using generators to bring the gas up from the tanks in times of power outages. Hopefully, this was one such station.

The door swung shut behind him and he stood and silently assessed the deserted building. It was a small space—a cooler stood behind the door and a row of shelves split the station into two short aisles. There was nobody around. The contents of the shelves were strewn across the floor, and bloody footprints marked the pages and covers of scattered magazines and newspapers. He didn’t have time to get distracted by things he’d seen over and over again. He was here for supplies—gas and food. With a steadying breath, Devin got to work, focusing on what he needed to do.

It was the moment of truth. Lifting the first nozzle, Devin held it over the opening of one of the canisters. He just hoped, after his efforts, the damn thing worked. Squeezing the handle, Devin was relieved as the pump made a strange rumbling sound and started. The counter kicked over to zero and the fuel was released. He listened to the trail of gas as it ran into the gas can and he crouched down beside it. They had not been out this far in a long time, and from the look of it, neither had anyone else. It was becoming more difficult as time passed to find the resources they needed. If it was just him, maybe things would be different. But it wasn’t. People relied on him.

“Devin, you there?” Devin jumped as an unexpected voice came over his radio. Loud and clear, the familiar voice spoke to him through the earpiece he wore. “Devin? Where you at? Hey, you there?”

Devin didn’t reply straight away, waiting for the first gas can to fill, before switching to fill the second. Raising his hand, he sighed and pulled uncomfortably at the mic around his neck. “What?” he said.

“You didn’t check in. Where are you?” Jack Torres asked.

“Twenty miles northwest of Topeka. Gas scavenge,” Devin said frowning as he noticed how the gas had slowed to a trickle.

“Find anything to eat?”

He could always count on Jack to make him smile. “Jack, you ever think about something other than your stomach?” he asked and pulled off his shades to hook them in the front of his vest.

“Find any candy?” Jack added with a laugh.

Devin wiped the back of his hand over his brow. “Crap,” he said as the gas came to a complete stop.

“S’up?”

“Nothing,” Devin lied as he dropped the dry fuel lead. The metal nozzle clattered against the concrete plinth the pump was sitting on as it fell.

“You want to say that again, and sound like you mean it?”

Devin firmly screwed the cap on the quarter-filled gas can. “It’s nothing,” he said as he twisted the cap as tightly as he could. Slowly, he leaned back and got to his feet, his eyes narrowing as a reflection in the metal casing of the pump caught his attention. “Can you hang on a second?” He cut Jack off before he could say anything. “Just…” His hand went to his side as he focused on the moving shadow.

“What’s going on?” Jack’s voice was edged with concern.

“Shh,” Devin hushed, and rested his hand on his gun as he gently fingered the catch on its holster. He counted to three as he watched the shadowy reflection grow, and then he sharply spun around. Holding his gun in front of him, he quirked his eyebrow as he met Lee’s shocked eyes.

“Seriously?” He looked at Lee. Part of him wanted to slap some sense into the kid. Slowly, he moved his finger away from the trigger and pressed it to the side of his gun. “You do realize I could have shot you?” He kept his voice low and calm as he continued to aim at Lee’s head.

Lee froze. His blue eyes were bright and glassy as he stared down the barrel of Devin’s gun. “I just thought—”

“That’s the problem. You didn’t think.” Devin returned his gun to his holster. He sighed inwardly as he noted Lee had returned empty-handed. “We don’t have time for games, Lee.” He nodded toward the diner. “Find anything?”

Lee shook his head. “It’s all locked up.”

Devin looked curiously at the busted exterior door of the diner. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose as he realized Lee had chickened out. Not that he blamed Lee. The diner was creepy as hell. Once he had finished with the gas, the two of them could take a look around. “Okay, we’ll go together. But we need to be quick.”

“Okay,” Lee agreed and lowered his head. “So how’d you know I was there?” Lee shifted on the spot as he shuffled his feet against the ground.

Picking up the first gas can, Devin eyed Lee thoughtfully. The kid looked so young. “You weren’t exactly quiet,” Devin pointed out. His tone was serious. “You need to be more aware of what’s around you. You need to be careful. Okay?”

“What’s going on?” Jack interrupted.

Devin pressed the piece a little more firmly into his ear as he told him, “Just Lee playing games.” Devin understood Lee hadn’t been outside the secure walls of the penitentiary in months, but the kid had no focus and it was starting to annoy him.

“Tell him his mom says hey,” Jack said, sounding cheerful. “She hopes you’re looking after her little boy.”

Snorting a laugh, Devin picked up the second gas can and started back toward the SUV. “Yeah, yeah.” He’d drop these at the car and then try some of the parked vehicles for gas, before checking out the diner.

“Where are we going next?” Lee asked as he fell in beside Devin and eagerly tried to match his stride.

“Did you tell Lee what I said? His mom has been on my case for the last hour waiting for you to check in,” Jack continued. “Personally, I think he needs a kick in that skinny ass of his. I swear. He’s such a dork. He’ll end up shooting himself, or you. You should watch yourself.”

“We just came looking for gas,” Devin said as he tightened his hold on the gas cans. His hands were greasy.

“I know,” Lee cut in. “Just, I really wanna see one.”

Devin stopped and stared at the kid in disbelief. Only moments ago, Lee had been crapping his pants at the thought of coming across something over at the diner. “No, really you don’t,” he said flatly and shook his head in disgust. What the hell was up with this kid?

“But to really get close. I mean, I bet they’re really gross now. Those at the prison looked like normal guys, not that Mom let me anywhere near when it happened.”

Devin tensed his jaw. As far as he was concerned, Lee Wrexley was one of the lucky ones. When the world had started to crumble, Lee had been hidden and protected at his mother’s workplace. From what Devin remembered, Lee had been off sick from school. His mom was a single mom and a guard at the Kansas State Prison. Things were already pretty messed up across the State and Devin understood why she had chosen to keep her son close, bringing him into work with her. As it turned out, it was the right choice. Lee sat safely in the guards’ locker room as the world went to hell around him. Though he knew he shouldn’t, Devin often felt jealous, bitter almost. Lee never had to fight his way to safety, and he never needed to kill anyone in order to survive.

“I’ve seen them on the camera monitors,” Lee continued. “A shot to the head, right?”

“Is he serious?” Jack echoed Devin’s own disbelief. “You should do it. Drive him into the city and kick his ass out the car. See how he feels then.”

“Jack,” Devin warned.

“It’s Jack?”

Devin nodded. “He says your mom sends her love.”

Lee sighed. “She thinks I’m such a kid. I’m sixteen. I should be the one protecting her and—” He stopped as Devin raised his hand and looked back at the gas station. “What?”

“Dev?” Jack and Lee said together.

Devin frowned, something was off. He shook his head and tried to ignore the unsettling feeling that crawled over his skin. “Nothing. Look, forget the cars. We need to get back,” he told them both. “We’ll be attracting unwanted attention.”

“Fine,” Lee said with a smirk, and gave an animated salute as he bounded off ahead.

“Lee,” Devin called after him and gave a frustrated sigh as the young man put distance between them. “Fuck.” Adjusting his grip on the gas cans, he quickened his pace. “Lee,” he called again, abruptly stopping as he saw something move out the corner of his eye. He gripped the handles of the gas cans more tightly as he looked anxiously around. His attention was drawn to a shock of red rushing toward them across the space between the diner and the car. “Lee!”

Lee stopped and turned, frantically grabbing at the weapon hanging at his side as he saw too late what Devin already had.

“Fuck.” Devin dropped the gas and ran, drawing his gun to aim at the confusion of movement. He watched the two bodies collide and fall out of sight behind the SUV. “Shit.” He ran as fast as he could. It was mere seconds, but the moment felt like an eternity as he rounded the car, skidded across the dirt, and fell roughly to his knees. He looked hopelessly at the mangle of red in front of him, and raised his gun.

Blood gurgled up and out of Lee’s mouth and covered the collar of his pale colored T-shirt, as teeth ripped into his throat. He struggled with the weight lying across his body, his fingers catching in a tangle of dirt-matted hair as he yanked back the growling boy’s face. Lee lifted the boy higher, his eyes widening as the teenager’s forehead violently exploded and blood splattered across his face. Devin had taken his shot.

Devin lowered his gun and started toward Lee. Nervously, he looked around. More would come soon, drawn in by the sound of the gunshot and the smell of fresh blood. He focused on where Lee had fallen. The youngster shoved at the dead boy’s shoulders and toppled him from off his lap. Devin glanced down at the pale, blood-smeared face of the teenage monster, whose swollen lips hung awkwardly to one side. He looked over the boy’s red, marching band uniform, which was torn and caked in grime and blood. The twisted, wire frame of glasses hung around the boy’s neck, and sunlight glinted off mangled and bloody metal braces which lined his teeth. A fresh trail of dark, thick blood rolled down his forehead as he stared sightlessly up at the clear blue sky. Cautiously, Devin kicked at his thigh. The boy was dead, and for good this time. A choking cough drew his attention, snapping him back to the bloody reality of their situation. Lee. He quickly crouched down and pressed his hand over Lee’s shredded throat. It wasn’t going to help stop the bleeding. Too much blood had already pooled around him in the dirt.

“Stay with me, kid.” Devin wrapped his hand more tightly around Lee’s in a desperate attempt to do something. He lied, “You’ll be fine. Okay?” He lowered his head and looked at the dark liquid collecting beside his boot. Lee’s fingers curled around his. “It’s gonna be fine.”

Lee opened his mouth as if to say something, but instead blood coughed up and ran down his jaw in viscous lumps. It wasn’t right. The run had been the kid’s first time outside the walls of the place they had come to call home.

In an attempt to comfort the boy, Devin laid a hand across Lee’s sweat-coated forehead. There was nothing more to do. He watched Lee’s eyes roll back in his skull, as the boy fisted his other hand in the dry, dirt ground.

“Shit, Lee.” Devin dropped his head and closed his eyes as he listened to Lee struggle to breathe. He waited, finally opening his eyes as Lee’s hand went limp in his and the boy took his final breath. “Sorry, kid.” Devin slowly got to his feet and stared down into Lee’s eyes. They were already beginning to lose their color. Holding his gun out in front of him, Devin aimed it at Lee’s head. He should already have taken the shot.

Awkwardly, Devin swallowed back the guilt rising from his gut. He knew he shouldn’t, but he waited. Maybe this time it would be different. He gripped the gun tightly, praying he wouldn’t need to use it. Just this once, he wished for death to be permanent, and then he wouldn’t have to take Lee’s body home to his mom with a gaping bullet hole in his forehead. Devin narrowed his eyes and continued to stare at the dead boy. Lee was a bloody torn mess. Devin hesitated. Could it be different? No. There it was, just like always. Devin flinched as fingers wrapped around his ankle. Lee’s eyes were wide and hungry, as his head jolted roughly to one side and his teeth snapped madly together. Devin pushed any doubt from his mind and took his aim. He wished this time could have been different. He fired a single round, muting Lee’s anguished cry as the back of his head was blown out across the dirt.

“Devin!” Devin was suddenly aware of Jack yelling in his ear. He had heard the commotion, the shot, and the cries. “Devin! Fuck. Are you there?”

Devin reached down to drag Lee’s body to the rear of the car.

“Devin!”

“I’m here,” Devin finally said, as he gently lowered Lee’s head to the ground and glanced over at the dropped gas cans.

“What the hell happened?” Jack asked. There was panic in his voice.

Devin looked down at the dead boy as he secured his weapon at his thigh. It wasn’t supposed to have gone like this. He sighed, rubbed a hand over his jaw, and said, “We’re coming home.”


Chapter 2

Devin was standing alone. With his arms folded across his chest, he fixed his gaze on the large notice board that resided in the locker room of the Kansas State Penitentiary. He leaned forward and scanned the dozens of newspaper clippings that covered the board. He read some of the headlines and smirked at some of the annotated notes he found around the edges of the collaged pieces of paper. The last dated article was from almost nine months ago. The newspaper reported outbreaks of violence and a widespread flu-like epidemic on the eastern coast. Little did the journalist of the article know back then what would become of the United States just two months later.

“Put me fifty on the Apocalypse.”

Startled, Devin spun around. “Jack.” He looked down at his friend.

“What gets your bet?” Jack asked.

Turning, Devin studied the handwritten notes. Each line stated a different reason for the events going on around them. He looked down the list—the Apocalypse, a mutated flu virus, a government conspiracy, terrorism, the military, an act of God, or one too many scientists trying to be God. Those were the more serious suggestions.

“I’ll take reality TV turning our brains to mush,” Devin finally decided. It didn’t matter what he chose. He doubted there was a soul alive who had the real answer. He just knew how it spread, through blood and saliva.

Jack laughed and maneuvered the chair he was sitting in through the door and into the room. Folding his gloved hands in his lap, he looked up at his friend. “I thought I’d see how you were.”

What did Jack expect to hear? Devin stared through the notice board. He wished he could start the day over and scratch the sound of Kerry Wrexley’s despairing sobs from his mind. He hadn’t known what to say to her. What was the man who just shot her son through the forehead supposed to say? It had been a simple exercise that ended in tragedy. There had been no sightings of infected in the area for the last week. He thought it was safe. He thought he could keep the kid safe.

“Dev.”

Devin met his friend’s dark eyes. He knew what was coming.

“It’s not your fault.”

Those damn words. They meant nothing, not really. They didn’t make him feel any better and they certainly couldn’t bring Lee back.

“You couldn’t have known what was going to happen.”

Shaking his head, Devin said solemnly, “I should’ve known. I shouldn’t have let him run ahead like that. I knew something didn’t feel right.”

“You’re not psychic,” Jack pointed out. “If you were, I’d be out walking the perimeter. Instead, I’m sitting in this damn thing.”

Devin looked at the wheelchair and then to the two covered stumps where Jack’s legs had once been. Two months ago, an attack from an infected dog had left Devin with no choice but to remove the torn, infected flesh at the knees. “I’m sorry,” was all Devin could manage.

“Dude, I’d be dead, or worse one of those freaks,” he said as he leaned back in his chair and spun around. “Better this.”

Devin was tempted to agree. Whatever the virus’s origin, the monsters it created were very real. Zombies were what the news stations called them before the networks went down. The virus killed and then reignited life, or at least a small part of it. It was just enough so those once dead had some basic functions, enough to be up and walking about. It was hard to describe them as anything else. Something no longer human lurked behind their eyes as they sought out the freshest source of food, the living.

“You sure?” Devin said flatly. The guilt of what happened that day still had him waking in a cold sweat at times.

“Would I rather you’d left it long enough for the infection to spread through my body, kill me, and then have me wake up wanting to rip out your throat, and for you to shoot me in the head?” Jack had that look. The look that told Devin to shut the hell up or, despite his situation, Jack would find a way to kick his ass.

“How’s Kerry?” Devin asked as he cleared his throat.

Jack dropped his chair forward and tensed his jaw. “As you’d expect. She’s angry, but I don’t think it’s totally aimed at you.” He drew his mouth into a thin line as he ran a hand over his closely-shaved head. His eyes softened. “Shooting her kid in the head probably means you should give her a wide berth for a little while.”

“There was nothing I could do. He came out of nowhere. Some fucking marching band freak,” Devin said angrily. “Lee was taken out by a school boy. Hell, he was only a kid himself.” He closed his eyes as he remembered the boy’s bright red uniform, blond, matted hair, and blood-coated mouth. Where had he even come from? He opened his eyes and looked at Jack. He tried to remember what his friend was like before the dog attack. He had known Jack for years, since they first joined the army together as recruits straight out of high school. They were eventually posted together in Afghanistan, and having done their duty, seen and dealt with some horrible crap, they came home and tried to get on with their lives. While Devin decided to go to college, study, graduate, and then set up a business in private security, Jack went back to serving his country and its people by enrolling in the police force. It was amazing and disheartening to see how much the guy’s appearance had changed in the last nine months. Jack had been just shy of six feet tall with black, curly hair, dark brown eyes, and olive skin. The first difference was the chair, and just days ago he’d shaved off his mass of dark curls. His skin was a little paler and his eyes were tired and dull. But Devin knew one thing hadn’t changed. Jack would always have his back.

“So, I hear you’re planning another run. And by yourself this time.”

Devin met Jack’s concerned eyes. “It’s for the best.”

“Being alone?” Jack started to get that look again.

“I don’t want to be responsible anymore,” Devin admitted tiredly.

“But we need you to be,” Jack said. “You know that.”

“I don’t know shit, Jack.” He felt useless. “I don’t understand how any of this is real. The undead? Zombies? I know as much as you. Shoot them in the head and destroy their fucking brain.” He knew he sounded agitated, but he couldn’t help but snap at his friend.

“You’re combat trained, hasn’t that helped?”

“Like it helped you?” He looked at his friend and shook his head. “I know how to shoot. So does half the population.”

“Yeah and how many of them actually survived?” Jack asked. “We’ve got maybe twenty people here who know their way around firearms, another ten, fifteen that can make do, and then nearly thirty people who have never picked up a gun in their lives.”

“Then they’ll learn.”

Jack sighed and started fidgeting with the wheels of his chair. “And for that we need you. Can you imagine Emily ever picking up a gun?”

Devin pressed his lips into a firm line before pointing out, “Emily can’t.”

“No, but she doesn’t have to be afraid because she can’t. She’s got you. That’s the point. You can’t stop being responsible for her, and you won’t stop being responsible for the rest of them either. I know that, and you know that.”

Devin straightened up and glanced back at the notice board. “Maybe. But it doesn’t mean I want that responsibility out there. I thought I could handle this crap.” He looked hopelessly at Jack. “I got it wrong. I didn’t listen to my instincts, and I let myself get distracted. Lee paid the price for that.”

“Lee shouldn’t have run off without you. I’ve read the report you handed to Corden. Despite what you think, it’s not your fault.” Jack started to turn his chair around in the small space. He must have known he was wasting his time. “Look, I suggest you get yourself something to eat, and then get some rest. You’ll need your head straight for tomorrow.”

“Fine,” Devin agreed. “But I need to see Emily first.”

“Okay, but after,” Jack said as he eased himself back through the narrow doorway. “See you get some sleep.”

As if he was going to argue. Devin gave a tired nod and watched as Jack wheeled himself out of the guard’s room. He had been running on empty for weeks. He couldn’t sleep, and even if he could, he wasn’t sure he wanted to. What little sleep he had managed to get in the last couple of months had been filled with bad dreams and things he didn’t need reminding of. With a sigh, he unfolded his arms and crammed his hands into the pockets of his dark jeans. Seeing Emily would make him feel better. It always did.



* * * *



“I know you’re there.”

Devin didn’t say anything at first. Instead, he stood and watched his sister work. Her delicate fingers ran in a smooth line across the thick paper, picking out the raised details of the page.

“I said, I know,” Emily repeated impatiently and raised her head to look in Devin’s direction.

“You always do,” Devin finally said and walked up to her, wrapping his arms around her waist and laying a gentle kiss to her cheek. “What’s that?”

“Jack’s most recent blood work. No sign of infection,” she said and pushed the results across the desk. “Although, I knew that twenty minutes ago. I had my little sidekick read it out to me.”

“You didn’t wait for the printer?”

“I have no patience. But you know that.” Emily turned around in Devin’s arms and raised her hand to his face. “You need a shave,” she noted as she ran her fingers over the prickly stubble across Devin’s jaw. “I’m told blonds and facial hair don’t always mix.”

Devin hugged Emily closer and rested his chin on the top of her head. The solid feel of her in his arms already made him feel a little better. “I’ll take that under advisement.”

“You should. I told Jack about his too. It’s all scratchy.” She paused. Could she hear him grinning? “You have a filthy mind,” she uttered.

“Hey, what you and Jack get up to is nothing to do with me. I just hope one day he makes an honest woman of you.” He had introduced Jack to his sister almost fifteen years ago, when they were still in high school. Devin hadn’t known it then, but Jack and Emily had kept in contact over the years and before he knew it she was moving to Kansas City to be with him and had an engagement ring on her finger.

Emily blushed and tucked a loose strand of her dark blonde hair behind her ear. The diamond in her ring caught the light. “You should shower. You smell.”

Devin laughed. “Thanks.”

“I’m your sister. If I can’t be honest…?” She shrugged. “Besides, you should listen to me. I’m older and wiser,” she added with a smile.

“Definitely older,” Devin agreed and braced himself for a slap.

“Twelve minutes,” she reminded him and pushed at his arms, freeing herself from his hold.

Only twelve minutes? Devin watched his sister return to her work. It was strange how he always felt like the younger brother. He was a grown man, thirty-two years of age, and yet one firm word from Emily and he felt like a reprimanded teenager again. It seemed like there were years between them rather than minutes. She had always been protective of him, especially when it came to their parents. She could do no wrong, whereas he was the complete opposite.

“How’s your pet?” he decided to ask. He had dwelled far too long on uncomfortable memories for one day.

“You mean John? He’s grabby,” she said with a chuckle.

“He has a name now?” Devin said with a frown.

“Seemed only right.”

“Doesn’t make him any more human,” Devin said bitterly.

Emily lifted her head. She pursed her lips, looking annoyed. Her pale blue eyes focused over his left shoulder. “It’s not his fault. He is what he is.”

Devin stayed silent and watched his sister. Her eyes were a paler shade than his own, though he couldn’t remember if they had always been that way. At five years old, Emily had contracted meningitis when a sinus infection had turned to something more serious, and she lost her sight. They both knew how much worse it could have been. At least he still had his sister.

“But then I don’t suppose you’d agree with that.” She reached out to him across the bench she worked at. “That it’s not his fault.”

He wasn’t stupid. He knew what she was doing. The news of Lee’s death would have spread quickly among the group. Devin took a step back and looked around the building’s infirmary. He remembered why he liked this room. It was so bright and clean.

“Didn’t think so,” Emily said as she cleared her throat and pulled back her hand.

“Why do you keep him alive? Dead? Whatever the hell he is?” Devin tried to steer the conversation back to John.

Emily shrugged. “It’s not my call. You know that. Corden feels that maybe one day John could help us.”

Devin watched as his sister moved around the bench, feeling out the hard edge as she made her way to the other side.

“Maybe he could help us find a cure.”

“There is no cure,” he stated. “And you know that. You get bitten, you die, you come back, then you bite someone else and it starts all over again.” He’d seen what happened if someone was bitten. The lucky ones, if he would call them that, died from their injuries. That was it, the end, no pleading for their life as they looked down the barrel of a gun. They were blinked out in one quick, though horrific, moment. For the others, those who were bitten but survived the attack, if someone didn’t put them down first they were left to slowly rot away from the inside. The virus took them over, shut down their bodies until they were nothing but a shell for the monster they would eventually become. The time from infection to death varied person to person, on their age, their health, the severity of their injuries. His hand went to the gun he carried and he fingered the catch of the holster. If Devin had the choice he would want his death to be quick.

Devin tensed his jaw. “Five months you’ve been stuck in this room. You’ve got nothing.”

“I wouldn’t say nothing,” she disagreed. “I know what doesn’t work.” She gave a wry smile. She must know that small fact was not at all comforting. There was only one real solution to the problem. Shoot them in the head, or do whatever it took to destroy the brain and sever the small spark of life. The reanimated corpses would then return to nothing more than dead, rotting flesh.

Devin continued to watch as Emily felt out the drawers in the front of the large desk.

“You probably know what I’m going to say.” Emily didn’t need her sight to see her brother. He had always been an open book where she was concerned. “We can’t give up. You never have, and neither will I.”

“You didn’t let me,” he pointed out.

“Perhaps,” she agreed. “But you have to stop blaming yourself for every little thing. Lee, Jack…” She paused. “Connor.”

The last name stung at Devin’s heart. Emily should know better. Devin folded his arms across his chest and rolled back his head to stare up at the fluorescent strip in the ceiling. They had been lucky the penitentiary had its own generators, he thought, happy to distract himself from the conversation. Where had the months gone? He remembered the first time they had heard a voice over Jack’s police radio and the feelings of relief and apprehension at finding other survivors.

“And you can stop ignoring me,” she continued, snapping Devin out of his memory. “You need to get your head straight.”

“You can’t call them little things,” he finally said. “Lee’s dead, Jack’s in a chair and—”

“Connor is the one that got away,” Emily finished for him.

Devin swallowed uncomfortably and shifted his position. He didn’t need reminding. For months he had been trying to forget.

“You couldn’t shoot him. Well, not in the head anyway.” Emily must realize how hurt Devin still was. “You loved him.”

Devin closed his eyes. It seemed like a lifetime ago. How had things changed so much in only a few months? He had been happy and in love. He had everything he ever wanted. Then, in a blink of an eye, it was all gone.

“Have you ever wondered where he is?” Emily continued. “Running wild and free?”

“No,” he said as he opened his eyes and dropped his head forward to look at his sister. He didn’t want to think about it. It was better to accept that Connor was gone and never coming back. “And I hope I never see him again, because I don’t think I could miss a second time.”

Emily sighed as she pulled open the drawer and reached inside, feeling for something. “I’ve wondered if I should give you this,” she said as she pulled a metal chain from the drawer and caught the spinning pendant between her finger and thumb. “You asked me to look after this for you a long time ago.” She held out her hand to encourage Devin to take it from her. “You swore one day you’d ask Connor to marry you. It was Grandpa’s, right? His ring?”

Devin watched as Emily released the ring and let it spin on the end of the gold chain it was threaded on. He had not forgotten.

“Devin?” Emily waited for him to say something. “Devin?”

He looked longingly at the ring, remembering sadly the life he’d had before this nightmare broke out. That life was gone. There was nothing else to say. “Goodnight, Emmi,” he managed and quickly walked away. He stopped at the door and glanced back over his shoulder. Emily was standing beside the desk with her hand closed around the ring.

“Goodnight,” she said quietly. Whether she knew he was still there, Devin wasn’t sure, but he watched as she slid the ring back into the drawer of her desk. He could remember the day he gave it to her. Their mother had begrudgingly carried out their grandfather’s wish for him to have the gold wedding band. He had known Connor for about six months then, yet he already knew Connor was the man he wanted to share the rest of his life with. As it was, they’d had three years before the world went to hell.

Finally, he stepped out into the hallway and walked over to one of the large windows. Narrowing his eyes, he stared out at the dusk sky and the large silver moon that was creeping from behind the horizon. For nine months he refused to think about Connor. It hurt too much to try and guess where Connor was, whether he was alive or dead. Devin leaned his head against the cool glass. Connor wasn’t alive. He knew that, and he would never forget it. He would always remember the rage and hunger in Connor’s eyes from that morning. But that wasn’t the Connor he wanted to remember, and yet it was the one memory he could never forget.

“Idiot,” he chided himself and turned away from the window. Dwelling on things that couldn’t be changed was pointless. There were people here who counted on him, people who were alive. Rubbing tiredly at his face, Devin decided he needed to get some sleep. Emily and Jack were right. He needed a clear head if he was going to be of use to anyone tomorrow. He glanced at the door that led back into the infirmary and gave a sad smile. “Night, sis.”


The Novel Approach - Reviewed by Lisa

"....From page one, Ms. Russell does a fantastic job of setting the tone and pace of the novel. Her descriptions are palpable, creating a mood of unease and a sense of overwhelming bleakness as it becomes clear humans are at a distinct disadvantage in a world that’s now overrun by monsters. Each trip beyond the relative safety of the prison walls in which a small band of survivors dwells is a risk, but is also integral to their survival. The danger and suspense, not to mention the gruesomeness of each zombie encounter, is filled with heart-pounding, adrenaline pumping moments, and I loved it...."

Rated: 4 Stars

Link to original review

Joyfully Jay - Reviewed by Jason

"....As a long-time fan of the zombie genre, I have read many stories, from horror to romance and everything in between, but I have never read something like Dead Things. The suspense element is high, the level of gore and violence is perfect, and the premise and story were compelling and, at times, disturbing...."

Rated: 4.75 Stars

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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words - Reviewed by MelanieM

"....Just when I think I’ve about had my fill of all things zombie, along comes a story to remind me why this genre is so pupular. Dead Things by Meredith Russell manages to combines the heartbreak of loss, suspense, a post apocalyptic world, zombies and, of course, romance and has us sitting on the edge of our seats while doing it...."

Rated: 4 Stars

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MM Good Book Reviews - Reviewed by Pixie

"....I really enjoyed this story as it has a slightly darker outlook on life, after a virus outbreak that turns the population into zombies....

....This isn’t a huge romantic, sex-filled story, far from it. It is a story of new hope and maybe new beginnings. It is a story of starting to lay old ghosts to rest and of a glimmer of happiness in the future. This story also isn’t for the faint hearted as it has some pretty gruesome scenes with lots of blood, some with characters we are just getting to know and we don’t get a hearts and flowers happy ending. What we get is the beginning of something that could be special, and a new hope for all humanity...."

Rated: 4 hearts

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Crystal's Many Reviewers - Reviewed by Andrea Lee

"....The intense scenes between the humans and zombies, the love, loss and guilt that are felt between the people left, the friction between the leader and Devin. Who knew, I was hooked and read all 164 pages in one sitting!..."

Rated: 5 Rainbows

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This book was added to our catalog on Tuesday 26 August, 2014.

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