Chasing Redemption is the second book in the Chasing Trilogy, and easily my favorite zombie media of all time. If you like what you read, stop before you get too many spoilers! You can pick up Chasing a Cure on Kindle Unlimited for free.
The following is the first chapter of Chasing Redemption
Audra swept the stray auburn hairs away from her face and ear as she paused on the half-cleared trail. She had been tracking it for a while, but now she could hear its shuffling. The speed of the walk told her it had no purpose to its wandering, but was lost and unfocused. She could relate, but not today.
Today she had one goal. To find one and save its life.
When Audra was a child she wasn’t trying to save their lives; she was running from them in these same Georgia woods. Zombies – zoms – seemed fewer and farther between now, at least the salvageable ones. Audra wondered if Lysent Corp was collecting them ahead of her to protect their business model. Lysent connected rich families with their wandering loved ones – and received a healthy cash sum in return. Audra had stolen their antidote to cure the zoms. Her group replicated and gave it freely, chiseling away at Lysent’s corporate bullshit as they could.
And today they could. Today she had one goal.
She heard its snapping of twigs, the rustling of leaves. The fresh litter dusted the ground of years of pine straw. She could even guess it was male – larger feet, heavier legs dragging. She reverted to breathing through her mouth as soon as she got the first whiff. Male or female smelled the same – putrid. The summer drought hadn’t allowed many to be rinsed off in afternoon storms, so the products of any bodily functions stuck to the zombies, wounds festered, and odors lingered on their remaining garments.
Soon she spotted her prize, although he hadn’t caught a hint of her. Zoms were first and foremost provoked by sight, and she remained behind him. Would this zom voraciously attack when he discovered her or would he be too weak? The chase hadn’t been much of a chase lately. It seemed last winter had weakened them and lessened their enthusiasm as hunters. Like most animals, the longer it had gone without eating, the more likely it wasn’t going to eat.
Tired of following, she took a chance and let out a sharp whistle. Audra watched him stop before pivoting. She whistled again as he finished his one hundred and eighty degree turn with a wretched stagger. His gray, hollowed face came into view. She waved her hand in a joke greeting. The hair – no, the scalp – had fallen off to the side, revealing a thin layer of dermis over the skull. Otherwise he was intact, skin upon frail bones – disgusting, but salvageable. Clothes hung off his body, gray and indiscernible from his pallor. His rail-thin arms bore deep scratches where he had gotten caught on branches and pulled hard. Audra avoided looking at his eyes with her green ones. They were all the same – dark gray – the same as Belinda’s. Audra had already spent days staring into them, trying to find someone, any part of someone, inside.
He shuffled to her, but Audra would not call it a run. Starvation had taken its toll. Audra reached into her bag. In the past, she would have pulled out her biometric reader to determine whether Lysent was interested in the person. Now, it did not matter. Inquired, deposit paid, no family matches available, other people and their actions no longer gave value to your life. The fact that you were here gave you value. You were worth waking up. Audra made sure of it. She retrieved a thick band of cloth to use as rope.
She wouldn’t need to pull some clever evasive maneuver at top running speed to take him down. She merely sidestepped his clumsy launch and let him fall. From there she grabbed one wrist and turned him on his back before grabbing the other. She avoided his long, jagged nails as his neck and upper body craned to bite at her. She restrained him with a boot to his chest, gently as not to remove skin from his sternum. She wrapped up his wrists, finishing with a surgeon’s knot. He struggled for a moment, like a dying upturned cockroach. How the world must seem different from down there.
The zoms were in pain. That much she and her team knew. Their first non-regulated awakening, Gordon, had taken a while to put into words that it was as if he had caught fire. Relief was unknown. As they woke up others, they heard similar stories. Did these zoms wander and search for food to ease their constant suffering? The virus tore away will, everything but their most basic desires – to be without pain, to have food, to spread. Audra cocked her head and wondered if she and the zoms were so different. The same virus had torn her from her family. She constantly searched for relief, food, and shelter. They had both lost to the virus. One had just turned gray. Audra wondered if she too would fade away, like this dying specter in the woods. Audra stopped, closed her eyes, and reminded herself who was to blame.
Lysent had created this virus. For what reason, she still did not understand, but she would make sure that it ultimately hurt them in the same way. They would be torn apart, searching for relief, food, and shelter. And then they would fade away into the grayness until it was just a dim spot in their history.
Audra stepped off the zom and twisted him up to kneeling before helping him to his feet. Audra was caught off guard and off balance as a yank pulled her in. She looked up into a wide-open mouth, and fought to keep her eyes from rolling back in response to the emanating smell. She regained her balance and swung forward and away before he could master his depth perception.
Audra shook the funk off and increased the clearance between her and her captive. If she found any mint leaves on their way back, she’d be sure to shove them into his face. Minty decay.
Finding a rhythm, they started to the laboratory. One upsetting point about not using her biometric reader was that she didn’t get to know a name for their journey. Walking through the forest with a zom with no name was not as exciting as it sounded. Names and the nicknames she derived from them made the zoms seem more personable and her days less lonely. She looked at his opposite combover. She was surprised he hadn’t lost it. Should she, uh, put it back? Another gasping growl of foul stench told her he’d be OK for another day.
Audra wished she could remember the name of someone in past culture with a combover. That’s the name he’d get, but it seemed all her childhood memories of television were fading. One day they’d get back to that, at least re-watching those shows as classics. Maybe they’d eventually make their own again. Audra couldn’t imagine a town with resources plentiful enough to support a sitcom. Whatever. Not in her lifetime.
With a few miles under their belt, Audra felt a change in her zom’s gait. She could tell a lot by the tautness of the rope, the sway of it, the fetor and noise. Something was different. She turned around then immediately diverted her eyes. She spotted a split tree and led her fellow to it. Pulling his arms through the opening, she wrapped her rope back around the tree and behind him. With his arms secure, he couldn’t turn his body. Audra pulled up his pants and tried to tighten his belt, which crumbled in her hands. She pulled out a rope from her bag and tied them up. She didn’t have to put up with that view the entire run.
Beyond her bodily-fluid soaked zom, she noticed another smell – the distinct smell of burning rubber. Curiosity got the better of her, and since – damn, why couldn’t she think of any combover names? – was secure in more ways than one, she investigated. Audra shimmied up a thin pine, the bark scraping her hands. Not the highest view, but she could verify that the scent on the breeze was from miles away. The thick, dark plume rose in the distance, near the highway, probably on the highway.
A car fire? Audra tried to rack her brain for a reason an abandoned car would catch fire on its own, but she knew there had to be a person behind it. Staying hidden was usually a layer of protection against others; whatever their reason for the blaze, they were giving up their location and didn’t care.
Audra wasn’t too worried about them wandering off the highway and finding her community. Her community was deep in the woods and hard to find. Most people who left the highway followed the well-maintained train tracks. It was a golden road to civilization, and it led them to Lysent Corp’s string of townships.
It still felt weird to say that.
But that’s what it was. What was first just a laboratory attacked by Lysent had now become a home. They had even named it. If by naming it, you meant they started calling it by the name on the industrial park sign. Osprey Point. Audra had never seen an osprey there, but whatever; it beat calling it “the lab that’s now a community.” It was a survivor’s refuge with one weird exception. Most of these survivors were not initially survivors. They were cured infected. She looked down at her bound prize. Curly here would be their newest member.
Audra came down and grabbed a handful of the acorns from the neighboring tree. They weren’t her favorite, but others liked them. They made good flour for bread, but the “coffee” was particularly disgusting. She put them in her bag along with the other found food. That wasn’t her mission out here, but any amount helped.
The sun was no longer climbing. They would not make it before dark. That was fine. They’d stop to eat and camp. She’d have to trap something moving for him – a small mouse or a squirrel would do the trick. Audra appreciated her timing; they’d arrive at Osprey Point in the morning. She’d be able to drop off, resupply, and head back out. With a day’s worth of sunlight, Dwyn or the scientists wouldn’t have a reason to keep her.
While Audra felt safe at Osprey Point, she figured the less involved she appeared, the less likely Lysent would hurt the community to reach her. Larange Greenly, CEO of Lysent, hated what Audra was doing and what she knew, but she didn’t appear willing to wage war over her yet, despite her continued stunts.
To appease her friends, she left some things there and claimed a bed-thing. She regularly returned. But still she spent more nights out in the woods in her pop-up tent than in the confines of the fences, and ate most of her meals by a small grate over a fire rather than in the mess hall. Although often out of its range, the radio they shoved into her bag reminded her she hadn’t traded much when she got rid of Lysent. She was still out in the woods, capturing zoms, just for a different community. At least this one didn’t dangle her sister’s life in front of her like a carrot on a stick.
She stayed to keep an eye on Lysent and wait for her chance to destroy them. Once Lysent was shut down with no chance of resurrection, and Greenly was dead for all the things she had done, then Audra would leave. She’d see what else was out there. She’d bring the antidote farther north or west and see more than live oaks and pines and damn mosquitoes.
She slapped at one. She and her zom together emitted that much more carbon dioxide to draw the buggers. And they preferred her fresh blood over the zom’s once they arrived. Audra pulled on a long-sleeve shirt and wrapped a cloth around her neck, despite the warm late summer. One bit the high of her cheek. They were insatiable today. She muddied her face. She felt uncomfortable, but at least she was no longer getting chewed up. Not getting destroyed by insects was one thing she did miss about modern civilization. She hoped bored survivors would fix that before reviving sitcoms.
With her coverings in place, she looked back – her new friend was now receiving the brunt of the attack. The thought of applying mud to his body made her sick; she decided against it. His kind had spent years trying to bite humans, infecting them. He could get a taste of his own medicine for the evening. When they stopped for the night, they’d get a good smoky fire going and get a breather from the bugs. A good fire, maybe a mouse for her, a rabbit for her friend, a nice sleep. Then they’d be on their way in the sunshine with renewed energy. Maybe he could even run. They’d get there in half the time. Today she’d had one goal. And now, it’d be a good night. Audra smiled and pulled along her new friend. He pulled up closer. Oh yeah, some mint… that’d make it better.