400 Miles To Graceland by William Schlichter

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ALSO BY WILLIAM SCHLICHTER

NO ROOM IN HELL The Good, The Bad & The Undead

THE SILVER DRAGON CHRONICLES Enter The Sandmen The Dark Side


Since it began, who have you killed? You wouldn’t be alive right now if you hadn’t killed somebody. ~ Major West, 28 Days Later



NO ROOM IN HELL: 400 MILES TO GRACELAND Copyright Š 2017 William Schlichter All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published by Umbra an imprint of BHC Press Library of Congress Control Number: 2017936841 ISBN-13: 978-1-946848-03-1 ISBN-10: 1-946848-03-4 Visit the author at: www.bhcpress.com also available in ebook and hardcover


NEVER TRUST A SURVIVOR UNTIL YOU KNOW HOW THEY SURVIVED. KURT VONNEGUT





CHAPTER ONE METAL PIPES IMPACT his upper torso. Each new blow pulsates through Ethan, exacerbating his muscle memory and bringing back to life every physical pain he’s ever experienced. If they were smart, they’d whack my wounded leg—send me to the ground instantly. A strange thought, as he should do something with his arms to prevent hit after hit. Higher order thinking—animal instinct, anything to remove him from the situation. Four pipes bounce off the Kevlar pads in his vest. No matter how fast they swing, the velocity lacks comparison to bullets he took to the chest two weeks ago. The shots were over in seconds. The constant beating wears him down. Ethan has one advantage over his assailants; the only reason he has yet to receive a blow to the head—they are too short to reach his skull. Part of his brain attempts to count the pelts against his body. He fails. His knees wobble. If I collapse, my head will become their target. I doubt the following contusions and then hemorrhages will be a quick death. Then again, if they don’t bash my skull in, I’ll soon revisit. Vagrants, vagabonds, and venomous villains remain in the world of walking undead, and he has faced them down to be beaten by these shits. Decent people don’t have the heart to make tough


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choices needed to survive. How does one put a bullet in their child even if their child hungers for flesh? He has no answer. His brain searches ten-thousand synapses for escape from the concussions. They want what I have. My supplies. My guns. My fortitude. They can’t. I need it to survive—to finish my task. My job of keeping people safe—my last promise made. I will find— Thigh. Damn! One of them figured out to strike my thigh. At least it wasn’t the bad leg. His right knee buckles. If they bash the left knee, it’ll be over. My hard head won’t take blows like my chest does. Kevlar allows for a bit of a cheat. Aroused by the torture, the attackers dance and release wails of pleasure with each new impact. A lead pipe fails to find its destination. The glancing slap allowing Ethan to redirect it through the mouth and out the back of the closest attacker’s brain pan. They stand still. Ethan finds a moment to draw in one breath. His chest tightens—constricts. Bruising. Shocked, the three men back away—a moment of reprieve. They didn’t expect me to be able to kill one of them during the beating. They’ve practiced on travelers before me and always got it right. It took four to get the jump on me. The blows stimulate the fading bruises under his chest armor. Bulletproof vest lacks the truth in its name. ‘Might stop a bullet, but you’re still shot, and it hurts like FUCKING hell!’ must be too long to place on the label. Ethan’s eyes water from the next percussion. Before he’s able to reach for a weapon, a fresh blow glances off the back of his head. Rather than slumping to his knees, he falls over into the dirt. More thumps impact his back. Images flash, overlapping his thoughts of escape. Emily.


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The next blow blackens his right shoulder. Even if not dislocated, my quick draw speed might be permanently hampered. Facing down dozens of undead with a mere handful of rounds never sent full body shivers quivering to his toes like this assault. His thoughts wander from overcoming his attackers to the fate of his fellow survivors. Will they learn of my demise? Will they just speculate? It will be a grand story! It only took a thousand undead to bring him down. No, ten thousand. My work will continue. They’ll prevail, if they keep to my doctrine of survival methods. Two more impacts. Fuck. His favorite weapon—Smith & Wesson M&P 40—soaks moisture from the grass. I had the drop on three attackers but missed the fourth. Under their campfire, they had dug a pit allowing number four to lie in wait. Even with my expensive, student loan-funded brain, I didn’t expect anyone would hide under the campfire. If the material between the fire and the attacker failed…there are no more burn trauma wards to repair a face. Ethan wishes the hidden spring-loaded knife device he sported for a while had worked better. Stabbing just one of the three remaining bastards would give me a second to reach my M&P. Two more blows fill his eyes with wet stars. The M&P rests out of reach. Tomorrow disappears from his thoughts. His body no longer registers pain. One good blow to my skull will end it—keep me from returning to life. Unlike Emily and Hannah, I was unable to rescue my daughters. His last thoughts drift— “Stop!” Not a call for mercy from a female voice. “He’s got gear in his pockets we don’t want to damage.” Pressure. Tenderized from the beating takes his brain a moment to realize they are rummaging through his vest pockets. The Kevlar plates smoosh against his bruising skin.


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Jerking at Ethan’s sleeve ensues. “I want his coat,” demands a gravelly-voiced man. Ethan’s boot separates from his leg. “Man, this dude has big feet.” The scrawny man lines the bottom of his foot up with the sole of the boot with five inches of overhang. “These are military.” The gravelly-voiced man corrects him, “They aren’t. Military boots don’t have zippers down the sides. They’re nice.” “They’re mine,” the scrawny man hisses. “Keep them. I want his guns.” The tallest attacker with droopy earlobes racks the M&P slide. A bullet flings out. “Fully loaded.” A woman with knife-cut hair yanks an emergency battery jumper from Ethan’s backpack. “This dude was prepared. We start cars with this.” She fidgets with the power cord used to charge the device. Her eyes shift, revealing a quizzical thought. The gravelly voice questions, “This guy’s too well equipped.” “You can never be too well equipped.” The tall man attempts to twirl the gun but it flounders around his trigger finger. “He is. He’s prepared more than most. It’s been ten months, and his boots look fresh—store bought.” “The battery jumper has a full charge, like he has a generator or something,” adds the girl with the knife-cut hair. “He has full gear, clean clothes.” She sniffs him. “I smell shampoo.” The scrawny man jumps up. “You mean this fucker still has electricity and running water?” The tall man extends and twists the Smith & Wesson M&P as if he were in the hood. “It’s possible. Nuclear plants would never run out of power. Radiation lasts forever.” The knife-cut-haired girl shoots him a stupid glance. “Someone has to maintain the plant or they shut down to prevent a meltdown. I saw it on The Discovery Channel. He’s got gas generators stashed in a secure location. With enough gas to waste on running a washing machine.” “Make him tell us,” demands gravelly-voiced man. “We beat the living hell out of this dude and he didn’t beg us to stop. What are we going to do to make him talk?” asks the tall man.


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The girl offers, “Take his pants off. When he wakes up, cut off his balls if he doesn’t tell.” The three men involuntarily clamp their own legs together in a motion of protection. “He’s too big to move.” “He may not be able to walk. I cracked his leg but good.” “We can’t stay in the open long,” gravelly-voiced man says. “Make a litter and we’ll drag him.” The girl spits. “Do I have to think of everything?” “You seem to know a lot,” says gravelly-voiced man. “I’m first in this dude’s shower. God, I hope he has hot water. I’d kill for a hot shower.” “You’re going to kill him. Once we get to his hideaway, you’ll kill him.” “If he’s got hot water I will,” she says. She kicks at the overgrown grass with her foot wondering how much noise they have created. The noise drives off any animals, however, attracts predators—the undead.


CHAPTER TWO AMANDA ALWAYS WANTED great legs. Boys in high school thought she had a fantastic ass, but she desired sharply stems, gams—Beyoncé dancing legs. Ten months of daily jogging granted her wish. Every day she runs. Not for health, but to stay alive. The tight, well-formed calves lack any adipose tissue or traces of cellulite. Had the world not ended she’d be assured a job as a leg model or maybe a body double for a scrawny, overpaid actress in a feature film. If the next home they raid has some baby oil or lotion she’d like to shave and rub them smooth. Theo gawks every chance he gets. If they encounter a home with running water she might let him help her groom. She misses the rough touch of a man’s hands on her legs. Since their group thinned she’s not felt safe enough. It doesn’t take her pleasure center much stimulation for her to miss a full out nuclear attack. Desires embraced every cell of her body leaving her vulnerable. Even incited feelings by some one-night drunken grope-fest would produce screams of passion, attracting the infected. Theo’s stolen glances are as far as he dares. He remains a gentleman, as much as possible when she must pee under guard, or he must retrieve tampons because monthlies attract the undead. If they find a location she finds appealing she may discover if Theo’s


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a world rocker. Now Jarrod exerts the manly talent of fire building. He used a hunk of ice last winter to ignite flame. She’d never believe it had she not been there. Twigs and dry branches shatter at the approach of undead. They shamble through the underbrush, snarling the distinct moanhowl haunting every survivor’s dreams. Amanda flips open the cylinder on the snub-nose .38. Four live rounds. She’d been saving the bullets—one for herself. Jarrod clubs an undead with a log he ignited. The rags of the infected spark. Flaming undead are frightening because they don’t stop, drop, and roll like a living person. They don’t stop. Just burn and eat. Intended or not, the flaming corpse illuminates the immediate area giving Amanda light enough to take careful aim. Bam. RATTTTTTTTTTTTTT. Machine gun fire sprays through the encroaching infected. They fall with moan-howls ceasing as soon as their heads explode. Amanda shoots the burning corpse only to have headlights blind her night vision. Forced, she shields her eyes with her forearm. Men in military fatigues hustle her into the front seat of a Jeep. More gunfire erupts. As her eyes adjust to the false daylight, Jarrod climbs onto the bed of a truck. She whips her head around—no sign of Theo. “Herd!” a soldier’s voice warns. Not surprising, being this close to Memphis means more undead. She’d seen two herds and lived. Thousands, maybe ten thousand undead moving as a wave of rotten flesh devouring any animal it encounters, especially man. “Where’s Theo?” she demands. The soldiers ignore her. Within seconds, the machine gun fire ceases. Her ears ring. The vehicles speed along the highway. Escaping the herd, the male soldiers still refuse to speak to her.


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Not sure where she stands, Amanda hikes her leg allowing her foot to rest on the dash. She attempts to enjoy the moment. She’s had little time to let her hair down, and in minutes, her world could return to violence. Most likely with her at the head of a train of men. Their peeks lost their flatter after the first few refused to glance away. She smells their lust. Hunger permeates toward her. Behaving like a nun won’t protect her nor will flaunting herself. She slides her bottom over, using the dash as leverage to prep her body for a leap from the moving Jeep. If she lands on her toes she can out sprint any of these men. If they shoot her…well… They’ll do what they want with my body anyway. She keeps her eyes forward. No chance of inadvertently inviting the driver. “We haven’t seen military in months. Rumors of a withdraw circulated.” She didn’t want to say retreat or the insulting defeat. A few months ago, her group contained ten survivors. I’m the only original member left of my merry band. Everyone she met before the apocalypse—dead. Those banding together after—dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Down to three affiliates, she doesn’t want friends. They keep dying. They avoid encountering other survivors. The last group they were lucky to miss was a traveling motorcycle band and another group keeping a harem of women in a tractor-trailer. Only luck found them on the opposite side of a river where the women bathed. She guessed the men killed other male survivors and persecuted the women into servitude. Somehow, in the last ten months, she’s never been forced to procreate with anyone she didn’t desire. A few of the men didn’t have any idea what to do with a woman. She might have been willing to educate them if time permitted, but when she could be eaten by undead at any minute, she demands her desires be fulfilled. When she allows herself to be so vulnerable as to enjoy a man she needs him to be successful. Not like before when she grew with the relationship and could explore her partner and teach him how to pleasure her.


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Floodlights break the darkness. They blind Amanda. She covers her eyes with her forearm. Peeking through the glare to spot twin guard towers the Jeep barrels between. More flood lights click on. A distinct lack of a humming generator means somehow this place has electricity. Amanda considers willingly opening her legs for a hot shower. Part of the wall of concertina wire reminds her of a prison and even not knowing exactly where they are she still doesn’t think they are near one. A prison would make a great hideout. It already has walls and security measures. Most people avoid them; they wouldn’t think to go there to save themselves. She wishes she’d considered Corrections ten months ago. In all her meetings of survivors none of them were medical people and even fewer were cops unless they went rogue. No one ever said they had been a Corrections Officer. Prisons, like hospitals, may have been overrun quickly once the plague spread. Reunited with her fellow survivors, all three are escorted inside. The communal living area was once a warehouse and now home to bunks, washing stations, weapons storage, and a half dozen poker games. All the men halt their activity to admire Amanda’s legs. She spots no women among the soldiers. Under guard, they reach a pair of double doors. There, what could only be defined as a super nerd scientist greets them in a hailstorm of handshakes and apologies. “You’re the first survivors we’ve discovered in two weeks. We were so worried.” “Worried?” “Yes. When we couldn’t find survivors, we became concerned we were all that’s left.” A shiny gold name badge reads Ellsberg. Amanda has many questions, but Jarrod beats her to the first one. “Who are you?” “Introductions are in order. I am, or was, the CDCs top virologist in Nashville. Now I supervise this camp. Where we’ve been perfecting a cure.” “Impossible,” says Theo.


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“Even if you did cure those walking dead, wouldn’t they die from the rotten flesh and holes in them?” “Cure isn’t an accurate word—vaccine. We are perfecting a vaccine. So, those bit will not turn.” Amanda legs numb. “You mean this could all be over?” “We’re close. A few test trials remain. What we can offer you is a warm meal and hot shower. A place to get some clean clothes. Food. We do insist on some blood work.” Amanda remembers the camping trip her dad dragged her on when she was ten. Bug bites, poison ivy, and squatting to pee. Not that she didn’t hover over public toilets as an adult, she never splashes piddle on her shoes. The best part was the first shower when she got home. Water never felt so warm or so…comforting. Hot water consumes her, protects her. Safe is something she has lacked. Now, Irish Spring suds and flowing water as near boiling as she can take comforts her. The scientist said they have an auto ten-minute max. She lathered herself in the sink so she could just stand under the flow for as long as she could. The heat releases the tension in her shoulders. Constant lack of sunscreen and opportunities to tan has left her with white patches on her skin, but she doesn’t care. She wouldn’t mind a pedicure, but never can she remember feeling so clean. The shower beeps a thirty-second shut off warning. Amanda spins around one last time to ensure no soap was missed before the drip, drip, drip replaces the waterfall she enjoyed. Sniffing the clean towel, she pats her face, choosing to air dry. The beads of water on her skin keep her clean—fresh. They gave her papery scrubs to wear. No underwear. No bra. The hospital socks have the gripper pattern to prevent slipping because they left her no shoes. Some tests and food are next and then she wonders if she will be able to sleep. Not some half-an-eye-open sleep but peaceful, safe sleep knowing nothing could harm her here. Amanda attempts to slide her feet on the floor, gliding as if ice skating, but the gripper socks keep her toes in place. Jarrod waits for her on a bench.


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“Where’s Theo?” “They took him for blood work. Said the sooner they draw some vials the sooner we eat.” “It’s going to be MREs,” Amanda notes. “Don’t care. They won’t be rancid like the ones we found.” “With a vaccine, the world could return to normal.” “Not right away. They’ll still have to clean up a lot of undead, but at least their numbers are depletable. No more worried about being bit,” she says. “What a fantasy to rebuild the world. How long do you think it will take?” “Years. The country will become a new frontier and have to be explored all over again.” A man in white scrubs waves at Jarrod. “We are ready for you now.” “Where’s Theo?” “Getting a bite.” Amanda nods at her friend. Too bad when they numbered nine people they couldn’t have found this place. Fourteen or fifteen was as large as the group got but some of those people… Some people were made for the end of the world and others need to be destroyed. It took her a time to accept the apocalypse means new beginning, but not for everyone. The male nurse waves, demanding Jarrod to enter a room down the hall. He brushes the top of Amanda’s shoulder in a good luck, goodbye sort of way. Alone for long minutes, she wonders. Why does no one wants to speak to me? Survivors tend to want to exchange information. Everyone wants to know if it is as bad where they came from as it is here. Even the mongrels who plan to kill you for your last MRE talk first. The male soldiers’ stares confirm not many women are around. She’s surprised none of them have requested a date or offered to assault her. One crazed survivor once attacked her group spurting how he was going to drill her until she needed a new hole. He was one of the living people she was forced to kill. Since she seems


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to be a lone woman—why? Plenty of women outlast men in this new world. After food, she’s going to have to demand some answers from the nerdy scientist. The nurse waves for her turn at health inspection. Her memory plays tricks on her—she swears Jarrod went into a room across the hall. The male nurse pumps the sphygmomanometer until the pressure cuts into Amanda’s arm. “I’m sure I’m malnourished.” She flashes a smile before realizing she can’t recall the last time she brushed her teeth. There was no toothbrush in the shower room. “When was the last time you ate—anything?” He keeps a surgical tone while twisting the knob to release the air from the blood pressure cuff. “Yesterday. Food’s been scarce in this area.” “The soldiers didn’t feed you?” “No. The soldiers haven’t even said hello.” She quickly adds, “We were promised food after a blood draw.” He refuses to lock eyes with hers. Amanda accepts trust must be earned, but she’s done nothing but cooperate. After he draws three vials of her blood she finds herself alone again now with a rumbling stomach. She had pushed food from her mind until he asked about when she last ate. Her head slams against the table. Three—no, four men grab her. Amanda somehow knew having not seen any women she’d become the object of unwanted affection for many. She kicks, but even her muscularly-defined legs strike nothing as she’s lifted into the air. They slam her into a hard-backed chair and secure her right forearm in clamps on a metal table. The last soldier tears away the paper gown covering her right arm. One clamp prevents her wrist from moving her elbow. Both bands prevent her from leaving the chair. Two of the four walls are a hard-clear plastic. Men in lab coats scribble on clipboards. The wall adjacent to the metal table raises. The two lab coats enter. Ellsberg prepares a syringe injection.


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They disregard Amanda’s protests, questions, and curses. She kicks at them but they seem to stand behind an invisible border just out of her reach. Familiar moan-howls jerk her head to an opening wall. The scientists ignore her. Secured by a steel Trapline Catch Pole, two soldiers force a snarling dead man at the table. Screams perching enough to bleed eardrums emanate from Amanda. Ten months to shape her lower body into the perfect dancing legs—gone. Five family members demanding she survive to carry on their memory—over. Three living people she was forced to kill to survive—all for nothing. The teeth grip her skin. They clamp. With her arm secure, her instincts to jerk away are prohibited. This prevents the monster from tearing flesh. It must bite again. It chews at her flesh unable to break the skin immediately. More chewing. Fear swells in her. Each bite failing to break the skin draws out the inevitable. She will soon be one of the undead. Her flesh buckles and the bloom of blood mushrooms from her arm. They yank the undead creature away before it eats anymore. Amanda closes her mouth. No point in screaming. It’s over. She’s dead. Everything she fought to keep—stolen. The glasses-wearing scientist clicks a stopwatch. Ethan inserts the needle into her left arm vein. Any desire to fight him off leaves her. She could scratch him. For some reason, she focuses on his golden name tag. Logically, she assumed they drew blood to check the growth rate of the germ-filled bite. She has seen people turn seconds after a bite and others take days. Only stinging warmth itches her right arm. They injected her! “What the fuck?” “Female subject has received full dose of Kalocin.”


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They step back as the clear wall lowers, sealing Amanda’s last few minutes as a lab rat.“I’ve never heard of this drug, Dr. Burton.” “My great uncle was made aware of it during a microbe outbreak in Arizona during 1969. It will cure cancer.” “They keep it under wraps to increase research funding?” “In this case, no. It cures at the cost of the host’s life.” “But in our subject’s instant she’s doomed to die anyway.” “Not if the cure works, Dr. Ellsberg.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR William Schlichter has a Bachelor of Science in Education emphasizing English from Southeast Missouri State and a Masters of Arts in Theater from Missouri State University. With seventeen years of teaching English/Speech/Theater, he has returned to making writing his priority. Recent successes with scriptwriting earned him third place in the 2013 Broadcast Education Association National Festival of Media Arts for writing a TV Spec Script episode of The Walking Dead. His full-length feature script, Incinta, was an officially selected finalist in the 2014 New Orleans Horror Film Festival. Incinta received recognition again by being selected as a finalist at the 2015 Beverly Hills Film Festival for a full-length feature. Incinta has advanced in several other script contests, including most recently being an Official Selected finalist in the 2016 Irvine Film Festival. His next life goal would be to see his film transferred from the pages to the screen. Writing has always been his passion even through traveling, raising twin children, and educating teenagers. While he specializes in the phantasmagorical world of the undead and science fiction fantasy stories, William continues to teach acting, composition, and creative writing.



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